Tag Archives: Landscape Photography

Back to Blogging with Zabriskie Badlands

Sunset at the Zabriskie Point Badlands. Captured on a GX1 with 14-45mm lens and post processed using Nik Viveza
Sunset at the Zabriskie Point Badlands. Captured on a GX1 with 14-45mm lens and post processed using Nik Viveza

I’m now back from a trip to the US and thought I would restart blogging with some images from the trip.

The first area I visited was Death Valley and the photograph shown above was taken at Zabriskie Point in the valley. It’s a bit of an odd place to visit in terms of Landscape Photography as the clear sky tends to limit when and how you shoot. My own preferrence when shooting landscapes at sunset is to have plenty of broken cloud which will colour up with the low sun. Here however the sky is clear much of the time so you don’t get the colourful sky. You can however achieve rather dramatic side lighting as shown on the hills here. In case you are wondering, these hills are just mud and gravel but they are rock solid and painful if you happen to slip on them.

The image was captured using my Panasonic GX1 and 14-45mm lens which was tripod mounted. There was plenty of light around so it wasn’t necessary to tripod mount the camera but I didn’t want to take any chances. I also think tripod mounting works well in any light and ensures very sharp images.

More photographs will follow once I have had the opportunity to download and sort them.

The Black art of Colour Management

Sunset images can be particularly challenging to edit and print if you don't have a colour calibrated workflow. Captured on a GX1 and edited with Nik Viveza.
Sunset images can be particularly challenging to edit and print if you don’t have a colour calibrated workflow. Captured on a GX1 and edited with Nik Viveza.

In my last post I discussed some of the choices we photographers now have in choosing paper surfaces for printing. Someone raised a question that I responded to about how to get the colours accurate but I think this subject deserves a more in depth answer; so here is a little more on the subject.

The secret to getting prints to look the way you want them to is all wrapped up in Colour Management. This can be a very simple process but it can quickly become a wide discussion with lots to confuse. I will try to keep this simple and discuss two areas of colour management that are essential to achieving accurate colour (and for that matter black and white) prints. These are:

  1. Screen calibration
  2. Printer calibration

It’s necessary to have an accurately calibrated screen so that you have confidence the colour you see on screen is the colour of the image. This is really vital because you could make your image look great on screen only to find you have compensated for all kinds of colour shifts and contrast problems with your monitor.

There are software solutions that allow you to calibrate your screen visually but these will never be as accurate as a hardware solution that measures the colours on screen, creating a specific profile for your monitor. There are a number of solutions available that will quickly allow you to generate a bespoke profile for your monitor and I suggest you invest in one of these. Its money well spent. Which model you invest in will depend on your budget and the approach you intend to adopt for printing.

When printing, it’s necessary to have your printer calibrated to the specific ink and paper. This allows you to ensure colours and tones are accurately reproduced for a given paper. There are three options here:

  1. Download and install the ICC colour profile for your printer and the paper you will be using. This is good but not as good as having a custom profile created for your printer.
  2. Have a custom profile created using a profiling service. This involves printing out a target image which is then measured to generate a profile. You can then install and use the profile for printing. There are a number of such services advertised in the back of photography magazines. Alternatively if you purchase Permajet or Fotospeed papers, they offer this service for free.
  3. Invest in a hardware solution that allows you to generate your own profile. This is good if you have a lot of profiles you want to create or switch papers often. This is the option I have chosen and have purchased a ColorMunki Photo tool. This allows me to calibrate both my screen and printer. So far the results have been exceptional.

Even if you intend to send your prints away to a printer, it’s still necessary to calibrate your monitor.

When it comes to printing, the printer and paper combination you have selected may not be able to represent accurately the range of colours and tones you see in your image. To compensate for this the printer will adjust the colours so that they fit within the Gamut that the printer can handle. This can affect how some colours appear as well as the contrast level in the image.

The solution to this problem is to use soft proofing for your images. Photoshop, Lightroom 4 and other packages will support soft proofing. This involves selecting the profile you are going to use to print your image and then the software tries to represent the image on the screen as it will ultimately appear on paper. There are lots of solutions here so your best option is to look up how to perform soft proofing for your chosen package. I would even recommend you soft proof your image when sending them off to a third party printer.

So, in summary:

  1. Profile your monitor and set it to use the customer ICC profile (most calibration units do this step automatically for you).
  2. Print using a profile generated specifically for your printer and paper combination. You should then use this profile when printing so you will need to print from an ICC aware application such as Photoshop or Lightroom. I use a package called QImage for reasons I won’t go into here other than to say it makes the job easy.
  3. Check your image using soft proofing before you printing to see if you want to make any further adjustments before you print.

Follow these steps and you will end up with accurate colours and tones in your prints.

Feeling Sorry For Myself

Newlands Horseshoe
Newlands Horseshoe

You may have noticed (I hope you have) that I haven’t posted to the blog this week. That’s because I’m feeling sorry for myself. I shot the picture above at the weekend from the summit of Cat Bells in the Lake District. The mountains ahead are one side of the Newlands Horseshoe which was my target for the day. It’s a wonderful circuit that I have done many times and the recent snow flurries made me all the more excited.

On this occasion it wasn’t to be however as my wife started to feel unwell. Turns out she had the flu which I then caught. I thought I could work through it on Monday but I couldn’t and I have spent the last few days laid up in bed feeling dreadful (I can’t remember ever having felt worse). I will have to cut this post short as I need to get some rest again. I can’t wait to feel better and get out with the camera.

Lightweight Photography Limitation

For long exposures in strong winds a sturdy tripod is essential. The size of the camera also matters.
For long exposures in strong winds a sturdy tripod is essential. The size of the camera also matters.

This last weekend was an interesting one as I was back in Northumberland photographing. I didn’t sleep much the night before which is often the case when making an early morning start, however this time it wasn’t the early start causing this; it was the howling wind. All night long the wind continued and well into the next day.

In the morning we sat in the car just before daybreak watching the huge wave’s role in, creating huge plumes of spray from the top of each wave. It was at this point that I realised my lightweight tripod just wasn’t going to support my Canon 5D with filters; at least not without showing signs of vibration. In the end I decided I had to use my old Manfrotto 055 tripod which is much heavier and was in the car as a backup.

Most of the results from the dawn shoot using the Manfrotto were vibration free and very crisp. Later in the day I switched back to my lightweight Velbon tripod which although still windy, t performed very well given I had a large DSLR mounted on it.

The following morning was pretty much a repeat of the day before except the winds were even stronger.  So strong in fact that I struggled to use the Manfrotto tripod with the 5D and ended up trying to shield the camera whilst holding down the tripod. I did manage a few wide angle shots with the smallest of my lenses but I wanted to use a long lens and in the strong wind I couldn’t.

My solution was to switch the 5D for a Panasonic GX1 with 45-200mm lens. This gave the equivalent of a 90-400mm lens on the 5D. Interestingly the smaller profile and weight of the camera allowed it to sit solidly on the Manfrotto tripod. So, although the Lightweight Velbon tripod suffered in the strong winds, so did the 5D and best of all, the lightweight GX1 solved the problem.

Infrared Revelation

Infreared tree captured with converted GX1
Infreared tree captured with converted GX1

A little while back I reported that I was struggling to get my Infrared images from my GX1 to meet my expectations. I was experiencing difficulties with depth of field, focus and my images seemed grainy and soft. And whilst I did achieve some improvements to the quality I wasn’t entirely satisfied the results. The real problem however is that I have nothing to compare my results against so it might be that all Infrared images are soft and grainy. Well, I have had something of a revelation over the weekend and have achieved some very high quality images with which I am delighted.

The source of my problem was identified after a friend sent his Nikon camera for conversion. When returned the lens had the UV filter removed and this had been carefully packaged with a note saying “DON’T USE WITH INFRARED”. When he spoke to the company they said they had encountered a number of problems in the past when these filters are used on converted cameras. Whilst all filters are not the same, there is no way of telling which cause a problem so he was recommended to buy a clear glass lens protector instead.

As soon as I heard this I searched the internet but couldn’t find anything about this problem. I decided to do some quick tests by simply removing my UV filters (expensive B&W ones) and the results were amazing. The areas that had been very soft were now much sharper. The graininess that had been apparent in images had now cleared. The images were now significantly sharper with fine details appearing crisp. And the distortion appearing towards the edge of the frame (especially in the corners) was reduced significantly, down to levels expected with these lenses.

Now you might recall that I mentioned my 45-200 lens didn’t display such strong problems as my 9-18 lens and that my 18-45 lens was worse than the others. Well checking the filters, the one attached to the 45-200 was a cheap 7 Day Shop UV filter which appears to have much less effect than the B&W filters. When I checked the B&W filters I found one of them caused more problems than the other.

I am now on the lookout for clear glass 52mm filters that do no filtering at all. Until I find them I will be shooting with the front lens element exposed.

Lightweight Infrared

Infrared effect in Lightroom
Infrared effect in Lightroom

I made an interesting discovery last night as a result of seeing a friends work on Flickr. Ed, the friend in question (who will probably also be reading this at some point) is on Flickr as Vision and Light. His work is excellent but he recently added one image of pine trees in a forest that I find simply stunning. The image looked like it had been shot with an Infrared Camera but it turned out that it was captured on his GX1 and then converted to black and white in Lightroom using a Blue filter (http://www.flickr.com/photos/visionandlight/8421599676/in/photostream).

Now the blue filter isn’t something that I would naturally use as it tends to send most images very dark (unless you have a clear blue sky which turns white). As a result I decided to experiment a little with my own images and in particular the one above. Whilst the Blue filter and even High Contrast Blue filter didn’t work for this image the Infrared filter did. What made me really think however is that I have loads of Lightroom Presets (I have downloaded lots) but I never use them other than as an initial set up for some of my RAW files.

In the past I have tried quite a few different “standard” settings for creating that wonderful infrared look but none have been successful. This particular Lightroom preset (ships as standard in Lightroom) was quite different. When I looked at what was happening, it was quite different to most others I have seen. Whilst the Yellow and Green sliders had been pushed to +100% the Red slider remained at 0%. Unusually the Blue sliders also remained at 0% where the common wisdom is to reduce the Blue slider to say -50% to darken blues. Reducing the blue slider is something I don’t like doing usually as it tends to reveal low frequency noise in areas with lots of blue (such as the sky) and can be very difficult to correct.

So the image you see here is based on the Lightroom present for Infrared.  Have however removed the grain and made some fine tuning adjustments to contrast and exposure. With these changes made I then exported the image to Photoshop where I added selective blur to the highlights using Focal blade before final sharpening and printing.

The lesson in this for me is that I shouldn’t ignore ways of working such as using presets. The lightweight route is to minimise equipment and processing to achieve great results. I don’t think the Infrared route I have chosen (converting a GX1) is truly a lightweight route; the Lightroom option may have been better in some respects.

RX100 First Real Impressions

Superbly sharp images from the RX100. Click to see larger image
Superbly sharp images from the RX100. Click to see larger image

Finally I managed to get out with the RX100 at the weekend and despite all the snow headed to North Wales with a friend. The light didn’t last long before the sky closed in with it starting to snow again. Fortunately I managed to get quite a few shots with the RX100 which has allowed me to assess its capabilities a little better.

Firstly the downside to using the RX100:

  • It’s a very small camera and it needs that leather half case to help with grip (I now have one on order)
  • It’s difficult to feel the shutter button, especially when wearing gloves
  • I miss the 24mm wide angle. 28mm is good but there were a few times that I found myself wishing for more

Now to the excellent stuff:

  • It’s a remarkably easy camera to use but better than that, it’s enjoyable and very intuitive. The more I use it the more I enjoy using it.
  • Size wise, its perfect to slip into your pocket
  • The sensor is lovely with low noise and a very high dynamic range
  • Image quality is exceptional

Image quality is the real reason I bought the camera and it’s simply amazing. The image you see with this post was shot with the RX100 and I can’t fault it. The quality looks like it’s out of my 5D and it produces the same size print. At ISO80 to 160 there is no visible noise, even when I set the noise reduction to off in my RAW converter. And whilst I am shooting RAW as always, the JPG’s are really very good and I would be happy to use them. This means I can take advantage of in camera HDR and other creative features.

The camera seems to resolve every little detail of a scene, especially in the first 20-50 feet. It’s not as good as the 5D with subjects in the far distance, which is really down to the laws of physics but it is so much better than I had hoped for. As for the lens, it is so sharp, even with finest details are sharply resolved. I actually printed the above image at A3+ and didn’t apply any output sharpening, only the usual RAW capture sharpening (and even then not much). The print is actually on the verge of looking too sharp and perhaps needs softening slightly.

The other aspect of image quality which you can’t judge from this image is the natural colours. Greens and blues are particularly good and far better than the LX5 or even the GX1 (although my latest GX1 is a big improvement on the one I had converted to Infrared).

As a pocket camera for a Landscape photographer or even urban work this is an amazing tool. And in case you were wondering just how detailed the full image is, here are three sections at 100% resolution with the only sharpening being light RAW capture sharpening.

Sample 1. Click to view at 100%.
Sample 1. Click to view at 100%.
Sample 2. Click to view at 100%.
Sample 2. Click to view at 100%.
Sample 3. Click to view at 100%.
Sample 3. Click to view at 100%.