The Landscape, A Journey for the eye.Outdoor Photography talk by Steve Whitaker
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.
I’ve known for a while that you should work your own turf, get to know it, learn how it looks in different seasons and try and make it work for your photography. The thing is, although I live in a very rural part of Yorkshire there are many problems with the landscape around my home, pylons, being the number one moan. There are loads of valleys, small hills and woodlands but most are spoilt when you are up high looking down at the vista. Its such a shame but i’ve taught myself to look harder at the scene, move into different positions, find compositions within compositions, its more of a challenge but I find it makes me think differently and for the better. When I started taking landscapes I would usually go somewhere up high to get mist in the valleys and photograph the sun rising, something that’s slowly moving out of things to do in landscape photography. But, now in my journey to get better at this I end up in places where the overall success is smaller, percentage wise than ever before. Old quarries are worth a visit but usually too bare to offer anything colourful or intriguing. Footpaths through fields are quite attractive with some good features but sometimes spoilt by a house covered by scaffolding and viewpoints, spoiled by a main road passing through the middle. The thing is you’ve got to keep going and realise that even the most unworkable parts of your area may hold a small but very attractive scene. It all comes together as you walk around, you’ve found the main aspect to the photo and then moving into position to find a great angle where all the compositional elements ‘jigsaw’ together in harmony. It is more rewarding finding these gems than it is bagging a Durdle Door or a Black Nab, again.
I’ve probably done or being involved in 5 or 6 band shoots in some form or other, the most recent was for a local band in Huddersfield and on this particular occasion I was invited to a practce and then aim to do a few organised shots in and around the practice room afterwards. I find that you’ve just got to get stuck into band photoshoots, let yourself go a little bit. Don’t worry about what the band are doing, just get into some really weird angles, cause a fuss, trigger some smiles wiuth your actions and try and make every shot a bit different from the last. Twist the camera on its pivot with a slow shutter speed of about 1/3 sec, put the camera on timer and pop it on the floor and take some upward shots of the band members strutting their stuff. Use techy foregrounds such as leads and mixer desk buttons and sliders. Blur the foreground or blur the background, anything goes. For the organised shots theres always a theme to it and it usually comprises of 4 blokes looking miserable stood next to each other or behind one another and then you get the odd occasional smile from one of them because one of them has broken wind or burped, they’re musicians not actors so just order them about and get into weird angles. As the photographer you’ve got to a bit quirky, get them to like you so that they hold their heads up high in a confident way, use chairs to get elevation, selectively focus on one of the band members try F5 whilst they are stood in a line behind one another. In all fairness, the diversity of the collection of shots that you give to the band is proven in post processing. When I did the photoshoot for ‘Sons of O’Hara’ I went mad in Lightroom with the default presets, split toning was a really good tool, over emphasised black and whites, bleach bypassing, monotonic images of varying tones used to diversify the collection of images that, when put next to one another, have a random appeal. Not one shot looks like the last and that was the aim, to give the band a collection of shots that would please all and give them a wide range of images to choose from when they use them in the future for advertising.
There’s nothing more delightful than seeing a town or city as day turns to night, the transition is largely unnoticed by many as it comes and goes so quickly for those who are trying to be somewhere. For those who can just sit and admire the scenery, dusk is a great time to take that special city scene photograph. From my experience the night shot is not actually taken at night, depending on the cloud cover and the direction of the fading sunlight the perfect time to take a night shot is between 10 and 25 minutes after sunset. On a day where there is no cloud at sunset the bluish hues are a perfect combo for the artificial street lights which glow white to orange as it gets darker. If you look to the east you’ll notice it becomes darker quicker so if you are pointing your camera that way then the perfect time to get that photo is usually earlier than the photo taken towards the west where the light is lighter. When cloud is apparent the time for the perfect balance between artificial light and daylight is slightly earlier but be aware of broken cloud as through the gaps are potentially bright areas which can affect the dynamic range of the shot, as always its a compromise. Take your photo too late and you will encounter garish oranges and yellow and take your shot too early your sky will be too light and the street lights and shops will not be contrasting enough for impact. If you use a small aperture then you can get your street lights to look like star bursts, the smaller the aperture the more of an effect you will get. You will also find that the right time for the night shot is also the right time for light trails, car lights moving through scene writing light to your photo, always look out for the way that traffic moves through the scene, it can sometimes add something special to the composition and even spruce up the balance in compositions. Enjoy your night photography and don’t be fooled by going out at any time of the night, there’s a lot more to this than darkness.
I’ve not written a blog for a while, basically i’ve had other things to do, it’s as simple as that. Music, my other passion has taken over for the last few months as i’ve been writing music for a new speaker company called Damson Audio. I was kinda lucky to get the job if i’m honest, it was a bit of a chance thing that happened but hey hoe, shit happens. The video is a promotional advertisement for the Oyster, Damson Audio’s latest speaker to hit the shops, it is being launched at the moment and will be shown at the Gadget Show next week. It boasts revolutionary sounds and is a great accompaniment for your smart phone or laptop device.
The video itself is a take on the old 1984 advert for Apple computers where a room full of drones are being dictated to but then a girl runs in and smashed the big screen with a big hammer, this time its the Oyster speaker which is thrown at the screen. I produced the music for this video using Ableton Live where you can drop the video into the timeline and build sounds against it as the individual frames are shown when you pause the progress of the video and sound.
Editing music has so many things in common with the way that you edit a photograph, the relationship between the 2 mediums comes together at the editing stage for me. Distortion and clipping is like blowing out whites and blacks, EQ levelling is like using curves to improve contrast and brightness, de-essing is like desaturating certain colours, quantizing is like lens correction. The list goes on but it gets much deeper than this, the compositional elements of a piece of music can be recognised in a photograph such as simple piano and vocal track can be likened to a black and white photo of a tree standing alone on a hillside. A busy, colourful long timelapse of a cityscape from above where there are many things to look at and see is like a heavily produced electronic piece with lots of changes and finally an orchestra playing a beautifully dynamic ensemble is like an autumnal scene in the lake district with moody skies, colourful heathers and mist covered mountains in a well known backdrop. The more you produce and edit both of these mediums the more obvious the connotations actually are.