Tuesday, 27 August 2013

My top 10 tips for awesome autumn images!

Last year I outlined my favourite techniques for capturing autumnal landscapes. Since that time of year is nearly upon us again I thought I'd pass on a few reminders...

Like most landscape photographers I would imagine, I love being out and about enjoying fantastic autumnal colours and the endless picture opportunities they offer. Last year was a particularly colourful one and I hoping for an equally impressive display of seasonal hues in the next few months.
       Whilst I’m no pro I thought it might be quite nice to put together a list of what I think to be the best ways of getting great autumn shots, making sure we get the most out of what nature is offering us. Below are my ‘Top Ten’ techniques for creating images to be proud of- get out and use them before all the leaves are gone and/or keep this page in your favourites until next year!
10) Try showing movement: I feel a little mean sticking this right down at number 10 as it can really be a great trick for producing abstract images with an extra ‘something’, but it may not be to everyone’s taste so here it is! Try using a slower shutter speed to introduce some movement into your shots. Since you’ll more than likely find yourself shooting trees, using a slower shutter value will show up any movement in the branches caused by wind. An exposure of around 1/30th sec will give you a slight blur to the leaves (depending on wind strength) while 1 sec or more and you can get some really abstract streaks of colour. This works if you haven’t got anything interesting in the scene before you to make you’re subject- focus solely on those autumn hues! 

 9) Shoot on dull days: A way of making use of whatever light you happen to be faced with. Whilst it’s lovely to have nice beams of strong autumn sunlight streaming into your shot, shooting on an overcast day, with the low contrast, can be a fantastic route to saturated colours. If the sky seems uninspiring, focus on the little details and shoot some leaves in close-up. Try adding a burst of flash to create a little contrast and a bit of sparkle to your subject.  

8) Shoot at dawn or dusk: the key to any great landscape photo, if not a little limiting on the number if images you are able to produce through the season (not everyone has time to do this often). If you have the opportunity, shooting at these times will give you those rich golds, reds and browns along with a dreamy glow, all caused by the directional light of the low sun. I love to photograph back-lit leaves at these times, which will give intense colour and great detail of the leaf structure. If you can make dawn or dusk, try early(ish) morning (on your way to work/school/university etc.) or late afternoon. That’s the brilliant thing about this time of year- the light is good for most of the day, with dawn fairly late and sunset early. Try combining this with no. 7…
7) Shoot into the light: aiming your camera into the sun gives amazing back and rim-lighting effects and doing this helps you get the most out of the directional light in no. 8 above. Obviously don’t look at the sun in your viewfinder (spare a thought for your eyes) or leave the lens pointing at it for too long (this can burn your shutter.) These sort of go without saying. Oh and watch out for flare- invest in a skylight or UV filter, pronto.

6) Use a warm-up filter: either on your lens or when in the digital dark room. These do what they say on the box- give your image a warmer tone, which works great with the already warm colours of the season. In Photoshop go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Photo Filter and select one of the warming filters. I usually use the 81 or 85 filters.
5) Even better than that- use your White Balance to get it right in-camera: this is one area where you don’t want to rely on your camera’s auto WB as all those reds and yellows will get it totally confused and you won’t get the look you’re after. Use the ‘Shade’ or ‘Cloudy’ presets depending on how warm you want your image to be. This is works well as it complements the naturally low kelvin values of autumn scenes. If you’re shooting film you’ll have to resort to no. 6.

4) Underexpose: I’m not getting into the on-going debate about whether in digital photography it’s better to under- or overexpose, because in this case it is absolutely a nice idea to under expose slightly, as this will give you nice saturated colours (as well as prevent blown-out highlights.) Don’t go crazy; try starting with -1/3 EV using your exposure compensation control (in P, Av and Tv modes) and working from there.
3) Without doubt, use a polarizer: Ok so we’re onto the top 3. Firstly you definitely want to be using a circular polarizing filter to reduce glare on leaves and give your precious colours a lift. This filter is a no-brainer for landscape photographers and should be in everyone’s kit bag; this case is no exception. Oh and it will cut the light entering your camera by about 2 stops, allowing you to blur water and branches with longer exposures, which is no bad thing as long as you have a good tripod.

2) Know your location: in at number 2 we have something I truly believe in- know the good spots from which to shoot. If you have a good idea of what might make some good autumnal photos before the colour shows itself you’re in for a better chance of getting the pics you want. Preparation is everything. Those stunning colours aren’t around for long so plan your images and get them while you can!

1) DON’T JUST MAKE THE COLOUR THE SUBJECT! : I think this merits 1st place- avoid the shots all the ‘happy snappers’ out there are getting and don’t make the sole focus of your image the autumnal colours themselves. A brightly coloured tree doesn't necessarily make a good photo in its own right. It might of course but there are likely to be other possibilities. Look for something, anything to photograph in the colourful surroundings. Even if it’s a little stream, or a person walking into the shot to show scale, or an animal interacting with the environment. Anything. It’s easy to get carried away with all that colour and start snapping at everything, but get a clear idea of what you want in your mind and I can guarantee you images with impact! [Unless you’re a dog or an octopus or a fungus, in which case you probably won’t be able to hold the camera properly or indeed understand anything I’ve written here. Hey life’s difficult, get over it… : )]

I’d like to hear if you have any comments on the above list: do you agree with my ‘Top Ten’? Contact me by commenting here, or by leaving a message on my website, Flickr page, or 500px site (see right for the links.)

Happy shooting this autumn!
Peter  x

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Thinking small...

I’m just not even going to comment on the inactivity of this blog this time. I’ll just say I’ve been busy and leave it at that! Sorry…

When shooting landscapes it’s very easy to be tempted by the ‘big picture’ and miss the little details. Recently I’ve been making a conscious effort to home in on the smaller elements of the scenes I’m shooting in the hope of creating a more intimate view of my local landscapes. I’ve visited the Mediterranean twice this year, once to Crete and once to Malta (images will show up eventually!) and as beautiful as these places were it made me want to spend more time finding what it is about the places closer to home that I really love. It’s quite amusing really; when you haven’t been abroad for a while and you’ve been flicking through a few travel photography magazines you can find yourself feeling frustrated with the photo opportunities you have available to you at home. Then when you jet off to somewhere exotic you’re still frustrated with landscape back home because you realise how much potential it has, but for some reason you haven’t been able to make the most of it! I really love the British coastline and want to show this in my images. So we’re ‘thinking small’ for two reasons now; 1) we’re forgetting the temptation to travel abroad to find inspiration, concentrating on what we have at home, because we’ve realised how impressive it is and 2) we’re looking closer at the landscape to find what makes it impressive to us, in the hope of portraying an intimate picture to people from other places. Looking for the little details…

Recently I was shooting the coastline at Whitburn, Tyne and Wear. This about 15 or so miles from my home in Chester-le-Street yet to be honest it is a totally foreign landscape; I hadn’t been until about a month ago! It was another of those “how did I miss this?” moments because I was genuinely impressed with the shape of the tide-worn geology. The first visit consisted mostly of ‘sketching’ with my Powershot G12; exploring the possibilities without lugging all of my gear around with me. As luck would have it though the light on this day was far better than the two subsequent visits. When I finally took my ‘proper’ gear with me it was very overcast and the land looked very flat. Rather than being disheartened though I chose to focus closely on the luminescent green seaweed that I’d previously noticed coating the rocks on the shoreline. I love the way the seaweed seems to flow over the rock like the water that sculpted it and left it that way on the previous tide. After a few minutes of wandering I found the line of rocks you see in the images here.

I didn’t place them like that; the scene was all arranged by the sea. The placement was perfect and just screamed to be photographed. It took me a while to find a composition I liked but I think I’m happy with the end results. If the sun had been out, managing the exposures would have been far trickier and the light wouldn’t have been as soft and flattering. I think shots like these are quite literally portraits of a landscape and the overcast sky in this case provided our softbox quality light.

Images such as this are about what you leave out of the frame and for me this set tells a far better story about the location than if I’d taken a series of wider views. You don’t always need dramatic lighting because you don’t always need to create an epic picture; delicate and understated are qualities just as admirable; another reason to ‘think small.’     

Let’s leave it there because I’m starting to get philosophical and when that happens people tend to fall asleep! I like looking for little details (I’ve even created a new gallery on my website under the name.) Travelling abroad is great fun but sometimes it’s nice to think about what makes home, home, what you love about it and to communicate these through images…

Have a good week,
Peter :)

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Ultimate challenge of the week: survive without a computer!

My laptop died this week. HDD problem apparently. Luckily, I'm obsessed with backing things up, as many photographers are, I imagine, so I didn't really lose anything of importance, but the whole thing has got me thinking (which is an irregular occurrence.) Are we all too reliant on technology?

This isn't a new argument of course but I'm not talking about the threat of having the country's accumulated wealth deleted or the unsettling thought that we're often driven 40 thousand feet into the air by a piece of software. I'm talking about us, people, in our daily lives and how almost everything we do these days revolves around a collection of circuits - and more importantly how we're held ransom when those circuits decide to burn out!

I can't believe how lost I feel without my laptop. I realised that practically my entire life has come to a stand still for the simple reason that virtually everything I do is…well...virtual! My uni work, my photographic projects and assignments, my music, my connection to friends, all is accessed and controlled my digital companion.

Now I of all people appreciate the advantages today's technology brings; I can't imagine a world without Photoshop, even though I know photographers coped just fine without it for over a century, but I wonder if life was somehow more simple back then. After all the laws of chemistry don't change - if something didn't go right in the darkroom and an image was ruined there was only a limited set of possible reasons why, one of the major ones being human error. In 2013 however we're working with far more complex equipment and a passing knowledge of how it functions probably won't help you very much; I for one use IT every day but can't say I'm an expert in every aspect of how it works. I suspect most people aren't, which is why we, in this 'Golden Age' of hyper complex systems are unable to carry out even some of the most basic tasks when it all goes !*%$ up!

Furthermore (I could go on about this all day) stuff these days has remarkably limited longevity with technology becoming obsolete in a matter of months. Actually I think it's rather amusing how we react when faced with older gadgets that at one time we thought were awesome but now realise are nothing better than paper-weights! I'll provide you with a suitably relevant example; I'm writing this on my old laptop from about 6 or 7 years ago. It's not-so-quietly chugging away in the background and seemingly every time I hit a key it emits an alarming whirr. When we bought it for me to do my GCSE work on it was perfectly suitable, but now I've got to tell you it's a heap of junk! Seriously when we went to pick it up at PC World the shop assistant swung the deal by promising us a "free, complimentary sack of coal" whilst the wealthy gentleman beside us, purchasing the latest and up-to-date model had to wait for his 'purple-shirt' to nip out to the warehouse to fetch his bike and dynamo.

Anyway I think I've made my point so I'll stop there. It's been a knackering day of photography with me shooting quite literally from dawn to dusk. I started out with a couple of hours back up on Waldridge Fell and slowly but surely made my way to Lumley Castle and the woods behind. I can no longer feel my extremities but I think the images made it worthwhile, although I can't be sure and won't be until next week when I get my laptop back!

No really I must stop: this old clanger of a machine is running low on solid fuel...and I left the shovel out in the snow!

See ya :)