Peter Eastway writes an almost weekly newsletter from his Better Photography website (www.betterphotography.com). These are some of the more recent posts.
Tatev Monastery, Armenia.
Phase One A-Series, IQ3 100MP, 70mm Rodenstock lens, 1/125 second @ f8, ISO 50
I'm a week back from a wonderful trip to Georgia and Armenia, two very special places if you have photography on your mind. Organised by my Turkish friend and photography guide, Mehmet, I was joined by eight fellow photographers and friends in search of some amazing images and exciting destinations. We weren't disappointed. While both countries are steeped in history and religion, there is so much more to them and over coming months, I plan to show you more photos from this trip.
Today, let's start with Tatev Monastery, one of Armenia's most famous landmarks. In fact, it's so famous and popular, the world's longest cable car will transport you from the other side of the valley, rather than requiring you to take a tortuous 30 minute hairpin drive (which isn't good for larger bus tours). But where is the cable car in this picture?
As you'll see if you click through to the rest of the article, Tatev Monastery is a little different when you view it in situ, yet most of the photos perpetuate the 'myth' that I have agreed to by excluding 'all the other stuff' that surrounds it. So much for truth in photography, even for monasteries!
The overview from the hill above the hill above the monastery!
From where the hero photo was taken, with a slightly wider view including the 'extras'.
Looking at the two location photographs, you can see what I mean. But let's not forget that Armenia has a history going back more than 4,000 years, so the fact this place looks as remote as it does, is testament to the inhospitable alpine environment.
I spent a little time in post-production on the hero shot, removing the background roads, covering up the corrugated iron roofing, and removing a few unnecessary power lines. However, the low cloud that helpfully rolled in did most of the hard work for me. Given we had driven through torrential rain and thunderstorms only an hour earlier, the abatement in the weather was much appreciated and the low cloud just perfect!
We spent an hour or so above the monastery, photographing it from several angles as the light changed. The wider view is worth working on, but I will have to steel myself for the post-production needed to clean it up. It's much easier to shoot the world as we find it, rather than as we would like to envisage it. Despite the modern encroachments, nothing can take away the age, the mood and the patina of a location like this, so I think it only fitting to portray it as we 'see' it with our minds.
Carmel Coast, USA.
Phase One XF 100MP, 240mm lens, 1/1600 second @ f8, ISO 50
Earlier this year, Tony Hewitt and I took a group of photographers around South West America in the footsteps of America's great landscape photographers. Naturally enough, Ansel Adams was one of them.
In preparation for the trip, I read a biography about Ansel and was fascinated to learn how much he has been misunderstood by many photographers.
At the risk of overly simplifying the issues, in the early 20th Century, Ansel Adams and Edward Weston were pushing to have photography recognised for what it was, not for trying to emulate painting. At the time, the 'Pictorialist' movement was doing everything it could to make photographs look like paintings.
Adams and Weston pushed the idea of 'straight' photography, meaning they wanted their images to look like photographs, not paintings.
Throughout their careers, their views on what photography should and shouldn’t be gradually changed as they worked it all out. I think Ansel summed it up pretty well later in his life as follows:
“A photograph that is merely a superficial record of the subject fails as an aesthetic expression of that subject. The expression must be an emotional amplification, and this emotional amplification relates to point of view, organization, revelation of substance through textures, tonal relations, and the perfection of the technical expression of all these elements.”
I loved reading this. For years, photographers who didn't like Photoshop and the ability to edit and interpret their work have held up Ansel Adams as a legend who produced photographs 'straight out of camera'. Of course, anyone who has read Ansel's books knows that this is far from the truth, however it is also true to note that Ansel questioned himself about how far he could push a photograph before going too far.
For instance, using a Yellow filter in black and white film photography would darken a blue sky, giving a more 'natural' result. Using a red filter would turn a blue sky almost black, which was far from natural but looked pretty damn good, and I think Ansel agonised over this for many years. His famous Half Dome was the first time he went to the 'dark side' with a red filter and a black sky, but he repeated the black sky 'interpretation' with his Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico. These are probably his two most famous photographs, so what does that say?
My message: Photography can be as interpretive or as 'straight' as you want it to be, just let other photographers do what they want and don't worry about it! And photographers who do enjoy the dark side, keep this little piece of photo trivia up your sleeve. Even the great Ansel Adams expects our photographs to have some 'emotional amplification'.
Carmel Coast, USA.
Phase One XF 100MP, 240mm lens, 25 seconds @ f14, ISO 50, Nisi 10X ND Filter
Why is photography of the past relevant to our current generation?
You can read this question two ways, depending on your interpretation of 'current generation'. Is the current generation everyone who is alive today (an expanded definition), or does it mean the younger generation (an erroneous supposition in my opinion)?
No longer falling into the latter definition, I tend to think that the question (asked by a student) could be better worded as follows: Why is photography of the past relevant?
Historically, I don't know of any successful or famous artists who didn't have some understanding of the past, or at least trained with a successful artist of their times. The main reason to understand the past is so you can progress further - rather than re-inventing the wheel or copying what someone else has already done, learn the lessons of the past so you can go somewhere new with your creativity.
For instance, it's easy for me to dismiss Ansel Adams as an average photographer when I compare his work to that of later American photographers, but we have all learnt so much from Mr Adams that he deserves our respect. Without seeing his photographs, the way he cropped images, the way he interpreted them, we would not be nearly as advanced as we are today. If indeed we are!
On the other hand, as Susan Sontag says, all photography is derivative.
I sometimes read this as 'never being original' because someone, somewhere will already have taken something very similar if not identical to your work. So, by being ignorant of the past - and everyone else's work - at least you can be original within yourself. However, it doesn't change the big picture that other people will continue to judge you based on their knowledge and background of the past.
Perhaps the question was related to technology and access. So ubiquitous has photography become that for most people it is a matter of craft, not art. This isn't to demean good craft in anyway, rather to distinguish between someone using an Instagram filter and a photographer interpreting a raw file. There isn't always a difference when you look at the results, of course, but I think it's the intent that is important.
So, why is photography of the past relevant to our current generation? Because most of the 'new' filter effects being offered by one-button image editing apps are based on the techniques and craft of the past - and it makes me feel superior to know this. But now I'm starting to sound like my parents!
What do you think?
Young Monk deep in thought, Bhutan.
Canon EOS 5DSR, 300mm lens, 1/640 second @ f2.8, ISO 100
When it comes to portraiture, expression is everything. Think about the photographs taken of you, perhaps for a family portrait or a wedding. If you don't have a good expression, you won't like the portrait no matter how good it is technically. This doesn't mean technique isn't important. If you capture a wonderful expression and your subject is overexposed or out of focus, that's not much good either!
If you click through to the website, you can see the four frames I took when photographing this monk. He wasn't there for long and his hand to his temple for just a few short moments. However, immediately I saw the gesture, I started pressing the button. And kept pressing it everytime he changed his expression.
Shooting on the street like this, you don't have time to think and compose, only react. And the only reaction we really have available is to take another photograph. Of course, I have a rough idea of the type of photograph I'm looking for. You don't attach a 300mm lens to your camera and expect to shoot from the hip. Rather, a telephoto is useful for capturing big close ups and, as in this case, isolating the subject.
Note the blank wall behind, simplifying the composition, making sure the message is clear. I was lucky there - he could have been standing somewhere else. So what's the message?
The four frames before post-production. Which one would you have chosen?
I'm not sure there really is a single message we can take away from this photograph. Who knows what he was thinking: did I leave the iron on, I hope my teacher doesn't see me sneaking away from class, this cloak makes my head itch! However, I don't think photographs have to answer the questions they raise and very often, it's better if they don't.
Maori Chieftan. Lumix GH5 Launch, Queenstown, NZ.
Lumix GH5, 18mm (37mm equivalent) lens, 1/1250 second @ f4, ISO 100
Life as a photography magazine editor is pretty good when companies like Panasonic invite you to test their new Lumix GH5 camera for a few days in Queenstown. And they looked after us very well with a series of photo opportunities designed to show off the camera's many features. We were off the plane for no more than 10 minutes before we were onto a jet boat, screaming across the river shallows at a rapid rate of knots before being dropped off to the Hilton where we were staying.
When we arrived at the Hilton wharf, we received a traditional Maori welcome. While entertaining, the background was pretty ordinary and not really conducive to a good photograph. However, to Panasonic's credit they had further plans for the chieftan and his wife the following day. After arriving atop a wind-blown mountain ridge by helicopter and being treated to a packed lunch and champagne (I told you life was pretty good), we had another opportunity to make some portraits of the maori chief with a far more interesting background.
More about the Lumix GH5 later in the week. In the meantime, check out the four frames I quickly grabbed (along with the other 20 or so journalists standing next to me).
Four photos - which would you use?
Now, I know you can work out which of the three frames was used in the hero photo up above, but the question is why?
The reasons for choosing Frame 3.
This isn't the only angle I shot from, but these are the four frames I squeezed out of this particular pose. In the first frame, the chieftan's eyes are closed so, while pretty good down small, if ever I were to make a larger image, it wouldn't be satisfactory. Expression is everything - and to be honest, I probably haven't got the best expression in the other three either, but they are all pretty similar.
However, the key to this particular pose for me was the hand-woven feathered cape he was wearing. I wanted this to be the feature of the photograph and, having decided that, picking the cape that doesn't have the deep shadows in the middle becomes the obvious choice. The third frame has more even illumination over the garment, which in turn lets me highlight the textures and colours in post-production.
And if you're interested in a photography workshop in the next 12 months, I have places left on trips going to Arnhemland, Iran, New Zealand, Canada and Mexico. Full details on the Better Photography website!
Vineyard east of Middlehurst, North Island, New Zealand.
80mm lens on Phase One XF 100MP, 1/3200 second @ f3.2, ISO 200
Join Tony Hewiit and Peter Eastway on Middlehurst this June for an art photography workshop - details on website.
The human mind loves patterns and repetition. And when we talk about composition, pattern and repetition are key elements in this sometimes vague and mysterious art. However, there are a couple of things that I look for when composing pattern shots.
The first thing I try to do with a pattern shot is to fill the frame. By filling the frame, the viewer is lead to believe the pattern goes on forever - it is limitless. If the above photo of vineyards included the surrounding edges of the vineyard, it would create a completely different image.
The second thing I look for is variation. After filling the frame, there needs to be some point of interest for the eye to land on. In the image above, there's the secondary colour pattern of reds and blues, but this is quite subtle. More obvious is the roadway that cuts through the image. It is a centre of interest, a dynamic line, a break in proceedings.
So, which do you prefer? There's no right or wrong, just a preference - but at least it can be a creative decision.
Check out our Middlehurst video, created by Animoto.
Check out the book we created on the last Middlehurst workshop.
It's a 16MB download file you view in Adobe Reader or Acrobat (PDF eBook).
Scorched leaf detail, Arnhemland.
Canon EOS 5DSR, 100mm macro lens, 1/160 second @ f4, ISO 400, tripod.
Click the YouTube link below to see a mini-slide show.
In many parts of Australia, fire is part of the seasonal ebb and flow. Flying into Arnhemland last year, we could see lots of spot fires all around. My understanding is some are lit by lightning stikes, others are intentionally lit for land management. Whatever the reasons, they add an accent to the landscape.
What struck me most about the aftermath was the colour. Rich orange and red browns dominated small sections of the bush and so the challenge was to create an interesting composition. However, as you will see from the location shot (you'll see it on the website), it was a very busy area with strong overhead light. It was challenging!
My solution was to get in close using a macro lens. I also looked for areas where the leaves were backlit by the sun, but the background was in the shadow of a hill or outcrop, thus making a dark background against which the leaf would stand out.
For macro work, I like to work on a tripod so I can precisely control my focus. The closer you focus, the less the depth-of-field, the less of your image will be in tack sharp focus. However, I didn't want the entire leaf to be sharp, just a section of it.
So with the camera nice and steady on a tripod, what's the problem? There was a very slight breeze. It really was hardly a hint of moving air, but it was enough to move the leaves ever so slightly. To maintain my aperture, I needed to choose a higher ISO setting (400 in this case) to keep my shutter speeds fast enough to arrest any movement.
In post production...
Tidal stream, Arnhemland. Canon EOS 5DSR with 35mm lens, 1/6400 second @ f3.2, ISO 800. A few places are still available for my July 2017 Arnhemland workshop.
It's interesting what 'the judges' pick as being successful photographs. At the recent WPPI Awards held in Las Vegas, this print was lucky enough to earn a Gold Award, while three others from the same shoot and area earned Silvers or a Silver with Distinction. What makes this image better than the others?
You can see the other images by clicking through to the website, but I am going to suggest that I really don't know! I can't know, because I'm the author. I have so much baggage attached to these images that it is hard to be objective - and I don't want to be objective.
Unlike the other images, this photograph has very distinct lines breaking up the frame. Looking like a dirt road, they are tidal watercourses in Arnhemland photographed from a helicopter while on my photo workshop last year. The other images are more random in their design and not as compositionally obvious, and sometimes I think that the photographs that are elevated to Gold status are helped by being a little more straightforward.
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!