]It’s been a funny old couple of weeks weather wise in Scotland. We’ve gone from sitting in the garden in shorts and t-shirt to snow, hail, torrential rain and even thunder and lightning. One thing about the Scottish climate, it certainly keeps you on your toes.
It’s been a very mixed bag for me photography wise. On one hand for astrophotography I want totally clear skies but for landscape I’d prefer a cloudy sky or at least some clouds in the sky. Clouds give you options, slow the exposure down and you can streak the clouds, or if you’re lucky enough to get huge high contrast clouds it can give a shot real drama. Clouds also help a sunset along no end; a slightly cloudy sky will always yield a better sunset than a clear sky will.
The last couple of days though have been really challenging, mainly due to the one thing that can stop play. Rain. Rain can be a real pain in the back end, water on the camera gear isn’t usually desirable although less of an issue with weatherproofed DSLR’s. It’s entirely possible to get some decent shots in rain though, you just need to adapt to the conditions. Remember too, rain can also come with extreme weather and nothing makes a better shot than extreme weather!
Certainly though, rain will stop you using filters, unless you want to sit cloning out rain drops on your shots for days on end. In these conditions I find it best to go simple. Shoot handheld, with the lens hood on and just bring the camera out when you want to take a shot. Balancing exposures will of course be an issue but there’s another weapon at your disposal here. HDR.
There, I said it. That dirty photography word, HDR. “Stone him” I hear you all cry. But wait! Why not? I’ve hardly used HDR for the last 18 months but the last couple of days it’s been a useful style to adopt. HDR is really down to personal taste but if done tastefully then I can’t see any reason why not? A bad shot will still look like a pile of poo in HDR but a good shot can look particularly pleasing if done properly.
My bad weather method of shooting HDR is as follows.
1. Low as ISO as you can, HDR always works better with a low ISO, I try to stick to ISO200 or lower.
2. Shoot 3 bracketed shots for everything, +2, 0 and -2ev. Most DSLR’s have an auto bracketing feature.
3. Turn on your high speed drive and if you have it vibration reduction, image stabilization or whatever it’s called on your camera.
4. Frame the shot, focus and press the shutter until you hear all 3 shots rattled off.
It’ll take about as long as a blink of the eye and you should have 3 shots, sharp, bracketed and not that far off the same position. Use features matching in Photomatix when you’re combining the exposures and you should be fine.
I like to bump up the contrast in Photoshop of HDR shots after the tone mapping is finished; I feel it gives a cleaner look with more tonal depth. Tone mapped images can look a little bland to me and bumping up the contrast finishes off a shot how I like it.
While you’re getting your shots though, do try to keep the lens pointed down when you’re not shooting and keep a close eye open for rain drops on the front lens element. They might not be that noticeable on the preview screen but they’ll be the cause of much wailing and gnashing of teeth if you find them once the pics are downloaded.
These shots were all taken in rain the last 2 days using a Nikon D7000 and Nikon 18-200mm VRII lens. All are 3 exposures combined in Photomatix Pro 4 and finished in Photoshop.
In the time I’ve been seriously taking photographs, one thing I’ve discovered is that a little research pays dividends before you travel to a location to photograph it. I used to just turn up where I fancied and snap away, now with a bit more experience under the belt I usually have some idea of what kind of shot I want before I get there and it’s pointless going if the conditions aren’t going to be right!
Here’s a perfect example, this is the Belhaven Bridge just to the east of Dunbar:
At this location, high tide covers the walkway to the bridge so the bridge looks as if it goes nowhere with deep water either side, it in fact, spans the Beil water as it exits into the sea at this point which you can see at low tide. So, using the Tide Times website, I knew when high tide would be so headed down there for that. Sadly, it didn’t co-incide with sunset which you could check out on Suncalc.
Arriving later than hoped the tide was peaking but not covering the walkway. I know from research that night at the high tide height was 4.6m so; it follows logic that the walkway was just on the verge of being covered so waiting for a day with a tide predicted to be higher than 5m will give me the shot I want. The perfect time to take this shot will be a high tide, 5m+ co-inciding approx 20 either side of sunset. High tide and sunset co-incide on 24th May but with a predicted tide of only 4.2m it’s not the perfect night to get the shot, better to wait a couple of weeks and try again.
Tides also play an important part of decisions where harbours are concerned. I love long exposure shots but high tide, long exposures and boats bobbing about don’t go! Nobody wants blurred boats! In this instance, it’s better to forgo the 10 stopper and use a faster shutter and wait for a lower tide, or at least the boats in the front of the shot to be grounded. Of course, you always have the option of cutting the boats out of the shot altogether, but unless there’s something else as a good focal point then this leaves you with limited options.
Clouds are another feature of nature to keep and eye on. Nice blue skies are all very well, and indeed welcome in some cases but a bit of cloud cover always helps. To try and give an example, this is the top of the Falkirk Wheel on a day with little or no cloud cover:
I know which shot I prefer…
Fast moving clouds, by which I mean heavy broken cloud, are great for long exposure photography. Huge dark clouds with little or no definition are not! Clouds can also add a lot to sunsets as the light bounces off them and in HDR photography you can create dramatic scenes with a nice cloud cover:
So, before you head off. Keep an eye on the:
And plan accordingly!
You’ve had your compact camera for ages now and while you like the convenience you’re thinking of making a step up to a DSLR aren’t you? It’s hardy surprising, 10 years ago a DSLR was very much a luxury item, you could by a car for less than most around at the time, these days with entry level DSLR’s wit kit lenses coming in at under £400 for everything you need to get started it’s becoming a more and more tempting proposition for many.
But… before you rush off to your local camera dealers, or start furiously researching best prices online, ask yourself, what do you actually want from your camera? Do you just want to take pics of your mates drunk in the pub or just a few snapshots of the kids? Then, save yourself some cash and stick with your compact, it’s more than suited to the tasks in hand. On the other hand, if you find yourself getting a real interest in photography, feeling the urge to try and take better pictures and find you use your camera a lot then go right ahead, you won’t be disappointed.
Actually, that last statement is a lie; you will be horribly disappointed and equally frustrated when you move up to a DSLR. Just because you have a “proper” camera, it won’t make you a photographer overnight. There will be a lot of learning ahead, trial and tribulations and probably tantrums and tears as you get to grips with your new toy but rest assured, its worth it all as eventually you’ll get the results you want if you persevere.
What you have to remember is, this is a proper photographic tool you’re investing in. Even a cheap one will blow most compact cameras out of the water but you have to change your way of thinking. Don’t use it like a compact; don’t stick it on auto and snap away, what’s the point of that? Your compact can do that! What I’m going to detail isn’t how to use your camera but the things you should stick at to learn how it works properly. What to focus on to help you get the most from your new camera.
First things first, what equipment do you “really” need?
Ok, so obviously, you’re digital SLR. Be in Canon, Nikon or any other makes, it might seem unimportant but think on before you buy. That Pentax might be a great deal as you eye it up in Jessop’s, but think further down the line. Is there a good supply of lenses for it? How do the prices look? It’s important as typically once you buy into one system and start to add more lenses you won’t want to switch to another. I bought into the Nikon system and have since added 9 lens to my collection, to switch to Canon and re-buy all these lens’s would be horribly expensive so choose wisely. My honest opinion, go Nikon or Canon, a safe bet all round. Try both in the shop; see what you prefer as both will be very capable performers.
DO; buy the camera with the kit lens. It’ll be cheaper than buying the body only and adding a lens to that. Most kit lens will be in the 18-55mm range which is fine for a wide range of applications and it’s enough to get you going. The camera shop will invariably try to see you a UV filter to go with your new toy. No harm in that, it’s good for protecting your lens and does cut down haze but… think about it first. If the shop is trying to sell you a branded UV filter you may be paying upwards of £30 for it. They’ll sell it mainly as lens protection and there’s no doubt that it will protect your lens front element, however which in a camera bag etc, your lens cap will also do that and while it’s in your hands, the chances of scratching the lens is minimal. I have no UV filters anymore, I had 9 scratch free lens’s and believe me I am the worst in the world for chucking them back in the bag minus lens caps. Don’t waste your money on a UV, just treat your lens with respect, look after it and if you have the cash invest in a polarising filter instead.
Used properly, a circular polariser will enhance the blues in sky, make the contrast to clouds better and cut out glare from water, shiny surfaces etc. A million times more useful than a UV. More expensive sure, but look about online, you’ll get unbranded ones that while certainly not as good as your Hoya’s etc it’ll be more than adequate for starting out and you’ll get more proper benefit from it than you will a UV.
Also invest in a tripod of sorts, how much you spend is up to you. Tripods can range from a few pounds for small spindly effort to hundreds of pounds for the all signing and dancing carbon fibre models. Go mid range, even going to about £50 will pay dividends in the end. You’ll almost certainly upgrade it if you really get into this stuff no matter what you buy. While you at it, get onto eBay and get a remote control too. Needn’t be one of the mega bucks ones, a simple IR or corded remote for a few pounds is adequate.
Finally, a bag. You’ve got minimal kit so a small bag will do right? Well, depends if you’re going to add more as you go along? Eventually, that small bag will be overflowing and you’ll need another one. I bought a Loewpro mini trekker many years ago. £60 seemed a fortune for a bag but it’s still going strong although bursting at the seams now. You get what you pay for here!
So now you’ve got your kit, what first? Well, forget auto mode. Stick the camera on Av, aperture priority mode and leave it there. Learn about depth of field, how to focus, the difference of aperture vs. focal distance etc and you’ll get a pretty good grounding. Aperture is all in photography. Take a pic of something close to you, say 2ft away at f3.5 which your lens will probably do, then take the same pic at f22. Look at what you have and you’re on the way to understanding the cornerstone of photography.
Do; use your tripod and remote switch often. Not just in low light, if you photographing landscapes get into the way of using it, even in good light with fast shutter speeds. I originally shied away from the tripod, feeling a touch self conscious using it out in public, now I rarely take a shot handheld.
Now, this next statement will have some photographers out there crying in disbelief… and this is all the more important if you’re photographing landscape, cityscapes etc… LEARN ABOUT HDR PHOTOGRAPHY. For a few quid you can buy Photomatix Pro software and you’re on your way. HDR, which spat upon by most advanced or pro photographers is a post processing technique where you combine 3 exposures, one normal, one overexposed and one underexposed to get an final composite image with an increased tonal range. In shot, it can make an average picture look stunning, especially to a beginner. Read all about it and learn how to do it. Why? Because if you do, you will be amazed at the results, so will your friends and family and that encouragement will drive you on. I love HDR; it gave me a real boost while I was learning. It let me do things my camera and kit were not capable of doing in a single shot and these results spurred me onto more. I rarely do HDR anymore as I’ve increased my understanding of filters etc but in the short term it will give you great incentive to take more and to experiment and that can’t be a bad thing can it?
Sign up to Flickr or Blipfoto. Get involved in the communities, you’ll find plenty people willing to offer advice or even some tuition to help you along. Remember to not make it all one way traffic though, the more you put into these the more you get out. Upload regularly, learn and be inspired by others and you’ll be surprised how quickly you come on.
This will all keep you gripped for months but eventually you’ll want to add more kit. It happens to us all; maybe even upgrade your DSLR? You could spend forever but spend wisely. Think about what you’re getting, what you’ll use it for and most importantly spend as much as you can afford. Cheap lenses especially are rarely good lenses.
Initially for lens purposes think about adding a 50mm f1.8 first. This is a prime lens, i.e. no zoom, it has a large maximum aperture of f1.8 to allow some great depth of field shots and most importantly, they are cheap in lens terms, around the £100 mark. Every photographer should own one.
After this look for a decent zoom, something up to around 200mm. There are a load of cheap lenses out there up to 300mm but believe me, image quality at 300mm is crap, don’t be swayed by it. I bought a Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 EX HSM, expensive yes at over £600 but I’ve never needed another big zoom since, it’s so good it does it all!
These 3 will be more than enough for most but you may also get the urge to add a wider lens at some point, a valuable addition to any landscape photographer’s camera bag. True macro Len’s are also popular, by true macro I mean 1:1 reproduction. Don’t be fooled by lens’s which have 1:2 or 1:3, these are general purpose lenses with a macro function, NOT a true macro lens. There is a massive difference, believe me.
You might also notice the huge array of filters available. I would recommend getting yourself a P series holder and some 85mm filters, starting with a set of ND and ND soft grad filters. These will fit any lens regardless of size as long as you get the adapter ring for each lens. Much more convenient that the screw in systems.
Above all, have fun with it. It won’t all be easy going, you’ll get days you look at what you took and delete the lot but stick with it, you get it in the end and every now and again you’ll get an image that actually excites you then you’ll understand why you do it!
What a week it’s been for the old sunset shots! It also helps that sunset is at a hospitable time at the moment too. Setting around 8.40 is much preferable to being out and about at the back of 10 or worse still, being sat in work watching the sun give a great visual display on the horizon!
My last post gave you whole tale of how I managed to get my favourite sunset shot of the year so far, but as I can see from my Flickr photostream, April tends to be a particularly good month for sunset shots around Edinburgh for some reason.
This was last night’s effort. The original plan had been to head down to the Cramond Island causeway, but since I’ve done that to death I headed down to West Shore Road instead to a spot further along the coast I spotted the other night which had a perfect view of the causeway, Cramond Island and the Forth Bridges behind.
To say this was a difficult shot to take would be an understatement. The sun was still high in the sky, actually just above the top of the shot. With the distance I switched to the Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 EX HSM for a bit of extra reach but actually expected it to give me horrible lens flares, which surprisingly, it didn’t. Once again, I framed up the shot with no filters, locked up the tripod and slipped on the now invaluable Heliopan ND3.0 10 stopper, the result was a pleasing enough shot with a nice gentle orange glow in the sky but it left the water a touch dull.
To combat this I slipped on the adapter ring and filter holder and slipped in the sunset filter. With this in place I could stretch the exposure out to a full 60s, after a couple of goes at setting the grad this was the final result. It took a fair bit of post process if I’m honest as shooting into the sun had brought out every single dust mark on the sunset filter, of which there were many! There was also a bit of flare I’m managed to just about eridacate with a little dodge and burn. If I were to try this again I think I’d try shading the filters to try and get rid of the flare from the shot in the first place.
The night before though also produced a surprise shot for me. With the position of the sun and ideally wanting to get it over water the Western Harbour at the back of Ocean Terminal is a great spot. The obvious shot is the old pier with the Gormley statue at the end of it, but the flats at the other side of the harbour make for a good shot too, especially if the water is still.
However, it was the pier that produced the goods. I’ve shot this before on long exposure and had a lot of issues with light bouncing back into the lens from the filters and I finally figured out why. At this location there is a shiny bare metal fence which I sit the tripod up against to get the shot, the light has been bouncing off the metal and back up into the bottom of the filters and I effectively get a reflection of the inside of the lens on the shot, just putting an arm along the fence was enough to get rid of this totally, amazing what you can figure out.
Again with this shot, I set up the shot without the 10 stopper in place, played with the filters to see which combination worked best and then screwed in the ND3.0 and slipped the other filters back on top. In this case, I’ve used the ND3.0, circular polariser, ND0.9 soft grad and sunset grad filter on a 3 minute exposure to get the colour and effect on the water. The sun was still in the sky off up to the left of this shot.
That’s the more recent shots but like I already said, April is a good month for sunsets so here’s some of the month’s other highlights!
So last nights outing was a last minute run into St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile. I literally got 10 minutes to get a few shots so working quick was the order of the night. St Giles is handy for a quick few shots as you can usually get parked pretty close, at night at least, and it’s generally a lot quieter than it is during the day.
The plan for the night was some low down shots with the extra wide Sigma 10-20mm lens on to capture some nice damp cobbles as foreground interest. In the event, amazingly after the snow and rain we’ve had in Edinburgh over the last few days the ground had all but dried up by the time I got there. Still, once your there make the most of it!
Like I’ve said, the Sigma 10-20mm lens was on the D90, tripod was set to it’s lowest and as it was dark, no filters at all on the lens. Shooting down low with the D90 isn’t the easiest, it’s one of those times you wish it had the D5000 flip out screen, not that live view is a lot of use at night but at least it’s better than having to practically lie down on the damp ground to compose a shot.
In the spirit of experimentation I went for ISO200, f10 and shot bracketed exposures so I had the option of HDR should I want it. This meant the last overexposed shot maxxed out at 30s but it’s usually fine for HDR work.
This was the first shot of the night, taken from the left hand side of the Cathedral next to the, thankfully no spat on, Heart of Midlothian. Why do people spit on it? Football nonsense no doubt.
Happy enough with this HDR version of the shot, just wish that Arnold Clark hire van on the right had moved off!
From here I moved over to the other side of Parliament Square and managed to get a nice wide angle, again with the tripod low and managing to avoid the van this time. Not an HDR conversion but looked so much better as a monochrome.
This was processed from the RAW file using an Adobe Camera Raw preset for high key B&W. It’s handy to have some presets in ACR, for those times you just don’t want to spend ages processing shots. There’s loads of sites out there to download them from an you’d be surprised at just what you can do with some of them.
So, that was about it for the night apart from a few last shots of the stature and Cathedral together with the tripod fully extended that I didn’t care for in the end.
Hopefully the crap weather is on its way out again, getting fed up doing night shots now this winter!
Let me, from the start; make it clear that I’m a huge fan of HDR photography. I love it, I love the effect it has and I very much enjoy creating HDR images. What I’m less keen on is the way HDR is heavily frowned up by some more experienced photographers.
For those of you who don’t know, HDR photography is High Dynamic Range photography. Put simply, you will take at least 3 images, one properly exposed, one over exposed and one under exposed. Then using software such as the newer versions of Photoshop or Photomatix Pro you combine all 3 exposures to create an image that contains so much lighting information that you could ever achieve with a single shot.
Not quite an accurate technical description but enough to give people who don’t know HDR a fair idea of what it is.
From the first time I ever seen an HDR image I loved the technique. It can make, in some cases, a very average photograph something special. It can rescue a shot taken in dull light and give it life and vibrance. And it’s this, which some people object to.
Me however, I cannot see anything wrong with taking an average photograph and making it a stunning photograph via a fairly simple digital technique. There are times when HDR just works and others that you should use a more traditional technique.
I’ve spent the last 5 months learning all about proper filters having invested in a p-series filter system and it’s been a huge but enjoyable learning curve. It’s also been, at times, frustrating as I tried to get to grips with this new technique. This is how the HDR doubters will take their shots and while I can see some advantages is it right to restrict yourself to only using the filter techniques when you have the creative advantages of HDR at your disposal as well?
Let me give you an example. This was a shot taken in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh. It was taken with a circular polarising filter and a ND0.6 soft graduated filter, and to me this shot was near perfect.
However, the day before I was at the same location and in more difficult lighting conditions I took another shot, which I eventually turned into an HDR.
Now, I much prefer the first shot of the 2. BUT, I was recently approached by a greetings card company looking to licence some of my images, I gave them both of these for approval and which one did they want? The HDR one.
Let’s take another example. The famous Calton Hill in Edinburgh shot at sunset, firstly, taken with a circular polarising filter and a 0.9ND soft grad.
And now for an HDR version of the same shot:
Guess which one the greetings card company wanted from these 2? Yes, the HDR one.
Now, I’m not saying that EVERY shot you take you should take with HDR in mind but why can it not be part of your photographic armoury just the same as taking a stack of filters out with you? What’s SO wrong about enhancing an average image with HDR, don’t we enhance every image we take in photo editing software somehow?
If HDR isn’t your thing, then fine, that’s your right but please, don’t dismiss the technique as a lower art form.
I’ll leave you with a few of my favourite HDR images of Edinburgh and I’d love to see what everybody else thinks about HDR in the comments?