alan frost photography

in monochrome with occasional colour lapses

Posts from the ‘photo exercises’ category

Lake District 121 – camera technique at Wasdale Head

On the first morning of my 121 workshop with Paul Gallagher in The Lake District, Paul was keen to establish my camera technique and the typical settings I used. He was not familiar with the Olympus OMD EM5, as he used a Nikon D800E for his digital work, although his preferred system of choice is medium format 5 x 4 Ebony film camera which I was to see in all it’s glory a few days later.

We decided to drive to Wastwater and Wasdale Head.

Wastwater
Wastwater – looking towards Great Gable

I explained that for landscape work I would use the lowest ISO setting available. In the case of the EM5 this was ISO 200. I would also use Aperture Priority. This way the shutter speed would be automatically selected by the camera. I explained that by using ‘live view’ on the OMD, I would preview the image by showing a ‘shadow and highlights’ warning; flashing blue for underexposed areas and flashing orange for overexposed areas or blown highlights. I would then use the exposure compensation dial to make any adjustments in order to balance the exposure. If the dynamic range of the shot was too great for the camera sensor, then it might require the use of a neutral density graduated filter to balance the exposure of say a bright sky with a dark foreground. I told him I would tend to rely upon the camera’s auto focus, rarely resorting to manual focus.

Believing this was a tried and tested way of taking landscape photographs I was a little taken aback when Paul suggested that it would be much easier to use manual settings for the exposure and to always focus manually. He went on to explain that by setting the aperture to say f11 or f16 to maximise the depth of field, the shutter speed could be adjusted to obtain the optimum exposure setting using the histogram as a guide. He was fully in favour of exposing to the right, but suggested that the histogram should not be right on the point of clipping the highlights, as this would leave no room for finer adjustments when it came to post processing. This made perfect sense to me and the exposure compensation dial would no longer be needed. If the histogram was not acceptable, a quick change to the shutter speed would bring about the desired result.

Wastwater screes
Looking across Wastwater to the Screes

Manual focusing is very straightforward with the EM5. Again in using live view, the instant the focus ring was turned on the lens, the screen would magnify the area of view by a factor of 5x. The amount of magnification can be changed in the settings menu. Using the arrow keys on the back of the camera it was easy to select an area of the composition where pin sharp focusing was critical. This would normally be a subject in the foreground. Having preselected a small aperture opening the depth of field should ensure that the background at infinity would also be in sharp focus.

With the camera on the tripod I used the 2 second timer function so that I could press the shutter button and eliminate any camera movement which would spoil the image. Further I turned off the in camera Image Stabilisation as this can ‘fight’ the lack of movement of a camera mounted on a tripod and try and ‘compensate’ for movement when none is actually present. Don’t ask me  how or why, or for a technical explanation, just turn the IS off if using a tripod.

Paul was less concerned about setting the aperture to the optimum opening for the lens, which in the case of some my lenses would be f5.6, as this would rarely give the desired depth of field. Don’t worry about using a much smaller aperture he said. It’s more important that all parts of the image are in focus, even if the lens was not at its very sharpest aperture setting. Again this advise made perfect sense, so I was already benefitting from his knowledge and expertise and it was still only day one.

With photography over for the day but before heading back to our hotel in Keswick, I visited one of the smallest churches in England – St Olaf in Wasdale Head. This church holds special memories for me and in particular the inscription in the glass of a leaded light window. The words are taken from Psalm 121 and the etching is of Napes Needle on Great Gable. A fitting memorial to all mountaineers and climbers who have visited this beautiful part of the world.

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The etching and inscription in St Olaf Church at Wasdale Head

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Something completely different

My approach to land and seascapes is I think a fairly traditional one and it’s an approach that works for me. However I do see lots of black and white images using slow shutter speeds and taking a more minimalist view of the landscape. Concentrating on a small area can often result in something which has an abstract ‘feel’ to the image. Accordingly there are few if any reference points and little or no sense of scale. I guess this results in the viewer trying to discern what they might be looking at, a sense of mystery perhaps, which in turn begs the question – ‘what was the photographer trying to say?’ when he or she took the shot.

So I thought I would have a go a this approach myself. Its good to experiment, your eyes start to see things differently. Consequently I returned to a particular location as I could pre-visualise a subject matter which might work for this ‘new’ approach. I also adopted a different technique using a 10 stop ND filter to slow the shutter speed right down. This of course required me to use a tripod which also slows down the photographer. No bad thing in itself as you spend more time composing the shot and getting the right camera settings. The latter was more challenging than the former, as I had never used a 10 stop ND filter before. The Hi Tec filter I was using left a horrible colour cast but this didn’t matter quite so much as I knew I would be converting the image to black and white.

Shown below is the result of me trying to do something completely different. A 30 second exposure and I used Lightroom and Silver Efex Pro2 for post processing.

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Remnants

For my first attempt at this style of photography I am quite pleased with the end result. Is it something I would like to do more of?…….I’m not sure but I enjoyed doing something just a little bit different, well for me anyway.

Oh and if you are wondering, the photograph is the remains of a jetty in Langstone Harbour in Hampshire.

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Landscape photography course with Paul Gallagher

Later this month I am hoping to go to The Lake District for a short course in black and white landscape photography with Paul Gallagher. The plan is to spend a couple of days in the field taking images and then have a further day back at Paul’s studio post processing and printing some of the shots taken. Although Paul is principally a 5×4 large format photographer he also has intimate knowledge of digital photography and runs courses for the Epson Print Academy. Details of all his workshops are available through Aspect2i, a company he co-founded.
I have already spoken to Paul on the telephone a couple of times and his enthusiasm for his subject is very evident. I am looking forward to meeting him and I am sure I will learn a huge amount both with the camera but also in front of a computer.
Its impossible to say what the weather will be doing but I can at least confidently predict where and when the sun will rise and set on any given day. There are many ‘apps’ which provide this information but the most comprehensive is The Photographers Ephemeris which can be downloaded for use on a Mac or PC, iPad, iPhone or Android device. I am the first to admit that I have not mastered everything it can do, but very simply you can search for any location throughout the world, then drop a pin on the desired position using a variety of map styles. You then select a date and it will give you sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moonset times as well as their position in the sky at these times. This is all too important and critical information for any land, sea or cityscape photographer. It’s a great way to plan ahead to make sure the light is going to be in the right place at the right time. It doesn’t guarantee a successful image but at least it improves your chances. There are some excellent tutorials on the TPE website which I must spend some time looking at, so that I can make the best use of this invaluable application.
Wast Water in The Lake District courtesy of The Photographers Ephemeris
I shall report back on the course at some time in the future and it goes without saying that I shall look forward to posting some of my images taken in The Lake District. Hopefully I will get to Wast Water and Wasdale Head, one of my favourite places in this beautiful and at times dramatic part of the world. I can’t wait!

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‘To flip or not to flip?’ that is the question

In the past couple of weeks it has been suggested by two individuals on two separate occasions that I should consider ‘flipping’ one of my images. Their comments applied to two different photographs so it set me thinking whether or not I should apply this post production technique, as it’s not something I had ever considered doing before.

Obviously this technique could not be applied to an image with any writing or symbols, which when reversed, would no longer be legible and it would be clear to the viewer that they were in fact looking at the original image in a ‘mirror’. Neither could it apply to a recognisable landmark as it would no longer be a true representation of what the viewer expected to see. However if the image did not fall into either of these categories then what would be wrong with flipping? If the result is more pleasing to the eye, even though it no longer represents reality, then what’s the issue? After all the vast majority of my images are converted to monochrome because thats how I want my images to look. No one ‘sees’ in black and white so this change is applied for visual imapct. If I wanted my photographs to represent what people would actually see with their own eyes then frankly nearly all post production work would be a ‘no go’ area and even the choice of lens can distort what the eye actually sees, but thats a topic for another day.

Well, the only way to find out would be to try ‘flipping’ and to then compare and analyse the results.

The example I have chosen for this exercise is a shot taken at East Head in Wittering of wind swept sand dunes. The first image is the original photo followed by the flipped version. No other changes have been made.

Sand dunes at East Head

…..and now the flipped version.

Sand dunes at East Head - version 2 'flipped'

So which one works best? Well in my view the flipped version is the better photograph, it’s more visually pleasing. So why should this be?

In my opinion its down to two main factors. Firstly when we look at an image our first inclination is to start from the left hand side and our eyes then move to the right hand side. Our eyes naturally follow this path as we read from left to right……it therefore feels comfortable to look at an image in this way. Our eyes are also drawn to the brightest areas of an image; in this case the sand in the lower half of the picture. So when the image is flipped, the bright area is now on the left and not on the right. The lead in lines of the sand, take our eyes to the right, the grasses are also being ‘blown’ from the left, and our eyes find it much easier to move around the image. In the original shot this does not happen and our eyes find it difficult to settle, with the result that we see a ‘busy’ image and one that really doesn’t work that well, or not as well as it could when flipped. As there is nothing else in the image which would give the ‘flipping’ game away, the final result is in my opinion perfectly satisfactory and an acceptable form of post manipulation.

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Changing light – an exercise

One of the ‘mini’ tasks we were set during the ‘People and Places’ course at West Dean College was to photograph the same scene at different times of the day to see how the light changed and how this would affect the final image. It’s a common thing to be asked to do but as I had never done it before I was keen to see the results and to try and learn something from them. I chose to photograph the River Lavant which runs through West Dean Gardens.

The first shot was taken at 4.40 pm. Keep in mind all these photos were taken at the beginning of August, so the sun was still quite high even at this time of day. Whist this a pleasant shot of the scene the quality of the light is very even and quite poor.

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The second shot was taken on the same day but about two and a half hours later at 6.14pm, so the sun was now much lower. For me this image is a great improvement on the first but it’s still not what I might call a ‘keeper’.

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The next morning I returned to the same position. The sky was generally overcast but there were breaks in the clouds. I just hoped the sun would break through. The third shot in this series was taken at 8.52am. It’s flat and there is no question in my mind that it’s the poorest of all the images. Here it is.

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Two minutes later at 8.54am and the final shot was captured. The break in the cloud cover had materialised and the early morning sun did its magic on the scene. David Noton, a first class UK based landscape photographer often refers to ‘waiting for the light’….in fact he wrote a book with this line as its title. How very true this saying is to the world of photography. For me this is the best of the four but you may have different ideas, in which case do post a comment.

River Lavant at West Dean

It was very definitely a worthwhile exercise and I would recommend it to any photographer. Time of day and the ever changing light are essential ingredients for a good image, particularly a landscape.
I could not complete this entry without an image in black and white. So I converted the last shot in Silver Efex Pro2. Is this the best of the bunch I ask?

River Lavant at West Dean B&W version