FINE ART ATELIER: 15 | Boab Tree, Kununurra

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What, another tree! Of course! This is a landscape masterclass, after all. However, on this occasion our tree has been lit with torch light in the early evening and a few nearby fires dropped into the background for good effect.

In this presentation, a series of image layers and adjustment layers are used to modify and extend the original capture. Although composite images aren't the mainstay of my technique, being able to use composites when needed is a useful skill. If you need a hand in using layers, refer to the Reference section of the Landscape Photography MasterClass for a series of how-to movies.


FINE ART ATELIER: 15 | Weano Gorge, Karijini

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The landscape can be much more than grand vistas, so for this lesson, we take a closer look at our surroundings. This is a simple close up of cascading water in Weano Gorge, Karijini.

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: 15 | Composition - Part III

A low camera position and a low point in the landscape can make a more interesting angle than eye-level.

Another aspect of framing includes your viewpoint: where you are standing when you take the photograph. Many photographers reach a destination, step out of the car or coach and take the first scene they see. Sometimes the car stops in exactly the right position, but more often than not, you can find a better angle somewhere else.

One of the easiest ways to take better photographs is to go exploring. When you reach a popular destination or a lookout, by all means take the 'regulation' photo, but then walk around. It's amazing what you will find by simply going to the side, or stepping back, including some trees in the foreground, or shooting between two rocks.

Sometimes getting a better angle will involve a lot of extra effort. If the really good photos were that easy to take, they'd become normal postcard shots and there would be an escalator taking you up to the lookout! Many landscape photographers trek for hour or even several weeks to get a great viewpoint or a different angle. They may also make many trips that are relatively fruitless because there are no guarantees that when you get there, the weather or the light will be good.

There are two other things you can do to create an interesting viewpoint: shoot low and shoot high. Most humans look at life from one and a half to two metres above the ground. Most photographs are taken from the same height. Immediately you change the height of your camera, you also create an image which looks different and potentially has more impact.

Getting down low is easy to do, but it works best if you have a foreground. If you're shooting a landscape from the edge of a cliff, then whether you're standing or crouching doesn't make much of a difference. However, if you are including the edge of the cliff in your frame, then a low angle will bring the rocks and grass on the cliff into view. They will appear larger in the frame (they are closer to the camera) and, if you're using a wide-angle lens, the foreground can lead the eye into the distance.

There are many situations where getting down low can make quite a difference. If you have trees in the foreground, why not lie down on your back and look up, with the horizon low in the frame. Or place the horizon high in the frame and focus on the ground at your feet - the small pebbles can appear the size of boulders (this technique works best with a wide-angle lens).

You don't have to be in a helicopter or a balloon, you just need to be further up the mountainside. Eastern Turkey.

The second option is to gain a higher vantage point. Some landscape photographers use a very tall tripod or carry a ladder in the back of their car or van. It's amazing how even an extra one or two metres altitude can change the perspective of a landscape.

Another option is to climb a nearby hill or mountain, or jump into an airplane, helicopter or balloon and take a true aerial perspective.

If you choose to shoot a landscape with a different viewpoint, do it in such a way that the viewpoint suits the subject. Try not to use a high or a low viewpoint on a subject just because you read about it here – you will find some subjects work well while others are not so successful.

Again, it's all a matter of experience and personal preference.

Landscapes can also be vertical - just turn your camera around!


Yet another way to create interest in your images is to simply turn your camera and shoot vertical frames. Most people use their cameras the way they were designed – horizontally. By shooting vertically, you're again creating a little more interest.

This compositional technique will possibly not be so useful for landscape photography. A horizontal photograph is said to have a 'landscape' format with good reason (a vertical photo has a 'portrait' format). Nevertheless, there will be many occasions when a vertical photo will work particularly well - photographs of waterfalls and tall trees are good examples.

Don't be afraid to turn your camera around if it helps your composition.


POST PRODUCTION: 15 | Focus Stacking

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How do you get the foreground and the background to be tack sharp? You can use a perspective contol lens, a view camera, or Helicon Focus software that will use a series of different focused images and turn them into a single stack! Let me explain what I mean!



LOCATION SURVEY: 15 | Cruising For Photographs

The Orion at the mouth of the Sepik River, Papua New Guinea

Landscape photographers probably don’t think about sea voyages to take photographs, but it’s a surprisingly good way to travel and the photographic opportunities can be sensational.

I confess that before travelling to Antarctica, I had never considered jumping onto a cruise ship to take photographs. Mind you, I had precious little experience with ships of this sort. I had seen the Love Boat series on television and I had spent around four weeks off the Sumatran coast in small vessels and yachts. However, the thought of jumping onto a large cruise ship with cabins for a hundred patrons was simply not on my radar.

However, to get to Antarctica there is no other way. You have to go by sea if you want to take landscape photographs – and seascapes, of course. Large cruise ships have been banned from visiting Antarctica and only the smaller ‘expedition’ style ships are allowed. There is a distinction. The large ‘cruise’ ships are designed to provide all entertainment on board and the places you visit are just a backdrop for shipboard life.  They accommodate large numbers of people and stopping is generally only possible in larger harbours.

The smaller ‘expedition’ ships take fewer than 100-200 passengers (plus up to 80 or so crew), and so the dynamics of getting everyone off the ship at each destination are quite different. It only requires eight or ten zodiacs to move guests from the ship to the shore (and back again), and so the numbers are quite manageable. In comparison, moving 1000 guests from ship to shore in zodiacs would be a logistical nightmare.

Expedition ships are much smaller, meaning they have access to many more ports. They can anchor near small islands and enter small harbours which the larger cruise liners cannot.

Old wharf, Samarai Island, Papua New Guinea
The downside to expedition voyages is that the ship arrives and leaves based on the weather, the tides and the distance that needs to be covered before the next port. You can find yourself leaving locations when the light is simply breathtaking. However, on the plus side, you can take photographs at any time of the day or night from the decks of your moving photographic platform, so while some land-based opportunities mightn’t be available, there’s always something happening to photograph.

Pick Your Destination

However, the main reason for a photographer to travel on an expedition ship is the access the voyage gives to remote locations that are not reachable by road or air. Antarctica, Papua New Guinea’s islands and Australia’s Kimberly Coast are three locations that spring to mind which are serviced by a number of expedition style ships.

Antarctica can be reached from Australia, often via Macquarie Island. It can also be reached from Ushuaia at the bottom of South America, and again there is access to remote southern islands such as the Falklands, South Georgia, Elephant and Deception. If you are a capable sailor, you can take a yacht to these extreme destinations, but for most of us, the only option is an expedition voyage.

For Papua New Guinea, while it is possible to fly into some of the destinations we reached with Orion, others were only accessible with a final boat ride of some description. Several of our visits were to villages that were only visited two or three times a year by our ship, creating some wonderful opportunities for people and travel photography. And the landscapes were also surprisingly interesting, especially the seascapes with tropical cloud formations.

The Kimberley has a similar disposition. While it’s possible to get to parts of the coast by road, the wet season can make this impossible (and probably illegal), while other roads need special permissions. So while not impossible, visiting with a ship gives you wonderful access, especially when a helicopter ride or two are thrown in.

There are many other places around the globe that are best accessed by ship, so find your sea sick pills and take a voyage! Yes, sea sickness is an issue for some people. Most of the time the ship is in sheltered waters, so at the worst you might have a couple of days that require medication to keep you feeling okay! However, everyone has different experiences and you never can tell what the weather will do.

Shooting From The Ship

Talking of weather, you’ll see some wonderful weather at sea. All ships have decks from which you can take photographs and often these ‘platforms’ are several decks above the water, providing an interesting perspective on the locations you visit.

Cloud formation, Tami Islands, Papua New Guinea

Bird photographers can have a field day, literally, as sea birds will often follow the ship in its slipstream. There are opportunities to shoot whales and dolphins, but more likely you’ll see some amazing skies and cloud formations. These in themselves can be great photographs.

Being up so high also gives a different, if limited, perspective. You probably won’t have any control over where the captain steers the ship, and if every photograph you take is from the top deck looking down, your portfolio may become a little boring, but with different lenses and different vista, it’s amazing what you can find. On my second visit to Rabaul in Papua New Guinea, we had a great view from the ship of the volcano. The same angle is available from several kilometres away on the opposite shore, but only on a ship was the angle I had available.

Not every angle from the ship’s top deck is the best and that’s why an expedition ship is needed so you can get ashore and plant your tripod legs. Getting ashore is usually very straight forward, but this is location and weather dependent. Many landings are ‘wet’, meaning you jump out into knee deep water to wade ashore, so it’s important to keep your camera safe. A splash-proof bag is sufficient for most landings, but a waterproof bag over your camera bag or a special water tight model is better still.

Having now done several expedition cruises, I am a convert. There’s something nice coming back to a comfortable cabin to clean up and then having a drink and dinner as the captain casts off to take you to your next destination. Incredibly civilised, I would say!


PHOTO ADVICE: 15 | 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: 15 | Getting Photos Published With Words

Road to Mount Nemrut, Turkey
As a magazine editor, I often receive a portfolio of great photographs, but nothing more. I know how much effort has gone into putting the portfolio together, getting the photographs ready and sending them off. For many contributors, they also take a deep breath because rejection isn’t a happy result.

Unfortunately, most portfolios and individual photographs submitted this way are rejected, but it’s not because the quality of the photography isn’t good enough. It’s because there isn’t a story accompanying the photographs.


Open up any website, newspaper or magazine and flip through its pages. However, rather than reading for content or amusement, look at the context in which photographs are used. Up the front, a portrait of the editor will accompany the editorial. A series of fashion shots will sit together with details of the brand, stockist and price. A set of travel photos will accompany an article on a trip to Papua New Guinea or New York.

It is very rare that you will see a single photo in the magazine, published without so much as a caption.

Some magazines and websites do have feature photographs, but invariably the featured photograph will be accompanied by a caption that gives the photograph context: who or what the photograph is of, where it was taken, when it was taken and by whom.

Most photographs, however, form part of an article, a combination of heading, deck, text, photographs and captions. The article also falls within a theme – you’ll find articles on photography in a photography magazine, fashion in a fashion magazine, and so on. All this sounds quite sensible and elementary, and it is. If you want your photographs to be published, you have to help the editor along by providing a context.

Writing Words

Photographed from Mount Nemrut, Turkey

Not all photographers are wordsmiths. It’s hard enough taking great photographs, let alone writing excellent prose. However, this is why we have editors.

Editors are lazy people. No, that’s not fair. Editors are busy people looking for shortcuts. No, that’s not fair, either. However, if you offer an editor a package of words and photos that perfectly fit the context of the magazine or website, you have a much better chance of acceptance than if you submitted just photographs.

When photographs arrive without words, they require additional thought and input by the editor. Someone has to be commissioned to write captions or an accompanying article, or the editor has to do it herself. Most editors are extremely busy and so this job will be put to the side.

Sometimes an article will arrive without photographs (writers aren’t always good photographers either) and if your photographs happen to match the article, bingo! However, this is a bit like going down to the local supermarket every Friday, hoping a Hollywood talent scout will discover you, but without knowing anything about the scout’s movements!

If you can build up a relationship with an editor, however, he or she may alert you to opportunities in the future. I have a relationship with an editor who has an article on Antarctica planned later in the year for her magazine, and we are already in discussions. However, the point to note is that editors need both words and photographs to make an article. If you provide both, you have a much better chance of being published.

But I Can’t Write!

Photographed from Mount Nemrut, Turkey

So, you have some great photographs along a theme that will suit a magazine or website perfectly, but you can’t write. What are your options?

First, you could contact the editor to see if there is any interest in your photographs. The editor may have a writer who is working on a similar theme, or may know of freelance writers who would be prepared to work with you on an article. There will be no guarantee of acceptance – the article will be written ‘on spec’ – but you have a good chance if the editor has taken the trouble to introduce you to a writer.

Second, you could contact the editor and see if he or she would be prepared to write up an article (or have one written up) based on your field notes. If the photos are strong enough, and if the magazine or website has a section which features a portfolio of photographs with minimalist captions, there’s a good chance of being accepted. It doesn’t take an editor too long to whip up a series of captions for a portfolio as long as all the raw materials are there.

If this is a chance, it’s an easy matter to write a series of captions. Give each photograph a title and note the location and time it was taken. Then write 20 to 30 words describing what it is or giving some background information. For instance, a photograph of a storm in the Pilbara might describe how a series of small willy willies merged into one huge whirlwind. The editor can work with this information.

Third, if there really is a story to be told or a series of fact, write them down in point form. An editor can quickly turn this information into an informative article.

A fourth option is to find someone who can write and produce the article as a collaborative effort.

What To Send

Road from Mount Nemrut, Turkey

How do you approach a magazine or website editor? These days, the best approach is an email. The email should be short and to the point. Introduce yourself and provide a quick overview of what your photographs are of, why they could be useful, and what additional information you can provide.

Include two or three small JPEGs of your best photos, or a link to webpage. Magazine editors rarely want to sift through one or two dozen images and when you look at magazine articles, you will rarely find more than six or eight in an article anyway.

This short email should also include your contact details, making it easy for the editor to reply. You can also consider giving the editor a deadline to respond – in a nice way. “I realise you’re very busy, so if I haven’t heard from you in two weeks, I’ll send you a short reminder and then leave you alone.” This way, if the editor doesn’t respond in a timely manner (and many won’t), you can feel comfortable about approaching another magazine or website.

Although you can send out the same email to lots of different magazines at the same time, if more than one editor responds, what will you do? This isn’t a problem for non-competitive publications. You can happily sell the photos to a newspaper one day and a magazine the next because they are not competing. On the other hand, to sell the same landscape photographs to two outdoor magazines is taboo – you will probably never work for either publication again.

For portfolio photos, you’re probably best targeting your publications one at a time and trying to build up a relationship with a magazine’s editor. Many editors will already have quite a few successful relationships with writers and photographers, so it’s a matter of persistence and giving it time.