Approach

Photographic Approach

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View from Place Fell, The Lake District. Fuji X-T2.
View from Place Fell, The Lake District. Fuji X-T2.

Recently I have been talking a lot about camera so I want to redress the balance a little. I have been having a couple of email exchanges recently with people who don’t like my photography. I have no issue with this, I just can’t understand why they feel the need to tell me. What I do think is important though is that I’m expected to conform to another person’s view of how an image should look.

The issue in question appears to be that my images are “over processed” because the scenes can’t possibly be captured in camera, the way they appear. The fact that I don’t add or remove items and generally only process my work from a single RAW file is irrelevant. If it can’t be captured with a single shot and without processing, then it’s wrong in their eyes.

I am a landscape photographer. I view the landscape as a thing of beauty and I want my images to reflect the beauty I see. I love to be in the landscape and if ever I could, I would want others to share this experience through my work. If this means I that I need to modify the tones in my image to make it appear as I see with my eyes and mind, then this is acceptable; painters have been doing it for years.

This brings me to the age-old question of should we process our images. My view is that if we shoot Digital and capture in RAW, we must process them. A RAW file without any processing is flat and unappealing. It doesn’t do justice to the subject. If you shoot JPEG then your images will probably look much better initially than the RAW file equivalent. But all you have done in choosing to shoot JPEG is abdicate responsibility for the processing and turned it over to the camera.

As for the “purist” who thinks everything should be done in camera, consider this. If you shoot colour negative film, then the processing of the image and its look has been engineered into the film emulsion. If you shoot colour slide film, again the same is true but you must also modify exposure with graduated filters (in the case of landscapes) due to the limited dynamic range. Is this acceptable as its not in camera? If you shoot black and white negative, then exposure, tone and contrast are controlled not just in camera and when shooting with filters, but also during the developing and printing process. For some reason the same people who criticise image editing see the manipulation of traditional black and white print film as acceptable.

I’m not going to ramble on for much longer other than to make two points:

  1. As photographers, we should strive to develop our own vision of how the images we shoot should look. We also have a responsibility to develop our editing skills to be able to deliver this vision or we are doing our subject a disservice.
  2. We must also learn to appreciate the work of others, even if it differs substantially from our own style and preference. Don’t seek to change others to conform to your vision but ask what can I learn from this other person’s view of the world.

Friday Image No. 110

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Cornish sunset. Olympus EM5 processed using Nik Viveza.
Cornish sunset. Olympus EM5 processed using Nik Viveza.

This isn’t a deliberate ploy to post the same image as last week. This image was taken at the same time as last week’s Friday image but the lighting is stronger. The reason it looks stronger is that the image is processed using Nik Viveza. When I did this, I employed a few adjustment tricks that people might not realise to try. I decided to share these “Secrets of Viveza” using a video which is posted on my you tube channel. I also embedded the clip below.

I hope you find it useful and have a great weekend.

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Landscape Photography is Frustrating

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Stones at Padley Gorge. Fuji XT1 + 16-55 lens.
Stones at Padley Gorge. Fuji XT1 + 16-55 lens.

I mentioned on Friday’s blog post that I was heading out for an early morning shoot the following day. At the time the weather forecast appeared to be little hit or miss. The intention was to shoot Winnats Pass in the Peak District. I was meeting a couple of friends there and to be honest the weather conditions on the drive over had me feeling hopeful. Unfortunately, within 2 miles of my destination I hit a fog bank but I wasn’t to be deterred.

Meeting up we decided to press on as the pass is high and the Hope Valley often fills with fog at this time of year. This can give rise to a cloud inversion where you find yourself looking out across a sea of cloud. The first challenge though was finding our way. I had never been to this location and my friends had only been once before. If you add to this the dark and thick fog, you should be able to guess that we got lost trying to cross a field. Eventually we did find the path and emerged onto the head of the pass. The view that greeted us was dull and foggy.

Rather than share one of my images with you, here’s a link to another photographer’s website. This is what it should have looked like.

http://www.jamespictures.co.uk/ngg_tag/winnats-pass/

If the sun did come up on that morning, we missed it.

Eventually we cut our losses. Regrouping we gathered our thoughts with a cup a tea and cooked breakfast. This is when we decided to try Padley Gorge in the Peaks.  The water and trees might prove quite evocative in the mist. Again, luck was against us as the fog cleared by the time we arrived, leaving us with a dull and overcast sky.

The image you see at the top of the post was taken in the gorge where there’s an old quarry. For those of you who don’t know, the round stones in the image are millstones. The gritstone in the area was perfect for making these and you can find millstones in many locations throughout the Peak District. They are a sort of icon of the area. My intention had been to shoot the image for B&W conversion given it was still too early for autumn colour. Having now seen the colour and B&W together, I do prefer the colour image, I think. Here’s the B&W version in case you’re interested.

Stones at Padley Gorge. B&W conversion.
Stones at Padley Gorge. B&W conversion.

In the end we gave up at around 13:00 and by the time I had driven home (about 50 minutes), the weather was glorious. As I said, landscape photography is frustrating.

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Sharpening RAW files from Small Sensor Cameras

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France, somewhere near Nontes. Sony RX10, ISO125, f/5.0, 1/250"
France, somewhere near Nontes. Sony RX10, ISO125, f/5.0, 1/250″

If you shoot with a small sensor camera and use Lightroom for RAW conversion, then it’s a good idea to take care when sharpening. Noise can be a particular problem when at low ISO settings but there are steps you can take. This video demonstrates how to avoid the ugly sharpening artefacts that can result and which tend to become exaggerated in later processing.

I hope you find this useful.

Friday Image No.101

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Swanage Pier, Dorset.
Swanage Pier, Dorset.

Here’s one for all you fans of Black and White. If you’re wondering what the colour image looked like at the start or the processing I used, it’s all covered in a short You Tube video.

View You Tube Channel

You might find it rather surprising if you haven’t seen it before.

Have a great weekend everyone.

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Aperture & Sharpness

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Death Valley. Even for extreme cases such as this three image stitch, f/9.0 was all that was required for full depth of field.
Death Valley. Even for extreme cases such as this three image stitch, f/9.0 was all that was required for full depth of field using th e Panasonic GX1.

At one time I didn’t understand the relationship between aperture & image sharpness. I read many magazine articles and books where Landscape Photographers would commonly say they stopped the lens down to the smallest aperture to ensure the image was sharp from front to back. What I hadn’t realised is that they weren’t discussing image sharpness but depth of field. I also hadn’t realised that many of these photographers were using medium format cameras where depth of field could be a real issue. Fortunately, I now understand this relationship but there continues to be misinformation published on the subject.

Here then are the key points you need to be aware of in relation to depth of field:

  • Depth of field is how much of your image appears to be in focus from the nearest point to the most distant.
  • Depth of field is determined by the aperture you use. If all other variables remain the same, as you make the aperture smaller (larger f/ stop number), you will increase the depth of field.
  • Other factors affecting the depth of field include:
    • Where you place the point of focus – the nearer the camera the shallower the depth of field. It’s also worth remembering that the depth of field will extend twice as far beyond the point of focus as in front of it.
    • The size of the film or the image sensor – the smaller this is, the greater the depth of field at the same aperture.
    • The focal length of the lens can also make the depth of field appear greater – a wide angle lens makes the depth of field appear greater than a long telephoto lens.

When I first started in photography, what I failed to grasp is that the factors determining how sharp an image is are different to depth of field. Let’s take an example where you shoot three images using a typical lens; the first image with the aperture as wide as it will go, the second with the aperture as small as possible and the third with the aperture between the two extremes. If you then review the images looking at the point of focus, you would find that the third image with the aperture at mid-value is the sharpest image. This is because lenses are design to perform at their best when aperture is closed down by a couple of stops. Once you go to the smallest aperture though, the performance and sharpness is compromised by something called diffraction, which makes the image appear soft.

One benefit of using a Micro 43 camera for Landscape work is that you can typically achieve front to back sharpness (depth of field) without needing to stop the lens down to the smallest apertures. In my own work I tend to shoot Landscapes with the lens set to 12mm (24mm equivalent on a full frame camera). The aperture I tend to use is f/7.1 or sometimes f/8.0. Providing you place the point of focus correctly you will have all the depth of field you typically need and the lens will be near to its optimum performance.

Where I use the Sony RX10 which has a smaller 1-inch sensor, I tend to shoot with an aperture of around f/5.6 for full depth of field at 24mm. And when I was shooting with the LX5 compact camera I was using f/3.5 to f/5.0 for full depth of field at 24mm.

I hope this helps all you small sensor Landscaper photographers.

You Tube Video: Nik Color Efex Essential Landsape Filters

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Boats moored on the banks of Derwent Water at sunset, Keswick. Canon EOS300 + Sigma 10-20mm lens.
Boats moored on the banks of Derwent Water at sunset, Keswick. Canon EOS300 + Sigma 10-20mm lens.

For those of you who are Nik users, you might be interested in a new video I uploaded to You Tube. I’ve had a lot of correspondence in the past where people have struggled with how to use Nik Color Efex and why it’s different from Viveza.

Generally speaking, Color Efex is all about adding special effects to your work. But there are also a few of the filters that I think are essential. These can help you improve your photography or correct problems very quickly and I use them regularly with my own work.

This video looks at the first of these filters, which was used to enhance the image above as well as correct a serious colour cast. Even if you don’t currently use Color Efex you might find the video interesting.

View You Tube Channel