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

Do You Take Photos Just For Yourself

January 29, 2023

Skyscape, AntarcticaSkyscape, Antarctica

Skyscape, Antarctica
Fujifilm X-T5, XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR, f8 @ 1/500 second, ISO 125

When I travel, I take a lot of photographs. Normally I don't press the shutter unless I think there is something good about the subject. Of course, as David Oliver will complain, I take hundreds of photos of wildlife not with the expectation they will all be great, but with the hope one of them will be!

The skyscape presented here is a photo I really liked through the viewfinder. The simplicity of the detailless white snow contrasted against the dark grey clouds was graphically strong, and then there was the glimpse of pure blue sky through a gap in the cloud cover. I took perhaps six shots as the shape and size of the blue sky changed from where we were positioned (I was on Aurora Expedition's Greg Mortimer and as we were steaming along, the shapes of things in the landscape were changing quickly).

Yet in my initial run through of picking out photographs to process or share from my voyage, this didn't get the nod. There were other photographs that my subconscious told me other people would like more. Yet when I give presentations on my approach to photography, I tell those silly enough to listen that the only person we can be sure of making happy with our photography is ourselves, so don't worry about everyone else. 

So, this week, I'm sorry, but with your permission and kindness I'm not worrying about you. I like this photograph. It's simple. It can have lots of meanings if you want it to. But at the end of the day, I like it. Enough said!

I'm not expecting lots of hearts and likes when this gets posted on social media. Nor am I expecting lots of emails of congratulations from this newsletter or the website. It's just a competent photo (I suggest) and in a world inundated with great photographs, it won't compete with the true crowd pleasers. But does that matter?

My challenge to you is to post something that you really like and to hell with everyone else! In the nicest possible way, of course. We still want our friends and followers to return next time when we post something that is perhaps more generic in its appeal.

 


Is Everything Right In Paradise?

January 22, 2023

Paradise Harbour, AntarcticaParadise Harbour, Antarctica

Paradise Harbour, Antarctica
Phase One XT 150MP Achromatic back, 32mm lens, f11 @ 1/250 second, ISO 400, IR filter

This is Paradise Harbour (or Paradise Bay, depending on the map you're looking at). Most voyages to the Antarctic Peninsula come here as it really is very beautiful, depending on the weather. Mind you, even when the cloud is low and the mountains hidden behind, the glacier front and brash ice in the harbour itself make wonderful, moody compositions.

On this trip, we were out in a zodiac hoping to see humpback whales. Ben, my zodiac driver, was called on the radio to go back to the ship to help, so I transferred from his zodiac to another so I could continue shooting. A few minutes later, my radio crackled and it was Ben, raving about what a great whale experience they'd just had, with a humpback diving under the zodiac not once, but three times! I didn't believe him, of course, but then I saw the videos taken by the other passengers. Oh well....

I still love Paradise Harbour. It's dramatic as you can see and what I like about this black and white rendition is the crunchy contrast which matches the brash ice in the foreground. However, I keep adding contrast and then taking it away. When I remove the contrast, I feel the overall tonality is smoother and more in keeping with the location, but when I add the contrast back in, I just love what it does to the ice textures. The example above has a number of adjustment layers with masks adjusting the contrast in different areas, but still, I'm not quite sure if everything is yet good in Paradise! Time will tell - I need to live with the image a little longer.

Shooting on the Achromatic back meant black and white only. In colour, I love the rich blues and aquas, while in black and white, I get to concentrate on shape and form. I don't think one is better than the other just now, but they are certainly different ways of dealing with what's already an amazing subject.

 


Picking The Right Lens For Wildlife

January 15, 2023

Weddell Seal, Paradise Harbour, AntarcticaWeddell Seal, Paradise Harbour, Antarctica

Weddell Seal, Paradise Harbour, Antarctica
Fujifilm X-H2, 150-600mm, f8 @ 1/2000 second, ISO 800

What would you use? A 200mm f2.0 or a 150-600mm (300mm or a 225-900mm in full-frame format)?

The advantage of the prime lens is a maximum aperture of f2.0 (or f2.8) which throws the background beautifully out-of-focus. Add to this the optics' stellar, super sharp image quality. However, you're stuck with a 200mm (or 280mm with a 1.4x extender), so if your subject is distant, you might not fill the frame.

Compare this with a 150-600mm which gives you a choice of focal lengths, but it doesn't produce the same bokeh (out-of-focus blur) and doesn't have quite the same image sharpness. Don't mis-read this: the latest 150-600mm and similar zooms (whether Fujifilm, Canon, Nikon, Sigma etc) are incredibly sharp, but there is a difference. The primes are sharper still (and at the price, so they should be). Is this difference important?

The photo above was shot on a 150-600mm zoom at 600mm (900mm equivalent), so if I had been using the 200mm, I'd have to crop a lot to get this framing. And after using the 150-600mm for a month down in Antarctica, I have to say I have really enjoyed the zoom and how close I have been able to get to my subject. One specification worth considering is the minimum focusing distance because very often you've only a few metres distance - just a little more than five metres in this situation.

So, in terms of framing, the 150-600mm is a winner. I'm probably never going to get quite the same depth-of-field quality, but what about the sharpness? This is an area where technology has changed the rules. Using Topaz Sharpener AI, I can take what is a very acceptable image and turn it into a super sharp, super clear, perfectly focused photograph. The software really does a great job, so if you haven't played with it, it comes highly recommended.

So, for wildlife, I think I'm beginning to favour the 150-600mm and, if necessary, adding a little critical sharpness with Topaz!

 


Mike the Minke Whale

January 15, 2023

Mike the Minke, Orne Harbour, AntarcticaMike the Minke, Orne Harbour, Antarctica

Mike the Minke, Orne Harbour, Antarctica
Fujifilm X-H2, XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR, f8 @ 1/2000 second, ISO 1250

Anne had been writing up the Penguin Post (a daily newsletter for our ship, Aurora Expedition's Greg Mortimer). We were standing on the outside deck, along with all the other passengers, watching in awe as a Minke whale circle around. We named the whale, Mike. And yes, our whale experts confirmed he was a he and not a she, not that I could necessarily tell. And Mike had been with us for several hours.

"I've just been writing how reclusive and shy Minke whales are", Anne confided. "I think I'd better re-write that!"

When you're out in nature, faced by nature, I find it difficult to separate the camera from the experience. Some people like to put the camera down and just savour the moment, but I find I've conditioned myself to feel like I'm missing out when I do that. I'm trying to maximise every opportunity for the camera - and this was a special opportunity. When you see the expedition crew running around with huge smiles on their faces, you know you're experiencing something that doesn't happen every day. 

At the risk of irking David Oliver once again, I confess I shot lots of photos. Hundreds, in fact. And yes, I certainly have more photos than I need - but there was no way I was going to stop and check if I had a good shot while Mike was dipping under an iceberg or breaking the surface with a blow. I kept shooting. As I write this, I can still feel the energy and the adrenalin.

However, it was probably three or four days later before I found this photo. I'd been seeing the photos other photographers had taken and I was keeping my fingers crossed that some where in raw fiels, I'd find an image that was worthy of further exploration. This one I particularly like. The little wave in the bottom left corner is from Mike as he turned abruptly under the water. In earlier frames, he swims along the side of the ship, his eye checking us all out and then, with a wonderful flourish, he dips a fin and disappears into the depths. This photo is the last frame before he dives for deeper, darker waters.

But he would be back. Several times. Many times. We had lots of opportunities and the weather conditions for photographing whales was simply perfect - glassy water, full sunlight. Many of us jumped into zodiacs to get a different perspective. While we're not allowed to approach Mike, Mike had no trouble approaching us, lifting his head just next to the zodiac before diving underneath. I always kept my fingers crossed he'd keep swimming and not lift his head abruptly, spilling me into icy cold water! However, while the experience was fantastic, the better images were from up higher on the ship where you could see all of Mike.

I'm sure I will post a few more Mike photos. It was a fun morning in Orne Harbour.

 


Overcome Shyness & Photograph Your Travel Guides

January 08, 2023

Namgay, our guide. Trashigang, BhutanNamgay, our guide. Trashigang, Bhutan

Namgay, our guide. Trashigang, Bhutan Phase One XT 150MP Achromatic back, 32mm Rodenstock, f8 @ 1/200 second, ISO 200, IR filter.

Are you intimidated a little when it comes to photographing people on your travels? Sometimes it's easier to photography strangers in a foreign land than it is at home, but even so, many photographers are a little timid when it comes to pointing their camera at the locals. First of all, they don't want to offend anyone. Second, they don't want the person to react badly! And third, they are possibly just a little shy! If some of this sits with you, you're not alone. So, how do you get around it?

               When travelling, you're always interacting with some of the locals, even if it's a travel guide on a bus tour. It's the travel guide's job to make you happy, so if taking his or her photo will make you happy, ask!

               Travel guides are also excellent for introductions. If you tell your travel guide you'd like to take some portraits during the trip, a good guide will make this happen. I tell our guides to explain to the locals that he or she is traveling with some crazy people who simply photograph everything and would they mind being subjects! A little humour goes a long way. A thank you is very important. And if you get a rejection, no trouble - move on. There are lots of potential subjects.

               In addition to a travel guide, there are other locals you'll come in contact with, such as the taxi driver and the shopkeeper. Once you've paid these people some money (or you're likely to), contact has been made. So, point to your camera and smile and see what happens! All they can do is say no.

In the photo above...

... guides in Bhutan always wear traditional dress, so including them in a photograph is very easy to do. And they are very helpful when it comes to introducing you to the locals for a portrait or two. Not all countries feel this way. Bolivia, for example, can be challenging in some areas, so you do need to pick and choose.
 

 


Will you shoot personal, documentary or fine art for your travel project?

December 14, 2022

Receding Glacier, Hamiltonbukta, SvalbardReceding Glacier, Hamiltonbukta, Svalbard

Receding Glacier, Hamiltonbukta, Svalbard
Phase One XF 150MP, Schneider Kreuznach LS 240mm f/4.5, f4.5 @ 1/1250 second, ISO 200.

The glacier was  photographed from a zodiac as we 'cruised' around the remarkable Hamilton Bay. While the light wasn't great, it's something you have to get used to and deal with in the polar regions. Think of these overcast conditions as being like a large soft box, spilling an even, diffused light over the landscape. I shot a series from different angles as we cruised along, selecting the one that seemed the most 'balanced', then used exposure, contrast and colour to give the image more life.

We all travel for different reasons. Many of us travel for multiple reasons. A trip might be a great opportunity to take a break with the family and generate a portfolio of images for camera club competitions or a portfolio on your website. You don't have to travel with a single purpose, but thinking about what you want to do with your photographs before you travel will help ensure you come home with sufficient photos to complete the project.

For instance, if you wish to create a series of 12 artistic landscapes, you have a definite goal. No point thinking about this after you return with only 6 suitable candidates. And even if your primary aim is an artistic portfolio, this doesn't mean you can't be capturing contemporary photos of your trip - the airport, the restaurants, the hotels - that can be turned into a scrapbook travel album.

While it's good to have specific aims in mind, it's equally important to be open to new opportunities that arise, so shoot lots. Lots and lots! You don't have to use all the photos you take, but you can't use photos you didn't take.


Will you make a video presentation of your travels?

December 12, 2022

Walrus, Torellneset, SvalbardWalrus, Torellneset, Svalbard

Walrus, Torellneset, Svalbard
Fujifilm X-T4, Fujinon XF200mmF2 R LM OIS WR, f2 @ 1/4000 second, ISO 200.

As social media increasingly favours video presentations, it doesn't mean we have to give up on stills and 'move with the times'. There are many ways of creating a video presentation or slide show of still images with zooms and pans that can produce a cinematic feeling.

On the other hand, most of our cameras can capture both stills and video, so why not be open to the opportunities that are better captured with video?

For instance, the rise and fall of seals on sea ice under an ocean swell; the cascading action of a massive waterfall hurling itself over a precipice, or the mesmerising movements of a tribal dance recorded with the hypnotic beat of a drum. While these can be photographed as well, sound and motion can add another dimension.

I'm not suggesting you switch from stills to videos, rather think about how the two could merge in a presentation. And even if you decide not to use the video you capture immediately upon your return, you never know when it can be useful. Sometimes the sound track attached to the video makes a great background or accent for a slide show. You just never know.

In the photo above, I shot both stills and video. What the still photo doesn't show is the playful way the walrus bob up and down, take a look and then swim away. However, being shot in overcast light, it will be challenging to get the video to have the same colour and tonal values - and hence I feel the merging of stills and video is worth pursuing.


Plan a project for your travel photos

November 13, 2022

Palanderbukta, SvalbardPalanderbukta, Svalbard

Palanderbukta, Svalbard.
Phase One XF 150MP, Schneider Kreuznach LS 240mm f/4.5, f4.5 @ 1/1250 second, ISO 100.

Palander Bay was a surprise. With three circumnavigations around the archipelago this year, I visited many places for the first time. Mind you, I returned to some locations three times and they were completely different - so maybe it doesn't matter about going somewhere new. Whatever! As we walked up the hill towards the snow, the angle across the ice to the glacier and cliffs behind kept getting better and better. And the colour contrast between the sandy foreground and the vibrant blues of the compressed ice work beautifully - or so I think!

I'm planning to post a few photos from recent travels. I'm also planning to be more active with my photo book projects. Planning and projects are good. They make you do things by giving you an end point - and perhaps a deadline. I'm sure Better Photography magazine wouldn't happen every quarter without a deadline!

The same approach can be taken to travel photography. Let me explain...

One of the main reasons people buy a new camera is to photograph a trip or a holiday - to take travel photos. But after the trip, what will you do with your photos? How will you share them with family, friends and social media?

Most of us will post a few photos on the internet here and there, but if you've taken time and effort to capture great shots and edited them carefully, turn them into a project.

Projects can be as simple as posting a single photo per day, or a set of 5 or 10 photos per day. And although you can post them 'live' as the trip unfolds, you could also post them after you've returned as a series for people to follow - social media posts don't have to be live.

Depending on the type of travel you're photographing, you could also produce a photo book or a slide show video - the Big Five Wildlife of Africa, Skiing in the Dolomites, Inside the Dzongs of Bhutan. By creating a project with a theme, your photographs will better work together.

There's no need to limit yourself to one project and it's a great idea to start the projects before you leave, so you can work towards an outcome while you're travelling.

 


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...

 

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