Peter Eastway writes an almost weekly newsletter from his Better Photography website (www.betterphotography.com). These are some of the more recent posts.
Sheep, Middlehurst Station
Phase One XF, 110mm lens, f2.8 @ 1/1000 second, ISO 200
Looking at this photograph on our website, in your email reader, on Facebook or Instagram, it is a small reproduction. The file is 1000 pixels square. What do you see? At first, it's an aerial landscape, brown in hue, some interesting light revealing the lay of the land. Plus there is a bunch of white spots on it. A closer look and (hopefully) you'll see some sheep and, down the bottom left, some patches of snow, which could almost be sheep.
The reproduction is adequate (or should I write, I'm hoping the reproduction is adequate), so I have successfully communicated my vision - at this size.
But size matters. I could never use this file, or the larger file I made it from, for printing. In the full size file, you can see the sheep's various positions - walking, standing, sitting, lying. There's a tonne of glorious detail. However, you can also see the faulty post-production where the 'quick and cheerful' processing to produce the file here reveals a host of limitations - colour haloes, poor masking (done quickly with luminosity masking), over sharpening with the clarity slider.
I'm not a dinosaur or a luddite (okay, so I don't think I am), but while the latest editing software does amazing things, it's all being dumbed down to the lowest common denominator - the internet. It appears this is the only game in town - does this matter?
Probably not, as long as we're aware of it. Being mindful of the way the internet (especially Facebook) degrades the masterpieces produced by my computer, I'm just running with the crowd and enjoying the technology. The latest set of masking tools in Lightroom is simply wonderful, but they are far from perfect. They will rarely allow you to make a large print without further masking refinement. What works for 1000 pixels is no guarantee for 5000 or 10,000 pixels.
So, size does matter. My current approach is to enjoy the benefits of quickly masking my images at low resolution and exploring where they could go, but before I put that image into a competition, a book or onto a print, I will start afresh and process the file - appropriately for the size.
There is so much more to photography than a quick internet post. If you're progressing well with your photography, why not join Tony Hewitt and me over in Middlehurst this year where we'll share everything about our approach to high end photography. We will show you how to produce files for print and we'll even produce a photo book containing your photos! Full details on the website - click here.
Adolescent King Penguin, South Georgia Fujifilm X-H2, XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR, f9 @ 1/500 second, ISO 500
Okay, so this question could go on forever, but there are times when travelling that it’s not practical to carry a large camera bag full of gear. For instance, on a zodiac you’re better off having two cameras and being able to shoot without changing lenses (in case of splashes or inclement weather). Or when you’re doing a long trek for a few hours, days or weeks, one camera with a spare lens might be all the space you have or weight you want to carry. What do you take?
For me, I’m looking to capture photographs that are a little different to the standard travel snap. ‘Standard’ used to mean something shot with a 35-70mm lens, but these days it would include a 28mm wide-angle on a smart phone. So, if I use focal lengths that are different to the masses, that might give me a head start in capturing something that stands out and I can always crop an image or stitch a few frames together in a pinch.
So, I’m going super wide and super long. For super wide, I use a Fujifilm 8-16mm wide-angle zoom (APS-C size sensor), or I used to use a Canon 11-24mm (full-frame sensor). At their widest settings, I find these lenses are great for interiors and massive sky shots, while at their longest setting, they aren’t too wide for general purpose shooting.
At the other end, my new best friend is a Fujifilm 150-600mm zoom. It’s lighter and smaller than my 200mm f2.0, and while not quite as sharp, I can make up for any shortcomings with a little extra sharpening. Using an APS sensor, this lens is the equivalent to a 225-900mm telephoto and I have to say, shooting at 600mm (900mm) is wonderful for both landscape and wildlife.
Downsides? Yes, I confess that 150mm is a little too long for some subjects and so a 70-200mm (full frame) might be a more sensible choice if wildlife isn’t a part of your itinerary. On the other hand, forcing yourself to use longer focal lengths can definitely mean you come home with some different shots and, given you have only two lenses, it doesn’t matter which two, you will always be missing out on something!
Down near Useless Loop, Shark Bay, WA
Phase One XF 150MP, 80mm Schneider lens, 1/640 second @ f4.5, ISO 100
There's no doubt getting up in the air to take photographs is exciting. And the first few times, you're simply blown away by the experience, so it doesn't really matter too much what your photos are like, they will elicit great memories when you view them.
However, with a little experience, as you look back over your images - especially those which are essentially abstract patterns - you might wonder why they're not quite as good as Tony Hewitt's? What is the difference?
Generally the answer is a matter of design. Yes, Tony has wonderful control over his exposure, colour and the texture he brings out, but at the heart of the image is its shape, pattern and composition. Exposure, colour and texture are great, but the difference is invariably a strong shape or pattern that sits inside a complete, considered composition or framing. How does he do it?
However, there are two observations I'd like to make. First, when you're up in the air, don't look for clear areas or large areas, rather limit your scope to a narrower angle and include some geographical lines in the frame - roads, coasts, cliff edges, dams etc. Man-made subjects can work really well when sitting inside an otherwise natural setting. And using a telephoto lens or taking your aircraft down a little lower may allow you to better frame the subject (depending on the subject's size, of course - you might be better at a higher altitude to get the framing required).
The second point to note is that you can tweak the shape and framing of the image in Photoshop, Lightroom or Capture One etc. Stretch it, crop it, rotate it. Once you do this a few times, you'll realise you don't have to get the framing perfect while you're up in the air. Close enough is often good enough if you're prepared to do a little more in post-production.
And if you happen to be interested in shooting Shark Bay with Tony and me later this year, we have one spot left! Why not come along?
Link link below for full details:
Breaking wave, Nazare, Portugal. Would a video give this image another dimension? Fujifilm X-H2, 150-600mm lens, f9 @ 1/500 second, ISO 320
Stills and video are very different disciplines. I don’t think it is possible to do both of them easily, but if you’re very comfortable as a stills photographer, I think there’s room to investigate video as a way of sharing your stills photos further or better.
As stills photographers, what we probably don’t want to do is create a documentary masterpiece of our travels. To match the production values of what we find on YouTube (the good ones) can require a lot of effort and I fear that focusing on a video in this way could take us away from our primary goals of capturing stills. It could also take us away from enjoying the travelling – travel photography can include cultural and location experiences as well. Don’t miss out on these by focusing on too much video.
Having said that, being open to capturing certain times and moments with video makes a lot of sense. Some experiences when filmed have a dimension that is not available as a single capture, so if you can capture these moments on video – a calving glacier, a ceremonial dance, an albatross coming into land – what can you do with this material?
One answer is to create a slide show (e.g. for YouTube) and combine your stills with video footage – and maybe a great sound track or even a voice-over. It doesn't have to replace your prints or your photo albums, but it’s another way to share your travel images and your experiences. And one that I think can be a lot of fun.
Gnomon Island, Elephant Island Phase One XT, IQ4 150MP Achromatic, 32mm Rodenstock, f9 @ 1/250 second, ISO 200
I'm struggling with this edit. The bare bones are in place, I think, but the detail needs to be more carefully refined. It's taken at Point Wild on Elephant Island, the location where Shackleton left his men for several months following their 'escape' from the ice in the Weddell Sea, over 100 years ago. It is remote. It is difficult to visit and often the swells make it impossible to get this close, but there's no escaping the rock on the end of the point - Gnomon Island.
One of the challenges of travel photography is taking advantage of the light and weather conditions you find. There's no way you want to camp ashore here for a few weeks, waiting for the perfect opportunity (well, there's no way I want to in case there are some more adventurous souls reading this). Low clouds were sporadically allowing bursts of sunshine through, but from this position, the rock was back lit. I organised for the zodiac to go around to the other side of the rock, where the light was much more interesting, but the shape was completely lost. It was just a lump of rock in the water, rather than the pyramid seen here. So, you take what you can get!
The biggest struggle in editing the image was to ensure the rock itself looked hard and weathered, without allowing the clouds and water to become overly contrasty. The image has been process solely in Capture One, but with the limit of 16 adjustment layers, I'll either need to process the file and continue on with a TIF, or process and take it into Photoshop where there are no such limits. Stay tuned - I can already see a few things I'd like to do - sky top right is too heavy, islands on right of horizon too murky.
But this is the process of photography. Not every image is easily resolved. Some take a little more time.
And if you're keen on polar photography, but don't want to wait until January 2024 to come down to Antarctica with me, why not join me on the Jewels of the Arctic voyage in the middle of the year? Lots of interesting rocks and islets up north!
Click here for details of Peter's voyage to the Arctic:
Registan Square, Samarkand, Uzbekistan Phase One IQ3 100MP A-Series, 180mm Rodenstock, f11 @ 1/4 second, ISO 50
The architecture of the Silk Road is incredibly detailed and ornate. Registan Square would be immediately recognisable to most readers if a wider view were presented. In fact, the view is so famous, the local council has built a large, stepped platform from where bus loads of tourists can take in the vista.
Fortunately, the crowded tourist buses generally turn up during the middle of the day, in between breakfast and dinner! We made a couple of visits, one after heavy rain which was great for reflections and deserted of tourists, and another later in the evening, also without other tourists.
While you can shoot at night all night, most photographers aim to shoot a little while after sunset or before sunrise when the sky is practically black to the eye, but renders a rich blue. Not that it matters for this photo which has been intentionally cropped very tightly without any sky. A little post-production was needed to remove some bright flood lights, but the structure really is the essence of the buildings surrounding the three sides of the square.
These days, you can almost shoot at night or late in the evening without a tripod. Simply push up your ISO and hold your breath. Image stabilisation also helps, but if you look at the exposure for this shot (1/4 second at f11 and ISO 50), there was plenty of light to shoot with. Yes, a tripod was used, but it certainly wasn't necessary. David Oliver would have been proud of me - if only I hadn't used one!
Join Peter Eastway on a trip to Uzbekistan in October 2023 - click link for details: https://www.betterphotography.com/workshop-seminars/workshops/silk-road-photo-tour-2-3-to-12-october-2021-us-5995-detail
Nomadic herder in his caravan, outside Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (The Silk Road/The Three Stans) Fujifilm X-T3, XF8-16mmF2.8 R LM WR, f8 @ 1/50 second, ISO 6400
As travel photographers, we’re reminded not to take too much with us because a heavy camera bag will literally weigh us down and a tired photographer with a sore shoulder or back is less likely to be out in the world taking photographs. However, if you’re going to leave something behind, let’s make sure you do it intentionally by creating a list of essential equipment.
I keep my travel list on my phone in a notepad app. It’s nothing fancy, just a list of what I need to take. In fact, the list has more than what I will take on any one trip, but by listing everything I have, I can consider whether I really need it or just want it.
The list is broken into categories – medium format, mirrorless, drone, video, computer, clothing, accessories. In the mirrorless category, I will include two camera bodies and all my lenses, but when I’m packing, I might just take one body and a selection of lenses. Importantly, this list includes spare storage cards, extra batteries, battery charger, filter holders, filters, tripod, tripod head, tripod feet – everything I might need and that I can’t afford to forget!
Before a trip, I put together what I think I’m going to need and then I pull out my list and double check. It’s amazing how often I forget sensor cleaning equipment or extra cables for my backup drives. And each trip, I find myself adjusting the list to take into account new gear – or equipment I simply no longer need to carry around.
Join Peter on his next adventure to The Silk Road, click link for details:
Fujifilm X-H2, 10-24mm lens, f11 @ 1/300 second, ISO 125
Years ago, in the days of film, I would use flash and exposure to highlight my subject. For a human subject it was relatively easy, assuming you were only a metre or so distance. Set the flash to correctly expose your subject and set the ambient exposure to underexpose everything else. It wasn't always possible in bright sunlight, unless you used an ND filter and a powerful flash. And it wasn't possible with larger subjects that were further away because the flash wasn't powerful enough - at least not during full daylight.
I liked the result, the way the subject stood out against the background. I also remember a number of professional friends using the technique brilliantly for annual reports and advertising campaigns. It wasn't everyone's cup of tea, but it was certainly effective.
Now take a look at Lightroom and the way it can quickly mask either the subject or the background. Lighten the subject, darken the background - it produces the same result. The technique is simple, as long as you accept Lightroom's masking limitations. In the photograph here, the subject is very simple and so Lightroom has done a very good job of creating a mask, but in some other subjects with slightly more complex outlines, Lightroom can struggle. No trouble if you're just outputting a 1000 pixel file as the 'errors' are practically invisible, but create a full size file for printing and you'll find you have some extra retouching ahead of you.
But now everyone has this technique at their fingertips, assuming 'everyone' has access to Lightroom or Photoshop. Will this mean we see a resurgence in this style? Sure, I've played with contrast and colour as well, but the basic technique involves lighting up the subject and leaving the background in the dark.
I remember an exhibition several decades ago where the curator focused on how technology had changed the look of photography over the years - when photography moved from black and white to colour, to automatic exposure, to more sensitive emulsions and so on. As technology made something easier (or possible), photographers adopted it and a new way of photographing followed.
Has Adobe started (or restarted) something?
Dinghy, Azemmour, Morocco. Fujifilm X-H2, 150-600mm Fujinon lens
Over the years, a lot of friends and magazine contributors have travelled to Morocco and the photographs I remember the most are of the Atlas Mountains and the small boats scattered along the Atlantic coast. As I write this, I'm in the Atlas Mountains, having just spent a mere day on the coast.
And there are lots of boats along the coast! Wooden boats are immediately appealing to most people. Add in a stylistic difference and they gain even more momentum - well, they do for me. Now, it's a matter of isolating the shape and one of the easiest ways to do this is to find a vantage point up high so you can surround your subject with water. This dingy was photographed from the ancient walls of Azemmour, a small coastal town on the way south from Casablanca to Essaouira.
While I love long exposures and blurred water, this is an exercise in frustration as the dinghy will inevitably move around its mooring due to currents or winds. As it turns out, the faster shutter speeds (around 1/125 second) froze the dappled pattern of light upon the water remarkably well. It's a simple composition and not particularly original.
I have quickly processed a series of four dinghies and this is one of them. Processing it in Lightroom made it very easy to select the subject and background separately, giving me exposure, colour and contrast control over them independently. I hope you like it!
Poi Kalan religious complex, Bukhara, Uzbekistan (The Silk Road/ The Three Stans)
Fujifilm X-T3, XF8-16mmF2.8 R LM WR, f8 @ 1/680 second, ISO 160
Photographers like to carry their expensive and vulnerable cameras and lenses with them, which means cabin luggage on an airflight. We’d rather not consign anything that could break into our checked luggage because – well, you’ve seen how bags can be thrown around as baggage handlers struggle to keep up with a motorised conveyor belt. Sometimes bags land on the trolley with a bump.
Unfortunately, there are weight limits on cabin baggage, depending on the airline and your class of travel. For many of us, it’s a 7 kg limit, or perhaps 10 kg. In smaller planes, the weight isn’t as much an issue as the size because the overhead compartments are very small. Before you fly, find out what the limitations are so you can pack accordingly.
Can you get your cabin bag under 7 kg? Or maybe it’s 10 kg? Some photographers take much more than this and hope the check-in staff don’t weigh them, but if they do, what’s going to happen? And if your checked luggage has already gone, what will happen to your heavy cabin bag? In my experience, the camera bag is taken away and carefully (I’m told) put elsewhere on the plane. I haven’t had any issues, but I have been very concerned at the time.
These days, I try to keep within the limits. I take a backpack which is smaller than it needs to be so as not to promote interest. For extra gear, I use bubble wrap and clothing and put it in a second backpack which goes into my checked luggage. So far, everything has survived, but it’s a risk.
Another option is a hard case with lots of foam padding, checked as a second bag (and potentially extra costs). The equipment will be safe, but when I’ve put these bags through, the check-in staff have cautioned me about having valuables inside – so that tells me something!
The only safe solution if you never want to risk your gear is to travel within the guidelines – unless you feel lucky!
Join Peter on his next adventures to Uzbekistan and the other Stans! Click here for full details.
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