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Winter is a time of the year when a great deal of the colour goes out of the landscape, but shapes stand out, and the low-angle light creates graphic shadows and outlines - enhanced ring shapes even more.
Cue - Black and White photography.
We were out walking in the hills yesterday when I saw this scene:
At first glance it was "pleasant" to look at, but no more than that.
The striking feature, however, was the low-angled winter sun glancing through the trees and reflected from the grassy patch in the open ground.
When I brought the image up on to the screen it immediately seemed to be a natural candidate for the monochrome treatment:
Using On1 Photo Raw 2017 (see here) I converted to monochrome, using a strong vignette in order to concentrate attention on the pool of light.
You can read the result in several ways - is it 'spooky'? Does it lead you on through the trees to see what is beyond? Is it mysterious? Is it just a B&W image of a muddle of branches?
You make up your own mind, but however you look at it the B&W version is significantly different from the original to be at least intriguing.
Reactions to what is happening
in the world of photography.
2017 AND HARDWARE TRENDS
Things are changing. The reviews of photography during 2017 are beginning to appear. They single out particular cameras (notable the Nikon D850 in the DSLR market), and point out the increased assurance and quality of mirrorless cameras, with high quality and great lenses.
For me the change is practical rather than one of chasing improved quality - because the quality is there already.
My instinct is always to pick up my mirrorless Fujifilm X-T1 in preference to my DSLR.
It is very simple. The X-T1 is lighter and less bulky. What is more, it is matched with a superb range of lenses that provide quality images.
I used it recently to record the Dore Male Voice Choir in a dark church, but even at ISO4000 the quality of the image was perfectly adequate for the purpose.
Through experiences like this, and from reading many other photographers' comments, two things really seem to matter when making a camera choice:
- the bulk of the equipment
- whether or not the quality of the image is adequate for the purpose.
This means that different photographers make different choices regarding the type of camera they use that depends on their ability to carry, and the final purpose of their images.
At the top end of the scale there will also be concerns about the ability to tether their cameras to another auxiliary piece of equipment, and so on. For most it is bulk, weight and adequacy that will really determine their choice.
BEST RAW FILE EDITOR?
My weekly copy of the Amateur Photographer landed on the doormat, I opened it keen to see what what is in it this week, and saw a feature on "The finest alternative raw software revealed" - i.e. alternatives to Lightroom.
This caught my interest as I have been using a number of software packages to make the same assessment.
Two things struck me straight away:
1. There are other raw processing software packages in addition to those reviewed in the article that are or include fine RAW editors. The article looked at Phase One Capture One Pro 10 (£294 in UK), DxO PhotoLab Elite 1.0 (£119), Serif Affinity Photo 1.6.6 (£49) and Macphun/Skylum Luminar 2018 (£64).
2. All such comparison articles give the impression that the best of the best have been included, and the very best (for your purposes) can be chosen from those reviewed.
On of the other RAW processing packages that might have been included (for example) is ON1 PHOTO RAW 2018.
I have used this extensively and think it does a great job.
Let me give you a taste of what it does:
Opening BROWSE panel.
Simple and rapid sky recovery, leaving a new starting point for further editing.
Most of the editing is done either in the Develop mode or in the Effects mode. Every adjustment that you would wish to make is available. There is an option to work in Layers - this allows the history of your adjustments to be stored a layer at a time, and if you want to remove or change any of these it is easy to go to that layer and adjust as necessary.
The process panel is on the right-hand side of the image, presets are available on the left:
As with most modern software presets are made available. I have applied one of these to the above image:
My experience of ON1 PHOTO RAW 2018 supports my view that the article in Amateur Photographer is neither comprehensive nor should be interpreted as only including the best of the best. ON1 PHOTO RAW 2018 is as good (if not better) than some of those included in their review.
The display of orchids was exception. I went for a 10 minute look and spent well over an hour photographing these magnificent flowers.
The only light was provided by daylight, made diffuse by the opaque nature of the ceiling.
All images were hand-held.
JUST BEEN TO JERSEY
WITH MY FUJI XT-1
Having spent two days processing my new images (taken in the Island of Jersey, UK) I am blown away by the sheer quality that the Fuji X-T1 has produced.
Let me show you some images taken at the Orchid Foundation:
The lens stabilisation system on the Fuji together with the amount of available natural light made it possible to record images sharply. They were recorded as .jpeg and required almost no subsequent processing.
The in-built guide for horizontality was a great aid, and the exposure compensation dial (once set to -1 or even -2) allowed me to set the flowers againbackground.(under exposed) background.
I am not saying that other cameras would not have been as good in these circumstances, but what I am saying is that the Fuji X-T1 performed exceptionally well - as well as being a joy to use.
The quality of the Fuji lenses made the recording of fine detail sublimely good.
The X-T1 has been replaced by the (even better) X-T2, though many of its features and abilities can be found on its sibling the X-T20 (at a lower price).
You will NOT be disappointed.
LIFTING A BLAND IMAGE
- AN EXAMPLE FROM MONGOLIA
The journey from Beijing to Moscow (on the Trans-Siberian Railway) was unforgettable, and I wanted to record the landscapes, the people, the villages and towns that I saw along the way.
We passed this village in Mongolia and I took the photograph through the window of the moving train.
I was fascinated by the way that it was nestled into the arid landscape close to the only water-course that I could see.
To the right of the centre of the view there is a lone man making his way up the track into a seemingly deserted place. One other solitary figure (with a bicycle and reflected in the water) is crossing the stream (in the bottom right-hand corner).
Photographically there are all any number of things I could have done. These range from leaving it as it is to enhancing the colours away from their true nature. In the end I settled on this version based on Preset choices within my image processing software:
It retains the sense of aridity in the landscape and yet gives it a more "photographic" feel. (I'm not sure that I know what that means either!)
I prefer this to the original, and yet it stays true to the nature of the landscape.
In photography we have so many choices over the way that we reveal our images - however far they may be from the starting point that we captured in-camera.
In this case it is all down to personal taste.
WHICH CAMERA FOR YOU?
Whenever I give a talk on photography the one predictable question is: "Which camera do you use?"
I must add that this question usually comes from a male member of the audience!
Men like equipment - ladies tend to like the picture!
Take the photograph above.
Was it taken on a compact camera, a DSLR, a mirror-less system or a bridge camera? Or, just maybe it was taken on a camera phone.
Whatever the type of camera, which make was it? How big was its sensor? Did I use a system lens or a third-party lens?
And so the man-questions go on.
It really does not matter.
All that matters is that whatever I used was adequate for the purpose(s) intended.
So, when you next think about your camera and your desire to change it for "something better" - think instead about whether or not it is able to meet all of your photographic needs. If it does - why change? If it does not - think about which type of camera will, and then think about the price.
Out there there is a camera for you - just make it the one that does all you ask of it, and does it well.
p.s. The answer to the question is none of the above. The original was taken on a film SLR and the transparency scanned to create a digital file.
LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHS - IS IT ALRIGHT TO INCLUDE PEOPLE?
There is a natural tendency in me to leave people out of my landscape photographs. Yet, when I look back at my images they frequently include people.
So, I checked some books on landscape photography - including some by Ansel Adams, Joe Cornish, David Herrod, William Neill, John Shaw, and Charlie Waite and none of their images of landscape included people.
The common factor about these images is that the authors were recording rural areas, coasts, and wilderness, They all avoided urban areas.
Were they searching for 'pure landscapes' without signs of human activity?
So, why did I go against the trend with some of my images?
There are two reasons. The first is that the size of the person relative to the landscape helps to define the scale of that landscape. Take this image:
The presence of the person helps us to calibrate the scale of this granite hill (along the Tyoga Road, Yosemite).
Secondly, the person can help in the composition of the image. In this case the eye is drawn towards the person along the walkway, and that point becomes the focus of attention for the viewer.
It is quite important to place the person at or beyond the middle distance in any landscape photograph. Unless you do that it starts to become an image of that person rather than of the person in the landscape.
It also helps if the person is looking into the scene. When that is the case the viewer's eye is drawn to look at what the person is looking at.
I wonder if this is all a passing fashion. When we study the landscape paintings of 100-200 years ago artists such as John Constable, Claude Lorrain, Claude Monet, Nicholas Poussin, Rembrant van Rijn, Peter Paul Rubens, John Ruskin and many others, they all tended to include people in their landscape paintings. There approach was to record artistically the interaction between man and landscape as often as they recorded landscape alone.
Well, here are two images that clearly show the interaction between people and the landscape.
The children are enjoying the waves, but at the same time they provide the interesting element in an otherwise boring image.
The canoeists provide an element of human interest in this picture of Lake Louise (Canada).
So, people in or out?
When they enhance the image, for which ever of the reasons discussed, the answer has to be 'definitely IN'.
Like me you probably have quite a few old negatives and transparencies quietly dying in plastic boxes.
I decided to do something about it.
I followed the promises of the vendor and acquired a scanner. The results were recognisable images but the quality of colour rendering, sharpness, and tone was awful.
So, I set out to rescue them using image processing software.
My starting point was this scanned transparency:
The processed version looked like this:
... a distinct improvement (though not perfect as some of you will spot).
The moral of the story is:
you can turn your old transparencies into decent images - you just have to be prepared to work at it using a decent image processing package.
(Image processing software is reviewed here.)
Happy searching for those transparencies - "now where did I put those transparencies of Aunt Jane?"
VINYL IS ALIVE! LONG LIVE FILM PHOTOGRAPHY?
I heard a report that vinyl music records are making a come back.
Why? Because, in part at least, people like the tactile touch of those records.
As a result sales of turntables are increasing.
Are we going to see the same with photography? Is there a strong possibility that photographers will want that same tactile connection with images? Do they also want to be re-connected with (or experience for the first time) darkroom wet processing?
My view is that there is a strong possibility that this will be the case. Some second-hand retailers are advertising for quality film cameras so that they can sell them on to meet a growing demand.
I wish I had kept my Nikon D5!
FILTERS THAT YOU CANNOT REPLICATE WITH SOFTWARE
Use a Big Stopper and get something different.
One of the filters that you cannot replicate with image processing software is the dark neutral density filter known as "The Big Stopper". Its role is to greatly decreases the intensity of the light that reaches the sensor of your camera.
I want to show you what happens to the way flowing water looks when you apply a 10x ND filter (known as "the Big Stopper").
These two images show the 'silky' look acquired by water when the Big Stopper is used.
It has also been tried to great effect on seas where a gentle swell is smoothed by the long exposure necessary when you use such a filter.
Because of the long exposure the camera has to be mounted on a tripod.
How to use:
You need to focus on your subject before mounting the 10xND filter on the camera (since you cannot see it throughthe viewfinder (or viewing screen) once the filter is mounted).
To get the right exposure you need to test what the aperture setting would be if you used a 1/15th sec exposure without the filter in place. Then use that aperture with an exposure of 45 secs. Look at the histogram that comes with the resulting image and adjust the exposure time until you get the result that you are after.
How do I get a Big Stopper?
Try the Hoya Pro ND1000 Filter but make sure that the filter size will fit the front of your lens.
You can get it here.
Use the Bulb Setting and expose the image for a time which is about 1000 times longer than the normal shutter setting.
Here is a table to help you:
Without Filter (sec)
With Filter (sec)
LET B&W PHOTOGRAPHY
AID YOUR CREATIVITY.
In recent years there has been a renewed interest in creating black and white images.
Frequently this is achieved by converting a colour image using digital image processing software. At times this has generated rubbish, at others it has resulted in some remarkably powerful images.
My own experience has been that a B&W image can be more powerful than its colour starting point. However, it is ALWAYS the case that if the starting point is inadequate then no amount of digital manipulation will generate a good B&W image.
The software review pages have identified those programs that provide B&W image processing, but of these let me single out: Serif Affinity Photo which in the Develop Mode allows you to convert to a black and white imagswith one click, and then provides the means for fine-tuning on the same screen. That is not to say that all of the other packages don't do much the same, but the Affinity version is one that I find quite easy to use, and gives good results.
One of the eBOOKS "Black and White Photography in the 21st Century" provides a fuller description of what is now possible with image processing software.
I leave you with this image of the setting sun over Ladybower Reservoir (Derbyshire, UK) which I converted to Black & White from a colour original.
I was reading the Amateur Photographer and came across an article about Ian Cameron (the 2015 winner of Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year Award) in which his three most important elements of Landscape Photography are listed as:
light, composition and subject matter.
I agree, but I am sure that as time goes on this Page will show that other elements are also part of a complex equation of things that need to come together in order to allow a great image to be created.
However, to begin this journey together why don't we all concentrate on the LIGHT element of this trio?
Ian Cameron goes on to define the important elements of light as: its quality, colour, strength and direction.
The difficult element to tune in to is the 'quality' of light.
It is an element that has so many subtle aspects that not everyone is tuned to picking these out. It helps to concentrate on developing this skill by asking yourself every time you take a photograph "How would I describe the quality of the light falling across this landscape?" May sound daft, but you try it and soon you will understand what all of this means.
In my two images taken at Bryce Canyon the real quality of the images lies in the nature of the light present in the landscape.
The close-up of the rocks shows how the light is bouncing around between and from each of the rock faces.
The broader landscape, taken at the same time, is also benefitting from the soft side-light associated with the earlier hours of the morning.
Good side-lighting is always better than the flat sun of middle day.