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Joe McNally knows how to put a Nikon through its paces: “I rigged a D810 in place, and lit the pilot with two SB-910s.” Read more from page 16.
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E’S BACK! JOE MCNALLY, THAT IS… one of the most talented and celebrated photographers in the world. We were fortunate enough to feature him in our pages almost four years ago – and he has been a tremendously busy man since then. With a career spanning almost 40 years and well over 60 countries, it’s no wonder he’s recognised as one of the 100 most important people in photography. From rocket launches to Papal assassinations and everything in between, McNally has been an ever-present reminder that versatility, originality and adaptability – as well as good old fashioned stick-to-itiveness – can take your from humble beginnings to the very pinnacle of your craft. Most of his career highlights are enough to make the average photographer weep with longing – for a simpler time when budgets were huge and contracts were thick on the ground. One of his earliest assignments for Nat Geo, for example, was a six-month directive to just … go out and shoot. The end result was a 42-page spread and a cover. Would that we could dedicate as many pages to him here; it’s masters like McNally that help us aspire to be better with every shutter click. See you out there.
Greg Barton Editor
ON THIS ISSUE’S COVER…
Our cover image for this issue comes from the excellent work of long-time contributor Caroline Schmidt – and her very interesting tutorial on how to frame the face using props in portraiture. To learn more, check out her full skills tutorial on page 62.
You can get your regular ﬁx of Digital Photography inspiration and advice direct to your door or mobile device by subscribing to our print and/or digital editions. We always have competitions with opportunities to win great prizes too! Digital Photography 3
Contents ISSUE 53
3 EDITOR’S WELCOME 6 PORTFOLIO Kicking things off with some breathtaking shots that are sure to spark your creativity. 16 A MASTER AT WORK We delve into the life and career of one of the most proliﬁc working photographers of the modern age, Joe McNally. 26 HOW TO SHOOT AWARDWINNING LANDSCAPES Do you have your eyes on a top photography prize? We’ve exclusive advice from winners and judges alike: 32 A WINNER’S PERSPECTIVE… Discover your own winning formula with advice from Andy Farrer, Take a view’s Landscape Photographer of the Year 2015. 34 A JUDGE’S PERSPECTIVE… Take a view judge Charlie Waite on how judge’s assess competition entries. 36 THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO: MOOD & MAGIC What makes an image incredible? That’s for you to ﬁnd out in our expert guide to atmospheric landscapes.
Photo technique & advice
48-64 PHOTO SKILLS Still-life guru Catherine MacBride shares an enlightened discovery that combines ﬁbre optics and straws; Caroline Schmidt takes to the streets in search of captivating reﬂections; still-life photographer Dina Belenko is not a little bit chilli about sharing the tricks of her trade; Jordan Butters handles colour and contrast independently via Blend Modes; Caroline Schmidt uses accessories to frame the face. 65 RAW: MODERN ARCHITECTURE Three photographers are let loose on one Raw ﬁle using three softwares. We reveal their methods. 72 WORKSHOP: ARCHITECTURE Lee Frost takes one reader into the heart of London for a day of shooting structures in the city.
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CONTRIBUTING THIS ISSUE… Joe McNally COMMERCIAL Our indepth interview covers the amazing career of American photographer Joe McNally, who has been shooting for National Geographic since 1987. joemcnally.com Charlie Waite LANDSCAPES & COMPETITIONS One of the world’s leading landscape photographers, Charlie founded and judges in the ‘Take a view’ Landscape Photographer Of The Year awards. charliewaite.com Andy Farrer LANDSCAPES & COMPETITIONS Named as Take a view’s Landscape Photographer of the Year 2015, Andy gives an insight into what’s needed to win a major photo competition. andyfarrer.co.uk Catherine MacBride STILL-LIFE Creative genius when it comes to still-life images, Catherine regularly supplies images to stock libraries and shares her techniques with you. catherinemacbride.com Dina Belenko STILL-LIFE Russian still-life photographer Dina is a creative genius when it comes to bringing everyday items to life and creating stunning compositions. 500px.com/arken Ross Hoddinott OUTDOOR He’s not only an award-winning nature photographer, a leading expert in landscape and wildlife photography, he’s a top tutor, too. rosshoddinott.co.uk Caroline Schmidt PORTRAITS A Photoshop expert and experienced magazine journalist and deputy editor, Caroline specialises in portraiture. carolineannphotography.co.uk
Gear: Tested & rated 82 GEAR NEWS All of our favourite photo kit launches of the past two months. 83 MINI TESTS A premium lighting aid, hard drive, messenger bag and action cam tested & rated.
Lee Frost LANDSCAPE & TRAVEL A long-standing regular contributor, Lee is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to shooting landscapes and delivering expert tutorials. leefrost.co.uk
86 PENTAX 645Z Medium-format has long been favoured by high-end studios, but can the 645Z cope in the real world? 90 JINBEI DISCOVERY A budget location ﬂash kit that sounds too good to be true. 91 MANFROTTO XPRO-3WG HEAD Manfrotto has taken the ﬁddly out of tripod heads. 92 CARBON-FIBRE TRIPODS Eight lightweight beauties are expertly assessed and rated.
Jordan Butters LANDSCAPES & REVIEWS With a ﬁnger always on the pulse of photography, Jordan turns his hand to most things; he’s a senior features writer and talented pro photographer.
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Portfolio Under The Blood Red Sky by Pawel Zygmunt 500px.com/pawelzygmunt
â€œAt least once a year I go on a trip to discover the beauty of Ireland. Mount Errigal in County Donegal is one of the most iconic Irish mountains. I arrived at this location the night before and grabbed a couple of hours sleep in the back of my car. As the sun rose behind Errigal, it gave the clouds and mist a bloody red colour. I used a Lee Filters 0.9ND soft grad to balance the sky and land. It was a perfect morning.â€? Nikon D750 with Tokina AT-X 16-28mm f/2.8 lens. Exposures: Eight seconds at f/22 (ISO 100).
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Abstract by Alessandro Di Cicco www.diciccophotography.com (Above) “The biggest challenge in creating this image was
finding the right model. Here, she's laying on red carpet, which fills the gaps in her hair well. I sprinkled glitter over the model's face and hair to add sparkle and interest. I shot this using only natural light, wide open at f/4 to provide enough depth-of-field for this interesting perspective." Canon EOS 5D Mk IIwith Canon EF 24-105mm f/4Llens. Exposure: 1/200sec at f/4 (ISO 100).
Ginger Girl by Alessandro Di Cicco (Above left) “When I'm driving around I'm always looking for photoshoot locations. I spotted this rusty fence and thought it the ideal location for photographing a redhead; I always strive to make colours work together in images. I love her pose – I don't usually offer much direction, as the model's natural behaviour often makes the strongest photos.” Canon EOS 5D Mk IIIwith Canon EF 85mm f/1.2Llens. Exposure: 1/500sec at f/1.6 (ISO 100).
Love Me, Love Me Not by Alessandro Di Cicco (Below left) “I really like to create movement in my images.
I had already imagined the finished photo long before I shot it, but I had to find the right place to create a good blurred background and also a nice red dress to fit the colour of the petals, which were actually added in Photoshop. I had to match the sharpness of the petals to the depth-of-field.” Canon EOS 5D Mk III with Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L lens. Exposure: 1/160sec at f/1.6 (ISO 100).
Sweet Italian Girl by Alessandro Di Cicco (Right) “This photo was not planned at all. At the end of a
photoshoot the model and I went to a bar where there was fantastic light; I asked the model if we could take some more photographs. In the end, I loved these more than the planned images we took during the shoot! I love how the lines of the bench draw you towards her.” Canon EOS 5D Mk III with Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L lens. Exposure: 1/1000sec at f/1.2 (ISO 100).
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The White Dragon’s Fury by Ulises Sandoval 500px.com/ulisessandoval1 (Above) “The water formed an S-shape around the
rocks in this part of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, which were beautifully detailed thanks to the low sun. This is a panoramic of five vertical images – it took timing and many attempts to capture the water motion right so that the images blended.” Canon EOS 6D with Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L lens. Exposure: 2.5 seconds at f/13 (ISO 50).
Roaring Of The Sea by Ulises Sandoval (Right) “Also taken in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, this image was originally planned as a panoramic but I decided on a vertical image instead to emphasise the foreground water. I love the contrasting blue and orange tones. I got a bit too close however and the water soaked my camera – it took four months to resolve the issues that this caused!” Canon EOS 6D with Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L lens. Exposure: 1/2sec at f/13 (ISO 320).
Lava by Ulises Sandoval (Left) “On the day that this image was taken the sky was dull and uninteresting, but just as the sun approached the horizon the clouds rolled in and the sky turned a deep reddish orange. I found this interesting rock formation, which the water rushed through, creating a lead-in line with the motion of the water in the foreground.” Canon EOS 6D with Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L lens. Exposure: 1/3sec at f/11 (ISO 200). Digital Photography 11
Colour Rhapsody by Jokin Romero www.jokinromero.com (Above) “By the time I got off the bus in Venice, the sun had already started to rise. This meant I had to run all the way to Piazza San Marco. Even though I missed the best light, I was still able to capture some colours in the sky. In order to get the paradoxical effect of calm water and moving gondolas, I decided to use an ND filter to increase the exposure time.” Canon EOS 6Dwith Canon EF 24-105mm f/4Llens. Exposure: 30 seconds at f/11 (ISO 100).
The Dutch Farm by Jokin Romero (Above left) “After visiting Amsterdam, I could sense that the light and clouds in this area would be perfect for capturing the sunset. So I decided to try my luck at the famous Zaanse Schans. It's a classic Dutch scene: the bridge leading up to the farm with the windmills in the background. I used a soft ND grad filter to balance the sky and the foreground.” Canon EOS 6D with Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II lens. Exposure: 0.6sec at f/10 (ISO 100).
Explosion by Jokin Romero (Below left) “On the way to Croatia I made an unplanned stop
in Provence, France, as there are a few days at the end of July when an explosion of colour occurs. I was driving around for ages to find the perfect spot to capture the lavender at sunset. By the time I found this view, it was windy so I had to raise the ISO to freeze the flowers in motion." Canon EOS 6D with Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II lens. Exposure: 1/25sec at f/10 (ISO 400).
Flame Tree by Jarrad Seng 500px.com/jarradseng (Right) “I was travelling with Emilie Ristevski (@helloemilie) in Darwin, Australia as part of an Instagram meet tour. As soon as we saw this Poinciana tree we just had to stop the car. We started with a 50mm lens, but moved onto the 135mm and continually moved backwards for that compressed look.” Canon EOS 5D Mk III with Canon EF 135mm f/2L lens. Exposure: 1/5000 at f/2 (ISO 100).
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FROM ONE LANDSCAPE TO ANOTHER
Every state. Every event. Every level.
Start here. GoGoRace.com
CYCLING | TRIATHLON | RUNNING | SWIMMING | ADVENTURE | WELLBEING
A MASTER AT WORK ARGUABLY ONE OF THE BEST-KNOWN AND MOST RENOWNED PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHERS WORKING TODAY, JOE MCNALLY TALKS TO JORDAN BUTTERS ABOUT HIS INCREDIBLE CAREER AND SURVIVING AS A PHOTOGRAPHER IN THE MODERN WORLDâ€¦
Main image: â€œShot on location using the Nikon D800E at the Temple of Heaven in central Beijing.â€?
PHOTO STORY Joe McNally BIOGRAPHY Joe McNally’s career has spanned more than 35 years and included assignments in 60 countries. McNally was the last staff photographer in the history of LIFE magazine, and has been named as one of the top 100 most important people in photography. He won the first Alfred Eisenstaedt Award for Journalistic Impact and has been honoured numerous times by Communication Arts, PDN, Graphis, American Photo, POY, and The World Press Photo Foundation. His prints are in numerous collections, most significantly the National Portrait Gallery of the United States and National September 11 Memorial & Museum. www. joemcnally.com
OW DO YOU INTRODUCE A photographer like Joe McNally? Having achieved a mind-boggling amount throughout his career, it’s diﬃcult to be concise. The Nikon ambassador is considered one of the most important and inﬂuential photographers working in the world today. A master of problem solving, capturing colour and manipulating light, over the course of his 35 years working as a professional photographer, he’s tackled a gamut of subjects and genres on a gigantic number of assignments in over 60 countries around the world. Whether photographing a young Donald Trump or ballet dancers in Moscow, scaling to the top of the Burj Khalifa, using strobes to light biplanes in mid-ﬂight, or paying homage to the heroes of 9/11 by shooting portraits in a giant Polaroid camera, there are few photographers working in the world today that are quite as versatile or well renowned as Joe McNally. And that’s barely scratching the surface… Joe McNally’s photographic career started out with unwavering ambitions of becoming a journalist. While studying in journalism school it was a prerequisite that he took a photography class, and he soon realised that his career was about to veer in an unexpected direction. “Pretty much from the ﬁrst time I held a camera I found myself compelled by the idea of visual storytelling,” Joe reveals. “I had no plans to become a photographer. Much like everything in my career, it just gradually happened. After journalism school I moved to New York and took a job as a copyboy at the New York Daily News – it wasn’t photography, but it was a foot in the door. It kept me in the city and allowed me to pursue the idea of being a photographer.” It wasn’t until Joe was let go from his job at the paper that his determination really kicked into gear. He worked for the wire services and the New York Times as a freelance photojournalist and again,
1) “An elaborate mirrored set and Profoto power in the desert." 2) “An assignment for Sports Illustrated on Indiana basketball." 3) “A younger Donald Trump, photographed for Newsweek." 4) “I was in Vatican City after the 1981 assassination attempt."
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PHOTO STORY Joe McNally
the transition into being considered a ‘professional’ didn’t happen overnight. “In the due course of things I looked around and I noticed that I was paying all my bills with a camera; I was making my living as a photographer,” Joe reminisces. “Every photographer has watershed moments or moments of good fortunes that occur, but often these advancements in your career are gradual and they accumulate. You go from job-to-job, you have good days and bad days and once in a while you get an unexpectedly large assignment or a visible job that you do particularly well. All of a sudden there are eyeballs on your work and you make a leap forward at that point. But overall, I found the building of a career to not be a lightning bolt – for me, it was far more incremental.” Joe took a momentary respite from the freelance life, and a full-time job working for ABC Television. After shooting everything from soap opera publicity images to actor portraits, and Monday Night Football to unit stills for the network, he once again went it alone when he was oﬀered a sizeable opportunity – covering the ﬁrst launch of the American Space Shuttle program:“That was a big job for me, and worth risking the security of a staﬀ job to go and grab the opportunity,” Joe explains. “It really helped
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ALL OF A SUDDEN THERE ARE EYEBALLS ON YOUR WORK AND YOU MAKE A LEAP FORWARD AT THAT POINT 1) “No Photoshop here – multiple exposures, shot on film.” 2) “Lit by ten lights, including eight SB-80s under the wings.” 3) “Lit by three Nikon SB-910s, CTO gelled to simulate sunlight.” 4) “Shooting fashion in China with the Nikon D800E.”
launch my freelance career. I did a good job and used the money from it to buy a ticket to Northern Ireland to cover the 1981 hunger strike. I was on the Falls Road in Belfast on the morning that Bobby Sands died in H-Blocks. Right after that there was the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in Vatican City. I segued down there on assignment for Newsweek to cover the aftermath of that, and when I came back to the US about ﬁve weeks later I had a freelance career up and rolling.” Joe’s work was getting attention, and his client base grew exponentially. Before he knew it he was swamped with work, from increasingly prestigious outlets – the likes of TIME, LIFE, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated and National Geographic. These huge publications had serious clout and were able to put Joe in a position to shoot some incredible assignments that photographers today can only dream of:
“My ﬁrst really big job for Sports Illustrated was about Indiana high school basketball. They gave me three weeks to just go oﬀ and make beautiful pictures of kids playing for the love of the game – it was wonderful. My ﬁrst cover for National Geographic in 1992 was called Sense of Sight. The magazine gave me a contract to shoot for 26 weeks in the ﬁeld – I shot 1,500 rolls of Kodachrome and the images were published on the cover and 42 pages inside – it was a huge story!” At this point in his career McNally had already photographed a wide variety of subjects. Rather than specialising in photographing one particular genre, he developed a reputation for being the photographer that you go to with diﬃcult, or highly technical briefs – a problem solver, if you will. His experience at ABC had taught him studio and location lighting, and his masterful use of ﬂash remains a calling card for him right up to the present day: “Not everyone gravitates towards lighting and dragging around power packs on location. Once editors get wind that you can overcome tricky situations and light images anywhere they’re more than happy to assign you diﬃcult things. When I light an image I judge lighting by my gut. I don’t use a light meter – I light by feel and instinct. The beautiful
THE MOVE TO DIGITAL WAS EVEN MORE STRAIGHTFORWARD THAN ADJUSTING TO SHOOTING IN COLOUR FOR ME. IN FACT, YOU COULDN’T DRAG ME KICKING AND SCREAMING BACK TO FILM thing about working today with digital is that we have these marvellous tools that assist us in that kind of spontaneous, impromptu approach to lighting.” While Joe’s early days working for the wire services and newspapers called for black & white ﬁlm, it was the move to shooting in colour for ABC, and later editorial assignments for the likes of Sports Illustrated and LIFE, that grabbed Joe’s imagination. “The move to digital was even more straightforward than adjusting to shooting in colour for me,” Joe reveals. “In fact, you couldn’t drag me kicking and screaming back to ﬁlm – I instantly liked the immediacy of digital.” Joe had to embrace digital photography straight away too; he’d barely got to grips with the concept when he was assigned to shoot the ﬁrst ever all-digital story for National Geographic: “It was an assignment called The Future of Flying that
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1) “Captured at the very top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.” 2) “Part of the first ever all-digital story in National Geographic.” 3) “Shot during a 25-day book commission for North Shore-LIJ.” 4) “I’ve always been a mixed bag photographer, a generalist.”
made the cover in December 2003. I shot it on the Nikon D1X and D100 and it was the ﬁrst ever all-digital coverage in the history of National Geographic. It was a very visible story as the magazine was scrutinising the process of covering in digital very closely. That was one of those assignments where it was good not to screw it up – thankfully I didn’t. If I had it would’ve been very noticeable!” Another crucial development that has changed the terrain of not just photography but the entire world is the widespread acceptance of the internet. “Digital and online combined changed literally everything – speed of delivery, manner of delivery, expectations. They collectively threw open the door for many people to
embrace photography,” Joe comments positively. Although, as he points out, the digital revolution is a double-edged sword: “The huge inﬂuence of online caused the decline in the importance of print. That’s likely a trend that's going to continue as more and more people come along who have been raised on nothing but digital. There are also a lot of people out there now involved in photography that have bypassed some of the very necessary lessons that the older pros weathered in the early part of their careers.” These changes have forced Joe to adapt his business to evolve with the times. Although the editorial side of his work has scaled back from, say, 15-20 years ago, he now shoots more commercial projects, and his studio runs a popular workshop program too. “I love working,” he says. “Commercial work can be a positive thing because the ﬁnances are signiﬁcantly diﬀerent to editorial jobs.
PHOTO STORY Joe McNally
PHOTO STORY Joe McNally
Commercial jobs are what my studio thrives on. But whether it’s editorial, commercial, or whatever, there are jobs that are more about earning a living than magniﬁcent photo opportunities. Then there are jobs that don't contribute to the bottom line, but they’re signiﬁcant for your growth. There’s food for the table and food for the soul. The best world for a photographer is a balance of each.” Of course, Joe still shoots for a handful of high-end editorial publications. He tells me that it takes skill, ambition and experience to secure the work – you can’t just sit back and wait for the phone to ring in this day and age, and it’s a higher hill for photographers to
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THERE’S FOOD FOR THE TABLE AND FOOD FOR THE SOUL. THE BEST WORLD FOR A PHOTOGRAPHER IS A BALANCE OF EACH climb if they want to seek serious clients and funding: “It’s not impossible, but deﬁnitely the number of worthwhile assignments has diminished. The number of outlets has grown because everybody and their brother has a website or is trying to publish something, but serious outlets with budget
and reputation are few and far between, and it’s harder to get their ear. The sheer number of people who are practitioners of photography and volume of supply has ﬂooded the marketplace, and it’s tougher to ﬁnd monetisation possibilities for your eﬀorts. You can try to be visually ambitious but you also need someone to back up that proposition. Photographers are required to be proactive about their future now; you need to create ideas, write proposals, stay in touch, project a presence into social media, have a voice and try to get the work that you are doing noticed, so that people will be attracted to funding projects for you.”
IN THE BAG... “I bought my first Nikon in 1973, and have been a Nikon shooter my whole career. It’s always wonderful that the company that makes the camera that you use thinks enough of you that they want you to represent them. That’s a nice pat on the back! As for kit, I always try to keep up to date and current – I’m using the D5 and D500 most recently, as well as the D810. The D500 plus the 16-80mm f/2.8-4E is a killer combination. My favourite lens? It’s not sexy, but the AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G – it’s a sharp, solid lens that I beat up and it just keeps going!”
Getting noticed is something that Joe has mastered in this connected age. He’s one of the most proliﬁc photographer bloggers on the internet, regularly keeping his followers up to date on everything McNally via his busy social media channels. The Joe McNally blog receives almost a million visitors per year, and Joe uses the platform to document his travels, discuss important topics, showcase projects and share knowledge about photography and lighting. “It’s important to have a voice; to stay in the mix,” Joe says. “Social media is one area where you can project a presence, show work, maybe attract clients and put yourself out there.”
So, what’s left to accomplish? Joe remains as proactive as ever. As we chat he’s gearing up for Rio to shoot the Olympics for Sports Illustrated. He’s going there with the view of capturing a range of diﬀerent subjects – from documentary to lit portraits and some competition coverage. Again, it’s all about variety. “The lone photographer working with a limited amount of kit can now be incredibly ambitious,” Joe says. “The possibilities for being a visual storyteller are greater than they’ve ever been, and the technology available makes almost anything achievable. The best thing for me is to remain vibrant and in the mix as a photographer.
1) “I rigged a D810 in place, and lit the pilot with two SB-910s." 2) “Dancer Nadia Grachova, graceful on a Moscow rooftop." 3) “I’ve photographed Tony Bennett many times over the years." 4) “Captured on a Nikon D2X at 1/40sec at f/6.3 (ISO 100)." 5) “A dancer in action on the vibrant streets of Mexico."
That would be a great reward – to realise that even after all these years there’s still more to do and people ﬁnd use for my photographs. That’s a wonderful objective. Again, I don’t have a grand plan. What I hope to accomplish is an interesting level of assignments that keep accumulating into a body of work that I can, ultimately, be proud of.” To keep up to date with Joe’s latest work, visit and bookmark his blog: www.blog.joemcnally.com Digital Photography 25
Image: The White Horse, Wiltshire, England. This image was Commended in the Classic View category, Landscape Photographer of the Year, 2011. MARK BAUER
How to shoot
AWARD-WINNING LANDSCAPES NOTHING GIVES PHOTOGRAPHERS MORE RECOGNITION FOR THEIR TALENT, CREATIVITY AND HARD WORK THAN WINNING A MAJOR PHOTOGRAPHY AWARD. ACHIEVING SUCH AN ACCOLADE ISN'T EASY, BUT IF YOU'RE AN OUTDOOR PHOTOGRAPHER STRIVING TO ATTAIN THIS ULTIMATE GOAL, THEN THIS GUIDE, WHICH INCLUDES EXPERT ADVICE FROM WINNERS AND COMPETITION JUDGES, COULD HELP YOU SHOOT FOR SUCCESS IN THE NEAR FUTURE
GET READY FOR SUCCESS...
PRODUCING AN AWARD-WINNING LANDSCAPE IMAGE IS A COMBINATION OF PREPARATION, SKILL, UNDERSTANDING THE RULES AND PERSEVERANCE
entry will help develop and improve your photography skills, so why not give it a try? Having your images make the ﬁnal shortlist of a photo contest isn't easy and despite the number of landscape competitions that run throughout the year, your chances of success are relatively low. That said, there are ways that you can improve the odds in your favour, and in this guide a range of experts provide you with useful insight and information on what's needed to make your best shot a winning one. As you'll discover, capturing a stunning image is only part of the process – there are other factors that can help you on the road to success and, while there is no deﬁnitive answer, especially as every judge has their own interpretation of the images they're looking at, there are some obvious points to consider.
HOTOGRAPHY COMPETITIONS, in particular landscape photography contests, have become increasingly popular in recent years. With big prizes and prestige on offer and the internet allowing a global audience to participate, it's no surprise they are proving so appealing. While winning the overall award is the ultimate aim for many contestants, the truth is most people submit entries with no real hope of scooping the top prize. Some enter hoping to make the ﬁnal shortlist and receive a commendation, while others take part simply because they enjoy the whole process of pushing their skills and creativity to the limit. Whatever the reason, if you've never entered a photo competition, that you should try. While winning may seem an impossible dream, the discipline and effort required to create your
Above: Sunrise at Llangattock Escarpment was Commended in International Garden Photographer of the Year, 2015. Left: The Old Pier, Swanage won the At the Water's Edge category in Outdoor Photographer of the Year, 2011.
EVERY WINNER HAS ONE THING IN COMMON – THEY MADE THE EFFORT TO SEND IN THEIR ENTRY
You have to be in it to win it
Every winner has one thing in common – they made the effort to send in their entry. Sounds obvious, but there are many who say they believed their shot had no chance so didn't submit it one year, only to be coerced by other photographers to supply it the following year, when their image has won or reached the commended shortlist. If you think your image has a chance, then don't be dissuaded by self-doubt. The worst that can happen is your image fails to make the shortlist, which should simply spur you on to try harder the following year.
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Start small While there are several
international landscape photography competitions, if you've never entered a contest before you may be better off starting with smaller, local options. Check out your local camera club or regional magazines and papers (or their websites) and try those ﬁrst. Also submit entries to photography magazine competitions, which will have less entries and so give you a better chance of making the ﬁnal stages of the competition. Regardless of whether or not you have success, the experience will help you when it comes to participating in larger competitions.
Stick to the theme Your entry
needs to impress the judges and there is no doubt that providing something out of the ordinary is sure to stand out. However, there is a ﬁne line between creative interpretation and straying too far outside the box. When you're choosing an image to submit, ensure that it relates to the theme of the competition. Loose interpretation can work if it helps your shot stand out from the crowd, but if it is deemed by the judging panel to not ﬁt in with the theme of the competition, it's quite likely it will be rejected, regardless of how good it is.
WHAT THE PROS SAY... Ross Hoddinott Landscapes “Over the past 20 years, photo contests have played a significant role in my career path. I won my first big award (BBC Countryfile) aged 11, which gave me the confidence to take photography more seriously and later pursue it as a profession. I’ve been fortunate to win the British Wildlife Photography Awards and am a multi-award winner in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year, International Garden Photographer of the Year and Landscape Photographer of the Year. Each is a great springboard for publicity and often leads to further work and opportunities. It's impossible to predict what judges want or what images will do well, so trust your instincts – I always enter the images I like rather than try to pre-empt what the judges want. And don’t take rejection personally. I always say: success in competitions doesn’t make you a better photographer, and failure doesn’t make you a worse one either. Good luck!” ROSS HODDINOTT
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Instant visual impact
Be ﬁrm but fair
When you're running through your selection of images for suitable entries, you need to try and view each with a fresh pair of eyes. Examine every shot as if they were taken by somebody else and you were seeing it for the ﬁrst time – in effect you're 'judging' the shots much like the panel will do. As mentioned above, if you can see any obvious problems with the image, such as poor sharpness, incorrect exposure or loose composition, then reject them (unless the problems are minor and can be rectiﬁed by gentle editing). Your aim is to produce a shortlist of a handful of images that represent the very best that you've captured. If you like, seek second and third opinions but ultimately go with the images you like best.
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COMPETITIONS TO CONSIDER... Landscape Photographer of the Year Also known as Take a view, this is the most prestigious competition for landscape photographers. It has a top prize of $16,000 and category prizes of $850 and $1,700. www.take-a-view.co.uk Travel Photographer of the Year 2016 Covers a variety of travel subjects including landscapes. The top prize includes $7,700. www.tpoty.com International Garden Photographer of the Year Despite the title, there are a number of categories that cater for landscape images. Worth a look. www.igpoty.com Scottish Landscape Photographer OfThe Year An annual photography competition launched in September 2014, open to UK and overseas photographers. Well worth a submission or two. www.slpoty.co.uk
Look at previous winners
Before entering any competition, you should review the winning and commended images from previous years. Not only will this give you an idea of the standard of entries, it will also provide you with a feel of the techniques used and types of locations that have made up the previous winners. It also helps you avoid submitting a similar image to ones that have won previously, which will have less chance of success as judges will want to avoid repetition with winning images.
First impressions matter, especially in the early stages when there are hundreds or even thousands of images being judged. Therefore, your shot needs to capture the imagination of the judges in an instant. Often, shots with subtle colours and soft tones won't grab the attention as much as bold colour or monochrome images, so bear this in mind when shortlisting your entries. Another factor that can increase the chances of success is providing an image that you think will connect with the judges – shots that tell a story or draw an emotion are sure to hold the judges' attention and imagination. While technical brilliance is a certainty amongst all the ﬁnalists, it's the shots that offer that extra-special element that will take the top honours.
Don’t over-edit your shot
Editing your images with Photoshop, Lightroom or similar packages is unlikely to get your images disqualiﬁed, but go too far with your post-processing and your images may be rejected by the judging panel simply because they look too unrealistic. In general, use editing to tweak your images rather than alter them radically and ensure whatever you do doesn't breach any rules. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, such as submitting a black & white image, which will naturally require a fair amount of editing work.
Print to perfection
Some competitions request entries as a digital ﬁle (JPEG, Raw or both), others require a printed image to be submitted. If you're asked to supply a print, ensure it's of the highest possible standard. Your home inkjet printer may well be more than good enough to produce a good quality print, while online printers and professional print services are also worth serious consideration. Whichever option you go for, ensure you go for the highest possible grade of paper to make the very best of your image.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS MATTER, ESPECIALLY IN THE EARLY STAGES WHEN THERE ARE HUNDREDS OR EVEN THOUSANDS OF IMAGES BEING JUDGED
The exposure, sharpness and tonal range of your image, along with the composition and lighting, must be spot-on to have any chance of success. If you've seen better shots of the same location, it's likely the judges will have too, so you might be better off choosing a different shot.
Check the T&Cs
Be sure to read the terms and conditions before submitting entries. Rules of entry can vary greatly so be sure your image won't be rejected for breaching any rules. This could include how much of the original ﬁle has been cropped, the format of how it should be submitted, or the size of the print. If in doubt, contact the organisers for clariﬁcation. You should also check how your submitted images could be used – be wary of competitions that state they can use images freely – trustworthy contests will only look to use them in relation to publicity for the competition.
WHAT THE PROS SAY...
Above left: Corfe Summer Mist. A winner for Andy Farrer at the second attempt (see next spread). Above: This image of Trebarwith Strand was Commended in the Classic View category of Landscape Photographer of the Year, 2015.
Mark Bauer Landscapes “There is no formula for success when it comes to choosing which images to submit to photography competitions, as by its very nature, judging is highly subjective. That said, you need to enter good images – shots that are both technically competent and visually striking – to stand a chance in the first place. And then hope that you have a good slice of luck somewhere along the line. It can be extremely disappointing if your photographs don’t come anywhere, and if this happens, you need to remind yourself that this isn’t necessarily a reflection on the quality of your work. Likewise, if you are successful, you shouldn’t let it go to your head, as it’s a very fine line between success and rejection. From a professional point of view, it’s definitely worth entering the big competitions as success generates a lot of publicity and over the years, I have picked up quite a bit of work as a result of getting placed in competitions.”
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A WINNER’S PERSPECTIVE...
ANDY FARRER WON LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR IN 2015 WITH HIS WINNING IMAGE: BAT’S HEAD IN THE SNOW. WE ASKED HIM TO PROVIDE US WITH EXPERT ADVICE ON HOW YOU CAN DISCOVER YOUR OWN WINNING FORMULA How long have you been taking photos on a serious basis? I’ve always been a keen photographer and studied full-time at college for two years in the early '90s. However, I only discovered my love of landscape photography in 2007. In 2009, I bought a Canon EOS 5D Mark II and my ﬁrst set of Lee Filters and that was when I was able to make signiﬁcant progress, develop my style and create images that people began to notice.
How many photo competitions have you entered? Six to ten different competitions, from relatively small contests to major ones like LPOTY and IGPOTY, which I enter annually.
Why do you enter photo competitions? Chieﬂy for the potential of publicity – doing well in competitions means you get to put your images in front of a wider audience and add kudos in a very competitive ﬁeld.
Do you purposely capture images to enter into competitions or submit shots you’ve already taken? I’ve never shot an image especially for a competition, but now and again when you capture sometime really special, you know it’s worth an entry into a big competition.
How do you cope with not winning? It’s best to remain philosophical about it. You only have to look on Facebook or Twitter to see people's 'rejects' to realise some excellent images fall at the ﬁrst hurdle. It doesn’t make them any less beautiful. It can be hard to see others basking in the glory I suppose, but that always inspired me to pick up the camera and go out for a shoot instead of wallowing in self-doubt. I keep a Lightroom collection of all my competition entries and look back before entering the following year. This often serves as a morale boost as I see how I've progressed year-on-year.
BIOGRAPHY: ANDY FARRER Andy Farrer is a leading landscape photographer and the winner of the UK's prestigious Landscape Photographer of the Year, award for 2015. He leads photographic tours both in the UK and overseas. Andy is based on the picturesque Isle of Purbeck peninsular in South Dorset. www.andyfarrer.co.uk
When submitting images, what’s your general thought process? Do you enter what you think judges will like or simply supply your best shots? I’ve always entered my favourite images. The idea that you can please a speciﬁc judge, whom you have never met, is not a good basis to select images in my opinion. Especially when most competitions have a panel or series of panels of judges.
What makes for a winning image? You need to grab the judges' attention, especially in the ﬁrst round, so some kind of drama, a striking composition or initial 'wow factor' is a good start. Your image should show technical competence and individual style. To go the distance, I think ultimately it has to be an image that you can keep looking at without getting bored of; it should inspire and ultimately make the viewer think, 'Damn, I wish I had shot that!'.
What did you see in Bat’s Head in the Snow that made you submit it? The conditions were so unique, especially for this part of the UK, and the whole image felt very balanced. I thought there was enough drama in the conditions and with the leading lines to get some attention and hoped the subtle balance of the
Above: This image of Bat's Head, Dorset, won Andy Farrer Landscape Photographer of the Year, 2015. Left: Wistman's Wood on Dartmoor was Commended in the Your View category, Landscape Photographer of the Year, 2015. ANDY FARRER
composition would be appreciated. Above all it was a favourite image from the year and one I didn't hesitate to enter.
How much emphasis do you give to photo technique & post-processing? Every image is different. Some scenes are much easier to capture than others. Cameras, lenses, ﬁlters and software are all tools – picking the right tool for the task at hand is part of the process. More important though is knowing when to stop hammering at something before it breaks. Subtle but signiﬁcant is a good mantra, be it using ﬁlters, composition or post-production.
How has your photo life changed? It has changed. It’s been an overwhelming year. One moment I am standing on a snowy beach with seawater in my leaking boots and the next I am well
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outside my comfort zone on the other side of the camera. It’s certainly opened more doors and helped me move my career on to the next level and has provided a validation to all the early alarm calls and miles driven.
What are the rewards of winning? Aside from the ﬁnancial prizes, the psychological boost is the biggest reward. Landscape photography is, largely, a solitary existence. I enjoy the time that affords me to reﬂect on things, concentrate on being in the moment in nature and truly immerse myself in what I do. Winning a competition and knowing that you have been able to convey what you saw in such a way that surpasses other entrants provides a considerable amount of reassurance that you’re on the right path and not just treading water.
What advice would you give those entering competitions? I know from chatting to friends who enter competitions that people select entries in different ways. Some study entries from
DOING WELL IN COMPETITIONS MEANS YOU GET TO PUT YOUR IMAGES IN FRONT OF A WIDER AUDIENCE AND ADD KUDOS IN A VERY COMPETITIVE FIELD previous years, accompanying books and judges' websites, others ask friends to help choose, some build and compile speciﬁc Lightroom collections throughout a year. It’s easy to think that selecting the right images is all you need to do but, as important as it is, you still need to check a few things before submission. Read the rules and be sure you understand the themes. Placing the right shot in the wrong
category is a waste of an entry. If the rules state no cloning, for example, double-check your Raw ﬁle. Make sure you haven't left any sensor spots on your images and that horizons are level. Ensure you export ﬁles at the required dimensions and resolution and name them in accordance with the rules. Some competitions stipulate that an image cannot be entered if it has been successful in a previous major competition. If you’re entering all the major contests then this is an important point. If your image was shortlisted in two competitions, it would have serious consequences for both sets of organisers and you might suddenly become very unpopular! Remember above all else that images that have not succeeded in a competition are no less brilliant. My Summer Mist at Corfe Castle that won the Breathing Spaces category of IGPOTY didn't make the shortlist of LPOTY the previous year. Conversely, my Wistmans Wood image that was commended in LPOTY a year after an unsuccessful IGPOTY entry where it didn’t make the shortlist. So, be sure to persevere! Digital Photography 33
A JUDGE’S PERSPECTIVE...
AS ONE OF THE UK’S BEST-LOVED LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHERS AND FOUNDER OF THE UK LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR AWARDS, WHO BETTER THAN CHARLIE WAITE TO GIVE EXPERT ADVICE ON HOW JUDGES ASSESS ENTRIES? How many entries are submitted each year in to the UK Landscape Photographer of the Year Awards? I'm not sure of the exact number but we receive a good many thousand entries each year. We've several categories that are all popular, but the Classic Landscape category receives the most entries every year. The number of high-quality entries we receive really brings home how many very talented landscape photographers there are in the UK and overseas. In view of this, we're planning in future years to add further categories to the competition. While the numbers each year don't change greatly, one thing we've noticed is that the proportion of women submitting images has grown, which is very refreshing. We've noticed on our Light & Land courses that more and more women are taking part, which is a very welcome trend also.
What's the best way of evaluating if a scene is worth shooting as an entry? When you're at a location, don't worry about where you might want to enter the image, but rather concentrate on creating the image for yourself. You should be thinking "I'm interpreting and responding to the scene in this particular way because it's what I want" and have conﬁdence in the image. The thought of which competitions it might be suitable for should come much later on.
What tips can you give readers on shooting for success? When you ﬁnd a particular landscape that really appeals to you, become as familiar with it as possible. Revisit it as often as you can and see how it changes throughout the year. Scrutinise the scene, be happy with the elements in the frame and be certain of the techniques you're about to apply. Omit the redundant: exclude anything that isn't part of the story. I have a phrase I like to use: attend to everything in the image and everything in the image you intended to be there. Treat capturing your image as a production where every bit of it is important as the rest, and your attention will be worth the effort. Take the whole process seriously. There are some photographs that are beautiful but would have been improved greatly through more care and attention – for instance a graduated ﬁlter being used too far down meaning the tops of trees are darkened along with the sky. These problems are due to carelessness and can be easily avoided. You should also take care with image manipulation. The eye and the brain are an amazing double act. The moment a viewer is suspicious about the realism of something in the image, you've got a problem. Restraint is the key. As long as the end product doesn't look concocted or over-engineered, your post-production is on the right lines.
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BIOGRAPHY: CHARLIE WAITE Charlie Waite is one of the world’s leading landscape photographers and the owner and founder of Light and Land, Europe’s leading photographic workshop and tour company. In 2007, Charlie launched UK Landscape Photographer of the Year (Take a view), an annual international photo competition to find the UK’s ‘Landscape Photographer of the Year’ and in 2014, launched its sister competition, the USA Landscape Photographer of the Year. For further details, visit: www.take-a-view.co.uk
Is there an advantage or disadvantage to shooting popular locations? Those who capture a well-known or famous location are often put off entering their image of it because they believe it will be discounted, but certainly from our judges' point of view, they wouldn't be. It's very easy as judges to fall into the trap of thinking 'Here we go, another cliché Durdle Door shot' and rejecting it simply because of the location, but that's unfair. For the photographer that's travelled half the country to shoot it, the image is their individual interpretation of the location and so regardless of how often it's been captured by others, the image deserves the same attention as that of lesser-known areas. Don't write off submitting an image simply because the location is well known. Looking at Andy Farrer's shot of Bat's Head (winner, 2015): I'd never seen that location covered in snow and this, along with how well the image had been executed, was part of the reason for its success. That said, it is fair to say that one can't help but ﬁnd it refreshing to see a location that surprises you, so unknown locations that are captured well do offer that advantage.
What helps elevate shortlisted entries to potential winners? Have you visited someone's house, walked in to a room and thought 'this is lovely', or seen a movie that becomes an instant favourite and in both cases been unable to give a deﬁnitive reason why? Well that's kind of what it's like when I'm judging and see a still image that captivates me, for reasons that are beyond deﬁnition. Truly wonderful images are beyond explanation, but what I can say is that some images really move me and I'm affected by them. It's a very mysterious area beyond evaluation. When I look at a stunning image I like to unravel it. I ask myself what is it about the component parts that make me think 'this is just wonderful'. It's usually because it was executed with much loving care and the photographer has truly engaged with the scene. The whole business of
A selection of the best images from the 2015 competition. Above: Snowdust, taken in Therﬁeld, Hertfordshire, was runner-up in the Your View category. Below: Dancing Marram was the winner of the Classic View category. Right: Aira Point in Mist, Ullswater, was runner-up in the Classic View category. JEREMY BARRATT
SOME PHOTOGRAPHS REALLY MOVE ME AND I’M AFFECTED BY THEM. IT’S A VERY MYSTERIOUS AREA BEYOND EVALUATION evaluating a photograph is extraordinary because it has to be led by some emotional context. I always think that if the photographer is standing there with camera on tripod and has some kind of emotional engagement with the image they've captured, then if a percentage of this can be transferred from image to viewer, the viewer will receive some of the emotion that the photographer received. If the viewer is a judge, then this can only help with its chances of success.
What do you say to those who lack conﬁdence in their abilities? I understand why many photographers lack the conﬁdence to submit images to competitions. It's hard enough feeling conﬁdent, regardless of how long you've been in the game. I've always believed any artistic endeavour should be accompanied by a degree of insecurity. Lacking in
conﬁdence is ﬁne but somewhere along the line you need to ﬁnd enough self-conﬁdence in your image to feel it's worth submitting. If you've a little voice in your head saying 'I think I've nailed this' and you can put faith in it, then you've a good chance of success. Remain 'visually agile’. Good optics are important of course. As is feeling comfortable with your camera and familiar with its functionality. Understanding how it works will allow you to produce what you want and have parity with your creative intention.
To lack conﬁdence is a healthy feeling to have. Improve your skills by taking pictures, looking at previous winning images, visiting galleries and seeing how light is used. If you're nervous, just enter one image. If anything, taking images makes you get out and engage with the landscape and enjoy time out on your own with your camera. If all goes well, you come away from a landscape thinking you have owned it and captured an image that does it justice, then you shouldn't hesitate about submitting that shot. Digital Photography 35
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The Ultimate Photo Guide
MOOD&MAGIC WHAT IS IT THAT MAKES A LANDSCAPE PHOTO STAND OUT? IS IT LIGHT, COMPOSITION, EXPOSURE OR GOOD TECHNIQUE? OFTEN IT IS ALL OF THESE, BUT THERE IS A KEY INGREDIENT – MOOD. WHICH IS WHY WE’VE DEDICATED THIS ISSUE’S GUIDE TO SHOOTING LANDSCAPES THAT EVOKE A FEELING OF AWE BY SHOWING YOU HOW TO CAPTURE THEIR MOOD AND MAGIC IMAGE: ROSS HODDINOTT
HAT IMMEDIATELY SPRINGS to mind when you think of mood? Maybe it is dark stormy skies, raking golden light, a scarlet red sky, a white, frosted landscape, a calm, misty morning or mirror-like reﬂections. As you can tell, truly atmospheric, magical moments are usually related to certain types of weather condition – quite simply, landscape photographers are reliant on the weather gods to add magic to their shots. Unfortunately, the weather and light are things we have absolutely no control over, so how do photographers ensure they are in just the right place at the right time? Good planning, experience and intuition will help you make good decisions regarding which location to visit and when – while luck also plays a role. It is true what they say – the
Words: ROSS HODDINOTT
harder you work, the luckier you get. If you wish to capture magical images, you have to be prepared to put in the legwork and hard-graft. By consistently putting yourself in good situations, you will get rewarded with great photo opportunities, so the more time you spend behind your camera, the better your chances are of capturing those ﬂeeting and unique moments. To capture landscapes full of mood, you not only need to master the practicalities of camera technique, but also the skill of conveying atmosphere. Great landscapes should provoke an emotional response from the viewer and communicate a certain mood – for example, desolation, tranquillity or calmness. Atmosphere is often brief,
though. All it takes is a small gap in dark, gloomy rain clouds to allow the sun to burst through just long enough to illuminate the landscape below – transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary. However, with the window of opportunity often being short, you have to learn to anticipate and react to conditions. Be prepared to wait for light, having set up and composed your shot in readiness for the sun to emerge and beautifully illuminate your scene. You don’t necessarily need great light to capture mood, though. Mist, fog, brooding dark skies and seasonal changes are all quite capable of producing magical conditions. Again, checking weather forecasts is an essential pre-planner. While the forecast won’t always be correct, it will help guide you as to what conditions to expect.
The Ultimate Photo Guide
PRO TIPS Golden hour ROSS HODDINOTT
HARNESS DAWN AND DUSK
WANT TO TAKE OUTSTANDING LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHS THAT SET YOU APART FROM THE REST? THE FIRST STEP IS FINDING THE BEST LIGHT TO SHOOT IN
O OTHER TIME of day is as magical as dawn and dusk. It is a truly special time to be outdoors, immersed in the sights and sounds of nature. Landscape photographers commonly refer to either end of day as the golden hours – when the sun is low in the sky and the quality of light is perfect for illuminating and shaping the landscape. But what exactly is so special about dawn and dusk? Light is the photographer’s language – it is the key ingredient that allows us to convey atmosphere and the beauty of scenery. While there will always be exceptions, the conditions and light tend to be at their most dramatic around half an hour before and after sunrise and sunset. However, the length and quality of the conditions naturally varies depending on the weather, location and time of year – so don’t take the term too literally! The light at both dawn and dusk tends to be quite similar, so to a large extent it is possible to generalise about the advantages and challenges of shooting at these times. The light is typically warm and glowing and the sun’s low position will attractively light the clouds from underneath. Given the right cloud and conditions, colour can radiate all around the sky – so remember to look in all directions, not just towards the sun itself. The sun is more diffused at dawn and dusk, creating both longer and softer shadows. With the intensity of the sun being reduced by its low position, it may be possible to include it within the frame. When the sun is close to the horizon, it may even be possible to capture a sunburst effect, adding further drama and magic to your golden hour images. Using a small aperture, in the region of f/16, will help enhance the sun star effect. While ﬂare can be issue when shooting towards the light, a small degree is often acceptable and can actually add further mood and diffusion to shots.
By deﬁnition, the window of opportunity is short, and even when the weather is suitable for photography, you still only have two chances each day to capture the best light. It goes without saying, then, that it is important to be set up and in position waiting for it to occur. This can require a very early start when shooting dawn light. You have to allow enough time to wake up, get ready, reach your location and set up before the fun can begin. Always err on the side of caution – it is always better to arrive too early, rather than too late. The pressure is always greater during dawn shoots, though, as light is normally getting steadily worse as each minute ticks by. Therefore, it is important to know your location, and where exactly the sun will be rising in relation to your preselected spot, in advance. While planning is important, also be adaptable and trust your instincts – the prevailing conditions on the day might mean that you would be better off shooting a completely different viewpoint. It is far easier to predict and anticipate light and weather in the evening, so photographers have more control when shooting a setting sun. You can be ready as the light improves without feeling rushed or panicked. As a result, you are far less likely to make technical or compositional errors at this end of the day. Golden light is the Holy Grail for landscape shooters, with side-lighting often favoured for its ability to deﬁne the landscape. However, the very best, most magical lighting conditions are often transient – lasting for just a short time. Working with unpredictable, ﬂeeting light can be frustrating and you won’t always get the conditions you hoped for. However, as you spend more time behind your camera, your perseverance will be rewarded with great moments of light. When necessary, be prepared to wait, set up and compose your shot in readiness for the sun to emerge and beautifully light your scene.
Creatively give your golden-hour images added warmth by selecting your camera’s Cloudy or Shade White Balance preset. Arrive at least 30 minutes before the best light is likely to occur. This should give you sufficient time to ﬁnd a good viewpoint and get set up. Always use a tripod. Shutter speeds are typically slow at dawn and dusk, so you will need a support for stability and to enable you to use corrective or creative ﬁlters. The contrast in light between the sky and darker foreground can amount to several stops with the sun so low in the sky. Graduated ND ﬁlters or exposure blending will be required to achieve an overall, correctly exposed result. Don’t pack up too soon after the sun has vanished. The best colour often follows sunset and even once the colour and light fades, twilight has its own mood and appeal. Keep a torch or head-torch in your camera bag to help you safely navigate your way to or from locations in darkness. Its worth while using a remote device to trigger the shutter when shooting landscapes – doing so will maximise image quality. Some digital SLRs have a built in spirit level or virtual horizon feature to help avoid wonky horizons – this can be particularly useful when shooting in low light. Alternatively, use an inexpensive hotshoe-mounted spirit-level.
PRO INSIGHT Helen Dixon
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”As a landscape photographer, I am very much focused on capturing scenes in the best available conditions. This inevitably means getting up early and staying out late in order to shoot in golden dawn and dusk light. The quality of the light affects the mood and controls how the images look – my aim is to always capture the best light and atmosphere. “I like to work methodically and having some knowledge of a location can only beneﬁt what I’m aiming for, so meticulous planning is key to my preparation. Unfortunately we have no control over the weather and even the best-kept plans are easily ruined by unforeseen weather conditions. Therefore, multiple trips are often necessary to capture those truly magical moments.”
WAIT IT OUT Arrive early and don’t pack up too soon – often the most vibrant colours appear when the sun is below the horizon. Exposure: 13 seconds at f/16 (ISO 100) IMAGE: ROSS HODDINOTT
The Ultimate Photo Guide
GET PREPARED! IN THE PURSUIT OF MOOD AND MAGIC, YOUR WILLPOWER IS LIKELY TO BE TESTED TO THE LIMITS. PREPARE YOURSELF AND YOUR CAMERA KIT FOR PUNISHMENT…
NSURPRISINGLY, IN ORDER to capture moody views, you still require the standard landscape photographer’s kit. A good choice of focal lengths is particularly important, though, ranging from wide-angle to medium telephoto. Longer focal lengths can be particularly useful for shooting atmospheric conditions – for example, a focal length in the region of 100-200mm can prove ideal when shooting mist and fog. Telephotos compress perspective and allow you to isolate key features found within the landscape, like trees and buildings. However, in addition to the normal items you might have in your camera backpack, like graduated ND ﬁlters, solid NDs, a polariser, remote release, fully-charged spare batteries and empty memory cards, you should consider weatherprooﬁng and kit protection. As previously mentioned, many of the most magical, atmospheric conditions occur as a result of weather. You will often obtain the most dramatic mood on inclement days when the weather looks
far from promising – the type of day when anyone other than a dedicated landscape photographer would stay in the warmth and shelter of indoors. When you are out in cold, wet and windy weather, it is essential both you and your valuable kit be protected. You need to stay warm and comfortable. Waiting for just the right conditions will often involve standing around for long periods doing nothing other than watching clouds. If you are only dressed in jeans and a sweater, you will quickly get cold and want to return home early. You will feel more creative and motivated to wait for the most magical conditions if you are dressed appropriately. Therefore, buy good water and windproof garments and also wear suitable baselayers, socks, gloves and a hat if it is cold. Buying proper outdoor clothing from the likes of Icebreaker, Patagonia and Paramo should be considered an investment. Once you and your gear are properly kitted out and protected, you will be ready to head out into the great outdoors with your camera.
PROTECTYOUR KIT FROM THE ELEMENTS You can’t be a fair-weathered landscape photographer. To capture drama and mood, you need to be out shooting in all weather conditions. Therefore, you need to protect your gear. To begin with, invest in a good camera backpack. Look for a design made from weather-resistant material – or that has an internal all-weather cover. F-stop gear, Lowepro, Manfrotto and Think Tank are among the brands to consider. Although many digital SLRs today are well weather-sealed, you should still try to keep your camera dry. A rain-cover is a good investment – Manfrotto's Elements E-702 PL cover or those by Optech and Think Tank are among the brands popular with all-weather photographers. Shower caps also offer a good temporary way to protect your camera from moisture. Being elasticated, they stretch over your camera and stay in place quite securely. Using one will keep your camera dry while you wait for the rain to subside. Therefore, next time you stay in a hotel, remember to pop the complementary shower caps in your camera bag – they are an effective, disposal rain cover. Best of all – they're free! Finally, keep a clean microﬁbre lens cloth close to hand to wipe away raindrops or condensation from the lens, and keep a sachet or two of silica gel in your backpack to help whisk away any moisture from your gear when you pack it back away.
IN AT THE DEEP END By kitting yourself out with the right protective gear, you can keep shooting when the weather, or the best angle for the shot, is less than ideal.
MAGIC & MOOD Landscape kit WIDE-ANGLE LENS: A prime or zoom wide-angle lens is the mainstay of any landscape photographer's set-up. A wide-angle zoom offers more versatility than a prime lens, allowing you to adjust and react to changing conditions without needing to change lens. A focal length in the region of 16-35mm enables you to shoot large, dramatic vistas.
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TELEPHOTO/TELEZOOM: Despite being less associated with landscapes, longer focal lengths are great for isolating objects enveloped in atmospheric mist, and also for highlighting dramatic light play and spot lighting in distant landscapes. They are also useful for capturing silhouetted subjects boldly contrasted against colourful or brooding skies.
TRIPOD: No doubt you will have read it before, but a good tripod is essential for capturing great landscapes. Using one makes you think more about framing and provides the stability for you to shoot in low light or get creative with ﬁltration. In stormy weather, you will require sturdy legs that won’t be affected by wind. Therefore, avoid a ﬂimsy, lightweight design.
The Ultimate Photo Guide
MAGIC & MOOD Clothing
WEATHER APPS: Presuming you have a smartphone, download a couple of weather apps to ensure you always have up-to-theminute forecasts for where you intend going. AccuWeather, BBC Weather, Met Office and Weather Live are all good, inexpensive apps that will help you to predict when it is likely to be clear, misty or stormy.
LENS HOOD: A lens hood will help protect the front of your lens from moisture in the atmosphere, rain or snow. If using a ﬁlter system, you won’t be able to attach a hood. However, for longer lens work, a hood is worth using. It will also help prevent ﬂare should you want to shoot towards the sun in order to achieve dramatic backlighting.
OUTER JACKET: Unless you are dressed appropriately, you can quickly get cold and miserable waiting for the best light. A good insulated jacket is important, particularly in winter. Paramo is a very popular brand. Down jackets are great for keeping you warm, containing a layer of down and feathers for added insulation. Jack Wolfskin, Patagonia and Rab are all worth considering. Insulated jackets are not a replacement for waterproof jackets, but work well underneath a waterproof layer. TROUSERS: Unlike everyday trousers, proper outdoor trousers offer you comfort, stretch and protection against wet, cold and windy weather. They use weatherprooﬁng technologies and fabrics to deal with moisture, sweat and heat to keep you comfortable – perfect if you need to trek a long way to capture an atmospheric scene. Montane and Paramo are among the best brands for dedicated outdoor trousers. BASE LAYERS: In wintery or windy weather, good base layers are essential items of kit. They will help ‘wick’ moisture away from your skin and keep your body warm and dry. Paramo Grid Classic and Technic base layers are among the best. Although costly, Merino wool is a great natural ﬁbre, being light but great for insulation. Icebreaker is among the best brands for Merino base layers. Remember to wear proper walking socks in winter too – look at those made by Brasher, Bridgedale and DexShell. HATS & GLOVES: Always wear a hat in cold weather – doing so will help you retain heat. Gloves are also important for photographers. They need to be warm, but also thin enough to allow you to adjust camera controls and attach ﬁlters without the need to take them off. The North Face’s range of Etip gloves are very good. Stealth Gear produces dedicated gloves for photographers. Also check out those by DexShell, MacWet and Cameraclean. FOOTWEAR: Footwear is a very important consideration if you're facing the elements. Good walking boots are essential, being comfortable, warm, waterproof and giving your ankles support when clambering over uneven surfaces. Be prepared to spend upwards of $150 for a decent pair. Berghaus, Brasher, Meindl, Salomon and Scarpa are brands with good reputations. If you are shooting moody beach shots, wear wellingtons instead. Although costlier, heavy duty, neoprene wellies, like the Muck Boot range, are well worth considering, being warmer and more comfy than standard boots.
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The Ultimate Photo Guide
FAIR-WEATHER PHOTOGRAPHERS RARELY CAPTURE MOODY LANDSCAPES. ROSS HODDINOTT REVEALS WHY STORMS ARE IDEAL FOR DRAMA AND ATMOSPHERE
HEN RAIN OR STORMS are forecast, it is tempting to put away your camera and catch up on some processing in the warmth and shelter of home. Nice sunny weather won’t always produce the best conditions for capturing moody landscapes, though. In fact, brooding, dark stormy skies can create some of the most dramatic conditions you are ever likely to shoot – so don’t be a fair-weather photographer. If you wish to capture images overﬂowing with mood, you need to brave the elements and shoot in poor conditions too. Bad weather can produce amazing photo opportunities. Menacing rain clouds create a dramatic backdrop, particularly for views of wild, rugged coastline and also for windswept moorland and mountains. Even when the weather is predominantly poor, all you need is a tiny gap in the cloud to allow a few rays of golden light to break through to kiss the landscape and bring it alive. The contrast between the warm light striking the land and the dark, grey sky above can be magical, transforming the landscape into something extraordinary. A forecast for sunshine and showers is perfect for shooting dramatic skies, so check local forecasts. Keep an eye on cloud movement and look for gaps where the sun is likely to break through – this will help you anticipate when the landscape will be illuminated. Set up and compose your shot – then watch and wait for the light to reach a key focal point or feature found within your scene before triggering the shutter. Timing is everything – you want just the right interplay between shade and light to create a compelling result, with lots of depth and interest. The best lighting conditions are often ﬂeeting and spot-lighting tends to be particularly brief – maybe only striking the right place for just a second or two. Therefore, you need to be
able to work incredibly quickly in order not to miss out on this opportunity. One of the keys to working efficiently is being ﬂuent with all the essential camera functions. Should you need to, you should be able to adjust the f/number, ISO rating, apply exposure compensation and adjust focal length and focus instinctively, without wasting any valuable time. If necessary, practise adjusting the key shooting parameters until you feel conﬁdent. Once you are completely at ease using your camera, you can focus solely on aesthetics and capturing the very best composition and light available. This type of unbalanced light can create a few technical challenges. With most landscapes, you are best to employ your camera’s multi-patterned metering system – normally referred to as Matrix or Evaluative metering mode. However, with spot-lighting, in particular, the dominance of shade within your scene is likely to fool your camera’s metering into overexposure. Either apply negative exposure compensation to compensate or switch to spot-metering mode to meter more precisely – simply take your meter reading from the sunlit area of the frame. Taking pictures in bad weather means you will inevitably get wet! You must dress appropriately for the conditions and ensure your bag and kit is also sufficiently protected. Weather is unpredictable and often very localised, while forecasts can be wrong. Therefore, be prepared for disappointment – there will be days when you return home wet and empty-handed. However, when the weather gods are on your side, and the lighting and conditions combine as you hoped, the results will be truly moody. You never know, if you are lucky, you might even capture a rainbow arcing over the landscape – adding extra magic to your photos!
PRO INSIGHT Ross Hoddinott
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”When you ﬁrst start shooting landscapes, most photographers are seduced by big, colourful skies and will focus – almost solely – on chasing sunsets and sunrises. While I love photographing a rising or setting sun as much as the next photographer, you soon realise that mood is the key to shooting successful landscapes – and that you don’t necessarily need colour in order to capture drama and atmosphere. “Among the most dramatic conditions you can ever hope to photograph are dark, brooding skies and stormy conditions. You will often get wet in the process, so you need to be dressed suitably, but the light can be magical when it breaks through a gap in dark, grey clouds. “Stormy conditions will often provide beautiful transient light and even a rainbow or two if you are very lucky. Therefore, whenever I see a mixture of rainfall and sunshine being forecast, I will often head with my camera to capture the natural drama unfolding before my eyes.”
MEADOW LARKS With stormy skies and sunshine often comes crepuscular rays, otherwise known as ‘God rays’. These are further highlighted by moisture in the air. Exposure: 1/2500sec at f/10 (ISO 400)
IDEAS TO TRY Rainbows ROSS HODDINOTT
Nature is full of photogenic spectacles, but few are more magical than a rainbow! As we all know, they occur when rain and sunlight combine – the sun’s rays will refract off the moisture in the atmosphere, creating the vibrant illusion. Unfortunately, they rarely form where we want them to and so to accommodate them, photographers often need to improvise their composition. A complete rainbow will beautifully frame the landscape below, while part of one will add a point of interest and look particularly impactful placed on an intersecting third. Not only are rainbows colourful, but their arcing shape adds interest to landscapes. Rainbows always form opposite to the sun’s position – so if it is raining nearby, but still sunny, look in the opposite direction to the sun. Taking photos with the sun behind you can prove challenging, as your shadow will stretch into frame when using a wide-angle lens. Therefore, be mindful of the problem, and compose shots carefully, switching to a longer focal length if necessary. Contrary to popular belief, it is also worthwhile attaching a polarising ﬁlter. Rotated correctly, it will enhance the colours of the rainbow. Be careful, though – if you rotate it incorrectly, you can make them disappear completely!
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The Ultimate Photo Guide
PRO TIPS When is best for mist? ROSS HODDINOTT
MORNING MIST & FOG
IT MIGHT CAUSE HAVOC FOR YOUR AVERAGE COMMUTER, BUT MORNING MIST AND FOG IS OFTEN A LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHER’S DREAM. FIND OUT WHY…
ISTY AND FOGGY conditions are eerily beautiful. Mist and fog are capable of transforming a scene, simplifying the landscape and adding mystery and mood to photographs. The best conditions are often short-lived, though, and an early start is normally a prerequisite. However, a stunning landscape, shrouded with atmospheric, low hanging mist is a truly wonderful spectacle. Mist will add oodles of mood to your landscapes. By reducing colour and contrast, and simplifying the look of the landscape, mist and fog places emphasis on shape and form. For this reason, often the scenes that suit these types of condition best are ones containing strong, obvious points of interest – such as a church tower or row of trees. A landscape with layers also works well – for example, a scene with far-reaching views of hills, mountains or rolling countryside. Not surprisingly, elevated viewpoints often work best. By climbing high you’re able to achieve views overlooking mist trapped in valleys and hanging atmospherically above ﬁelds or lakes. As is often the case, planning is important. Ideally, visit viewpoints beforehand to check their potential. Mist is often at its eerie best just before and after sunrise. Just before daybreak, low-lying mist will appear naturally cool. Avoid using Auto White Balance, as this will often neutralise the lovely natural blue hues created by the conditions. By opting for your Daylight preset you will capture or even exaggerate these lovely steely tones. In contrast, low, warm sunlight will give mist natural warmth. The conditions will beautifully diffuse the light and while the sun is low in the sky you may be able to shoot towards it, as its intensity will be
greatly reduced. Doing so will allow you to capture incredible, backlit images of the foggy conditions. Sunlight will soon burn the mist away, though, so you need to work quickly before the conditions change. Mist will often swirl around, thicken and fade, revealing and then hiding elements within the landscape. To help create depth, include a foreground subject – this will form a primary focal point, with everything else receding into the foggy background. There is often a subtle, beautiful quality to images with mist. Colours are often muted and subjects less deﬁned, which can help draw attention to key features, while disguising more distracting elements. Longer focal lengths tend to be more useful than wide-angles for this type of landscape – a 70-200mm telezoom is a good choice. Telephoto lengths will foreshorten perspective, emphasising the conditions and enabling photographers to isolate key features emerging evocatively from the mist. Contrast plays a key role in misty images. Foggy shots are naturally low in contrast and you will notice that histograms are often quite narrow due to the limited tonal range misty conditions produce. Although it is normally common practice to stretch histograms out during processing – by setting the black and white points to the far left and right of the graph – misty scenes don’t normally require such a high level of contrast. You will probably need to add some contrast during processing otherwise your shots will look ﬂat and lifeless. However, apply too much, and you risk destroying those lovely muted tones and subtle detail. Just remember to process your Raw ﬁles carefully, sensitively and intuitively.
Misty conditions are most common during spring and autumn. While it is impossible to predict where and when mist will form, by keeping a good eye on the weather forecast and knowing what to look for, you greatly enhance your chances of heading out with your camera at just the right time. Fog is made up of condensed, suspended water droplets, created when hot air meets cold air. Basically, it is cloud on the ground! Fog is dense; reducing visibility to less than 1km. Mist is thinner, impairing visibility less and is generally more attractive. The most photogenic conditions tend to be when radiation fog forms. This occurs during clear, still nights (typically, wind speeds need to remain below 5kmph) when the ground loses heat by radiation. The ground cools the air to saturation point, resulting in mist. Radiation fog will often remain conﬁned to low ground, forming a thin attractive layer at the bottom of valleys and over ﬁelds. Weather websites and apps are a useful resource and 24hr and 48hr forecasts are often reliable. When checking the forecast, look for clear, cool, still nights – ideal conditions for mist. Some forecasts go as far as predicting mist, but checking visibility often gives the best indication – for example, if visibility drops from ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’ to just ‘good’ or ‘average’ overnight, there is a good chance you will be greeted by mist in the morning. Set your alarm early and allow plenty of time to reach your location – remember that if you are driving, your journey will be slower due to the poor visibility.
PRO INSIGHT Mark Bauer
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“If, like me, you like your landscape photographs to be full of mood and mystery, head out on a misty or foggy morning, especially one when there is a low-lying radiation fog. Mist simpliﬁes the landscape, reducing it to bold shapes, which can make for truly atmospheric compositions. “To maximise my chances of success, I regularly check the local forecast, hoping for clear, still nights when the temperature drops. If there is a lot of moisture in the ground, there is an even better chance of being greeted by mist the following morning. “To make the most of it, I get up early and head for the hills, as low-lying mist looks best when viewed from above, with trees and buildings rising above the layers. I try to base my composition around these shapes, looking for a strong focal point to place in a key part of the frame.”
NOT TO BE MIST Shooting towards the light highlights mist and fog, and reduces objects in the scene to inky silhouettes that contrast well with the minimalist landscape. Exposure: 1/640sec at f/11 (ISO 800) IMAGE: ROSS HODDINOTT
The Ultimate Photo Guide
TWILIGHT: THE BLUE HOUR
OUT OF THE BLUE The cool, tranquil tones of the blue hour accentuate any colour left in the sky before sunrise or after sunset. Exposure: 30 seconds at f/14 (ISO 100)
THERE’S MORE TO IT THAN SHOOTING WHEN THE SUN IS UP – ARRIVE BEFORE SUNRISE OR WAIT IT OUT AT SUNSET TO CAPTURE THE MAGIC OF THE BLUE HOUR
order to lock the shutter open for as long as required to achieve correct exposure. Often, you will need to expose for a minute or longer. Long exposures can generate noise and ‘hot’ pixels, which is why most digital SLRs have a long-exposure noise reduction feature, where the camera takes a dark frame of the same duration as the original, and uses this information to subtract noise from the image. While this works, it effectively doubles the length of exposure, which can be frustrating. Therefore, some photographers prefer to switch it off and apply noise reduction during post-processing instead. Setting up in darkness and accurately composing and focusing images is exceptionally difficult, which is why many photographers prefer to shoot blue-hour photographs in the evening rather than the morning. This way, you can set up your shot while it is still reasonably light and wait for darkness to descend. It is also easier to calculate exposure time in fading light than it is when it is getting steadily brighter. All types of landscape can work well at twilight, but cityscapes, ﬂoodlit bridges and landmarks tend to suit this time of day, as the mixture of cool natural light and warm artiﬁcial lighting combines effectively. Scenes containing water, ice or snow are also very well matched, as these elements reﬂect the coolness of the light, creating magical results. Exposure length will be long without the need of ND ﬁlters and any movement will be creatively blurred – for example, moving water, cloud, or the light trails of vehicles. Water looks dreamy and ethereal when reduced to a milky blur, so beach scenes are a favourite for blue hour photographers. The soft, blue, low contrast light of twilight also suits reﬂective bodies of water. Being by the water’s edge of a mirror-like loch or lake during twilight can be a magical place to be with your camera, with the rich, bluish light implying a lovely feeling of nighttime.
HILE MOST PHOTOGRAPHERS are familiar with the golden hours, the so-called blue hour is less well known. However, this time of day is just as capable of producing outstanding conditions for capturing mood. The blue hour is the period of twilight each morning and evening when the sun is below the horizon, but a residue of light remains, which is predominantly blue in colour. Just like the golden hours, the blue hour is a small window of opportunity. Despite the name, the blue hour typically only lasts for around 30-40 minutes – ending around 20 minutes before sunrise, and beginning roughly 20 minutes after sunset. The colour of the sky will range from blue, to dark blue, followed by black – or vice versa depending on the time of day. You can ﬁnd calculators online to help you work out the time and duration of the blue hour depending on geographical location and time of year – visit: www.bluehoursite.com. This is a truly magical and eerie time of day. The emotional inﬂuence of colour shouldn’t be overlooked. Blue typically conveys tranquillity, coolness and is considered a calming hue. Despite the low-light levels, sensor technology is so good today that digital cameras have no problem capturing detail, colour and tone in semi-darkness. Sensors don’t suffer from reciprocity failure in the same way ﬁlm did, so taking images during twilight has never been easier. However, exposure length is naturally long when you take photographs at these times of day, so a tripod is essential – not a luxury. Unless you decide to use a wide aperture and high ISO (which isn’t recommended for landscapes, due to the loss of depth-of-ﬁeld and increase in noise that occurs), exposure length will normally exceed your camera’s longest automatic shutter speed. Therefore, blue hour photography normally requires you to switch to Bulb (B) exposure mode in
IDEAS TO TRY Blue-hour photography
SILHOUETTES: As you are generally able to capture less detail in low light – shape, form and silhouetted subjects often play an integral role in blue-hour landscapes. Pay close attention to your composition – simplicity and minimalism will often work very well.
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WATER REFLECTION: Get close to the water’s edge. Still, reﬂective lakes and ponds look beautifully ethereal during the blue hour and the glass-like surface will mirror the sky. Rocks, rushes and jetties create ideal foreground interest or lead-in lines.
COASTAL: Continuing on the water theme, beach scenes work well at twilight, with little tidal pools, beach streams and reﬂective boulders being among the subjects that work well as foreground matter. Lighthouses also suit being shot in low light.
PRO INSIGHT Mark Bauer MARK BAUER
”Even once the last colour has faded from the sky, I rarely just pack up and head home. Some of the most atmospheric conditions occur during twilight. It’s no surprise it’s often referred to as the blue hour, due to the naturally cool hues of the ambient light. To make the most of the moody blue lighting, I like to shoot near water, which reﬂects the cool blue tones of the sky. Shooting while there is still a faint glow on the horizon can be very effective, as the warm colours contrast well with the blue; alternatively, artiﬁcial light from buildings can create an effective contrast. Light levels are extremely low, so be prepared for exposures of up to several minutes. Therefore, I always rely on a sturdy tripod, remote release and employ my camera’s Bulb mode.”
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PH TO SKILLS
BUBBLY BOKEH LOOKING FOR A QUICK AND EASY STILL-LIFE TECHNIQUE TO WHILE AWAY A RAINY DAY? CREATIVE BRIGHT SPARK CATHERINE MACBRIDE HAS FOUND A WAY TO CREATE BOKEHLICIOUS IMAGES WITH A RETRO LAMP AND A FEW STRAWS CAMERA: CANON EOS 6D / LENS: LENSBABY VELVET 56
PH TO SKILLS
RYING TO THROW out junk in my house has become a real problem lately. Every time I start I usually ﬁnd something that could possibly make an interesting photo – I end up getting distracted and pottering off to ﬁnd my camera instead of doing what I should be! That’s exactly what happened on my last clear out when I came across a ﬁbre optic lamp we bought some time back in the ’90s. I ﬁgured it would be fun to try and create an image from it – a lot more fun than what I was supposed to be doing anyway! I tried a few straight shots with it but, although very pretty, it lacked something. I didn’t know what until I found a packet of drinking straws and started to slip bundles of the ﬁbres inside them. That was what the shot had been missing! The end result was a colourful abstract that was full of blur and bokeh and a world
away from how the objects looked originally. I think that’s what I like most about this type of shot – it seems to belong in a different world, or something at the edge of the universe, rather than a handful of simple drinking straws and a dusty old lamp. In terms of kit, you’ll need to root out a ﬁbre optic lamp, or they can be purchased online for very little (it can be used as a great source of bokeh for future shoots too), and a pack of large transparent colourful drinking straws; don’t go for the thin ones as they are too ﬁddly to try and thread the ﬁbres through. Camera kit wise, I used my EOS 6D with a Lensbaby Velvet 56 attached for that sublime bokeh effect. I also tried my standard macro lens and that worked equally well, but produced slightly different-looking bokeh. Any lens with a fairly close focusing distance should work ﬁne though.
GATHER YOUR KIT Grab a handful of the straws and carefully feed some of the ﬁbre optic strands through the middle of them. You’ll need your patience about you and a steady hand – this can be a ﬁddly and frustrating job, hence why wider straws are better suited. Around 10-15 straws should be enough – the effect is also more interesting when some of the ﬁbre optic strands are left outside of the straws.
FOCUS Set your lens to manual focus and turn the focus ring to select its minimum focusing distance. Holding the camera with your right hand, bunch up the ﬁbre optics (and straws) with your left to give you a good-sized clump to shoot down on. You’re ready to shoot! Gently rock back and forth to ﬁnd the sweet spot of focus and best bokeh – I ﬁnd it easier to use LiveView when doing this.
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CAMERA SETTINGS Set your camera to manual or aperture-priority mode. Select a wide aperture – as I’m using a Lensbaby my aperture reads f/0, but it was manually set to f/1.6 on the lens. Set your ISO to give you a fast enough shutter speed by taking a quick shot of the lights. An ISO of 1250 gave me a shutter speed of 1/2000sec, fast enough for hand-holding, which I ﬁnd easier than using a tripod.
TIMING IS IMPORTANT Many ﬁbre optic lamps cycle through colours and brightness, and some ﬂash on and off, so timing is imperative. Shooting at the wrong time can either lead to a dull underexposed image, or only recording one colour. Follow the pattern of the lights and aim to shoot when they are bright and during the transition of two or more colours to result in a far more interesting ﬁnal effect.
FIBRE OPTIC ILLUSION The final result is a curious and creative capture that looks almost astrological. What fun can you ďŹ nd with junk? Exposure: 1/2000sec at f/1.6 (ISO 1250)
PH TO SKILLS
PUDDLEOGRAPHY TAKE AN ALTERNATIVE VIEW OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS AND YOU ARE LIKELY TO FIND A MULTITUDE OF WAYS TO CHANGE THE PERSPECTIVE OF YOUR IMAGES. CAROLINE SCHMIDT SHOWS US HOW CAMERA: NIKON D800 / LENS: NIKKOR AF-S 24-70MM F/2.8G ED
OWERING SKYSCRAPERS, MAJESTIC cathedrals and colourful abstracts all hold potential for a splash of puddle photography. It’s too easy to get conditioned to shooting at eye level, but any discerning photographer will tell you changing your view can transform your pictures. Shooting from a skewed angle or high and low vantage point are obvious ways, but a bit of lateral thinking can go a long way. Scenes reﬂected in windows and water can reveal more than a straight shot, with even more intrigue. In towns and cities where bodies of water are sparse, puddles are aplenty at this time of year. A heavy downpour, followed by parting of clouds, is the ideal condition for getting
down to street level to see what’s being reﬂected from above. Uneven paving stones, cobbled streets and descended curbs are perfect places to ﬁnd the odd puddle, but it’s equally as important to assess how photogenic the surroundings are as that’s the subject of your shot. You could compose your frame to show only the puddle and its reﬂection or include the whole subject as a backdrop. Often revealing the top-half of the subject in the puddle and bottom-half as the backdrop results in compelling pictures, while reﬂecting the whole scene in a large puddle can create striking symmetry. While dramatic rain clouds often accompany a downpour, sporadic showers
can pass as quickly as they arrive leaving nothing but blue sky and crisp reﬂections. Beautiful! It’s worth spending time experimenting with angles and approaches to each puddle you ﬁnd; there may be some surprising results or stronger reﬂections from one angle compared to another, depending on the direction of the sun. In terms of lenses, a standard zoom is ideal: at its wide end you can include the scene behind and at its longest end you can isolate the puddle – it also offers decent variety, especially as the apertures you’re most likely to use are between f/3.5 and f/5.6. Grab your brolly and brace the rain, for if the forecast says 60% chance of showers you’re in the game!
PH TO SKILLS
SET UP Find a location that offers interesting reﬂections. Cities are a favourite as there’s plenty going on and usually a range of architecture for different styles of shots. This spot, with its majestic buildings, uneven cobble streets and alleyways with their diffused lighting, made it perfect. I was also less concerned about cars – though the bicycles posed their own hazards! If you cannot reach a city then a church, festival, street event and even just people playing in a park all have potential.
LOOK FOR PUDDLES Seeking out puddles in appropriate places is easier said than done. You need to be on site after a downpour: too soon and the raindrops will cause the puddles to ripple; too late and you’ll ﬁnd most puddles have dried up. Streets with uneven surfaces offer you the best chance, but pack a bottle of water in case you need to top up any if they’re too shallow. Once you’ve found a puddle, walk around it to decide on the best angle of view as there are different shots a puddle can offer.
GET LOW, REALLY LOW The lower your view, often the stronger the reﬂections so you’ll need to compose your picture using LiveView, unless you’re willing to lie on the ground. A vari-angle LCD screen is very useful here. If you’re concerned about getting grubby, pack a waterproof mat to sit on. For your camera settings, aperture-priority mode and multi-zone metering will set you on the right track.
FOCUSING Your aperture depends on the lens you use, your proximity to the puddle, the extent of your angle, the reﬂection’s size and whether you want the background in focus. Aim for f/3.5-f/8, depending on the desired effect, and increase your ISO if light levels are too low to handhold the camera. Use single-point AF to focus on the reﬂection or manual focus if the reﬂection is low in contrast.
ALTERNATIVE COMPOSITIONS TO TRY
1) LOW AND WIDE: Include the reﬂection in the foreground and low-level context in the background. Alter your angle until you get the key features you want reﬂected. You’ll need a focal length of 24mm or wider.
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2) FLIP AND FILL: It’s often enough to offer a glimpse at what’s in the surrounding scene by just zooming in to focus on the puddle alone. Flipping the image upside-down can also produce interesting results.
3) CHANGE YOUR FOCUS: As you near sunset, you might ﬁnd that street- and shop lights begin to switch on, so even if you’re not able to incorporate a colourful sky reﬂected in the puddle the lights’ bokeh adds interest.
TOP TIP If you cannot find a puddle, look out for people hosing off pavements or streetcleaning vehicles that leave water in their wake
REFLECT ON YOUR SHOTS Once the sky has cleared, itâ€™s amazing the possibilities that a puddle of water can provide your photography. Exposure: 1/1000sec at f/3.5 (ISO 100)
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PH TO SKILLS
CLOUDS OF COLOUR PUTTING THE LIFE BACK INTO STILL-LIFE, CREATIVE WHIZZ DINA BELENKO IS BACK TO SHOW YOU HOW TO CREATE SURREAL DISSOLVING VEGETABLE AND FRUIT IMAGES, WITH MINIMAL HELP FROM PHOTOSHOP CAMERA: NIKON D800 / LENS: NIKKOR AF-S 105MM F/2.8G MICRO / FLASH: 2x NIKON SB-910
’M ALWAYS ON the lookout for new and creative ways to capture still-lifes. So, when I had the idea of creating an image that appeared to show the colour dissolving away from an item, such as a vibrant vegetable or colourful fruit, I knew I had to make it a reality. After some trial and error, I managed to capture a shot I was happy with and, when I shared it online, I received a lot of messages asking me if it was a 3D computer generated model or if it was a composite of
two different images. It gives me great pleasure to reveal that it was created almost entirely in-camera, with a little clever trickery. This trick is very simple and extremely ﬂexible. You can photograph several objects at the same time and make a fast-dissolving salad or you can change the object entirely and photograph, for example, a martini glass with a cloud cocktail seeping away from it. The gear you need is rather simple too: a camera, tripod and any light source suitable
for shooting at high speed – in my case it’s two ﬂashguns, a large diffuser and a reﬂector. You can use almost any lens you want, but a lens with good macro capabilities would be the best choice. A remote release would be a convenience, too, but not a requirement. As for props, you will need a main object – for this tutorial it’s a chilli pepper on a fork (but any colourful vegetable or fruit will work just as ﬁne), a ﬁsh tank with ﬂat sides, a syringe and some paint. Let’s go!
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PREPARE THE PROPS Pin your chosen vegetable or fruit to the fork and secure it inside the ﬁsh tank. Here, the fork is affixed to a thin sheet of glass with glue. You can use clamps, but avoid using string or thread as the props will sway with water motion. Carefully ﬁll the ﬁsh tank with water. If you ﬁnd bubbles clinging to the props, use a ﬁne paintbrush to gently sweep them away.
MATCH THE COLOUR If you’re using acrylic paint, as I recommend you should (see panel, opposite), then use some water to make the paint less dense and mix the colour to match the tone of the vegetable or fruit. It doesn’t have to be 100% correct, just close enough to trick the eye. Here, a couple of drops of orange paint were added to increase the warmth of my colour.
MIND THE ORIENTATION Keep in mind that paint will be poured from the top to the bottom, but the ﬁnal shot looks more interesting if the cloud of colour ﬂows from left to right, or from bottom to the top. It’s simply a case of rotating the ﬁnal image to suit, but at this stage you need to make sure your camera is angled and composed with the orientation of the ﬁnal image in mind.
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LIGHTING The scene here is lit with two ﬂashguns, set on low power. The lower the power, the shorter the ﬂash duration, which helps to freeze motion. One ﬂashgun is positioned on the right side of the tank, with the other behind a large diffuser (which also serves as the background). Also, there is a reﬂector on the left side at the front to soften any shadows on the pepper.
CAMERA SETTINGS Set your camera to continuous shooting, focus manually on the pepper and set a low ISO. If working with ﬂash, set your shutter speed to the ﬂash sync speed – usually between 1/160sec and 1/250sec. From there, take a test shot to establish the aperture and ﬂash power. If using natural light, increase the ISO and set the fastest shutter speed possible.
DYE HARD WITH A VEGETABLE Shoot plenty and you can choose elements to mask over one another. For this image, I’ve replaced the visible syringe with swirls of paint from another frame. Exposure: 1/200sec at f/14 (ISO 200)
PICK THE RIGHT DYE
START SHOOTING Check everything is securely ﬁxed in place and you’re all ready to shoot. Insert the syringe near the subject and pour some paint slightly behind the prop – ideally, make the paint touch and ﬂow over the pepper, but try not to let it ﬂow in front of it too much. Take a sequence of shots while the paint is ﬂowing. Once the water gets too murky, clear it out and start again if you need to.
Different types of dyes behave differently in water. Acrylic paint is denser than water and forms lovely opaque clouds. Ink (usually spirit-based) is light, transparent and hard to control and it has a tendency to escape from the syringe before you start to push it. Food dye isn’t as bright as ink and has exactly the same density as water. Therefore, I favour acrylic paint — I assume that if chilli pepper really would dissolve in water, it would produce a dense, colourful cloud!
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1) ADD CONTRAST WITHOUT OVERSATURATING ORIGINAL
ADD AN ADJUSTMENT LAYER With your image loaded in Photoshop, click on the Create new ﬁll or adjustment layer button in the Layers palette and select your method of adding contrast. This can be Brightness/ Contrast, Levels or Curves, whichever you prefer. I’ve chosen Brightness/Contrast.
INCREASE CONTRAST In the adjustments palette that opens up, add your adjustment as you see ﬁt – I’ve increased the Contrast slider further than I normally would to illustrate the effect. You’ll notice that the more contrast, the further saturated colours become, especially noticeable in the skin's shadows.
CHANGE THE BLEND MODE Back in the Layers palette, change the Blend Mode of the contrast adjustment layer, Levels in my case, from Normal to Luminosity. This means that this adjustment layer only affects the brightness levels of the image below, and doesn’t affect the colour values.
JORDAN BUTTERS SHOWS YOU HOW TO USE BLEND MODES ALONGSIDE ADJUSTMENT LAYERS FOR ULTIMATE TONAL AND COLOUR CONTROL
HE ISSUE WITH increased contrast in any colour image is that it also affects colour saturation. For images where the colour is already to your liking, scenes that are already saturated or images that contain skin tones, this can be undesirable. On the ﬂip side, when you make creative changes to colour contrast, for example through split-toning or cross-processing, it can also affect the image’s brightness, leading to blown highlights or dark shadows. Both of these problems can be overcome using Blend Modes. Here are two examples:
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MAKE FINAL TWEAKS You may wish to now head back into your adjustment layer and ﬁne-tune the values to suit your image. Only luminosity is now affected, so you can be more accurate in adding contrast without fear of misrepresenting skin tones or oversaturating the colours in your image.
2) ADJUST COLOUR WITHOUT LOSING DETAIL ORIGINAL
USING MULTIPLE LAYERS Blend Modes also allow you to control contrast and adjust colour using multiple adjustment layers on the same image. For example you can have two independent Curves layers applied to the same image – one controlling colour and the other controlling luminosity – by setting their Blend Modes accordingly. Give it a try!
ADD AN ADJUSTMENT LAYER Conversely, this technique can also be put to use to adjust colour contrast without affecting the brightness of your image. As before, click on the Create new ﬁll or adjustment layer button and choose Levels or Curves. I’ve opted for Curves this time for greater control.
CHANGE THE BLEND MODE As the sky in the image was already quite bright, this increase in the red and blue highlights has blown out some of the detail. Change the Blend Mode of the Curves adjustment layer to Color to combat this. Now the adjustment only affects colour values and not luminosity.
ADJUST THE COLOURS I want to add a reddish purple tint to the sky in my image, which is mostly highlights, so I select the Red channel in the Curves adjustment palette and increase the Red curve in the highlights area. I then repeat this for the Blue channel, increasing the Blue curve in the highlights.
MAKE FINAL TWEAKS With your Blend Mode set to affect the colour only, heading back into the Curves adjustment palette to make your ﬁnal changes is a good idea. Remember, you can also reduce the Opacity of the Curves layer in the Layers palette to lessen the effect too, should you wish. Digital Photography 61
PH TO SKILLS
FRAME THE FACE STYLING A SIMPLE HEAD-AND-SHOULDERS PORTRAIT, CAROLINE SCHMIDT SHOWS YOU HOW TO FRAME THE EYES TO MAKE YOUR PORTRAIT MORE INTERESTING. CAMERA: NIKON D800 / LENS: NIKKOR 50MM F/1.4G
HILE A WIDE-aperture headshot can make a perfectly decent portrait, adding a prop to frame and accessorise the face can enhance and elevate a basic picture. It’s a simple addition, but whenever you add something that can potentially hide the face there are some fundamental considerations to take into account, such as composition, colour, crop and lighting. Wrapping a face or head needs to add interest and draw focus to striking eyes; if not applied well, it can weaken a picture by casting the eyes into shadow or competing for attention.
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Textured fabrics work well as they often catch the light for added contrast – it could be a silk headscarf that shimmers in the light, a knitted snood or fur hood, for instance. For this shoot I’ve used a pashmina with metallic thread so that areas of the scarf catch the light easily to brighten the image. The lighting is crucial to avoid any unﬂattering shadows from accessories and to ensure the skin and eyes are the brightest areas of the image to control the viewer’s focus and to frame features. Similarly, colour can play a major role in the success of a shot as it shouldn’t compete for attention over
the face, which is why portraits like this often work well in black & white. You can be as creative as you want to be with scarves: you can drape them around the face aiming for a tight, balanced crop; wrap them around the head leaving just the eyes visible (which works well with vibrant-coloured eyes with strong catchlights); or as I’ve done here, use it to cover one eye for a bit of mystery. Either way, piercing eye contact is what you’re trying to capture and frame, so make sure your subject stares straight through you for maximum visual impact.
PH TO SKILLS
Frame the face
SET-UP As you’re wrapping the head, you need to use soft frontal lighting to avoid the prop casting unﬂattering shadows on to the subject’s face. For this you could use the edge of open shade, metering so as to cast the background into darkness, or a black studio backdrop next to an open window – or in this case, patio doors. Using a dark background helps keep the focus on the subject’s face, so try to avoid any distracting colours or lights.
CAMERA SETTINGS Take control over your settings by using aperture-priority mode and select spot metering. Set a wide aperture to draw the focus to the eyes – here I used f/1.4 and ﬁlled the frame. Use AE-L to meter from the subject’s cheek as you want the skin tones to be bright and even, casting the background darker. Then using single-point AF, focus on the eye; if you use autofocus, chances are you’ll focus on the edge of the scarf or the subject’s nose.
ARRANGING THE PROP Play around with the way the headscarf drapes, paying careful attention to any shadows it casts and how appealing it looks. Too far forward and not enough light will reach the eyes; too far back and the scarf won’t frame the face for a positive impact; too loose and it can look messy; too tight and it can look awkward. Work with soft edges and gently drape, otherwise consider using a more forgiving prop that has lots of texture and no straight lines, like a fur hood.
ALL AROUND MY HAT
TWEAK THE LIGHT As well as watching out for distracting highlights in the background, you need to pay close attention to how the light falls on the face and this can be affected by how you drape the headscarf, so do both simultaneously. Try moving the subject closer or further away from the light source and adding a stop of positive exposure compensation, if needed. Use a reﬂector to help ﬁll in any uneven shadowing but avoid direct ﬂash for its telltale sharp shadows.
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Rather than draping or wrapping a headscarf, try ‘propping’ your shot with a hood, snood or a knitted, black ﬂoppy or Fedora-style hat to frame the face. If there’s a rim that’s casting the eyes in shadow, pull out your silver reﬂector to bounce light underneath. Once you turn the shot black & white, it will be the texture and contrast of the fabric that the viewers’ will notice, as opposed to the colour, so think in monochrome. Crop the shot tightly to focus attention on the face.
RAW CHALLENGE 1: LEE FROST WHEN DRAMATIC BLACK & WHITE IMAGES ARE YOUR GOAL, ADOBE CAMERA RAW AND SILVER EFEX PRO II ARE UNBEATABLE NOW, I'M GOING TO let you in to a little secret, and this may come as something of a surprise to regular readers of this esteemed organ – I don’t actually like post processing. I’m passionate about taking photographs, and I love to see the end result, but I ﬁnd the bit in between a tad tedious. Actually, very tedious. I’ve never watched a Photoshop tutorial in my life, and the last book I bought on digital processing was Photoshop 6 for Photographers by Martin Evening. That was a long time ago – and even then I didn’t get much beyond the first chapter.
Why am I revealing this shocking information to you? Because the outcome of my ignorance is that I’m not actually very good at processing images. I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than spend ages working on each Raw ﬁle, so I like to do as much work as I can in-camera and as little as possible at the computer. My workﬂow is terrible and my knowledge limited. Saying that, the images I produce aren’t too bad, which suggests that all this complicated and technical post processing isn’t essential if you don’t want it to be. We’ll see!
RAW ADJUSTMENTS With the Raw ﬁle open in ACR I click on the Lens Correction tab and apply the proﬁle for the lens as well as checking Remove Chromatic Aberration. The Raw ﬁle is exposed for the highlights, and as a result the building is quite dark, so back in the Basic tab I click Auto to see how ACR interprets the exposure and contrast.
ADJUST CONTRAST The exposure is better but the image is now a little ﬂat, so I drag the Highlight slider to -100%, which darkens the sky. I then drag the Clarity slider up to 25% to boost midtone contrast. That’s as much as I need to do to the colour image – now it’s time to convert to black & white to really bring out the drama!
TAKE CONTROL Silver Efex Pro's presets give you a one-click solution, but in this case I adjust Contrast and Structure manually so I can control the effect. The dynamic composition of the image and the strong light lends itself to a bold transformation, and I can see that there’s drama in that sky so the plan is to reveal it.
WORK SELECTIVELY I enlarge the image to 300% and use the Polygonal Lasso tool, set to 1px, to select the sky. It’s fairly quick as there are lots of straight lines, though I’m sure there’s a better way to do this (I told you my knowledge was limited). I then go to Image>Auto Contrast. This simple step makes a huge difference to the sky.
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OPEN IN SILVER EFEX There are countless ways to convert an image to black & white, but for me, nothing beats Nik Silver Efex Pro II. It’s so quick and easy, and it's free now too! I go to Filter>Nik Collection>Silver Efex Pro 2. A basic black & white conversion is made and presented in the Silver Efex screen along with tools and presets.
FINAL TWEAKS Finally, I invert the selection and make a Curves adjustment to the building to beef up the contrast to compliment the sky. I then enlarge the image to 100% and use the Healing Brush to remove a few sensor blemishes. It only takes ten minutes from start to ﬁnish, but the ﬁnal result is worlds away from the original.
LEE’S FINAL RAW EDIT Black & white doesn’t reﬂect reality, which means you can really go to town when it comes to creative interpretation.
RAW CHALLENGE 2: JORDAN BUTTERS THERE'S NO MONOCHROME HERE! JORDAN BUTTERS CREATES A CONTRASTY AND COOL COLOUR IMAGE IN LIGHTROOM CC THERE’S A TREND in modern abstract architectural photography to convert many images into high-contrast black & white. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking it and you can see why it works so well – save for the occasional blue sky, many abstract modern architecture images are almost monochrome in their nature anyway, while tall glass and steel structures often inherently lack strong colour. Furthermore, the crisp lines, contrasty light and graphic shapes are often the perfect ingredients for a
monochrome conversion. However, I’ve come up with my own little stylised ‘recipe’ that I like to apply to my abstract architecture images, and it involves manipulating colour. Best of all, when using Adobe Lightroom, these steps can be saved as a one-click preset, so they can quickly and easily be applied again in the future. Here’s how I go about doing it in Adobe Lightroom CC. As they use the same processing engine, the steps in Adobe Camera Raw are very similar too.
ADJUST EXPOSURE After a slight crop, I start by altering exposure and contrast. The ﬁle was slightly underexposed in camera to retain highlight detail, but I'm going to push it further. My aim is to underexpose by around two stops for dramatic effect. I then lift the Shadows slider to retrieve shadow detail, and add contrast by increasing the Whites slider until the histogram graph touches the right hand side.
TWEAK THE COLOUR Now for the colour – I start by changing the White Balance to Daylight before heading into the Hue, Saturation, Luminance tab. Under Hue, I slide the Blue channel to the left, changing the sky to an aqua colour. It looks very unnatural for now, but bear with me. Next, I head back to the Basics tab and reduce the overall Saturation of the image. The sky now looks more subtle, with a cool blue/grey tint.
DODGE & BURN In the Adjustment Brush palette, I select Dodge from the drop-down Effect menu. I then change the Feather to around 50, and start brushing over the buildings to increase exposure selectively. I’m aiming to reveal shadow detail and draw the viewer’s eye to any interesting features. You can also use the Shadows slider in the Adjustment Brush palette to increase shadow detail too.
ADD A GRAD The Tone Curve adjustment we applied earlier has brightened the sky a bit too much for my liking. Using the Graduated Filter (M key), with Burn selected from the Effect menu, I add a soft graduated ﬁlter to the top of the image. This overlaps the buildings slightly, so I select Brush at the top, and then Erase from the Brush options below before going back over the buildings to remove the ﬁlter from these areas.
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CONTRAST WITH CURVES Although I added overall contrast earlier, I want to add a boost to the midtones. This is easiest done in Tone Curve. I create a strong S-shaped curve in the low midtone area – this darkens the shadows and brightens everything from dark midtones upwards. The buildings are too dark at present, but I'm going to use selective dodging and burning. I select the Adjustment Brush tool by pressing the K key.
FINE TUNING Quite often the editing process calls for a lot of back and forth as your vision for the image changes as you edit. Also, as you change one parameter it can quite easily push another area too far. I like to walk away from the image for a few minutes before coming back to do my ﬁnal edits. Here – a few tweaks to Whites, Shadows and Exposure are called for, before a ﬁnal slight crop to tighten the composition.
JORDANâ€™S FINAL RAW EDIT Before exporting I add +25 Clarity to crisp up the edges, and sharpen the image via the Detail tab. All done!
RAW CHALLENGE 3: JAMES ABBOTT A GUARANTEED WAY TO DO A SHOT LIKE THIS JUSTICE IS WITH A DRAMATIC MONO CONVERSION. JAMES HANDLES IT USING ACR I’M A BIG FAN of architecture photography, and when I ﬁrst saw this image I knew exactly how I wanted to approach processing. I tend to convert most of my own architecture shots to mono – it’s probably a kickback to my early days at college; I shot buildings on uprated black & white ﬁlm to add grain, and took contrast to the limit in the darkroom. For digital black & white photography, shooting in Raw and editing in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw will give you the best results by far. You can push controls like Exposure, Contrast, Clarity, Shadows and
Highlights hard without diminishing overall image quality. Plus, by taking advantage of Grayscale Mix, which controls how individual colours convert to mono, you can enjoy an unbelievable level of control. Sharp lines and dynamic angles are part of what make architecture photography so appealing. Throw dramatic black & white into the mix and you’re onto a winner. By manipulating this image using the controls available in ACR, I’m going to break nearly all the rules of processing. But, I think you’ll agree, it’s a great way to edit images like this.
CONVERT TO MONO I usually work on settings like Exposure and Contrast ﬁrst. But with an image where I need to really push a mono conversion, I head straight to the HSL/Grayscale tab and click on Convert to Grayscale. The default conversion is quite dull, but dragging the Aquas and Blues down to -100 darkens the sky perfectly.
REVEAL DETAIL You have to be careful when working with the blue channel because it’s the noisiest. Darkening the blues in this instance has darkened many of the midtones too. To combat this I increase Shadows to +100 with Blacks at -30 to hold the tonal balance. I then recover the highlights by setting the slider to -40.
BALANCE EXPOSURE Things are really starting to take shape, but the area in the bottom left of the buildings is far too dark for my liking. To ﬁx this I activate the Graduated Filter by pressing G on the keyboard, then left mouse-click and drag the guide over the area. An increase of Exposure and Shadows, and a decrease in Highlights is perfect.
ADD CLARITY Now the exposure is balanced, the image is very close to where I want it to be, but there are a couple more adjustments that will really make it shine. With the heavy processing in HSL/ Grayscale the image still looks a bit muddy, so I boost Clarity. I normally set +30 as a maximum, but for this shot I set it to +60.
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BOOST CONTRAST With detail looking roughly how I want it, it’s time to move onto the controls I’d normally adjust ﬁrst. To get started I boost Contrast to +50, which looks great, but the overall image is slightly too dark at the moment. So next, I slowly drag the Exposure slider to the right until the image looks bright enough at +0.25.
ENHANCE TONES One of the buildings is blending into the sky. I press B on the keyboard to activate the Adjustment Brush, and then paint over the top of the building. I made a couple of mistakes so hold down the alt key and brush them out. Now it’s a case of boosting Exposure and Contrast, with a little Shadows and Highlights recovery.
JAMESâ€™S FINAL RAW EDIT A combination of adjusting the black & white mix and controlling shadows and highlights results in an image with stacks and stacks of detail.
The Photo Workshop
TAKING GOOD PHOTOGRAPHS IN BUSY CITIES IS BOTH CHALLENGING AND FRUSTRATING. IT’S NOT ONLY CROWDS AND TRAFFIC THAT YOU HAVE TO CONTEND WITH, BUT THE DREADED TRIPOD POLICE ALSO MAKE LIFE DIFFICULT! FOR THIS WORKSHOP, PRO LEE FROST HEADS TO THE BIG CITY TO SET READER PETE GUYAN THREE ARCHITECTURAL CHALLENGES
OUR EXPERT: Lee Frost
OUR READER: Pete Guyan
Lee is one of the world's best-known landscape and travel photographers. During a career spanning three decades he has written almost 20 books, 100s of magazine articles and led more than 150 photo workshops and tours around the world. www.leefrost.co.uk Lee’s kit: Canon EOS 5D S, EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM, EF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM, EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM, Lee Filters system, 105mm Polariser, Manfrotto 190 tripod with Really Right Stuff ball head, Tamrac Adventure 9 backpack.
Pete is a High Performance Computing Solutions Architect. With a passion for shooting landscapes and long exposures, he takes his photography kit with him as he travels the globe. Pete’s kit: Canon EOS 5D Mk II, Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM, EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM and EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM, Heliopan 105mm Polariser, Lee Filters system, Manfrotto 055CX3 tripod with 322RC2 head, Lowepro Vertex 200 AW backpack.
HE LAST DECADE or two has seen a boom in the creation of amazing architecture. In major cities all around the world, architectural masterpieces are springing up like poppies. Dubai has broken pretty much every record in the book for the biggest, grandest and most expensive buildings, while a stroll through Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences is like stepping onto the set of a sci-ﬁ movie. Bold shapes, sharp corners, graceful curves, aggressive angles, eye-catching patterns and brilliant reﬂections – modern
architecture is the fusion of so many exciting elements and brings together the very best in creative design and cutting edge technology, to present us with gigantic works of art. All forms of architecture make great subjects, but while we tend to interpret and photograph old buildings in a literal way, modern architecture encourages creative exploration and presents almost endless photographic possibilities. One minute you can be shooting an entire structure with a wide-angle lens, the next abstracts and details with a telezoom.
One building can be the source of dozens of different images, shot both day and night, inside and out. To put this theory to the test, I met up with reader Pete Guyan in More London, a modern development by the River Thames, just a stone’s throw from City Hall and Tower Bridge. It’s a busy, bustling place and not the easiest location for photography, but the buildings are fantastic, and there are great views across the Thames, so it’s worth trying to overcome a few obstacles for great shots. On the day the sun was shining and Pete was eager to get going. Here’s what happened…
The Photo Workshop
CHALLENGE 1: CAPTURE A STRIKING TELEPHOTO SHOT
On arrival at More London I revealed to Pete his ﬁrst task. After a quick wander around to familiarise himself with the location, he decided that a nearby view across the Thames would work well. Not only does it contain a number of striking buildings – including the famous ‘Walkie Talkie’ and Sir Norman Foster’s ‘Gherkin’ - but with the buildings some distance away, he could really make the most of his 100-400mm telezoom. An additional beneﬁt of moving away from More London is that we would be away from the watchful gaze of security guards, who patrol the area and have a habit of questioning photographers as it’s private land. I was once told to move on; not because I was taking photographs but because I had two cameras and was therefore deemed to be a professional! Pete ideally needed to use a tripod for this challenge, to steady his big, heavy zoom lens, but it’s unlikely he would have managed to set up one in the main plaza without being hassled, so we moved a few hundred metres away and tucked ourselves between some pillars where Pete could set up his tripod and work in peace. Initially, Pete concentrated his efforts on the Walkie Talkie building and another striking modern structure in front of it, zooming in tight to create a simple, almost abstract composition. The light and weather was ideal, with mid-morning sunlight bathing the buildings from the side. I suggested Pete use a polariser and it made a big difference to the shot, boosting colour saturation and contrast as well as improving the sky (see panel). The initial shot was underexposed, but dialing in +1EV of exposure compensation solved that. Pete also forgot to turn off the image stabilisation facility to begin with, and though the images seemed sharp enough, he re-shot them just to be on the safe side. With the exposure sorted, Pete worked on a few variations of this shot, zooming in ever tighter and making small adjustments to the composition. He also waited for clouds to drift by so the sky wasn’t so cluttered. It seemed that the ﬁrst challenge was complete, so we decided to stroll back to More London and tackle the next.
However, Pete spotted an alternative shot of the Gherkin that he wanted to investigate. With his zoom at 100mm the shot didn’t work at all – he just got a messy group of modern and old buildings with no compositional merit. Zooming to 400mm changed that, excluding most of the buildings from the frame and leaving just three, each boasting a different structural pattern. We both agreed that this would make a better shot than the ﬁrst as it was more graphic. My only concern was that the blue sky had turned rather white and hazy, and diluted the impact of the image. Pete suggested that he'd crop the top of the shot during postproduction to get rid of the sky, and though I felt it would be a shame to lose the top the Gherkin, doing so deﬁnitely improved the composition. One down, two to go.
1) Pete gets to work composing his ﬁrst shot using a Canon EOS 5D Mk II and 100-400mm zoom. 2) A quick check of the histogram shows the exposure is okay. 3) Pete’s initial shot works well, but he decides he can do better. 4 & 5) Pete’s 100-400mm zoom is ideal for the location – these shots show the same scene captured at 100mm and 400mm.
CHALLENGE 1 Pro verdict “It was interesting to see how this shot evolved. Initially, Pete focused his attention on a completely different group of buildings and we were happy he had a good shot in the bag. But then he spotted another opportunity that worked even better. Not the first lens you'd reach for architecture, but his 100-400mm was ideal for this challenge, allowing him to use perspective compression to crowd the buildings together and fill the frame.
Using a polariser A circular polarising filter is invaluable for architectural photography. First off, it improves the sky on a sunny day, deepening the blue – which makes a great background – as well as emphasising clouds. Second, it boosts contrast and improves clarity so images appear bolder and sharper. Thirdly, it can reduce or eliminate reflections. In the case of modern architecture, this is a godsend as modern buildings tend to include a lot of glass, which reflects its surroundings and can look messy. This comparison shows what a difference a polariser can make. Keep the sun to one side of the camera and rotate the polariser while looking through the viewfinder.
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FILL THE FRAME Cropping the original 400mm shot to lose the sky has produced a simple, tightly-composed image. Exposure: 1/30sec at f/11 (ISO 100)
The Photo Workshop
CHALLENGE 2: SHOOT A WACKY WIDE-ANGLE IMAGE Going from one extreme to another, I asked Pete to pack away his 100-400mm telezoom and swap it for a wide-angle 16-35mm. It was time to get low down and dirty! We headed into the heart of More London and took a good look around so Pete could see what was on offer. There are some stunning buildings in close proximity with strong design elements and I knew he’d be spoiled for choice. It's a popular area for photography, so I was interested to see what Pete could come up with. More London is a busy commercial area and we happened to be there on a beautiful sunny summer’s day – which meant the place was packed; not only with tourists but also office workers enjoying an early lunch break in the sun. As Pete would be shooting skyward for this challenge, the crowds weren’t a problem. I advised Pete to shoot this one handheld as a tripod in this busy area would send 2
security into a spin and probably get us evicted! Just as well it was sunny and light levels were high. With an ultra-wide zoom you also get a near endless depth-of-ﬁeld, so there’s no need to stop the lens down beyond f/8 – which meant the shutter speed would be respectable at ISO 100 or 200, even with a polariser ﬁtted. Another beneﬁt of shooting handheld is that you’re more ﬂuid and can move around freely, changing camera angle to shoot a variety of images in quick succession, which Pete proceeded to do. Initially, stray clouds and contrails from passing jets were an annoyance, adding clutter to the compositions that Pete didn’t need. They’re easy enough to clone out during post-production, but it’s better to avoid them if you can so we took a coffee break and waited for the sky to empty before shooting resumed. Looking up at tall buildings through a wide-angle zoom is quite mesmerising – and often a bit dizzying! Vertical lines cease to exist as they all converge dramatically towards the centre of the frame – and the 3
1) Pete aims his camera skyward – handholding is necessary for this shot. 2) Checking shots on the camera’s LCD monitor is a good way to assess progress. 3) Try looking at this shot and not feeling dizzy! 4) Looking good – but the clouds and contrail don’t help. 5) The vertical option works well too.
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GET THE LOW DOWN Pete’s ﬁnal shot is a fantastic study in strong lines, sharp corners and bold angles – low and wide works every time with modern architecture. Exposure: 1/200sec at f/8 (ISO 100)
wider the lens, the more pronounced the effect is. You almost forget what it is you’re looking at because subject matter is no longer important – it’s all about lines, angles, patterns and shapes. Modern architecture is sharp, bold and brash, and when you capture it from a low viewpoint with a wide-angle lens, its drama is exaggerated tenfold. Some of Pete’s initial images were too cluttered and complicated, but slowly he started to reﬁne what he was including in the frame and what he was omitting.
Convert to black & white
Before long we found the winning view, a spot where two buildings appeared to frame a third against the clear blue sky – and the central building ended in a point as sharp as a spear! By composing the view so that the point of the central building was bang in the centre of the frame, the composition looked fantastic. The clouds had also drifted away, leaving plain blue sky as a simple background to the glass and steel facades of the buildings. Two challenges down, just one more to go!
OUT OF CAMERA
CHALLENGE 2 Pro verdict “This shot is right up my street – simple, striking and full of impact. The low angle and wide view works brilliantly and I really like the way the lines in the buildings either side direct your eye to the tip of the central building. The light was really contrasty as it was a sunny day and direct sunlight was only hitting selected areas of the buildings. However, Pete has handled that really well and produced a powerful image.”
SILVER EFEX PRO
Modern architecture is well suited to a b&w conversion. Removing colour also removes realism; the composition is simplified and the image becomes more graphic. Lines, shapes and patterns are emphasised and you can really go to town with boosting contrast and structure if you choose. It’s easy to convert a colour image to black & white using Lightroom or Photoshop, but Silver Efex Pro is one of the best b&w software options out there. It’s part of the Nik Collection, which you can download for free at: google.com/nikcollection/
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The Photo Workshop 2
CHALLENGE 3: SHOOT ABSTRACT ARCHITECTURE For the ﬁnal challenge I wanted Pete to think outside the box and come up with an architectural abstract image. On my way to meet him earlier in the day, I’d walked to More London from nearby London Bridge station, and on the way noticed some impressive tubular steel panels above the entrances to shops and cafes. Taking a quick peek, I knew instantly that there was the potential for some great images there, so I earmarked the location for more attention later. On a dull, cloudy day I doubt this subject matter would have been worth bothering with, but in contrasty sunlight it formed a mind-boggling array of patterns that reminded me of what you see when you look into a kaleidoscope! I knew Pete would ﬁnd this location interesting and I wasn’t wrong. As soon as we arrived he was craning his neck and ﬁring away, ﬁrst with a 24-105mm zoom so he could make selective compositions, then a 16-35mm for wider views. Polished black panels provided the perfect surfaces to reﬂect the tubular panels and also the blue of the sky above, while a shiny red wall added a splash of vibrant colour. There was no single composition that stood out – this was one of those locations where if you asked ten photographers to come up with a shot they would probably all produce a different one. The only obstacle to be aware of with wider shots was the sun beaming down, reﬂecting and causing ﬂare. Other than that, it was a straight shot that Pete’s metering system had no problems coping with. Pete was in his element, quietly composing, shooting then checking the shot
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before adjusting the camera angle and focal length and ﬁring again. I checked some of his images and offered a few pointers, but they looked great anyway, and when it comes to shooting abstracts, there’s no right or wrong – it’s each to their own! “I wonder if my crystal ball would work here?” suggested Pete out of the blue. If I’m honest, I didn’t really catch what he was saying and started to wonder if he was planning on reading my future. Fortunately, before I had a chance to make a fool of myself by asking, Pete was busy polishing a glass ball about 4in in diameter. Next, he held it out in front of him and started photographing the distorted reﬂections in its clean surface. This put a clever twist on what was already a very abstract subject so I had a go myself, holding the ball at arm’s length. Warning: if you try taking shots with a glass ball in bright sunlight, make sure the sun doesn’t shine through it! Within seconds I felt intense pain on my thumb and realised that the ball was acting like a powerful magnifying glass, concentrating the sun’s brightness on a tiny area of skin and burning it! Ouch! If you fancy trying this technique yourself, just buy a clear glass or acrylic ball. Search online for crystal balls or meditation balls. They’re available on eBay and Amazon for anything from $10 or more – a 4in diameter ball will cost about $25. While we were shooting we got another visit from More London security. I guess we did look rather suspicious. Fortunately, they were intrigued more than anything and when we showed them what it was all about, they left us to it – though I’m sure I heard one of them muttering into his walkie talkie about a couple of mad photographers as he walked away!
1) Pete gets into position for yet another winning shot. 2) An eye-catching pattern isolated with a 24-105mm zoom at 105mm. 3) One of many great shots taken by Pete for his ﬁnal challenge. 4) Pete whips out his crystal ball to try something different. 5) The view through his crystal ball.
CHALLENGE 3 Pro verdict “Pete has come up with another great shot here. He could have zoomed in tighter to simplify the composition, but I like the fact that he’s included those splashes of colour in the lower walls. The red looks especially good. There are different facets to the shot and though you could argue that it’s too cluttered, I think it just gives you a lot to look at and that means it holds your attention. It’s not obvious what you’re looking at either, which adds a little intrigue.”
WORKSHOP SUMMARY: Pete Guyan “I've been on several workshops before, so I knew I would be given challenges that were different to my usual subjects. It's great to be able to try new things and discuss new techniques. I would never previously have thought to use a 400mm focal length to pick out details and compress perspective when shooting architecture. The abstract looking up the front of the tower block proved the most difficult shot for me, trying not to get lens flare and deciding how best to compose the scene when there was so much going on. It was also difficult to shoot with so many people around – although at least shooting upwards meant they weren’t in the shot! Lee suggested for the wide-angle shot that I try and keep one of the building points in the centre of the frame, and to wait for a cloudless sky. Easier said than done!
KALEIDOSCOPIC VIEWS There are so many patterns in this shot that it’s hard to know where to look ﬁrst – it's like peering up into a giant kaleidoscope! Exposure: 1/500sec at f/5.6 (ISO 400)
PHOTO KIT TESTED & RATED BY EXPERTS
PENTAX 645Z MEDIUM-FORMAT HAS LONG BEEN FAVOURED BY HIGH-END STUDIOS, BUT CAN THE 645Z COPE IN THE REAL WORLD? PORTRAIT PRO BRETT HARKNESS PUSHES IT HARD. Page 86
Plus GEAR NEWS: All of our favourite photo kit launches of the past two months. Page 82 MINI TESTS: A premium lighting aid, hard drive, messenger bag and action cam tested & rated. Page 83 JINBEI DISCOVERY: A budget location ﬂash kit that sounds too good to be true. Page 90 MANFROTTO XPRO-3WG HEAD: Manfrotto has taken the ﬁddly out of tripod heads. Page 91 CARBON-FIBRE TRIPODS: Eight lightweight beauties are expertly assessed and rated. Page 92
Product news \
ADVANCE YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY
FIRST LOOK: FUJIFILM XF2X TC WR FUJIFILM FANS WHO partake in a spot of sports or wildlife photography are in for a treat. Fuji has just announced the addition of a 2x teleconverter to its X-series range. We had the chance to try a pre-production model during a test day at Silverstone Motor Racing Circuit, and we’re pleased to announce that the results were extremly promising! As with all teleconverters, there is some loss of light to be expected, but with the right technique the resulting images were pleasingly sharp. When paired with the XF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6R LM OIS WR lens,
the new teleconverter offers a staggering approximate 1200mm equivalent focal length, taking into account the APS-C crop factor. The new converter bears the Fuji WR branding, so it can be used with Fuji’s weather-resistant X-T1 and X-Pro2 alongside the XF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6R LM OIS WR and XF50-140mm f/2.8R LM OIS WR lenses for complete peace of mind in the rain. The XF2X TC WR is available now for $560. www.fujiﬁlm.eu
SHED A LITTLE LIGHT STROBISTS CAN REJOICE THIS MONTH AS A PLETHORA OF NEW LIGHTING OPTIONS HAVE HIT THE MARKET FIRST UP IS A ﬂagship Speedlite from Canon. The 600EX II-RT ($850) is a powerful ﬂashgun with 20-200mm coverage and Guide Number of 60 (ISO 100, m). Dual transmission allows for wireless ﬂash control and there's improved thermal abilities, meaning more shots per burst, as well as support for external batteries. Find out more at: www.canon.co.uk Equally powerful, but less costly is Nissin’s new GN60 offering – the Nissin i60A. Boasting Nissin’s NAS 2.4GHz radio wireless control system, the i60A can also control up to three groups of ﬂashes, and the unit weighs just 300g (minus batteries). The i60A will be available for Nikon, Canon, Sony, Micro Four Thirds and Fujiﬁlm systems for an estimated $470. To ﬁnd out more, head to: www.kenro.co.uk Finally, if you need a bit more power, then look to the new Broncolor Siros L location ﬂash. A direct competitor for the popular Profoto B1, the Siros L comes in 400Ws and 800Ws options, powered by a built-in, swappable, lithium-ion cell. The Siros L is also Wi-Fi connected, so can be controlled via smartphone or tablet. Of course, this doesn’t come cheap – the 400L (400w) kit starts at $2900 and the 800L (800w) kit at $3375. For more information, visit: hasselblad.com
AVAILABLE NOW IS the $200 Manfrotto Advanced Rear Backpack, which has a versatile design allowing it to be used as a camera backpack, laptop bag, or protective camera case. The lower part of the bag can safely hold a professional DSLR camera body with up to three lenses. A zip on the rear provides maximum security. The compartment is also removable, meaning the bag can be used as a spacious daypack. The front pocket can store a 13in laptop, A4 documents, 10in tablet and smaller items. An upper compartment and side pocket offer further storage. A dedicated tripod compartment and rain cover is included. www.manfrotto.com
IN BRIEF... SMALL BUT MIGHTY 2
Great things come in small packages, as attested to by Samsung’s EVO Plus card. With a 256GB capacity, it’s the highest in its class – enough to record up to 12 hours of 4K video! There’s V-NAND technology inside, which offers read and write speeds of up to 95MB/s and 90MB/s, respectively. Available now, it includes a ten-year warranty. For more information, visit www.samsung.com
THE NEXT BIG THING
SAMYANG’S AF DUO SAMYANG’S POPULAR RANGE of manual focus lenses has been joined by the arrival of two autofocus lenses for use with Sony’s E-mount full-frame mirrorless cameras. The 14mm f/2.8 ED AS IF UMC and 50mm f/1.4 AS IF UMC both sport aspherical lenses to minimise aberration and dispersion, and are compatible with both phase- and contrastdetect sensors for fast and accurate focusing. Available now, ﬁnd more information at www.samyanglensglobal.com
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Introducing Photo RAW – a new software program that creator ON1 is calling, “the ﬁrst all-new Raw processor in more than a decade.” Photo RAW has been coded from scratch, designed speciﬁcally for modern, high-megapixel cameras and promises lightning-fast editing. Available in early 2017, the price is expected to be around USD$150. www.on1.com
TENBA COOPER 15 LARGE MESSENGER BAG If you're more interested in style over substance, then look elsewhere. If not, this is a well-built messenger bag that's worth every cent SPECIFICATIONS Price: £210 Exterior material: Peach-wax cotton canvas (20% polyester reinforcement) with 2x water-repellent PU coating, waterproof, full-grain leather base Interior material: Silicone-coated, water-repellent ripstop nylon and soft, brushed tricot Exterior dimensions (WxHxD): 41x29x20cm Interior dimensions (WxHxD):38x28x17cm Laptop compartment (WxHxD): 38x27x3cm Weight:1.66kg Website:www.tenba.com Test: DANIEL LEZANO
OU CAN BUY EXCELLENT gadget bags for $150 or less, so why should you consider this messenger bag from Tenba that costs just over $300? Well, there are several reasons why I think it's deﬁnitely worth the extra expense. If you want to pack away a fair bit of kit, you'll ﬁnd the Cooper 15 to be deceptively spacious. Tenba states a DSLR with 3-4 lenses but – as long as you can handle the weight – you can ﬁt in a lot more. The depth of this bag is part of the reason why – I regularly leave a Sigma 180mm macro lens (similar in size to a 70-200mm zoom) attached to my DSLR and this slips in easily into one of the padded compartments. The Tenba has six of these compartments, with additional space at the ends for extra accessories, as well as good sized pockets on the front, a large rear pocket for a 15in laptop, plus extendable exterior end pockets that can hold large drinks bottles. Clearly, storage space isn't a problem. Plus, the inner padded compartment offers adequate protection without being overly thick and can be removed, meaning that if you're on a weekend away, you can leave the kit in it at home and use this bag for clothes and personal items. The Tenba's exterior is made from peach-wax cotton canvas with two water-repellent PU coatings that effectively make it waterproof, with a full-grain leather base. The main ﬂap has a YKK zip running along its length
360ﬂy action camera 360° horizontal coverage / f/2.5 lens/ waterproof to 35m / 32GB memory/ Wi-Fi & Bluetooth / iOS & Android Test: DANIEL LEZANO
Price: $680 Website:360ﬂy.com
Above:It may look a bit on the utilitarian side, but this Tenba is constructed of only the highest quality materials. Below: The Cooper 15's PU coating keeps your kit dry.
to allow fast access into the bag, and inside is another full-length zipped ﬂap that offers extra security and protection from the elements. The two wide Velcro straps for fastening the main ﬂap are designed to open quietly when the ﬂap is pulled down, to minimise noise when quiet access is required. Other features include a trolley strap on the rear, a separate rain cover and side loops for attaching accessory pouches. The Tenba has a wide strap with thick padded non-slip area that makes the bag comfortable on the shoulder, even when kitted out. A removable hand strap with leather grip is also included. The pragmatic design of the bag means it lacks the more modern style of others, but I didn't ﬁnd this a major issue. I like the classic design of the Cooper 15 – while some bags have clever 'innovations', this Tenba keeps things simple and I think this works in its favour. Plus, it means that more can be spent on the materials and workmanship of the bag, both of which are excellent.
VERDICT If you can live with the premium price, you'll be investing in a spacious, well-designed and comfortable bag that is made to last for years. One of the best large messenger bags on the market.
GOPRO DOMINATES THE action camera market, but there are a growing number of brands trying to take a slice of this ever-increasing pie. 360ﬂy is one of the latest additions and is one of a small number of models shooting 360° video (with mono audio). This waterproof (35m) and shockproof (1.5m) unit sports a very neat design dominated by the 0.88mm lens on its upper face. Build quality and style is excellent and the camera is supplied with a number of attachments, as well as a dock that is used to charge the camera as well as connect it to your computer. All the main controls are handled by the 360ﬂy app, which is stylish and easy to use. Using the app, video can be edited and shared quickly, allowing you to post video to Facebook or YouTube with ease. The 360ﬂy provides 360x240° coverage, which means that video recordings cover 360° around its horizontal axis and 240° on its vertical, which should be adequate for most uses, like skiing or cycling. However, this means the central part of the lens, which captures the sharpest image, is pointing upwards, with the edges of the lens, which are softer, capturing the more important parts of the scene. Colour reproduction is good but the dynamic range is relatively narrow, especially on bright, sunny days, due to the contrast between blue sky and ground-level subjects. The integral stabilisation works well and the 30fps recording provides smooth video, but it struggles a little with very fast action. While video quality isn't as good as from the likes of GoPro, 360° video is presently on trend, and the coverage provides a far more immersive experience than standard action video.
VERDICT HIGHLY RATED
While the video quality isn't on a par with premium brands like GoPro, the 360° experience is a real beneﬁt. And the 360ﬂy's ease of use and versatility is sure to ﬁnd favour with action video enthusiasts.
Overall Digital Photography 83
/ Lighting aid
LASTOLITE SKYLITE RAPID (MEDIUM) KIT This framed lighting kit from Lastolite provides a versatile set-up that can be used as a reﬂector or a diffuser and comes supplied in a neat carry bag
Test: DANIEL LEZANO
Price: $370 Website: www.manfrotto.com
N A RECENT ISSUE, we ran a Beginner's Guide to daylight portraits and featured a number of reﬂectors and diffusers. Following the article, we had a number of queries from readers about one particular lighting aid, so we've decided to provide a review of it. The Lastolite Skylite Rapid has been around for a number of years. Having used the original Skylite, I know what a useful and versatile accessory it was, although it wasn't without its handling issues. I'm not quite sure when its design was revamped, but the problems I found with its Velcro ﬁxings have been addressed, making this reﬁned version a far better option. The Skylite Rapid is available in three sizes: small (1x1m); large (2x2m) and medium (1.2x2m), which is on test here. The system is based around an aluminium frame that comes apart into six sections but are linked by an elastic cord, so you can't accidentally leave a section behind. It doesn't take long to connect each section together and once complete, you have a very sturdy, yet lightweight, frame to which you can connect the fabric. Supplied in the carry case along with the frame are two fabrics: a translucent diffuser that reduces the light by 1.25 stops, and a
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Above right: The Skylite perfectly diffused the harsh sunlight, while a silver reﬂector added a slight ﬁll-in and attractive catchlight. Right: These images clearly show the effect of undiffused and diffused light. Far right: It's light enough to be held by one person, although far easier with two holding it.
reﬂective material that's silver on one side and white on the other. This makes it a highly versatile kit suitable for use in all types of daylight conditions, as well as for use in the studio. Should you wish to have both fabrics ready to use at the same time, an additional frame costs around $150. The fabric has plastic C-shaped clips around its edges that makes it fast and easy to attach to the frame and allows the fabric to be pulled tight. Detaching it is simply a case of pushing the clips off the frame. Once assembled, you have a large reﬂector/diffuser able to illuminate/diffuse a full-length person or a couple, which is really useful. When used vertically with the bottom of the frame resting on the ground, it's incredibly easy to keep in position, except on very windy days. Thanks to the light weight of the system (around 3.5kg), when used as a diffuser to shield the subject from the sun overhead, it can be held in the air with relative ease, especially if you have an assistant at each end. If you've only one person handling the diffuser, I recommend investing in the optional ($70) crossbar
handle, which, when attached makes it far easier to hold the set-up at awkward angles, such as at arm's length overhead. To prove the point, for the image of the teenage girl (main image above), I had my 80-year old father hold the Skylite above the subject using the crossbar handle for over a minute! Having used the Skylite Rapid regularly for a few weeks, I've nothing but praise for it. Easy to store, fast to set up
Samsung Portable SSD T3 1TB Solid State Drive / USB 3.1 type C / 250GB, 500GB, 1TB & 2TB / Up to 450MB/sec / Shockproof metal case Test: DANIEL LEZANO
Price: $480 Contact:www.samsung.com IN OUR NOVEMBER 2015 issue, we tested Samsung's ﬁrst-generation SSD S1 portable hard drive and were very impressed with it. Using Solid State rather than traditional disk technology, Samsung's SSD T1 provided data transfer speeds that eclipsed anything we'd seen before from our portable and desktop hard drives. A year on, following user feedback, Samsung has announced a modest update of the range that provides a number of design and structural changes, but no improvement to the speed transfer rates (our tests show identical speeds on the T3 as the T1). The key changes are that it connects via USB 3.1 type-C rather than USB 3.0 micro, allowing it to connect easily to devices such as smartphones and Smart TVs, as well as PCs and Apple Macs. The all-metal case and revamped interior now provides extra shockresistance that's claimed to survive a drop from two metres, while the encrypted password-protection has been tweaked too. The upgrades aren't major, so if you've invested in an SSD S1, then there's no real reason to upgrade. For those of you looking for the fastest possible speeds on a portable drive, then the Samsung models are certainly worth a look. If you need 2TB, then the T3 series is the option to go for, but for smaller capacities, it might be worth keeping an eye out for a fall in price of the T1 models – although at the time of press, both are similarly priced. Finally, to test the shockproof claims, I dropped the SSD on grass and laminate ﬂooring from a height of a metre and I can conﬁrm this had no effect on its performance.
and simple to use, it's a versatile and robust accessory that suits serious amateur and professional use, both outdoors and in the studio, as both a diffuser and a reﬂector. Various other accessories such as a griphead to connect the frame to a support, along with additional fabrics, are available too, making the Skylite Rapid system a highly ﬂexible portrait photography tool for all levels of photographer.
VERDICT The Skylite Rapid is a highly versatile and well put-together system. Compared to standard collapsible reﬂectors/diffusers it might seem expensive, but it in fact represents excellent value for money.
As with the original model, there is nothing that comes close to matching the Samsung SSD for size, speed and performance. It's the ultimate portable hard drive to own, if you can afford it!
Overall Digital Photography 85
/ Professional ﬁeld test
Big beauty: Similar in style to its revered 6x4.5cm ﬁlm SLRs, the 51.4-megapixel Pentax 645Z handles like an oversized DSLR.
PENTAX 645Z Professional portrait and wedding photographer Brett Harkness reveals his thoughts on 18 months using a medium-format DSLR
KNOW HOW IMPORTANT having the best possible kit is to taking great images, but I’m not the type who upgrades their camera the moment a new or improved version is available. If I’m going to switch from one camera to another, there has to be some very good reasons for doing so. I've always been a Canon user for most purposes, using the EOS-1DS Mk III for eight years – and now the EOS-1D X – for the majority of my portrait and wedding photography. I have grown to love and trust them and they rarely disappoint. When shooting fashion and commercial jobs where the ultimate in quality was required, I'd hire Phase One camera systems which, thanks to the larger sensors, produced images with incredible detail. Although the results were amazing, I knew that unless I was a full-time fashion or commercial photographer, there was no real way I could justify the purchase of my own medium-format outﬁt due to the cost. So when I ﬁrst read about the Pentax 645Z, I decided to give it a try. I had owned a Pentax 6x7 medium-format camera many years ago – indeed, it was one of my ﬁrst cameras – so it felt a little like going back to my roots. I spoke to the guys at The Flash Centre in Leeds and decided to rent one out for a shoot. I wanted my ﬁrst test shoot with it to be in harsh conditions so I could really put it through its paces. So I headed into Manchester on a cold, rainy day with a model friend to see how it would fare.
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Test: BRETT HARKNESS
SPECIFICATIONS Guide Price: $10,000 (body only) Image sensor: Full-frame CMOS (44x33mm) Resolution: 51.4-megapixels Maximum image resolution: 8256x6192 pixels AF system: 27-point (25 cross-type sensors) Metering: 86,000-pixel RGB sensor. Multi-segment, spot and centre-weighted patterns ISO range: 100-204800 Shutter speeds: 1/4000sec-30 seconds & Bulb Frame rate: 4.5 frames-per-second Storage: Dual SD card slots Size: 117x156x123mm Weight: 1550g (with battery & card) Website: www.ricoh-imaging.com We just went for a walk for a couple of hours to try it out – I didn’t read the instruction manual, I usually don’t to be honest, preferring to trust my judgement and see what I could get out of it. While bigger than a standard 35mmbased DSLR, the Pentax isn't a beast to handle, thanks to a large handgrip and curved square body shape. It offers excellent balance. Having used similar cameras in the past, and because its controls have much in common with standard DSLR layouts, meant I found my way around it in no time at all. It's easy to understand and works very much like a 35mm DSLR. At around 2kg with a lens, the set-up is quite heavy, but not vastly different to my EOS-1D X with
an 85mm lens, so I've no real complaints. The controls are placed intuitively and it was straightforward to use out of the box. So handling was good, but how was the crucial area of image quality? Put simply, I couldn't get my head around the detail it captured. The 645Z's CMOS sensor is around 1.7x larger than that of a full-frame 35mm sensor and boasts a resolution of 51.4 million pixels. I expected a noticeable improvement in image quality compared to what I was used to, but the jump in performance was far greater than expected. Not only in terms of sharpness but also in how it handles noise – I used it at ISO 400, 800 then 1600, and it still delivered. I've yet to try it out at its top rating of ISO 204800 though! After the test shoot
I WAS EXPECTING A NOTICEABLE IMPROVEMENT IN IMAGE QUALITY TO WHAT I WAS USED TO BUT THE JUMP IN PERFORMANCE WAS GREATER THAN I EXPECTED
I was hooked – shame I had to give it back! After the ﬁrst trial I knew that this camera could add something to the way I work – its exceptional image quality and fast, simple and effective operation was a combination I knew I could make use of regularly. I needed a second run with it. This time, I wanted to push it further and use it in testing conditions that would not only try out the capabilities of the camera, but also challenge me to handle tricky shooting situations – if I could work with the camera in such challenging conditions and capture good results, then I would know the camera had what it takes to become a regular piece of equipment in my photographic arsenal. I hired one again and headed out to spend the day with a theatre
group called The Lost Carnival; where I was commissioned to shoot a series of portraits of various different characters. And what a day it was; using my Elinchrom Quadra portable studio ﬂash and smoke machine on location, and pushing the 645Z to its limits. From shooting carnival folk in cramped tents to capturing ﬁre-eaters outdoors, the Pentax delivered portraits packed with incredible detail and colour reproduction. The results were for me at the time, some of my best work and reinforced my belief that this camera system offered something special. It's worth noting that at this point I decided to approach Pentax with the images and see if there was a way I could use the camera on a regular basis. Thankfully, they liked the
Above: Dream team of Brett Harkness with his Pentax 645Z! Top: “The 645Z handles out in the field much like a 35mm DSLR. Its incredible dynamic range simply blew me away.” Digital Photography 87
images I had captured with the camera and after some meetings I became an ambassador for the Pentax 645Z, which I am very proud of. It has taken a lot of hard work to achieve this status and recognition. Despite this, I want to assure full transparency – my views on the camera are honest and not in any way inﬂuenced by this role. Over the last few months I've used the 645Z regularly on shoots including portraits, families, fashion, training and commercial jobs including interiors and products. One type of job I've yet to tackle is weddings. I've taken years to develop a way of working and style of photography based around using my Canon system, so while it's probably only a matter of time before I use the Pentax for weddings, I'm not quite ready to make that leap yet. Rather than go for an overly-technical review, I'm providing more of a personal viewpoint on the Pentax and what has made me switch to it from my tried and tested Canon for many of my shoots. The thing I like the most about this camera is how it makes me feel when I'm using it. I can hear you murmuring, but for me that is a paramount consideration. Yes the dynamic range is to die for, the detail in its 51.4-megapixel sensor is outstanding and the lens optics are razor-sharp, but they aren't its biggest selling points to me. The Pentax slows me down, allows me to consider everything and forces me think about every shot. While it boasts continuous shooting, I don't rattle through frames the way I do with standard DSLRs. I've been nothing but impressed with the versatility of the Pentax and have taken it to many, many places. From swamps to beaches
THE PENTAX 645Z IS MORE THAN A CAMERA, IT HAS ALLOWED ME TO PUT ALL OF MY EXPERTISE IN PHOTOGRAPHY AND LIGHTING INTO MY IMAGES AND IT HAS GIVEN ME WHAT I DREAMED OF PRODUCING to rivers, and in temperatures as low as -20°C, name the place and I've taken it there. For me, a camera that delivers like this and allows me to shoot images I knew I was capable of, but couldn’t take to the best of my ability due to the equipment's limitations, is worth shouting about. If I hadn’t been brought into the ambassadorial role I'm sure I would have purchased one by now. To be without it would be a huge loss for me and my work. I shoot less images with it, that's for sure, but I also get things right quicker because I'm thinking harder. I know it sounds odd but this camera does deserve the best you can do, and if you give it, it will repay you! While I think the camera's speciﬁcation and performance are impressive, it isn't perfect and there are a few areas where it could be improved. One is the ﬂash sync speed, which is limited to 1/125sec – I'd much prefer it to be faster. To counteract this relatively slow sync speed I use ND
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ﬁlters to reduce the light and to allow me to shoot with wide open apertures. It's not a huge deal, and to be honest even if the sync speed was faster I would still use ND ﬁlters. In terms of handling, I would like to see the release of a vertical grip to make the camera more comfortable to use. Shooting all day with the 645Z, you feel it in the ﬁngers, as you do with most bulky cameras. Most of my portraits are vertical, so spending all day with your arm in the air through lack of grip is tough – not impossible – but tough. Pentax has stuffed this guy with everything you need and more, so come on, chuck on a grip – it's little things like this that make shoots easier. Another area that could do with a slight design alteration is the eyepiece. With the current offering you have to make sure you get your eye slap-bang in the middle of the viewﬁnder to have optimum viewing. Finally, I use Capture One software, which I love. The only thing is that it doesn’t recognise Raw ﬁles
from the 645Z yet, so I shoot TIFFs to make the most of the outstanding quality the sensor is capable of. Come on Capture One, sort this issue out, please! One area of performance that's worth highlighting is the tonality and shadow detail captured by the sensor. When I use it for documentary shots, for ambient or ﬂash-lit portraits, it delivers. My Canon did too, but I ﬁnd that the Pentax takes it to a different level. It's not so much about megapixels for me, its all about detail in the shadows, the dynamic range and the depth of the image. It simply draws you in. I'm also happy with the range of optics on offer, with close to 20 lenses currently available. I mainly use the 90mm f/2.8 (35mm equivalent: 71mm), which is a knockout lens boasting sharpness I've never seen before. I also use the 55mm f/2.8 (35mm eq: 43.5mm), 35mm f/3.5 (35mm eq: 28mm) and the 28-45mm f/4.5 (35mm eq: 22-35.5mm), which for a zoom holds its edge sharpness considerably well. I want to reiterate that if I was writing this as a non-ambassador, I would say exactly the same things. The Pentax is nothing short of a revelation. If you're using full-frame DSLRs and feel something is lacking in your imagery, then give this a try. If you want
Above left: “I’ve pushed the camera to its limits in lighting conditions that are very harsh and it delivers every time.” Above & left: “My Elinchrom lighting and the 645Z are a marriage made in heaven. Using my ND ﬁlters allows me to create dreamy, beautiful images.”
medium-format quality but can't or don’t want to spend tens of thousands, then the Pentax is a no-brainer. Its 51.4-megapixel sensor for me matches anything I would get from a Phase One or Hasselblad outﬁt for a third of the price! I've used it out in all kinds of conditions that I would use my Canon pro bodies in, and without fear of damage. I haven’t even cleaned the sensor yet and I’ve used it for a over a year and a half! My Canon sensor was cleaned once a month! So that shows just how well built it is! Its dual SD card slots give you peace of mind when shooting and if you use faster cards, you'll rarely get buffering when shooting in Raw or TIFF. For me, the Pentax 645Z is more than a camera. It has allowed me to put all of my expertise in photography and lighting into my images, and has given me what I always dreamed of producing. A camera doesn’t maketh the photographer, but on this occasion it sure does help out.
CONCLUSION The Pentax 645Z might not be a camera that you immediately go 'wow' about when you ﬁrst see it, but hire one, put it through its paces and I defy you not to see a marked difference with what you currently shoot. It's a medium-format camera that handles and operates like a full-frame DSLR, but with the beneﬁts of the larger sensor.
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JINBEI DISCOVERY DC-II 600 Can this budget 600W location ﬂash really compete with the big brands? There's only one way to ﬁnd out… Test: JORDAN BUTTERS
SPECIFICATIONS Price: $780 Power output: 600W Channels: Two (400W/200W) Recycle time: Fast 2.6 seconds / Slow 3.6 seconds Range: 1/1 to 1/16 (ﬁve stops) Battery: DC 24V 6000mAh interchangeable Li-ion Weight: Pack & battery 3.4kg / Head & cable 1kg Included: Pack, battery, head, 3m cable, bag, strap,radio trigger, handle, 35° reﬂector, diffuser, charger Mount: Bowens S-type bayonet Modelling light: LED (on, off, programmable time)
OU CAN ACHIEVE outstanding results using simple ﬂashguns for location lighting. Although when it comes to pure power, durability, battery life and modiﬁer choice, you'll struggle to beat a professional location ﬂash setup. The problem is they’re usually expensive, with premium systems setting you back around $1600 for a single head set. So when I saw photographers using a 600W Discovery kit by Chinese manufacturer Jinbei, my interest piqued. And when I spotted the price, I had to ﬁnd out what the fuss was all about. Jinbei offer two power levels for the Discovery kit – DC-II 600 (600W) and DC-II 1200 (1200W). I ordered the former online, and a few days later it arrived safely. Upon unboxing the Discovery DC-II 600, the ﬁrst thing that struck me was that the build quality was a lot better than I expected – this thing is built like a tank! The singlehead kit arrives in its own case, which is divided into three compartments. There’s plenty of spare space inside too, so you can use it to transport an additional head, radio triggers or extra ﬂashguns. The bag includes handles and a shoulder strap and is bolstered on the bottom by plastic bumpers. Carrying the power pack around is easy thanks to a small folding handle, and a shoulder strap that allows the pack and battery to be carried, or hung from a light stand as a ballast. The pack is weighty with buttons and dials that feel reassuringly solid. Even the cable and sockets are well-built and substantial. The DC-II 600 head is small and lightweight – this is a plus point if you’re lofting it up on a light stand, although its plastic construction means that I wouldn’t mount a modiﬁer larger than 100cm across.
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The supplied cable is long enough for all but the tallest light stands - a generous three metres end-to-end. The DC-II 600 even has a built-in radio receiver, and ships with a small transmitter, so you have everything you need to get started. Even more impressive is that this remote allows you to adjust power remotely. I didn’t expect that! The user manual is written in poorlytranslated English, so it does take some deciphering. Luckily the main functions are actually self-explanatory. The controls are situated on the top of the pack alongside an LCD. There’s a switch to turn the LED modelling light on and off, a test button, 3.5mm sync port and small LED to indicate sleep mode. Flash power is controlled via a single dial, which cycles between options when rotated, and is pressed in to select each setting. It would be nice if this could be locked to only adjust power as you inevitably forget to press it every time you go to adjust and end up cycling through functions. The pack has two recycle modes. Fast mode keeps capacitors constantly charged for a 2.6 second recycle at full power – this is said to reduce battery life but I’ve used the pack for several shoots in this mode and only just had to give it its ﬁrst charge! The magic ﬁgure given by Jinbei is 200 full-power ﬂashes per charge, which is more than enough. Flash power is consistent and plentiful – the DC-II 600 can easily overpower the sun at a reasonable distance, and ﬂash temperature is daylight balanced at 5500K. The DC-II 600 offers support for two heads from a single pack, and power is split asymmetrically – 400W to channel A and 200W to channel B. The Jinbei also
HIGHLY RATED supports high speed sync too. The head features a Bowens S-type bayonet, so there are plenty of modiﬁer options available. I had a certain amount of trepidation about purchasing this unit at ﬁrst, although after research I discovered how big a manufacturer Jinbei actually is – it seems that it produces quite a few rebranded models for other big names. I’ve been using this particular unit for a few months now, in a variety of situations, and it’s never skipped a beat once. When you compare the price of this set-up to other brands it represents great value for money. A pleasant surprise and certainly worth serious consideration.
VERDICT What’s not to like? A portable location ﬂash at a great price. Brand snobbery aside, this is a hard-wearing, high performance ﬂash that belies its low cost.
MANFROTTO MHXPRO-3WG HEAD When it comes to tripod heads, accuracy usually means ﬁddly. However Manfrotto has come up with a rather clever solution… Test: DANIEL LEZANO
SPECIFICATIONS Guide Price: $240 Head type: Three-way (geared) Material: Technopolymer Maximum load: 4kg Quick release plate: Yes (200PL) Spirit level: Yes (three) Working height: 13cm Lateral tilt: -90° / +20° Front tilt: -20° / +90° Panoramic rotation: 360° Warranty: Ten years Weight: 750g Website: www.manfrotto.com
T’S FAIR TO SAY that the majority of people looking for a support for their camera spend a lot of time choosing a tripod, but put in far less research on picking the best head. While sturdy legs are key for stability, picking a good quality head that matches your needs is just as important. We've tested several heads ranging from under £50 to ten times that amount and have noted several excellent models, as well as a few duds. This latest option from Manfrotto most certainly sits in the former camp: in fact, on a personal level, I think it's quite possibly the best head I've ever used. The MHXPRO-3WG is a three-way head that boasts geared movements, allowing for very precise control. This gives it much more universal appeal than standard geared heads, which are typically favoured by macro, architectural and still-life fans, but not so much by landscape and portrait photographers. Its design is very clever – the three knobs are spring-loaded, allowing you to quickly move the head into position. For more control, the knobs can be rotated to allow for more precise positioning, one micro step at a time, making it incredibly fast to use. While with most three-way heads the knobs are twisted to loosen and twisted again to tighten, with this head, the locking system can simply be released by pushing the knob against the levers then locked instantly by letting go. I found this useful when wanting to set up in a hurry, such as when getting in position to photograph wildlife, or when arriving late to location and needing to set up quickly before losing the light. Using the geared system let me get the camera in a decent position, while rotating the knobs meant I could ﬁne-tune the composition through the viewﬁnder. The head also incorporates three spirit levels, so you've no excuse for wonky horizons either!
The Manfrotto MHXPRO-3WG's unique geared control system allows for both quick set-up and ﬁne adjustments.
times it's been used with enthusiast-level DSLRs like the Canon EOS 6D and Nikon D7200 with lenses including wide-angles, a 100mm macro and a fast 70-200mm telezoom. I've found it very fast, and it has proven very solid and stable. I haven't experienced any major problems other than occasions where the head hasn't locked exactly where I wanted when I released the lever, requiring a ﬁne adjustment of the knob. But this occurrence is rare and hasn't made me want to switch heads. I think the MHXPRO-3WG is destined to sit atop my tripod for many years to come.
As well as being wonderfully designed, the head is extremely well made, supporting a payload of 4kg. It's relatively lightweight too, thanks to the use of a material called technopolymer (no, I'd not heard of it before either) in its construction. It sports the popular 200PL quick release plate found on many Manfrotto heads, which allows for fast removal and attaching of the camera via a two-step lever system. The centre of the head has a 360° scale, although the camera sits off-centre, so you do need to take some care if shooting panoramics. I've been using this head for around four months and in that time have used it for a wide variety of applications from landscapes to close-ups to still-lifes. The majority of
At $240, this head costs more than some complete tripod and head outﬁts, which may put some off. However, experienced hobbyists and pros looking for a superior head that provides fast positioning and precise control will ﬁnd this to be a superb choice that should last for years. Build quality Features Performance Value
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CARBON-FIBRE TRIPODS Test: RICHARD HOPKINS
ESIGNING A GOOD, strong and super-solid tripod should be really easy, and it wouldn't cost too much either. Just make it big and very heavy – out of scaffolding poles would be good! But the problem is obvious, and that's why quality
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tripods tend to cost a fair bit, especially when the best carbon-ﬁbre material, which is light, strong, and good at absorbing vibration, is so expensive. Carbon-ﬁbre tripods weigh roughly about 30% less than aluminium, but might weigh in at twice the price. Then it has to be adjustable for height, quickly and easily, on any working surface from pavement to
rocky mountain, which presents a design and engineering challenge. And so the cost ramps up further. On the plus side, the ﬁnished product will be inherently sturdy and built to last. A good tripod will provide many years of loyal service. And after long treks, you'll appreciate the weight saving carbonﬁbre models give over standard aluminium.
UNDER $500 For this review, there's a price ceiling of around $500, and that buys you a lot of quality. In addition, we've included several models that have cunningly designed centre-columns that articulate – tilting horizontally, rotating, and sliding back and forth. They make getting the camera into awkward places much easier, which is
YOU NEED A GOOD TRIPOD – IT'S A PHOTOGRAPHIC FACT OF LIFE. CHEAPTRIPODS ARE JUST FRUSTRATING, BUT SPEND A BIT MORE AND THEY'RE A PLEASURE TO USE, LASTING FOR MANYYEARS. SHARPER IMAGES WILL BE YOUR REWARD
especially good for macro photography. The latest designs achieve this with no penalty in normal use, and negligible additional weight. At the quality end of the market, a tripod head is extra, but all tripods come with a standard 3/8in screw on the top platform, so you can ﬁt pretty much any make or model. It's an important consideration because the
head is the main user interface – the bit you actually work with. There's a bewildering amount of choice, broadly splitting into two categories. Ball heads are most popular for their light weight, versatility and speed of use, though many users prefer three-way heads for the individual control they give over up/down, left/right and rotation planes.
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HOW WE DID THE TESTS When it comes to good stability and solid support, the tripod's main enemy is wind. It buffets around the head and legs, setting up vibrations that resonate through the tubing and transmit tiny blurring movements to the camera. The other problem is that vibration can come up through the legs, near a busy road perhaps, and the shock of mirror-slap from the camera itself. These things can usually be worked around by using mirror lock-up or waiting for a quiet moment. Another potential problem is jogging the camera with your hand when ﬁring the shutter, no matter how careful you are, so try to use a remote release, or the self-timer. Heavier tripods tend to be better at combating vibration, as the greater mass absorbs it more easily, but lighter designs can more than level the scores with more rigid construction – especially carbon-ﬁbre – that absorbs vibration and reduces resonance. To measure performance, controlled tests were set up in the studio to replicate the real-world effects of wind buffet and shock vibration. Test results revealed clear differences, and results conﬁrmed the higher performance shown by tripods with a more robust mechanical construction, as judged by simple practical assessment. These basic physical checks can be done easily in-store, and are especially revealing when comparing different models side by side. So, set up the tripod to normal working height and, holding two legs, gently
TRIPOD: ANATOMY 1) Leg sections: More sections deliver extra height and/or shorter closed length, but more joints can reduce rigidity. 2) Leg angle: Standard leg angle is around 22°. Wider angles increase stability, narrower angles increase height. 3) Leg angle adjusters: Usually two extra angle options, plus standard angle, to get down low, or level the tripod. 4) Carbon-ﬁbre: Strong and light. CF tripods are roughly 30% lighter than aluminium, but 100% more expensive. 5) Monopod conversion: Unscrew one leg, bolt it to the centre column, and voilà – you have a nice tall monopod. 6) Foam rubber grip: For comfortable carrying, either in the hand or resting on your shoulder. 7) Centre-column: Very convenient for extra height, but reduces stability. Best avoided with a heavy rig. Usually reversible to use camera low down. 8) Articulating column: Great for awkward angles, like macro, but at full stretch can unbalance the tripod. 9) Leg locks: Levers are fast and easy, but twist-collars are more robust and less likely to catch on things. 10) Universal head ﬁtting: Standard 3/8in thread means heads can be freely interchanged. 11) Ballast hook: Hang extra weight for increased stability. 12) Spirit level: To help keep your horizons level. 13) Feet: Standard rubber feet can often be exchanged for
push-pull back and forth, one against the other. There will always be some ﬂexing, even with the best tripods. While doing this, look down the length of one leg and you may notice more movement around the joints. If so, slide a couple of inches of each leg section back up, and this will reduce ﬂexing. While you're at it, try out all movements and locks by putting the tripod up to
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spikes. Some feet incorporate both options in one. Height: Optimally puts the camera at shoulder level, so you can see all the controls (approx 130cm plus head). Minimum height: Options include closing the legs down, or setting a wider leg angle with short centre column.
maximum height. Raise the centre column, lock it off, and again, gently push-pull with one hand on top and the other at the base. Again, there will be some ﬂexing, but there should be no play. Then loosen the leg locks and adjust the height down to normal level, and check how all functions operate. Finally, please note that all stated dimensions are measured, so may differ to official ﬁgures.
Benro Adventure TAD27C ERE'S A CLASSIC threesection carbon-ﬁbre tripod BEST that stands a decent size, FEATURE weighs very little, and has quick Price! Lightweight and easy lever leg-locks that are carbon-fibre for adjustable for wear. Can't be bad only $290! for $290, and it has all the usual trimmings too, like a reversible centre-column, three leg angle settings, a ballast hook to attach something heavy like a camera bag for better stability, a foam rubber grip on one leg, and a spirit level set into the crown. Plus, it comes with a nice quality shoulder bag. Maximum height is 136cm, and as a guide the average person needs around 130cm (plus head) to bring the camera up to shoulder level, and still see controls on the top – that's the 'standard' height for a tripod. The 1.4kg weight is low, knocking 100-200g off the norm for this size, but no corners have been cut in the build quality and the diameter of the top leg sections are a little above the norm at 29mm. It's well made, ﬁnished in Benro's matt black enamel, in contrast to the bright anodised colours that are the current trend. Everything works as it should, with smooth movements and positive locks, but ultimately it's not quite as ﬁrmly planted as some. Nothing major, just a little more ﬂex than expected in the joints.
SPECIFICATIONS Street price: $290 Normal height: 136cm Extended height: 163cm Minimum height: 37cm Length closed: 62cm Leg sections/angles: 3/3 Standard leg angle: 22° Leg diameters: 29, 25, 22mm Leg locks: Levers (adjustable) Weight: 1.4kg Load rating: 12kg (claimed) Monopod option: No Shoulder bag: Included Manufactured in: China Warranty: Five years Website: www.benro.com
VERDICT With a good all-round speciﬁcation and high build quality, the slight loss of ultimate stability is disappointing, but not a deal breaker. And the price is right. Build quality Features Stability Value
Carbon-ﬁbre tripods \
Manfrotto Xtra MT290XTC3
SPECIFICATIONS Street price: $310 Normal height: 139cm Extended height: 163cm Minimum height: 30cm Length closed: 62cm Leg sections/angles: 3/4 Standard leg angle: 24° Leg diameters: 25, 22, 19mm Leg locks: Levers (adjustable) Weight: 1.57kg Load rating: 5kg (claimed) Monopod option: No Shoulder bag: Included Manufactured in: Italy Warranty: Ten years Website: www.manfrotto.com
HE XTRA-290 SERIES is Manfrotto's entry-level BEST range, available in both FEATURE carbon-ﬁbre and aluminium, Tall, light, and with three or four leg sections. keenly priced from The price has been trimmed, Manfrotto and there is some evidence of economies, but nothing major. For example, there's no articulating centrecolumn, but a standard up/down aluminium version. Ditto the lever leg locks that are also the older design, rather than the ﬂashy new QPL type. The four-position leg angle adjuster is a simple thumb rocker that's actually a bit easier to use than the one found on the more expensive Manfrottos. Height is generous at 139cm (without centre-column), enough to position the camera at shoulder height, even for six-footers. It only goes down to 30cm though, basically the length of the centre-column when the leg angles are increased. Weight is quite low for the height at a manageable 1.57kg. The three leg sections have a slightly narrower proﬁle than most found at this level, with the top section measuring 25mm diameter. This keeps the cost and weight down, but also makes the tripod slightly less rigid and more prone to wind buffeting.
VERDICT Manfrotto has reduced the price without losing key features or compromising ease of use, though the slimmer legs reduce stability a little. Build quality Features Stability Value
Me Foto GEO E635D Velbon
SPECIFICATIONS Street price: $330 Normal height: 128cm Extended height: 168cm Min height: 47cm, 13cm split column Length closed: 56cm Leg sections/angles: 3/3 Standard leg angle: 24° Leg diameters: 28, 25, 22mm Leg locks: Levers (adjustable) Weight: 1.52kg Load rating: 4kg (claimed) Monopod option: No Shoulder bag: Included Manufactured in: China Warranty: Five years Website: www.velbon.biz
HE VELBON GEO is BEST tastefully understated FEATURE in matt black. It suits a Strong and stable, tripod that puts the emphasis lightweight too – and on design integrity and very well priced functionality. Compare Velbon's lever leg locks that fold down ﬁrmly and silently, to some others that are big and shiny, closing with a loud snap that might disturb wildlife. The centre-column locks with a knob on the crown which is easier to use and the camera sits lower, closer to the centre of gravity. And the centre-column itself quickly splits in two for getting down really low. The rubber feet are dual-purpose, and screwing them back up reveals built-in spikes. Another handy touch is that the legs are marked for easy levelling. These are minor things, but they add up. Fortunately, the Velbon is good at the big stuff, too. A maximum height of up to 128cm (without the centrecolumn) is actually the lowest here, but enough to put the camera around shoulder-level for most people, and it's very solid. With only three leg sections, there are less joints to reduce rigidity, and the tubes have a fat, sturdy proﬁle.
Strong, light, just tall enough, and keenly priced at £205, the Velbon Geo E635D is a very well sorted package that's particularly nice to use. Build quality Features Stability Value
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Gear/ Carbon-ﬁbre tripods Manfrotto MT190CXPro4
SPECIFICATIONS Street price: $380 Normal height: 136cm Extended height: 160cm Min height: 34cm, 8cm articulated Length closed: 52cm Leg sections/angles: 4/4 Standard leg angle: 24° Leg diameters: 25, 21, 16, 12mm Leg locks: Levers (adjustable) Weight: 1.65kg Load rating: 7kg (claimed) Monopod option: No Shoulder bag: No Manufactured in: Italy Warranty: Ten years Website: www.manfrotto.com
HE 190 (AND 055) SERIES have formed BEST the backbone of FEATURE Manfrotto's range for a long Articulating centretime. The recent XPro column to get close at evolutions are a major step awkward angles forward, with upgrades to the leg locks and horizontal articulating centre-column in particular. At 136cm, height is sufficient to bring the camera up to a comfortable shoulder level, and weight has been kept down to 1.65kg. Stability is good, though in this four-section version the bottom tube is necessarily narrow and prone to some ﬂexing. The star of the show is the centre-column that pulls up, folds over 90° and then locks horizontally. It can slide fore and aft, or rotate 360°, and while it doesn't tilt, is a very versatile feature. Articulating columns are particularly handy for getting into awkward positions, like macro or for copying ﬂat artwork with the camera facing straight down, and Manfrotto's mechanism is both easy to use and robust. The larger lever-type leg locks are also new to this version, and they function very securely. There are some minor downsides – see the MT055CXPro4 review for details.
VERDICT HIGHLY RATED
The new articulating centre-column extends versatility without compromising overall performance. As always, a solid buy from Manfrotto. Build quality Features Stability Value
SPECIFICATIONS Street price: $410 Normal height: 132cm Extended height: 157cm Min height: 33cm, 11cm short column Length closed: 57cm Leg sections/angles: 4/3 Standard leg angle: 23° Leg diameters: 28, 24, 20, 16mm Leg locks: Twist-collars Weight: 1.65kg Load rating: 12kg (claimed) Monopod option: No Shoulder bag: Included Manufactured in: China Warranty: Six years Website: www.sunwayfoto.com
UNWAYFOTO IS KNOWN BEST for high quality tripod FEATURE heads and accessories, Good all-round spec, and is now building a new range high performance and of tripods, including this larger finely engineered T2C40C model. It's a medium-sized four-section tripod with twist-collar locks, and is particularly well made with a high standard of ﬁnish. A small indicator of quality is the titanium head bolt, a nice touch that saves a few grams, though total weight is about average at 1.65kg. It's not the tallest tripod, standing 132cm before extending the centre-column, but that's sufficient to put the camera at comfortable shoulder height for most people, so you can see controls on the top-plate. It's not the best for getting down really low though, as the minimum 11cm height is only available by ﬁtting the mini centre-column (supplied) and that takes a couple of minutes. This could be easily improved by adopting something as simple as Velbon's method of just unscrewing the bottom section of the centrecolumn, which works quickly and easily. Everything else is ﬁrst rate, and stability is among the best, particularly for a four-section tripod. The legs are nice and rigid, and collars tighten down solidly.
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A good tripod: it's a decent size, offering solid support for a fair price. What sets it apart is the unusually high quality engineering and ﬁnish. Build quality Features Stability Value
Carbon-ﬁbre tripods \
Induro Stealth CLT204
SPECIFICATIONS Street price: $420 Normal height: 137cm Extended height: 157cm Min height: 33cm, 15cm short column Length closed: 54cm Leg sections/angles: 4/3 Standard leg angle: 22° Leg diameters: 29, 25, 22, 18mm Leg locks: Twist-collars Weight: 1.62kg Load rating: 16kg (claimed) Monopod option: No Shoulder bag: Included Manufactured in: China Warranty: Ten years Website: www.indurogear.com
NDURO IS ONE of the two other BEST faces of Benro, alongside FEATURE MeFoto. And while there are family similarities between the Great all-rounder. High performance brands, no two models are the and good value same. Sometimes the differences are obvious, or they may be more subtle variations of size, number of leg sections, or different leg locks. The Induro Stealth lives up to its name with a matt black ﬁnish. With four fat leg sections and chunky twist-collar leg locks, the Stealth CLT204 offers a high standard of stability – the carbonﬁbre tubing is strong and rigid, the locks are grippy and solid. Foam rubber on all three legs is good for carrying – more comfortable on the shoulder if that's your style, and are warmer to the touch when it's cold. The speciﬁcation strikes a nice balance, too. Height is a bit above average at 137cm (without centre-column) yet it folds down smaller than most at 54cm, and the weight is a very acceptable 1.62kg. The cost creeps up a little, but $420 is still competitive, including a quality bag. Other features are pretty much standard fare these days, like three leg-angle options for levelling on uneven ground, a ballast hook and spirit level. The Induro does almost everything well, for a nice price.
VERDICT HIGHLY RATED
No frills – just a classic design, a sound speciﬁcation, and robust build quality at a fair price. In other words, the Induro Stealth CLT204 is a very good tripod. Build quality Features Stability Value
SPECIFICATIONS Street price: $450 Normal height: 141cm Extended height: 169cm Min height: 40cm, 7cm articulated Length closed: 53cm Leg sections/angles: 4/4 Standard leg angle: 24° Leg diameters: 29, 25, 20, 16mm Leg locks: Levers (adjustable) Weight: 2.03kg Load rating: 9kg (claimed) Monopod option: No Shoulder bag: No Manufactured in: Italy Warranty: Ten years Website: www.manfrotto.com
HIS IS THE tallest tripod on test at 141cm BEST (without centreFEATURE column) the heaviest at Tall, strong, and very 2.03kg (roughly 400g versatile. Articulating more than most) and centre-column nearly the most expensive at $450. Yet it closes down to just 53cm, beaten only the other Manfrotto. Stability is high, thanks to fatter-section tubing (29mm at the top) clamped by QPL leverlocks (Quick Power Lock). These do a solid job, and make a noisy 'clack' when used that could be intrusive in some situations, but this can be prevented by damping with your hand. Another small problem is the levers are quite big and tend to catch on things if you're trekking through undergrowth. The horizontally articulating centre-column works well and extends versatility, without compromising stability. For more comments on this, see the review of Manfrotto's MT190CXPro4. Another feature shared with the smaller version is four leg-angle locking presets, as opposed to the more usual three – a small but handy addition.
An impressive performer, offering a good range of features including an articulating centre-column, and high stability. The downside is a little extra weight and cost. Build quality Features Stability Value
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Gear/ Carbon-ﬁbre tripods Benro GoPlus TGP17C
SPECIFICATIONS Street price: $465 Normal height: 132cm Extended height: 159cm Min height: 37cm, 0cm articulated Length closed: 62cm Leg sections/angles: 3/3 Standard leg angle: 25° Leg diameters: 25, 22, 18mm Leg locks: Twist-collars Weight: 1.39kg Load rating: 8kg (claimed) Monopod option: 88-170cm, 0.47kg Shoulder bag: Included Manufactured in: China Warranty: Five years Website: www.benro.com
HE BENRO GOPLUS TPG17C adds an articulating BEST centre-column, aiming FEATURE to appeal to macro fans, and Articulating centrethere's a monopod conversion column, and available by detaching one leg. monopod option Benro's articulating column goes one better than Manfrotto's, as it can tilt at any angle from straight up to straight down, locking at 15° intervals. It also slides fore and aft, and rotates 360°. It's very well engineered, nice and smooth in all movements, yet solid when locked down. It doesn't interfere with any other aspect of performance and hardly adds to the weight that stands at only 1.39kg (the lightest on test). It's a threesection tripod, and while the leg proﬁles are a little slimmer than the TAD27C, it's just as ﬁrm, possibly due to the twist-collar locks clamping more tightly than the TAD27C's lever-locks. To convert to a monopod, unscrew one leg, remove the centrecolumn and join them together – it makes for a good, tall monopod. Maximum height is 132cm without the centre-column, enough to put the camera at convenient shoulder level for most people Having only three-sections though, it doesn't close down so small, and at 62cm it's joint-longest.
Getting pricey, but if you can put the articulating centre-column and monopod option to good use, it's actually great value. Nice and light too. Build quality Features Stability Value
ACKLING EACH ONE of the Best Buy and Highly Rated awarded tripods here in price order, ﬁrst up is the Best Buy Velbon GEOE635D, that offers high stability and light weight for a rather keen $330. There are lots of nice little detail features, and it's a really smooth and easy tripod to use, especially if you prefer lever leg locks over the twist lock variety (and are not too tall). The Manfrotto MT190CXPro4 comes Highly Rated at $380, and features Manfrotto's well executed and useful articulating centre-column – it's ideal for macro photography at awkward angles. It also has the secure QPL lever leg-locks and stands quite tall, yet closes down small. Newcomer SunwayFoto makes a promising entry with the T2C40C, and a Best Buy at $410. The speciﬁcation reads well, stability is high, and it's particularly well ﬁnished with some nice engineering touches. For a similar $420, the Induro Stealth CLT204 is Highly Rated, with a well-rounded features set backed up by high performance and decent value. Pushing towards the top of the price range, the Manfrotto MT055CXPro4 and Benro GoPlus TGP17C Best Buys appear quite closely matched at $450 and $465 each. Both have articulating centre-columns for macro and other subjects where tripod access is tricky, but that aside they're quite different. The Manfrotto is big and strong, and noticeably heavier than rivals. On the other hand, the Benro is actually the lightest, but also proved to be a tough competitor and includes a handy monopod option, too.
98 Digital Photography
Velbon GEO E635D
Benro GoPlus TGP17C
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