Does landscape photography always have to follow the “rules”?
A few images from the couple of hours I spent pottering on Hackpen Hill at the weekend.
There’s a load of different ways to produce a black and white digital image (I shan’t get into film photography today!) and each has its proponents and champions. Each also has its benefits and drawbacks and I have always felt it better to have a suite of conversion tools at my disposal, picking what is appropriate at any given time.
One that I’ve used rarely in the past is the Gradient Map but I came across mention of it when flicking through a magazine this weekend so decided to have another look at it.
Applying a Gradient Map adjustment layer, using default settings and a black to white gradient produces a decent result out of the box with this image taken on the local canal this morning.
For many images I think that this simple method will produce perfectly acceptable black and white images with a great range of tones and the minimum of fuss.
But that isn’t the end of the Gradient Map tools powers as I was finding out the further I read. It is possible to map the colour tones in other ways than simply mapping them onto a continuum form black to white. How about using a continuum from yellow to blue? Stick with it, as this is the basis of split toning and whilst it appears to have fallen out of popular usage recently, at least on photo-sharing social media outlets, it is an extremely powerful technique that can produce some really satisfying images if used properly.
The split-tone version (above) was created using two Gradient Maps and a Levels adjustment as shown in the screenshot below.
The first Gradient Map produced the basic black & white conversion as shown at the top of the page. The second Gradient Map adjustment layer was adjusted so that the tones were mapped on a continuum from blue to yellow (I have not included detailed how-to as there’s lots of demonstration on t’web). At 100% the effect was rather overwhelming but by dropping the opacity down to 29% the toning was much more subtle although it left the image looking a little flat and lacking in contrast. A simple Levels adjustment layer solved the problem bringing the punch back into the image.
Now, toning isn’t to everyones taste but I enjoy having another tool at my disposal and there’s no doubt that used selectively it can be a very effective method of producing variety and creative options. The red/blue toned version above puts me in mind of some of the copper-toned prints I produced in my Mum’s kitchen back in 1978. However, my fingers aren’t stained, I haven’t accidentally bleached a sixteen inch wide stretch of her kitchen worktop and there’s no bottles of toxic chemicals under her sink!
So there we have it. A quick play with Gradient Maps and hopefully some ideas for your own investigations. Enjoy!
I woke up this morning, early and with an asthma attack brewing, but my first thought was not “where’s my inhaler?” but rather “I am going to take an unconventional image for my 365 today”.
This 365-lark rather gets to you after a while it seems! This is my 144th consecutive, daily image since I started last October and Max, the guy who introduced me to the 365 group, was right when he said that it gradually becomes just a part of your day rather than something you have to consciously think about.
A Lensbaby Sweet 35 is not exactly an obscure lens but then again it’s probably not entirely mainstream either; more of a niche interest. The paucity of sharp elements in these images (there are some, I checked) is definitely against the accepted norm of enthusiast photography though. I was also, basically shooting into a very harsh, direct sun reflecting off the glass and steelwork which definitely flies in the face of perceived wisdom about keeping light behind you or to the side. Then there’s the irregularly sized images in the triptych, they increase slightly left to right with the second being slightly wider than the first and the third slightly wider than the second. I used a fairly hard, dark vignette to really pull the eye into the middle of the triptych too.
I’m going to enjoy reading, and learning from, any comments todays offering elicits!
That restless quality that I’ve spoken of before doesn’t quieten down it seems just because we’ve already taken on a bumper load of new challenges in the past eighteen months. This need to constantly seek fresh things to do though does cause me some unease. You’ve heard the phrase “Jack of all trades, Master of none”? I do have a tendency towards being a very competent Jack, which is fine as it ensures I always have something to do and do not have any real excuses for being bored. Every now and then though I do wonder what it would be like to be a “Master”.
But, onwards and, hopefully, upwards! During the last few weeks of further, enforced house arrest, as I quaintly describe it, I started to dabble with textures and flowers. I then gave in to a long standing itch and bought a Lensbaby. I then went out and purchased some props for future indoor projects. And all the while I’m charging the drone batteries every five days in the hope I can get it out and shoot some more aerial images.
Time at the computer currently, consists primarily of Photoshop, working on processing the flowers and on learning how to use textures. Time on the iPad is mainly reading on the same subject and of course the occasional blog post. I write most of these posts using Notes on my iPad and then copy and paste into the blog on the computer, tweak as needed and add any images that are required.
I’m keeping my hand in on Pictures to Exe too. My first submission to the UPP AV Group is with the coordinator and goes out to the group members on 1st April I believe. Having picked the threads of PTE up again after a four month lay off I want to ensure I use the software regularly so I don’t have to keep relearning the basics. It’s the regular use of software that helps cement the learning for me as I suspect it does for many of us. I also had a quick play in Final Cut Pro the other day, cutting together some time lapses from my iPhone, for no reason other than to keep my hand in.
As (or perhaps if) the better weather arrives so concerns over my chest and lungs will reduce and I will be able to get out for longer periods. The trick will be to keep as many of these activities as possible in play. One idea is to try to combine them if possible. Thus for example, I have an idea for an AV featuring urban landscapes shot with a Lensbaby, which I’ve tentatively called “Urban Blur”. This will incorporate shooting with an AV in mind, something I’ve not yet done, as well as practicing using the Lensbabies and of course using Pictures to Exe together with all the ancillary tasks that necessitates. The still-life and texture work will need to be actively confined to those days when I absolutely have to stay indoors.
Anyway, enough of my random musings. I guess this post is basically a diary note for myself but the discipline of writing it has helped me to clarify some thoughts in my increasingly befuddled brain.
I promised some blurry images and here they are. All bar one taken this morning on my very first trip out of the house with the Lensbaby Edge 50 optic. Next misty morning it will be the turn of the Sweet 50 optic!
Unless stated, all images are Nikon D800E with Lensbaby Edge 50 wide open – gotta maximise the blur! Common sense suggests starting with the lens stopped down a little to make focusing easier but I will leave that for another day. Today I just wanted to embrace the blur!
To start though, these first two images hopefully show the creative potential of the Lensbaby Edge. In a “straight” photograph the plane of focus runs across the image. In the picture above taken with a Fuji X-T20 the 20 on the road is in sharp focus as is the 30 on the road sign alongside. Both images are shot from basically the same spot at the same focal length and same aperture (although a few hours apart). In the first image above the plane of focus has been twisted to run vertically along the lamp-post. This is the Edge 50’s unique selling point, the ability to move the plane of focus wherever you like (with practice) around the frame.
This image of a tree clearly shows the narrow strip of focus produced by the Edge 50. Nikon D800E and Lensbaby Edge 50 wide open. With the image open in Photoshop I applied a High Pass layer on a fairly large radius to show where the focus lies.
Anyway, lecture over, here are the rest of the images from this morning wander around the block just as the mist was starting to clear. It’s an eclectic mix but all shot within a few hundred yards of my front door.
A simple snap and certainly not the sharpest or most technically accomplished image I’ve created but it does I think demonstrate something that often gets overlooked in enthusiast photography these days.
The importance of seeing.
We all look at things, but how often do we really “see”? It’s the same distinction as between hearIng and listening; one is a passive act and the other, to be effective, needs to be active and deliberate.
I crossed the road and two steps ahead of me was the pavement sign informing us that it was a twenty minute walk to the town centre from that point (an optimistic expectation but we will let that pass). Simultaneously, someone crossed the road from the other direction and I “saw” an image of feet walkIng away towards town with the sign in the foreground. As I walked passed I turned and lifted the camera just before the feet disappeared. It was pure instinct and the whole episode from “seeing” to making the photograph was over in a flash, certainly much quicker than it’s taken me to write it down!
Is it a great photograph? No, of course not and it was never meant to be such. Rather it was a moment in time, captured and preserved through a digital medium and despite its banality it was a part of my life experience. Capturing it as I have though also acts as a digitally tangible affirmation that I am still using my eyes to see and not merely to look. That the creative part of my brain is still functioning and interacting with that part of the cerebrum that controls mechanical functions is important to me as is the fact that my eyes still see.
We can’t all be great photographers but we can all be the best that we can be and that starts with having “seeing” eyes.
I’ve pinched the title for todays post from a photographer-friend of mine to describe the latest twist in my photographic journey. Perhaps twist isn’t the right phrase, just adding another branch might be a better way of describing it.
I’m a landscape photographer primarily and so the recent brutal weather, at a time when the doc isn’t happy for me to be out in it, has been very frustrating. It’s brought home that I need an alternative outlet for my creativity for those times when the outdoors is closed to me.
There is also the 365 to consider. Taking a picture a day has been challenging but, touch wood, I’ve kept the variety of images fresh even if I have had to reuse some locations several times. I have used a variety of cameras – DSLR, mirrorless, compact, drone and even a phone. I have used lenses from 23mm to 300mm and shot at all times of the night and day. I do still have some ideas for the coming weeks but unless I can regain full mobility I will be struggling come the Summer.
Then, the light bulb moment.
The image of the day for 4th March (below) was, as you can see, heavily manipulated. I started with lovely early morning misty light and transformed the original shot by use of textures, blending modes and layer masks in Photoshop. This naturally, or at least naturally enough for me, led me to researching the subject online, purchasing an on-demand course, producing the images in my Floral Dance blog post and ultimately on the Definitely Dreaming website from where I stole the title to this piece.
As I mention in Floral Dance it’s a while since I seriously played with floral photography, indeed I discovered that it was way back in 2008! That’s pretty much right at the beginning of my digital photography journey. Back then my floral images were very clean and literal but as you will have seen in the Floral Dance my current approach is dramatically different.
Embracing the blur refers primarily to Janet’s love for the Lensbaby optics, of which she has a good sized collection I believe. These quirky lenses were not new to me but I last used one in 2016 and hadn’t really kept up to date with developments in the Lensbaby world. So, of course that meant another diversion around the internet which ended up on the Wex website, where else, and the purchase of not one, but two Lensbaby optics along with the Composer Pro II which is needed to mount these optics onto the camera.
They won’t arrive until the end of the week so I’ve plenty of time to read and research further, and of course look at some of the fascinating Lensbaby imagery online. I will blog my progress of course but if you notice a flurry of blurry images then at least you will know why!
Forewarned is forearmed!
UPDATE: delivery brought forward – due today, three days ahead of schedule!
Firstly, apologies if you are of an age where the heading means something to you as you will now have that wretched tune stuck in your head all day.
I looked back through my files earlier today and found that the last time I seriously played with floral photography was in 2008/9! Thats pretty much right at the beginning of my digital photography journey. Back then my floral images were very clean and literal (see example here from almost ten years ago.
My objective back then was a crisp, clean image. Good depth of field and bright vibrant colours were the order of the day and clean, neutral backdrops. I also shot a lot with off-camera flash.
The one constant is my use of a tripod. When working indoors with cut flowers it makes total sense to me to put the camera on a tripod and to move the subject to explore different compositions and possibilities. I am using natural light and reflectors more these days and, as with the Pink above, am also using a simple torch to “paint” light on to the subject.
As you can see my current approach is a world away from where I started. Nothing wrong with the literal approach of course but over time my artistic vision, if I can call it that, has evolved and changed.
It was the poor weather that influenced my return to the floral dance (sorry, couldn’t resist) this weekend. There are only so many shots I can take from the bedroom window; although ironically todays 365 image was shot from the bedroom window! I borrowed a single stem from the wife’s floral ….. display and put it in a small milk bottle. An old wooden box acted as backdrop for some images and as the surface for others. I lit each image simply with a handheld torch and played with depth of field often shooting the lens wide open.
The secret to this weekend’s images though has been the use of textures. Saturdays image (above) was given a very dark treatment and the texture confined basically to the background so the bottle and flower are basically unaffected by the overlay. The first image from Sunday (below) took an image of the same flower and blended it with a shot of some bluebells taken with a Lensbaby Spark a couple of years ago. This background image was given a strong radial blur and a boost in saturation to achieve the effect you see. It’s not subtle, but it works I think.
The image at the top of the page was produced this afternoon and is a product of a short course entitled “Enhancing Your Images With Textures” from Definitely Dreaming (in the interest of transparency, Janet is a friend of mine). Whilst none of the Photoshop skills were new to me what was so useful about the course was the way in which it helped turn on the proverbial light bulb; video 7 is all about a thought process and approach to editing and whilst watching that the penny dropped (how many metaphors can I cram into one paragraph?) I am now far more confident in the application, choice and use of textures and all for a very modest fee and an afternoon watching, listening and practicing.
I am sure I shall return to the floral dance (sorry!!) again in the near future!