Peter Eastway writes an almost weekly newsletter from his Better Photography website (www.betterphotography.com). These are some of the more recent posts.
Three women, Tiwanaku Ruins, Altiplano, Bolivia
Phase One A-series 150MP, 23mm Alpagon, f11 @ 1/250 second, ISO 50
As you read this, the future of travel in our COVID world is looking better, but not getting any closer and it seems that some areas are struggling to free themselves from restrictions. This is disappointing on many levels and my best wishes go out to readers who are still stuck in isolation. I know we're all thinking of you.
In Sydney where I live, we're currently able to move about quite freely within New South Wales - and even over to South Australia. However, my diary is the emptiest it has been for a couple of decades, so I'm spending my extra 'free time' reviewing previous trips and processing the files I have been meaning to attend to for way too long.
And I'm loving the process.
Having spent a little time on my USA and Icelandic aerials, I'm taking a break, but staying at high altitude and moving over to the Bolivian Altiplano and Copacabana. Most of the images so far are not landscapes, but environmental or travel portraits. The image here might not be considered a portrait, but let's not worry too much about semantics! What's not to love about the colourful clothing and delightful hats the women wear. If I were a Bolivian photographer, it might just be normal life and perhaps not nearly so engaging, but for readers in most other parts of the world, the styles and designs are captivating.
We photographed these three ladies seated and after exchanging pleasantries, they walked away which is when I took this photograph. In many ways, it's doing everything 'wrong' by shooting into the light, but our cameras have such great latitude these days it's not difficult to bring out the colour and detail with the shadow slider. And I guess that's my message or tip: when you think a shoot is over, keep your camera turned on as you never know what might happen. And when it comes to people, once they think the camera has been put away, they can relax and offer you even better images.
For those reading the newsletter or on the website, I'll include the raw file for comparison purposes. You'll see that I have cleaned up a few stray tourists and a communication tower, simplifying the composition.
Glacial Textures, Iceland.
Phase One XF IQ150, f3.2 @ 1/2000 second, ISO 200
I hope you're enjoying the High Resolution Toolbox articles we're running in this newsletter (one each week). Yes, they are courtesy of Phase One, but the information in them applies to everyone with a high resolution camera, whether it is medium format or not. And it's for photos like this that understanding high resolution and getting your technique right is so important. Precise focus and a fast shutter speed to avoid camera shake and subject movement were essential.
What you can't see on social media or a hand-held device is the depth of detail, so you'll just have to take my word for it when I say the fragments of ice down below are razor sharp when you enlarge up to 100%. After processing aerials from Utah taken earlier this year, I'm now working on Iceland. Not every image 'happens' automatically. In fact, for this location I was working earlier on a different angle, but as yet I have been unsuccessful. In looking at alternatives, this image seemed to work a lot more easily, so at some stage I'll return to the earlier image and try again. Do you find yourself working like this? I hope it's quite normal!
Shooting with high resolution cameras, I often don't worry too much about sharpening - because there's enough resolution already. But for these aerials, I'm finding a little low-radius (meaning a radius of 0.6 or less) sharpening really brings up the details. I have a plan for sharing some of these images at full resolution on my websites shortly - I'm not quite ready yet, but there is a plan afoot!
I guess my message is that aerials with high resolution sensors, even when correctly captured, can still benefit from a little sharpening to bring out the ground textures and patterns we love to see. It's creative sharpening rather than remedial. And while drones can't yet compete with this resolution, I figure it's only a matter of time before new technology makes those tiny airborne cameras capable of much more - and shooting super high resolution aerials will be available to everyone!
Finally, not long before we announce the Photo of the Year 2020 award. Most of the preliminary work is now in place ready for the big announcement on Wednesday! The quality this year was amazing, so thank you to all the entrants and congratulations.
Glacial Moraine, Iceland.
Phase One XF IQ150, f3.2 @ 1/2000 second, ISO 800
Have aerial images lost their gloss? Based on the number entered into the landscape category of the Better Photography Photo of the Year Award 2020, I'm guessing not. And given we're normally land-dwellers, I think that a bird's eye view of the world will always intrigue us, no matter how many we see, simply because it's a different angle from what we normally see.
Look at any television show these days, from Nordic crime dramas to the Tour de France - the helicopter or drone shot has become an integral part of the director's craft. Simple aerials of a castle in a valley with a bunch of cyclists riding past are captivating; metaphoric patterns of a glacier can be mesmerizing. There was one Icelandic series that juxtaposed close ups of a dead body with aerial landscapes and it worked beautifully (even if it was a little macabre).
However, in a competition environment, it's getting harder and harder to impress the judges because we've seen so many fantastic aerials over the past few years. The extra few marks an aerial used to get because it was 'different' are no longer on offer. And in fact, an aerial entrant may have to work a little harder than a land-based landscape entry!
So, does that mean we give up on aerials and look for the next big thing? I don't think so. I love aerials, especially my aerials. No, I'm not suggesting my aerials are the best, rather that because I took them, I have a strong attachment to them. And not every photo we take has to be an award winner. In fact, most of the photos you take and process need to make just one person happy: you!
Having just judged a very strong selection of landscape images, I don't think the image above is anything special in terms of a competition, but it ticks all of my personal boxes. I think it will make a great addition to my Iceland album.
The little 'craters' are depressions in the moraine. It looks like they were formed by big boulders that have since been washed away, but if that were the case, why have the depressions remained? Fortunately, I know I have some brilliant geologists as readers, so hopefully one of them will explain things to me (and I'll let everyone else know in my next blog!)
Remnants of a flood, Wendover, Utah
Nikon D850, Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II, f5 @ 1/2500 second, ISO 200.
Years ago, Tony Hewitt, Christian Fletcher and I hosted photo workshops out at Karijini in the Pilbara. Photographers would come along to learn from us, but what we found interesting is that every year, we learnt something from our students. Sometimes it was an unexpected question that lead to new ideas, on other occasions our students brought their own sheer brilliance, but either way, teaching has always been a two-way street and I think it's given us as teachers an added advantage as photographers.
The same can be said for judging photo competitions. Judges have a great opportunity to see thousands of different images. We get to invest in an 'ideas bank': the different ways of framing, exposing and processing are lessons in themselves. The different subjects another resource - and all these ideas go into our personal 'databases' as inspiration for future explorations. I guess many readers would say it's like scrolling through a high quality Instagram feed.
Tony Hewitt, David Oliver and I are currently judging the Better Photography Photo of the Year 2020. I think Tony and David are finished and I am half way through. My role is a little more onerous as, in addition to scoring, I then add what I hope is a helpful judge comment. And it was while judging some of the aerials in the landscape category I was inspired to pull out some files I'd taken earlier in the year on a flight over Utah. I'm not sure how long the inspiration will last as I have probably a dozen aerial shoots that I haven't really processed properly yet, but now I've made a start on one of them.
The image above was taken over salt flats near Wendover. I was in the back of the plane while our 'students' were shooting through the open door, but I had been lent a Nikon D850 with a 70-200mm which let me shoot between the others from time to time. What attracted me here were what look like wooden palettes outside a break in a water embankment, pushed there by flood waters. I then explored what was a relatively flat and colourless raw file in post-production. I'm not quite ready to talk about my technique (it's still very much in development), but if you read back through recent newsletters, there are hints of what I've been thinking about lately.
I currently have 10 images processed and still going. I'll share a few more over the coming weeks - unless I'm inspired by something else in the competition! Thanks to all the entrants - it's an honour and great fun to review your work.
Grand Canyon Detail
Phase One XF 100MP Trichromatic, 110mm Schneider lens, f5.6 @ 1 second, ISO 50
I'm currently updating my Landscape Photography MasterClass, taking advantage of the quiet time I have with no travelling. While most of the existing material in the MasterClass is very relevant, it has been created on earlier versions of Photoshop. Now, if you know how I use Photoshop, you'll realise that more recent versions of Photoshop haven't made any significant difference to my workflow. However, if you're new to photography, then you may be wondering if the material in the classes is relevant.
Rather than taking the old material out, I'm just adding new material presented on current versions of the software, so if you're an existing Landscape Photography MasterClasser, the new material is available for you with your lifetime licence. If you're not yet a subscriber, check out the free sample lessons on the www.betterphotographyeducation.com website.
So, to the photo. This is one of the new examples I have added to the MasterClass and in the introduction, I explain that the Grand Canyon is one of the most amazing places to photograph, and one of the most frustrating. Having visited the Canyon a dozen times in all sorts of weather and at all times of day, I think it's fair to say that it's not possible to encapsulate the experience in a single image. Yes, it's one big hole in the ground, but the nuances of topography and vegetation create a myriad of photo opportunities.
Another observation I make is that I struggle to take a strong photo which includes both the canyon and the sky above. My default approach is to point downwards with a telephoto lens and remove the horizon, as shown here. Once I take this approach, then every time I visit I find new compositions and colour palettes to please me! I hope you enjoy it.
Fujifilm X-H1, XF200mmF2 R LM OIS WR + 1.4x F2, f16 @ 0.7 seconds, ISO 200, tripod mounted
Thanks to everyone who entered the Better Photography Magazine Photo of the Year 2020. The competition is now closed and judging will begin later this week. We have around 800 entries to enjoy in four categories and we're looking forward to seeing them. There are quite a few photo competitions being held at the moment, but we're the only one this year that's giving a judge's comment for every entry (that we're aware of) - and hopefully in this way everyone is a winner in that they get to improve their art and their craft.
So, what would a judge say about this photo?
Another photo competition I'm involved with, the International Landscape Photographer of the Year, has tended to champion landscapes of the natural world. There are fewer urban locations or landscapes in the top 101 images each year where the hand of man is an integral part of the composition. Is this right? Well, as I'm not one of the judges making the decisions, that's not for me to say, but there's nothing in the rules that says a landscape needs to exclude buildings, roads or structures. Personally, I love these telltale signs as they can add to the story.
This landscape is of the mountains surrounding Yazd in Iran. Iran has some wonderful mountains to explore in all parts of the country, but it's hard to find a landscape where you won't see the hand of man somewhere - realising that this part of the World is often referred to as the Cradle of Civilization! I decided to keep the small quarry or mine at the base of the image because it gives the landscape scale, whereas other photographers may have chosen a slightly different angle or framing to remove these 'eyesores'!
A question to think about if you were a judge: does the inclusion of the small patch of sky at the top of the frame add or detract from the photograph? On the one hand, the eye is drawn to it and perhaps the result is we don't pay enough attention to the middle ground? On the other hand, it adds depth and distance to the image, and its size is insignificant enough not to be distracting. Sometimes, being a judge can be difficult, but fortunately for most of our photographs, we are the only judge that matters.
So the question will always be, are you happy with your result?
Long Reef, Sydney
Phase One A-Series, IQ4 150MP back, 70mm Alpagon, f11 @ 1 minute, ISO 50
Our thoughts go out to our Victorian photographers and friends in isolation. We've been thinking of you. As a Sydney-sider, I realise I'm lucky because I can still walk down to the end of the street and take photos like the one above, simply because I see the weather changing. In fact, the sky was so good I took a few extra sky shots which I plan to drop into other views of Long Reef with which I'm struggling, but that's another story.
What do we do in isolation? What do we do when it comes to limited travel opportunities? None of us can go very far at this stage and in the future, we may be required to do two weeks isolation when we return to our home countries - so that may mean longer but fewer expeditions. Then again, as I listen to the Coronacast on my ABC Listen app (I know, I'm showing my age), perhaps a vaccine will solve our problems. I'm sure it will - this state of affairs won't be forever.
So, if you're in Victoria, maybe you can photograph your backyard or shoot some still lifes? What about revisiting existing files and seeing what you could do with them. Perhaps you have a great landscape and a lackluster sky - why not drop a new one in? Don't know how? Luminar 4 software will do it automatically or you can learn a little about layers and Photoshop. You have plenty of time! And if you don't take landscapes, why not drop a new background into a portrait you've taken. Composites might not be your thing, but challenge yourself to learn something new and make the most of a bad situation.
For readers who have some mobility, maybe it's time to look at your local town or suburb. As shown above, interesting weather can transform a landscape or maybe you can document street life and the different ways we now interact?
I think that's the beauty of photography - the fact that there's always something you can photograph and do. I think it would be much more difficult to go through these times without a passion like photography.
Here's hoping everyone is okay!
On the road to Maymand, Iran.
Fujifilm X-T3, Fujinon XF200mm f2 R LM OIS WR, f5 @ 1/3000 second, ISO 200
Over the years, I've always felt rather lucky with the weather, but I'm wondering if it's just the city-slicker in me who is so out of touch with Mother Nature that I'm pleasantly surprised every time I venture out!
Down in Antarctica earlier this year, I remember watching the low pressure systems scream around the continent and thinking how good our chances were of getting some wonderful weather changes (I'm currently using the Windy app on my smartphone). Let's face it, the most exciting landscapes are taken when the weather is doing something a little unusual - or at least different to that boring blue sky shown in all the travel brochures.
More recently, I've had snow storms in the USA and Georgia, huge thunderstorms in Kazakhstan and in Iran, we followed some heavy rain systems which produced a completely different desert vista. Normally when travelling in these areas, the flat salt pans are dry and dusty, but for our trip, we were presented with a thin film of water and some wonderful reflections. Given this is a desert area, it can't be that common, but then again, is it that rare?
So, are we lucky or is it just that in many parts of the world, the weather is changeable? If you take a two or three week road trip, is there a very good chance you'll cross some interesting weather patterns and then it's just a matter of being prepared?
This photo was taken with a 200mm lens (300mm full-frame equivalent) and then the image cropped top and bottom to create a more appropriate framing. I like the 'width' in the composition. The foreground sands were darkened, colour-enhanced and I also added a little clarity to bring out the texture. If nothing else, the colour contrast will get people looking at the photo!
Wangdue Phodrang, Bhutan
Phase One XF 150MP, 240mm Schneider Krueznach, f5.6 @ 1/2500 second, ISO 125
Cropping and framing can be difficult decisions to make. On my last trip to Bhutan with David Oliver and an intrepid band of photographers, I set myself a new task: to shoot with black and white in mind. Obviously with a digital camera, my captures are in colour, but it's an easy matter to convert to black and white during processing.
This photo had very little colour in it to start with, so it was a natural to convert to monochrome. The strong rim lighting on the distant dzong (temple) and the houses at its feet was made for a telephoto lens and I love the hint of a road coming in from the bottom left corner.
On the one hand, I think it's quite a simple composition. Essentially there are two lines: a middle diagonal which starts with the road and runs up the hill to the houses top right; the second is the line that leads from left to the centre where the dzong sits. I like the lines, but I'm unsure where to crop - or if I leave it as it is?
I know there's a photo in there, but I'm not sure if I should keep the road in: would the photo be stronger if cropped from the bottom because the road is a distraction? Or perhaps the buildings and trees on the top right are distracting, complicating the otherwise solitary strength of the dzong? Should I crop them out, but if I do, is the dzong too close to the edge of the frame? Or do I just crop some of them out? Or optionally, I have also shot this with a much wider lens - do I process that and include more of the road on the left and the village on the right?
I haven't made up my mind yet, but the current framing is in one of the three photo books on Bhutan that I'm designing up, primarily for myself. The books all laid out, but I hear that Momento Pro has been pretty busy recently, so I'm happily sitting on it for a little longer until I'm completely happy.
And making decisions like these is what I love about the process of photography. So much can happen after the initial capture, if you'll just give it time. #ilovepostproduction
Gullfoss, Iceland - shot on my 2019 Better Moments workshop.
Phase One XF 150MP, 240mm Schneider-Kreuznach, f11 @ 1/8 second, ISO 50
Interested in knowing a little more about two cold places, or is it cold enough where you are already (it certainly is in Sydney just now)? And who knows when we're going to be able to travel again freely - but we will certainly be travelling again!
I have two webinars coming up and you're invited.
The first is this Sunday 7 June at 7.00 pm AEST (Sydney) - which is 12.00 pm MET (Middle European Time) - and it is being hosted by Better Moments. I work with Christian Norgaard who has a photo travel company with a great name, but we are not related. We're going to talk about photographing Iceland! We may have a workshop in Iceland later this year (the end of September), or it could be postponed until next year - who knows! But the webinar is on for sure. And you don't have to come to Iceland with us to find the webinar interesting (but you'd be most welcome)!
You can see what we have planned and book a place here: https://www.better-moments.com/free-webinars/
The second webinar is with Phase One. I've been asked to talk about taking medium format equipment to the polar regions - how to get it there, how to use it, the tricks to watch out for. And I'll be showing a series of images taken on my recent voyages to Antarctica as well. It will be on at 4.30 pm on Thursday 11 June.
You can see what is planned and book a place here: https://go.phaseone.com/P1-EN-2020-05-26-Peter-Eastway-webinar-v2_01Signupforwebinar.html
It seems that webinars are going to become a lot more common in the future, so why not join us and see what it's all about!