photography

Friday Image No. 45

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Loughrigg Tarn, The Lake District.
Loughrigg Tarn, The Lake District.

This week I want to share with you another image from my recent trip to the Lakes. At the time this was my favourite although this feeling is now fading. I often find this happens. What appeared to be a great/favourite image immediately after a trip is replaced by a different favourite as the memory of the trip fades.

This image is a stitch of 4 shots from the Olympus OMD EM5 with the Olympus 12-40 lens set to 12mm. Stitching was done in Photoshop using the cylindrical stitching mode. I find this often produces the least distortion when you haven’t used a panoramic set up. But it then leaves you with the problem of levelling everything up and filling in the corners of the image.

This image was no different so I used my usual technique of applying a Warp Transform followed by cropping the image to size. After that it was down to processing with Photoshop and the Nik Collection tools.

I liked the image after the shoot and I still do. My feeling now is that I might have more subtle and pleasing images if I spend some time reviewing the shoot. I will probably get around to that in June if I’m lucky.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the image and have a great weekend.

An Important Decision

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Ullswater Boat Jetty, The Lake District, England
Ullswater Boat Jetty, The Lake District, England

It was an early start yesterday. Up at 4:30 in the morning in order to make the 2 hour journey to Ullswater in the Lake District for a dawn shoot. Despite the early morning start it was without question one of the most enjoyable days photography that I have ever had.

Overnight the temperature had dropped like a stone and there was a thick haw frost on the ground. Most waters in the Lakes had a thin layer of ice starting to form around their edges but because the temperature had dropped rapidly the deeper water was still cooling. Instead of ice covering their surface they had a wonderful mist and the conditions just got better as the day went on. The image you see above is of the boat jetty near Pooley Bridge, at dawn. Captured on the Olympus OMD EM5 with Olympus 12-40mm lens and a 0.3 ND Grad on the sky. Aperture was f/9.0 (a mistake as I would have shot this at f/7.1 usually). ISO200 and shutter speed 1/125″.

So you might ask, what is the important decision? The answer is, that I have decided to sell the Nikon D800; but I want to explain and share my reasoning.

Firstly, this is the third trip I have made where I can’t bring myself to carry the extra weight. When I returned from Bolivia I suffered a prolapsed disk at the base of my neck and for a while it looked like I might need major surgery. Fortunately, this is looking less likely now but the pain over the past couple of months has been unbearable at times – and pain killers just didn’t have an effect on it. I was finding that even trying to lift and support the heavier equipment was aggravating the pain.

OK, so this might be a temporary condition (I certainly hope it is) but other things are more permanent and important. One of the reasons I bought the D800 was that a lot of people were claiming how the image quality is exceptional with the right lenses and I would agree, yes it is. The camera would perform very well even with lesser quality lenses but needed a little more adjustment to really bring this out. But the important point is, the image performance is no better at low ISO (which I use almost exclusively) than the EM5. In fact, the corner and edge sharpness of the EM5 images beats the D800 even with high quality lenses.

All I really get with the D800 is an image file that produces a 24.5″ inch image rather than 15.36″ at 300dpi. Does this additional image size matter? Well, unless I am going to be making a print larger than 30″ and look at this with my nose pressed against it. You really need to be doubling the print size to notice the difference in output quality due to the way inkjet printers work. If you print on Matt paper then you might even need to go larger than this. As for output to the Internet, there is no benefit to having more pixels and then throwing most of these away by downsizing the image.

Where the D800 does score well over the EM5 is in the RAW files. I seem to be able to push these all over the place in editing and see almost no noise, even in shadow areas. This is very nice but again it comes with a downside. The RAW files from the D800 do seem to need much more processing in comparison to the EM5 RAW files. It’s almost as if the D800 RAW files are a little flat, possibly to the additional dynamic range the camera has. Whatever the reason, it feels like I am having to relearn how to get the most out of the camera and I don’t really have time for that at the moment.

The final and most important problem is that the D800 really doesn’t suit my style of shooting. What I don’t like to do is pop the camera on a tripod, spend a lot of time getting into position, check everything and then make one or two good exposures. This just doesn’t work for me. My approach is to move around and into the subject, taking lots of pictures and checking them regularly. As I work I find images that I like or things I like about an image that I work with to incorporate. The shots gradually get better until I arrive at the image I want. This style of working isn’t for everyone but if it’s your style, you will find it hard working with a large DSLR.

I do have to admit though that I didn’t always recognise this. It was only when I moved to the EM5 that my shooting style really started to develop in this way and that I started to feel free. Now when I try to go back it’s as though I am constrained and I have lost that feeling of freedom and spontaneity.

So, this is my reasoning but I will caveat it with a final thought. I reserve the right to change my mind. As I was writing this I was looking back at some of my RAW files from the D800 and they do have a quality that I really like. I’m just not sure it’s enough to make me want to keep the camera.

Essential skills for Photography – Skill 6

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RWhalley_5D_2012_04_IMG_7272

In this final blog post of the series I will introduced the sixth skill that I believe is essential in producing great photography.

Image Adjustment

There are two aspects to this:

  1. Technical skills to be able to make the adjustment
  2. Aesthetic skills so that the adjustments are pleasing and not taken to an extreme

For the first element you must understand the image editing and adjustment tools that you use. You must also seek to use the best and understand how the different controls can be used to manipulate he image. You also need to understand this from the perspective of a photographer or an artist. You are not interested in lightening an image or adjusting the contrast, you are interested in creating illusion. Illusions such as sharpness and clarity. You need to understand how to control and manipulate light.

As you master your chosen tools you also need to understand the aesthetics of the adjustments you make. Your adjustments should be believable and realistic. Take your adjustment too far and the image will appear ugly. This is art and this is where you can truly introduce your vision.

Now it’s your turn. What have I missed? Do you agree with the skills discussed or do you find the concept of these skills too vague? Let’s share some opinions.

Essential skills for Photography – Skill 5

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RWhalley_2012_10_IMG_7654In my previous blog post I introduced the fourth skill that I believe is essential in producing great photography. Today I will try explain another of these essential skills.

Image Selection

In an earlier post we spoke of exploring your subject in order to realise a clear vision and strong communication. It’s likely that this will result in many photographs of the same subject with only small variations between images. What we can’t do is present all these variations to our audience and expect them to select the best one; that’s our job as the photographer. I recall attending a wedding where the photographer was shooting continuously. When the bride and groom received the proofs the photographer had presented them with almost 1700 images and expected them to pick the 20 they liked best.

Being able to edit your images in order to select the best one for any particular subject is an essential skill that’s often overlooked. Let’s say we are faced with 20 image variations for a subject we have been shooting and we need to pick the best one. Which is best is quite subjective but:

  1. It must have a strong composition – if we can’t recognise a weak composition to weed out poor images we need to study this.
  2. Of all the images with a strong composition, which one conveys our vision and communication best? If we don’t know, it’s because our vision isn’t as strong as we thought it was and we need to spend more time developing this.
  3. If we are producing a series of images we need to ensure all the images work together. If we have one image that stands out above the rest we will make all the others appear weak. If we have one weak image it will stand out and damage the story being told.

If we really do have a few images that are similar and all very strong, just pick one. The rest of the world will never know we had a difficult choice to make. They also don’t care; they just want to see a great photograph.

I will introduce the final essential skill tomorrow.

Essential skills for Photography – Skill 4

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RWhalley_5D_2013_02_7840

In my previous blog post I introduced the third skill that I believe is essential in producing great photography. Today I will try explain another of these essential skills.

Understanding your equipment

Now please don’t confuse this with knowing how to use the features of your camera. The ability to pick up and control a camera is a given skill that every photographer needs. No, this skill is about understanding and appreciating the characteristics of the equipment at your disposal and understanding how we can use this to strengthen our communication with our audience.

An example to understand this a little better is if we were shooting a portrait. The subject would need to be the person in the image. What we therefore want to avoid is having multiple people dominant in the frame as these will be distracting. If our composition and technique is very poor it may leave our audience unsure which person is the subject. To make it clearer we might chose a long lens so that we can concentrate on a single person in the frame. We might also use a wide aperture to create a shallow depth of field. This will ensure objects behind our subject are thrown out of focus, so emphasising the subject still further.

A second example is where we use of Wide Angle lenses in Landscape Photography. Unless we move in close to our subject and include something in the foreground, the image loses impact as objects recede very quickly into the distance.

These examples are about understanding the characteristics of your equipment and then being able to make decisions about how use them to create strong compositions.

I will introduce another essential skill tomorrow.

Essential skills for Photography – Skill 3

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RWhalley_5D_2012_04_MG_8820

In my previous blog post I introduced the third skill that I believe is essential in producing great photography. In today’s post I will explain another of these skills.

Composition

This is probably the first of the recognised traditional camera skills and one the many people will answer with when asked what do you think are the essential skills for photography. But a lot of people when starting out in photography (myself included) struggle with knowing how to create strong compositions. I can remember reading lots of books on the subject but never quite grasping what was being said. What I had failed to understand is that composition can’t be reduced to a set of rules that if followed will produce the best compositions.

Whilst it’s true that a strong composition is recognisable, it’s almost impossible to arrive at the perfect composition. What you need to strive for are strong compositions. Whilst you can follow some guidelines, it’s better to train yourself to recognise good composition as well as the faults of poor composition.

If your composition is weak it will hamper your photography as it will hide your vision and communication. When you get it wrong, the composition will jar with the audience and they won’t invest the time necessary to appreciate your work. Your communication will be hidden by the noise of poor composition. It’s a little like experiencing a small amount of static on the telephone line. Whilst you can still hear the conversation it becomes more difficult to hear the message, requiring more concentration. Your audience is choosey with their time as it’s precious. If they can’t hear your message clearly, they will move on to another message that is clear.

I will introduce another essential skill tomorrow.

Essential skills for Photography – Skill 1

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RWhalley_5D_2011_04_IMG_8628

Someone recently asked me what I thought were the best skills to develop in order to improve their photography. The question is an interesting one as the answer depends on your current level of skill. Despite this I thought I would have a crack at documenting six skills that I think are pretty much essential if you want to produce great photography.

As I’m going to share my thoughts with a little explanation, or you might wonder why I have made the choices I have, I thought I would turn this into a short series of mini blog posts. As you read these you may agree or disagree with my ideas. If you have any strong feelings about a particular post please do comment as I’m really interested to hear the views of others.

So here we go…

Inspiration and Opportunity

This is the ability to tune into your inspiration and recognise the opportunities for great photography. As we go through each day we are presented with almost limitless opportunities to take great photographs. If those don’t register with us we never bother to capture the picture.

Even when we do recognise the opportunity, with so many how do we know which ones to pursue? Each time we pause to capture a photograph there is an opportunity cost to our work in that we have less time to pursue other opportunities. We therefore need to do more than just recognise the opportunities; we need to be able to distinguish a good opportunity from a great one. This requires us to have the confidence in our ability to make the decision of how best to invest our time.

One tool that can help is to understand our inspiration. What is it that we want to take pictures of? What are the specialist areas of our photographic interest? If we understand this and concentrate our efforts pursuing these, it will pay dividends. Let’s not wander aimlessly through our days snapping random photographs. Let’s be led by our inspiration to create great work.

I will introduce another skill tomorrow.

New Book and Free Book

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’m usually really excited to be announcing a new book launch but recent events have somewhat dulled my enthusiasm. I received the final edit over the weekend and as always my editor has done a great job. I thought about delaying this but then decided I wanted to try to regain some normality. I also had the opportunity to dedicate the book to the memory of my mother.

Despite my subdued mood I am very pleased with the content. I think the book is pretty unique in its approach to developing peoples photography. Having said that I will probably find several hundred people now write to me to say it reminds them of another book.

If you want to take a look here are the links to amazon.co.uk and amazon.com. You can also search for “The Photographers Coach” on amazon.

Dfine Cover

Additionally, if you would like to get a free copy of my book “How to Avoid and Remove Image Noise with Nik Dfine 2″, this will be available for free download on the 2nd August and 3rd August from the amazon Kindle store.

The links are as follows for amazon.co.uk and amazon.com. If your on my Lenscraft mailing list I will be sending out a reminder nearer the time.

Please feel free to spread the word and I hope you enjoy.

More Emotional Impact in Photography

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Does this image trigger any emotional memories for you or does it leave you blank ad wondering what it's about?
Does this image trigger any emotional memories for you or does it leave you blank ad wondering what it’s about?

I have posted a few blogs now talking about creating emotional impact in photographs. The subject is something I find absolutely fascinating but it’s also a double edged sword. You see each person’s background and experiences will dictate to a large extent what triggers an emotion. There are of course some things we are all hard wired to respond to such as a kind smile, but in general it’s our past experience that we link to with emotional triggers. The double edged sword I mention is that whilst these emotional triggers can create very powerful photography they can equally fail to have any impact, leaving the viewer wondering what the image is about.

So what sort of things can trigger an emotion?

There is the subject matter – examples might be a cute image of a baby or it may be an image of a subject that triggers nostalgic feelings. If you are from the UK you might instantly start to date the image above in your mind, possibly linking it with hardship or good times. But if you are from another country you might not understand the image at all; it could be meaningless to you.

Colours can trigger feeling such as blue making us feel cold and reds are warm. But it goes beyond this as certain combinations of colour used when toning an image can trigger feelings. Some pastel shades are particularly helpful in this respect and if you look carefully you will find this used in lots of advertising materials. Ever wondered why cupcake packaging all follows a similar theme.

Some special effects such as a simulated light leak or film scratches or film grain can all trigger emotional memory (even if you never shot film). This is possibly why some of the software packages that simulate film have become so popular in recent years.

Light can trigger emotional feelings as in the following image. This small out of focus image of light reflecting on water triggers a very strong emotion in some people that reminds them of lazy summer days spent relaxing, possibly in their childhood. Personally I love it even though it’s of nothing in particular; it may not do anything for you.

Light reflecting on the sea, but deliberately out of focus
Light reflecting on the sea, but deliberately out of focus

Why do I keep talking about this? Because I think it’s a route to creating more compelling, powerful images. If we can identify different ways of triggering peoples emotional memory we can create more striking, enjoyable and enduring images.

What are your favourite filters?

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Sea and cloud scape. Shot with an Olympus EM5 and processed using Nik Silver Efex
Sea and cloud scape. Shot with an Olympus EM5 and processed using Nik Silver Efex

I’m really interested in something and need your help. I love photography software and in particular filters and editing tools. I’m always on the lookout for new software that’s good and want to know what recommendations people have. Here are a few of the filters I already use in my workflow:

  • Nik Collection
  • Topaz (B&W Effects, Star Effects, Adjust, Detail)
  • On One Software Perfect Photo Suite
  • Photomatix (HDR)
  • Photo Wiz (B&W Styler, Contrast Master, Focal Blade)
  • Neat Image Noise Reduction
  • Qimage Ultimate (printing)
  • Akvis Magnifier (resizing)
  • Helicon Focus (image stacking)
  • Hugin (panoramic stitching)

Now I don’t want just names of filters and adjustment tools you have heard about, I want recommendations of tools you use and think are great. What do you recommend I look at?