Digital Photography

It’s that Tree Again

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Lone tree at sunset, above Malham, The Yorkshire Dales.
Loan tree at sunset, above Malham, The Yorkshire Dales.

Someone recently mentioned that you could do a book on this iconic lone tree. Whilst I don’t often visit the area, on this last trip I do seem to have photographed the tree quite a few times in different conditions. Here’s one from the end of the day. The Photographers Ephemeris said we were in a good spot for a sunset but the hills were definitely blocking the best view. I suspect it was user error. Just goes to show that there is no substitue for local knowledge.

Friday Image No. 93

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Sony RX10, four images, ISO80, f/6.3, 1/50"
Sony RX10, four images, ISO80, f/6.3, 1/50″

This is Mam Tor in the Peak District. Given that I live on the edge of the Peak District and this location is just a 40-minute drive from my house (ignore the 1 hour walk once you get there) I seldom go. I don’t know why but the landscape never seems to appeal in the same way that the Lake District does.

This image was shot when we went for a walk. It’s actually 4 images shot on the Sony RX10 and then stitched in Lightroom. I used a 0.3 ND grad on the sky as although it was misty, the sky was still bright and causing the Sony to show those worrying zebra patterns that indicate over exposure. I know that I have about 1 stop of latitude when shooting RAW but I don’t like to push the RX10 too far. Once you pass the exposure point, the detail vanishes in an instant. It’s not like the EM5 or film where the overexposure gradually fades to white, it just vanishes with the Sony RX10. If you have one of these great cameras, watch out for this problem when shooting landscapes and try to use ND Grad filters.

Have a great weekend.

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 Olympus 12-40 Sweet Spot

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Olympus Em5 with 12-40 lens. See blog text for settings.
Olympus Em5 with 12-40 lens. See blog text for settings.

I have noticed that when shooting with the Olympus EM5 I have become very lazy about setting the aperture. I have fallen into the habit of shooting at f/7.1 when using the 12-40mm lens. Unless there is something that’s very close to the camera I find that I can get away with using this aperture almost all the time. With this lens and aperture combination I find that it gives me an excellent depth of field for Landscapes but also produces sharp images that are well focussed from corner to corner.

But this isn’t to say that it’s the best aperture for the lens.

I have actually found that my lens tends to perform at its best when stopped down to around f/5.6. There is less depth of field at this aperture but you can still achieve a hell of a lot when used with the 12mm wide angle end of the lens. You just have to take care where you place the focus point – but more on that in another blog post.

You might also find a similar setting are also good with other Micro 43 lenses in this focal range. I also used to use a Panasonic 14-45 and this seem to match the performance characteristics of the 12-40.

The image above was taken inside an old kiln in the Royal Mint in Bolivia. It was shot at f/3.5 so that I could keep the ISO low (in this case ISO400) together with reasonably fast shutter speed as I was shooting hand held. Actually the shutter speed was 1/15” but it was sufficiently fast. I had the camera in burst mode and fired of a few shots one after the other to ensure one of these was sharp.

This lens seems to perform very well across most of the aperture range. Take a look at the enlargement of the top left of the image, shown below. This has minimal capture sharpening applied as part of the RAW conversion in Lightroom.

Corner sharpness at f/3.5
Corner sharpness at f/3.5

So whilst I am always keen to use my lenses at the optimum aperture, I don’t mind deviating if it means that I can capture the image.

Lightweight Cameras

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Canon G16 ISO80, f/4.0, 1/320".
Canon G16 ISO80, f/4.0, 1/320″.

There was a comment on my last blog post asking what had happened to the lightweight cameras as I seem to be publishing images from the Sony full frame. I was thinking about this and wanted to present a slightly longer response as it gives rise to an interesting point.

What is a lightweight camera?

The first thing that comes to mind is that size is relative. If your used to shooting with a Large Format camera, Medium Format might seem lightweight. To a Medium Format shooter, a DSLR might seem lightweight. There is a very good You Tube channel from Ben Horne who shoots with an 8×10 large format camera but then takes a Nikon D800 on his trips to use for video. That’s a camera manypeople think is perfect for Landscapes.

Is the Sony A7r lightweight? Perhaps it is as it’s a mirrorless design and smaller than most DSLRs. If I use it with old prime lenses, it’s actually smaller than my EM5 with 12-40 lens. But if we are determining a camera as being lightweight based on sensor size, then it’s not.

But then this raises the question of my Sony RX10. This is a large camera for what is effectively a bridge camera. It’s a little larger than my EM5 but has only a 1” sensor. Personally I consider it to be lightweight as I need only this camera and a couple of filters to shoot landscapes. I can fit everything into a small shoulder bag. If I were to take the equivalent lenses and the EM5, I need a larger bag.

Then there are the compact cameras. Currently I have only the Canon G7X which is a great pocket camera with the same sized (1 inch) sensor as the Sony RX10. This is definitely a lightweight camera with good image quality. Whilst I can produce good results with this camera, commercial reality means I can’t use this all the time. This is more of a carry anywhere camera in case the opportunity for a photo arises.

Finally, there is my latest purchase, the Go Pro Hero 4. This is definitely the smallest camera I have and wasn’t really purchased for photography but rather for filming some of my photo trips. I want to make some on location tutorials and will use the Go Pro to film these.

Back to the question raised, whilst I may not have published many images shot with the EM5 of late, I have been publishing shots taken with other lightweight equipment such as the RX10. I can’t shoot with every camera I own all the time and must vary the use. I like to publish recent material which probably explains the limited EM5 images. But rest assured, the EM5 is alive and well in my camera bag and will be used in the near future.

What I would be interested to understand is what people feel makes a camera lightweight. Feel free to add any thoughts as comments below.

Friday Image No.90

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Sunset view in the Yorkshire Dales from above Malham. Sony A7r + Canon 24-70 lens at 24mm. ISO 100, f/16.0, 1/15" shutter. Tripod mounted with a 0.3 ND graduated filter on the sky.
Sunset view in the Yorkshire Dales from above Malham. Sony A7r + Canon 24-70 lens at 24mm. ISO 100, f/16.0, 1/15″ shutter. Tripod mounted with a 0.3 ND graduated filter on the sky.

I was pulling a late one tonight and was so tied up with getting some urgent work done, I almost forgot to post the Friday Image. This was shot last Saturday in the Yorkshire Dales. It’s hard to believe this was almost a week ago. Time really does fly when you’re having fun.

Have a great weekend everyone.

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.