FINE ART ATELIER: 14 | Karijini Tree

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Karijini in the Pilbara region of Western Australia has featured a few times in this MasterClass and I never tire of the pure and vibrant colours of the Australian outback.

In this image, I talk about using a channel mask to more accurately and 'invisibly' edit an image, using the pixels in the photo that are already there to create a mask of high precision. Of course, there's more than one way to achieve a similar effect and it doesn't really matter which approach you take, as long as the finished result looks polished.


FINE ART ATELIER: 14 | St Gregory, Ani, Turkey

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St Gregory is one of several ruined churches in remote Ani, an historic site on the eastern border of Turkey. An Armenian city of antiquity, it is today a remarkable architectural collection, especially for the photographer looking to create images with a little mood and atmosphere. Unfortunately, the weather was absolutely perfect on this occasion, so Photoshop has been used to produce the mood required.

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: 14 | Composition - Part II

Alpine Barn, Val di Fassa

Framing is when you decide what to include in your photograph and, equally importantly, what to exclude. It sounds simple enough, but it's amazing how easy it is to get the framing messed up in the heat of the moment.

When we're standing in front of a spectacular landscape and the light is absolutely perfect, we tend to forget about the camera and just look at the scene. The problems only arise when we see our photographs afterwards - the horizon isn't straight, there's a rubbish bin in the corner, and the subject that seemed so close to us now looks like it's a million kilometres away in the photograph.

The size of your subject within the frame is important. If it is too small, there may be too many other elements in the frame which are distracting. If the subject is too large within the frame, you mightn't get a sense of place or location.

Landscapes are a little different to other subjects, such as portraits. With a portrait, it's a lot easier to decide how big the person's head should be in the frame, or whether to shoot a full-length portrait. In landscape photography, it's often lots of different points of interest that make up a great scene. It can be tempting to simply put a wide-angle lens on your camera in order to fit it all in.

Sometimes a wide-angle lens is the right decision, but don't be scared to shoot landscapes with a telephoto where you pick out a single element of interest and make that your landscape.

When you come across a landscape with great potential, shoot lots of different images – some with your wide-angle and others with your telephoto. By experimenting you'll soon discover what you like – and you'll probably be surprised from time to time with what works the best. This is all a part of the learning process.

Zoom lenses are helpful for framing. If you use a zoom lens, don't just set it at its minimum or maximum focal length, use the mid-range settings to correctly frame your image. A really wide-angle (such as a 17mm or 24mm) will ensure you can capture the wide open spaces, while a 100-300mm zoom will let you focus on less expansive details in the scene.

And if you don't have a zoom lens, use your legs!

Cropping For Effect

Framing, viewpoint and positioning the horizon all work together when composing a photograph. The image at the top of the page is the final version of a small alpine barn, but what was there in the first place?

An overview of the hut in its environment.

The Overview photo is taken with a medium telephoto lens and includes the whole hill and a mountain range behind. It's nice, but it's also pretty busy with the rocks on the top right and the cliff faces fighting for attention with the small hut. The solution was to zoom in and isolate (simplify) the composition.

The full frame is much stronger than the overview, but it's not strong enough. The best composition (to my mind) is the final image which uses a panorama cropping and places the hut to one side of the frame. However, there were many other options – would they have worked better?

The square frame with the hut in the bottom left works pretty well, as does the vertical framing.

Why? Because the space in the frame balances the orientation of the hut – the hut is facing into the space. Compare the three horizontal frames where the subject sits awkwardly in the photograph.

There's not enough space in the right places to give it a sense of balance.

Of course, these are only my thoughts: others may disagree. The important thing is to consider your options. If you can frame properly when you're using your camera, so much the better, but you can always crop your files when working on them in post-production.


POST PRODUCTION: 14 | Black and White Conversions

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We begin with a colour file, but it doesn't have to remain that way. It's easy to revert to an old-worlde black and white, but which of half a dozen techniques do you use? Let's have a look!


LOCATION SURVEY: 14 | Karijini National Park, WA

The colours of Australia are more saturated here than anywhere I have been before.

Readers may know that I did a project around The Pilbara region with FORM in 2010, with an exhibition in early 2011.

It all started when Christian Fletcher told me about this amazing place up in north Western Australia. Being from Sydney, it took me a few months to remember its name, much to Christian's amusement, but now that I've been there it will never be forgotten.

There are some amazing landscapes to photograph around Australia, but if you're looking for variety with a distinctly Australian flavour, Karijini has it all. There are a few geographical and geological factors at work.

The remains of spot lightning fires are everywhere and make great subject matter.

To begin, the earth is iron red and with so much ore in the ground, it is prone to lightning strikes. You don't have to drive far in Karijini National Park to find a recently burnt out area of bush and the fiery aftermath makes great material for the camera.

The red earth also makes great colour photography. In fact, the red earth is everywhere and you'll find the greens of leaves and grasses are tinged with fine red dust.

Depending on the time of year you visit, you can have lots of boring blue skies (in winter when it is cooler and better for travelling), or you can risk the heat (temperatures up to 50ºC in the middle of the day) but also improve your chances of more interesting cloud cover.

This is Kermit's Pool at the bottom of Hancock Gorge - great for swimming and photography on a hot day.

Of course, down in the deep gorges you want some light, but probably not direct sunlight. Karijini is a tableland into which are cut some of the most beautiful and dramatic gorges in Australia. Small and compact in comparison to the Grand Canyon, they are exquisite in their texture, colour and variety. They can also be difficult to get into and out of, so this is not a destination for the feint hearted (or the unfit).

Better Photography magazine contributor and professional photographer Nick Melidonis will warn you how treacherous the area can be. A week after I was there one year, he slipped and fell onto his face several metres below. Luckily, Nick has recovered and is still pressing the shutter button, but it could have nearly been the end of him.

This isn't to say that Karijini is highly dangerous, not at all. However, it is extremely remote and so if you do trip and hurt yourself, or you're bitten by a snake, being prepared is your best plan for survival. Don't travel alone, or if you are, let someone know where you're going and when you're likely to return. Having said that, I would have no hesitation taking my family there.

As the sun set, a flash to the side of the tree created a landscape with a different look.

Without descending in to the gorges, you can find plenty of lookouts with excellent vantage points, but once into the gorges themselves, a whole new world awaits. There are amazing reflections, water holes, waterfalls and rock formations to tempt you. Christian explained that while the light could be extremely contrasty, sunlight on one side of the gorge would light the rich, red rock to create amazing reflections in the water holes and streams below.

Karijini Eco Resort

If you stay at the Karijini Eco Resort, everything is very accessible and it's easy to walk or drive out for just a few minutes and find yourself in the middle of some amazing scenery.

The accommodation is a series of 'luxury tents', small huts on raised wooden floors with canvas walls and ceiling. Each has a light, a power point, a flushing toilet and a shower, along with two beds. Simple and comfortable.

For more details on Karijini National Park and the Eco Retreat, visit http://www.karijiniecoretreat.com.au.

A reflection in one of the pools at the bottom of a gorge.


PHOTO ADVICE: 14 | 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: 14 | Shooting Landscapes That Sell

A photograph similar to this one was a very good seller, so good that another client asked if there was a similar one for a calendar.

Occasionally you will hang a print on a wall and someone will walk up, fall in love with it and a sale is made. Why doesn’t this happen all the time? If only we knew!

Putting aside the art market and focusing on the tourist and local purchasers, there’s no doubt that people buy prints because of an emotional connection. Simply put, they like what they see and chances are it's because it reminds them of something.

However, liking what they see may not be enough. If your photographs are very similar to other images that are commonly published in books, magazines and used in advertising, there may be little reason for a buyer to have the same print on their wall at home.

Rather, people will buy a print because it has some degree of rarity. This is why it’s important for us to develop a special style or to find unusual angles of places that aren’t seen everywhere else. In some way, your work needs to be different.

In addition to having a difference, your image needs to relate in some way to the person buying it. Sometimes people can relate to your photograph directly because they are visually educated – they love the composition, the lighting or the technique – but more often than not, they are relating to something else as well.

Santa Maria dei Miracoli is one of my best selling images - it reaches people on an emotive level, especially Italians and people who have visited Venice.

For instance, people who have visited Venice in Italy are more likely to buy a photograph taken in Venice than someone who hasn’t visited Venice. Unless you personally know what Venice is like, you won’t relate in the same way to photos taken there.

Unfortunately, if you’re staging an exhibition in Australia or the UK, the chances of the people viewing your prints and having an emotional connection to Venice are not high. On the other hand, if you had the same exhibition in Venice, then you would be more able to tap into the tourist market and people who will relate to Venice. Even the local Venetians may have an interest.

Since few readers live in Venice, what about photographing your own backyard, or a popular tourist destination in your area? By producing photographs of local scenes you are more likely to find there’s an emotional connection between your print and a potential buyer. Someone might have taken morning walks at a beach you photographed while on they were on holidays; a local might marvel at a stormy view over a nearby monument because you don’t see this type of weather every day.

Of course, if your love is to photograph Venice and you want to sell your Venetian prints in Australia, don’t hold your breath. Yes, you’ll make the occasional sale when you make a connection with a viewer, but you’re missing a large section of the market. If you want to photograph Venice, then perhaps being a landscape photographer in Australia isn’t a good idea – unless you can find some other way of creating a connection.

This vineyard in Italy could be photographed in many places around the world and has also been a popular seller. I guess a lot of people drink wine and perhaps this is the necessary connection.

Create An Experience

Just as wedding and portrait photographers use the connection between their photographs and the people who are buying them to make a sale, so landscape and fine art photographers need to create an emotional connection with their buyers. But it’s a much harder connection to make.

One way to help create a connection is to provide an extended caption describing the photograph, where it was taken, when it was taken, and adding in a little story about some aspect of what the viewer can see. In this way you are sharing something which can help build an emotional connection.

Another option is to create an audio visual which can run with the exhibition, or have a series of ‘opening nights’ where you give a presentation. Again, by sharing what you have done with your viewers, they come to better understand your photographs and build a connection with what you have produced. It might be that they relate to your story, the location or they might even relate to you.

Selling The Quality

A framed landscape print is a valuable object. Everything you do and say about your work should reflect this value.

For instance, when handling unframed work in front of clients, use white gloves. Treat your prints as delicate treasures. Never disrespect them. When you mount, matte and frame your work, only use high quality, archival materials that will last, and then be sure to let your clients know this is what you use – and why. The more your clients know about the trouble and care you take with your work, the more they will value them.

Remember, the experience most people have with buying photography is a cheap set of postcard prints at the local souvenir shop or stationery store. And digital prints for 15 cents don’t help our cause in trying to increase the perceived value of what we do.

We need to point out to our clients the differences not just in our images, but in the way our images are presented. ‘Acid free’ and ‘archival materials’ all sound promising. Many photographers also describe their inkjet prints as ‘pigment ink on acid free cotton paper’ or an equivalent description. They don’t call them ‘inkjet prints’ because everyone has an inkjet printer at home and, given most of these are cheaper printers, the prints aren’t necessarily of the same quality nor have the same longevity.

Everything you do in selling and marketing the print must appear professional, enhancing the value of what you do. If you don’t show that you value your work, your clients won’t either.