FINE ART ATELIER: 09 | Grand Canyon

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While the Grand Canyon is one of the most amazing natural wonders of the world, it is also incredibly difficult to photograph. Or maybe it's our expectations - rather than trying to get a single photo that says 'Grand Canyon', perhaps we should be aiming for a series of different images. Then you can look at each image on its own merits.

In this video, I show how I have responded to the Grand Canyon, selected my viewpoint and then processed the file.


FINE ART ATELIER: 09 | Zabriskie Point

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Zabriskie Point is near Furnace Creek in the heart of Death Valley. You can't miss it - it is sign posted with a car park, toilet block and a bitumen path up to a circular lookout. As I walked up to the lookout, the sun was just setting. A couple of tourists wandering down said that it was too bad I was late for the sunset. I simply smiled and agreed and continued my walk to the top. If anything I was early for the light show I knew was about to happen.

What you are seeing in this movie is a series of steps from the basic capture to the final rendering. The steps are not necessarily the quickest way to create the image, rather they follow the thought process of discovering the image through colour, contrast and exposure. Two quite separate processes are involved: that of pre-visualising the image, and that of rendering it in Photoshop.


KNOWLEDGE: 09 | Using The Light

Composition, focus and exposure are fundamental to photography, but without great lighting, even the most interesting subjects can fall flat. Good lighting can transform an ordinary subject into something fantastic.

By being aware of the different types of lighting and how they affect our subject, we can look for the most appropriate locations and camera angles. A bland situation can be turned into an exciting one, simply by moving around or changing your subject's position relative to the light.

Of course, there are also situations where very little can be done to improve the lighting. Knowledge of lighting types isn't a solution for dull, drab light and it can't change the weather either!

Light Direction

While light can strike our subject from all directions, usually we have just a single light source to contend with: the sun.

Midday sunlight is a great example of top light. Generally it is pretty boring!

Top lighting occurs when the light source is directly above the subject. We are pretty used to this type of light because we see it for long periods every day. Generally, landscape photographers try to avoid top lighting because it doesn't throw interesting shadows across the land. Texture and form are lost.

Although early in the morning, because the sun is almost directly behind the camera, this is producing flat 'frontal' lighting.

Frontal lighting can be similar to top lighting in that few shadows are cast. Without appropriate shadows, it can be difficult for the photograph to reveal the three-dimensional aspects of our subject.

Side lighting usually happens when the sun is near the horizon (early morning, late afternoon), but in mountain regions it can happen on the side of a hill at almost any time of day.

Side lighting is similar to frontal lighting in that it travels parallel to the earth, rather than perpendicular to it as is the case with top lighting. However, unlike frontal lighting, side lighting is excellent for revealing shape and form because of the shadows it casts.

You might begin to see that frontal lighting also casts shadows, but they are not visible to the camera because they are hidden by the subject. Side lighting is simply frontal lighting viewed from another direction. Because the light crosses the subject, bits and pieces (like trees in a landscape) cast shadows that can be seen by the camera. These shadows give us a clue to the subject's three-dimensional nature.

There can be all sorts of side lighting, depending on the angle it crosses the subject. It can strike the subject at 45 degrees, 90 degrees or 135 degrees. It can also be higher without becoming top lighting. Each angle will throw a different shadow and as photographers, it is up to us to observe, wait and record the most pleasing angle.

Backlighting can be difficult to shoot - you will need a lens hood and possibly a friend to shade the front of the lens to prevent lens flare.

Back lighting occurs when the light is behind the subject. If the subject blocks the light, then with the right exposure a silhouette can be created. You can also find what's called 'rim lighting' where the edges of the subject are highlighted by a bright fringe of light.

Back lighting can also be up higher, out of the image frame. This is sometimes called 'contra jour' or 'against the light'. You will always need a lens hood to shoot into the light and care needs to be taken with the exposure as it can be a little tricky, but if you get it right, contra jour photos can be very luminous and striking.

When you think about front lighting, side lighting and back lighting, you realise that the sun is basically in the same position: it is low in the sky (as opposed to overhead). The reason light is frontal rather than from the side is simply a factor of the photographer's position relative to the subject.

If we are photographing a tree in a landscape in the afternoon, we can use frontal lighting, side lighting or rear lighting depending on where we stand! All we have to do is move around the subject (although this will directly affect the background).We can also choose what part of the landscape to shoot at that particular time of day, perhaps making a note to return later to shoot a different section at a different time.

Time Of Day

Knowing the different lighting directions possible, we can easily relate these to the time of day. Top lighting is found during the middle of the day. That's why many writers suggest photographers put their cameras away between 10.00am and 3.00pm! The sun is too strong, throws harsh shadows and is far from flattering.

Midday lighting has another feature: its colour. It is said to be 'neutral' in that the light doesn't have a colour cast - it's white. However, at sunset the light is warm in colour with lots of yellows, oranges and reds. Subconsciously, humans respond favourably to warm colours and so the warm tinge in the early mornings and late afternoons gives colour photographs a little lift.

Although the colour of sunlight is reasonably neutral an hour after sunrise and up to an hour before sunset, its angle remains very useful. The side lighting still throws shadows that give photographs a three-dimensional look. During winter months, three-quarter side lighting is often available even in the middle of the day because the sun doesn't get overhead (depending on the latitude, of course).

A pre-dawn landscape - soft shadows are cast which are much more 'pictorial' if this is what you're looking for.

Before the sun rises, and after it has set, there is a period of twilight which throws only very soft shadows. On a clear morning or evening, the entire sky becomes your light source.

The light also has a cool colour to it and sometimes you can balance the blue light hitting one side of your subject with the warm afterglow of sunset striking the other.

Light Quality

The quality of the light during twilight is completely different to direct sunlight. Shadows are very soft, meaning there's isn't a distinct dividing line, but rather a gradual blend from light to shade. Soft lighting means there are no heavy shadows, so detail in all areas of a landscape is clearly visible.

Direct sunlight is much 'harder' than the indirect light found under overcast skies or during twilight.

Direct sunlight on the other hand is much stronger. Your subjects look more powerful and angular, and shadows are distinct and definite. It is not forgiving like a soft light source.

The reason for the difference in light quality can be related to the size of the light source relative to the subject. Although the sun is a huge light, from Earth it appears as a small point of very intense illumination. Light waves reaching a subject from the sun are travelling parallel to one another. This is why shadows are so sharp.

Compare this situation with twilight when the entire sky becomes your light source. The sky is huge and light waves reach your subject from all different directions - from the north, the south, east and west. If there is a slightly stronger light source from the west, any shadows it throws are 'filled in' by the weaker light coming from the other directions. With light striking your subject from all sorts of directions, no definite shadows can form.

Overcast days work like twilight. The cloud cover converts the point light source of the sun into a larger light source, providing a much softer illumination. It also reduces the intensity of the light and changes the colour from neutral to blue.

What Are The Best Times Of Day For Landscape Photography?

Many photographers favour the early morning and late afternoon for landscape photography because the 'light is better'. As described earlier, one of the reasons is because the sun strikes the earth at an angle, throwing interesting shadows and providing informative textures. And let's face it, photos taken in the middle of the day can look pretty boring compared with a really good sunset.

Why is this so? And why is it that beautiful sunsets on their own (without a good foreground) are sometimes thought a bit cliché?

The second question is the easiest to answer. Sunsets are not created by the photographer, merely recorded, and so viewers don't place much value on the subject matter or technique. They might love looking at them. They may get lots of 'likes. But you have to photograph something more than 'just a sunset' to create a strong landscape image that people respond to outside of social media.

However, by simply turning around so the sunset (or sunrise) is to one side or behind you, you're almost guaranteed award winning light. The low angle of the sun throws long shadows, the light warms up to a yellow or orange hue, and this records particularly well on digital sensors.

Psychologically, an image taken at sunset is different to what we would envisage that image would look like in real life. We would probably imagine the subject without any particular lighting, shading or colouring, more like a midday snapshot. When we see the late evening lighting affecting the subject, the transformation is a surprise and we respond positively to something that is both beautiful and different.

Of course, not every photograph needs to be warm and friendly. You might mean to convey a distant or uneasy feeling, in which case heavy overcast weather could be just the ticket for creating the light. Furthermore, in black and white photography, colour temperature is irrelevant to how the image is perceived and the overcast weather might add drama and excitement. Bad lighting conditions for colour photography can be perfect for monochrome.

Good photographs have been taken at every time of the day. However, by observing the effect the time of day and weather have on your subject, you can choose to shoot or wait.

Fine Tuning The Light

The majority of great landscape photographs have great light, but even if you pick the perfect time of day and the perfect angle, sometimes a little more is needed.

This is where your observation comes into play. Sometimes you can find a fantastic viewpoint, but the light isn't right. By observing the surrounding landscape and estimating where the sun will be at another time of the day, or another time of year, you can possibly return and create a masterpiece.

For example, a tree might catch the last rays of light only during March when the sun peeps between two mountain peaks. Not only do you need the right weather, you need to be there at the right time of day and the right month in the year. This can be very specific, but this is exactly what many landscape photographers do.

Admittedly, this is not a very practical approach for the travelling landscape photographer who may not be able to spend long periods of time waiting.

Even if you can't hang around for days or weeks, observation can still work if you're prepared to spend just a little time hanging around. Light can change dramatically as the sun rises and sets. Just being at a location with your camera for one or two hours can reveal a host of magic lighting effects as the sun catches the crest of a range or spotlights a tree against a dark background. It's really easy to just walk past these locations when the light is average and not give them a second thought.

Landscape photography can be a bit like fishing – patience and perseverance are necessary!


POST PRODUCTION: 09 | Affinity Photo

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Photoshop, Lightroom and Capture One are great! They have transformed photography, but they are not the only image editors out there for landscape photographers and sometimes, it can be worth investigating different options. Every app has its own way of processing photos and subtle differences can turn into a stylistic advantage. For instance, Affinity Photo offers some features not found in Photoshop that many experts envy! And you can purchase a licence outright, rather than paying a monthly fee. Let's have a brief look at how similar it is to Photoshop - and how accessible to use.



LOCATION SURVEY: 09 | Shooting The Pyramids


Pre-dawn with the Pyramids of Giza in the distance.

On a trip to Spain, it made sense to stop over in Egypt as it was on the way from Australia. However, you can travel in Egypt cheaply and you can travel less cheaply. Since I was travelling with my family, I was concerned about safety, so we took a guided trip which basically meant someone picked us up from the airport and someone else showed us around.
This is good and bad. With twenty-twenty hind sight, our guides did a wonderful job in keeping us away from the tourist attractions and inside the retail shops: carpets, perfumes, jewellery, alabaster, papyrus… Looking back, I can see the guide rushed us through our stay at several of the monuments, simply because we needed time for retail therapy. Not knowing the distances and times involved, and just being happy to be in Egypt, I wasn't at all concerned at the time and it was a wonderful trip, but next time I will be more shrewd!

The Original Tourist Trap

I travel with the expectation of paying too much for some meals, souvenirs and services. Sometimes I’m happy to pay extra because the country I’m travelling in is quite poor; on other occasions I write off the experience to jet-lag or not paying attention, but there’s no point ruining your travels by getting upset. These days I look upon these experiences as being great dinner table conversation for when I return home.
Perhaps the original tourist trap is found at Giza’s Pyramids in Cairo, Egypt. With centuries of experience dealing with visitors from around the world, the camel handlers have their patter well rehearsed – and I love telling this story.
The Pyramids late morning, well after the best light has passed.
We hired three camels and a driver to take us on an extensive tour of the sands around the base of the pyramids, but found ourselves back at our starting point after a short fifteen minutes. Our camel driver and his young assistant, whom he picked up along our walk, were friendly and courteous to a tee, especially when he gently reminded me that it was time for payment. I wrongly thought that our day guide had arranged payment and terms with the camel driver at the time she organised the ride, but this was not the case.
“How much”, I smiled, feeling the inevitable.
“It will be two hundred pounds, sir”, replied the camel driver. Around forty dollars Australian.
“Wow”, I said, “are you sure? That seems a lot.” I’m told it’s polite to negotiate, but not being particularly good at it, the price didn’t shift from 200 pounds.
I opened my wallet, slipped out two one hundred pound notes and passed them to the camel driver. He smiled and looked a little embarrassed.
“Oh, excuse me sir, this is not right.”
“Oh, sorry, it’s two hundred pounds, right?”, I said checking what I had paid him.
“Yes, sir, two hundred pounds each.”
Now I tried everything - we only had three camels, not four (my youngest daughter shared a ride with my wife), it was a short walk, it was a Thursday morning... Nothing worked and I watched myself pay over another 600 pounds.
“Thank you, sir”, he smiled. “Baksheesh?”
Baksheesh is the Egyptian word for ‘tip’ and tipping is a way of life, but I figured I had already paid above and beyond.
“I think I have already paid you very well”, I suggested.
“Thank you, sir”, he replied, unfortunately showing little resistance which confirmed my belief that I had indeed just paid far too much for our camel rides. “What about a little something for my assistant here.”
Dumbfounded, but very impressed with his brazen approach, I found myself donating a further 20 pounds to his six year old assistant, who then looked at my tip as though it wasn’t nearly enough and walked off in a huff!
Early morning horse riders enjoying their freedom outside the Pyramids' extensive fence.

Call To Prayer

However, nothing could daunt the high I was on following my early morning shoot in the dunes behind the Pyramids.
I had arranged with our day guide to photograph the sunrise, looking for an archetypal view of the world’s most famous monuments. It was cold and dark when he met me at my hotel. We drove through uncharacteristically quiet back streets, picking up his horse trainer on the way who had access into the dune area.
Our car stopped on the edge of the sands. It was freezing. We walked up to the top of what I surmised was a dune – it was too dark to tell. In the distance the three pyramids were spot lit, but the sky was too dark to make an interesting exposure. So we waited.
I turned around and looked below the dune to the lights of the village in the distance. It took me a couple of minutes to realise why I had turned. Quietly at first, but welling in intensity, the Muslim Call To Prayer strengthened, carried in waves by the cool dawn breeze. It was amazing how such a low, quiet sound could be so enveloping, so complete.
Gradually the sound of prayer died away, replaced by horses’ hooves, thundering on the hard sand below, and the cries and yelps of their young riders as they whipped their steeds into the gloom.
To follow them on foot was not possible, so within a few minutes I was mounted on a long-suffering Arabian horse, following along at a gentle walk. While Australians go for an early morning swim or run, some Egyptians love riding in the dunes before work, stopping on top of one or two well-frequented dunes to have a cup of tea or coffee.
I spent the next hour photographing groups of riders galloping towards our dune, dismounting, resting, drinking, laughing and re-mounting. And as I was so obviously a tourist, I was as much of interest to them as they were to me.
The Pyramids are a lot closer to the city than you might think - the suburbs surround them on three sides.

Travelling In Egypt

I'm not much help for backpackers as I have taken a very tame and protected method of travel. With a little extra cash, you can arrange almost anything as my early morning visit to the pyramids showed. I think the trick is to expect to pay and then expect to pay a little more as a tip – make it part of your budget!
Although the pyramids are on the outskirts of Cairo, you don't want to stay in downtown Cairo because it's a long way from Giza. There are a number of good hotels out at Giza which makes it quicker and earlier to arrive at the gates. Gone are the good old days of just walking across the sand to the pyramids, today there is a high fence all around (although I'm sure if you know the right people and pay the right price an early entry could be found!).
We still visited the monuments and museums in the heart of Cairo and they were well worth the effort. However, other locations such as Memphis and Saqqarah seemed to be more easily accessed from the Giza suburbs. Mind you, everything can come to a standstill as we found when the President of France visited the pyramids and streets were closed for several hours. That was a fun traffic jam!
Sweeping the temples in Luxor.
We flew down to Luxor to see the temples and the Valley of the Kings. Again, we stayed in a nice hotel on the river, so we weren't roughing it. However, unless you travel with a large tour, you may find yourself flying very early or very late (the large tours book everything months in advance, it seems), and watch for a late check-out if your flight doesn't leave until late in the evening!
However, don't read these issues as problems. We had a wonderful time in Egypt and I'd go back again at the drop of a hat. I'd really love to get out into the desert more, so it's on the to do list for the future.
There is an interesting landscape to be found, but you'll need to get your driver to stop from time to time.


PHOTO ADVICE: 09 | Critique Session

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During the production of the Landscape Photography MasterClass, some of our early subscribers kindly provided some images for critique and review. This has turned into a very popular part of each MasterClass and we have received many complimentary comments about how useful the Critique Session is.

Of course, there are no absolutes in photography and so what you view in this movie is really just one photographer's opinion about another photographer's work. However, hopefully the advice and observations can be helpful in improving your own photography.


BUSINESS ACUMEN: 09 | Shooting for Books and Magazines

Give The Designer Choice

Photographs for publication, whether on paper or the internet, not only have to look great, they have to fit the space allowed.

When we see photographs published in magazines or on a website, we take a lot of things for granted. Rarely do we give much thought to the trouble the photographer has taken to get the image, although we may congratulate him or her if the photo is good enough.

Taking the photograph is just the first step, using the photograph on the printed or digital page is another. It is this 'use' that is the final presentation – a bit like putting your prints into a photo album.

When shooting for publication, you can continue to shoot as you always do, but if you shoot with the designer in mind, you increase your chances of being published.

Photographs are described as either 'landscape' or 'portrait', depending on their shape.

For instance, if you take a great photograph of an expansive landscape, chances are you have a 'landscape' photograph – i.e. a photo that is wider than it is tall. This is because when we hold our camera in the 'normal' position, that's what we end up with.

Most magazines and many books are 'portrait' shaped. They are taller than they are wide and it doesn't take Einstein to work out you can't fit a landscape shape photo onto a portrait shape page! And look at how smart photos have changed the way we view everything - even videos are shot in portrait mode these days!

There are some situations when all you can do is get a single shot. Things happen so quickly, you mightn't have a chance to think about what the photo will be used for. However, there are many situations, such as that great landscape, when you have plenty of time to plan the shot.

Space And Orientation

Photos of a single tree can be easily photographed with a portrait orientation, while a shot of two or more trees could be shot either way, depending on the shape of the tree and how much space you can include around your subjects.

When shooting for publication, you should shoot both portrait and landscape formats. There are a number of reasons.

To start with, cover photos are usually going to be portrait shaped, so if you want any chance at all of getting on the front cover, take a portrait orientation. Similarly, if you want your photograph to stretch over a double-page spread (two pages), you will need a landscape format image.

For the internet, there are a lot of sites that use stretched or panoramic shaped photographs, so when composing your images keep in mind how a severe crop could work as well.

The graphic designer can crop a portrait into a landscape, or a landscape into a portrait, but only by completely changing your composition and at the risk of using too small an image area to reproduce satisfactorily.

There's another reason for providing the editor and designer with a choice. Photos are often reproduced one column wide. If the photo is landscape format, it will be much smaller than a photo that is portrait format. Although all photographers believe that their photos are the most important elements on a page, the designer has to fit in the words and headings as well, and since the editor may have written the words, the type often takes precedence over the photos!

To fit everything onto one page, some designers will simply crop the photo to fit the space that's left over by the type. If you give the designer a choice of both horizontal and vertical formats (landscape and portrait), you increase your chances of having one of your photos published without it being maligned by an inappropriate crop.

Again, this isn't such a limitation with free-flowing web pages which are not limited by their depth, only their width.

Another consideration is how you frame your subject. If you frame your shot very tightly, it is difficult for designers to put type over your photo or to crop it to a different shape. Most photographers don't want type over their photos, but sometimes it can work really well as a design. By shooting some frames with lots of space around the main subject, you give the designer more creative discretion. The designer mightn't use your photos quite as you intended, but it does increase the chances of one of your photos being used.

Obviously, it is impossible to predict what the editor and designer are going to want, so that means you should shoot a number of different angles and framings to give them a choice. A selection of six different framings and angles would have them over the moon - but even two is a good start.

Different editors have different requirements and as you get to know them, you can adapt your shooting style to match.


So, how big a file do you provide? These days it can be difficult to know where your photo will end up, especially if it is submitted to a paper-based product (a book or magazine), but there's a website associated with it.

An important issue is sharpening the image appropriately. However, when you submit your images, it is rare to know exactly how they are going to be used and at what size. Different size reproductions need different amounts of sharpening, so there are two basic approaches.

The first is to provide a full size image and give the designer or publisher instructions to sharpen the image before use. This is a pragmatic approach, but it relies on the designer knowing what to do.

The second approach is to provide image files in two or three sizes, each sharpened for a particular purpose. One version might be sized and sharpened for a full page, another sized and sharpened for a small reproduction, and a third sized and sharpened for online use at, say 1000 pixels.

Still even a 1000 pixel image can require quite different treatment to one that's 500 pixels. In an online environment, you can always supply a replacement file correctly sharpened, but for a printed product, you have to trust the designer and publisher to do it for you.

As the amount of sharpening applied generally increases as the image size is reduced, I'd tend to sharpen my full size file to a full page and then hope the designer will continue to add sharpening as the file size is reduced.