FINE ART ATELIER: 05 | Iceberg, Elephant Island

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Elephant Island is between Antarctica and South Georgia Island - at least it was for me when travelling with a Peregrine Adventures voyage in November 2009. After two days at sea, we arrived off the coast of Elephant Island amid encroaching sea ice, low stormy skies and an icing-covered iceberg.

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.


FINE ART ATELIER: 05 | Iceberg, Fugle Fjord

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Ten years later and I'm still photographing icebergs! And I think I do it a little bit better, yet many of the techniques used back in 2009 are still being used today. On the one hand, it's interesting to see how similar the techniques are, but on the other, I feel that I am far more 'educated' in the way that I see and process my images. Of course, that's not only for me to say - all I can do is produce work that I'm happy with and then it's a matter of hoping other people like it too! So, here's a second look at how I process a watery landscape with an ice cube in the middle!

If you're not familiar with how Photoshop works with its layers, we have a Reference section here in the Landscape Photography MasterClass (the last item on the menu) where you can learn all about layers and how to use them. It is introductory in nature, so if you're unsure about some of the techniques or processes used in this movie, all will be revealed when you view the three movies on layers in the reference section.


KNOWLEDGE: 05 | Camera Bags - Sensible Approaches

I think the best camera bag for landscape photography is a backpack. This assumes you are able to carry a backpack and that you need to walk or climb from time to time, because it keeps both hands free for balance – or for carrying a tripod.

It might seem terribly simple to put all your cameras into a bag to carry them around, but cameras are fragile instruments. When photographers talk about a camera being able to take a few knocks, everyone concerned would rather the said camera was carefully handled without any violence at all. A camera bag has to keep cameras, lenses and other accessories separate from each other and protected from everything.

While you’re thinking of camera protection, you should also think a little about body protection – your body. Sometimes you need a camera bag that will protect your cameras without damaging you in the process. There’s not much point carrying an aluminium suitcase on a bush walk because all the suitcase will do is lengthen one arm and knock your knees about. You’re much better off having a specially designed camera bag that attaches to your back and has a soft, forgiving exterior as well. It mightn’t be the best design for putting into an airplane hold – the aluminium suitcase would be better for that – but it will be much healthier for all parties on long walks and treks.

Hard Or Soft?

This is usually the first decision a photographer has to make: to buy a soft bag or a hard case. Chances are you will need both. Hard cases have the advantage of being practically indestructible. Made of tough plastic, aluminium or covered plywood, they can live in the back of a car, truck, plane or storeroom and protect their contents securely.

Hard cases come as trunks (with the lid at the top) or as suitcases (like an attaché case). The trunk designs can be opened while hung over one shoulder, but there may be two or three layers of equipment which can make it difficult to dig down to the bottom. A suitcase design usually has only a single layer of gear, but you can’t open it unless you put the case down first.

You should buy a hard case if you want to store your gear for extended periods of time or transport it as unaccompanied luggage. You may also need one of the waterproof designs (such as the Pelican, HPRC or Storm) if you’re taking your gear to sea.

Most photographers will opt for a soft bag because it is easier to carry and easier on the human body. Soft bags also come as a trunk design, but there are many other shapes as well: waist bags and backpacks are the most popular.

A soft bag has padded sides which protect its contents from inside and without, but doesn’t have the rigidity of a hard case. A soft bag will collapse if someone sits on it, and in collapsing may damage equipment inside. Nor will a soft bag survive a kick or falling objects as well as a hard case. In its favour, a soft bag is much easier to carry because it is more forgiving as it bounces on your hips or shoulders, and it won’t damage the car’s upholstery either.

Of course, a soft bag is generally not waterproof (Lowepro has one exception), but most are shower-proof with designs that will shed water before it penetrates to the inside.

You’ll often pay more for a bag with true waterproof material than one which just looks waterproof-ish, but isn’t. If you’re likely to be caught outdoors in inclement weather, the true waterproof material is worth the price (especially if it saves you a camera repair bill).

The main downside for soft bags which hang over your shoulder is that you're unbalanced as you walk. This isn't an issue walking along a footpath, but on the uneven terrain often travelled by landscape photographers, they simply aren't as practical as a backpack.

Inside Story

Most camera bags have lots of little compartments and pockets for storing this and that – be careful there aren’t so many pockets you can’t find anything at all!

The idea behind compartments and pockets is to hold cameras, lenses and other accessories in position and stop them from bumping into each other. However, cameras and lenses come in all shapes and sizes, so most bags have padded compartment sides which can be moved around to suit your equipment.

With soft bags, this is usually done with Velcro, while with hard cases you may use rigid sides which have a tongue and groove system, or a foam insert which is cut to fit. All systems work pretty well, but you need to keep in mind the weight of some larger lenses and cameras. A 300mm f2.8 lens or a medium format camera will need a lot more support than a compact DSLR or mirrorless camera.

When choosing a bag, don’t automatically buy the biggest one. You might be able to fit lots of gear inside, but will you be able to lift the bag, let alone carry it around? A cupboard in the spare room might be the best place to store your equipment, while a camera bag should be big enough to carry your working outfit, plus room for other necessities such as spare batteries, memory cards, maps, lunch and a raincoat.

Don’t buy a small camera bag that won’t accommodate your equipment because by jamming in too much, you reduce the bag’s ability to protect your gear.

You may find you need more than one camera bag depending on what you’re doing. Many professionals end up with a dozen bags because of various jobs requiring different approaches.

Once you’ve decided on a basic style and size of bag, it’s time to start looking at features. How quickly and easily can you access your gear? Are the zips and catches easy to operate? Are they sturdy? Where will the water run when it rains – over the edge of the bag or inside? What is the material like? Will it repel water and dust? Will it ruin your clothes because it’s too tough?

And the straps? Do they run under the bag or is the stitching strong enough to support the heaviest camera outfit? What is the strap material made of? How does the bag sit on or over your shoulders?


POST PRODUCTION: 05 | Colour Balance

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What colour is the right colour? How do you know? If your landscape photography is based on factual reality, then getting the right colour balance (white balance, colour temperature) is paramount. However, even if you're more interpretive with your landscapes, it's still important to start your post-production with a correctly colour balanced file. Here are a few techniques to help you on your way.



POST PRODUCTION: 05 | Lightroom

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In the Landscape Photography MasterClass, we have photos that were taken and processed back in 2010, others that were shot in 2020! During that time, software and quality have improved greatly, but the basic post-production techniques haven't changed! By this, I mean that we're still using layers to selectively adjust areas of our image - even if we don't call them 'layers'. The big change isn't in the technique, but how much easier it is to do selective editing. Lightroom doesn't have 'layers', but its adjustment brush and graduated filter etc work exactly like layers. Understand the adjustment brush and you understand an adjustment layer in Photoshop - and vice versa. Here's a quick update on Lightroom and how you can apply the 'layers' strategy talked about all through the Landscape Photography MasterClass without going into Photoshop.



[Some] Castles of Spain

Who said that photographs don't lie? It's not what we do with Photoshop that's the issue, no, it's much more fundamental. What we choose to point our camera at is just as important as what we choose to leave outside the viewfinder!

Spain is one such destination. I loved my time driving with my family around the top half of the country, but it took me some time to accept we were in Spain and not just another part of France or even Italy. Northern Spain is not as different as southern Spain, but it has lots of great looking castles.

And the castles are great, but the problem for a photographer is where the castles are!

Before visiting Spain, I spent quite a bit of time looking for castles to photograph. My mother had some old black and white photography books of Spain, published in the 1950s. And perhaps this was my undoing, hoping I could rediscover these places and their old world charm.

Of course the dirt roads in mum's books are now major freeways and the castles sitting alone on the hill are often surrounded by ten-story apartment buildings! The small, quaint villages are still there, but they are flanked by modern developments, although I must say the Spanish are pretty good the way they go about it. The historical areas have been sensitively retained in many locations.

Still, it's hard in some locations to isolate the castles from modern surroundings. Many places that looked great in the guide books were too cluttered to be photographed. I should have used Google Maps before I left to choose my destinations more carefully – it's amazing in just a few years how much technology has changed. Google Maps was available, but it wasn't in my head space to use it so thoroughly to research my destinations. Hell, in a few years we probably won't have to travel there at all, just zoom in with Google and take a screen grab!

Belmonte (B on the map) is a forgotten Spanish village. In the photograph of Belmonte castle, it is down the hill and out of sight. Behind the camera a rash of modern retirement homes was being constructed and no doubt they are completed now. I should check Google to have a look!

Camera angles for travel and landscape photography are paramount and excluding things is just as important as including others. Camera angle gives you the ability to create an image of what you experience, not necessarily of what is actually there. Some people might call this ‘lying’, but I prefer to think of it as selective truth.

Everything in the scene is real, although I have taken the liberty of adding in a tree that I’m sure the retirement home developers had removed a few weeks before I arrived.

This is also a classic case of returning to a good subject and shooting it again. I was so impressed with Belmonte that I took my family back the next day and was treated to a beautiful misty morning. This shot was taken as the mist was rising, revealing the surrounding hills, but keeping the sky detailless and flat.

Cardona (A on the map) had no problems when it came to isolating the castle from urban surroundings. Well, almost no problems. These days the castle is a hotel and museum, and since we were staying in the castle we didn't have a great view of it. To achieve this I needed to drive through the town down below and out the other side to one of the surrounding hills. Once again, a selective viewpoint carefully chosen was able to isolate the castle within some romantic surroundings. And a little Photoshop licence has tweaked the image further still.

In Segovia (C on the map), our hotel had a wonderful view of the town with its cathedral and castle running down a finger of land, but it was out in the fields looking back up this finger of land that created a more interesting composition.

The castle is imposing, but with the cathedral directly behind it looks more imposing still! Most people when they view the image don't realise it is two buildings and I've been accused of using Photoshop to create something that wasn't there. Ahh, I guess I deserve that criticism, but these days I find it so much easier to simply find the right angle.

To get to this point, I spent a day driving around the narrow dirt roads that crisscrossed the surrounding farmlands. I could see the angle I wanted, but couldn't find a road that took me quite there, so I parked the car and went for a walk. I really love the contrast of the freshly ploughed field with the hard, hewn stone of the castle. In fact, I have a few other versions of this image I must process some time!

We really only clipped the corner of Portugal on our tour around northern Spain, a small town called Bragança (D on the map). And while the image above has been carefully produced in Photoshop, everything in the scene is real. The only concession to reality is that I have squeezed the elements together (the telltale rainbow gives the game away) to make the balance of the composition work better.

I had spent a couple of hours within the walls of the castle keep, waiting for the sun to break from behind the clouds. Sunlight was temptingly close on many occasions, but I packed up and left without achieving my aim. I tried to be philosophical about it, but really I was disappointed. Actually, that sounds a little polite. I was in fact decidedly unhappy with the weather gods and expressed myself accordingly on several occasions as I drove back to the hotel where my long-suffering family was waiting.

Our rooms looked over the castle and my daughters were on the balcony outside enjoying the view. Something was going on – a huge rainbow was forming and it was travelling in the ‘right’ direction: towards the castle.

I was in a panic! The angle from the room was good, but not perfect. Could – or would – my family put up with me disappearing for yet another fifteen minutes while I raced up the hill to a better vantage point? Throwing family caution to the wind, I raced out of the hotel, jumped in the trusty rental car and sped up the hill.

Less than one kilometre away I remembered an opening under two trees which looked over the castle. Large raindrops were splattering on my windshield as I pulled to the side of the narrow road, but there was also bright sunshine and a near perfect rainbow framing the castle below. I grabbed my camera and fired off two frames hand held. Then, hoping the rainbow would stay and swearing (again) at my tripod which seemed to take an age to open, I managed to grab another two frames. And then the rainbow and its light show were gone.

I'll return to Spain one day, that's for sure. In three weeks I felt I really only scratched the surface and if you get out into the centre of the country, I'm sure there are some really interesting, remote landscapes.


PHOTO ADVICE: 05 | 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: 05 | Publishing A Book - Finances

Distribution: The Tough Side Of Book Publishing

Having bitten the bullet and published a book, how are you going to sell it?

Let's see… You can sell one to your mum, sister, aunt, a few friends down at the club, a couple of people at work… That probably adds up to 50 people, so if your print run were 2000 copies, how are you going to get rid of the other 1950?

The big change in recent years is the availability of photo books. Today we don't have to print 2000 copies of a book, we can just print one or two if we want to. Take the Adobe Acrobat file (a high resolution version, not a screen resolution file) to a photo book printer (such as Momento Pro etc) and have a couple of books made. These can then be used to show potential publishers and bookshops so you can gauge the response to the book before spending all that money on a 2000-book run.

To print 2000 copies of a book might cost $20,000 – or $10 each. To print 100 copies the same way (using conventional printing methods) would still cost around, say, $10,000 because there is so much money spent in setting up the presses. In comparison, with digital printing 20 copies of that book might cost you only $2,000 or $100 each. That's a lot per book, but it's much cheaper than spending $20,000 and finding you have a book you can't sell!

Marketing Your Product

When the printer delivers your 2000 books, they can fill half a small bedroom! Space and safe storage need to be thought of.

Some publishers get around this problem by pre-selling their books and having them delivered direct to a distributor. It is then the distributor's job to get them out into the marketplace – mainly bookshops or online distribution warehouses. Other publishers have sufficient staff to do the distribution themselves and, depending on the size of the operation, there can be significant savings.

For the self-publisher, you may find marketing the books yourself is the best way. It may take you longer, but if you have the time and energy to do it, you'll make a much better profit. However, it won't be without its problems.

If you approach small, local bookshops, you'll normally be dealing with small business people like yourself who will be happy to give your books a place on their shelves – assuming they like the book! Very often you will have to provide the books on a 'sale-or-return' basis. In other words, you leave the books with the bookshop. If they sell, the bookshop pays you, if they don't the bookshop can return the books to you. This means you're still taking all the risk.

A 'firm sale' is when you sell the books to the bookshop – and that's final. If the books don't sell, that's the bookshop's problem, but of course they are unlikely to buy more from you in the future. You will also find that bookshops often expect to pay less for 'firm sale' than 'sale or return'.

Bookshops will order from three to fifty copies of your book, so if you've printed 2000, you will need a way of returning to the shop inexpensively. After your initial visit and sale, the telephone and a courier might be a better way to handle the distribution, rather than jumping in the car and driving there yourself.

The larger bookshops and bookshop chains can be harder to get into. Often they will not deal with small independent publishers, at least not without you paying a fee that is probably as much as the profit on your first publication. To get into these stores, you either need the gift of the gab, have a book that's simply red hot, or go through a distributor. The main reason the larger stores don’t want to deal with smaller people is paperwork and administration. It has nothing to do with your product.

Of course, bookshops are becoming less common with competition from online stores, but the better bookshops usually have their own online store. So, why do you need their online store to sell your books if you could set up your own online store? One reason is they may have a larger market than you - more potential buyers. Two, you would need to administer your own online store and fulfill the orders - although you can get around this with e.g. Amazon who will do a lot of this for you for a price. However, the online world is where you want to take your book at some stage as it has a huge market and, as long as you're not in a hurry, given time and marketing efforts, you should be able to sell a lot of books at a better margin.

Understanding The Figures

So what are these fees and what can you expect to earn? Publishing your first book should be looked upon as a learning experience. If you break even, think yourself lucky and be happy!

Of course, if you're good at it, you just might be able to turn it into a full time occupation. Panorama photographer Ken Duncan has done just that.

If you deal with a publisher, you might receive ten percent of sales. Let's take an example.

If you are paid ten percent of the retail sale price, say $35.00, and 2000 copies are sold, you would be paid $7,000. Sometimes the contract is ten percent of the wholesale price, which for a $35.00 book would be approximately $21.00. Now your royalty is just $4,200! If all the books are sold!

When you add up the hours needed to take the photos and research the book, you'll find it hard to make a living unless you do several books a year.

Self-publishing may be more profitable, but it has a much higher risk. Let's take those 2000 books at a retail price of $35.00. When you sell them direct to a bookshop, they will pay you around 60% of the retail price - $21.00. If you go through a distributor, they may pay you just 35-40% of the retail price – perhaps as little as $12.25.

If you used a distributor and it cost you $20,000 to print 2000 books, that's a cost of $10.00 a book. If you sell all your books, you'd make $4,500 profit, less than the 10% offered by the publisher. If you only sold half the books, you'd lose $7,750! This is because you've paid for 2000 books at $10, but only sold 1000 books at $12.25. At least you'll have Christmas presents for the next fifty years!

So how do publishers make money? They search around for cheaper print prices, and if they print a lot of books with large print runs, they can get the unit price down from, say, $10 to $5. They also handle the distribution themselves, or they shop around for a cheaper distribution rate, again saving another $5 or $10. And they're very careful with what they publish. If all the books you publish sell well, you can do quite nicely, but if some sell well while others don't, you can risk a lot of capital for very little return.

This is also why you'll see some books with thinner paper or soft covers. Anything that gets the print price down improves the chances of breaking even and making a profit.

So, should you publish a book of your own landscape photographs? Definitely, but I'd start with one or two copies published as photo books. That will save you a lot of money.

Of course, if you print 10 copies and they are sold immediately, you could be tempted to do a much larger print run. I remember printing Robert Billington's book of photographs about Mosman, a suburb in Sydney. We printed 3000 copies and sold out in a couple of months, so we printed another 2000 copies and after three years, still hadn't sold them. It seems that the market for this book was 3000 copies, maybe 3300, but not 5000.

I'd hate you to sell 10 books quickly and then print 2000 copies which didn't sell. Instead, I'd print another 10 copies and pay some visits to publishers and booksellers. Ask them what they think and only then, based on their advice, would I consider printing the whole lot.