Tag: digital photography

A few more from Iceland

For last few days and for two more, we’re staying on a farm about 10 minutes outside of Akureyri, in Iceland’s north. It’s snowing right now and we’ve had snow off and on over the last few days. Not a lot, but road conditions yesterday morning were a bit dicey. However, when the weather cleared, we had beautiful sunshine and more spectacular scenery of dramatic mountains, blue ocean, white snow and puffy clouds.

We drove up the coast of Eyjafjörður from Akureyri through Dalvik and three tunnels (one of which was a single lane for 3km!) to the northern village of Siglufjörður. If you watched “Trapped” – an Icelandic mini-series on Netflix – this was the town the story was based on and partially filmed in – a beautiful location surrounded by mountains and the sea. But the most dramatic scenery yesterday was just outside of Ólafsfjörður. Just off the point a brewing snow squall was lit by the afternoon sun.

We ended the day photographing a farm just south of Dalvik. The problem in Iceland is that the roads have no shoulders (and no guard rails except on a few, very few, choice curves!). In other words, there is no where to stop the car to photograph the great scenery except at farm lanes (they don’t like that!), pull-offs and picnic areas. The picnic areas are scattered along the road, some well-placed or photographers, others less so. A few hundred metres up the road from the farm there was a picnic stop – snowed in at the is time of year, but accessible, thank goodness. It was worth the trek back down the road to capture this beautiful view. It sums up the kind of day we had.

We went aback to Akureyri for dinner. Eating out is expensive in Iceland: fish and chips for two plus a couple of pints totalled about $75. Understandably, most of our meals we make ourselves, easy breakfasts of muesli and skyr (Iceland “yoghurt-like” milk product), sandwiches for lunch and dinners back at our AirBnB.

We ended the day the best way possible – soaking in hot pool. Each village and town has outdoor public pools, heated with geothermal heat. Each complex typically has a gym attached plus at lest one lane-swimming pool and at least two, often three of four, hot pools of varying degrees of warmth. This pool, near our AirBnB, is set in a valley surrounded by beautiful mountains, so sitting outside in a not pool at -2°C surrounded by the evening light with these great views was a real treat.

Here are more photos from the day…

 

Iceland in March

Right now, Laura and I are travelling through Iceland, mostly in the north. We rented and are staying at AirBnBs. It’s a great time of year as there is a dusting of fresh snow each night – not enough to obliterate detail, nor enough to make driving hazardous, but just enough to accentuate the detail of the mountains and volcanic rock.

I’m using the Sony RX10iii for all the shots. I’ve brought along my D800E with the 18-35mm lens, specifically to capture the Aurora borealis, when it makes its appearance (higher image quality at the higher ISOs needed). Otherwise, everything you see is using the RX10iii using raw capture and processing through Lightroom.

Another Spectacular Autumn

We have had our share of beautiful weather this autumn here in southern Ontario although lately, it has “normalized”.  At the same time, Laura and I have been out hiking almost every weekend rain, shine or, in the case of last weekend, snow. I’m really working hard at capturing at least one truly worthwhile photograph from each outing. So far, so good, but I also know that won’t always be the case.

Here is a gallery of the best from the last two months. All are made with the Sony RX-10iii which has become my go-to camera as of late, particularly because of its ease of use while hiking. On the last few outings, I’ve taken with me the monopod leg of the MeFOTO tripod. This has been a fantastic addition, allowing me to make photos that would be otherwise impossible late in the afternoon. Yes, I could be hefting a tripod and my D800E kit, but really, these photos will stand up to the needs of cards, photo books and fine art prints. I’m loving this change. Anyone interested in a used D800E and lenses?  🙂

Okay – so I have been trying for an hour to load photos into a gallery as I’ve done countless times before, but I keep getting a WordPress HTTP error – very frustrating!! So I will direct you to my Flickr Photostream to see the most recent photos. Enjoy!

Bruce Trail Photo Contest Announced

BruceTrailPhotoContest

Head over to the Bruce Trail Conservancy website for details of their 2016 Photo Contest. The Conservancy is providing maps of nine Nature Reserves – the focus of this year’s contest.

Wild Ginger covers the ground in a foggy deciduous woodland in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada along the Bruce Trial on the Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve
Wild Ginger covers the ground in a foggy deciduous woodland in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada along the Bruce Trail on the Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve
My family and I are keen supporters of the Bruce Trail and have been for decades now. Growing up on Hamilton’s East Mountain, I remember when the Bruce Trail was first being routed. We hiked it as kids from the end of Fennell Ave. to Albion Falls.

If you aren’t already a member, I encourage anyone who is photographing in southern Ontario to purchase a membership. You probably don’t realize how often you are using the Bruce Trail or one of its many side trails: Webster’s Falls, Tews Falls, Rattlesnake Point, Hilton Falls, Crawford Lake, Mono Cliffs, Kolapore Uplands, Bruce Peninsula … the list of places accessed via the Bruce Trail goes on and on.

You don’t need a membership to hike the trail, but, being a volunteer-driven organization, buying a membership helps with “the upkeep” and keeps you informed of club events. Better yet, consider making a donation; the Bruce Trail Conservancy is currently seeking donations to assist with the creation of a new nature reserve between Hogg’s Falls and Eugenia in the Beaver Valley.

So, if you’re looking for a project, a reason to photograph, consider visiting the Bruce Trail Conservancy Nature Reserves – and get our photographing!

No snow – what to do?

November Morning, Vance RoadI know many people, despite calling themselves Canadian, abhore the snow and can’t say anything good about it. Not me! I love the snow and the complete change in reality it brings each year. Sure it’s messy to get around in and, if you’re not careful, it can be dangerous. But, as the saying goes, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just poor clothing!”

But without any snow…what’s a landscape photographer to do?!? Not to worry – just refocus on what is around us. There are still many details, subtle hues, textures and tones to photograph.

Frosty mornings bring dead and dried wildflowers to life with a coating of beautiful crystals. WIth the frost comes bright, clear skies and brilliant sunrises – great lighting creating long, cool shadows in contrast with the warmth of early morning. Large scenes come alive with highlights; close-ups become a whole new world of intricate shapes and contrasts.

Speed River, NovemberAt the opposite end of the spectrum are the dreary, overcast days, depressing enough made even more so without snow to brighten them. A walk along a river may just awaken your landscape instincts. Try ignoring the sky and put your efforts into looking for smaller-scale landscapes which avoid the blank starkness above. Shapes, patterns and textures amongst the trees, grasses and wildflowers become apparent when one looks more closely.

Along river banks, the patterns and colour in the willows and grasses come alive when set against the dark water in front and the darker forest behind. The dark water itself can reveal details in flow patterns we might not notice on a sunny day. Ice along the water’s edge adds a further bonus of details to explore.

Flurries, Starkey Hill, Arkell

Lately, when we do get snow, it’s been nothing more than a skiff, like icing sugar on Christmas baking. But that in itself can create magical scenes, outlining each branch and stem. Hues and contrast will be muted under an overcast sky, but an increase in Clarity (in Lightroom) will help to bring back the crispness of the day.

Of course, dreary days are also a good time to spend indoors working on, for example, printing projects. When was the last time you looked through your photographs from the past 12 months, edited a few, then made some selections to print or have printed? I find I learn a lot from my photography when I stop to ask myself “why this image and not that?” Spending time editing also hones those skills. After all, photography isn’t just the capture of images in the camera – there is much to be explored in the digital darkroom, to enhance the scenes you’ve captured. Grey, dreary days might just be the time to do it.

Although Christmas is this week, is there someone who would enjoy receiving one of your photographs? There’s still time!

New Book! Super-Natural South Florida

Super-Natural South Florida
Super-Natural South Florida

Following on from our trip in March, I have published a fine art, limited-run monograph of 31 colour and black-and-white photographs: Super-Natural South Florida (ISBN 978-0-9813705-3-8). It is available on Amazon for USD$109.95, but for a limited time, I am making the book available directly to family and friends for CDN$87.50 (hand-delivered or shipped for $12.50 more).

The easiest way to make this purchase is by either sending a cheque for the full amount (there is no tax) to:

Terry McDonald
79 Vanier Drive
Guelph, ON  N1G 2K9

or by directly making a deposit to my PayPal account (you do not need PayPal to do this):

For one book, no shipping Buy Now Button with Credit Cards     or for one book + shipping Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

The photographs in Super-Natural South Florida are beautifully presented, one photograph per page, in a large, 12″x12″ format hard-cover book with dust jacket. Included are landscapes from dawn to dusk and photographs of the myriad unique wildlife of South Florida.

Why “Super-Natual” South Florida?

Florida is well-known for its abundance of beach-front condos and hotels and all the touristy sites of the Orlando area, not to mention the hundreds of tourist traps across the state. Equally well-known but often ignored, though, are the beautiful natural features. Laurie and I were planning this trip, it dawned on us that the South Florida region is unparalleled in the eastern US for its wilderness and wildlife value – not just the well-known Everglades, but all the protected areas around them:

  • Fakahatchee Strand,
  • Corkscrew Swamp
  • Big Cypress National Preserve
  • Rookery Bay National Estuarine Reserve
  • Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge

amongst many others. More importantly, these areas have been made reasonably accessible from trails, boardwalks, even the road.

When we started exploring these areas on foot, we were amazed by how accessibility the wildlife really is: birds, reptiles and flora were all “right there”. It was like being back in Tanzania with the wide-open landscapes and the sense of serendipity, never knowing what we would find around the next bend. The photographs depict this rich and diverse natural beauty: the landscapes, the wildlife and many of the details that make this sub-tropical paradise so unique.

If you enjoy the beauty of Florida, you will enjoy the photographs in this book. Have a look at this Blurb preview and consider purchasing a copy for yourself, for your favourite Snow-Bird or for your favourite Floridian!

Autumn Photos

I’ve been remiss lately, not just in my photography, but in posting the few photos I’ve had a chance to make this fall. As you well know, autumn is perhaps my favourite season for photography. I love the warm hues of ochres and yellows and burnt umbers and browns. However, September and October are also the busiest times at school, although I’m not sure any time of years is less busy; perhaps it’s the ramp up after summer that makes the fall seem manic. That being said, I’ve also taken on more projects this year at school.

But enough excuses… here are some photos. There is a balance of images from our annual Gr 10 6-day residential field study at Bark Lake Leadership Centre and some from ’round ‘ere. Bark Lake was difficult this year as it rained for most of the week. I was looking forward to doing more astrophotography but the stars just couldn’t burn through the cloud! However, one brief, windy late afternoon walk along the Lakota Trail yielded a few beauties.

As I always maintain, if I can manage just one masterpiece photograph for each outing then I am pleased.

New Website: Zenfolio or SmugMug (or Portfoliobox?)

SmugMugLogo Zenfolio LogoI’ve finally admitted to myself that my website is too much work to keep up in its current configuration. For years now, pride has gotten the better of me as I have done all the design and set-up myself, using Adobe GoLive at first, then migrating, quite successfully, to iWeb. However, with having to do all the “back end” work, the time needed to maintain the site and upload photos is far greater than I have. Lightroom Web module is also a bit disappointing in that to make one minor edit/additon/deletion, you need to upload the whole page – time consuming and inefficient. As well, I know my Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is poor and the site is beginning to look stale. It needs a refresh!

NOTE: If you are considering using SmugMug, please use the referral link at the end of this post. It will give you 20% off any of the services you choose (and it helps me, too = win-win!)

The Options

For the past few months I’ve been scanning the websites of photo portfolio hosting services, examining the myriad options – and there are many. I’ve have them narrowed down to two: ZenFolio and SmugMug, but I looked at many; here’s a summary:

  • PhotoBucket and Flickr: I have a Flickr account and use it regularly to upload recent work, but it is more of a depository for images, rather than a “capital G” Gallery; PhotoBucket is similar. While I like the modern look of both services, there isn’t the level of customization I’m looking for and at times, I’ve found Flickr to be a bit clunky in its implementation of slide shows and full screens. At $25 per year, Flickr a good deal, but not ideal. Photobucket, on the other hand, seems “scammy”, like they are trying to pull one over on you. On their homepage there is no mention of pricing, features or options, just a bunch of irrelevant small thumbnails. When you do get to pricing, it says 10GB, but then you read the small print to find it’s only 2GB, but uploading the app gives you 10GB. To me that’s not straightforward; it’s weaselling. No thanks.
  • Portfoliobox is perhaps the closest contender to Zenfolio and SmugMug, at least from my perspective. I think it’s the European influence of its styling that attracts me as well as its affinity to artists and creative professionals. Portfoliobox also has a no-nonsense choice of two accounts: free or $7.50/month. The only thing preventing me from heading in their direction is the lack of customization. I guess I’ve been spoiled having complete control for all these years that I still want some control, just not all of it.
  • 500px is similar to Flickr in that it is more of a depository of photos, but it has a much stronger “photo community” emphasis. I tried 500px for a while, but couldn’t be on it frequently enough to keep up with the “likes”. While I do some “liking” of photos in Flickr, gaining stature through “likes” as 500px does, is not my thing. Also, when my “Home” page is photos by other people, I can see it’s more about discovering other photos than working with my own. Flickr can be a bit like that, too. I don’t mind seeing other photographers’ work, but my goal with the site is to promote my own work.
  • PhotoShelter is a popular option amongst professional photographers. Even with its cheapest option at $10/month, it offers a complete store-front fulfilment option. But I’m not interested in having prints made by an outside company. I want to maintain the quality of my prints by doing my own archival fine art printing.
  • SqaureSpace has an excellent set of modern gallery templates that are photography-oriented so it caught my eye. But I also noticed it caters to businesses, restaurants and stores, so it’s not focussed exclusively on photography galleries. That’s not bad, I would just rather have the hosting service more focussed. Also, the plan that I would need is $16/month – rather steep when I don’t want the “Sell up to 20 products” option.
  • Now, FolioLink is photography and artist-oriented hosting service that is very modern and has a variety of options. In fact it is perhaps the premier service, but the price starts at $239/year and for your own domain, it’s another $30 – for up to 120 portfolio images. No thanks! My Scottish blood won’t allow it.
  • A note about WordPress. I use WordPress quite successfully for my blog. Yet, there are a number of photographers who use it as their gallery and website. Maybe I’m not flexible enough in my thinking or I just don’t know enough about WordPress, but I feel you should use the right tool for the job: a gallery site for galleries and a blog site for blogs. They have their specialities and I would rather work towards each of their strengths. Besides, although WordPress is free, if you want elegant design, you pay for it by purchasing templates. i would rather pay for the hosting and have the flexibility to change designs without having to completely revamp my website.
  • I also considered The Turning Gate (TTG). They have a series of options available for galleries and sales that work through the Lightroom Web module. Quite clever, actually, but given the limitations of the LR Web module, I have steered away. I also find the presentation of the Gallery page to be a bit “blocky” – not what I was looking for.

The Finalists

So that brings me to my two finalists: Zenfolio and SmugMug. I must admit to disliking the name SmugMug and preferring the name Zenfolio, but that’s a minor aesthetic point compared to what the two services offer.

But what does my website need? What, specifically am I looking for beyond modern-looking galleries? Here’s a list of “must haves”:

  • primarily, my website needs to host Galleries of images that I create/curate;
  • the site must also be flexible enough to allow keyword searches so that allow users may search based on their own needs and way fo thinking, not mine;
  • the host must offer modern, elegant designs with sizing from large monitors to tablets and phones. To me, “elegant design” means there is very little technology between the user and the website; it must be intuitive.
  • additional web pages with text are also necessary, such as an About page, plus pages describing my workshops and fine print sales;
  • the service must also allow uploads directly from Lightroom through the Publish Services. This is critical, as LR’s Publish Services provide me with a smooth workflow for managing titles, captions, keywords and galleries all from within Lightroom;
  • Most of all, however, the hosting service must be offered at a price reasonable enough to make it all worth it without including a lot of extras I won’t use.

Both ZenFolio and SmugMug offer these options at $60/year – very reasonable. They are actually quite similar, offering significant customization and a variety of pages. Zenfolio comes closer to a ready-made option with a Blog, About and Contact pages in addition to Gallery pages. I also appreciate the tree-style organization of the photos in Zenfolio and the ability to have “Collections” as well as folders. I’ve since learned of the same options in SmugMug, but they are not made as obvious as they are in Zenfolio.

It Takes Time!

This is one of the problems I have found in this investigation – it takes a huge amount of time. If I only went by the posted feature set and price, I could make my decision right away, but that’s what they want you to do, just like buying a car. It’s only when you look under the hood that you discover differences that could either make your efforts worth while or worthless – but yoiu won’t know until you actually work with it in depth for awhile.

For the last two weeks I’ve been hard at work using the free trials available for both services. ZenFolio certainly offers some real functionality and quite in-depth web design options. But I’ve found the interface to be a bit clunky. In particular, to make site changes, you go into a whole different side that is not seamless. SmugMug is similar, however I find the interface for page design more intuitive, once I became oriented to it. It is easy to see when you are making page changes, or site-wide changes. I do prefer ZenFolio’s easy-to-access organizational tree for photo galleries, but SmugMug is a close second.

ZenFolio Site
ZenFolio Site

One area of importance is how good their help is. I’m one to dive in and problem-solve. If I can’t probelm solve, I need to be able to find an answer; if that’s not possible, there needs to be someone available by email to help. I can happily report that I’ve worked with both Help Resources and Help Desks and have had excellent service. This included a rather protracted problem with the SmugMug Lightroom plugin, but it was easily solved and SmugMug extended my trial period.

Decision Time

So, the two services are rather identical except for one thing… The $60/year Zenfolio service is ideal, but I can’t use my own luxBorealis.com logo on Zenfolio unless I opt for the $140/year service. While this service also provides a store front for fulfilling print orders – the major difference to their $60/year service which does not – it’s a service I don’t need nor want. A logo is important, but it’s not worth $80 more.

SmugMug Site
SmugMug Site

SmugMug, on the other hand, for the same $60/year gives me exactly what I need. It has a lovely full-screen interface for my homepage that seems to work better than the Zenfolio equivalent. I also find navigation set-up and website customization much more straightforward. Another advantage to SmugMug is the limitless pages I can create with surprisingly flexible designs. It seems like a frivolous feature, but I particularly like SmugMug’s implementation of a keyword cloud – you will see it on any page on my site by scrolling down. Very interactive; very cool!

So, the decision has been made. I invite you to visit my SmugMug website and take it for a spin. Then, feel free to add your comments, either there at the SmugMug site or back here.

AND, in case you missed the note at the top, if you choose to use SmugMug, here is a referral code that gives you 20% off the service you choose – just click this link.

Grand River – AM and PM

Yesterday was one of those ideal August days for photography: cold overnight and warm during the day, not to mention a super moon in the evening!

Grand River Morning – On a cool, foggy summer morning, the Grand River valley between Elora and West Montrose is filled iwth mist in this view from Pilkington Overlook in Inverhaugh in southern OntarioI was down to my favourite location along the Grand a few days ago, about ½ an hour late for the mist rising, so I kept my eye on the weather for another cold night and Saturday night was just that – down to 10°C overnight. This meant Sunday morning would dawn with great mist over the water and the Grand River did not disappoint.

I started at Pilkington Overlook (between Elora and West Montrose) spending about 15 minutes looking for just the right view with fog filling the valley. I never did find it (I always have trouble there finding just the right view), however, I did come away with one (shown at right).

Sunrise and Mist, Grand River - On a cool summer morning, mist fills the moist, floodplain of the Grand River between Elora and West Montrose in southern OntarioThen, I moved down to the flats below by the Eighth Line bridge. Spectacular. Although the sun had already risen above the valley, it was just coming over the valley edge by the time I drove down there – a golden sunrise with mist swirling around. Having been there just a few days before, I knew exactly where I wanted to set-up each photograph. It was just as well, for within 30 minutes, the show was over – the mist had evaporated. There was still beautiful sunshine that would make lovely summer morning photographs, but without the mist, it just seemed lifeless. Again, just as well – our daughter had promised to make Sunday breakfast and I didn’t want to be late!

In that 30 minutes, I managed a few different set-ups, looking up and down river, each with a different focal length from very wide through to short telephoto (105mm). I disdain straight lines in nature photos, so I always worked to incorporate the curving, leading line of the river bank. I was also able to make a few long exposures to blur the water, using the NDx8 and ND500 filters. The air was so still – nothing moved! Wonderful.

Summer Sunshine, Grand River - Sunrise over the wildflowers along the banks and floodplain of the Grand River at Inverhaugh, between Elora and West Montrose in southern OntarioOne thing I am always startled by is how well the Nikon D800E handles exposures made with the sun in them when processed in Lightroom. (The lenses also behaved with only one small flare spot, daily removed in LR.) For example, the photo above was made at the exposure recommended by the camera (i.e. I did not add exposure compensation). Lightroom successfully brought the highlights of the sun down to something manageable. They don’t have any detail, but then again, there is no detail in the sun to be had! Also, the foreground was not so dark that it couldn’t be brought back to life by increasing the Blacks and the Shadows – all without introducing scads of grain, which is often the case with raising shadow areas.

It was a similar case for this photograph to the right, made a little later. Although I reduced the in-camera exposure by 1 stop, the shadows were still recoverable and still have lots of life.

Super-Moon Rising, Grand River - In August of 2014 the Moon was closer to Earth than at any other point in the year - a supermoon or perigee-syzygy of the Earth-Moon-Sun system. This view is over the Grand River between Elora and West Montrose.In the evening, I was back again, for the light around sunset, the super moon and the light after dusk – this time with Laura, . It’s funny how long it takes for the sun to set when you are waiting for it. I used The Photographer’s Ephemeris app (for Desktop, iOS and Android) to determine where the moon would rise and the time it would rise. In fact, earlier in the day, I spent about an hour examining different locations within an hour’s drive of home to determine which would be best. At first, we were going to Spencer Gorge for the view (and I would try that next time, for sure), but having been to the Grand River earlier in the day, I thought, what the heck – why not return.

The moon rose as planned, but I was not altogether satisfied with the foreground arrangement. I made the best of a difficult situation and came back with one. The tricky part is exposing for the moon, while trying to capture some of the detail in the foreground (without, of course, resorting to making a photo montage by using a moon layer and a foreground layer in Potoshop). The photo at right was exposed for 1/30th at ƒ4 at ISO400. The shutter speed has to be high enough to stop the motion of the rotating Earth (the “movement” of the Moon). To keep some detail in the foreground, I had to use ƒ4. I could have (and perhaps should have) gone to ISO800 to get an aperture of ƒ5.6. The earlier you shoot in the evening, ideally just after moonrise, the more brightness there is to light the foreground. I made a more wideangle photograph that works well composition-wise, but, for me anyway, the moon is too small to be effective.

I did enjoy shooting some different set-ups, though, as the sun set and for about an hour afterwards. Afterglow provides and interesting cool and low contrast light. Combined with the complete lack of a breeze and shutter speeds of 30 seconds or more are no trouble.

The next super moon – not quite as super as last night’s – is on September 9th, a Tuesday. Mark it on your calendar and try to find the best location near you.

Here is a gallery of the photos I made yesterday, both in the AM and PM.

Field & Screen #1 – A Sunny-Day Landscape from Killarney

 

Right-click and open this in a new tab to follow along.
Right-click and open this in a new tab to follow along.

Something I’ve wanted to do for some time now, is provide a “look under the hood” describing the photography techniques I use to make some of my photographs, both in the field and in post-capture processing on computer. This is the first, using a recent photo from Killarney Provincial Park in Ontario’s near north. I chose it because it was made NOT during the golden hours of sunrise and sunset, but rather in the mid-afternoon (2:39:57PM according to Lightroom!) when many people are active with a camera.

My wife Laurie and I had stopped for lunch on a quiet bay on OSA Lake – perhaps the most beautiful lake in Killarney with its vermillion blue colour. And, as you can see from the photo, it was a perfect summer day. What is particularly fetching about this part of Killarney are the white quartzite ridges of the La Cloche Range, the 2.5-billion-year-old eroded roots of mountains once higher than the Himalayas. As a photographer, it was the contrast of these rugged hills against the deep blue sky and lake with the rich green of the early summer coniferous forest that caught my creative eye. My goal in photography is to “reveal the art inherent in nature” and this seemed an ideal opportunity.

When working on any set-up, my mind is constantly going over four key aspects of photography – what I’ve come to call the Photographer’s Toolbox:

  1. How can I use the Ambient Conditions to my advantage? e.g. weather, time-of-day, season and lighting angle, quality and colour of light
  2. What Elements of Visual Design are at my disposal? e.g. foreground anchor, leading lines and pathways, shapes such as diagonals, S-curves, C-curves and triangles, camera angle (high vs. low), horizontal or vertical format and rule of thirds (or not!)
  3. What Technical Controls will enhance the scene before me? e.g. lens, filters, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation
  4. How might Post-capture Processing be used to reproduce what I visualized in the field? e.g. cropping, contrast, clarity, graduated masks, cloning, etc.

It works like a continually-scrolling flight checklist as I assess the scene and its potential, choose a location and camera angle, set-up the tripod, select the lens and settings on the camera and, ultimately, make the initial exposure and subsequent exposures as I assess the image on the LCD. Granted, the LCD is small, but it is better than what we had in the film days, which was nothing! I enjoy working with the LCD as it is reminiscent of my 4×5 days viewing the (upside-down and backwards) image on a ground glass.

Actually, the LCD plays a far more important role in assessing exposure. I’m a proponent of the ETTR method: Expose-To-The-Right, which I’ve written about previously: Exposure Part 1: M, A or…? and Exposure Part 2: All Hail the Histogram (both are PDFs of previous newsletters).

Ambient Conditions:  On this fine sumer day, I had a perfectly blue sky and high overhead lighting – not the ideal for landscapes – but I did have the colour contrasts working for me. The sun was behind me providing rather flat lighting, but again the colour contrasts help make up for it.

Elements of Visual Design:  The real work began with the all-too-common problem of landscape photographs: foreground. Although we often think of landscapes as being the “grand vistas”, every compelling landscape is anchored with a detailed foreground that invites the viewer to participate in the landscape. Without a decent foreground, everything else simply looks far away and unreachable. A detailed foreground also introduces movement into and around the photograph – very important if you want to keep the viewer’s interest for more than a few seconds.

In this case, there was some of the pink granite that also graces Killarney’s shores and ridges. But, the photograph needed something more to engage the viewer. Wait a moment… the canoe. I know, it’s a Canadian cliché, but at least it’s not red! Actually, if it was red, it may have been too much with the vivid blues and greens already present. Rather then “place” the canoe in the centre, it kept it to one side to create movement and on a slight angle pointing in the direction I want the viewer’s eye to follow. This is critical (and may sound contrived), but it is done all the time in art: subliminal pathways which cause the viewer to follow a certain path.

Snap 1
Snap 1 – Composition and Movement

In this case, your eye first lands on the bright bow of the canoe – the viewer’s eye always lands on the brightest part of the photo first. From there your gaze is guided by the canoe back to the ridges on the left, then it swings across the ridges towards the right, back down to the foreground rock then along the angled shoreline back to the canoe. The tree shadow in the bottom left helps to point your way into the photo again. You will notice the movement around the photo is clock-wise – a natural and intuitive movement for people. If I had placed the canoe on the right side of the scene, there would have been similar movement, but because we, in western cultures, read from left to right, your eye would not as likely be drawn to the empty left side of the photo.

When composing a photograph, work with the camera off-tripod. This gives you the freedom to move up-and-down, side-to-side, forwards-and-back to find the exact point, as American photographer Fred Picker once said, “where the scene is looking back at you”. For me, that’s when all the elements are aligned to provide a flow through the scene – difficult to describe in text (which is why hands-on “live” workshops are so helpful). I keep in mind the Rule of Thirds but work with it as a guide to remind me to keep things off-centre. Notice the horizon line, where the hills meet the lake, the foreground shore and the canoe itself – nothing is in the centre. This helps create the movement shown.

Technical Controls:  For most landscapes, I use a wideangle lens; in this case a 24mm ƒ2.8 Nikkor-D. With the camera tilted down and a small aperture (in this case ƒ11), everything from the foreground to the background will remain in sharp focus. I try to keep my aperture to ƒ11 as it is the “sweet spot” for this lens: it provides the maximum depth of field with the minimum softening of details due to diffraction (excessive bending of the light around the edges of a small aperture). I also used a circular polarizing filter. Often I don’t use a polarizer (a) with digital because the resulting blue skies are too saturated; and (b) with a wideangle lens because one part of the sky becomes more polarized than other parts. In this case, however, the polarizer pulled the greens and bright white quartzite from the hills and there was no obvious variation in the polarization from left to right (probably because the sun was directly behind me, lighting the sky more or less evenly).

I used the exposure recommended by the matrix metering in my camera, then reduced it by 2/3 of a stop. At full exposure, the canoe was showing blinking highlights on the LCD, telling me it was being recorded as pure white. Using exposure compensation to reduce the exposure kept those highlights in check. It made the rest of the photo appear under-exposed, but that’s irrelevant as it is easily corrected in post-processing.

Snap 2
Snap 2 – Original raw file with Exposure and Grad Masking

Post-capture Processing:  So here is the initial raw file opened in Lightroom. By the way – I use Lightroom for all my post-capture processing. I have yet to find a reason to use Photoshop except to blend images for focus-stacking or panoramas, neither of which I do much of.

My first step is often to click the “Auto” button, just to see what Lightroom does with the file. Its algorithms are usually pretty good, and while never perfect, they give me some ideas about how to adjust the image. Surprisingly, LR recommended increasing the White point, but then controlling the Highlights with reducing them. It may sound counter-intuitive, but LR “sees” the whites as the brightest 5%, and the highlights as the next 15% or so of the brightness scale. This tells me there was a little headroom to raise the Whites – a good thing for clean, crisp-looking photographs.

The opposite is true for Blacks and Shadows. There was room at the bottom to further drop the Black point. Raising the Shadows adjustment is always helpful for pulling detail out of the shadows. I raised the Clarity slightly to 10 as I found it gave better separation in the small wavelets on the water and better edge to the foreground rock. One thing you will notice (on the original LR view above) is that all my values are round numbers. I know I’m being pedantic about this, but I find the sliders to be ridiculously gross in their adjustments, therefore I use the cursor keys. By holding down the Shift key when “cursing” the values jump by 10 instead of 1. Rarely do I notice a difference of 1 or even 5, but, when I do, I use it.

Now for the adjustment masks and brushes. I use the Graduated Mask (M) frequently. I excepted to use it for the sky, but found that after the Tone adjustments, the sky was fine and natural-looking. I did add a Graduated Mask to the bottom 1/3 of the image, up to the base of the canoe. I often do this to help “contain” the viewer so they don’t go wandering out of the image. It is subtle (even subliminal), but it works. In this case, I adjusted the Exposure to –0.80. After doing so, the pink granite seemed a bit grey, so I increased the Saturation by 30. In this photo, there was no need for the Adjustment Brush (K).

Snap 3
Snap 3 – Cropping

Next, comes Cropping (R). For this, I made a Virtual Copy (Cmd+’), leaving the Master File as is – fully “processed” but uncropped. When envisioning this scene in the field, I saw it as a long and wide scene, similar to a panorama (2:1 ratio), but not quite, so  I chose a 16:9 ratio. Some photographers are loath to crop – I’m not one of them. I feel that the engineer who came up with the 3:2 ratio in the 1920s (Oskar Barnack of Leica cameras) shouldn’t dictate to me how the world should be viewed. I see in squares (1:1), sometimes in 4/3s (4:3 ratio), sometimes in 4×5 and sometimes in 3:2 as is the original aspect ratio of my camera. There are other times when the prescribed ratios just don’t work – and that’s okay, too.

Snap 4
Snap 4 – Spot Removal and Post-crop Vignetting

As I am working through the process, I am always looking for distractions that might catch the viewer’s eye, pulling them away from the point of the photograph. (I’m also looking for dust spots, usually in the sky, that need cloning out!) In this case, there are very few distractions, just some waves in the bottom right of the photo. I used the Spot Removal (Q) tool to clone three small areas as shown in Snapshot 4.

Lastly, I often add an Effect called Post-Crop Vignetting. This reduces the exposure in the corners and edges of the photograph. When used to a high degree, your photo can look like it was shot through a telescope. In this case, I want to apply just a little for the same reason as the bottom Grad Mask – to subliminally keep the viewer within the photo, away from the edges. It’s a technique that’s been used for decades – way back to the darkroom work done by Ansel Adams. When used correctly it is not overtly noticeable, but works.

OSA Lake and Killarney RangeSo, now it’s finished! Well, almost. Often, after doing some editing (processing), I will put the photo away for a while and come back to it a few days or a week later. With fresh eyes, I will often see something I didn’t notice before because I was too involved in the details of the image. So far, I haven’t done this; when I do, I will add those steps to this workflow and let you know.

Note: I’ve made a black-and-white version of this photograph which I think I prefer over the the colour. Here it is: you decide…

OSA Lake and Killarney RangeIf you have any questions about this process and/or the techniques used, let me know by adding a comment below. When looking through my photos either here, on Flickr or at QuietLight.ca, if you see one you are wondering about, suggest it for a future Before and After column.

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Thanks for reading!