Peter Eastway writes an almost weekly newsletter from his Better Photography website (www.betterphotography.com). These are some of the more recent posts.
Street scenes, Copacabana, Altiplano, Bolivia
Fujifilm X-T3, Fujinon XF8-16mmF2.8 R LM WR lens, f4 @ 1/1400 second, ISO 160.
Although I've been taking photos for over 40 years, including a modest number of weddings and family portraits, I'm still not the world's greatest when it comes to photographing people in the street. Why is that?
When you're working professionally, you have an excuse. You're expected to walk up to the bride and take her photograph, or arrange the family on the beach - and with an excuse or a reason, I find I'm much bolder. However, on the street in a foreign country, things aren't so clear and the only excuse I have is my own curiousity.
I often wonder how I'd feel walking around the streets of Sydney if a woman dressed in a large, colourful dress and a bowler hat walked up to me and asked if she could take my photo? In fact, this has happened to me (but not the woman in a colourful dress and a bowler hat) and, being a photographer, I've acquiesced. And if I were approached in the right way, well, actually I wouldn't have a problem.
And so it is for me when I am in the foreign land. I've taken a deep breath and approached someone to take a photograph and, nine times out of ten, I receive a very positive response. So, my message is that we should be bolder, when appropriate.
In popular tourist destinations, I find it a little more difficult. The locals are used to people with cameras and don't give them a second glance as they walk through your picture. However, because there are so many tourists, they are less likely to stop and engage. We are just another obstacle in their daily lives!
The photos in this post are from Copacabana in Bolivia. Copacabana is very much a tourist town and while tourism hasn't reached the dizzy heights you'd find in Paris or Rome, I do find people are less likely to engage with you. That's not to say they won't - we certainly had some great encounters - but generally speaking I found my photos were of street scenes with people in them, rather than portraits of people I met in the street.
And that's perfectly fine!
Cacti, Uyuni, Bolivia
Phase One A-Series, 150MP sensor, f8 @ 1/125 second, ISO 50
There have been a few things to report in recent weeks, so let me quickly bring you up to date!
Better Photography December 2020 issue is currently with Momento being printed, so we're looking good to being out on 1 December and in plenty of time for Christmas. So, if you'd like a paper version of the magazine, now is the time to subscribe! Click here.
The Landscape Photography MasterClass is now fully updated with over 20 new movies. Much of the old MasterClass remains the same as the fundamentals of using layers has not changed, but the updated movies use the latest versions of Photoshop, Lightroom and Capture One. If you already have a subscription (it lasts a lifetime), visit the Better Photography Education (www.betterphotographyeducation.com) webite and login here. If you haven't joined the MasterClass, you can sign up with 10 monthly payments and use the coupon code LMC25 to get 25% off - you can join here.
My book The New Tradition won second prize in the Self-Published Book sub-category in the IPA (Int'l Photography Awards) which was nice and hopefully that will mean a deluge of book orders! I also earned four honourable mentions for photos in a variety of categories (similar to being in the Top 20 in our Better Photography competition), but no places. Is this a disappointment? Why do I still enter photo competitions? What do I have to prove? I think if you're a competition judge, it's really important to continue entering other photography competitions so you know what it's like to be an entrant, know what it's like to receive feedback - and it is always nice to be in the top section of entrants if you can.
Thanks to Qantas for upgrading my frequent flyer card. Returning from Antarctica via Uruguay on a special repatriation flight in April, I missed out on earning the final five points needed for Gold and when I explained my situation, the kind people at Qantas gave me the last few points as a gesture of goodwill, given my special circumstances. I like the Gold card as it gives me priority boarding and access to the lounge which make air travel that much more enjoyable! Thank you Qantas.
I shot a wedding a couple of weeks ago (don't ask) and used Fujifilm's new 50mm f1.0 lens on my X-T3 (the X-T4 is on its way, but I'm wondering if the new X-S10 is the go). The results at f1.0 are beautifully sharp on the plane of focus (something that wasn't always the case with other 50mm f1.0 lenses I've owned from Leica and Canon), and the background blur a delight. It's not a cheap lens at around $2700, but I am reticent to send it back, so a chat with my accountant might be in order!
And the photo? It's another Bolivian edit from Uyuni and a small island in the middle of the salt pans, covered in cacti. We spent an entire day on the highly reflective salt and the underside of my nose felt badly burnt for the next three days!
Cocoi Heron, Rio Yacuma, Bolivia
Fujifilm X-T3, XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR, f5.6 @ 1/2000 second, ISO 1600
I'm enjoying my spare time processing images from the Bolivian photo tour I did last year with Ignacio Palacios and a group of brave photographers - brave because we had some amazing adventures in many different ways.
I can remember coming back from our trip up the Yacuma River. There were two canoes and we were in the last one when our engine stopped. As the river twists and bends, the others didn't realise we were lagging behind. Worryingly, there were so many alligators along the embankment, we wondered if they knew how tasty we were. Fortunately, like all good boy scouts and girl guides, we only travelled with boatmen who had a spare oar and so slowly, slowly we limped our way back to the pick-up point.
The wildlife at this time of year (September) is highly concentrated because the floodplain waters have subsided and so all living beings seem to congregate along the river edges. I probably shot 1000 photos of egrets and herons in flight (I'm assuming this is a Cocoi Heron, but I stand to be corrected by a true birder), but this one worked the best. The background was in shadow and dark, the bird's wings were nicely positioned and, importantly, the bird was sharply focused.
In Lightroom, I darkened down the image overall until I was happy with the background. Then I used an adjustment brush to roughly cover the heron and used the highlight slider to lighten the bird, but not the background. Using the highlight or shadow sliders to adjust your exposure locally can work very well because it will adjust light values and not dark ones, or vice-versa, and this in turn means you don't always need a precise mask (or brush).
I used second and third adjustment brushes to further lighten the neck and the feet - and I like the way the little sunlit leaves on the right seem to be leading the heron on its flight path!
Some readers have asked about the 1:2 format. I am processing all my Bolivian photos with 1:1 or 1:2 format because I have a square format book in mind - a lay-flat book from Momento should present this image very nicely. However, I agree I'm wasting some image area for the A2 prints I make of each image before I send them off to be printed in book format, using my Epson SC P10070 and Canson Rag Photographique paper. No matter how good my EIZO monitor is, I still love looking at and handling a real print - I think it's one of the greatest enjoyments of the photographic process.
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!