Peter Eastway writes an almost weekly newsletter from his Better Photography website (www.betterphotography.com). These are some of the more recent posts.
From Middlehurst Station, New Zealand
Fujifilm X-T3, Fujinon XF200mmF2 R LM OIS WR, f2.8 @1/1900 second, ISO 160
This photo is out of focus! Well, that's not quite correct. The background mountains are sharply focused with my greatly loved Fujinon XF 200mm f2.0 lens, but the foreground mountains are a little soft. There wasn't sufficient depth-of-field to keep them sharp. I didn't worry about this initially until I produced an A2 size print when the issue became much too obvious. I could hide this error away on the website easily enough, but not on paper!
What happened? At the time, I was shooting Sue McDonald on her horse at Middlehurst (did we work out if her horse was called Tony or not from an earlier newsletter?), so I wanted the background for her to be a little defocused. The solution was to shoot with the lens nearly wide open (I'm a bit disappointed with myself to see that I shot at f2.8, whereas I spent all that money on an f2.0 lens!), but when I saw these lovely shapes in the mountains as I was waiting for Sue and Tony to get into position, I simply pressed the shutter. Who wouldn't?
Well, a better photographer would have closed the aperture down first, say to f8 or f11, and then the foreground mountains might have been a bit sharper - and they wouldn't have wasted a sheet of lovely Canson Rag Photographique paper!
So why am I coming clean about this? Why am I airing my dirty laundry in public? It's because technology has provided me with a solution: Topaz Sharpener AI. I've written about this plugin/standalone before and how it helped correct the softness in some of my aerial shots, so why not in a landscape as well? As you can see from the screen shot below, fixing up the foreground had unintended consequences.
It might be a stretch to see this on the screen shot above, so you'll have to take my word for it. On the left is the original with the slightly blurred foreground. On the right, the corrected version and while Sharpener AI has crisped up the foreground nicely, it has overcooked the background which was already correctly focused. The (2nd) solution to the problem with the (1st) solution is also easy: apply the sharpening to a copy layer and, using a mask, brush in the sharpness only on the foreground where required.
It used to be that if you didn't have the photo in your pixels, you didn't have your photo, but with a number of new plugins and standalone applications, such as Topaz Sharpener AI, I'm having to re-think this. It won't make me a sloppier photographer out in the field (I can fix it later in Photoshop), but it will expand my opportunities knowing that as part of the post-production, I can render the result that I want.
What a great time to be alive in the history of photography!
Adelaide River detail, Kakadu, Northern Territory
Phase One XT 150MP, 80mm lens, 1/2000 second @ f3.2, ISO 160
After talking about the history of photography last week, Better Photography magazine contributor Ken Spence challenged me to guess what the future holds. Good luck, I reckon! I can't even work out when we're all going to get out of Covid lockdown here in Sydney. Mind you, as Ken is in Melbourne, what else have we got to do?
There's a part of me that wants the print to remain the epitome of photographic expression. I love my Epson printers and Canson papers (unapologetic plug as I'm an ambassador for both brands) and I still get great joy out of making a print. Currently I'm working on a project with small prints, but I've also received an inquiry for a 60-inch print - big or small, the print is a beautiful object and something more than just the image.
But what if technology changes? What if my beautiful EIZO monitors (another unashamed plug) could be manufactured as ultra-thin, one by two metre screens which I could hang on a wall and stream images to from my computer or smart phone? The technology is there, but the screens are generally multiple monitors tiled together. I'm dreaming of a continuous surface - and maybe I can have different textures on those surfaces.
But would I be happy?
Turn the power off and the image is gone, but that's not the case with a print. A print is a separate entity. It exists on its own. Is this 'existence' what attracts me to the print, or the image quality I can produce? I'll have to think about that because in the first instance, it's the image quality that is most important - my expression. If the expression is just as good in the future, but in some different way, why wouldn't I change my view?
Referencing history again, digital cameras produced poor quality in comparison to film and many photographers couldn't see the point. But that changed and so did our views.
So, once I can see what the technology in the future holds, I'll be in a better position to have an opinion. Or perhaps I'll have a third jab of the Covid vaccine which includes a special microchip co-designed by the CIA and KGB, and I'll hack the chip so I can stream my best photos from my body to screens all around the world - in fact, to every television and computer monitor there is. Even if they're not turned on, my hack will be so good the screens are turned on all by themselves and the world will see the brilliance of my photography! Wait on, why worry about a physical delivery mechanism - I'll just stream my photos virtually and everyone who has had the vaccine will be forced to see my images.
That's it! I have a plan!
And the end of lock down can't come soon enough...
Middlehurst Landscape Detail
Phase One XF 150MP, 240mm Schneider Kreuznach lens with 2x converter, f16 @ 0.6 seconds, ISO 50.
We all have them - photos that mean something to us, but never seem to get the reward we'd like when we enter them into a photo competition or post them onto social media.
Does it matter?
No! The reality is we have no control over what other people like, whether judges or friends. Sure, we can choose subjects or techniques that are more likely to receive a positive response, but I don't think this is a great way to use a camera. Surely we should be taking photos we love first and hoping others like them second?
The photo above is one of my (many) favourites - and the photo at the end of the article another. Both were taken within a few minutes of each other at Middlehurst on a quiet evening. The light was soft, there was hardly a breath of wind and both were shot with a 240mm Schneider and a 2x converter, about as telephoto as I can get with a medium format camera.
So, why do I love them?
The main reason is the texture and the detail - texture and detail you'll struggle to see on a screen, I'm afraid. But as a print, the texture is visually tactile. You can see every blade of grass, every shiny pebble. They are simple in composition, plain in subject matter and they make me happy. They take me back to last century when I would shoot with 4x5" and 8x10" film cameras and marvel at the superb quality they afforded. And I laugh to myself because the quality I am capturing today is just so superior to back then, I simply couldn't imagine how good photography was going to become.
So, my challenge for you?
Whether you're in lock down (unlucky) or out and about (fortunate), spend a few hours looking through your archives and pull out some photos that you really love. Re-process them and post them on social media or make a print. Tell people why you like them. Take people on a journey and, with understanding, they might become favourites for others as well.
The results of the Better Photography Magazine Photo of the Year 2021 will be announced on Wednesday and I know there will be some mixed feelings with the scores, but just because a judge doesn't respond to a photo the same way you do, doesn't necessarily mean it's not a great photo, that it's not a 'keeper'.
And here's my second photo.
At Prayer, Thimphu, Bhutan
Fujifilm X-T3, Fujinon XF200mmF2 R LM OIS WR, f2.0 @ 1/500 second, ISO 1600
I'm asked why I still enter photo competitions? The main reason is that I enjoy the process. And being a photo competition judge, I also think it's important to know how it feels to be an entrant - we should never forget what it feels like to win or be rejected. The photo above was 'accepted' in the recent Olive Cotton Award, meaning it was printed and exhibited (even if the number of gallery visitors was limited due to COVID). However, I had another entry which was rejected (see the bottom of the article). As an entrant, I like them both, but entrants always have different views to the judges, unless you happen to be the overall winner!
It was a delight to have this photograph accepted and there is something haunting about the gentleman's gaze. Was he aware I was there and glaring at the camera? Or was he lost in prayer as he turned the large prayer wheel? Perhaps how the photo was taken gives a clue to the answer.
There is a large, open 'shed' in which a dozen prayer wheels stand, and seated a their base you often find the devout at prayer. I was using a 200mm f2.0 lens at its maximum aperture, so this throws both the foreground and background significantly out-of-focus. You can't really tell what is either side of the subject, but the ropes hanging down in front of his face are for turning the prayer wheel.
For me, part of the strength of the portrait results from using this selective focusing to highlight my subject. In post-production, I've darkened down everything else so the viewer is directed to the prayer's face - and his fully engaged eye. Was he looking at me or deep in thought? I'm pretty sure he knew I was doing something, but as I was looking down at the flip-out LCD screen on my camera and cradling the lens in my lap, I think he was just looking at me out of interest and completely oblivious to the camera. But I'll never know!
And the photo that didn't make it? A personal favourite taken elsewhere in Bhutan, but that's another story!
Sue and her horse, Middlehurst
Fujifilm X-T3 with Fujinon XF200mmF2 R LM OIS WR, f2 @ 1/2000 second, ISO 160
I'm in trouble on two fronts. First, I've forgotten the name of Sue's horse and that alone is a whipping offence (for me, not the horse). Second, I was in trouble a few weeks ago when I wrote that I took 343 shots of Sue on her horse, with the inference that it took this many to get a good one. Note, I said it was inferred, not implied!
Well, you could have heard the derisions of laughter from professional portrait photographers all around the world. Mind you, these were mainly family portrait photographers who would be aghast at having to wade through 100 shots of the same person - from their perspective, it is not only mindless, but a waste of time and money. So I understand that my suggestion to 'shoot lots' was poor advice in this context. Although, never being wrong, I would like to remind them that many of their heroes used to shoot lots of photos as well, in order to get just the right one! But agreed, not 343 of them.
So, with my tail between my legs and my reputation on the rocks, I am throwing caution to the wind and presenting some of the other 343 photos I took of Sue as she approached our camera position on Rocky the horse. Wait on, I think it might have been called Tony? Anyway...
Since I couldn't be in Middlehurst last month, nor this month or next, I've been looking through my files from our last visit back in 2019. While Tony (the photographer, not the horse) and I shoot alongside our 'students', we spend most of our post-production time back in the comfortable lodge helping students with their work and making prints (thanks to Epson and Canson for their support). So looking through my 2019 files, it's just like being back in Middlehurst and reliving a wonderful experience.
On this day, I wanted a shot of Sue on her horse. I wasn't quite sure whether I wanted a long shot or more of a portrait, so I shot lots - 343 to be precise. Above, is one of them, below are nine more for your viewing pleasure. They are preliminary edits - but getting close!
Test print photographed with iPhone on pin-board, Collaroy, 2021
Duffys Wharf, Pittwater
A few weeks ago, I posted a photo taken within 10 kilometres of home as the Sydney Covid lock down began. Well, the good news is we didn't have a bunch of demonstrators in the city this weekend (and isn't it interesting to learn these sensible fanatics had been encouraged by a European group that wasn't putting their own liberty on the line). The bad news is this lock down is likely to go on for quite some time, so if you have freedom of movement at the moment, enjoy it!
Actually, I'm quite comfortable in lock down. While life is completely different (i.e. no travel), lock down isn't as bad as isolation which I enjoyed 15 months ago. Everything is relative. And so are photographs.
The photo above is of a print stuck to my pin board in the office. It is opposite my desk, in full view. When someone rings me up to have a chat, like Tony Hewitt wondering if we will ever get over to Middlehurst this year, or David Oliver asking when he has to start judging the Better Photography Photo of the Year competition, and they start to drone on a little, I walk around my desk and look at the print more closely. I study it. "Yes, Tony, any day now. No, David, I have to prepare things first." And I have a pencil which sits balanced on two thumb pins so I can write a few notes on the print itself. What to change, what to rework, what to improve. This is a test print. It is designed to be written on.
For me, living with a photograph for a period of time is an essential part of the photographic process. And it never ceases to amaze me that even after spending hours and hours on a file, this process reveals even more insights for improving the finished product.
Now, I know when you compare the small screen files you have before, the work print above with the final file below, the differences don't appear huge, but when you're looking at an A2 print (or larger), these changes and improvements are so important. Others might not notice, but if you do, that's reason enough to fix things. Enjoy your photography, wherever you may be!
Pittwater Backwater, down the bottom of the hill.
Phase One XT 150MP, 32mm Rodenstock, f5.6 @ 1/125 second, ISO 50
We have an international readership, so not everyone will know that as a Sydneysider, I am in lock down with 5 million other lucky souls who live in the Greater Sydney Area! On the other hand, Australian readers will be well aware of the COVID restrictions and I have been receiving some condolences notes from Victorians who know what it's like. Thank you!
Tony Hewitt and I were supposed to be in Middlehurst, New Zealand today. We've postponed the 'experiences' until later in August and October, fingers crossed. In the meantime, Gladys (our premier) has finally introduced a sensible restriction, asking Sydneysiders not to travel more than 10 kilometres from their home when they are doing essential shopping and daily exercises. So the question is, what can you find within 10 kilometres to photograph?
Now, I know I'm not supposed to leave home to take photos, but I can't see any damage leaving home for an hour walk and taking a camera with me. You never know what you might find. Case in point is this scene not far from home. My wife and daughter 'discovered' it and suggested we get up early one morning and perhaps catch some mist. Although we arrived shortly after sunrise, the mist was already rising and not a lot left for my camera.
The photo is hand held and the scene quite remarkable when you realise how close it is to a major city. In fact, there are lots of locations like this around the Pittwater backwaters and maybe this will be the first of a series.
In terms of processing, this remains a work in progress. I'm struggling a little to get the balance between the sky and foreground just right, and I also want to experiment with the colour grading a little more. But in the meantime, for someone in lock down, it suits me just fine!
Enjoy your freedom if you have it!
Pulpit Rock, Blue Mountains, pre-Lockdown
Phase One A-Series 150MP, 180mm Rodenstock, f11 @ 1/60 second, ISO 50
The workshop I ran with Ignacio Palacios up the Blue Mountains last weekend was on, then off, then on again, then curtailed by the Sunday restrictions. However, we managed to get through the program and enjoy some of the Blue Mountains' wonderful scenery as well.
This photo is taken from Govetts Leap where we congregated before dawn. I wish I were better at getting out of bed because when I do, I really enjoy it. However, I seem to take more of my landscape photography at sunset, rather than sunrise!
I had more or less put my cameras away when the sun started to creep around the edge of the bluff opposite, to which is attached a formation called Pulpit Rock. It's a slight telephoto lens, there's a touch of lens flare in the top left and bottom right, and the light is delightful. And the lens flare reminded me of how fashions change. It took me more than a little while to accept brides really did want lens flare in their wedding photos! And here I am, happily using some controlled flare to add to the quickly evaporating morning haze.
We discussed many subjects during the workshop, including the square format. When Ignacio gave a presentation on composition, he was asked why so many of his examples were square. I also confess to being partial to the square format - it seems to be less 'factual'. A horizontal makes me think of a landscape, a vertical is a portrait, but a square is anything you want it to be and sometimes cropping images to square seems to work better for me.
But it's a personal choice, of course!
Bruny Island Lighthouse, Tasmania
Phase One XF 150MP, 55mm Schneider lens, f2.8 @ 1/2000 second, ISO 320
I'm not sure if friendship extends to a full bottle of Talisker, but as I saw the level in our bottle quickly diminish on the first night of four, I decided it had to!
While photography can be a lonely, individual pursuit, there are times when photographers come together. The AIPP (Australian Institute of Professional Photography) is one organisation that facilitates interaction, APS is another - and your local camera clubs as well. It's great to spend time with other photographers and over the years, I've developed strong friendships with many. I consider myself very fortunate to be involved with a number of informal groups, one of which congregated on Bruny Island a week or so ago.
Richard Bennett and better half Susie, who live on Bruny Island, sent out the invitations. Richard is a past president of the AIPP, as is his daughter Alice who paid us a visit. Other invitees were David Oliver (hence the Talisker), Phil Kuruvita (I think he drank most of the Talisker, followed closely by Richard - Phil is also a past president of the AIPP), Nuran Zorlu, Bruce Pottinger (who sold us most of our cameras) and Kevin Cooper (who represented Fujifilm for the past decade or more and is a keen photographer and balloonist). Ian van der Wolde was invited (also a past AIPP president), but sadly his Victorian premier wouldn't permit him to travel.
So, among such illustrious company, one wonders how I was invited!
In addition to much socialising, David suggested we do a print swap and this turned into a highlight of the weekend. While we have seen each other's work in the awards, books and advertising, there was so much more about us all as photographers we didn't know and we each gave a little talk about our prints. It was a wonderful afternoon and I have also added to my collection!
The reason for mentioning this is that many of us have informal friendships in photography. Assuming we're not in lock down, it's not too hard to organise three, four or a few more people to spend a weekend together - and talk about photography. If nothing else, it can be very inspiring.
And the photo? We did a little helicopter time around the very south of Bruny Island. I had visited this area many times, but never really understood how magical it was until I took to the air. Unfortunately, being a national park, you might not get permission to fly a drone there, although interestingly the Tasmanian government had lots of drone footage in an informational piece playing on a big screen at Hobart's airport!
This photo is no longer possible for most of us. I’m sure National Parks would allow a National Geographic film crew in, but the average photographer will struggle to get this close to the eroding rock formations at Mungo, let alone stay there after sunset to photograph them with a backdrop of stars.
In fact, the average visitor will be kept well away from the rock formations. Access is with a guided tour only and I understand why. With so many visitors to Australia’s national parks, crowd control is needed if we’re not going to love them to death. Uluru has done it successfully, although some of its photography rules continue to perplex me. But I get it.
To take this photo, post-production was required. The rock formation was photographed on a stormy afternoon with dramatic clouds all around. We had a short burst of sunlight right on sunset – perfect timing or just plain lucky!
The Milky Way was photographed later that night from Mungo Lodge and while its angle to the rock formation may not be completely accurate, the resulting image has plenty of impact. The sky is a four minute exposure at ISO 800 using a Fornax star tracker, with advice and assistance from Glenn Martin. No matter how many YouTube movies I watched, there’s nothing like having someone who knows what he’s doing to help you out!
However, while the afternoon storms cleared at night for the stars, the following morning the rain set in and we were told to evacuate Mungo Lodge. This wasn’t great news on several fronts. First it was disappointing to be leaving so soon, and second, Ignacio Palacios’ car was an AWD, not a 4WD and we struggled to get out as the dusty road instantly turned into a muddy bog. However, I’m grateful to say Ignacio kept the wheels moving and I didn’t have to get out and push!
And just to let you know, the Better Photography Magazine Photo of the Year award will be open for entries on 10 June, with $5000 in cash prizes up for grabs and a judge comment for every entry. Click through to the competition website for details at www.betterphotographyphotocomp.com.
And there’s a capture to print workshop with Ignacio and me up the Blue Mountains at the end of this month – check out the website for details at www.betterphotography.com.