Much of the “shaping” of photographs begins in the field with the assembling of various compositional elements to take the scene from a simple snapshot to a thoughtful creation by the photographer. As artists, it’s important to at least take into consideration angle of light, perspective and angle of view, all the while making active use of visual design elements in the scene, such as leading lines and framing elements, to create dynamic compositions that guide viewers through the scene.
Shaping continues in post-capture processing with the use of selected processing adjustments including graduated masks and adjustment brushes. My sincere belief is that ¾ of the work happens before the shutter is released and ½ the work happens afterwards because every good photograph is, in fact, greater that the sum of its parts, the difference being the effort and visual skill the photographer adds in the making of each photograph.
I hope you can join me Monday evening at 7:30pm for some inspiration and perhaps a new way of looking at photography. Meetings are held at the Kitchener East Presbyterian Church at 10 Zeller Drive, Kitchener. I hope to see you there!
This morning, I led a one-on-one workshop for artist Susan Leite, a member of the Hamilton Camera Club, who missed my presentation of Creating Compelling Landscapes. Tiffany Falls Conservation Area in Ancaster, Ontario, is one of those near-ideal places to learn about landscapes. A well-maintained, and easily-walked side trail of the Bruce Trail leads up the valley, across two bridges to a platform in front of a class cascade waterfall – Tiffany Falls – some 21m (70 feet) high.
As the point of this morning’s workshop was specifically landscape photography techniques, we were looking for “classic” landscape views that would include a strong foreground element set in the context of the background, connected through the mid-ground with a leading line, a “pathway” that would help the viewer navigate through the photograph. Assembling these elements is the job of the photographer. They are “out there” far more often than many photographers realize; recognizing them and actively, purposefully composing the photograph to include them is what makes them work.
At times, though, it is a challenge: as we noted this morning, much of the valley and river bank has the scrubby-looking remains of cut trees. Trees that naturally fall have an organic look to them; cut trees have sharp, rather obvious and totally un-natural edges where they were chain-sawed. There were also many parts of branches left from the cuttings that have not decomposed as one might expect leaves and small branches would do over a season or a year, so they, too, left (to my eyes anyway) a bit of a slash-and-burn eye-soar to an otherwise beautiful valley. If you have ever felt the need to remove unwanted outgrowth of trees and plants, consider going for a removal service.
So, that’s a bit of the context of the location. The morning, itself, was overcast and still, making for near-ideal conditions for photographing in a forest. The contrast was easily managed; just the sky, filtering through the upper canopy, created difficult lighting. Photographers learn quickly, though, the importance of being flexible and working to the conditions provided by Mother Nature: when given a white sky, work to eliminate it from photos – and that’s we did.
This morning, thanks to the recent rain, Tiffany Creek had an excellent flow. It’s been a cool, wet spring – ideal for gardeners and photographers of nature and landscapes . So often, the rivers and waterfalls of southern Ontario suffer from a lack of water. Not this spring – the rivers have been well-flushed!
The Basic Set-up
Both Susan and I were using “bridge” style cameras – hers, a Lumix FZ-200 with an excellent Leica lens, and my Sony RX10iii – on travel-style tripods (both MeFoto Roadtrips). We had both come to the same conclusion regarding carrying equipment in travel-style conditions: less is more! We were both using ND filters and my Polarizing filter. The ND filters slowed shutter speeds to capture more movement in water; the polarizing filter reduced the glare off the water and foliage (see comparison photo).
We set our cameras to Aperture Priority, using Exposure Compensation to adjust exposure when clipped highlights showed in the histogram. In these situations, shutter speed is less important than the need for adequate depth-of-field to maintain sharpness from foreground through the background. Obviously, in breezy conditions, shutter speed matters, but with the still morning, we had some leeway. With small-sensor bridge cameras, this is achieved in the ƒ5.6 range. On the 1″ sensor Sony, ƒ5.6 is equivalent to ƒ15 on a full-frame system; with Susan’s FZ200’s 1/2.3″ sensor, ƒ5.6 is the same as ƒ31 on a FF system – plenty of depth of field for most landscapes! Any smaller than ƒ5.6 will result in increasingly unsharp edges due diffraction, the bending of light through the smaller aperture.
We also had a discussion about ISO. To maintain the highest image quality, I always recommend using the lowest ISO that will provide the maximum dynamic range (the difference between pure white and pure black). For many DSLRs, it’s ISO200. For the Sony RX10iii, it’s ISO64; the FZ200, ISO100.
Susan also set up her self-timer to delay each exposure by 2 seconds to eliminate camera shake from shutter activation by hand. Using tripods that were shorter than normal for comfortable viewing, we also chose to use the LCD for final compositions. However, working on a tripod can be very restrictive when composing, so I always recommend using the quick release to remove the camera and actively compose “free-hand” by moving in and out, up and down and side to side. You really need freedom of movement to find that compositional “sweet-spot”, then set-up the tripod to match that precise location.
In the field…
Now for some photos. We both agreed, the ferns and other greenery along the river bank were great foreground objects with lots of detail. As well, the river itself provided and natural pathway through the various scenes. When the river seemed rather straight, it was important to manouevre to “help” it into a more diagonal position; diagonals are always preferred for compositions as they create more dynamic movement than straight lines.
Wandering up the trail took us to this point, where we could just begin to see the waterfall through the trees. The foreground element was in place with the greenery and rocks and the curve of the river became the natural pathway through the scene.
The 1-second exposure provided appropriate movement to the water while the -1 exposure compensation was required to prevent the highlights in the distant waterfall from clipping.
I highly recommend this method of exposure, where you expose as “high” as possible on the histogram without clipping the highlights – commonly referred to as ETTR or Expose To The Right. This allows more photos to be recorded in the shadow areas, reducing the amount of noise when the tonal values of shadow areas are lifted. Due to the beautiful, lower contrast lighting of the morning, this technique wasn’t absolutely essential, but it is good practice to get the most out of any sensor.
The overall appearance of this initial exposure is a bit on the dark side. The shadows are open, and the whites are near white, but the mid-tone greens appear drab rather than lively. That’s okay! The camera is simply a tool for recording a file that can then be processed – just like negatives were processed – into a final photograph that matches the way I saw the scene. The camera can’t do it all. Jpegs from many cameras are excellent, but there are still techniques that can be applied to further improve the photograph. This is way shooting raw files has become the default, especially amongst fine art photographers. It’s the difference between a “machine print” from a negative and a custom print, made by yourself or a professional printer. Learning a few simple manipulations in an app like Lightroom can go a long way to improving your photographs.
Back at home, in Lightroom, I made the following adjustments. Lightroom is designed to be handled “top down” starting with White Balance then moving through Exposure, Contrast, etc. I often start with Whites and Blacks, using Lightroom’s “Auto-Whites” and “Auto-Blacks” feature (NOT the “Auto” button you see there) to pin down the darkest and brightest pixels. Holding the Shift key and double-clicking on the word “Whites”, then doing the same on “Blacks” will do just that.
From there, I move to Exposure. Now, you might think “Wow, +1.20 in Exposure is a lot!”, but it really isn’t. Exposure in Lightroom lifts the mid-tones – exactly the tonal range that needed lifting. Rather than using the sliders, which can be rather clunky and imprecise, I use the number boxes and increase exposure using the cursor key while looking at the photo (not the adjustment slider!). The Cursor will raise the value by 0.10 each time; holding Shift and pressing the cursor will raise the value by 0.33. When making adjustments, it’s better to start out with big leaps and going past the “ideal”, rather than trying to creep up to it in small hops. Once you beyond what”looks good” you’ll know right away; you can then use the fine tuning of 0.10 increments to nail down the ideal increase.
This same principal is true for all the other adjustments: use the cursor keys for +/- 1; Shift-Cursor changes it by +/- 10. The Shadows improved with a small bump to +20. Clarity – the adjustment to raise or lower local contrast – is great for giving very fine separation between light and darks, such as the edges of leaves or the bright water agains the dark. But too much clarity can make the photograph look artificially etched, so +10 “worked”. Bumping the Saturation to +10 gave the leaves just a little more punch.
With the gross changes made, it was now time to look at how I might shape the photograph using graduated filters and local adjustment brushes. Here is the photo with those initial tonal adjustments. It’s bright and has a three-dimensional presence. But, to me, the foreground area in front of me seems just a bit too bright. Pulling in a Graduated Mask with decreased Exposure, seemed to work except the greens seemed dinghy, so I increased the Clarity and Contrast. This allowed the greens in the mask to better match the greens in the rest of the photograph.
This shows the area that was masked, followed by the resulting photo.
This is an improvement, but now the water in the river seems a bit dinghy. I felt the whites of the turbulence should have better separation from the darker river bed. Using an Adjustment Brush, I painted over the river water, adding additional contrast (30), reducing the shadow values by -30 and increasing the clarity by 40 to provide that local contrast separation. lastly, I made the tones cooler using the Colour Temperature adjustment. I find the rock of the river beds in this area to be rather yellow, often with algae; cooling it down a little helps to “restore” the river, if only photographically.
This photo shows the area of that was “brushed”. These Grad Mask and Adjustment Brush features of Lightroom allow an almost infinite series of adjustments, that I find even more intuitive than Photoshop layers. As well, they add virtually nothing to the overall file size as they are simply instructions in a text file as opposed to pixel-level changes. To accomplish the same “feats” in Photoshop, would bloat the file to be 3, 4, 5, even 10x larger than the original. It’s the beauty, and simplicity, of non-destructive editing.
Finally, the photograph was coming together, but needed a little more “massaging”. First, I’ll take you back to my printing days in the darkroom. Often we would introduce a very light vignetting of about 10%. It’s not apparent to the viewer, but it acts in an almost subliminal way to contain the eye within the photograph, especially in prints that would be matted in white then framed. The white mat draws the eye to the outside; the vignetting helps to pull it back in again. Lightroom has Vignetting under “Effects” and, really, -5 to -10 should be enough, but not too much to make it obvious.
Lastly, I felt the scene could use a little cropping and straightening, as shown in this photo. Ideally, this is done in the field and I lament having to do so on screen, but adding a slight “Transform” of -10 on the Horizontal and +20 in Aspect returned the image to what I remember of the scene. There is, now, a progression of light from the top, where one would expect it, gradually dimming to the bottom, where one would expect it to be darker, given the canopy of trees above.
In the gallery below, I’ve included the four progression images so you can see the subtle changes that may not be apparent looking at them separately as they are presented above. As well, you’ll find a few other photographs from this morning. If you have any questions, be sure to add them to the comments below.
Check out my Winter Workshops page – top right of this page.
I am offering two winter outdoor workshops – one in Guelph on Saturday, January 21st and the same in Dundas on Saturday, January 28th. These are full day workshops with a morning field session and an afternoon critique session.
In February, I am offering a two-part Adobe Photoshop Lightroom workshop. On Saturday, February 11, I will teach basic Lightroom – Library and the basics of the Develop module. On Saturday, February 18, we’ll go into more detail on the Develop side plus do some printing using the Print module.
I’ve included an article on “Turning off Technology” as well as some great reader photos from Scott Sneddon.
Coming up next month, the Lightroom Visual Guide will be published. You’ll find a downloadable sample page at http://www.luxborealis.com/LRVG.html. Time is running out to take advantage of the special pre-publication price of only $5.00 – only until March 31st! Visit the website for more info.
The Spring Photography Workshop schedule is also included in the newsletter, but here is a sneak peak (locations TBA, but all will be “in the field” in the Guelph area except for the Photo Editing courses which will be help at my home studio):
Photo Editing: Lightroom – Sat. Apr 16th
Photo Editing: Photoshop – Sat. Apr 23rd
Spring Nature Photography Workshop: All day Saturday, May 7th
Point & Shoot Photography: Sat. May 14th
DLSR Photoaphy: Sat. May 21st
Evening Photo Talks I: Learning Photography – 6:30 to 8:30pm each Tuesday in May from 6:30 to 8:30pm
Evening Photo Talks II: Focus on Nature and the Outdoors – each Wednesday evening in May + June 1st from 6:30 to 8:30pm
Discover the Grand Day: An all-day workshop in various locations along the Grand River, Saturday, June 4th
Have a great month and don’t forget to sign up for a workshop by emailing or calling (519-265-4151).
With the cardinals calling and our first robin sighting, spring is in the air which means a whole new season of images awaits us. I have a tentative line-up of workshops in different formats coming up. If you’re interested in any of them send me an emailto reserve your spot (firstname.lastname@example.org)or give me a call at 519-265-4151. Note: Photo Editing courses are held at my home studio. All other locations are still to be finalized, but will be “live on-location” in the Guelph, Ontario region.
Photo Editing: Lightroom – Sat. Apr 16th$45 each or take both for $80
Intro to Lightroom: 9 to 11:30am
Advanced Lightroom: 1 to 3:30pm
Photo Editing: Photoshop – Sat. Apr 23rd$45 each or take both for $80
Intro to Photoshop Elements
Spring Nature Photography Workshop: All day Saturday, May 7th; Location TBA;
This is a full-day advanced field experience concentrating on nature and outdoor photography close-ups, landscapes, lighting, composition, reading histograms and working on a tripod; $85
Point & Shoot Photography:Sat. May 14th $45 each or take both for $80
Starter: 9 to 11:30am;
Advanced: 1 to 3:30pm
DLSR Photoaphy:Sat. May 21st$45 each or take both for $80
Starter: 9 to 11:30am
Advanced: 1 to 3:30pm
Evening Photo Talks I: Learning Photography – 6:30 to 8:30pm each Tuesday in May; $35ea; or pre-register for $30 each or take all 5 for $135
Getting to Know Your Camera: May 3rd
What is Correct Exposure? – May 10th
Making Best Use of your Lenses – May 17th
Dynamic Lighting – May 24th
Creative Composition – May 31st
Evening Photo Talks II: Focus on Nature and the Outdoors – 6:30 to 8:30pm each Wednesday in May + June 1st; $35ea; or pre-register for $30 each or take all 5 for $135
Nature Basics: Exposure – May 4th
Nature Basics: Lighting – May 11th
Creative Composition – May 18th
Close-up & Flower Photography – May 25th
Living Landscapes – June 1st
Discover the Grand Day: An all-day workshop in various locations along the Grand River, Saturday, June 4th; Travel to various great locations along the Grand River for a full-day advanced field workshop concentrating on landscape and nature photography, dynamic lighting, creative composition and working on a tripod; $85 per persson
Have a look at the November Photo Newsletter. You will find the second part of the article on exposure where I talk about the advantages of checking the histogram and highlight clipping warnings. Also I announce the two dates and locations for my Winter Nature Photography workshops: Jan 15 and Feb 12, 2011.
This past Saturday morning I led my Landscape Photography class on a morning field session down in the hamilton Beach area. We started off right under the Skyway Bridge at the canal leading from Burlington Bay to Lake Ontario – not the prettiest place at the best of times and this was October 30th: grey skies with the temperature at about 3°C, and few leaves left on the few trees in the area which was mostly aged cement and steel.
“Why are we here?” was the first and often-repeated question.
I believe that if you want to stretch your vision, you must work in visually challenging places. Once you have the technique down, it is relatively easy to make great landscapes in beautiful places. But are they visually dynamic images? Perhaps, if you have learned to create visually dynamic images. That only happens when you have truly challenged yourself.
What do I mean by “visually dynamic images”. These are images that visually “pop”. Images that show a different perspective, a different way of seeing. Images that make use of visual elements in the landscape and portray them in a creative way.
You can do all this in pretty places, but often we don’t because we are not forced to. There are plenty of beautiful photos that you can take just by standing there. Visually dynamic images often require a different perspective, a perspective that we may not consider if we are busy capturing the obvious.
I try to get photographers to think in terms of good, better and best. In a beautiful place, you can take good to better photos without working very hard, but what about the best photos – they are the ones that require a new and different perspective.
Going to a location that is visually challenging to begin with forces you to go beyond the obvious because the obvious is not very photogenic. Consider it a “sketching” outing: you may not come away with a photo contest winner, but what you are doing is exercising your brain, forcing it to see beyond the obvious. I tell my students that this is the practice that allows you to hone your visual skills so that when you get to that grand location, your images will be well beyond the snapshots everyone else is taking.
While I generally prefer to photograph alone, in this case it helps to go in a group so that you can feed off the different ideas and perspectives that others think of.
So, find a nearby location that is not visually stimulating and see what you come up with. Try going back more than once at different times of day and throughout the seasons.After a couple of years of this I will bet that you have more than few images worthy of showing.
Here is the very first issue of what I hope is a monthly photo newsletter. While it is geared to those living in the Guelph – K-W-Cambridge – Hamilton-Burlington area, photographers from all over should find something of interest. It is in PDF format – download it and have a look. Your feedback is welcome!
Ontario’s Natural Gems is a series of nature and outdoor photography workshops that I will be conducting in Ontario provincial parks this summer.
Join me for a weekend of great photography at:
Killbear Provincial Park – July 16-17
Grundy Lake Provincial Park – August 7-8
Rondeau Provincial Park – August 13-14
Sandbanks Provincial Park – August 20-21
Arrowhead Provincial Park – TBA
Bon Echo Provincial Park – TBA
Each workshop includes:
Friday Evening Introductory Session: 7-9pm
Saturday Morning Field Session: Dawn to 11am
Saturday Afternoon Image Review and Wrap-up Session: 1-4pm
During the Field Session, Terry will work directly with participants on creative composition, close-up techniques, landscape photography and making best use of outdoor lighting.
The cost is $175 per person. Pre-register at least one week in advance and pay only $150. There is a maximum of 12 participants per workshop – so reserve your place now by calling Terry at 519-265-4151 or emailing email@example.com. For more information, visit the website: www.ontariosnaturalgems.com
Hope to see you there!
Please note that the fee is for the workshop only. Accommodations and meals are not included. Please visit www.OntarioParks.com to reserve your campsite.
This week brings to an end the first series of photo courses for 2010 – and what a success! The Point & Shoot Starter, Digital SLR Starter finished Tuesday and Wednesday and Intro to Photoshop finishes Saturday morning. Some great exploring and discussion of menus, options and technique has made a real impact on those involved.
With March on the horizon and April not too far away, we’re just about ready for the next round of courses:
Spring Woodlands Workshop – Friday Evening, Apr 30 + All-day Saturday, May 1
Each course & workshop is $140 per person. If you register at least one week in advance, the price is only $125.
As well, the confirmations are coming in for Ontario’s Natural Gems nature and outdoor photography workshops held this summer in some of Ontario’s best provincial parks. We’ll be in Rondeau, Grundy Lake, Sandbanks, Bon Echo, Killbear and perhaps Arrowhead. Two confirmed dates are:
Grundy Lake Provincial Park – August 6 & 7
Rondeau Provincial Park – August 13 & 14
Each workshop has three sessions:
Friday evening Intro Session from 7-9pm
Saturday morning Field Session from dawn to about 11am or Noon. We’ll concentrate on capturing the glorious morning light with small group hands-on instruction on landscapes, close-ups, metering, lighting, creative composition – whatever the participants needs specific help with.
Saturday afternoon Image Review & Wrap-up Session from 1pm to 4pm.
This schedule allows you to dedicate some quality time to your photography as well as having some time with your family camping. The workshop fee for Ontario’s Natural Gems is $175 per person. However, if you register at least one week in advance, the price is only $150. Each workshop is open to a maximum of 12 participants so email me to reserve your spot early. Please note that this fee is for the workshop only – you will need to reserve your campsite through OntarioParks.com.
If you have any questions or want more information email Terry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope you continue to enjoy the winter photography!