Georgian Bay

SEE THE LIGHT - THE CRUCIAL ELEMENT IN GREAT IMAGES

I have to admit something.  I’ve been stubborn.

Ever since I picked up my camera a few years ago and started to pursue the art of making compelling landscape images I have been following the experts in the field, watching tutorials and taking workshops.  One thing that always comes up is how important light is.  Yes, yes, yes - of course light is important I would say to myself and then I would return to learning another post processing technique to unlock the hidden potential of my images.

But the subject of light would resurface.

It seems I am a slow learner.  Or perhaps I had just not experienced the difference light can make enough times to become a believer.

The other day that changed.  Late in the afternoon a storm rolled over the hills and down towards the bay.  I had checked the weather forecast earlier in the day and was expecting it.  I had also checked the Photographer’s Ephemeris to see just where the sun might be positioned when this storm came through and had picked a location that I thought might have a favourable view.  The one thing I didn’t anticipate though was in the end the one thing that made the biggest difference.  

The light.  It was extraordinary.

Great light can’t be missed.  You'll know it when you see it.  When you stand on site and can’t help but pause to stare at the beauty of the scene, when you look at your shot on the back of the camera lcd and it looks fantastic, when you snap a shot with your iPhone because it needs no filter and when you upload your photos to your computer and they require little to no editing... that’s great light at work.  Great light is powerful.

And now I’m a believer. 

Great light is a crucial element of great images.  Its’ not the only element but it is absolutely key.
Now that I've been converted, will I only take photos when the light is right?  No - for me there is still value in taking photos as often as I can - any practise time is good time.  But when the light is good, you can bet I will be making good use of it.

So if you are still looking for that magic post processing secret... let me just save you a bit of time... look for great light!

 

MISSED A POST? Rats. SUBSCRIBE so you don't miss any more.

LEARNING TO PHOTOGRAPH THE SEA OF STARS - ASTRO PHOTOGRAPHY WITH A TWIST

For most of our short summer we spend our free weekend time as a family sailing on Georgian Bay to quiet overnight anchorages. Away from the city lights, we are able to see the stars very clearly.  I have been trying to capture our experience of the beautiful night sky for a few years now.  It is a tricky thing. When you are on a boat - there is so much movement.  Wind and waves make it difficult to get a solid platform on which to shoot.  The conditions are usually anything but ideal.

Occasionally we get a windless, waveless & moonless, clear night - as we did this past weekend.  You could say the “stars aligned.”  I waited until everyone had gone to bed (people moving rocks the boat too) and then set up to experiment. 

The last time I tried this I missed the focus completely in the dark and the images came out soft. But I noticed in those first images that if I shot directly up the mast, the stars appeared to rotate around it.  I guessed that it had something to do with our rotation on the anchor line… but that didn’t quiet make sense… so I thought I would try it out again to see if the same thing would happen.  It did.  And I still don’t know why.  If you have any ideas or explanations (physics was never my thing) please let me know. 

I usually only share images I consider to be portfolio pieces.  This one is not one.  But I'm hoping that by sharing it you might be able to help me.  

My main complaint is the noise.  I don't like the noise which came as a result of using a high ISO and long shutter speed.  As you can see from the processing notes below I used both Lightroom and Noiseware Pro filter in Photoshop to try and reduce it.  I am not a fan of the way noise reduction makes the mast look “plastic.”  I'd rather not have to do any noise reduction work.  Not sure how to solve that problem - better camera? different settings?  Maybe I could take a series of images and stack them instead of doing a long exposure to get the star trails.  If anyone has suggestions I am all ears - leave me a comment below  

So while it's not technically well done, I think the subject matter resonates.  One step closer on the journey to getting an image that captures the real beauty we feel so lucky to witness on our family sailing trips.

TECH DETAILS:
Nikon D700
14-24mm Nikon Lens
ISO 1600
14mm
f/2.8
25.0 sec

PROCESSING:
Lightroom:
- exposure adjusted
- white balance set to Fluorescent
- Dehaze tool used to get rid of some of the haze (it was a humid and hazy night)
- Luminance smoothing, detail and contrast adjusted
- Highlights, shadows, white and black clipping & clarity adjusted
- Colour noise reduction and smoothing
- Vignetting added
Photoshop:
- Color Efex Pro - pro contrast (dynamic) added & lighten/darken center added
- Noiseware Pro - nightscene noise reduction filter added

 

MISSED A POST? Rats. SUBSCRIBE so you don't miss any more.

WAIT A MINUTE - NATURE'S SIMPLE LESSON FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS

Every time I head out with my camera I learn something new.  Each and every time - without fail.  One recent wintery morning, the lesson was a simple one.

It's to wait.  Wait for a few minutes.  And then wait for a few minutes more.  When you first arrive at a location the beauty of the moment may not be immediately recognizable.  I was early for sunrise on this particular morning and it looked like it was going to be unremarkable. It was cold and I was tempted to head home but I recalled a quote and decided to wait.

Adopt the pace of nature:  her secret is patience. 
Ralph Waldo Emerson

If I'd left I would have missed the scene above.  The storm rolled in fast and furious and thank goodness... I waited for it.

 

MISSED A POST? Rats. SUBSCRIBE so you don't miss any more.

INFINITE POSSIBILITIES - the true beauty of photography

One of the things I find most appealing about photography is that an infinite number of choices are required to create the final product. Of course this is no different from any other creative endeavor. 

Yet some still don’t think of photography as a true art medium.  This is evident from the compliment many photographers have received that runs along the lines of  “wow that’s a great photo - you must have a good camera.”   

Yes, it's true, the camera and lens a photographer chooses has an impact on the final image in much the same way the brush a painter chooses has an impact on the final painting.  I wonder, would one ever suggest that the quality of a painting was due solely to the brush?

You see, the camera choice is only the start.  It was just one of the many decisions made along the way. The subject or location you chose, time of day, the place you chose to stand, the mode you put the camera in, the shutter speed, aperature, and ISO settings you picked, the number of shots you took - did you decide to bracket them?, the height of the camera, angle of the camera, did you use a tripod?… these are just a few of the choices you made in the field… then when you got home you began a whole new chain of choices as you decided what shot, which software (or perhaps none) to use to and how to process it.

The number of choices are so numerous it would be near impossible to make a complete list - but as stated at the outset, that’s exactly the beauty of photography and why it is indeed truly an art form.  I LOVE having so many choices.  It means I have the opportunity to create something unique.  My DNA is in each and every image I create because the combination of all those unique and random choices produces an outcome nearly unrepeatable.

Here is a example of how I made a few different post processing choices to create three final images from the same initial photo.

So the next time you wonder if it's really possible to make a great unique image - remember - what camera you use is only one of an infinite number of choices.  No one else can create exactly what you do!  

 

MISSED A POST? Rats. SUBSCRIBE so you don't miss any more.

LIVING LIGHT - Drawn Towards Minimalism

After spending 5 days on a sailboat you start to appreciate living light.  In limited space, anything needless becomes a burden.  To my delight, I discovered I actually enjoy life more when there is less clutter.

Now I find I crave simplicity in my life.  It is a theme that is informing my every move these days.  I want less to maintain, I want less to carry, I want less to worry over, I want less complications… I even want less detail in my photos.

Could this be a natural outcome of my boating experience? Or perhaps of aging? Have I finally lived long enough to realize that there is a freedom that comes not from having more in my life but rather from having less?

Have you ever experienced this?  Have you ever felt lighter after a period of time away from “all the stuff of life?”

Thoughts to ponder as we stretch into the last hours of our final long summer weekend here in Ontario.  

SOURCES OF INSPIRATION THIS WEEK:

  • driving home the other day we listened to Stuart McLean on The Vinyl Cafe Podcast as we often do.  On the episode entitled “Defibrillator” he spoke of simplicity in his opening monologue.  If you haven’t listened to McLean before, you are in for treat - his stories and musical guests, available only in audio version are a change from the visually stimulating world.  Also perfect company on a long drive back home.
  • I have posted about how to increase the impact of an image by simplifying it (here) and so have others, including Varina Patel who recently reposted a link to this blog post at the Visual Wilderness website.
  • and finally I LOVE the simplicity of the artwork by creativeflip.  I think the Yoda is my favourite. You can see it here at www.crated.com - a fantastic place to find lots of artists, art and inspiration!  Even better - if you like what you see there, you can purchase it in poster, canvas or framed print form.  
 

MISSED A POST? Rats. SUBSCRIBE so you don't miss any more.

QUINTESSENTIAL MOMENTS

Summer is so fleeting. These days I greedily savour every warm fresh air moment I can.  Calm mornings at the water’s edge are among my favourite quintessential Ontario summer moments.  Getting up in time to make sunrise images means a very early start and though I am often still sluggish as I set up my gear, on calm mornings there is a peaceful energy that radiates from the quiet of nature and recharges my soul.  Perhaps it’s the promise of a sunny day ahead just waiting to be filled with warm weather pastimes.

I hope you had a wonderful weekend and had a chance to get out and enjoy your own quintessential moments. 

 

SOURCES OF INSPIRATION THIS WEEK:

  • I found myself wondering if my image above was a good example of "golden hour" but wasn't certain how that was defined.  The article by Germán Marquès at petapixel.com "Understanding Golden Hour, Blue Hour and Twilghts" was perfect for helping me out with that.

  • When it comes to quintessentially Canadian landscapes, round pink rocks and still clear waters definitely scream Ontario to me, but the Rockies must come to mind for many.  The mini film Mountains in Motion: The Canadian Rockies from The Upthink Lab does an amazing job of showcasing them.

 

MISSED A POST? Rats. SUBSCRIBE so you don't miss any more.

NEW... AGAIN

Something is different ... you noticed right?

Yes, I decided to give the whole website an update.   I suppose there are some who might argue that there was nothing wrong with the way the site WAS, but trust me .... it was starting to look... well a bit rough let's say.  

But this new look - well it's new, and clean and tidy.  Not only that but there are MORE new features now.  I bet you've already found a few.  If not go ahead and poke around a bit. 

In case you don't know where to start, here are two of my favourite new things:

  1. Featured Work - this is the place I am highlighting two things... images that make the cut for my PORTFOLIO  and VISUAL STORIES - which are images that I have curated into little bundles that tell a story.  Which brings me to my next favourite new feature...
  2. Newsletter Sign Up - Did you see that shiny new button in the top right corner? That is the place to sign up so that you don't miss out on some of the great new things I have planned to share with my most loyal followers.  Like what you ask?  Well like direct links to download high resolution versions of my images as wallpaper for your desktop ... and if that doesn't get you excited then I have a few other print projects in the works that those signed up will get first crack at.

So if you've got some time this weekend, why not drop your name on the list and maybe go have a look at the new FEATURED WORK section.  And as always feel free to leave me a comment below or get in touch.  

Have a good one my friends.

 

IMAGE DETAILS:

This one was taken up on the shores of Georgian Bay a few summers ago.  If you want all the camera setting details... just click on the IMAGE DETAILS underneath the image and then when you get to the new page, on the bottom right of the window click on the "i" symbol for camera information.  Then if you hover over the bottom left of the window the title and bit more detail comes up for the shot.  If you just love the image and want to have a copy, just click on the "BUY" button and all your options show up.

 

MISSED A POST? Rats. SUBSCRIBE so you don't miss any more.

FINDING THE MAGIC - trusting the creative process

The creative process is wonderfully mysterious don’t you think?

Take this image for example.  When I began, to edit the raw data I had the intention of completing this as a very sharp and realistic image.  One that would demonstrate the wonderful natural phenomena I recently witnessed - heaps of ice stacked up along the shore of a very frozen Georgian Bay.  Millions of beautifully shaped, glacial-hued ice shards back lit by the pink setting sun.  Divine!  But somehow when I finished the processing yesterday, the resulting image just didn’t seem to convey the “magic” of the original scene.

I had a hunch this was due to poor composition choices in the field but of course I couldn't change that now.  I decided to leave it for a bit, hoping that perhaps all was not lost.  It percolated in my mind overnight and when I sat down again this morning I allowed myself to explore other options and play around with applying a few filters.  I used Topaz Lens Effects motion blur filter selectively on the edges of the image to remove some of the distracting details and discovered the sense of movement also eluded to the power of nature to create and shape the liquid of the bay into something so solid and immense.  Bam - suddenly I felt the magic come back to the image.  The magic is the feeling and without it the image is flat.

I love that so often that creating the magic in an image is the result of play and unplanned discovery.  

Ahh - the mysteries of the creative process.

 

MISSED A POST? Rats. SUBSCRIBE so you don't miss any more.

SIMPLE TIPS TO IMPROVE YOUR PHOTOGRAPY - get it straight

A STRAIGHT HORIZON LINE CAN MAKE A HUGE DIFFERENCE

This is an issue I had with some of my work.  I look back now at my early photos and see many images with great potential that leave me feeling a bit off kilter.  UGH!  If you want an easy way to improve your landscape photography, straighten things out and ensure that people are focused on the beauty of your image and not on a crooked horizon line.

There are two ways to do this; either avoid the problem by getting it right in camera or fix it later in post processing.

GET IT RIGHT IN CAMERA
Some would argue that it’s easiest to start by getting it right in camera.  Many of today’s cameras have a menu function that overlays a “level” right in your viewfinder.  On my Nikon, I will often set up the shot and then before I start snapping I quickly flip to “live view” which places a funky flight simulator type level meter on top of my rear view screen and lights up green when I have got things level.  Check out your camera’s capabilities in the manual or do a quick google search online… I would bet many have this feature buried someplace in the menus.  

If for some reason your camera doesn’t have this feature, you could pick up one of those nifty little green cubes (link) which fit into the hot shoe on the top of your camera.  They work just like a traditional level - line the little bubble up between the lines and you are good to go.  These little gadgets are generally not expensive and they look intriguing which has the added benefit of being a great conversation starter.

If neither of these suggestions will work for you then I recommend that you just be aware of the issue as you prepare to take the shot. Take a few extra seconds to scan for the horizon line in your viewfinder and see if it looks straight.  If you are shooting on a tripod (which I recommend for landscapes) then sometimes a small tweak will do it.  If you are hand holding the camera sometimes it’s just a matter of adjusting your stance and shifting your weight more evenly.

USE POST PROCESSING
But maybe you don’t have either of these tools and/or time and are stuck with a great shot that lists to one side.  No problem.  Most importing and processing software gives you the ability to straighten things out - either by your own hand within the cropping or rotating tool or automatically, so be sure to take advantage of it.  In my own workflow, straightening the horizon line is one of the first items on my initial processing checklist which I do in Lightroom.  Yes - it's still an issue for me a fair bit.

ADD STRAIGHTENING TO YOUR WORK FLOW
Of course there are lots of times when a skewed horizon line is chosen on purpose for artistic effect and that’s great.  But if that’s not your intention, then give this simple tip a try.  Add straightening the horizon line to your photography workflow. I guarantee that ensuring your images have a straight horizon line will help you keep your audience focused on the beauty you were trying to show instead of wondering why they feel slightly seasick.

Hope this helps.  Keep it on the straight and have fun out there friends!

 

MISSED A POST? Rats. SUBSCRIBE so you don't miss any more.