Peter Eastway writes an almost weekly newsletter from his Better Photography website (www.betterphotography.com). These are some of the more recent posts.

Simplification and Accents

May 19, 2024

Driftwood, Mullimburra Point Beach, NSWDriftwood, Mullimburra Point Beach, NSW

Driftwood, Mullimburra Point Beach, NSW
Fujifilm X-H2, Fujinon XF8-16mmF2.8 R LM WR, f11 @ 2 seconds, ISO 64

Whether judging competitions or helping photographers with their images at workshops, I'm often struck by how much better a photograph could be if only it were simplified. 

When looking up Wikipedia to check the spelling of German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's name, I discovered that the phrase 'less is more' could be traced back well before Mr Rohe - back to Ancient Greece in fact! However, when I studied art, 'less is more' seemed to be 'more or less' fundamental to the modernism with which it is commonly associated. In terms of architecture, it said forget all the swirls and ornamentation of the Baroque era and use what is purely functional to create a cleaner aesthetic.

Okay, so I'm sure I have bastardised this concept and in any event, simplification isn't necessarily quite the same as 'less is more', but it is amazing how often people understand what I'm getting at when they hear it.

On our workshop last week, we were dodging rain squalls at Mullimburra Point. I confess to loving the experience of being out in the rain, but it takes a workshop environment to get me to do it. On the beach were a number of trees embedded in the sand and a couple of smaller branches sitting on top. After the other photographers had taken their shots (we were all being super careful about unwanted footprints in the sand), I gradually moved in on this branch. To begin, I included the horizon and the headlands in the frame, but the image was too busy. What did I want you to look at? The beach? The sky? The headlands? None of the above - it was the driftwood that looked like a character written onto the soft sand.

Gradually I moved my tripod closer and closer until I was more or less on top of the tree branch, but while the branch and sand were 'simple', it wasn't enough. So, yes, simplification is important, but that doesn't mean the photo has to be boring as well!

Every now and then, a wave would wash up the beach, getting close to the branch. The white water and its shape in the corner of the image created an 'accent', a point of difference. Of course, as soon as I wanted a wave in the frame, the ocean went quiet and I was probably waiting for around 20 minutes before an appropriate wave. But at least it wasn't raining!


Not Camel Rock Again? Why Not!

May 12, 2024

Camel Rock, NSW South CoastCamel Rock, NSW South CoastNSW South Coast

Camel Rock, NSW South Coast
Fujifilm X-H2, 8-16mm, 2 seconds @ f16, ISO 64

I'm not complaining for one minute! After a month travelling through India and Bhutan, within a couple of days I was down the NSW South Coast with Len Metcalf running a 5 day photography workshop in Narooma. And what I love about this particular workshop is the location (lots of photo opps to choose from), the great food (can't beat the local cafe for breakfast and there are several excellent restaurants), the conference room in the Amooran Motel (great views, perfect for teaching and sharing), working with Len (hard to find two photographers who are more different in their approaches, yet in sync with their passion for teaching) - and most of all, a great group of students prepared to put up with my jokes and follow us out into some sketchy weather conditions to take some great photos.

For Len and me, the locations are always a re-visit, but as I've written in my blogs many times before, I really do enjoy revisiting locations, learning more about them, experiencing them more fully. With 10 visits to Antarctica, 8 to Bhutan and so on, I sometimes wonder if I should be going to new locations. On the other hand, India last month was a first and Uganda next month will also be new for me. So I'm hoping I have the balance more or less right because as much as I enjoy discovering new locations, I really enjoy revisiting locations as well.

Which brings me to Camel Rock. I must have shot this 20 times before! Normally I shoot this in the morning, waiting for the autumn sun to pick up the left side of the rocks. On this trip, we were balancing weather conditions and also a great restaurant in Bermagui, so we visited the Rock in the late afternoon. I think we might do this more often as the late afternoon light was wonderful - along with that cloud you see behind. A little while later, that cloud turned into a drenching squall as we all made a run for our cars!

In post-production, I've attempted to keep the contrast quite soft as I liked the way a couple of our students had interpretted their images. (Yes, it's true, photo workshop leaders get as much out of a session as the students do.) I've also warmed up the colour balance on the rocks a touch, using the new subject selection tool (found in both Lightroom and Capture One). Subject selection really is a great time saver, but I do find I need to be careful not to over-do the adjustments as the result can look 'stuck in place'. One approach I use is to make a subject selection, do 50% of the adjustment, then make a second subject selection for the other 50%, but this time I soften down the edges of the mask with a feathered brush so the subject sits more naturally into its background. Hopefully this makes sense and might be a useful approach for your own editing.


More Places at Shark Bay

February 25, 2024

Faure Island, Far Shore, Shark BayFaure Island, Far Shore, Shark Bay

Faure Island, Far Shore, Shark Bay
Phase One XF, 80mm lens, f5 @ 1/2000 second, ISO 50

While our Shark Bay - Inscription exhibition (by ND5) is now over 10 years old, Shark Bay itself remains an incredibly popular destination. I was reading a surfing magazine recently (The Surfers Journal, based in the USA), and one of the featured photographers included two Shark Bay aerials in his portfolio, 'frothing' over how amazing the location was! Not that there's much surf in Shark Bay, of course!

There are certainly some popular photography spots around Shark Bay that create amazing hero photographs, but to be honest, every time I fly over Shark Bay, I find something new or different. It has so much to do with the tides, the cloud cover and the angle of the light which is constantly changing relative to the camera as the plane circles around its subject.

The image above is a case in point. While I have photographed these little curves of sand, impeding the wave action and creating specular highlights, I hadn't also included the reflection of the sun itself. And while there's no way I can completely control the specular highlights, I have actually come to embrace the white highlights as being a part of the composition. Maybe I'd be shot down in a photo competition, but on the other hand, the only person I know how to make happy is me!

Two things. First, Tony Hewitt and I are considering opening up a second week at Shark Bay for our aerial workshop - something like 21-25 June, but as accommodation is tight at this time of the year, we might have to move the dates by a day or two. If you're interested, send me or Kim an email and we'll put you on the interested list. Our initial research for accommodation and aircraft hire are positive, so fingers crossed. Kim's email is [email protected].

The second thing is, what's it like flying around above Shark Bay? I'm glad you asked! I made a little video using my Fujifilm and DJI cameras last year and posted it onto YouTube. So far it's received a massive 234 hits, so maybe I can hit 250 by posting this newsletter and providing the link below!! I hope you enjoy it! Click the image to link to the movie on YouTube:

 


Taking Up Bird Photography!

February 18, 2024

Giant-petrel, Danco Harbour, AntarcticaGiant-petrel, Danco Harbour, AntarcticaAntarctica

Giant-petrel, Danco Harbour, Antarctica
Fujifilm X-H2, Fujinon XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR, 1/2000 second @ f8, ISO 640

I've just returned from 5 weeks down south with Aurora Expeditions and on the last voyage, which included the Falklands and South Sandwich Islands, I re-discovered an interest in bird photography. Okay, so I've always enjoyed photographing wildlife, but perhaps I'm better known for landscapes, so it's tongue-in-cheek when I state a new-found attraction to wildlife - and birds!

There are lots of birds to photograph, but the challenge is to capture an image that is a little different to the 'standard' animal portrait, whatever that may be. It's a bit like visiting Sydney's Opera House and trying to find a new angle. It's probably impossible to find a truly original angle that no-one has discovered before, but it's certainly possible to shoot something that you haven't seen before.

So, when it comes to birds, I'm looking for two things. First, I take the safety shot. I make sure I have a good, competent photograph of my subject, so that if it is needed for a presentation or a photo book, for example, I have it. There is probably no need for me to work like this - call it habit. 

The second shot is looking for something a little different. When we landed at Danco Harbour, I could see these Giant-petrels nestling into a snow bank up above. Their position slightly above head-height allowed me to shoot a 'ground level' angle while standing, where the camera is on the same level as the subject. This is a standard approach for portrait photography as well, setting yourself at your subject's level, rather than looking down from a standing position as we usually do. And working in Antarctica this year was challenging as it was not permitted to sit, kneel or lie on the ground while ashore to avoid the inadvertent spread of Avian flu.

What I liked was the snowy background, so it's minimalist. All I needed was a point of difference and when the sleeping giant-petrel opened his or her eye to check me out, that was the shot. And shooting with a cropped-sensor camera, the 600mm focal length is the equivalent of a 900mm on a full-frame sensor, so plenty of magnification from a safe distance.

 

 


Should You Pay To Take Photographs Of People When Travelling?

February 04, 2024

At Prayer, Khiva, UzbekistanAt Prayer, Khiva, UzbekistanWomen at prayer. This mosque doubles as a tourist attraction, but is well-frequented by locals.

At Prayer, Khiva, Uzbekistan, in a tourist area jointly used for prayer.
Fujifilm X-T4 (IR), Fujinon XF8-16mmF2.8 R LM WR, f2.8 @ 1/3 second, ISO 1600.

There have been many wonderful debates about the ethics of paying people in foreign lands to take their portrait. Some photographers think it is quite okay, others think making a payment develops an expectation in the locals from photographers who follow. Somehow, I think people in our modern age, wherever they live in the world, are savvy enough to know there's a value in being photographed.

Some subjects will give you that value freely and without any expectations. Others will ask to be paid for their involvement. And still others simply don't want to be photographed – so they are easy to deal with!

When we look at the history of photography and the travel genre, the idea was to capture authenticity. Somehow, they argued, the act of paying a local to be in your photograph interfered with this authenticity, despite the fact many National Geographic photographers have been paying people to be in their photos for decades!

I'm not in agreement with the authenticity argument, or it being unethical. If someone saw me in the street and asked to take my photograph, I probably wouldn't charge to pose for a few seconds. On the other hand, if they wanted to spend half an hour with me, then it would be reasonable for them to offer to pay. Why is it any different for the people we photograph? And if we are travelling in a country that's not particularly wealthy and a subject asks for a couple of dollars, why wouldn't we pay? In fact, if this is the situation, surely as guests in their land we should keep some change ready to make a payment if required?

However, it's true that if you pay for a portrait, then your subject will be posing for you and you won't get a candid shot. There's no doubt you will end up with a different type of photograph, but is that a bad thing? In terms of authenticity, the question isn't one of commerce (whether you pay or not), it's whether the photograph is posed or unposed. That will make a difference to the type of portrait you make, but it needn't affect the authenticity of the photographs you're capturing.

 


Shooting Travel And Wildlife? What's The Best Lens?

January 21, 2024

Humpback Whale, Fournier Bay, AntarcticaHumpback Whale, Fournier Bay, Antarctica

Humpback Whale, Fournier Bay, Antarctica. A little less bokeh than with a super telephoto
Fujifilm X-H2, Fujinon XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR, f8 @ 1/2000, ISO 640

One of the pleasures of using a super-telephoto lens with a wide f2.0, f2.8 or f4 aperture is the super shallow depth-of-field and the bokeh (blurry bits) on the background. While the differential focus effect might not be very obvious when your subject is a fair distance away, the closer your subject, the stronger the distinction becomes.

If you're on an African wildlife safari, shooting from a vehicle, a lot of your subjects will be a long way off and so whether you're using a super-telephoto or one of the new long zooms (like a 100-500mm or 150-600mm), it will make very little difference to the end result. This assumes both lenses produce sufficiently sharp results and that there's enough light or you can push your ISO up to maintain a sufficiently fast shutter speed. It's only when an animal comes in nice and close to the vehicle that the differential focus effect becomes more evident.

Now, for a wildlife photographer, there's possibly no decision to be made: take the super telephoto lens. In fact, take two super-telephotos like a 300mm f2.8 and a 600mm f4! But for the general photographer combining both travel and wildlife, I'd suggest one of the new zooms is a better bet because it's lighter and it gives you a range of focal lengths.

While an African 4WD might be kitted out with tripod heads on the side of the vehicle, hand holding a super telephoto on the deck of a ship quickly tires you out. Younger readers with gym memberships can ignore this advice. For the rest of us, if we're shooting all day, every day for a couple of weeks, then a lighter camera outfit will make the travelling that much more enjoyable!

And the good news is that when your wildlife subjects come in close, the zoom lenses will still create a beautiful bokeh effect and you can zoom in a little longer to enhance it if you want to!

 


How Will AI Impact Travel Photography?

January 14, 2024

Young Monk, BumthangYoung Monk, Bumthang

Young Monk, Bumthang. 
Fujifilm X-H2, Fujinon XF200mmF2 R LM OIS WR, f2.0 @ 1/220 second, ISO 125. Composite. No AI.

It's so easy to edit your photographs with AI, what will happen to the genre of travel photography? Will we be able to believe anything we see anymore? Actually, it's not AI that is the culprit. Advertising agencies and photographers have been creating fully believable but fake photographs for well over half a century, but there's no doubt AI means more people can do it now – and can do it easily.

Whether we're talking about travel photography (penguins in the Sahara Desert), wildlife photography (a five legged elephant) or landscapes (a more interesting sky dropped in), AI and creative compositing rely on the integrity of the photographer. We shouldn't feel duped for believing an image that isn't real. We should be offended when we're told an image is real when it isn't. Weren't we all taught not to tell lies when we were children?

On the one hand, people are naive if they believe every image they see. On the other hand, people are now questioning some real photographs because they are difficult to believe. Most of the time we can tell whether a photo is fake or not, but this is going to change and most of us won't know whether a photo is real or not.

How does this impact travel photography? Well, maybe it won't make a huge difference. Already I see lots of travel photographs with blue skies and bright sunshine, but when I get to the destination it's overcast and storming! Mind you, there was only one Eiffel Tower in Paris, so a photo with five or six of them scattered around the town might not be believable!

How should photographers deal with it? Currently, I think it depends on how we use it. If we use AI to generate or significantly change a travel scene, then we need to tell people that's what we've done. On the other hand, if we use AI to remove some rubbish or fix up a cloud, has that significantly changed the authenticity of our subject?

This is a great subject for dinner and a glass of wine. In fact, I can think of no one better to talk this through than David Oliver – so why not join us on our trip to Bhutan this year and be a part of the conversation!

 


Using People for Perspective and Context In Travel

January 07, 2024

Early morning in Bukhara, UzbekistanEarly morning in Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Early morning in Bukhara, Uzbekistan
Fujifilm X-H2, Fujinon XF8-16mmF2.8 R LM WR, f2.8 @ 1/40 second, ISO 3200

How big is the Taj Mahal? How tall are the Rocky Mountains? How small is a Lesser Hamelins Red Breasted hummingbird (and does it even exist)? Whether we're travelling or not, subjects photographed in isolation can be ambiguous for viewers to read and left unsure of a subject's size – and sometimes photographs with this ambiguity are exactly what we want.

On the other hand, placing a subject of a known size within the frame gives our viewers a clearer indication of size. The subject puts everything into perspective – sort of! For instance, a person standing in front of the Taj Mahal shows you how large the structure is, but how big is the person? A short person will make the Taj look taller, a tall person could take a touch of the Taj's majesty away.

Can placing a person in a photograph distort the subject's size? Think of using a wide-angle lens where a person is on one side and a mountain range in the background – the mountains will look very small in comparison to the giant human. Now step back and switch to a telephoto lens: the mountains might be a little out of focus, but they appear much larger and taller. So just because we have a figure within our scene doesn't necessarily mean we're telling the truth about a subject's size, just that we're comparing it with something else.

So while a figure might not tell the full truth, it does add to the story you're telling, And it can also be a great composition tool providing a centre of interest.

And you don't have to limit yourself to people – animals, cars, even empty drink cans can be used to give your subject a sense of scale.

 


But What About The Background?

December 21, 2023

Chinstrap penguin, Fournier Harbour, AntarcticaChinstrap penguin, Fournier Harbour, Antarctica

Chinstrap penguin, Fournier Harbour, Antarctica
Fujifilm X-H2, Fujinon XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR, f7.1 @ 1/1250 second, ISO 320

Professional photographers often say they'll shoot anything except wildlife and children, the rule coming from days in the studio when getting a dog to sit up and smile was probably easier than asking a toddler! Yet even on location, it seems everything is a bit of a challenge when it comes to wildlife and children.

Now, personally, I'm very happy with my photo of a Chinstrap penguin. I like the eye contact as the bird was definitely following us as we floated quietly past in our zodiac. I like the soft light. It was overcast and actually a bit murky, but if you lighten up the shadows and add in a touch of colour, I find this type of light can work quite well, especially to reveal all the fine detail in a subject.

I like the simplicity of the photograph, how there's just the penguin sitting on an iceberg and nothing much else. I like the central composition, but some will say the bird should have been to the left or the right. Bad luck. And I love the way the telephoto lens has thrown the background out of focus, so the subject is clearly delineated. In fact, the only problem was the position of the background iceberg, the wonderful blue blur with the edge coming right down the middle of the frame.

Now, I have other shots where the iceberg background is in a better position, but I don't like the angle or the pose of the penguin quite as much - and herein is the challenge for shooting wildlife. Not only do you have to nail the subject (figuratively speaking, of course), the background has to work as well.

So, it's back to the drawing board and I guess I'll just have to try harder on my next voyage south!

 


Choosing Your Exposure For Impact

December 10, 2023

Inner Kaikoura Range, MiddlehurstInner Kaikoura Range, Middlehurst

Inner Kaikoura Range, Middlehurst, NZ
Fujifilm X-H2, XF150-600mm f5.6-8 R LM OIS WR, f9 @ 1/80 second, ISO 125.

Automatic cameras are great, but what would they do with a photo like this? The original exposure was 'good' because it retained tone throughout. It held a touch of tone in the highlights and there were some grey tones in the shadows, but in the end, it was a bit of nothing.

As long as you keep an eye on your histogram, chances are all the information you need is in the raw file. In fact, when I'm shooting, I like to think I'm just collecting pixels. It might have been Les Walkling who first talked about this concept with me, I've been thinking this way for so long I can no longer attribute the idea. But once you've captured the pixels, you take the file into Lightroom or Capture One where you make some decisions. Now, I could have used masking to carefully select the three areas - the sky, the snow and the mountain - and ensured all areas contained some detail, but was this what I wanted to show?

What I love about fresh snow is the perfectly smooth surface, the way it blankets the land form below, filling in the gaps and accentuating some bumps. An average exposure was going to kill this image, so I simply darkened it down. Is the foreground too dark? What do you mean by too dark? It is black! I like it black - I don't need tone in every area of every photograph and by having a fully black mountain, I am forcing the viewer to marvel at that fresh snow.

And while we know snow is white, in this photo it's lots of shades of very light grey - and to my eye it makes me happy! There is plenty of detail and the eye is given time to linger. I hope!

Also making me very happy are the two books on Middlehurst we received from Momento Pro last week. Participants in our Middlehurst workshops contribute half a dozen images they took around the property from which we design a beautiful art book. The pages are thick 'album style' and the resulting publication is lavish and impressive!

Of course, while we'd love you to come to Middlehurst, you can also make your own book with Momento Pro. In fact, I have some aerials that need printing given all the air time I've had this year - a Christmas project!

If you'd like access to our Better Photography discount page for Momento Pro, try this link for Australia - momentopro.com.au/eastway - and in New Zealand -  momentopro.co.nz/eastway.  These pages have all the information you need!

 

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