Peter Eastway writes an almost weekly newsletter from his Better Photography website (www.betterphotography.com). These are some of the more recent posts.
Moving sheep, Middlehurst Station, South Island, New Zealand.
Phase One XF 100MP, 55mm Schneider lens, 4 seconds @ f8, ISO 200, 3X ND
Regular newsletter readers may recognise this location as I posted a colour version a couple of months ago, after Tony Hewitt and I had run our exclusive Art Photography Workshop at Middlehurst Station in New Zealand.
I confess that at the time I wasn't overly concerned about the photograph - there's an image in there for sure, but I felt there was still room for improvement with a different camera angle. It's a good reason to go back again, of course (and we are next year if you're interested), but it also points to how much influence our current thinking has on how we view our work. Or maybe I should only speak for myself.
When I took the photo, I had an image in mind, but I didn't quite get what I had in mind. It was something different. However, with the passing of time, I returned to these files with fresh eyes and thought, maybe it's not so bad after all.
Certainly that panel of five wonderfully sophisticated and educated judges at APPA this year scored it well (yes, a Gold he modestly writes), so you can be lucky every now and then.
So, what did the image look like before I started work on it? And does the finished edit look better with a little introduced colour? You'll have to click the Read More link to the website to find out!
Processed raw file to mono before adjustments.
Final edit with a little more colour.
As you can see, most of the technique is in the capture. Using a neutral density filter, I was able to set shutter speeds of two to eight seconds during which time the sheep on the outside of the flock had moved, whereas those in the middle had not! I took lots and lots of shots!
However, tonally the sheep blend into the background, so using layers and masks in Photoshop, I darkened down the surroundings and lightened the flock. The background mountain range has been subtly blurred.
So, when I add in a little colour, does it work better? I wondered about this before entering it, but went for the pure black and white look. Was I wrong?
And if you're interested in a photography workshop in the next 12 months (maybe a Christmas present for yourself?), I have trips going to USA, New Zealand, Arnhemland, Georgia/Armenia, Iran, Greenland/Iceland and Mexico. Full details on the Better Photography website!
Tony's tree, Tones River, Middlehurst Station.
Phase One XF, 80mm Schneider f2.8 lens, f11 @ 30 seconds/1/80 second, ISO 50
Is this one or two shots? I love posing questions like this! Up front, it's two shots, but two shots of the same subject (camera locked off on a tripod), taken a few minutes apart.
A couple of days earlier, Tony Hewitt and I had been at this location with Barbara, Gary and Jim on our Middlehurst Art Photography workshop. Middlehurst is an amazing Tolkein landscape tucked away in New Zealand's South Island (and we're repeating the workshop next June if you're interested...).
We started well before dawn and were enjoying our time, exploring the area. Tony disappeared 'somewhere', but as we were all heavily engrossed in our own little worlds, it didn't worry us.
At some stage, I looked around from my camera to see the top of the tree above just catching the brilliant sunlight! Even better, from certain angles the background was in shadow. However, the worst part was seeing Tony in position with his camera, nailing a great shot as the light got better and better.
This bugged the hell out of me. How did he know? Was he just lucky? Or smart? Or just smarter than me?
Over the next couple of days, I dropped hints to everyone that we should go back to this location and all shoot the tree - I mean, I couldn't have Tony not sharing such a great location!
However, my version of the tree is more of a grand landscape, but I took two photos to make it happen! Click through to the website to see the two images I used.
Early shot before the sun reaches the tree.
Photo when the tree is fully illuminated by the sunshine.
My idea was to have just the very top of the tree illuminated by the sun, but my perfect planning didn't take into account the vagaries of the weather or the movement of the clouds.
The first photo was taken because I liked the clouds, but they were moving away from the mountain. So, to ensure I had an interesting sky, I locked the camera off on the tripod and took a long exposure with a neutral density filter.
Then I waited.
And as we all waited, more clouds arrived from behind, covering the sun and so the tree sat in shade. And stayed in shade so by the time the clouds moved to illuminate the tree, the sun was higher than I had hoped for. The whole of the tree and its surroundigs were fully lit!
In some ways, I could have achieved the final result with a single exposure, but I do prefer the clouds from the earlier exposure and it wasn't a difficult 'composite': just two layers and a simple mask.
However, it's not a bad result. It earned a Silver Award at this year's AIPP APPAs and, since I'm going back next year, there's another chance to get just the top of the tree being illuminated by that rising sun!
And if you're interested in a photography workshop in the next 12 months, I have trips going to USA, Georgia/Armenia, Iran, New Zealand, Greenland/Iceland and Mexico. Full details on the Better Photography website!
Boab Tree, Wireless Station ruins, near Wyndham, Kimberley.
Phase One A-Series IQ3 100MP, Rodenstock Alpa HR Alpagon f5.6 23mm, 46 seconds @ f8, ISO 50
Light is everything. I wandered past this boab (from the other side) a couple of times earlier in the afternoon, noticing the unusual twin-trunk structure. It was a tree with potential, but at that stage of the day, the sun was still high in the sky and the location appeared incredibly busy. There was too much going on.
I was on a PODAS - a Phase One Digital Artist Series workshop - with Christian Fletcher, Tony Hewitt, Bruce Pottinger and Drew Altdoerffer (from Phase One), and 16 keen photographers who were kitted out with the latest Phase One medium format equipment for the week.
After sunset as I walked back along the track to the cars, I noticed Bruce Pottinger set up near this tree. And it was positively glowing! The challenge was to isolate it sufficiently within what was still a complex and busy landscape. One way is to stand back and use a telephoto lens, which probably would have been the polite thing to do given Bruce was shooting. Another option is to use a wide-angle lens and get in very close to your subject. I applied the latter logic on this occasion. Sorry, Bruce!
The evening was absolutely perfect with a feathering of clouds to break up a large blue sky. In May, 'they' say you are almost guaranteed blue skies every day, but this year the weather was a little mixed up, not just in Kununurra, but around the world it seems. However, photographers usually shy away from clear blue skies because they lack interest, but did I really want clouds in this photograph?
Processed raw file before adjustments.
Looking at the file out of Capture One raw processing software, I was struggling to maintain separation between the clouds and the boab branches (as you can see above). Too much of a good thing was not a good thing. Clouds are great, but broken cloud as a backdrop for a finely branched tree does not make a perfect backdrop.
As remarkable as Capture One is, it doesn't allow channel masks, although it will create masks based on colour selections, and so it was into Photoshop for a final tweaking. As you can see in the opening image, I have lightened up the main branches so they stand out from the sky. I have also removed the magenta colour from the clouds so they don't compete with the warm colours on the boab.
And if you're interested in a photography workshop in the next 12 months, I have trips going to Bhutan, USA, Georgia/Armenia, Iran, Greenland/Iceland and Mexico. Full details on the Better Photography website!
Mount Sorrow from the Daintree Research Observatory.
110mm lens on Phase One XF 100MP, 50 seconds @ f7.1, ISO 50.
I'm just back from an engrossing week in the Daintree Rainforest, spent with Australian professor and doctor of photography, Les Walkling. And I mustn't forget Les's workshop partners, John and Pam de Rooy who host Les's famous Orpheus Island printing workshop, and assisting photographer Andrey Walkling.
The week was spent with 12 photographers and our own chefs and support crew at the Daintree Research Observatory, just out of telephone signal range and built to host university researchers. There was an expansive seminar and work room for our deliberations, a hospitality area that was well frequented and comfortable dormitory style accommodation. And within a half an hour drive was a host of different photography locations, from crocodile cruises, mangrove walks, ocean beaches and the rainforest itself. There's even a crane for providing a unique bird's eye view of the rainforest canopy.
However, this workshop was different. Instead of spending most of our time taking photographs, we talked about them. Instead of spending most of our time learning how to apply a curve in Photoshop, we learnt when and why to apply them. While technique was definitely an important component, the priority was to take participants to the next stage in their journey as photographers.
It was the art of photography.
And it lasted for seven, information packed days and while I was a co-presenter, I had one of the best educational experiences of my life. Les was in fine form, taking us from modernism to formalism and beyond, explaining how the contemporary art world sees photography and how the best exponents work. We received exclusive insights into both theory and technique, but in a practical way that allowed us to return with concepts and ideas that we can put into practice. I have a notebook full of ideas to work on and directions to take in the future.
The photograph above features the enigmatic Mount Sorrow which was shrouded in low cloud for much of our workshop. We could sit and watch it while eating our meals and I am sure everyone photographed and took videos of it as the clouds curled around its upper reaches.
This is a 50 second exposure during which time the tree-covered mountain was gently blurred by the swaying leaves. It uses a few technical aspects picked up at the workshop (some luminosity compensatory layers) and some ideas gleaned from the world of art.
But I hope the most important thought that participants took away was that it's very difficult to make everyone in the world happy with your photography, so really the best approach is to make yourself happy first. Of course, this doesn't mean working in isolation or disregarding other disciplines and genres, rather acknowledging that photography as an art form is personal - and that means it's up to you!
If you'd like to join Tony Hewitt and I on an exclusive five day photography art workshop next month (15-20 June) in New Zealand, there is just one place left - meaning a maximum of four students and two AIPP Grand Masters of Photography as leaders. Check out our Middlehurst brochure here.
Winter Trees #1, Yosemite Valley, USA.
Phase One XF with IQ180 back, 240mm lens, 1/4 second @ f11, ISO 50
Okay, I confess that this is a personal favourite. And when I made this as a print, I loved it even better. No, it's not an 'in your face' composition and it doesn't have an atomic colour palette either. Some unkind souls may even suggest it's not very 'me' given how subtle the colouration is, particularly the greens in the shadows. I think it will work nicely on my wall for a while...
So, what are the tricks to capturing photographs with lots of fine detail like this? First up, you need the right conditions. At 1/4 second, any movement would have caused detail-killing blur. Of course, I could have waited for there to be more light (so I could use a faster shutter speed), but then the quality of the light could have changed. On this morning, there wasn't a breath of wind down the bottom of Yosemite Valley. There was snow on the ground which was reflecting light into the trees and the overall illumination was very soft. So, yes, the light is directional (the tops of the branches are lighter than the bottoms), but it's a soft light with lots of detail. Tripod mounted. Sharpest aperture for the lens.
Second point: don't over expose your image. A camera meter will look at this scene and give you a great 'average' exposure, but even in low light situations like this, the highlights on the tree branches, especially the dead branches which are very light grey in tone, can be easily 'clipped'. The histogram might look like it's okay on the back of your camera, but take another shot two stops darker and you might find there are still a few bumps in the histogram up next to the white values. If you want to keep detail in your highlights, you need to manage your exposure correctly in camera.
Third suggestion: spend a little time in post production adjusting your exposure, your contrast and your black point. I set the exposure so the highlights were light but not clipping (not paper white), then adjusted the contrast to bring out the texture in the tree trunks, then finally I used the black point (you can use the black slider in Lightroom/ACR or the black point on a curves dialog) to darken the shadows to give me some rich blacks. It's the blacks in the photo that makes the rest of the tones stand out.
Perhaps I was channeling Ansel Adams a little bit and while I did convert this to a black and white, I found it hard to resist bringing back a hint of colour. Next week I'll show you how I shot tree details in difficult lighting conditions - you may be surprised at the technique!
I'm presenting an advanced Photoshop workshop in Sydney on Sunday 5 June. Click here for details.
Port Campbell National Park from the air.
Canon EOS 5DSR, 17-40mm lens, 1/6400 second @ f4, ISO 1250
It's always a challenge giving advice to photographers about to shoot from a helicopter. On the Canon Collective Tour to Geelong last weekend, two dozen photographers took a spectacular drive along the Great Ocean Road to Port Campbell National Park and the 12 Apostles. We all had 25 minute flights booked over Australia's most spectacular stretch of coastline.
The one thing you know when shooting from a helicopter is to keep your shutter speeds up high, but this depends on the helicopter, the location and the weather. The smaller the helicopter, the more it bounces around and so the faster the shutter speed required. The more unstable the weather, the more the helicopter bounces around and when you're flying over uneven ground, there can be updrafts that bounce you around as well.
I have tack sharp photographs taken from a helicopter with shutter speeds as slow as 1/250 second, but I have many more that are blurred. Even at 1/2000 second you can have blurred shots if the chopper is moving around a lot.
I suggested to the photographers that they needed a shutter speed of at least 1/2000 second to ensure they took sharp photographs, but there were a few compromises. First, as we were shooting in the late afternoon, to get a 1/2000 second shutter speed probably required a reasonably wide aperture - and wide apertures are not always optimum in terms of image quality (the edges can be a little soft, although the middle is normally pretty good).
And even with a wide open aperture, the ISO may need to be pushed up a little to ensure correct exposure with the shutter speed and aperture combination. One approach is to set the shutter speed at, say, 1/2000 second on Tv (shutter priority) mode and turn on auto ISO. Once the camera reaches the widest aperture, it then starts to increase the ISO to ensure correct exposure.
So how come this photo is taken at 1/6400 second? Well, old habits die hard and I usually shoot in aperture priority mode - but I keep an eye on my settings. I set the aperture and the ISO so that when I was pointing the camera at the ground, my shutter speed was around 1/2000 second. However, if there were breaking waves in frame with lots of white water, the camera would push the shutter speed up higher to maintain correct exposure.
The caveat on this advice is that we had a fixed flight path and time. If you have more time, you can slow yourself right down and think your options through. On the other hand, there's something really exciting about spending 25 minutes on a flight and shooting like mad! It's an amazing flight and worth booking at 12 Apostles Helicopters.
And thanks to the Canon Collective for inviting me along. You can find out more about the Canon Collective at https://www.canon.com.au/en-AU/Personal/imageSpectrum/Community/collective-home.
To see the photograph as it was captured in camera, click through to the website below...
Processed raw file before adjustments.
Yes, you're right! I have squished the headlands together a bit, just to add a little extra drama. Note to self: I must take another flight on a sunny day - it must be simply spectacular!
And if you're interested in a photography workshop later this year, I have trips going to Karijini, Kununurra, the Daintree, Arnhemland, New Zealand and Bhutan. Full details on the Better Photography website!
Tashiling Lakhang from Tshangkha, Bhutan.
24-70mm lens @ 48mm, 1/400 second @ f9, ISO 360
Opportunities like this don't last forever! It was late in the day and we had just spent a wonderful afternoon in our guide's local temple. It helps to have a local guide because they can arrange access to locations that are often invisible to the casual tourist and even better, they can get a photography tour permission to use cameras where normally you can't.
Not always, of course, but I was really happy with what we'd been shooting and I was comfortable just having a look around while I was waiting for the others. I think it's important when you travel to put down your cameras from time to time and simply appreciate where you are. Perhaps I'm becoming philosophical in my old age!
However, the camera didn't stay in the car too long as I watched this light show begin. I raced back to the car (around 100 metres), grabbed my camera bag and tripod and returned as quickly as I could to my vantage point. With scenes like this, I felt I wanted to zoom in to capture the light on the distant dzong and village, but doing so meant I lost the grandeur of the landscape. However, zooming out I picked up surrounding trees and bushes and I didn't have half an hour to scout around for a better location.
In fact, I had only seconds, so using the 24-70mm zoom that was on my camera, I shot at 24mm, 50mm and 70mm and made the most of what I had. Then the light was gone. As it turns out, the 48mm focal length seems to work pretty well.
I don't know about you, but part of the buzz of landscape photography is reacting to the light. People say you can take your time with the landscape, pull out a tripod and even have a cup of tea. Of course, David Oliver would be the first one to disagree with this and, despite what he says when being interviewed on television, is really happy not using a tripod at all.
I'm not sure if I can go that far, but I agree with him you have to be quick when the light is changing!
And just in case you didn't notice, David and I are looking for a few extra photographers to join us on our trip to Bhutan in November this year - for more details, click here.
And if you'd like to see the original file without any processing, click through to the website for the full article.
Prayer flags at Chele La, Bhutan.
24mm lens, 1/200 second @ f16, ISO 100
Chele La is a 4000 metre pass accessible by road in Bhutan. I've visited it twice now and I'm looking forward to a third trip later this year because there are so many opportunites!
All around Bhutan you will see clusters of prayer flags, most commonly on small hills or outcrops, and definitely at mountain passes. When you arrive at the top of Chele La, you can't but be impressed by the numbers of prayer flags and how they stretch for a kilometre or more up the ridges either side of the pass. For photographers, it's a wonderful exercise in capturing patterns and shapes, but it can also be challenging to produce a composition that isn't as chaotic as the placement of the flags.
Unlike many of my other images, this is a more 'common' viewpoint of a small 4WD track leading between two groupings of flags. I've cropped it horizontally so the flags with their vertical poles create a contrast, especially the slightly angled ones. The sky has been darkened and desaturated, but I've kept a blue colour cast - at this height, it was a little on the cool side.
Hopefully it's an image that interests you. As our world becomes smaller with easy travel and internet communication, finding places like Bhutan are becoming increasingly difficult - and Bhutan is also changing. Fortunately, the government takes a common sense approach to tourism and, unlike neighboring Nepal, Bhutan seems to be richer culturally for it.
David Oliver and I have confirmed we're taking a group there this November, so if you're interested in learning more and seeing a small brochure, click here.
And if you'd like to see the original file without any processing, click through to the website for the full article.
Secret Spot, South of Kununurra.
Phase One 645DF & IQ180 with 80mm Schneider Kreuznach lens.
1/1000 second @ f6.3, ISO 200
This is as close as Australia gets to ruined castles sitting on the skyline. Well, it's as close as I've seen, but maybe you have some other candidates. The location is south of Kununurra in the Kimberley and I'm heading back there with Christian Fletcher and Tony Hewitt on a PODAS workshop this May (you can see details here). We will also be taking a helicopter flight over this area.
For this shot, we asked the pilot to swing around these small buttes several times and from different heights. I still don't think I have the perfect angle and while I struggled with this image for a long time, the more I look at it, the more I'm starting to like it. There's a sense of mystery in the contra jour lighting.
And that's the challenge, that we're looking into the light and although there isn't any flare (I don't believe) on the lens itself, there is lots of flare in the highly humid atmosphere. Rather than fighting it, I've tried to incorporate it into the image - I expect the viewer's eye strays into the upper parts of the photo, but it being lower in contrast, is gradually drawn back down to the main subject. That's the theory!
If you'd like to see the original file without any processing, click through to the website for the full article. You may be surprised at what you see.
Processed raw file before adjustments.
Yes, I shot it as a horizontal. This is one of the advantages of having lots of pixels to play with. Not only can you crop the image, you can also squish or stretch the pixels (within reason) to create a different composition. My preference would be to shoot it again from a higher and closer angle so it could be full frame - and that's something I'll be thinking of when we return this May!
And if you're interested in a photography workshop later this year, I have trips going to Karijini, Kununurra, the Daintree, Arnhemland, Whitsundays, New Zealand, Bhutan and, with a bit of luck, Patagonia and the Atacama Desert in Chile as well. Full details on the Better Photography website - but please book soon!