Open Wide – the bokeh effect

The aesthetic quality of blur produced in the out of focus parts of an image is known as bokeh (pronounced boh ka). Bokeh can also be defined as the way the lens produces out-of-focus points of light. This is the effect the lens design has on out-of-focus highlights in the background which mimic the lens aperture blade’s shape inside the lens. These may be perfect circles or they may appear as hexagonal shapes, with a good lens rendering these as soft looking circles, making the bokeh effect less distracting.

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Olympus E-M1, 12mm, 1/6400 @f2

Creative landscapes

A different mindset needs to come into play when shooting landscapes which feature bokeh. If you swop f16 to shooting at f1.8 instead, then you need to consider your composition carefully as well. Using a wide angle, you will need to be nice and close to a foreground subject, just so that you can achieve a suitable bokeh effect. So, fill the bottom of the frame with this and focus carefully on this subject. Check the image afterwards for sharpness and use the depth-of-field preview if your camera has one. You may not be able to reduce your out-of-focus part of the frame to a series of soft circles, but you will produce a nice sense of depth with your results

You can read more about bokeh in my eGuide ‘Open Wide’, available as part of an e6 subscription or to purchase separately. www.e6subscription.co.uk

 

All Day Landscapes

Light is one of the key factors in landscape photography and plays an important part in making a successful image. The way the scene is lit and from which direction, determines its mood and appearance and although goodcomposition is needed to hold the picturetogether, the light can make or break the final picture.

The classic time for the perfect landscapephotograph is the one hour after sunrise or before sunset. This is when the light is at its best and only a great view is needed to make the most of it. The time of day at which this magical light appears obviously varies throughout the year. During winter this will be around 8am in the morning and 4pm in the afternoon. Whereas in summer, it can be as early as 6am in the morning and around 8pm in the evening. Despite these time differences, the premise is the same and the quality of the light is at its best in these two windows of time. That is not to say however, that the rest of the day should be seen as time-out to put your feet up and relax. Oh, no! You can still make use of every hour in the day to make great images, you just have to change your style and approach to make the use of each hour.

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Ennerdale Water, Lake District. Canon 5D, 17-40mm, taken at 12.30pm

Midday

This is usually the time that the landscape photographer can take a break and get something to eat or catch up on some sleep after the early rise. But, if you keep changing your approach, then you can still take some excellent photographs. As the sun is now at its highest point in the sky, colour saturation is reduced, so look for strong colours to compensate. A polariser will have little effect now, so you are relying on the strong colours of nature to make up for this. The landscape will look flat and have little definition, so look for strong shapes as well. You could use the suns glare to shoot silhouettes and shimmering highlights across views of lakes and rivers. Fluffy cumulus clouds appear in the sky, which will help break up the almost whitening of the sky at this time and these can convey that typical summers day look to an image.

You can read more about shooting landscapes at different times of the day in my eGuide ‘All Day Landscapes’, available as part of an e6 subscription or to purchase separately. www.e6subscription.co.uk

 

 

 

Dare to be Different

I’ve been a self-employed travel and landscape photographer for 21 years now. Plus 5 years of doing it part time. One day, with a change of circumstances, no real plan and a deep breath, I left my job in the motor industry to become a photographer.

The first chapter to be added to my ‘Personal Guide to Success’, apart from moving to medium format, to gain the advantage of the bigger image size, was discovered from doing an online course with the Bureau of Freelance Photography. Their advice was, if you want to get ahead you have be different from the rest and in my circumstance, add words to your pictures. So, this started with a few words, a couple of sentences to accompany my submitted images. Basically a bit of a back story to the image as to why and how it was shot. This idea progressed to over a thousand words with each submission to magazines to form a short article, along with a few more pics to complete the package. This gave me the edge over others, as the editor had both words and pics to put in the magazine.

Next came the workshops. I had been shooting professionally now for over ten years and digital had just kicked in. Suddenly there were more photographers, both wanting to learn and competing to have their work published. I dabbled in the landscape workshop myself here and there. A few in the Yorkshire Dales, along the Yorkshire Coast, Peak District, but only one day affairs, as I never fancied organising the multi-day holidays. But I got bored. There were too many others doing the same thing as well, so I referred back to my ‘Personal Guide to Success’ mantra. Be different.

Tree, Brierley, South Yorkshire

Online

So, I set up an online course, using my experience of writing photography articles, but kept it to a subject I had experience in too, landscapes. No one else had done this. I hoped it offered something different and original and it worked.

Three years ago, I more or less gave up the rural landscape-based workshop. With every Tom, Dick and Harry now doing these and some, rather worryingly, who were not only new to photography, but still attending workshops themselves! I needed to add another chapter to my ‘Personal Guide…’

Urban

And so I went urban. Nobody was doing urban workshops. Now, I knew urban landscapes weren’t as popular as rural landscapes, something I learnt from the articles I wrote, plus how many books on urban photography can you think of? Very few! (You should perhaps do one yourself then Craig. I have! eBook available from my website!) There was a gap in the market therefore and so I dived in with my City Photo Walks. Running these workshops was a progression from my online course. I wanted to be different.

Flyover, Spaghetti Junction, Birmingham

Videos

I had started to sell my photography articles online from my website, including some unpublished ones (not every magazine was open to every idea I suggested!) and along with a few eBooks, this collection of ideas became e6, my subscription package for photographers. This soon became a more complete package as I added my current ‘…Guide to Success’ idea. Videos.

Having been elbowed and pushed into doing one of these for Lee Filters, I bit the bug and found I enjoyed or should I say, just about put up with myself, on the other side of the camera. So, videos were uploaded to YouTube, with some held exclusive for e6 subscribers. This is the future however and there are only a handful of photographers currently heading down this route. Therefore, again, it’s about being different.

Dare to be Different

The final chapter for my ‘Personal Guide to Success’ is, well, that is unwritten yet. I don’t know what my next move will be, but as always, I plan to make it different to what everyone else chooses. And if you want to take one thing away from this blog post, make it that. Dare to be different and enjoy your exclusivity whether it’s a big success or not.

Beyond the Grave & into the Red

For my infrared project having the right subject to shoot was key. Infrared doesn’t work on every subject. Well, the actual process does, but the successful result is a bit more subjective. Some of the results I have seen published or on the web have often been a bit cliché, even if they work well within that cliché. So, I was looking for a subject that would suit the medium that perhaps hadn’t been done before, or was just less-photographed. In fact, this combination happened the other way around. I’d had the subject in mind for a while, but needed a technique to give it an edge. And so my Beyond the Grave idea was brought to fruition. I wanted to photograph cemeteries and the ‘Into the Red’ tag was the infrared medium I would capture them in.

The camera I used or should I say camera’s, were my Olympus EM1 and EP5. These are the camera’s I use for all my photography and they were actually ideal for this medium. The filter I used was a Hoya R72 Infrared filter. I purchased it in 67mm size, big enough for my standard zoom and I also purchased a couple of step-down rings so I could use it on other lenses too, if required.

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Brompton Cemetery, London.  Olympus E-P5, 10mm, ISO 800, Hoya R72.

This filter absorbs at least 10 stops of light, so it’s a bit like using a Big Stopper filter. This effectively means using the camera on a tripod, as the resulting exposures, even on the bright days, lasted several seconds. This was going to be one of a few downsides shooting with this filter rather than with a converted infrared camera, as I wouldn’t be able to get away with any handheld shooting. The other issue was movement. Subject blur from foliage, important for infrared, was not going to look very pleasing on the final result, so a lack of wind and therefore a calm day was preferred.

Now, as I say the OMD camera’s, especially the EM1 were ideal for shooting with this filter, as it avoids a third issue, composition. Because the filter is so dark, I would normally have to compose the scene without the filter in place, then once happy with my position, focus, screw the filter on and take the picture. If moved position again, I would normally have to take the filter off and repeat the process. Not so with the Olympus system. These cameras have a mode called Live Boost, which increases the intensity of the rear screen and electronic viewfinder view for when using strong filters such as this. This meant I could ‘see through’ the filter enough to compose and fine-tune the focus without forever taking the filter on and off. A godsend, I can tell you!

You can read more about infrared project shooting cemeteries in my eGuide ‘Beyond the Grave & into the Red’, available as part of an e6 Premium subscription. www.e6subscription.co.uk

Capture

 

 

Lenses for Landscapes

Aside from the common 24/28mm wide angle, the 50mm lens is next up as a favourite for landscape photography . A distant scene will still make a good composition if you frame it correctly. You may not be able to get right up close to include a strong foreground feature and so this focal length will allow you to draw the scene in. Successful landscapes are all about composition and fitting the widest lens in your arsenal is not always the answer to successful pictures. Tight framing and knowing what is negative space or just distracting from the main scene, is as important to your technique.

Loch Leven, Highlands, Scotland

Loch Leven, Highlands, Scotland.  Canon 5D MKII, 50mm.

This focal length is very easy to work with, as it offers the same field of view as we see with our eyes and so it should feel very natural to compose with. If you need to compress the elements within the scene slightly, then this focal length will allow this too. Sometimes the landscape isn’t perfectly placed for you and there can be too much distance between the foreground rock and tree in the mid-ground. A 24 mm will only exaggerate this and spoil the harmony of the composition, A 50mm however, will compress the scene slightly and make the two elements appear closer together than they actually are, allowing for a tighter view.

You can read more about the ideal focal lengths for landscape photography in my eGuide ‘Lenses for Landscapes‘, available as part of an e6 subscription or to purchase separately. www.e6subscription.co.uk

Capture

 

What’s in my camera bag?

I’ve recently sold all my Canon full-frame camera gear and so now I only shoot with one system, Micro Four-Thirds. This is the first time in a long while that this has been the case. When shooting with medium format, I also had 35mm kit. When I switched to digital, I also used a Fuji 617 panoramic camera. For the last few years, I’ve been using both digital full-frame and M43, so it’s quite a change to have just one system now. However, it does consist of both a zoom and prime lens set-up, to suit different shooting situations, so I’m still sort of keeping that multi-combination aspect even now! Continue reading

The Ultimate Landscape Camera

Landscapes are one of the most popular subjects for photography and having the right tools for the job, makes the experience and time spent of capturing the beauty of our world even more enjoyable. Having the right camera therefore, comes down to having the right features and specifications to match this subject, the shooting conditions and ultimately the final results. So, what is the ultimate landscape camera? In the days of film, it would perhaps have been a 4×5 large format camera, such as an Ebony or Linhof. Ultimate size for ultimate quality. With the advent of digital, the choice is even greater. No longer do you need to shoot with a medium format camera. Both Nikon and Canon have top end SLR’s, seemingly ideal for the job and if Canon’s new 5Ds isn’t the ultimate landscape camera, then what is? Continue reading