The Landscape, A Journey for the eye.Outdoor Photography talk by Steve Whitaker
Its too easy, when you look out of your window to think, naaa! Its bloody awful out there, just look at it. Its grey, damp and foggy, what I need is a suntouched landscape so I can please myself with a pretty picture of the setting sun. Well, in some repsects you might be right but I don’t think you always should think of it like that if you want variety in your work. Mist and fog can be your best friends when it comes to landscape photography. The things to understand are more what you realise. Mist and Fog can hide certain distracting elements from the landscape such as pylons and road signs leaving you with a clean scene to work your composition out of. It causes natural depth, as the objects in the foreground are darker, sharper and more colourful, objects in thr distance get increasingly more grey, less detailed and harder to define, leaving the viewer with a clear sense of scale to the picture making it easier to read.
With that in mind, when its horribly grey outside and the furthest you can see is a hundred yards, use it to your advantage. You know that objects appear darker, sharper and more colourful the nearer you are to them so think about where that might come into play. One of the best places to practise this I think is by water. Think of yourself next to the lakeside with some exposed rocks popping out of the water and the view out to the middle of the lake is limited to a couple of hundred yards, turn your attention to the trees that line up on the shore and the one’s in the far distance will be just about visible with the more closer trees a bit sharper and defineable. With no direct sunlight about, the colours in the scene are almost always of a monotonic nature but the objects that are closer to your camera are as colourful as they should be as they are not affected by the density of the atmoshphere that mist and fog create.
The range of tones in objects in fog and mist can be almost measured like you see in a colour picker in Microsoft Word, Photoshop or Lightroom, where you see 8 choices of grey to choose from, ranging from white to mid grey to black. Its the same range of tones that painters use to get depth in their paintings, its a trick that happens naturally outside when the weather is not great, you just need to be in the right place to capture it.Learn More
Why do you need a better camera?, it’s a good a question if you consider that your phone can take a photograph which is eligible for use on the 6 o’clock news, many people think they need a better camera to take a better photograph. Technically, it is true that a better camera will give you a better photograph, and I emphasise, only technically. The fact is, good imagery comes in all shapes and sizes and a better camera won’t necessarily give you better photos just because the hardware is more expensive. In reality, if you are willing to work with your equipment, a good camera allows you to grow further as an image maker as its buttons and settings are capable of giving you more control over intricate ideas. We see great images everyday, they’re everywhere and although you might think you need a better camera to be part of it, your phone camera or compact camera can get you some pretty amazing photographs. Take the Cluthra helicopter disaster in Scotland last year, the picture that was used on the front cover of most of the newspapers the following day was taken using a phone camera, and to top it all off, it wasn’t even sharp or in focus. The impact of an image on the viewer isn’t down to hardware spec of the device you are using, its down to the capture.
Plus, there’s a down side to having a better, probably bigger camera, in that, you wouldn’t usually have it on your person like you would a phone camera so although bigger cameras take better pictures, its not always convenient to have it everywhere you go. I see great examples of photography on mobile phones and compact cameras on all sorts of websites, even on google maps. People who select images for use on the web have a different selection process to those who are choosing photographs for stock or to be printed in a magazine, where the technical aspect of a photo is to be considered due to the nature of the output at the end of the process. As well as quality, a better camera will give you larger images allowing you to make sizeable prints but, these days, only on a handful of occasions have I ever seen somebody else’s photos as prints, I mostly see them on line, on social networking sites such as Facebook and Flickr and the majority of them I see on a smart phone or laptop screen where the size is no more than a print that you would get from Snappy Snaps or Jessops.
My first camera was a Sony DSC 55e and the sensor was smaller than most phones of today, the second one I had was a Pentax Optio S4 and its sensor was also smaller than my phone camera’s sensor but the peice of glass on these 2 cameras was great and allowed me to get some great images, allowing my photography to grow as fast as I was learning. The reason for getting 3 more cameras since then is to get a more technically capable picture in order to create prints and to enter the world of stock photography and to prove your worth in these disciplines, you must own a good quality camera and lens. Firstly there’s the lens, a good lens allows you to represent exactly what you saw at the time of taking the photo, it gives good colour reproduction, its sharper and helps with chromatic aberration and distortion. Secondly, a good camera lets you take more control over your photography, speed, stability and accuracy are all improved as you spend more on a camera. The amount of pixels, the colour representation, the live view, the arrangements of buttons and the battery life, they all play a part in getting you a better photograph, a photograph which is capable of making it into magazines or on stock websites.
But, unless you are dedicated in your cause to make good images through a bigger and better camera then it will end up being no more use than your phone camera as its just simply easier and less intrusive to take a photo of something that takes your fancy. And, there’s the other aspect of lugging your big camera about on trips up mountains or on long walks, its a bit of a hindrance knowing you’ve got to open your ruck sack, get the camera out of the bag, stabilise it on a tripod and make an image, keeping rain drops off of the big piece of glass on the lens, when, in comparison, just nipping your phone out of your pocket with little risk of getting the small lens wet is far more easier and quicker and won’t leave your friends or family ‘hanging’.
The question is, do you need a bigger and better camera than the one you’ve got already. The facts are, most camera phones take good photos and most photos are seen on social networking sites so massive sensors and sharpness are not really big issues for most viewings. If you have a big DSLR camera, displaying your ‘gazillion pixel’ image on the internet will only reduce the overall quality and will only be worth its weight if you print it out for use on your wall at home etc. People with camera phones take more photos because its more accessible and are always in the right place at the right time but, camera phones take ‘snaps’ and you will only be able to take your photography so far with it, a DSLR on a tripod allows you to stand back and think about what you’re trying to achieve and refine it, allowing your photography to grow as your vision does.
All the photos in this post were taken using a 8MP Pentax Optio S4 Compact Camera the same size as a credit card with a lens just 1cm in diameterLearn More
Its that time of year again, the time when photography enthusiasts are praying for a bit of bad weather. But, the type of bad weather that has blasted the British Isles recently has left us a little bit disappointed. OK, if you live by the coast there’s been a lot to photograph, large waves, editorial snaps in the shape of dangerous situations and people risking the elements which always get the viewers hearts racing. Living in the middle of the country leaves us with few options at this time of year, the trees are bear and grass is flooded and muddy, which is not exactly pretty to say the least. A touch of cold weather will bring new opportunities, bear trees will glisten with white in the frost and flooded grassy areas will be frozen and the prospect of snow covered terrain can simplify the ‘mess’ of winter.
On a recent photography course at Ribblehead viaduct I was hoping for some of those wintry features to play a part in the game of photography, but, it wasn’t to be and so the chance of a spectacle was short lived. The whitening effect of snow and frost makes complicated scenes become easier to work out compositionaly. It also allows the viewer to appreciate the wonders that the coldest season does to our landscape. Last year we were battered by cold weather a long time before January and it looks like, at least for the forseable future, that the theme is set to continue. What we are looking for is some extremely cold nights and days which will render somewhat dull scenes with new features, such as icicles, frozen waterfalls, frost bitten foliage and frozen open water, attributes which make winter photography special. Having said that, the lack of these conditions make you work harder at your photography, seeking out new ways to portray your imagery. When the time comes and the weather turns cold, remember to wrap up warm keeping your fingers warm enough to do all the ‘fiddlery’ with your camera’s buttons and make sure you’ve chosen the right settings on your camera to maximise the prospect of a great image. In snow, use exposure compensation to override the camera’s light meter which robotically chooses the shutter speed to get more accurate results.
Keep the compositions simple and create a sense of magic by including only the thing that made you stop and take the photo in the first place. Go out first thing in the morning when there is a bettter chance of good light and long shadows work well in frost and snow as the colour of the shadows is surprisingly different to when the conditions are normal. And, don’t forget that the cold air meeting the warmer land and bodies of water will create mists and densities in the skies.
In May, earlier this year, my friend Nick and I took the chance of walking up St Sunday Crag from Patterdale with an aim to do the horseshoe, taking in Fairfield, Hart Crag and Hartsop above How and other fells on the way back down. I say ‘chance’ because it was going to be hit or miss whether or not we got the rain that had been forecast, the day before. Well, it was a sure fire hit and we got rained on pretty much from the word go. I, for one, had not prepared myself for this onslaught as well as I should have, which became evident later on in the walk when the rain turned sideways and was 10 degrees cooler than it was in the valleys below and was now falling as sleet and snow. The only thing dry was my upper body where I had a somewhat waterproof jacket on, the rest of me was soaked wet through, down to the underpants! I should have known better, being an experienced fell walker but hey hoe, it happens. At the top of St Sunday Crag, I couldn’t feel my legs any more and I got a bit worried, the weather was relentless at the time and I had no way of stopping the sleet and snow battering my legs, I felt we needed to get down from the subzero wind chill at the summit of the fell. (Nick was fine by the way, he had come prepared) There was no way I could carry on ‘splodging’ my way around like a drowned rat so the best solution was to make a move into one of the valleys below, the wind was westerly and so the decision to ‘get off the mountain’ was clear, walk down the valley to our left, Deepdale.
I’d seen this valley before, I’d captured it in one of my photos of St Sunday Crag when I climbed Fairfield from the other side from Ambleside back in 2008.
I was always fascinated with the snaking river that seemed to go on for ever through a somewhat desolate valley below but, had never walked up it. Well, due to unforeseen circumstances on this occasion, I ended up traversing the steep path down into the head of the valley to begin to walk back to Patterdale in a soggy state, but, at least out of the wind and battering sleet and snow. Morale started to improve as we started to climb down and it that point I took the first of two photos I managed to get that day. As always when you make decisions to cut short your trip because of bad conditions, the weather lifted and through the ever changing cloud cover, the sun picked out the valley beneath us, it was a great sight and as we came down onto the first bit of flat terrain about 100 meters from where we left the path at a section known as Deepdale Hause, the scenery was breathtaking. The buttresses of the northern flanks of Fairfield stand tall and majestic but with the usual sinister grimmace that northern facing crags have. At the top of the valley at Deepdale Hause, the bumpy area of land where the tributary streams collect to make the first part of the river that flows down the valley, stands about 100m above the lower part, separated by an inviting series of waterfalls, not easily defined from the top as you look down at the view but more apparent as the walk progressed. It was a surprise to see the landscape change like that. 30 minutes after leaving the fell top, we found ourselves walking down the hill next to the long series of waterfalls. The ground was soaked, everywhere you looked there was a tributary of some sort, water cascading over both grass and rock, of which I took no care passing over as my boots were already full of water. This place had the feel of somewhere not many people get to, as the footpath was hard to work out and it was about ‘making it up as you went along’. Although still wet, I had entered a comfortable stage, however, my hands were still firmly hidden under my fleece which had water dripping off it, the mission, still, was to get back to the car in Patterdale and after about another hour and a half we made it back, still not able to tie my shoe laces because of cold hands.
By encountering Deepdale by mistake on that trip, I was interested to see what it was like on a more controlled walk and in October I walked up it again in the afternoon to pick out some key spots for photography. Its not that far a walk in actual fact, the journey to the point where the steep waters join the river is about an hour and then there’s Deepdale Hause, another section above the cascading waterfalls to the right at the head of the valley which can also be reached after a steep climb, adding another 45 minutes to the walk.
The river is wide as it drops into Bridgend, and not messy either, like some of the rivers or streams I have encountered in the Lakes, affected by modern intervention. Further up, the farm houses at Wall End are settled amongst a pretty array of trees against the backdrop of the eastern fells. Wall End is a busy little spot, compositionally, you could spend all day here without trying further up the valley as it offers so much variety for a photographer. As you walk out of the built up area next to the stone walls, the scene becomes apparent with the first views of the buttresses of the Fairfield range, hidden somewhat by the northeastern flanks of St Sunday Crag and Latterhaw Crag, maybe a quarter mile ahead to the right. Its not steep at all this valley, it’s quite a steady rise but it does certainly ascend, but not much, the main climb is at the end of the valley. As the walk ‘dog legs’ around the corner the whole of the view is clear and what a great sight it is, with the river to the left and the scars, boulders and buttresses in the distance. Being October, the ferns had turned yellow and orange and were more apparent in the lower regions, than at the head of the valley, however, there are what appear as three large mounds below the crags which are completely covered in ferns, interesting, as shapes on the landscape, to try and understand as they look like they have been influenced by man, I’m not sure. The footpath stays above the river to the right and is never out of view, with you having an elevated position, allowing you to keep an eye on its shape as it flows down the valley. Its worth visiting the river, even though the footpath is rarely next to it. It’s a river with some great features, large rocks and large drops being the things to keep an eye on. Trees are few and far between but trees usually block the view of some potentially good waterfalls, but not here, its a classic outlook and the landscape provides some fantastic natural perches to ‘plonk’ the tripod onto.
The last visit here, with an aim to walk up Deepdale, was first thing in the morning at the beginning of November. I drove over Kirkstone pass having come from Coniston to walk up the valley to the locations I had found on the previous walk, and photograph them. On the way up through the farm at the bottom of the valley, there were roughly half a dozen dear just over the other side of a wall, a nice surprise in the twilight, an hour before sunrise, mysterious creatures doing what they do best, as nocturnal animals. The main aim was to just to get to the spot I had in mind to start the series of photos and so the walk was an exercise in speed and being careful as I clambered over the terrain in low light. I had forgotten the head torch, which bothered me as I thought about it driving over the tops, but it wasn’t necessary as the eyes get used to the light anyway. I was however, dazzled by the live view screen when eventually I turned it on, that early in the morning. It was to going to be a clean sunrise, or so it had predicted on the weather forecast the night before, but this was the Lakes after all, there was a layer of cloud on the fells to the north east and some rising patchy cloud over the summits, I was optimistic about the sunlight hitting the right places at the right time. Standing, raising one foot after the other on the spot to keep my feet warm, I caught this wonderful view of the scene, the sun touched the clouds at the summit at exactly the right time so it was just a case of working the situation whilst the best light was apparent. Nikon D800, 16-35vr lens
I love the fact that Deepdale is like it is, where it is and not on may people’s radars. It’s a difficult one in terms of sunrise and sunsets where there will always be harsh shadows and a high dynamic range to work with. As its a northern facing valley, only at certain times of the year will it have the classic attributes for the magic hour shots. It is beautiful place, natural, untouched and clean, there’s loads to encompass. The water runs clear, it runs down the valley over rocky river beds and so maintains an almost Alpine feel to it, features which are key to getting the raw feeling out of your photography trip. Not only is Deepdale ruggedly beautiful but it grabs your attention and you realise what a gem you’ve ended up in.Learn More
I had a job recently, photographing the sound system for Italian audio specialists, Outline.sr. The brief wasn’t clear if i’m honest until I met Rich, a nice guy who had agreed to meet me after speaking to 4 different blokes about the job. I’d agreed to do the gig the week before but I was nervous about doing it but excited at the same time, as I love music and I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see the orchestra warming up. And, being a sound geek, I was also looking forward to seeing the mixing consoles. One of the main aims was to capture the stack of speakers hanging from the roof of Leeds Arena and the other was to get a photo of chief sound engineer, Andrea. Not Mr Bocelli but the person responsible for getting the sound right for Andrea Bocelli and the orchestra, when they came on later on in the day.
Free to roam around the stadium, I tried to look for angles that were powerful and encapsulated the size and place of the event. It wasn’t always pretty, they were constantly moving seats, testing the lights and generally making things a bit of a ‘mare’, at times. When the magic happened, though, it was a pleasure to be involved in, I mean, come on, there was a full orchestra and choir playing in front of me. Lead in lines were abundant, textures through masses of chairs and glorious misty stage light.
The shot of the stage from behind the mixing desks was key to creating the understanding of what the sound guys do for the performance and it shows the equipment used to make the gig work as it should and can. It was in my best interests to gather these sort of shots to accompany the series of creative shots for the photo shoot. I used symmetry to give off the feel of power and dominance, standing in the middle of the seating was a good place to make this happen and was also a great viewpoint for my more selfish reasons. I had to be careful not to want to just take photos of the collection of musicians who had gathered on the stage, something that I relapsed on many times, though, I couldn’t help it. They must have pumped dry ice onto the area where the stage was because there was always a wonderfully smokey light to the orchestra, which I guess was the stadiums ‘trick’ to get serious atmosphere going, especially for the type of show it was. I used three different lenses to get all the shots, super wide, 50mm prime and 70-300, all used in a different manner as the subjects changed. I loved the experience, I suppose it was all capped off, though, by Andrea Bocelli walking on to join the rehearsal and perform 3 or 4 songs, the first of which was Nessun Dorma. A real thrill to see in such unnatural conditions, I mean, I would only usually get to see that if i’d have paid for it. With only 10 other people in the audience, I was blown away, just by the shows warm up performance.
I bet with place full of paying punters and all the technicians drumming up some magic, this would have been a great place to do a photo shoot, at showtime, but my job was complete and so I walked out of the arena to packed pavement of revelers waiting to see the man himself.
Taking photos of moving water is quite easy to do, the scene just has to be dark enough for the light meter on your camera to suggest a shutter speed slow enough to get creative textures in your images. Using a tripod, you contrast the static objects in the scene against the textures you’ve created by having a slow shutter speed. But what if the length of exposure in your particular photograph is causing unwanted results or images that are now too extreme and don’t represent the outcome you had in mind, after all, you still want your picture to have some element of class to it rather than just proof that you have acquired those essential skills of advanced photography.
For starters, you don’t decide how much light is in the scene, unless you are strobist, so the camera’s light meter does a useful job of suggesting a shutter speed for you, based on how much light it see’s in the scene. The light meter on my Nikon D800 decided that the picture above was to have a 4 second exposure, which, could have been overridden in manual mode but I trust the cameras ability to give a me a good light reading, one that I can work with.
Next, your aperture choice can also influence the suggested shutter speed that the light meter calculates but you know that reducing the aperture to get a faster exposure or faster shutter speed reduces the depth of field and the picture suffers from blurred areas so you keep the desired aperture where it is, on these photos, all taken from the same spot and on the tripod, the aperture was set to F11.
So, to get the correct shutter speed or exposure time, I use the Nikon’s awesome ISO controls on my D800 to get the results I want. ISO helps the user to get a controlled photograph, a historical problem for most cameras has been that high ISO’s leave you with grainier images. More and more modern camera’s ISO features are much more usable today than before. The problem has been, that increasing ISO levels causes undesirable photographs. Well, whilst being generally true, this has got infinitely better and I suggest you tap into it whenever you can.
In these shots of the river above Coniston, Lake District, I adjusted the ISO level up from its desired level of ISO 100 in increments of which were based on the results of the last image when viewed in the camera’s live view screen. Each of the photos from top to bottom have an increasingly faster shutter speed to show the different types of movement you get when you fine tune your exposure times. Once i’d taken the first photograph, I basically zoomed into the image on the display screen and looked at the movement against the rocks and decided I should push up the level of ISO to a setting where I could see clearly, on the readout, that it had changed the suggested exposure time or shutter speed length. By doing this I was able to control the time of the exposure to a more pleasing effect for the image I was trying to create.
In the first image, the technique is over used as the blurring of the water has turned out to be too soft for this particular scene. Having said that, in many peoples eyes that might be great but not for me, in this instance. As the ISO level was increases the spattering of the moving water as it criss-crossed its way down the gully beneath me, became more believable. The identification of the continued randomness of the falling water is captured differently at alternative shutter speeds.
When you can tell where the water has come from and where it is going, you can then read more about the image than you can if the technique of blurring moving water is just an exercise in your ability to capture the scene technically. The quicker the movement, the more detail you see. So, having said that, why not just ‘take the bloody photograph’ with a high shutter speed so that everything is caught still? Well, lets not forget that I am still trying to create an image with movement and using a technique to do it, besides, the camera couldn’t possibly give me a pin sharp shot of everything with the ISO set to 100 because I said at the beginning of this blog, that the camera suggested I should use 4 seconds to expose the scene correctly. My point is to take a more detailed control of your source images.
The last image (above) is the one I like the most, as it displays the movement of the water in a creative way to enhance the photograph but at the same time shows the water as a powerful element in the photo, its relentlessness and its potentially damaging force as it cascades over the rocks. You can see that its fast moving, you know which parts you would avoid if you were to try and navigate yourself across it and you know how deep it might be. So, to summarise, push the ISO level up on a modern camera and you won’t be disappointed with the results unless its towards the extremes of the ISO level on your camera, then, you will feel the wrath of a horribly grainy picture which is deemed unusable.
The ISO level on the final photo was ISO 1250 on my Nikon D800, on most DSLR camera’s today using an ISO of this level renders the photo very usable indeed. To add, in post processing using Lightroom, Photoshop or other photo editing software, noise generated by using your camera with a high ISO level can be reduced to nice effect using the noise reduction tool in the developing stage. Different camera’s produce different results but its definitely worth exploiting, if you don’t like the results of high levels of ISO in your work then try making the images black and white as grain is more acceptable in monochrome.
By for now and thanks for reading
On a recent trip to Berlin in Germany I got the opportunity to spend the afternoon doing some street photography, not somethng I usually do with the ‘big’ camera as I usually only take it on trips where i’m doing landscapes. With the camera set to aperture priority and ISO auto, the only worry i had to was to set the depth of field in my shots. My Nikon D800 handles low light really well when in ISO auto mode so I wasn’t worried about noisy shots. There’s loads to see in Berlin city centre around Alexanderplatz, street artists, hot dog sellers, food stalls, beggers, commuters, tramps and trams, the list goes on. One thing that was apparant at Alexanderplatz was the light, it was fantastic and I didn’t know why. For a while in the afternoon there were hardly any shadows at Alexanderplatz, it was amazing and I wondered what it was that was doing it, the sun was high in the blue sky and reflecting directly off of the Park Inn hotel so as well as casting direct light onto the square it was also casting indirect light onto the glass panes of our hotel, the Park Inn. This was causing some realy interesting things which i’d never really noticed before, people were walking with double shadows as if they were stood on a football pitch under floodlights, the darkest corners of the fountain were superbly lit and peoples faces were backlit and sidelit at the same time. For a time it was like using special strobist equipment, in post production I’d usually attack the fill light in these type of shots to bring out shadow detail but it was definitely not necessary with these pictures, something that I have learnt from and will look for in other cities and towns when the sun is high in the sky.Learn More