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

Crowd-Pleasers and Social Media

November 06, 2022

Fogbow, Well North of SvalbardFogbow, Well North of Svalbard

Fogbow, Well North of Svalbard
Phase One XT 150MP, Rodenstock HR Digaron-W 32mm, f11 @ 1/250 second, ISO 50

I might be making an assumption that this photo is going to be a ‘crowd-pleaser’, something that lots of people ‘like’ or ‘love’, depending on the platform’s flavour. (Of course, a few people will read this paragraph and not like or love it, merely because I have suggested it’s a crowd-pleaser.)

But does it matter?

I like pleasing crowds. I get a kick out of a photo that gets lots of attention. I figure most photographers are the same – it’s human nature! However, the rational side of my personality tells me this is irrational thinking. I have no control over what others think about my work.

Last week, a regular reader and communicator gently suggested that the reflection of clouds in my photograph couldn’t be lighter than the subject itself – because that’s what happens in nature. This popular criticism of photographs using post-production may be factual, even though my grand-father told me it is better to be socially pleasant than statistically correct! But my reviewer has made a big assumption of his own.

Why do people think that my photographs (or the photographs of many other readers) are trying to be realistic?

I’d rather think my work is based on nature, with a Hollywood filter run over the top. I’m not trying to fool anyone that my work is authentic. I operate on the belief that people are well-educated about post-production. Look at the Google smart phone being advertised on television currently with its ‘content-aware’ fill feature. Should we expect any photograph we see today to be real?

Which brings me to the fogbow above. No, it didn’t look like this. In reality, we were in a thick sea-fog and there was just a hint of the fogbow’s structure to be seen, but through the magic and mysteries of post-production (think contrast and clarity), photography can describe something that was really there, just difficult to see with the human eye.

Does this make it authentic? Don’t ask me! I’m just a photographer.

Do I like the photo? Yes, but it’s not my favourite. And I’m sure I will spend the rest of my life trying to figure out why some photos I consider ‘seconds’ are rated higher by the general population than ‘my absolute favourites’. No need to answer me, just send money to cover my psychiatry appointments!

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Processing An Edit For A Photo Book

October 30, 2022

In the Ice (nearly), SvalbardIn the Ice (nearly), Svalbard

In the Ice (nearly), Svalbard, 2022.
Phase One XF 150MP, 55mm Schneider, f5.6 @ 1/2500 second, ISO 100

With nearly 30,000 photos from a trip to Svalbard in June/July this year, how am I editing my images? And when I write 'editing', I mean selecting the best ones to process (i.e. to take the raw file and turn it into an edited photograph).

I don't think there is a single method that works best for everyone or in every situation. Take this photo here. It's part of a chapter on the wonderful atmospherics one finds in the polar regions. When I chose it for the photo book I'm producing, I was enamoured with the soft light and mirror-smooth water. It was only when I started investigating the image more closely that I remembered what drew me to it in the first place - the remarkable reflections of the clouds.

The idea for my Svalbard book was 10 chapters of 8 pages. The 8 pages will include one double-page photograph as an introduction (the photo above will introduce the chapter on atmospherics), plus four to six single page photos and/or maybe another double-pager. So a total of 6 to 7 photos to process, times 10 chapters equals 65-70 photos. 

Then I extended the book to two volumes, so I have around 130 photos to process and I'm about one third of the way through. Not sure if they will be finished before I leave for Antarctica next month and a new adventure begins. This is the challenge - finding the time to do justice to the adventures I have. Each one is deserving of a book - if only I could work more efficiently!

Herein lies my current thought process. As I travel, I download and review the photos at the end of each day, whether I'm on the road or in my cabin. I have a good idea of which photos I like the best, so I mark them in some way - I lightly process them or give them a star rating. Then at the end of the trip, often on the flight back home, I will 'edit' or select the best photos for a book. For Svalbard, I did a quick design in InDesign and dropped the unprocessed photos into the layout.

Now that I'm back home, I open up the InDesign document, choose the next photo in the layout, find the raw file, process it and then drop the processed file back into the layout. I try not to spend too much time on each image. My aim is to do 6 or 7 an evening, and that usually requires an hour or two.

And the selection of photos in the book will change. As I process some of the images, I'm finding they are not quite as strong as I initially thought, so there will be some refining of the final selection. But at least I'm making a start.

And I'm very happy with my reflection! Maybe a touch stronger colour along the horizon and a slight darkening of the top left...

 


The Nuance of the Polar Bear's Walk

October 23, 2022

Wandering Polar bear, Torellneset, SvalbardWandering Polar bear, Torellneset, Svalbard

Wandering Polar bear, Torellneset, Svalbard
Fujifilm X-T4, Fujinon XF200mm F2 R LM OIS WR, f2.5 @ 1/3000 second, ISO 160.

When it comes to photographing wildlife, I think most of us are much the same. As soon as we find our target, we shoot. Doesn't matter what's behind it, what it's doing, or how it's framed, we take a photo. Then, with a safety shot (no matter how inferior) under our belt, we start to shoot a few more, looking for a better angle, a better pose or a superior background. I took hundreds of shots of this bear!

On this occasion, the polar bear was walking along a straight stretch of sandy coast, littered with icebergs and ice drifts. Polar bears are not slow. We estimated this one was ambling along at around 6 kph, which explains how easy it could be for you to find yourself face-to-face with one after a few hours on shore. He (or she) mightn't be nearby when you land, but that doesn't mean he (or she) couldn't arrive very soon! And that's why we have guides and lookouts for all Arctic landings!

Keeping our distance in the zodiac as required by the tourism regulations in Svalbard meant I was a little limited in my angle. Using a 200mm lens (equivalent to a 300mm on a full-frame sensor), the polar bear was quite small in the frame, but I liked that because it meant the surrounding landscape held equal importance. I had a 1.4x converter with me, but I found the angle was a little tight. I had plenty of time to experiment as we tracked this bear for maybe 20 minutes or more. And while he appeared to notice us from time to time, it was pretty clear he was intent on something else and we weren't worth worrying about.

So out of the hundreds I shot, why this one? I like it! I like the snow drift behind - a bit like a backdrop in a studio. I also like the foreground where the waves have washed the snow away, revealing a rocky shoreline. And I like the positioning of the polar bear's legs. Although I could have simply kept my finger pressed on the shutter button and fired away, I found it easier to watch the polar bear and press the shutter as he extended his front leg. After a kilometre or so of practice, I think I was quite good at it in the end!

 


Shooting Behind The Scenes In Bhutan

October 16, 2022

Young monk, Bumtang festival, BhutanYoung monk, Bumtang festival, Bhutan

Young monk, Bumtang festival, Bhutan
Fujifilm X-H2, XF56mmF1.2 R, f1.2 @ 1/1700 second, ISO 125

I guess it's much the same at home in Australia. If you go to a festival or fair in the city, there's lots of security and restrictions on where you can go and, sometimes, what you can photograph. Out in rural areas, the situation can be more intimate and relaxed, with better access for photography. This certainly applies to Bhutan and its many religious festivals, so this year we chose two smaller scale events where the number of tourists was relatively low and access 'behind-the-scenes' really good.

This photo was taken behind the scenes in a small quadrangle surrounded by rooms and temples at a festival in Bumtang. In fact, I've photographed in this location three or four times before and always enjoy the access to the monks as they prepare for their next performance - putting on their costumes, tying on their masks and just enjoying the proceedings. Generally, it's a cacophony of colour and, as it's outside, you have to watch the light, trying to avoid direct sunlight.

I spent several hours over the course of the day observing. The longer I was there, the more the monks became used to me - and eventually ignored me with my camera. Spending time is very useful when it comes to people photography. Later in the afternoon, the entrance to one of the adjoining rooms was in shade, with beautiful soft light falling on the monks as they emerged. Often I wasn't quick enough to capture a monk running out, or if I were, the gesture or pose might not be optimum. But on this occasion, a young monk paused to see what was happening in the opposite corner and this gave me my chance.

What attracted me in this composition is the contrast of colour. The dirty whites, browns and blacks of the building facade promote the bright colours of the monk's costume and the curtain above him. I like the pose, holding some objects which are better not described in a family newsletter (if you've visited a Bhutanese festival before, you'll know what I'm talking about) and looking out, his eyes intensely focused out of frame.

The image was processed in Lightroom using a series of simply brush masks to adjust the tonal mapping - how light or dark different areas of the image are presented.

My trip to Bhutan this year with David Oliver exceeded expectations and while we had a few travelling challenges (a flight was cancelled due to mountain weather!), overall the access and the images we came home with were first rate. I'm really looking forward processing them!


Better Credits For Photographers

September 29, 2022

Painted Hills - ArkaroolaPainted Hills - ArkaroolaFirst light at Anna Creek Station's Painted Hills. A large print of this looks simply remarkable on Canson Baryta Photographique Matte II.

Painted Hills, taken during my trip to Arkaroola earlier this year.
Phase One XF 150MP, 80mm Schneider lens, 1/500 second @ f3.5, ISO 320.

Why is it so hard to know who took a photo in a magazine or on a website, yet the author of the story (or words) that the photographs accompany is always attributed?

In Australia, moral rights requires a publisher to credit the photographer and it's not something they can generally weasel out of. However, there are lots of grey areas, such as advertising pages which the magazine publisher doesn't produce or when a photograph is purchased from a stock library, because sometimes the stock library doesn't tell you who the photographer is!

However, often when a publisher does attribute a photographer, why is the photo credit tiny and tucked away where it can hardly be seen (e.g. in the gutter of a magazine), while the author of the words is up big, bold and at the beginning of the story?

I'm calling out the publisher of Qantas's inflight magazine, Medium Rare Content Agency and the managing director, Nick Smith.

"Dear Mr Smith. Within your Travel Insider magazine are articles where both the writer and the photographer are clearly credited at the beginning of the story - thank you for that. However, on other occasions, when the name of the photographer is clearly known, why do you allow your designers to put a tiny 6 point credit in the gutter of the magazine, almost hidden where no one will see it? I believe this practice denigrates the value of photography which, in all other respects, appears to be highly prized in your publication. Surely your editors and designers could do better when it comes to attributing the value photography adds to your publication?"

Nick and his content agency are not the only publishers who follow this approach and I think it's time we called them all out. So, Nick, what do you reckon? Will your publications give photographers the (more obvious) credit they deserve?

Here endeth the rant!

 


How Can You Judge A Photograph?

September 18, 2022

Down from the bridge, Middlehurst StationDown from the bridge, Middlehurst StationPhase One XF 150MP, 240mm Schneider, f8 @ 1/80 second, ISO 50

Down from the bridge, Middlehurst Station
Phase One XF 150MP, 240mm Schneider, f8 @ 1/80 second, ISO 50

The Australian Photographic Prize (held the weekend before last) was being spearheaded by Robyn Campbell and Karen Alsop, following the demise of the AIPP and the Australian Professional Photography Awards (APPA). While some aspects of the new awards are based on APPA, others have been modernised and adapted, such as the role of the panel chair.

Under the old APPA system, there were five judges. A panel chair administered the judging process, but was not allowed to influence the judges. Sometimes, this was a pity because often the panel chair was also a very experienced judge.

Overseas, there are a number of awards which give the panel chair a voice, but not a vote. The panel chair is selected from the most experienced judges and then, during any discussion, is allowed to point out aspects of an entry that might otherwise have been missed by the judging panel.

For example, judges could score an entry very highly based on what they believe is an original idea. The panel chair may know that the work is actually quite derivative (meaning the entrant has been highly influenced by the work of another photographer or artist, who the judges appear to be unaware of), and so a very high score might not be appropriate.

Under the old APPA system, the panel chair couldn't say anything. Under the new APP system, the chair will be expected to share his or her knowledge about the other photographer or artist. At the end of the discussion process, the five judges are asked to re-score the entry.

It's not up to the panel chair to lower or raise the score, only to provide additional insight. The score is still up to the judges, but now they have the advantage of extra knowledge and experience.

It's a good system, especially if you have knowledgeable panel chairs, but no one knows everything about photography. For instance, there are so many photographers and artists accessible online that it's simply not possible to know if an idea is new or original. However, if it is new to a judge, then you must expect them to reward it. By having five judges, we extend the knowledge base - and by adding in the panel chair, we extend it further.

While no system can really 'judge' a photograph, if you enjoy the competition process as I do, then I think this is a great innovation for an awards system like this.

And congratulations to APP - it was a great weekend!

 


Should We Fly With Qantas? Should We Fly At All?

September 11, 2022

Sheep, Middlehurst StationSheep, Middlehurst StationSheep, Middlehurst Station (no blur!)
Phase One XF 150MP with 240mm Schneider lens, f8 @ 1/160 second, ISO 50

Sheep, Middlehurst Station (no blur!)
Phase One XF 150MP with 240mm Schneider lens, f8 @ 1/160 second, ISO 50

On my flight from Sydney to Melbourne last Wednesday (to help judge the Australian Photographic Prize), I was struck by how dirty my seat was. And the window I looked out was covered in smears and grime. And as I looked a little closer, the sills were full of dust. In short, it didn't look like my area of the plane had been given a good clean for a long time.

A couple of nights before my flight, Four Corners (an Australian current affairs television program) had given Qantas a severe roasting, accusing the leadership of losing its way and bringing the airline into disrepute. How long would customer loyalty last when it was cutting corners to save money, but not delivering even basic services like flights leaving on time and baggage arriving?

Certainly Qantas has acknowledged the issues it's had with baggage handling and has even offered small gifts of apologies (good on them for stepping up), but Four Corners highlighted many other behind the scenes issues I hadn't thought about before, such as safety and why outsourcing is having unexpected consequences. Mind you, many other airlines are grappling with these and similar issues (as I learnt when SAS pilots went on strike a few months ago).

I certainly liked the old Qantas when the staff were happy and friendly. On two of my last three flights, Qantas staff did not appear to be their usual happy selves - why? We can point to stresses and challenges over the past two COVID bearing years, but if news reports are to be believed, it runs deeper than this. There are management problems, it appears. Or was it my imagination?

Now, this rant isn't anti-Qantas, rather a plea that it is fixed. I want to be proud of an Australian airline, even though it is privately (not-government) owned.

And there must be hard decisions being made. All employees want more money, but then when they buy an airline ticket, they want to pay as little as possible. How does Qantas compete with overseas airlines while paying Australian wages? Then again, Qantas flights are often more expensive than other airlines - surely this covers it?

So, as the world opens back up to photographers, who do we book our flights with? Do we book at all and just stay at home - well, that's not an option!

I don't have the answers and I know precious little about what happens behind the scenes. All I could see was that my Qantas seat was dirty. My return flight seemed better, I'm glad to report. I'd like to remain loyal - let's hope it is fixed.

 


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.

 

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