Peter Eastway writes an almost weekly newsletter from his Better Photography website (www.betterphotography.com). These are some of the more recent posts.
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!
Little White Islands of Snow, Antarctica
Phase One XF 150MP, 240mm Schneider, f4.5 @ 1/1600 second, ISO 800
A couple of weeks ago, I posted a photo which I suggested wouldn't win any photo competitions, but commented that I liked it anyway! My blogs are posted onto Facebook as well as my www.petereastway.com website, so they get a bit of traction - including a few comments that agreed with me and suggested we need better judges.
Now, that's a problem!
To start with, I'm one of those judges and, if you ask me, the photo above (and the one I posted previously) would not win a photo competition. They might be accepted, given a Silver Award or get into the top 20% of entries, but they are unlikely to come first. And as a judge, I wouldn't give them first prize, either.
But I still love the photo. It has lots of emotional baggage for me. I love small, snow covered islands. I remember the cold wind as we stood on the ship's deck, approaching Antarctica for the first time that voyage. And I love the light.
However, the point I was trying to make (perhaps unsuccessfully) is that not every photo we create needs to be something that everyone else in the world loves. I know I get a lot of likes and loves on social media (and thank you for doing so), but there are also a lot of people who just click past because my photo doesn't do anything for them. And that's okay!
We can't control how people react to our work. Now, while it would be untrue to say I've given up caring what other people think, I am training myself to accept that there are all sorts of views out there and not to worry too much about the 'negatives'. On the other hand, sometimes judges have made negative comments about my work which have been really instructive and useful. They have helped me become a better photographer - in my opinion.
We all have opinions and that's a good thing. It's a first step to creating new and original photography, so we certainly don't want everyone agreeing with everyone else - that would be boring. And as for the judges, yes, there are times when judges get it wrong. So do photographers! But if you enjoy the competition process as I do, I think the solution is not to get upset by poor outcomes, but to work out if you're still happy with the photo.
Sometimes my work is criticised, I agree with the judges and the photo is no longer a 'favourite'. But if I still love a photo after it has bombed in a competition, then that to me is a mark of success.
Iceberg, Weddell Sea, Antarctica
Phase One XF 150MP, 110mm Schneider, f4 @ 1/1000 second, ISO 50
I would probably never enter this photo into a competition, yet I love it! In front of a judging panel, I'd suggest it is too quiet, too subtle to elicit much response. It hasn't got the impact of a competition winner, but that's okay. It is going to look sensational in my Late Season photo book, which I'm about to send off to Momento Pro. It is a 420mm square book based on my Middlehurst book - and all I have left to finish is the cover!
So, why do I love this photo so much? It was shot from the ship as we slowly sailed south into the Weddell Sea, always mindful that this is where Shackleton and Hurley were stranded on the Endurance (which didn't). While I was blissfully oblivious to the icy awareness of our captain as we ventured down towards Snow Hill Island, I was fully connected with the almost windless sea, the low cloud and the surreal 'icescapes' around us.
It was magical.
And it was very minimal. The water reflected the mist above and it is only along the central line of the frame that anything is happening. Above and below, all is quiet. And in a big print, you can see all the detailed layering in the iceberg, which I have accentuated with a little clarity and sharpening.
No doubt this photograph does more for me and the other passengers on board who experienced this wonderful morning because it brings back memories. Having said that, I can't remember if it was completely silent - I'm sure it wasn't with the buzz of other passengers on deck - but that's the feeling I had as I looked out. That's the memory I have now as I write about it.
I have some wonderfully wild and dramatic landscape from Antarctica and I think they work all the better when you can compare them to scenes like this. And that's what a photo book or a slide presentation allow us to do that a single print cannot: tell more of a story.
And a small announcement for subscribers to my Landscape Photography MasterClass. I have added in a 19th chapter which provides a series of 8 movies on capture techniques, everything from understanding the histogram and bracketing, to stitching and focus stacking. And if you're not yet a subscriber, now's your chance - you can check the free lessons out at www.betterphotographyeducation.com.