Peter Eastway writes an almost weekly newsletter from his Better Photography website (www.betterphotography.com). These are some of the more recent posts.
Tolkein Rock, Middlehurst, New Zealand
Phase One A series, IQ4 150MP, 23mm Rodenstock, f11 @ 30 seconds, ISO 50
On two recent workshops, the same discussion arose with several photographers: what are they photographing? It sounds like a dumb, arty question you'd ask at the same time you contemplate your navel, but it's actually very practical. If you define what you want to show in your photograph before you use your camera, you're more likely to end up with a stronger composition or framing.
Another obvious suggestion, one that is often forgotten, is to place what you are photographing somewhere in the middle area of the frame, rather than pushed out towards one of the edges. You can place it bang in the middle or use the rule of thirds, just don't put right on an edge of the frame (at least not initially - all rules can be broken, of course).
In the photo above of Tolkein Rock at Middlehurst, what is the subject? If it is Tolkein Rock, then I'd suggest the subject is too small, even though it is well positioned (in the middle somewhere) and its shape is in a clear area (in front of the sky). However, if the subject is 'Tolkein Rock within the Middlehurst landscape', then I am much more comfortable with my framing.
So, can we just change what we say our subject is to suit how we have framed it? Aren't I just playing with words to suit my argument? To some extent, yes, but think about your own reaction to this photo: did you look only at Tolkein Rock, or at a landscape with a pointy rock in the middle? If the latter, then I have been at least partially successful.
When we arrive at a location or choose a subject to photograph (e.g. a portrait or an animal), the first question we should be asking is what do we want to show in the photograph? As obvious as that sounds, not all of us ask the question automatically. Think about someone who has never seen your subject before and work out how you can share the location or subject with them as completely as possible.
Sticking to a single subject will help you create stronger compositions, but of course, we don't only photograph single subjects. However, it's when you introduce a second subject and try to include both within the frame that things become more complex.
I guess the question to ask yourself is, are you happy with the way you frame your subject? Look at some of your older work so you can be more objective and see if the way you are framing your subject makes the subject obvious, or if there are other elements in the frame that complicate things. Analysing your work and giving yourself suggestions for improvement will flow into your work in the future.
Francois Peron National Park, Shark Bay
Phase One XF, IQ180MP, 80mm Schneider lens, f5.0 @ 1/400 second, ISO 200
We have one spot available for an aerial photography workshop at Shark Bay, 7-11 June. If you're interested, email Kim ASAP at [email protected].
Shark Bay has become an incredibly popular location to shoot in recent years. Tony Hewitt and I, along with the other ND5 members Michael Fletcher, Christian Fletcher and Les Walkling, feel an affinity to the place after our 2016 Shark Bay - Inscription exhibition, held back in 2013. Images from this shoot won Tony the Australian Professional Photographer of the Year Award and the resulting book won us the AIPP Photo Book of the Year.
Although shot in 2013, we named the exhibition 2016 because of the 400 year celebration of Dirk Hartog's discovery of Shark Bay that was coming up. And I think we were ahead of our time in more ways than one, given the current popularity of the location. While undoubtedly Richard Woldendorp, Western Australia's grandfather of landscape and aerial photography visited Shark Bay many times before us, it was our exhibition and our interpretation of the landscape in bold colours and large format that started a trend.
Shark Bay is a gold mine for aerial photography. I'm sure there's lots to shoot with a drone, but most of the popular images I've seen are taken from much higher, which usually means a plane for Shark Bay.
The year after our exhibition, I remember judging photos in New Zealand that I thought were Tony's aerials (I actually didn't judge them, I stepped back from the panel to avoid any conflict of interest), only to find out they weren't Tony's at all. Since then, I have seen hundreds of photos that can be correctly called 'derivative' of the images and style we used. The photo above is one very popular example.
In fact, looking at this photo, you might think the original belongs to Tony as a very similar image was a part of his winning PPY portfolio. This is one of the minor challenges of working collectively - sometimes we can't all process and exhibit the same image, even though we all photographed this lake the same day (I can't remember if I was in the plane with Tony). However, there's another reason I didn't use this photo originally.
If you look at the exposure, you'll see I shot at 1/400 second which is way too slow for aerials. Sure, sometimes it's fast enough, but I generally shoot at 1/2000 second to avoid motion blur. The confession is my original photo was not tack sharp. It wouldn't have enlarged to the one or two metre square prints satisfactorily. End of story. Tony was smarter than me - he used a faster shutter speed!
So, why is it okay to use it now? Two reasons. First, I've always loved the photo and feel I have equal ownership of it. I would never enter it into a competition because it is so well known, but personally, I wanted to explore and develop it. I have no trouble sharing it on a blog, especially with this explanation. And this introduces the second reason, Topaz's Sharpener IQ which allowed me to eliminate the subtle motion blur so completely, the final print is effectively flawless! Technology to the rescue - but I still recommend using a faster shutter speed when you can!
Horse Head Rock, NSW South Coast
Cambo Actus DB2, 150MP IQ4 Phase One, 35mm Rodenstock, 1/2 second @ f11, ISO 50
I owe Phil an apology. He was keen to photograph Horse Head during our Narooma workshop last week, but access can be tricky. There's the walk around from Camel Rock, but that's best done at low tide and with very little swell, otherwise it can become a bit of a swim! The other option is to drop down the cliffs from the north, but it's steep and slippery, especially after rain.
As Phil has a few years on me, I suggested that while there was no doubt he would get down to the bottom one way or another, getting back up might be a little more challenging. But I was quite wrong. If anything, he had less trouble than I did scrambling down the slippery clay access track. And as I write this a few days later, I can still feel my thigh muscles from the walk back up!
But, I digress. The purpose of this blog is to suggest that while it can be exciting to visit 'famous' landmarks and place your tripod in the appropriate spot, there are often lots of other images to find if you spend a little time to find out. Several years ago when I accessed Horse Head via the walk from the south, I found the small beach behind Horse Head and thought it delightful. I took quite a few shots, but never felt I quite captured its potential.
So last week, I left the photographers shooting the front of Horse Head and scrambled around the rocks to the other side of Horse Head and this is what I found.
I'm not suggesting this view has as much impact as the front of Horse Head. Rather, I find this a quieter, more contemplative image. The shape of the rock really is remarkable and how did it end up sitting on the edge of the beach like this? I particularly like the way the wave action builds up the sand on the little beach. There's no doubt the front of the rock is more interesting, but I have to say, I like this angle better!
I like shooting with neutral density filters and using long exposures - from 30 to 240 seconds. However, while this can produce wonderful cloud blurs, waves breaking on a beach are rendered as a silky white blur. The wave action is lost, so I have now adjusted my technique, using a NiSi variable neutral density filter. This allows me to easily explore different shutter speeds and, depending on the angle, the lens and the wave itself, anywhere from 1/15 to 1 second can work nicely. I might then do a second exposure for the sky, using a longer exposure to get more obvious cloud movement.
Len Metcalf and I were joined by six photographers on our Narooma workshop last week and we had a great time and took some memorable photos. Travelling is back and hopefully photo tours are as well! If you're ready to go somewhere exciting, don't forget Tony Hewitt and I have one spot left for Middlehurst and another for Shark Bay - we can guarantee you'll love it!
Mona Vale Pool, NSW
Cambo Actus DB2, Phase One IQ4 150MP, 450mm Fujinon-C f12.5 lens - f12.5, 30 seconds, ISO 50
A few weeks ago, I posted a photo taken in my 'back yard' and divulged my New Year's resolution - to create an exhibition of the Northern Beaches where I live. Well, it's March and I'm still going. I have five images up on my pin-board at the office/studio, one of which you can see above, and another which was posted on a blog back in January.
But I know what's going to happen. Or should I say, I hope what I know is going to happen does happen, because that means I'll be travelling again! Yes, as soon as I start travelling, the spare time I'm using now will dry up. And I have other excuses, too! Last week when I ducked out for a sunrise shoot in between rain squalls, I hit a pot hole (well, the car did) which split the side-wall of my tire. It was just a slow leak, but now I'm waiting for a replacement (although the wife will kindly lend me her wheels as long as I'm more careful).
So, lots of excuses, but I figure by going public, it will be harder to stop and hopefully, by the end of this year, I will have a portfolio done and dusted.
Enough about me, what about this photo? It's a 'cover', meaning I shot it many years ago with my Canon gear. I never had a lens long enough to shoot it on medium format, but all that has changed with some recent purchases. I have been on eBay, searching for large format telephoto lenses that are also light to carry around. The little Fujinon-C is tiny, but it does require an extension rail and a long bellows to focus - scroll down to the bottom of the article to see the camera in situ.
The timing is just on sunrise, so the warm light catches the side of the pool. Yes, it could have been done in post-production, but I like working with what is there. (I said I like working with what is there, but I didn't say I wouldn't put something in that wasn't there if I thought it needed it!)
Of course, the post-production techniques I'm using include selective blur and texture screens, so why would I want a medium format capture? The answer is because the area surrounding the pool is tack sharp, the point of contrast with the soft waves breaking all around.
In some ways, this is a cheating a little, but I remember last time I shot this location I made a mental note about needing more swell - and hence more swirling water around the pool. I think this version has everything I want!
The Cambo Actus DB2 with the tiny 450mm Fujinon-C lens in position. It's a fraction the size and weight of the 600mm Nikkor it replaces - and in terms of carting things around, that's a good thing!
In amongst the ice, Svalbard
Phase One XF 150MP, 55mm lens, f8 @ 1/800 second, IS 200.
We finally think we're getting over COVID so travelling will open up again and bloody Putin starts a war, throwing our travel plans into disarray once more. There's no doubt that travel has become challenging, but as far as I know (as of 16 March), the voyages with Aurora Expeditions to Svalbard this June and July are still going ahead. Naturally, if there are issues travelling to and from Norway, things will adapt, but my personal thoughts are that Svalbard is a long way from trouble and I'm looking forward to travelling there.
Of course, there's a part of my conscience that thinks about the people of the Ukraine and my heart goes out to them. Perhaps it is selfish to consider a photography voyage at this time - no doubt we all have these thoughts and, if we live in a safe country, count our blessings.
However, if you're thinking you need to get back out into the world, I can guarantee that a voyage around the Svalbard archipelago will be unforgettable. It's a true polar experience and there will be lots of snow and ice. Exactly how much depends on the weather and, even before taking into account global warming, there would be some years when it was a struggle to sail around Svalbard because the pack ice was so thick, while in other years you might have to voyage a day or so north to reach the ice.
Pack ice is popular with photographers hoping to photograph polar bears. That being said, we found several bears on the small islands around Svalbard as well. It's nature, so there are no guarantees about what you'll find. I remember on my first voyage to Svalbard being disappointed that my only photos of walrus were about as unexciting as my only photo of a polar bear from four kilometres away! On the next voyage, I took the winning photo you see below, plus lots of polar bears.
But wildlife aside, for me the landscape is simply compelling. There are opportunities to shoot it from the ship, from zodiacs and from walking around on land - beaches, glaciers, grasslands, Svalbard in summer has it all!
If you're interest in knowing more, send me an email or check out the presentation on the website - click here. There are still berths available, but now is the time to make it happen.
And to see a Youtube video on a voyage I did to Svalbard with Kevin Raber, follow this link https://youtu.be/69rP-qnNHjg
Monks Dancing, Trashigang, Bhutan. From the book Ritual | Bhutan by Peter Eastway
If you've read the blogs from the last fortnight, you'll know there are three books in the Bhutan trilogy - Myth, Life and Ritual. Why three? Why not be a bit stronger on the selection process and make a single book.
Like most things in photography, there isn't a single approach. I have already done a single book on Bhutan after my first visit with Robert van Koesveld over 10 years ago. Since then, I have six more trips under my belt and I felt I had so much material, it wasn't right to leave some of it out. And even with three volumes, there are images I wish I could have included.
If this were a purely commercial exercise, different decisions would be made. But as a personal project, it's all about doing what you want, not what your subconscious suggests others might want to do. I'm always having conversations with myself - is this right, or is that better. I enjoy the discussions because, in the end, I'm always right! So, having invested a great deal of time and energy in developing a body of work, I wanted to consolidate it into what is probably the only format that does the work justice.
An exhibition would be great, but how do you print, frame and hang over 150 prints and where do you show them? Video is expedient, but even if you've been enjoying the videos I've shot of me turning the pages, you really don't get to experience the image. It's a funny world we live in, when we have the best quality equipment producing images that are downgraded for presentation!
And society places no value on an electronic image (non-fungible tokens aside). Videos and social media posts (like this) are just fodder for everyday consumption. Don't get me wrong - I love it. It means I get to share something which, rationally, is better than nothing.
But my reality, my experience is very different. Sure, you should buy all three of my books, but that's not going to happen! However, you are in a position to print your own photographs, either as prints or in a book - and I can't recommend it strongly enough.
Vive la print! Something like that...
If you'd like to see a third short video of me turning the pages of the Ritual - Bhutan book, click on the Read More link and visit the Better Photography website for a detailed view.
One of my favourite places, Tshangkha, Bhutan. From the book Myth | Bhutan by Peter Eastway
Last week, I talked about my trilogy of large-format books of Bhutan - Myth, Life and Ritual. Each page is individually printed on an Epson printer using archival pigment ink and cotton-rag paper. And they are expensive to produce and expensive to buy!
So, are all books printed like this? No! Most of the books you purchase online or from a bookstore are mass-printed using the offset printing process. My book, The New Tradition, is printed like this and, as owners will acknowledge, the print quality is superb. I am also very happy with the reproduction in The New Tradition, but you have to remember, I have had to convert my RGB files into CMYK before printing. As good as they are, they don't match the original prints from my Epson. They don't offer the nuance of colour and fine detail.
The same principle applies to the Indigo (and similar) presses that on-demand printers like Momento use. With either a four or six colour inkset, as good as they are, they can't match the 9 colour inkset used by Epson to produce an exhibition quality print. They don't have the subtlety of detail that an inkjet printer provides.
While Momento primarily prints on its high-volume Indigo press, it also offers a service where they will hand-bind Epson prints. This is what they did for me. They use a double-sided paper, which is essentially the same as the papers we print on, except the paper is coated and finished on both sides. And that's why every page in my book is like an exhibition print.
But there's a cost. In addition to the more expensive inks and paper, there's the labour and skills of printing the pages, ensuring they are aligned front to back. And then there's the binding... So, yes, they are expensive to produce, but the way I figure it, I have spent a small fortune on cameras and travelling, it would be incomplete of me to accept anything less than the best current technology and craft can produce. That's what Ansel Adams would be doing if he were working today, I have no doubt.
If you'd like to see a short video of me turning the pages of the Life - Bhutan book, click on the Read More link and visit the Better Photography website for a detailed view - including the final reproduction of the image presented at the beginning of this blog.
Phobjikha Valley, Bhutan. From the book Myth | Bhutan by Peter Eastway
I am a very happy photographer just now! Geoff from Momento Pro rang me up a few days ago to say my three-volume book-set on Bhutan was finally finished. Covid mucked up his production schedules something serious last year and I was happy to wait. It's predominantly a personal project and while I'd love to sell a few copies (limited editions of 45), I realise at $3995 it's not for everyone.
Some readers will have their interest piqued at the price - how good must this book be to charge such a high price? Other's will think Eastway is into pyramid sales or something odd and to stay well away! Let me explain the reality.
These large format books are actually exhibition prints of my work bound together. The pages measure 390x390 mm, or 390x780 mm when the photographs are presented across a 'double page spread'. Those are big prints. And because you are viewing the photographs up close, the impact is incredibly powerful. I love the printed page!
But it gets better. Each page has been individually hand-printed using an Epson printer with archival pigment inks and cotton rag paper. They are not mass-produced on an offset press or an Indigo printer which, no matter how good they are, simply can't match an exhibition quality print from a modern Epson printer. And Geoff, apart from being a stickler for detail, uses Les Walkling's printer profiles so each page has exactly the reproduction values I want. If there are any problems with the photographs, I have to own them as the reproduction is second to none.
A couple of days ago, I showed one of the books to a friend who has decades of experience in photography, publishing and exhibitions. He rang me back a few hours later to say he was still thinking about the book I'd shown him because he was blown away by the quality and the impact. That's a great compliment for the standard of work produced by Momento Pro. And, I like to think, my ability to produce a good photograph or two.
If you'd like to see a short video of me turning the pages of the Myth - Bhutan book, click on the Read More link and visit the Better Photography website for a detailed view - including the final reproduction of the image presented at the beginning of this blog.
Low resolution GIF file which shows a series of layer adjustments. See below to open up a spectacular full resolution file on our website.
Landscape photography is straightforward on the one hand and highly complex on another. Our cameras can easily capture the landscape in front of us, but it is the 'ideas' we have that make the final photograph.
On this occasion, I was in the Pilbara, Western Australia on one of the early ND5 excursions with Tony Hewitt, Christian Fletcher, Michael Fletcher and Les Walkling. We were on our way to Marble Bar, known as the hottest town in Australia. That day, or maybe it was the day after, we found a large orange road marker (plastic witch's hat) which had melted like wax into an igneous blob! The locals told us to say it was 48C because, if it got over 50C, there was usually a television report. So, 48C was a safe bet!
Either way, it was hot and in the mid afternoon, I was quite comfortably cocooned in our 4WD with the air conditioning unit running full blast.
As we drove towards the Marble Bar turn-off, we watched a wet season thunderstorm grow and develop. The road seemed to be skirting around the edge of the weather cell and in the distance we could see some willy-willies forming – small tornados of red dust climbing into the black sky above. It was a photographic feast we could not resist.
We found a side road that led to a slightly raised vantage point above the Pilbara plain. Thunder rolled ominously as we walked around the flanks of a small hill in the stifling heat, but heat was the furthest thing from our minds as we watched Nature unfurl a remarkable display of fury.
Lightning ripped through the cloud mass, starting spot fires on the grassy plain, and the willy-willies merged into a minor dust storm, picking up red earth in its path. It felt like we were on the edge of a huge amphitheatre. They say that travelling in the North West during the wet season isn’t necessarily a good idea because of the heat and the wet, but after this experience, that little gem of advice has been relegated to the dust bin.
As amazing as that experience was, I didn't feel the straight captures adequately recorded our experience. After stitching together seven or eight frames, I went to work in Photoshop, using layers to interpret the image - and this is what I mean about 'ideas'. You can find all the techniques to do what I have done in many places - they are not complicated. The trick is using those techniques to implement your ideas - and this is where instruction like my Landscape Photography MasterClass can help. For this image, not only do I show the techniques, rather how the techniques work together to create the final image.
If you're already a subscriber, the Landscape Photography MasterClass has been recently updated with over 20 new movies. If you haven't yet subscribed, why not take advantage of the special offer below and get 40% off - plus you can pay for it over 10 months and there's always a money-back guarantee if it's not for you. Click here for details and a showcase of the contents.
And the full resolution file of the photo above? Visit the www.betterphotography.com and then click on the image to open up a full resolution version to enjoy! It is sooo much better than the little image above!
Cleric on the move, Yazd, Iran
Fujifilm X-T3, Fujinon XF8-16mmF2.8 R LM WR, f4.5 @ 1/1900 second, ISO 160
Watching television over the weekend, I tuned in on a documentary following some bloke in a business shirt travelling through Iran to Russia. When I first tuned in, I thought I recognised one of the locations - and indeed I did. I've had two great trips to Iran with Nuran Zorlu and I still remember the wonderful warmth and hospitality of the Iranian people we met. I really hope the current political issues get sorted out quickly and we can travel there again.
So, looking for a photo to discuss this week, I reviewed my edits of Iran. I have 189 images in my 'Iran Edits' folder, courtesy of my down time during lockdown. Some photos are simple edits of paper and wall surfaces with a view to using them as textures, but most of the files are processed out of Capture One or Lightroom with a few adjustment layers or adjustment brushes. They are 'preliminary edits'. The next step is to design them into a book and once I've worked out which photos I'm going to use, then I'll do the final edits.
The image above of a cleric walking through a mosque courtyard in Yazd caught my eye. I have processed two versions. Once I found the location and set up the photo, I spent maybe 15 minutes waiting for different people to walk by. When they did, I pressed the shutter multiple times to best capture their walking stance. I like this one better compositionally because the cleric is walking into the space, whereas in the other version, he is past the centre line. Why process both? The sweep of his cape looks better in the second shot, so if I'm feeling keen, I could move the cleric back a bit - but that involves quite a bit of work.
Processing the image involved perspective correction and although you may look at the edges of the arch and think they are not quite square, chances are that's correct because this building is probably a thousand years old and it might not be vertical in reality! I'm not excusing my excellent technique, I'm just explaining that there are other vertical lines in the photo that also needed consideration and what you see is my best compromise!
In terms of tonal control, the preliminary edit in my folder was too light. While it had lots of great detail in the shadows, the colour and tone appeared washed out and so a curves adjustment layer was added in. The resulting darkening also blocked up the shadows, but as it's mainly brickwork, I don't need all the detail and I'm happy with the hint remaining.
Finally, there were a couple of tourists on the other side of the quadrangle, so I arranged for their removal, politely of course! That is one of the great things about the digital workflow and travel photography. I no longer worry about problems in the background because I know most of the time they can be solved in post-production. Photography, as always, is a process of capture followed by post-production.