Landscape Photography

For me, Landscape Photography is one of the most challenging things to shoot.  Along with still life, I consider myself a rank amateur.  I can nail a lay-back spin from a figure skater in a single squeeze of the shutter release.  I can capture heart breaking emotion.  Things that move are easy for me to photograph.  So why do I struggle with things that don’t move.  They should be easy.Рудбекия

Well one of the main reasons it’s hard is the fact that they don’t move.  Just about anyone can point a camera at something still and take a picture.  To make something good requires the photographer to go beyond what’s easy.  In both cases its all about lighting.  For still life, at least you can manipulate the lighting so you’re limited by your creativity and skills to bring something dramatic to life.  Landscapes you have no control over the lighting or the position of your subject.

Which leads to the main reason I stink at landscapes:  I’m lazy.

Ansel Adams, one of the greatest landscape photographers of all time, worked hard to get his photos.  He would pack a very heavy large format camera to places mortals were never meant to reach and he would wait days for the lighting to be just right and with some incredible post processing he has created landscape masterpieces that will stand forever as the greatest.

To take good landscape photos, expect to get off the beaten path.  Be prepared to hike lugging heavy gear.  You may need to visit subject multiple times.   You cannot take good photos driving 60mph on major highways.   Sure, you’re going to see some great sights that you will want to photograph, but playing in traffic to get a photo is a very bad idea.   That said, you’re not going to get a masterpiece if all you have is an hour after work to chase a mountain.

Now of course every once in a while, you get lucky and Mother Nature tosses you a goody and if your camera is ready you can get the shot.  One of my highest rated photos on flickr was a grab shot from my hotel room as I woke up one morning and was handed one of those one in a million sunrises.

If you want to plan on shooting landscapes you need to research the subject you want to photograph.  Determine when is the best time of year and best time of day to get the most dramatic lighting.  Plan to visit the spot at the prime time several days as your lighting window may only be a few minutes and you may have to wait on the weather to cooperate.

Fellow Raleigh flickrati _Massimo_ has produced some fantastic photos from Lake Crabtree in Morrisville, NC.  He visits this location a lot and some days its not good, other times he creates masterpieces.

Okay, so the hard part is done.  Your at your location.  The light is perfect and you have a camera with plenty of film / card space and a charged battery.  Now what?

Landscape’s need a subject.  A sunrise over the ocean with just water and sand, even with interesting clouds lacks substance.  Put a palm tree or a silhouetted person in the frame and the scene becomes much stronger.  Sometimes the landscape provides the subject naturally.  Perhaps is a rock formation at Red Rocks, El Capitan in Yosemite, or as I recently experienced, Mt. Rainier standing strong on the horizon.  Maybe its a glacier laden mountain range, or yellow wild flowers adorning the landscape.  You need something and you need to build the photo around the subject.

As with most photos, the Rule of Thirds can come in handy for landscape photography, but it can also create problems.

The Rule of thirds says that photos are more interesting when the subject is placed at the intersections of tic-tac-toe lines that divide the photo into 3rds.  For our portraits, we find subjects eyes generally fill two of the points.  Off centering the subject, placing it on one of the lines or at one of the four intersecting points will do wonders for your photographs.   If you have a subject in your photo that not the landscape itself, perhaps its that palm tree or a cow grazing in a field, try using the rule of thirds.

As great as Rule of Thirds is, it has a nasty habit of creating negative space or areas in the photo that isn’t doing anything for the photo or hurting the photo.  A simple example is our sunrise photo.  If the sky isn’t putting out clouds to die for and you place the horizon on the bottom rule of thirds line, all that empty sky is negative space and its boring and blah.  A tighter crop or centering the horizon to balance the land and sky could help.  You have to ask yourself “Is the empty space good or bad?” when composing the shot and make the best choice you can at exposure time.  Cropping in post can help, but depending on how big of a data file (or how grainy your film is) you might not have as good of a photo to work with.

So balance interesting composition with negative space.  Frequently the landscape will naturally provide you three layers, a foreground, an intermediate tree line or mountain range, and sky to make your “Rule of Thirds” compositions easier.

Keep your horizon level.  Unless there are obvious buildings that need to stay vertical or vertical trees, level that horizon.  It shows a lack of care or a lack of paying attention when you took the photo and that little bit of attentions is the difference between a piece of art and a snapshot.  Of course there are times when it doesn’t make sense, like a sloping shore line, but even then, there is probably a water line that would be level.  You should always look at your scene and find the right vertical and horizontal lines and level your photo on those lines.  Many modern cameras have grids built into the viewfinder for use in leveling your photos.  Also many camera’s AF points are on the Rule of Thirds points and you can use that while composing your photo as well.

As for exposing your scene generally your camera’s meter will get it right for daylight shots.  But if your trying to silhouette that palm tree and capture mind blowing orange colored skies, your going to need to alter the exposure.  For Sunrise/Sunset shots where your shooting towards the sun, depending on how much black land and subject you have, you may need to shoot at -1.0 to -2.0 EV from the metered value.  If your shooting in manual mode, just underexpose the shot and shoot several variants.  If your shooting in an automatic mode, consider using Aperture Preferred mode (Av mode on Canon’s, A on Nikons) and using your +/- button and dial in a -1.0 to -2.0 setting (and don’t forget to set it back to 0 when your done).

This is also a good chance to use bracketing to try different exposures.  Most modern film and digital SLR cameras support this exposure mode.  Typically you will set the camera to automatically over expose one frame, shoot one frame at normal exposure and then underexpose one frame.  Then you shoot three photos back to back capturing a range of of exposures.  Cameras typically can set how many frames you want in the bracket, and the amount of exposure change to use for each one.  For instance you could do 7 frames at +/- 0.3 stops.  I’ll save bracketing for another post.  This also gives you a chance to play with HDR or High Dynamic Range photos should be be so inclined.

I like Aperture Preferred mode when shooting landscapes.  Shutter speed isn’t that important, but you want to control the depth of field. In Aperture Preferred mode you set the aperture and the camera figures out the shutter speed.  When shooting landscapes, in particular if you have layers (a distant mountain range and a near by flower filled field), you need as much DOF as possible.  But be aware, many lenses start loosing sharpness if you crank the aperture too high.  So getting an F8 or F11 is optimal for landscapes (unless you are specifically going for a low depth of field effect).

Since you want to keep your ISO low, that means your going to be pushing your shutter speed to a point of where camera shake might come into play.  Tripods are one of a landscape photographer’s most important tools because of this.  Vibration Reduction / Image Stabilized lenses will help those who don’t have tripods.  But if you want serious landscape photos, get a sturdy but lightweight tripod.

Add a cable release to the camera then your set to take better landscapes. From here, you can stabilize the camera, level the horizon, then you can wait on the light after you’ve composed the photo.  Sit back, drink a beer (no litter please), wait on the light, and trip the shutter when your ready.

The final suggestion is to work to find an shot that isn’t cliche.  Sometimes its not possible.  I had a chance to get back to Yosemite and I wanted to photograph El Captain and try my “Ansel”, but a search of flickr returned a bazillion photos of that rock that were all pretty much the same and none of them were an Adams.  You have to work for position.

Which leads back to the beginning, you can’t be lazy and you can’t let time and a busy schedule get in the way.  As I headed out to find a place to shoot Mt. Rainier on a recent trip, I drove what seemed like hours and had not found a good spot.  I started doubting myself saying, this is a long way and time to drive when I’m just going to get one or two usable shots.  I wanted to turn back and thought about quitting several times.  I knew that due to lack of time and not being prepared to get off-road and possibly hike to a great location, I was at best going to get cliche shots.

Finally I spotted a couple of places where it looked like I might get a powerline/modern building free view.  I’m glad I pressed on because at least I shot them, cliche or not.  I ended up finding two very reasonable locations that were drivable too.  Some day, I want to go on a real landscape trip, backpack full of supplies, hiking boots, off-road ATV and a guide.  But its not something likely to happen on my business trips.

Tacoma Glass Bridge — Glass Art

Your friendly traveling photographer is actually traveling again. My travels this week brings me to Tacoma, Washington. As it has it, I’m here for the weekend and the weather is cooperating so I got a chance to get out and shoot this morning.

The Raleigh Flickr Group coincidentally started a new project today for Saturday Walk Abouts. So this is my contribution to the project.

I expected to get some buildings, macro shots, and some waterfront shots (which I got), but to my surprise, I ran into some beautiful glass artwork.

My hotel is near the “Museum District” and one museum is the Tacoma Glass museum. To get to the museum from my hotel requires crossing a freeway and a train yard. A bridge known as “The Glass Bridge” leads pedestrians from the Museum of Washington History and the Federal Court House to the Glass Museum and the Waterfront.

I wasn’t impressed too much. A lot of concrete and steel lay before me as I trekked out. Two large sculptures of what looks like Rock Candy but made out of glass stand as tower guards to the bridge entrance.

“So much for a glass bridge”. I expected it to have a glass floor or something. But to my surprise, one side of the bridge held a wall that was large bookcase like shelves holding colorful and very creative works of glass art. The other side was a somewhat solid but reflective surface.

Tacoma Glass Bridge - A Self Portrait

Each box that held a piece of art was enclosed on either side by glass. The outside glass had seen some serious weathering and accumulation of road dirt and grime to a point of it just being mostly translucent rather than transparent. The rising sun provided a fantastic back lighting causing the colors of the glass to explode.

I was shooting in Aperture Preferred mode, so I adjusted the EV of the camera to +1.0 and +2.0 depending on the sculpture with the idea of blowing out the background to near white levels (hiding what bits of the train tracks you could see through the glass).

I did not expect to go out and shoot things that looked like they were shot in a studio or to shoot abstracts. But it just goes to show you what you can find when you go on a little walk full movie Grimsby

You can visit the whole set of photos from the Glass Bridge here…

More Photoshop: Using Select Color Range to do Fake HDR

I’m not a huge HDR (High Dynamic Range)  fan.  I see a lot of people putting a lot of effort into an image to expand the dynamic range of their photos only to convert it back to an 8 bit JPEG to show on the web.  A lot of them are over done and not realistic looking.SunsetНаливной бетонный пол

In theory, HDR is useful when your scene has a wide range of tones, deep blacks and bright highlights that’s hard to get right in the camera.  You know the frustration, to expose for the really bright areas means the photo goes too dark or you get the main photo right and too much is blown out.

So the basic principle is that you bracket your shots in camera, one shot to record shadow detail, one to record mid-tone detail and one to record highlight detail.  Then you bring the three photos into Photoshop and blend them pulling the good parts into view.  There are a lot of techniques for doing this but the principle is that of most compositing where you erase what you don’t want to let the lower layers show through.  Depending on the complexity of the photo, the masking/erasing part can be very time consuming.

I’m lazy and I really don’t care for the whole HDR look anyway.  But there are times where you really need to use the techniques to save a photo.  Now in my case, I typically do not plan well enough in advance to bracket in camera, but I shoot RAW and that gives me a great tool to try and salvage highlight and shadow detail.  Sometimes I’ll only use two exposures of one frame, one is the base exposure and the second one to “fix” my problem.

Yesterday we had a fantastic sunset.  There were all kinds of incredible hues and cloud ACR Daylight Settingstextures.   I’m very impressed with my Nikon D200.  I set the camera to -1.0EV while shooting in Aperture preferred mode to get richer hues and avoid the natural over exposure from the bright sky.  But I left the camera in Auto white balance.  However, there are NO whites in the scene, but somehow the camera did a good job getting the colors right.  But realizing that the AWB was unpredictable in this situation, I set the camera to daylight, to simulate daylight film.

The sky had some rich orange and red hues and there were blues from the approaching twilight and a band of sky blue just above the horizon.  When I got the images off camera, I had lost my blues.  Remarkably, the AWB shots were the closest.   But this seemed like a great opportunity to get this right using my faux HDR technique, but instead of dealing with light and dark, I chose to do it with white balance instead.

The first thing I did was expose in Camera Raw for my oranges.  I set the white balance to 5200K, which is daylight and made my normal contrast and saturation settings and loaded that image into Photoshop.Exposed for the Blues

My normal settings bump contrast from +25 to +50.  I boost Clarity from 0 to around+35.  Vibrance gets bumped to the +25 range and then Saturation gets set to what every I feel like.  For this image, it was around +6.

Then I went back to Camera Raw and set the white balance to 3200K which gave me the blues that I needed and loaded that image in.  Since ACR remembered all my previous settings, I could just mess around with the white balance until I got the light blue band I remembered.  Clicking “Open Image” brought the second copy into Photoshop.

Once I had both photos loaded, I used the “Move” tool and dragged the Orange image onto the Blue image.   At this point, I’m done with the Orange image, so I closed it.   The photo I have left now has two layers, the blues are on the background layer and the oranges are on layer 1.

I could have used the eraser tool and erased holes, but i would have not looked very smooth.  I could have taken hours using masks to try and deal with the complexity of blending the oranges and blues.  But Photoshop makes this easy.Select->Color Range

There is a wonderful tool called “Select Color Range”.  Its under the “Select” menu and called “Color Range”.   This tool lets you use the eye dropper and click on a color and it selects colors close to it.  You can adjust the fuzziness to select more or less colors.  This is the primary tool for doing chroma key knock outs.

So for this photo, I clicked on the EyeBall in the Layer pallet for the orange layer to hide it.  Then using Select->Color Range, I clicked on the blues in the sky.   This tool is really good and dealing with smooth partial area selections.

On the actual photo, it shows whats being  masked out in red and whats being selected in its natural colors.  In the dialog box, you get a black and white mask.  Unfortunately my screen capture tool I use requires pressing the Apple key which in Photoshop causes the dialog box to show the actual colors, so the screen shot on the right isn’t accurate to what you will see.

With this tool, you pick your color.  You then adjust the fuzziness to select what you want.  You can use the +dropper to add additional colors to the color range, or -dropper to take out some colors you want to keep.

photoshopscreensnapz012When you click OK, your main image is left with marching ants that show the rough area that will be selected.

At this point, I clicked on the eyeball on the hidden orange layer and made sure it was the selected layer.

I then hit the <DELETE> key to erase the selection from the top layer to let my blues through.  At this point I’m almost done.  My sky blue band at the bottom didn’t select well using this technique.  I could have gone back using the tool a second time to select that color range, but for this stripe, it was easy enough to grab a 200px soft eraser brush and erase the hole.

Finally I saved the multi-layer file as a Photoshop PSD file, flattened the image to make it into a single merged layer, resized and saved as a JPEG for uploading to Flickr.

Photoshop Tutorial – Simple Textures Making a Vintage Photo

I’ve been wanting to take some of my photos that I’ve photoshoped for effects purposes and detail for you the steps involved with screen shots. I’m a professional software trainer. This shouldn’t be hard.

The starting point for our vintage photo

But it is. A lot of the steps in getting from the RAW photo to Finished art involves a lot of experimentation. Given a history tool in Photoshop and the ability to capture screen shots you would think it would be easy, but it is near impossible to do. I applaud those who have done Photoshop tutorials online.

I don’t like to be denied, so here we go with a simple tutorial using a texture layer to make a vintage photo.

The first thing to do is to find the photo you want to work with and get it loaded into Photoshop*.  I started with this photo of a goose.
Next  you need are some textures. If your not doing this for commercial purposes, I highly recommend using “Textures for Layers”.  Its a Flickr group that provides a great stock of textures just for this purpose.  The texture in use is  ©Jerry Jones

For some effects you will use multiple textures.  The basic principle is that you will use your photo as a base layer and add a texture layer on top.  Then using various layer compositing techniques you can vary the opacity and blend modes to get just the effects you want.  So follow these simple instructions.

Step 1.  Load your photo.

Step 2. Load your texture.

Step 3. Using the Move tool,  “Drag and Drop” your texture onto your photo.  Your texture will likely not be the  same size or shape as your photo.  I find the “Quick Transform Tool” an easy fix.  Drag the texture layer to the top-left corner of your image, then use CTRL-T (or Apple-T) to enable “Quick Transform”.  Then drag the bottom right handle to the bottom right of your photo.  The texture will resize to fit your base image.  Click the Check mark at the top to accept the changes.

Step 4.  On the layers pallet, select a blend mode using the unlabeled drop down that defaults to “Normal”.  You need to try different blend modes to see the different effects.  For this one, I chose “Overlay”.  Multiply and Screen are other good ones to try as well.  You might want to also adjust the Opacity of the texture layer for different intensities.

At this point you should have a pretty good idea what your photo will look like.  You might need to use the eraser tool to erase holes in the texture if some of the texture is placed poorly, like right on the subjects face.

Step 5.  Since I am making a vintage photo and I have a texture that works well for that.  The overly saturated, colorful goose is out of place.  So I quickly made it B&W by first using the “Move (arrow)” tool and clicking on the “Background” layer in the layer palette then bringing up the Hue-Saturation-Lightness tool (CTRL-U/Apple-U) and slid the Saturation slider all the way to the right (-100%) to desaturate the base image.

Step 6.  Save your work.  I like to keep my original with layers as a Photoshop PSD file.  This is a lossless format that preserves all the detail and all the layers, masks, channels, etc.  Then I resize it for web viewing and Save As a JPEG.   I generally do not “Save for Web or Devices” for photos since others like looking at the EXIF data and if I embedd caption information, services like Flickr will take advantage of that.  “Save for Web or Devices” strips all that to keep the image small.  Now if I were building a web site, all the icons and bling would be stripped down for performance.

And your final results:

So go forth an play.Watch movie online The Transporter Refueled (2015)

* You don’t need Photoshop to create these types of photos.  The GIMP, Photoshop Elements, Corel Paint Shop Pro and other tools should be able to perform these steps.