Some time ago, I went out hunting for a variable ND filter in anticipation of a beach trip. (I know, most people buy a swimsuit or sunglasses, but I’m a photographer; sue me.) What I found was a little troubling. Not only were the locally available options hideously expensive, but they also weren’t multicoated – this brings about an obvious set of flare related problems given the environments (sunny) under which they’d be used. I thought I’d get creative instead.
With the previous article on HDR, the zone system and dynamic range as background, I can now explain exactly what my B&W discovery was: it’s mostly to do with the highlights, but only in certain areas. And to make things more confusing, creating a natural-looking – perhaps even filmic image – required me to take processing steps that were both highly counterintuitive, but also go against everything else I’ve done and used successfully in the past. Read on if you dare; I can’t promise enlightenment, but I can certainly try for insight.
My eyes, my eyes! I had to work quite hard to make this as a) I don’t own any of those filter programs and b) I don’t do this kind of hyper toned, overlapping HDR. The actual, final version of this image is at the end of the article.
HDR/ High Dynamic Range photography is perhaps one of the greatest blessings and curses of the digital age of imaging. On one hand, we have retina-searing rubbish that’s put out by people who for some odd reason celebrate the unnaturalness of the images, encouraged by the companies who make the filters that make doing this kind of thing too easy – and on the other hand, there are a lot of HDR images out there that you probably wouldn’t have pegged as being anything other than natural. There is, of course, a way to do it right, and a way to do it wrong. I use HDR techniques in almost all of my images – I live in the tropics, remember, and noon contrast can exceed 16 stops from deep shadows to extreme highlights – we simply have no choice if you want to produce a natural-looking scene.
Repost: I’ve been referencing this particular early article so often in posts and emails that I think it’s high time we had a reminder. I’ve dusted it off, refreshed it a little. We’ll start by defining shot discipline. There are two main aspects: timing and technique.
If you’re only going to be in a place once, how can you ensure that the images you get are unique and strong? Though it sounds a lot like the question of what makes an outstanding image, it’s really got a bit more of a travel bent to it. Though the macrolinear and causal nature of time (a topic for another article, if there ever was one) means that no single moment will ever be repeated again during our lifetimes, and thus every image will be unique – probable reality is that due to the difficulty in accessing the location again, we almost certainly won’t get the chance for a do-over. It’s not like shooting sunset in your own home town: pick a night, any night. So what can you do to increase your chances of coming away with images you’re happy with? Here’s my list of tips.
In the previous article, we looked at some of the fundamental principles of landscape photography. Today, we’re going to question more of those assumptions and see how those principles apply equally to a very diverse range of subjects.
Let’s start with what is, on the face of things, a fairly obvious question: At what point does a landscape turn into a cityscape turn into architecture turn into urban reportage/ flaneur photography? If you have an expansive natural scene with one remote house on it, is it still a landscape? I think nobody would argue with you on that one. Two houses? A small town? Maybe it’s a question of scale, or visual dominance? What about a physically small scene with predominantly natural elements – that’s a landscape, surely. But what if the scene is man-made with merely the inclusion of natural elements? I’m sure a carefully-planned Japanese garden is definitely landscape material. Regardless of the answer, I think we can all agree that the lines become increasingly blurred.
I’ll be straight up honest here: I’m not known as a landscape photographer. Far from it, in fact. But that hasn’t stopped me from experimenting, and as we all know, experimentation is the key to artistic development and evolution: applying what you learn in one discipline to your others can result in something unique, and vice versa. I think the relationship between landscape, cityscape and architectural photography is pretty obvious. Might I approach a watch or food plating as a landscape in future? Why not! Or treat a landscape as an abstract? Certainly.
It’s not what you might think: I’m not going to be talking about washing your memory cards, or cleaning the contacts or something in a similar vein. The way you handle your memory cards – both the physical cards and the digital contents – might seem like a fairly simple and common-sense thing, but you’d be surprised at just how many risky moves I’ve seen amongst both pros and amateurs. Unsurprisingly, a lot of people were just as nonchalant about images during the film era – and back then, there were a lot more possible failure points that would result in no image, or a very poor one; this is simply because there is only ever one original copy of the image – the negative.
Following on from yesterday’s less is more article, I wanted to spend a bit more time about the implications of cutting your dependence on electronic nannies and going all manual – for both metering and focus. It’s actually nowhere near as intimidating as it sounds, and you’ll find that after getting over the initial hump, your photography will be both significantly more satisfying as well as compositionally stronger. You’ll get younger and lose weight, too*.
*Not guaranteed; results may vary from person to person. And you’ll have to walk a lot with heavy cameras to lose a significant amount of weight…
I’ve long been threatening to post a photograph of a toilet as an example of a minimalist everyday object made interesting – its basic form has been decomposed down to the bare minimums; ornamentation isn’t necessary, nor does it sell more toilets: less is more. Appropriately, this was also shot with a minimalist camera: an iPhone.
Here’s an interesting question: how many of you have given some thought to the bare minimum of what a photographic device needs to be used as an effective camera? The problem today is we’ve become far to accustomed to camera makers stuffing in additional software features in order to sell devices; none of which are useful, most of which don’t even work properly. Think back to when you last used one of the headline ‘new features’ of your last purchase – pano stitching, for instance; or 10fps tracking; or the ‘supergreen national park-like foliage mode’. Probably only once – shortly after unboxing it – and then never again. I’m willing to bet you can’t even remember which combination of button presses is required to activate it. But judging from current product offerings and advertising, the concept of selling a camera with less features in it is one that simply makes no sense…or does it?