FINE ART ATELIER: 18 | Seljalandsfoss, Iceland

Press the play button above to view the movie.

Iceland is a photographer's paradise and if you're lucky enough to visit there, you'll not only learn why, you'll probably be a part of a throng of photographers setting up their tripods to capture the same thing! However, if you visit these famous locations out of hours, your chances are much better. This photo of Seljalandsfoss was taken at around 10 pm when all the general bus tours are back in their hotels, having an after dinner mint or coffee! In summer, the sun doesn't set at all, so if you change your own clock, things can be less crowded! And the light is much better when the sun is closer to the horizon anyway!


FINE ART ATELIER: 18 | Stirling Ranges, SW Australia

Press the play button above to view the movie.

In this chapter of Landscape Photography MasterClass, I've chosen a photograph of the Stirling Ranges in South Western Australia. As you will soon see, the scene didn't quite look like this when I was there, but that is why I am such a strong believer in landscape photography being a two step process; capture and post-production. While it is best to have optimum light, if you don't you can still help things along with judicious use of Photoshop and its layers. And while to some eyes this will be obviously tweaked in Photoshop, hopefully the technique is sophisticated enough to be invisible to most general viewers. 

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: 18 | Composition - Part VI

Eileen Donan, Scotland

Once you've determined your centre of interest and you've thought about balance, exactly where should you place your centre of interest in the frame? The centre is not usually the best position; somewhere off to the side is better, but not too close to the edge of the frame.

Many photographers use the Rule of Thirds to help with composition and as long as you remember that rules are meant to be broken, it's not a bad starting point.

The rule of thirds is loosely related to the Golden Mean, a classical ratio used by the Ancient Greeks and also found occurring in nature. However, the Rule of Thirds is a little simpler to calculate and suggests you divide the frame into three sections, first horizontally and again vertically. You position your centre of interest roughly where the lines intersect.

When applying the rule of thirds, you don't have to be precise - the rule is really just a guide.

Some cameras even overlay a simple grid in the viewfinder to help you compose better photographs, but don't be too precise in your positioning. Your centre of interest needn't be exactly on the intersecting lines –  near enough is often good enough.

You don't want to position your subject on this grid if it means adversely changing your framing. There's no point including a rubbish bin in the side of your image just to get your centre of interest in the right place. Better to first omit the rubbish bin, then get the best position possible for your centre of interest.

Patterns and Repetition

Sometimes several centres of interest can produce an interesting image and if the centres of interest are all the same or similar, so much the better.

Repetition as a compositional tool works a treat, probably because people like to see lucky coincidences. To see one tree in a field can be great, to see two, three or four in a row, all exactly the same is a bonus. Exactly why people like seeing multiples is something the psychologists can debate; for photographers, repetition certainly works.

Repetition of shapes and tight cropping create the compositional strength of this view taken at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley.

Some of the best repetitions are created when your framing is tight, meaning the objects being repeated are quite large within the frame. If the repeating objects are too small within the frame, there often isn't sufficient impact or importance. A telephoto lens is often the best choice so you can 'get in close' and concentrate on the repetition, excluding competing elements within the scene.

Pattern is similar to repetition, but on a larger scale. Patterns can be found in pebbles on a beach, tree trunks in a forest, or ripples on water. Some patterns can be found in textures, such as bark on a tree or sand on a beach.

Sometimes patterns work without a centre of interest, as long as the pattern extends from one edge of the frame to the other. Patterns lose their impact if there are other compositional elements intruding into the frame. However, pattern photos are usually best presented with other images taken of the same location to give them some meaning or context.

Both patterns and repetitions can work really well if there are some noticeable differences in one or more of the subjects. A row of similar trees can look great, but if the second one from the end is a different colour or is missing a few branches, it creates more interest.

And don't forget: rules are meant to be broken!

Foreground, Middle-ground, Background

Composition is a bit of an airy-fairy subject. It's difficult to be exact about it because there are so many exceptions to the rules.

Keeping all the compositional rules in mind, there's one other trick that many professionals use for their more formal landscape photographs. You don't have to use it all the time, but if you're struggling to find that perfect angle, it might help. The trick is to include a foreground, a middle-ground and a background.

Foreground (grassy bank), middle ground (stream and far bank), background (house and trees).

This might sound pretty obvious because surely every photograph has a foreground, middle-ground and background? Not so. Imagine you're on the edge of a cliff photographing a mountain range on the other side. There is no middle-ground between you and your subject, and unless you point your camera downwards with a wide-angle lens, there won't be any foreground either. The result will be a two-dimensional image.

In this situation, one solution would be to step back from the edge of the cliff to include some foreground –  you might be able to frame the landscape with the branches of a nearby tree or shoot across the top of some long grass. Admittedly you still don't have a middle-ground, but you have created a sense of depth in your image. Or perhaps you could move a long distance back from the edge of the cliff so the trees along the cliff edge become your middle-ground?

The theory behind the foreground, middle-ground, background technique is to create a sense of depth (three dimensions) and to give the viewer an entrance to your landscape. Their eyes can begin in the foreground, move to the middle-ground (which could be your main subject or centre of interest) and then into the background (which could also be the highlight of the composition).

Some landscape scenes look fantastic, and especially when they are icons that have been photographed thousands of times before. Using the foreground, middle-ground, background approach from a different viewpoint can create a new twist on a popular subject. And that's what good composition is all about –  creating a twist that makes the image even more interesting than it is. 


POST PRODUCTION: 18 | High Pass For Pop

Press the play button above to view the movie.

Using Photoshop for landscapes is often about refining the image in subtle ways that our viewers don't know about. The results are greatly appreciated, but the image itself retains its realism. In this final Post-Production movie, we look at how the High Pass filter can be used to enhance areas in your image by giving them a little (or a lot of) pop! And combined with a Smart Object (or smart layer), it is a great way to refine your images. (Similar effects can be produced with the clarity and dehaze filters in Lightroom and Capture One.)



LOCATION SURVEY: 18 | Antarctica & The Southern Islands

The skies are wonderful and constantly changing - and icebergs make wonderful centres of interest.

The Antarctica Circuit

Antarctica and the Arctic Circle are special places.

The remoteness of Antarctica is one thing, but often when travelling to the southern most continent, you stop off at some of the sub-Antarctic islands on the way or the way back. Leaving from Hobart in Australia, Macquarie Island is a common destination; leaving from Ushuaia in South America, you can take a circuit across to the Falklands and South Georgia Island before venturing south to Elephant Island, Deception Island and a dozen others.

And then there’s Antarctica itself with a myriad of harbours and channels to navigate. The scenery is spectacular.

Angles Of View

Landscape photography is all about where you position your camera, but with an Antarctic voyage, you have to change your approach.

Much of your landscape photography is from the ship which is a great platform, but after a few weeks at sea, it can become a little boring. As you sail into harbours or around headlands, you get to see some amazing angles, but they are angles that change all the time. Often it’s a matter of shooting because it looks good, then shooting again because it looks better, and again, and again! Fortunately, there is no cost for a few extra frames, just editing time later on.

For voyages on larger ships, much of the landscape is also seen at a distance. You need to check that your vessel is small enough to get close to the landscape and that it can enter some of the shallower harbours. They talk about cruise ships and expedition ships, the latter usually being smaller and taking perhaps 150 passengers, compared to the hundreds or thousands on a cruiser.

A wide-angle lens view inside Fortuna Bay, South Georgia Island

However, the main advantage of an expedition ship in Antarctica is the opportunity to go ashore. This provides two more platforms. Shooting on shore means you’re back to normal, photographing much as you would any landscape, although walking over soft snow and ice can be challenging.

However, getting from the ship to shore requires transport. The ships use inflatable zodiacs which are incredibly stable and great platforms from which to photograph the landscape (and the wildlife, of course). We would often take zodiac cruises around the inlets and bays, searching for angles. And the sea-level vantage point created a great contrast to the top deck of our expedition ship.

Shooting Snow And Ice

Depending on the time of year you travel, and the prevailing weather, you will see more or less snow on the shore, but icebergs are a given. Large white expanses in the landscape can be problematic for our cameras when determining the exposure, but usually these problems work in our favour because the camera tends to underexpose.

Keeping detail in the whites is really important for snowy landscapes, so underexposure will ensure we don’t clip the whites too much, hopefully not at all. Keeping an eye on your histogram is really important so you get a feeling for how your camera’s automatic exposure system deals with snow and ice, or you can switch to manual exposure and be doubly careful. If I lined up a shot that I thought was really good, I would take the time to bracket my exposures and this is really easy with a DSLR. You’ve travelled a long way, so taking a few insurance shots is a given.

Back in Lightroom, Photoshop or Capture One, the digital file can be enhanced precisely. While the unadjusted raw exposures might show a mid-grey white for the snow and ice, this can be adjusted, lightening these values, but not to the point where detail is lost. I also find using the Clarity slider (often with a mask so it is just working locally) will create some wonderful texture in the snow.

Camera Issues

A lot of people expect it to be incredibly cold in Antarctica and I’m sure it is. However, voyaging by ship means you’re always close to the coast and so you don’t get the extreme cold of the inland. Yes, it can be minus 10 degrees Celsius, colder with wind chill, but generally speaking it’s not as cold as you might think.

Mount Paget, South Georgia Island. It is like the Himalayas falling into the sea.

And our cameras seem to handle it easily. The main trick is to keep a spare battery with you, but keep the battery in a pocket inside your jacket where it remains warm. If your camera appears to be a little sluggish, swap the batteries and away you go!

And taking a camera from a warm ship out into the cold air didn’t seem to cause too many problems. I had no real problems with condensation (quite the opposite to the tropics where I would keep my camera bag outside on deck overnight to ensure the gear was acclimatised). Naturally, when you come in from the cold, your camera lenses can fog up if you continue shooting, but generally you’re putting your cameras away and pulling the memory cards out to download!

What lenses? Take it all! If you’re on a ship, it’s really easy to store your extra equipment in a cabin, so pick and choose. The longest telephotos are great for wildlife and distant landscapes, while the widest lenses are perfect from some dramatic seas and skies.


PHOTO ADVICE: 18 | Critique Session

Press the play button above to view the movie.

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: 18 | Where To Now?

Canola Field, South West Australia

In this the last Landscape Photography MasterClass, I thought a few words of congratulations were in order! While you're most welcome to return whenever you wish for a refresher, from here on, you're on your own. Where will you go?

Most readers are not going to turn professional, although there are many opportunities to sell your photographs as stock or as prints if you want to take them. So while this article is in the Acumen section, it's not about business, it's about your own development as a photographer.

In the past, to become an artist would often involve a period of working with a master, even to the extent of precisely copying the master's work, or perhaps working as an assistant and actually doing some of the master's work for him! And then at some stage, brilliance would be recognised and the student moved into the world on his or her own.

Now, don't worry, I'm not pretending that I'm that master! Far from it - I have so much more to learn. As I write this I'm exploring the work of Caspar David Friedrich, a 19th Century painter associated with the German Romantic movement. Wow! To see what he was painting 200 years ago and compare it with photography is a really engrossing experience.

Where did I learn about Friedrich? My friend Les Walkling (who has 40 years experience as a photographer and educator), mentioned the artist's name on one of our photography trips. Recognising it as a potential gem, I wrote it down in the ToDo section of my iPhone and then searched the internet for information when we came back into telephone range. I liked the pictures I saw, so I lashed out and bought three books about Friedrich from Amazon... and so my research and learning continues.

No matter how good we think we are, we all have further to go and it is great fun to see where we can take our art and photography.

And here is the key point to this article: We never stop learning and developing. And learning and developing can be greatly accelerated when you work with other like-minded photographers. Yes, you can go and learn from 'masters' and more experienced teachers, but there comes a time when you've learned the basics and you need to strike out on your own. Instead of following more experienced photographers, grab a hold of a couple of friends who are at a similar stage of development and share the journey.

I am a part of a group we have called NinetyDegrees5. It comprises Les Walkling, Tony Hewitt, Christian Fletcher, Michael Fletcher and me. We also invite 'guest' photographers from time to time, with Nick Rains joining us for our South West project. We disappear into the landscape together for a week or so at a time and take photographs. That part is a lot of fun, but even better is the conversation we have. We all have quite different views about photography, but respect for each other. So in sharing our work, commenting on each other's images and pursuing projects together, we are all improving as photographers.

Over 20 years ago, John Whitfield-King told me about 'Group 10', a group of ten professional photographers who enjoyed each other's company and explored photography together. On one occasion, they each put in $2000 and invited legendary photographer Norman Parkinson to Australia, paying for a first class airfare and a five star hotel. All Norman had to do was talk about his photography with them for a week.

Perhaps 20 years ago now, I was invited by Eric Victor, John Bodin and Ian Poole to join them with Christian Vogt who we in turn invited out from Switzerland. Christian suggested a project, In Search of Ned Kelly, which we did as a road trip from Queensland to Victoria.

I mention these as ideas for you to pursue. The other photographers in your group don't have to be landscape photographers necessarily, and you don't have to do trips either. The internet is a great way to develop a group of friends, but rather than joining a large existing group, why not make one of your own?

Just a thought.

Thank you for being a part of the MasterClass and I hope it will be of some small help in progressing your photography.