Welcome to my landscape photography blog. I am out and about with a camera a lot, hopefully this will give you an insight into how I work and what I am doing. I'll also be discussing my workflow and the equipment I use, I hope you find it useful.
My girlfriend was going on her friend's hen night, leaving Carnforth on the edge of the Lake District at 5am on Saturday morning and returning late on Sunday evening. It seemed only logical to turn the weekend into a photography expedition. I had some company in my father who was once a professional commercial photographer and who was testing out his latest purchase, a Fujifilm X10 (more about that in another post in the near future).
We left out hotel at 4.30am Saturday and dropped Vicky off with her friends at Carnforth. I'm not the best in early mornings normally but when I have an adventure like this to do I manage, it did however feel very early.
From Carnforth we made our way up into the Lake District. Our first stop was Grasmere, I'd hoped for a nice sunrise but cloud and a thick mist meant that wasn't going to happen. Instead I found a spot looking across Grasmere and was going to go for a low contrast landscape. I climbed down a small cliff and got my father to lower my gear down to me. I'd just got my tripod set up and was setting the camera up when my dad shouted down to tell me to look to the left. Out of the gloom and mist rowed a solitary boatman, totally silent. I grabbed the camera off the tripod, quickly changed the settings and took one shot:
The low contrast landscape I was planning turned out to be too low contrast, it was merely a variety of shades of grey so we moved on. We stopped in a little parking spot near to Thirlmere Reservoir. I got a couple of shots:
Next off we moved along Thirlmere, it is a man made reservoir to serve drinking water for Manchester, an 84 mile aquaduct runs to the city. The sun had by this stage made a welcome appearance.
Moving a little further down the reservoir I had to once again scramble down a banking, the weight of my camera and tripod makes for quite an exciting time on steep surfaces!
A quick lunch in Keswick and chance to buy an OS map (a really good investment, whilst satnav tells you how to get somewhere you've got to know where you're going) and we were on the road again.
A run down Derwentwater saw the weather really improving, it didn't feel like March in the North of England, I was working in shirt sleeves, not even a fleece required. Derwentwater was absolutely flat calm, I decided the best way to treat it was in a panorama. I took 12 individual shots and stitched them in Photoshop, the file got to a rather large 1.37 Gb, even on a fast Macbook Pro it took several minutes to open. I was really pleased with the results, I hope you like it.
A little way down Derwentwater at Borrowdale I spotted a wooden jetty, a classic shot of the Lake District. Unfortunately I was too engrossed in working out how to photograph the jetty to see the obvious steps down to it and instead took a rather daring 8 foot jump onto the beach. Oops! Shooting at wide angle a polarising filter wouldn't be the best option so I used a graduated ND filter to underexpose the sky slightly and retain the deep blue of the sky.
As the day came to a close we went out to St Bees. Living on the East Coast I am used to having to be up early in the morning for vivid colours over the coast. This weekend being on the West Coast it was a luxury to have the vivid colours of a sunset over the coast at a reasonable hour.
The day drew to a close and my dad and I retired to our hotel to catch up on a pub meal and a welcome sleep. We would be off very early again the next morning.
Day 2 to follow.
As a landscape photographer one of the most useful things I own is a sturdy tripod. Most of my exposures are far longer than I could possibly hold the camera steady for, sometimes into minutes rather than the usual fractions of a second. Most high quality tripods come with separate legs and a head which attaches the camera to the legs. The idea behind this is that different photographers taking photos of different subjects are able to customise their tripod to their own needs, as a landscape photographer for example my needs are very different to those of a bird photographer who will need to hold huge heavy long telephoto lenses and be able to snap them around quickly as their subject arrives.
To date I've been using ball heads, initially a Giottos, then latterly a vintage Linhof item. Bal heads are very good for making large adjustments and making quick setups. Where they fall down though is in making small adjustments, you have to unlock the ball which then releases the camera to move in every plane which is an issue when you only need to adjust one dimension. An example is when I set up for a shot which contains water, be it a lake, river or the sea, the horizon has to be level, your eyes are used to the sea being level, if it is only 0.5 degrees out of straight it is noticeable and looks odd. If I've composed a shot and need to straighten my horizon then with a ball head when I unlock it I run the risk of changing the entire composition.
One solution is a three way head, where three locking levers each adjust one plane of movement, left to right (panning), vertical (up and down) and angle (the lean of the camera from left to right). The better solution is a geared head, which is what I have just invested in. On a geared head there are still the three levers of a three way head but instead of simply unlocking they are now geared so they can be adjusted in small amounts by turning them.
I chose the Manfrotto 405 geared head. My tripod legs are Manfrotto and I find it good well made kit. The 405 is the second largest in the range of geared heads, the 410 being the smallest (it is actually officially called a Junior Geared Head) and the 400 being a heavy old monster more suited to studio work. The 405 fits neatly in the middle offering enough weight capacity for dSLRs and medium format gear.
I've just brought the 405 back from its first outing, an epic trip around the Lake District calling at every lake and I have to say I am very impressed. The gears can be unlocked to make broad adjustments before locking them back up and making small final adjustments. Once I was used to it I didn't need to take my eye from the viewfinder (or more often the angle finder) to make an adjustment which meant composition was much easier. My 1Ds Mkii is fitted with a gridded focussing screen so levelling the horizon couldn't be easier.
The other nice thing with the 405 is it takes the larger 410 quick release plate which feels really strong and inspires confidence particularly when the camera is tilted over in portrait orientation.
A very well made and useful piece of kit which I am sure will form part of my equipment for many years to come.
The alarm on my blackberry woke me at 5am, it was Sunday morning, my day off work, and I planned to be up to photograph the sunrise. I'll be honest, I'm not the best in the morning and this morning I just couldn't stir myself, I couldn't leave the warmth of my bed.
At 9am I did finally drag myself out of the house and went down to the sea, I took a few shots but surprisingly for early March the light was very harsh and nothing jumped out at me.
On my way back I passed under Valley Bridge in Scarborough, a bridge I pass nearly every day, and saw that the light was working just right, the shadow of the bridge cutting across the support.
I set up in portrait format, either side of the bridge were gardens which distracted from the bridge itself so portrait was the obvious choice. A smallish aperture kept everything sharp. I took three exposures, one at the exposure I metered to be correct, one two stops under exposed, one two stops overexposed.
When I processed the images I initially worked on the first exposure and set everything apart from the exposure. I also used Capture One's excellent perspective control to stop my verticals converging (a hazard of shooting upwards). Once I was happy with that exposure I copied across the adjustments to the other two images. Capture One then exported the three images as TIFs.
I used Photomatix to combine the three images into one High Dynamic Range (HDR) image, this meant I could capture a far higher dynamic range than my camera could normally record, the sky wasn't blown out, there was still detail in the bridge structure above.
From the Photomatix created file I then converted the image to an Infra Red style in Photoshop, added a touch of contrast and then it was finished, I hope you like it.
I've just returned from the Focus On Imaging exhibition at the NEC in Birmingham, the biggest photorgraphy industry show in the UK. There was some interesting gear there, the new Canon 1Dx and Canon 5D Mkiii were both on show, as was the Nikon D4 and D800. In time I am wondering about a change to a 5D Mkiii, it is certainly an impressive bit of kit and a whole heap lighter weight than my current Canon 1 Series bodies. I also got to try my dream, money-no-object, camera, the Alpa 12, courtesy of the nice people at Linhof Studio. Paired with a Phase One IQ180 digital back would be perfect!
What puzzled me with Focus is the number of people who appeared to have brought their entire photography kit with them, at every turn there were people with huge backpacks knocking into you, it is a good job I am a big lad, I would have been off my feet a couple of times if not. Also the number of slightly creepy old guys hanging about trying to photograph any model who appeared was a little cringeworthy, the models were there as part of demonstrations, usually of lighting equipment, which meant that the guys hammering their onboard flashes at them will have got shockingly poor photos, and will have missed what the advice and information the professionals demonstrating had to give.
Other than those two minor gripes it was a great day, I managed to restrain myself and didn't buy too much, a new double camera harness from Black Rapid which was superb, a quick release adaptor for my new tripod head (more on these two in further blog posts later this week when I've had chance to use them in anger) and some ink for my printer.
I had a free weekend so headed up to Northumberland to explore the amazing coastline up there. I headed up on Friday night and got an early night, the hotel receptionist taunted me with the prospect of a cooked breakfast from 8am onwards but I knew that by 8am I would be more than likely just packing my kit up either happy that the sunrise was good, or sad that it was too cloudy.
The alarm woke me at 4.30am, it seemed to have come around quickly!. A half hour or so drive from the hotel North up the A1 to Bamburgh Castle was easy enough, there seemed only to be me, taxis and the police about at that time of night. A quick recce saw me avoid the main car parks and park a little further up the road towards the golf course. I put my wellies on (essential gear for seascapes, there is nothing worse than wet feet) and clambered down onto the beach by the light of my headtorch, another essential. At this stage it was still pitch black and with minimal moonlight I was grateful for the floodlights on the castle itself. I took up a position on a rocky ledge, high enough to keep me out of the waves and with the tide swirling below.
I quickly set up my camera on its tripod, I like to have quite a lot of foreground interest in my shots and to keep everything sharp I used a small aperture, f16, which gave me loads of depth of field but is within the sharpest range of the lens I was using, the Canon 17-40 F4. On a full frame camera body like my 1Ds Mkii this is a very wide angle lens, you get lots in the frame. I set an initial exposure running as there was now the first glimmers of light on the horizon. Whilst this exposure was running I started to set up my filters, the sun would soon be up and with the dark rocks I would have to use filters to balance the scene.
A camera can only record so many brightness levels between black and white at any one time so if I exposed for the rocks to keep detail in them the sky would end up bright white without detail, if I exposed for the sky then the rocks would end up being completely black with no detail in the shadows. The way around this is to use filters which are pieces of coloured plastic with one end darker than the other, you line up the dark bit with the bright bit of the image and it keeps the whole shot in the range that the camera is capable of recording.
As the sky got brighter I was treated to one of the finest sunrises I've ever witnessed, the colours started off blue,
purple and pink,
into blood red and yellows
and then into orange and yellow,
a real spectacle of nature. As the sun rose I had to change filters to keep pace with the changing light, initially a 3 stop reverse grad (the darkest section in the centre, ideal for sunrises), then adding a 2 stop hard grad and then swapping that for a 3 stop hard grad.
I changed viewpoints a few times, as the tide receded I had to move to keep the water in the shot, I like how it swirls during the course of a long exposure.
By 7.30am the sun was up and the vivid colours had died back, it was time to head back to the car and up to the local butchers in Bamburgh for a very welcome meat and potato pie for breakfast. A really successful trip to a beautiful place.