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

The Arctic Report: The Hand of Man

July 31, 2022

Mining boat wreck, Skansbukta, SvalbardMining boat wreck, Skansbukta, Svalbard

Mining boat wreck, Skansbukta, Svalbard
Phase One XT 150MP, Rodenstock HR Digaron-W 32mm, f8 @ 1/125 second, ISO 160

One of the aspects I love about shooting at the poles (north and south) are the old shacks, boat wrecks and building ruins scattered around. I know, I know - we should aim to keep these places wild and pristine and to a certain extent, Mother Nature is doing this for us, no matter what we do.

In Svalbard there's a lot of emphasis placed on the conservation of the archipelago's more recent history. While there is little evidence (and some argument) about the first people to 'discover' Spitzbergen (as Svalbard was generally known), most human activity has happened in the last 200 years or so, from the fire pits of old whaling stations to a remote German meteorological station that was bombed during WWII.

And it is these subjects and their awkward juxtapositions in such a wild and barren landscape that I love to photograph. I saw this ship wreck around four years ago on a day trip to Pyramiden, just outside Longyearbyen. As it was a commercial ferry ride, there was no opportunity to stop, but I made a mental note of returning there.

However, when we first landed at Skansbukta a few weeks ago, I'd forgotten all about my ferry ride. However, I could certainly see this old wreck down the end of the beach.

With any expedition landing, there are always other passengers around, so while the best approach is to photograph your subject without bright red and blue jackets walking through the frame, the reality is a little different. Fortunately, Photoshop, Lightroom and Capture One (etcetera) are all very good at removing unwanted characters.

For this image, I lay down on my stomach to accentuate the precarious balance of the ship on its keel. It's probably not nearly as 'precarious' as it looks with the front of the boat well embedded in the pebbly beach.

In post-production I have certainly lightened up the underside of the boat, but it was partly natural as a break in the clouds behind the camera was creating a beautiful soft-light effect - it was almost like being in a huge outdoor studio!

Having spent 30 days around Svalbard this year (that's a separate story of airline strikes and challenges), I realise I have still only touched the surface of this amazing archipelago. If you're interested in joining me in August 2023, I am hosting a voyage that includes Svalbard and Greenland called Jewels of the Arctic?

And also a call-out for Bhutan! David Oliver and I are definitely going back (29 September to 12 October 2022) and we have just two guests with us, so this is a great opportunity to join a small group! Full details for all photo tours can be found on the website.

 


The Arctic Report: Mesmerising Cloud Formations

July 29, 2022

Low Cloud, Burgerbukta, SvalbardLow Cloud, Burgerbukta, Svalbard

Low Cloud, Burgerbukta, Svalbard
Phase One XF 150MP, 110mm Schneider-Kreuznach, f7.1 @ 1/2000 second, ISO 50

Photographers often ask me what time of year is best for photography in the Arctic and I think after my last trip there, the answer has to be any time of year. Why? Because the weather plays such an important role in the light you experience.

My voyages around Svalbard this year were in July when the sun never sets. It gets lower in the sky in the early hours of the morning, so there is more angle to the light, but it never gets low to the horizon. You never see sunrise or sunset colours at this time of the year, so if you want sunrises and sets, you should travel earlier or later in the year.

Of course, if you travel earlier, you might be restricted by the sea ice, meaning some locations are not accessible. If you travel later, the sea ice may have receded so far north you don't see it at all. But no year is ever the same and so your best laid plans can come to naught simply because the weather is different.

So, while I had no sunrise or sunsets on my voyages, the light shows were still remarkable. There were certainly some blue-bird days with not a cloud in the sky and they became a little boring - we get sick of taking travel brochure snaps! However, if you don't like the weather, you can be sure it will change the next day (or the next hour) and it is during these changes that the landscape lights up with spots of sunlight sneaking through patchy clouds or bands of mist hugging the edges of tall mountains.

There's always something happening and if I don't have my camera with me, I'm running back to my cabin to quickly take a shot as the ship sails to our next destination.

This photograph was taken from the deck of Aurora Expedition's Greg Mortimer. Although we usually have two outings each day, either on land or as a zodiac 'cruise', there are plenty more photo opportunities as the ship moves on. How could you resist a subject like this?

Shooting from the deck, I am not using a tripod, so I keep an eye on my shutter speeds to ensure there is no camera shake or movement. With modern cameras, there's no issue pushing your ISO up higher to give you a fast shutter speed and a sufficiently small aperture for depth-of-field.

Having spent 30 days around Svalbard this year (that's a separate story of airline strikes and challenges), I realise I have still only touched the surface of this amazing archipelago. If you're interested in joining me August 2023, I am hosting a voyage that includes Svalbard and Greenland called Jewels of the Arctic?

And also a call-out for Bhutan! David Oliver and I are definitely going back (29 September to 12 October 2022) and we have just two guests with us, so this is a great opportunity to join a small group! Full details for all photo tours can be found on the website.

 


The Arctic Report: White Bears, Blue Ice

July 21, 2022

White Bear, Blue IceWhite Bear, Blue IceKvitoya (White Island), off the northeast coast of Svalbard.

White Bear, Blue Ice
Fujifilm X-T4, 200mm f2.0 lens with 1.4 teleconverter, f2 @ 1/5800 second, ISO 160.

Kvitoya (White Island), off the northeast coast of Svalbard, is covered by a relatively low ice cap. Now, I'm no glaciologist, but I understand the blue ice is the result of pressure and often we don't get to see this ice because it is covered with fresh snow - hence the name of the island.

We were sitting in our zodiac doing circuits past the shore where there were three polar bears in the white snow. Behind I could see the blue ice and I thought to myself, wouldn't it be wonderful if the bears wandered up there.

Mind you, the weather wasn't optimum. The sea was quite choppy, moving the zodiac around and making it difficult to focus on the subject or, for that matter, keeping the subject within the frame. The longer your telephoto lens, the more difficult this was, so there's an argument for a slightly shorter telephoto for framing and then cropping the image later on.

In addition, there was low cloud and fog and the wind was blowing offshore, depositing a fine mist of water over the lens's front element. I was constantly cleaning the lens with a soft cloth I keep in my camera bag for such occasions. A rain-cover on the camera also helped, but there was nothing I could do to stop the rain accumulating on the front of the lens if I wanted to photograph the bears!

The polar bears were several hundred metres away (distances are really hard to gauge up here, for me at least), so we were shooting through a lot of atmosphere and in fact, the images looked almost 'noisy' - not because of the sensor, but because the lens was recording the water droplets in the air.

The original capture is a little drab compared to what you see here. And the omnidirectional light makes the bear look like he (or she) is almost pasted in - which is a fair criticism given my reputation, but I assure you that aspect of the image is authentic. The bear was there! I have lightened up the overall exposure and added in some clarity and colour saturation to bring the ice to life in post-production.

Having spent 30 days around Svalbard this year (that's a separate story of airline strikes and challenges), I realise I have only touched the surface of this amazing archipelago. If you're interested in joining me 5-19 August 2023, I am hosting a voyage that includes Svalbard and Greenland called Jewels of the Arctic.

And also a call-out for Bhutan! David Oliver and I are definitely going back (29 September to 12 October 2022) and we have just two guests with us, so this is a great opportunity to join a small group! Full details for all photo tours can be found on the website.

 


When Can You Break The Rules?

June 23, 2022

Jökulsárlón Lagoon, IcelandJökulsárlón Lagoon, IcelandIceland

Jökulsárlón Lagoon, Iceland
Phase One XF, 55mm Schneider lens, f11 @ 1 second, ISO 35

This composition is flawed. It is unbalanced. The interest is all up in the top right hand corner, leaving too much negative space of uninteresting water underneath the trite reflection. There is too much weight on the left, tilting the image over and tonally, the image should be lighter so we can see what's going on.

On the other hand, this is a bold composition. The large area of negative space is intentionally sparse in detail, leading the viewer's eye to the top of the composition with the beautifully shaped headland, the cap of orange grasses and the tiny icebergs floating intentionally in the headland's reflection. The colour is similarly minimalistic, the tonal range dark and moody. And the edge of the shore leads the eye deftly around the frame to the centre of interest. 

Which approach is correct and does it matter? When you've been a magazine editor for as long as I have, you can start to believe your own rhetoric! However, I think most readers would agree that no matter what the rules state, if a photography makes you happy, if it 'works', then it's a good photo.

As far as you are concerned, of course. I doubt if this photo would do well in a photo competition. Perhaps moving those shards of ice into the foreground on the left would break up the large negative space, making the top-heavy framing more understandable. Then again, there are undoubtedly some viewers who feel much as I do and enjoy the image for what it is.

What I like about 'breaking the rules' of composition is that you first have to consider them. And in the process of considering the rules, you're intentionally making decisions about what you like about your subject and how you want it to be presented.

So, when can you break the rules? Whenever you want to, but don't expect the judges in a photo competition to agree with you. If they do, then that's just a bonus.

And if you're interested in coming to this wonderful location and taking a superior photograph, I am doing a photo tour to Iceland this September with Better Moments photography and Christian Norgaard. Details are on our website (click here), but bookings are made directly with Better Moments.

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Stopping Before The Best View

June 23, 2022

Inland Kaikoura Range 2Inland Kaikoura Range 2

Above Hells Gate, Middlehurst.
Phase One XF 150MP, 55mm Schneider lens, f11 for 60 seconds, ISO 50.

How often have you been travelling to a destination, intent on seeing the view? You could be in Australia, Iceland or New Zealand - it doesn't matter. What does matter is you've been told about or you've seen a great location and you want to photograph it.

I have a question. Should you stop before the best view? This is sort of what happened for this photo taken at Middlehurst. In the distance on the left, you can see a small road that takes us to a corner of the mountain and some great panoramic views. I love going there each year - it's usually on the first night, weather permitting. And it's hard not to take an impressive landscape or two.

However, on this occasion as we were travelling back from our destination, we turned around to see the sky lighting up. Now, I'm not a big fan of sunset photographs in competitions, but when it comes to taking a few for myself, that's a different matter! And what I like about this image is the huge expanse of mountainside in the foreground, the red slips on the steeper sections. It's not a classic composition, cramming the 'action' of the big mountains and the sunset light show up into the top third of the frame, but this 'balance' creates a different type of interest. Some people might like to know what's behind the foreground mountain, whereas I like the fact that it hides it. It creates a sense of unknown - if what I can see already looks amazing, how much more could I see if I were around the corner?

Sometimes delivering everything in a photograph isn't as effective as allowing our viewers to use their imagination - and hence the question, should we stop before the best view?

As a corollary, we're always told to look behind us and I think this is possibly the single best piece of advice I have ever received. Okay, so you need a lot of other advice too, but how many photos would we have missed had we not been aware of what was happening behind and around us as well? And this concept isn't just about camera angle and place. It's about timing too - the sun had set behind clouds for the evening, or so we thought, but while we were on our way home, our cameras were still very much at the ready - and just as well.

If you're interested in experiencing the Middlehurst Experience in August this year, Tony Hewitt and I have just one place left You can check out the details on our website here.

 

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Does This Crop Make It Better?

June 05, 2022

Farmlands Near Esperance, WAFarmlands Near Esperance, WAPhase One IQ150, 80mm Schneider, f4 @ 1/3200 second ISO 160

Farmlands Near Esperance, WA
Phase One IQ150, 80mm Schneider, f4 @ 1/3200 second ISO 160

I've just finished the Esperance/Albany photo tour with Tony Hewitt, accompanied by half a dozen enthusiastic photographers. We had a wonderful mixture of light, flights and bad humour (the latter attributed to this writer).

If you've travelled with Tony on a workshop, you'll know that he regularly asks, "What have you learnt today"? Usually I make a smart comment when it's my turn to answer, but as I was processing some of the aerials I'd taken, I realised I had learnt to crop. Okay, so I had re-learnt the lesson, one I also teach regularly, but the 'new' direction came from watching my 'students' who were cropping in very tightly to produce their final compositions. Why wasn't I being more aggressive as well? I certainly had plenty of pixels to spare - as do most of us these days with our 20+ megapixel sensors.

The image above is one example. North of Esperance are hundreds of small ponds, some dry, some full, some coloured. Of course, these ponds are found in many places all around Australia, but I had noticed a congestion of them on a commercial flight some 10 years ago, looking out my window. Keeping notes of future locations is an occupational habit. I'm still working out if I prefer the ponds in the 'wilderness', or surrounded by farmland. Both have their appeal.

And the original framing below:

The full frame image before the tighter crop.

 


What Makes A Well Framed Subject?

May 22, 2022

Tolkein Rock, Middlehurst, New ZealandTolkein Rock, Middlehurst, New ZealandI call this Tolkein Rock for no particular reason except the entire landscape around Middlehurst is an extension of Middle-Earth. Where the Tone River merges with the Awatere.

Tolkein Rock, Middlehurst, New Zealand
Phase One A series, IQ4 150MP, 23mm Rodenstock, f11 @ 30 seconds, ISO 50

We have one spot available at Middlehurst this year - 3-9 August. If you're interested, email [email protected] ASAP or see more details on our website

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.

 


Shark Bay Confession

May 15, 2022

Francois Peron National Park, Shark BayFrancois Peron National Park, Shark BayShark Bay Western Australia

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!

 


Have You Seen The Other Side of the Horse's Head?

May 08, 2022

Horse Head, Narooma NSWHorse Head, Narooma NSWHorse Head Rock, NSW South Coast
Cambo Actus DB2, 150MP IQ4 Phase One, 35mm Rodenstock, 1/2 second @ f11, ISO 50

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!

 


How's The Resolution Going?

March 15, 2022

Mona Vale Pool, Northern Beaches NSWMona Vale Pool, Northern Beaches NSW

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!

 

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