Approach

Processing Friday Image No.92

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Soft hazy light and subtle colours. The conditions weren't what I wanted but I can now see they work.
Soft hazy light and subtle colours. The conditions weren’t what I wanted but I can now see they work.

Last week I posted Friday Image No.92 and made comment about my having some kind of image blindness. In this particular case I think it was down to the conditions I was shooting in and the expectations I had in my mind. I often go out hoping for wonderful light and clean air, only to find the conditions are dull or hazy. Below you can see the starting shot for Image No.92. before any adjustments were made.

Starting image prior to any adjustment. This is the straight RAW file.
Starting image prior to any adjustment. This is the straight RAW file.

The light was quite nice now looking at this but it certainly wasn’t sharp light which is what I guess I wanted. I still took the shot but it’s only now that I recognise it’s potential. In case you’re wondering why I included all the sky, there is actually a hill in the foreground that prevented me from framing the shot any lower.

For the processing of this image I decided to crop the image to a more panoramic format which would remove the distracting sky and focus attention on the two halves of the image. There is the left half with the path and the right half with the mountain which is almost the inverse of this.

My initial thought was to produce a soft image with subtle colours that would make more of the hazy conditions. Often when you try to fight against and counter the conditions you end up with an image that doesn’t achieve what you want. It’s usually much better to work with the conditions and emphasise them even more. In the following screenshot you can see the conversion settings used in Lightroom – the colour temperature used is quite a bit warmer than the capture setting (originally around 5200).

Lightroom Adjustments
Lightroom Adjustments

The other key change was to use some negative Dehaze, which was set to -7. This was sufficient to lighten the image and emphasise the haze. I also added some selective adjustment to the shadows on the hillside to the right. This was intended to open the shadows so that they appeared to have texture rather than be a mass of black. The resulting image can be seen below.

For the final conversion to Black and white I used On One Photo Effects 10.5 with a Tonal adjustment to highlight the detail together with a black and white conversion. This is the same adjustment that I tend to use with my “Views from the Moors” collection of work.

Olympus EM5 + Panasonic 14-45 lens. ISO200, 1/200" at f/8.0
Olympus EM5 + Panasonic 14-45 lens. ISO200, 1/200″ at f/8.0

I personally can’t make my mind up which I prefer most, colour or black and white. I think I’m favouring the colour version.

The Secret to Great Landscape Photography

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Dent Viaduct in the Yorkshire Dales. Rare perfect conditions for Landscape Photography. Sony A7r + Canon 24-70mm lens. ISO100, f/16.0, 1/60", Tripod and 0.3 ND Grad filter.
Dent Viaduct in the Yorkshire Dales. Rare perfect conditions for Landscape Photography. Sony A7r + Canon 24-70mm lens. ISO100, f/16.0, 1/60″, Tripod and 0.3 ND Grad filter.

A recent trip to the Yorkshire Dales really drove home the importance of this secret. See if you can guess what it is as you read my outline of the trip. Read closely enough and there are a couple of lessons in there.

The first day was Friday and from the moment we arrived the rain set in. It was the sort of fine, persistent rain that gets everywhere and soaks you through. This continued well into the night, but this wasn’t a wasted day as we spent the time driving around some of the locations we would shoot. Partly in the hope that the weather might break but mainly so we could scout the locations and know what to expect the coming day.

Saturday came and the first sunrise location was a great success. Had we not visited this the day before we would have struggled to get into position in the dark due to the fence that had been placed across the path. It had been predicted to rain later in the day but that didn’t appear and the sky was filled with white fluffy clouds and broken sun. These are perfect conditions for Landscapes and the day was filled with great photo opportunities from sunrise to sunset.

Sunday started with high hopes for a sunrise as the forecast was clear of rain until lunch time. Unfortunately, there was no cloud, only clear blue sky. The sun came up and within a 10 minutes was too harsh to create a good image. Later in the morning clouds appeared and the light began to soften, making appealing images possible. The afternoon did cloud over so we made the switch to a waterfall location.

Monday started with high winds but the sky had well defined with fast moving cloud. There were fleeting rain showers with some shafts of light. Although we had initially planned to visit a ruined Abbey, the light was so good we thought we would landscape again. The conditions were very challenging with rain getting on the camera lens constantly and the high winds made it difficult to capture a steady exposure. We responded to the conditions by shooting a couple of waterfalls in secluded locations where we could find shelter.

In summary, this was a great trip and very productive despite challenging weather conditions. We visited a large number of locations and captured a variety of shots. The secret to this that I mentioned in the title is planning.

What really dictates the quality of your results is not the light but the weather. Weather is the largest influence on the light. Although you can’t control the weather, you respond to it. If you live in a climate with frequently changing and challenging conditions (I would say most of the UK), you will be at the mercy of the weather so you had better prepare.

Different weather produces different lighting conditions, and not all conditions are good for every landscape subject. Weather conditions can also be very challenging such as the high winds we encountered. The trick to making a success of your time is to switch to shooting subjects that make the most of the weather conditions. Whilst the light on the Monday was superb for large landscape shots, the wind made this impossible so we found shelter. Dull, overcast conditions were ideal for waterfalls but not landscapes. Equally, broken sun was ideal for the large landscape view but made shooting waterfalls tricky. I’m sure you get the idea.

You can’t change the weather, only react to it. This is why I say planning is essential. Had we not had plans and options for different locations, we wouldn’t have been able to respond to the conditions. We wouldn’t have known where the waterfalls were so we couldn’t have switched location. We wouldn’t have found the best views. We wouldn’t have known where to go for the best sunset and sunrise locations. If you don’t make plans and have alternatives you could find yourself wasting a lot of time.

Impressive Printing Service

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Image captured on Kodak Ektar 100 35mm film. Shot on a Hasselblad XPan with 45mm lens.
Image captured on Kodak Ektar 100 35mm film. Shot on a Hasselblad XPan with 45mm lens.

I recently showed the above image as part of my posting about film photography. At the time I made the point that my wife loved the image and picked it out from a selection of prints (all the others digital) as the one that stood out. My wife by the way is someone who doesn’t really bother about photography and bases her choice on what she likes. A couple of days later she asked me to get the same image printed large for our bathroom. In the past I have had a large print made by Whitewall so I decided to use them again.

I started by re-scanning the image on my Epson V700 using VueScan software. The V700 is OK for a flatbed scanner but it won’t produce super sharp images. The original image itself was shot on Kodak Ektar 100 35mm film using a Hasselblad XPan and my intention was to produce a print of around 30” wide. In the end the print was 31.5” x 11.4” as this was the best size for the intended wall. Once I had uploaded the processed image to the Whitewall website I was able to select the custom size option and set the longest side of the print – all very easy.

With the image uploaded I needed to select the print product to be produced. What I decided on was a print onto Fuji Crystal glossy photo paper which is then bonded onto an aluminium backing plate. This is then sandwiched with clear acrylic glass, in this case 6mm thick. The back of the aluminium plate also has a hanging rail attached which is very neat. In short, this is a high quality product.

In terms of printing, I decided to do my own soft proofing of the image prior to uploading. For this I downloaded and installed the printer profile from the Whitewall website. This was for a Lightjet print onto Fuji Crystal (a true photographic print is produced). When I compared the soft proof with the original, the soft proof was quite dark and needed to be lightened. Both the soft proofing and adjustment was carried out in Lightroom.

Looking at the print I received, it’s identical to the soft proof. Given the difference between the original and the soft proof, be sure to take the time to do this or you may be disappointed. Whitewall do have an option on the site to allow them to optimise the image. Personally I would rather take control over this step and I haven’t tried their service. If you don’t feel confident with soft proofing, it may be worth trying the service or at least contacting them for advice.

The total cost of this little lot was just over £100 including shipping and a discount code.

If you’re now wondering what the quality of the finished product is like, my view is that it’s superb. The colours and tones are spot on with the soft proof. The product itself is of a very high quality and the print is excellent. The image appears sharp (but not unnatural), despite being scanned on a flatbed and then enlarged slightly (the enlargement was carried out automatically on the Whitewall website. I do have a professional gallery print which is also a Lightjet photo mounted on aluminium and bonded with acrylic. This print from Whitewall is definitely of a similar standard.

If you’re in the market for a large print, I would certainly recommend Whitewall. I also want to make it clear that I am in no way connected to Whitewall and don’t receive any benefit from this review/recommendation. I have written this piece because I’m impressed and others may find it helpful.

A Love for Film

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Bronica SQ-Ai image captured on Kodak Ektar 100 film and scanned on an Epson V700 scanner.
Bronica SQ-Ai image captured on Kodak Ektar 100 film and scanned on an Epson V700 scanner.

A few weeks back I did something that was a little out of character; I bought a large camera. It isn’t the largest camera but it’s a quite big and somewhat heavy. The camera in question is a Bronica SQ-Ai together with 4 lenses and a 2x converter. If you’re not familiar with these camera’s, they were quite popular in the 80’s and 90’s and shoot medium format roll film.

Now I don’t intend to use this camera on a regular basis, although it is lovely to use. My reason for buying it is that I really like the process of shooting and printing film. I like the slow pace as you need to check and then double check the camera settings. I like the difficulty in using a hand held light meter, not knowing if you have metered correctly. I like the lack of feedback – no histogram and no image preview to distract you. I like the focus markings on the lens and the need to use a focus screen and magnifier in order to focus correctly.

I can’t say that I’m too happy with the process of scanning and spotting the images but then this is more than made up for with the images themselves. There is a certain look to film images that I really like and just can’t recreate digitally. And, it’s not just me who seems to prefer film…

Recently I printed around 10 images. All were digital captures using either the Sony RX10 or Olympus EM5. The exception to this was one image that was shot on Kodak Ektar 100 film using a Hasselblad XPan 35mm camera. I showed these prints to a friend and he went straight to image shot on film. I had to agree with him that the printed image stood out as it looked so natural, as if you were standing in front of the scene. When I returned home I repeated this exercise with my wife. Again she immediately picked out the film print as being different and having a look that she liked far more than the digital prints.

Image captured on Kodak Ektar 100 35mm film. Shot on a Hasselblad XPan with 45mm lens.
Image captured on Kodak Ektar 100 35mm film. Shot on a Hasselblad XPan with 45mm lens.

So my objective in buying this old film camera is to help me enjoy my photography more. To move outside of the repetitive digital process and challenge myself. Having recently started a personal project (Views from the Moors) I’m finding that photography is more enjoyable and I hope this latest adventure adds a little something extra.

A Personal Project

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Moorland near to Blackstone Edge.
Moorland near to Blackstone Edge.

Sometimes it can be hard as a photographer to keep your motivation up and I think this is especially true with Landscape Photography where the weather is often uncooperative. This is where the personal project comes in.

Having a personal project helps you find the motivation to get out and shoot. But even then it can be difficult if your project isn’t something accessible and near to where you live. I personally have been searching for something near to home for some time but without success. Then it dawned on, I have the moorland of Saddleworth all around.

Now if you have ever tried shooting moorland, you will know that it can be some of the bleakest, depressing and most challenging of subjects. I have tried many times to shoot the area but failed miserably (unless it’s been snowing). But that’s before I was trying to shoot a project.

Once I resigned myself to multiple visits, I suddenly found a degree of patience that I hadn’t experienced before. No longer was I looking for that single amazing shot. Instead I was looking for scenes that would allow me to explore and represent the moors.

I now have a project “Views from T’ Moors”.

Setting Your Expectations

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Wet bark on a pine tree. Three images taken on an Olympus EM5. The images were shot for focus stacking using Helicon Focus.
Wet bark on a pine tree. Three images taken on an Olympus EM5. The images were shot for focus stacking using Helicon Focus.

Landscape Photography is much more difficult than most people realise. Sure you spend a lot of time out in the landscape but your also at the mercy of the same landscape. If the weather decides not to play ball, then there is nothing you can do about it. Or is there?

Part of the problem I at least appear to suffer from (I suspect I’m not alone) is unrealistic expectations. Each time I head out into the landscape I have my mind set on shooting the large open landscape bathed in beautiful light. Living in the UK, these conditions probably exist for only a small proportion of the year and only at certain times of day.

The odds are that I won’t be in the right location at the right time. Most of the time the conditions are quite poor (especially in winter) and this can be depressing. This last weekend though I decided to change this and set out with a friend in the knowledge that the weather was going to be dreadful. But guess what, we had a great time and I managed a couple of shots that I quite like.

The difference was that I expected the weather to be poor so set out with the mind-set that I was going to shoot in bad weather and that the light would be poor. I also chose the equipment that would perform well in these conditions. Rather than trying to fight with the Sony A7r I kept to a pocket camera and the Olympus EM5.

The lesson for me is that my expectations have quite a large bearing on how successful I view a day’s photography and probably, how much I try.

The Importance of Vision

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Vision allows you to make important decision about how to shot a scene
Vision allows you to make important decision about how to shot a scene

I’m currently working on a new book which is probably going to be titled “B&W Mastery: Lightroom Edition”. The book is targeted at users of Lightroom who are trying to master the elements of black and white photography in the digital age, using Lightroom. As I was developing one of the Chapters I started to write about vision and realised that this is such an important subject that I wanted to share some key points immediately.

Vision is a term we see and hear a lot in Photography but it can be confusing. In my simple terms, vision is how you imaging the finished image to look before you actually create it. How you create the finished image is what you then need to work out. But if you don’t have a vision for the finished image, you’re not going to create a strong, compelling photograph.

The importance of having a clear vision is most obvious at two points in the photographic workflow:

  1. The point at which you take the photograph
  2. The point at which you edit the image

When you are capturing the image with your camera, having a vision will allow you to select the right settings to control the camera as well as use any special techniques. Important questions can then be answered such as will you use a slow or fast shutter speed to freeze or blur motion? How much depth of field will you use? Without a clear vision you can’t make these decisions and you’re reliant on luck.

When you reach the point that you want to process your image, you again need a strong vision. If you don’t have a strong vision of the finished image you will find yourself simply experimenting and not creating. Whilst experimentation has its place, you need a strong vision of the finished image in order to create the photograph.

The reason I share this particular image is that I shot it almost 4 years ago but never processed it until now. Now that I have come to review the image, I can immediately recognise what I was trying to create when I captured the scene. Recognising this allows me to quickly process the image to create the finished photograph.

So do yourself a favour next time you are out shooting. Spend time to develop your vision for each scene you shoot.