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Sleeklens Landscape Adventure Collection Review
In this blog post I’d like to introduce and review of some new actions I’ve been playing with from Sleeklens. I was contacted by Sleeklens, who were interested in having me use and review their actions. It was perfect timing because I was on the market for some new editing tools, so of course I said yes. As a travel photographer I’m dedicated to capturing stunning landscapes and portraying them in their finest form. Sometimes the photos require a bit more ‘punch’ to really bring the environment to life, therefore I use post-processing as a method of enhancing a photograph. I take pride in keeping my editing to the basics, usually with a minimal amount of editing applied to an image. I favour a natural processing, editing that brings out the atmosphere of a place rather than altering it completely in post. One of my favourite ways of working on my images is by implementing various actions, presets and other editing filters in Adobe Lightroom/Photoshop. Not only does this speed up the process, it also means my images have consistency to help give my work distinctive style or feeling. Seeing as I’m trying these new actions I wanted to really see how far I could push the image files, so the processing may be slightly more ‘overdone’ than my usual editing. Nonetheless, this really shows how to drastically improve your pictures with a few quick clicks using Sleeklens ‘Landscape Adventure Collection’. Sleeklens was founded in 2015 by the current CEO and CoFounder Daniel Chabert. He started Sleeklens after being dissatisfied with the quality of products on the market. He would often end up with Lightroom or Photoshop products that were designed to be a “quick-fix” or an “all-in-one” solution. You will find no such products at Sleeklens. Their goal is to provide a product that works “with” you, not “for” you. This statement was what intrigued me to try their actions to see what it’s all about, and I must say I’m quite impressed so far. At Sleeklens they understand that some photographers are just starting out in the big world of post-processing. This is why they ensure that all their products suitable for all photographers, no matter what level of experience. Their easy to follow instructional video helps explain, step by step, how to install each set of actions/presets. In addition, their actions include instructions on how to install and use each effect, which are delivered straight to your email in ZIP files after you’ve made your purchase. Brilliant service!

Before/After Edits

Drag arrows back and forth to reveal before/after
The magical dusty plains of Bagan is a truly inspirational place for landscape photography. The best time to shoot is early morning and late afternoon during golden hour. This can be challenging especially when shooting straight into the setting sun. Most of my images were underexposed for the highlights, which meant a loss in shadow detail. Fortunately the Canon 6D has decent dynamic range that aided in bringing back the detail in the foreground. The ‘before’ image is the RAW file straight out of camera with the ‘after’ being the final edit using Sleeklens ‘Landscape Adventure Collection’. Below are the adjustments applied using the actions.
  • Applied ‘Detail Enhancer’ at 20% to brighten highlights in foreground trees

  • Applied ‘Digital Speciality’ to entire image at 30% to add more detail to shadows

  • Applied ‘Warm Temperature’ at 20% to give the image a warmer tone

  • Applied ‘Base Clarity’ at 50% to entire image

  • Applied ‘ALL IN One Soft Golden Hour’ at 10% to entire image

  • Applied ‘Base Morning Light’ at 60% to entire image

Lush green Gondwana Rainforest in Dorrigo World Heritage National Park, the ultimate jungle environment for landscape photography. I’ve spent countless hours exploring the many tracks and hidden gems beneath the canopy, always finding something new to inspire me to shoot. Shooting in the forest can be overwhelming, mostly due to it being cluttered with detail and often patchy light resulting in underexposed shadows or blown highlights. By visiting on a rainy overcast day I was able to eliminate those hurdles to capture an image rich in detail, colour and interest. Below I’ve listed the adjustments I applied utilising Sleeklens ‘Landscape Adventure Collection’.
  • Applied ‘Detail Enhancer’ at 10% to lighten shadows

  • Applied ‘Base Clarity’ at 20% to entire image

  • Applied ‘Exposure Contrast’ at 10% to entire image

  • Applied ‘Speciality Dreamy Landscape’ at 30% to add slight glow to foliage

Aerial photography opens up many new opportunities to capture the landscape from a different perspective from what most people would normally see. One of the troubles I’ve faced with my DJI Phantom 4, is that the still image quality isn’t exactly amazing. I’ve found the images require a fair amount of editing to really make them jump off the screen. This edit was probably my most drastic using the Sleeklens ‘Landscape Adventure Collection’. As you can see I’ve transformed the entire atmosphere using the action set – just brilliant the possibilities!
  • Applied ‘Base Clarity’ globally to entire image

  • Applied ‘Exposure Contrast’ at 30% opacity entire image

  • Applied ‘Tone Warm Highlights’ 50% to entire image 

  • Applied ‘Tone Colour Pop’ at 10% to entire image

  • Burnt in shadows selectively to add contrast to shadow areas (using Photoshops dodge/burn tool)

  • Applied Orton effect at %10 to trees to slightly soften details 

Conclusion

My overall thoughts
After trying the different actions included with the Sleeklens ‘Landscape Adventure Collection’, I can confidently say that I’ll continue using these tools to enhance my landscape photography. I particuarly liked how the ‘Detail Enhancer’ action dramatically increased detail in the shadows without being too heavy HDR – I can see myself using this for almost all my landscape images whenever I need to bring out lost details. Overall, I think Sleeklens have compiled a solid list of tools to help photographers of all levels liven their images. There’s really something for everyone depending on your shooting style. Whats not to like? I’ve tried various action sets online and very rarely have I been satisfied with the result. Most are tacky Instagram styled filters, vignettes and horrible flares that don’t look pleasant. Sleeklens seem to understand what photographers want and deliver just that in a clean and intuitive package – win win. Anyway, I’ll share more before/after samples in the coming weeks after I have had more time to try more features. Enjoy!
Beating Photographers Block (Part Two)

Take On A Project

Photography projects are a good way to get you to commit to shooting, and direct your energy to something worthwhile. It’s like committing to a fitness plan and setting aside time to exercise. Choose a subject that interests you, and work out what you need to do to achieve the end result. The only rule is that you must have a deadline – don’t make the mistake of letting the project drag on indefinitely. Working to deadlines is good practice and a good way to really push your creativity.

As well as setting out what you want to shoot, it’s important to know how the images will be used. Maybe your goal is to print a photo book, exhibit your work in a gallery or café or have your images published as a photo essay in a local magazine, newspaper or website. The project can be as little or as big as you want, but make sure it’s achievable. Start out small and get it done! Once you’ve completed your first project, you should feel empowered to take on bigger and more ambitious projects.

Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself

If you are like me, you probably find yourself frequently falling into the alluring, yet emotionally frustrating, trap of comparing yourself to other photographers. Most of us are guilty of this, but at what cost? While the online world can be a valuable source of inspiration, trawling some of the amazing images out there, can also put you into a spiral of self-doubt. Social media puts thousands of amazing images in front of us each day – rather than letting it put you off, harness the inspiration. If I have learned one thing as a photographer, there’s not much to be gained by measuring your own sense of worth against other people’s images. 

It’s fine to analyse your own work, but be wary of being critical to the point of paralysis! Photography, like any creative art form, is a process. You are not going to be the world’s best photographer when you’re starting out – the main thing is to keep learning.

Find Your Own Vision

There’s an important difference between being inspired by a photographer and copying their work. We all need inspiration to create, however if we’re only looking to replicate someone else’s work it doesn’t leave much room for us to grow. While most of us start out mimicking the work of other photographers we admire, at some point we need to pursue our own path. In a world where millions of images are made every day, being original can be challenging, but it’s a goal you should always aim for if you want to really develop as a photographer. 

Find your own voice and vision and run with it. Trust your instincts and shoot from the heart – you’ll be happy you did.

Beating Photographers Block (Part One)
Are your images falling short of your expectations? Has your photography become formulaic and forced, rather than free and instinctual? Maybe you’re suffering from photographers’ block. If so, here are three essential tips to help you get your mojo back. Photographers’ block is frustrating and can happen to anyone anytime. We have all suffered the frustration of a creative rut, but thankfully it’s usually only temporary. While we all want to create, there are times when finding inspiration can be difficult. This is completely normal, and it’s important to understand that all photographers experience downtimes. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to beat the negativity and use the experience to actually grow as a photographer. First, it’s important that you do not wallow in self-doubt. Instead, you need to recognise that you’re in a slump and take the appropriate steps to get your creativity flowing again. 

A creative block is not a sign of weakness. It takes strength and determination to push forward. And when you do you’ll gain a better understanding of how you can achieve your goals. If it was easy to be a creative powerhouse, everyone would be one, right? So, stop wallowing and start following these simple recommendations to help you break out of your funk and get your mojo back. The best part is it’s not inherently difficult. It just takes some patience, a willingness to try different things and an understanding of what’s going on.

Break The Mould

As photographers we typically specialise in one or two genres of photography. Usually, this is because we’ve mastered a particular type of shooting and are comfortable with the work we’re producing. It’s great being comfortable doing what you do, but sometimes you need to break away from what you know best and experiment with something that is completely new. Challenge yourself and step outside your comfort zone. If you primarily shoot portraits, find some landscapes. If you’re always shooting landscapes, go out and do some portraits or try your hand at macro photography. Alternatively, stay put in your usual genre, but try experimenting with different lighting techniques. If you use flash for the majority of your images then try limiting yourself to natural light. By trying new things and forcing yourself out of your comfort zone you will discover new approaches and, hopefully, fresh inspiration.

Shoot With Other Photographers

Fortunately, we don’t all go through photographers’ block at the same time. I always learn something new and am pushed in surprising ways when I shoot with other photographers. Spending time with creative people can rekindle your passion for your craft and propel you out of your creative downturn. 

It’s easy to connect with photographers online, organise a shoot and go exploring. When I was going through down times in my career I spent time talking to other photographers about their work. This helped push me out of my comfort zone and inspired me to experiment with new genres and techniques.

Attend Workshops

This is another great way to meet like-minded individuals and share your love of photography. You may not even need the tuition but it’s always nice to be surrounded by a group of people with the same passion. You could even join or start your own photo walk. A photo walk is basically a group of photographers who get together at a predetermined spot with their cameras. You meet and discuss photography and then walk in a group taking photos of whatever visually grabs you. Most of these photo meetings finish somewhere where everyone in the group can exchange ideas and share images from the day. This is a great way to make new friends and learn new approaches.
How To Shoot A Photo Series

Stories are integral to human culture and storytelling is timeless. In photographic practice, visual storytelling is often called a ‘photo essay’ or ‘photo story’. It’s a way for a photographer to narrate a story with a series of photographs. What few people realise is there’s a difference between photography, and visual storytelling through photography.

If we consider storytelling as an art then, as Leo Tolstoy said, it should be utterly infectious, where it infects the viewer with the feelings he or she has lived through, so that other people are infected in turn by these experiences. The phrase ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ itself justifies the art of visual storytelling, however this doesn’t mean all photographs narrate a story. 

In visual storytelling, images are ordered in a specific way, either chronologically or as a series, with the aim of ‘infecting’ the viewer’s vision and mind, just like Tolstoy said.

Captions are also an integral part of a photo story that should help the viewer understand each image. That said, it is important to remember that while captions may expand your understanding of an image, it’s the image itself that should tell the story – never the other way round.

Here are my top tips for starting your own photo story.

Note: This article was originally written and published in the June issue of Australian Photography Magazine.

Plan Ahead

Planning is an essential part of the process for visual storytelling. A good friend of mine, the documentary photographer Kaushik Ghosh, once said: “What your mind does not know, your eyes can’t see.” This is probably most apt when planning your photo essay. You must plan well ahead to visualise the story. Taking these steps beforehand will give the structure you need for your narrative.

Your plan should include selecting the topic, research on the topic, clarifying your topic, and finally planning your shots. Think about the type of images you want to capture to convey your message. Just like a film, your visual narrative should have a lead or opening shot, establishing shot, interactive and sequential shots, and a conclusion or closing shot. 

Often during a shoot you may not be able to capture the photos in the order mentioned above. However, keeping this order in mind will help you edit the story in less time. Editing a photo essay essentially means selecting the shots, not the post processing in imaging software – that comes later.

Your images won’t be completed without understanding the light, composition and choice of photo gear for your chosen subject. Another important aspect should be the decision to represent the narrative in colour or monochrome. When post-processing a series of images it’s good practice to keep your editing treatment consistent – this will help make the images flow.

Single shot or a series?

Often it’s a point of discussion on photography forums whether one narrates better stories with a single image versus a series of images. In this regard it’s important to remember that a single image is only a “half truth”, because it never tells you the fundamental of a story, which is, “Why?”.

What does this mean? When talking about photographs, an image might be partly true but it is only part of the whole truth and a snapshot of the bigger picture. This leaves part of our brain to interpret the image on it’s own, therefore making it difficult to always understand the photographer’s message. Not all single images tell a story. One must remember a photo essay is nothing but the compilation of multiple single images – these are the units of the visual narrative. Each single picture is a chapter in the story, and each chapter will unfold towards the climax.

On the other hand, a series of photographs allows the brain to process each image as a whole. A series of images emphasises several ideas, whereas a single image usually emphasises just one idea. Keep in mind that the first and last images in a series are the most important. These are called ‘goal images’ – the type of images that open and close the series to grab a viewer’s attention. It’s no different from judging a book by its cover – a strong opening shot will stop people and hold them in the story from start to finish.

Take stronger images

You may have some brilliant pictures that are technically perfect; however, there are two particular elements that make a strong image even stronger for a photo essay. 

Firstly, the images should be emotive to have some kind of emotional impact on your viewer. Not all images must contain a human element to be emotionally moving; rather it could be anything from a landscape to a still life. The images should evoke strong emotional feeling in the viewer’s psyche. 

Secondly, the images should be thoughtfully layered with meaning. This is how you engage your viewer’s attention for a longer period of time. This is usually the most difficult process of telling a story with photographs. 

You may not be able to consciously shoot images with several layers of meaning, but always keep an eye out for these layered pictures while shooting, selecting and arranging the images for the story.

Trust your instinct

Picture yourself walking through a bustling city with your camera around your neck for your storytelling project on “Finding calmness in the chaos”. There’s a constant sound of horns as you try to dodge your way through the traffic. Your mind is racing, as is your heart: it’s a total sensory overload. 

You spot an interesting looking character across the street, sitting quietly reading the newspaper amidst the chaos. You’ve been trying to find your peace in the chaos and think to yourself ‘this is the shot’, so you approach slowly, raise the camera to your eye and click the shutter. 

Next minute you hear the sound of a bus screeching to a halt, which makes you turn your head frantically to jump out of the way, but as you spin around you notice the bus is just coming to a standstill and people are about to get off. There’s a man in the window sitting calmly smoking his cigarette. Within seconds you raise the camera to your eye and take another shot, framing the passengers leaping out of the doors and the man sitting in the window, all in one frame. These are two examples of times I’ve trusted my instincts. Trusting your instincts to take a picture is important. In this case, finding peace amongst the chaos and to capture it despite the urge to move through the crowd without taking a single photo. 

Photography has the ability to capture and freeze moments in time that we may never have thought about until picking up the camera. These are the moments that inspire us as photographers, and can help us create our own unique vision. If you notice something in particular and think it may be a good photo opportunity, try not to assess the situation too much, rather trust your instincts and see how it unfolds. But, be safe in the process – common sense and respect should still be on your mind.

Be Original

Originality in photography seems to be becoming secondary for some photographers. It’s not always easy to create something unique with the huge number of images that are created these days. However it’s good practice to strive for originality. Why? Well, there’s really no satisfaction in copying someone else’s work. We’ve all copied someone else’s idea, or been inspired by an image we’ve found online or in a magazine – it’s a human trait, although to stand out from the crowd one should keep this in mind when shooting – especially if you want your photo series to stand out.

Don’t be afraid of failure

Fear of failure is linked to fear of rejection and criticism from others, as well as procrastination. Stop thinking like this and free yourself from those negative thoughts. It’s perfectly normal and healthy to fail. All successful people have failed; it’s part of improving and the gateway to success. The same principle applies with photography. Failing will help you understand the formula that works best for you and will eventually pay off in your work with some persistence and dedication to succeed. Go, shoot, fail and grow! 

Capture Better Environmental Portraits

Environmental portraits typically portray a person in their natural environment. Different from traditional portraits shot in a studio, locational portraits capture the character of the subject and give insight into their daily life making for a more personal image, generally telling some kind of story about who the subject is. This can be achieved anywhere from their work place, home, or anywhere where they like to spend their time. However, you can also setup an environmental shoot to illustrate their character in certain scenario or situation. The benefit of photographing people in a natural environment is people feel more relaxed and comfortable being photographed resulting in better and stronger images.

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 Planning Ahead

The first thing I do before every photo trip is decide what I want to see and the type of photos I intend on capturing. On a recent trip to Myanmar, I was inspired by the culture, so I wanted to capture pictures of local people and the culture, both staged naturally and candidly. I spent countless hours researching online to make sure it would be a successful trip.

Determine the style of the shoot, the purpose and the mood you plan on conveying. Do you need an assistant or fixer to help translate if working in a foreign country? Are you shooting indoors or outdoors? Do you need location permits or a model release if you plan on selling the images commercially? These are just a few questions to think about before picking up your camera.

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 Location is Everything

Finding the perfect location can be challenging, but is the key to capturing environmental portraits. It’s a good idea to scout the area in search for the right place to depict your subject. Persevere until you find the right location and it definitely result in stronger images.

Meet with your subject beforehand and get to know them. Perhaps they have a place where they feel relaxed. As an example, people often feel comfortable at their homes, which strengthen the chances of capturing natural facial expressions and body language. Although, some people may not feel comfortable inviting a stranger into their safe place so be respectful if you are invited into their home. Allowing your talent to choose the location can be extremely beneficial when working in a new or unfamiliar territory and can safe a lot of time looking for location yourself.

Background detail is imperative in adding a sense of place and defining the character of your subject. However, be mindful when composing your shots so that the background doesn’t detract the presence of your subject. The focus should be on your subject.

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Communication

An essential part of photographing people is communication and interpreting what you wish to achieve. If working in a foreign country you may not speak the language, this makes things trickier. The best way around this is to use a location fixer or someone local who speaks the native language who can translate. Fixers can also sort out shooting permits for special locations while liaising with local authorities to make things run smoothly during the shoot.

In some countries people enjoy being photographed. Myanmar is a great example of this. It is much easier to approach people if they are open to having their picture taken and an excellent opportunity to meet new people. By talking with people you’ll find the confidence to approach strangers and take their photos whether staged or impromptu. If there is a language barrier, simply point to your camera and smile. Most people already know what you want once they see the camera. However, if they refuse to have their picture taken, respect their wishes and move on. Always remember to smile and always say thank you.Be polite and project positivity when you work, people tend to take on your energy so be that radiating photographer everyone wants to know.

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 Posing Your Subject

Posing your subject and capturing natural body language takes some work, but with good perception and practice this can be an enjoyable experience for both yourself and your model. It’s vital that they feel relaxed, as any strain will be evident in your pictures. Again, communication is an essential part of this process. Ask them how they feel and never push them to pose a certain way they aren’t confident or capable, this will result in tension resulting in unnatural body language.

Most people feel at ease when sitting or having something to lean against (wall, doorframe for example), this is a good starting point. Have your subject sit in their environment, not necessarily looking at the camera. Ask for them to look off into the distance, or get them to focus on something. As an example, if you’re shooting someone in their workplace, they could continue with their daily routine while you shoot. Remember you are capturing their personality, so step back and observe how their actions before directing. If you are shooting candidly there is no need to pose. Anticipation is key, wait for the right moment (the decisive moment) to take your shot.

When shooting closer more intimate portraits it’s best to approach with humility, respect and a light footprint. This means working respectfully with your subject and their environment. Never physically handle your subject, especially if you’re a male photographing a female. Politely explain/demonstrate the pose and then have your model reposition. It’s about gaining each other’s trust, which takes time but if approached appropriately it will dramatically improve your results.

 Add Drama to your Pictures

Working under natural light is a great way to add drama to your pictures for moody portraits full of character. It’s also a fantastic way to better understand the importance of light and how to effectively use it. If you are new to photography, you don’t want to complicate matters by adding multiple speedlites. Instead go out with your camera and observe your environment, study the light and take notice of how different lighting changes the mood of the environment you are in.

Photographing elderly people in low light is a fantastic way to exaggerate facial expressions, lines and wrinkles to make a dramatic portrait. One of my favourite approaches to low-light portraits is finding a dark space with areas of light highlighting parts of the scene. An example could be an open doorway into a dark room. Position your model in the light against the dark area. Notice how the light highlights your subject and the background is dark and free of distractions? Keep an eye on the light and try shooting from different angles, or reposition your model to stand half in the shadow and half in the light to create deep contrasts. This is the easiest way to manipulate natural light for a more dramatic feel. Experiment with natural light, you’ll be surprised how effective it is.

Another way to add/enhance the atmosphere of your portraits is by adding smoke. Your model could be smoking a cigarette and exhaling smoke into the air, or burn incense. Darker backgrounds work best for smoke, as smoke is typically light so a brighter background won’t have the same impact. Use a shallow depth of field to draw the focus on the smoke to create a subtle illusion of depth. Candlelight is another natural light source to create ambience, but be careful of fire and hot wax.

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 Keep Post-Processing in Mind

Cameras have their limitations where they cannot capture the entire tonal range of some more challenging lighting situations. Shooting during the middle of the day when the light is harsh can cause an unflattering loss of shadow detail. If your subject is backlit, half in shade or wearing a hat you’ll notice this problem. Asking your subject to move, or waiting for the light to become favourable isn’t always an option, so it’s good practice to shoot with post-processing in mind.

By underexposing or overexposing elements in a scene allows the freedom of recovering lost details in your editing software by adjusting the shadow/fill depending on the situation. Exposing for someone’s face when the light is harsh may result in an extremely over-exposed sky. In this case it’s likely the highlights would be unrecoverable, so expose for the highlights and tweak the shadows in post. If this increases digital noise (grain) you can reduce this with some noise reduction in post.

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 Don’t be afraid to up ISO

A common photographic fear that I’ve noticed is photographers afraid to increase the ISO setting on their cameras. Most photographers advise to use the lowest ISO possible. There is good reason to shoot lower ISOs, as image quality is at its maximum compared to shooting with a higher ISO. However, camera technology has improved a lot since the first DSLR was released and most modern DSRL’s are capable of shooting higher ISOs (1600 – 3200  or greater.)

Increasing the ISO enables you to shoot at faster shutter speeds and smaller apertures, which can be extremely useful when shooting portraits in low light conditions without the need for a tripod or flash. High ISO combined with a fast prime lens opens up a whole new world of experimentation and this is often when the best light happens. If noise is evident than you may need to adjust your settings, but you can also remove digital noise in post-processing, so go explore and see what you find.

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 Use Model Releases

Basically, a model release is a contract. It is a written and signed agreement between the photographer and the model. The purpose of obtaining a release is to protect the photographer from future liability if something were to happen and become a lawsuit, which can and does arise if someone files a legal claim against you, such as an invasion of privacy or defamation of character. Every photo you sell that features a recognisable person must feature a release unless it is being used for certain reportage/documentary purposes. The document imposes the terms and conditions that one party may use images taken of another party. In short it’s an essential part of being a portrait photographer when using images commercially.

There are a number of phone apps that allow you to electronically draft legally binding model releases in seconds. All you need is a smart phone or iPad and a good app. I have been using the app by 500px called ‘Releases’, which lets me save model and location information. Once you’ve filled in the blank fields all you need is your models signature, which he or she can sign with the ease of the touch screen using their finger and you can save it as a PDF to print, file or export elsewhere. Saves a lot of time doing paperwork!

The World Asleep (Ongoing Series)
The World Asleep is a personal project/photo series I decided to put together after noticing how many images I’ve captured of people sleeping in interesting places. All the photographs in this post were shot in Asia. I see this as being an ongoing project, purely for my own enjoyment and a little challenge that will help keep me alert when wandering the streets. It’s good to have some drive, something to motivate me to click more pictures. Hope you enjoy the pictures!
Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam

 
Kolkata, India

Kolkata, India

 
Yangon, Myanmar (Burma)

Yangon, Myanmar (Burma)

 
Old Delhi, India

Old Delhi, India

 
Kolkata, India

Kolkata, India

 
Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand

 
Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam

 
Kolkata, India

Kolkata, India

 
Delhi, India

Delhi, India

 
Bagan, Myanmar (Burma)

Bagan, Myanmar (Burma)

 
Kolkata, India

Kolkata, India

 
Bundi, India

Bundi, India

 
Old Delhi, India

Old Delhi, India

 
Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand

 
Kolkata, India

Kolkata, India

 
Delhi, India

Delhi, India

 
Kolkata, India

Kolkata, India

Working With Compositional Lines
Composition can make or break a great photograph, this is why it’s important to understand it and know how to effectively and creatively use it. In essence, composition describes the position of relative elements in a photograph. A strong composition will tend to have leading lines that draw attention to your subject, these can be horizontal, vertical or diagonal lines depending on the placement of your subject in the frame.

Have a look at the following images and see how I have composed each scene with the use of lines leading towards my subjects. I have drawn arrows in Photoshop on the photos to help share my vision when I was composing each shot. Hopefully those who aren’t familiar with composition will be able to visualise and understand it’s importance and how to go about composing the perfect shot.

untitled-shoot-4643-Edit   This image I wanted to lead the viewers eyes through the frame and down the long corridor while having the novice monk looking against the diagonal lines. The woman carrying the basket on her head in the background was walking with the line of the pathway which helped add direction. Notice the continuous pattern created by the pillars of the corridor and how they get smaller the further into the image. This helped add depth with the main focus on the monk in the foreground.

2   This was a fairly simple composition with my subject centred in my frame. I composed the shot so that the fishing net would draw diagonal lines inwards to the fisherman. The use of my wide angle lens helped distort the frame to add depth.

untitled-shoot-2699-comp   The focus was the novice monks but I also wanted to capture the ambient light and use the sun rays coming through the window as a source of direction. By composing the shot with the monks sitting beneath the beams of light I was able to draw focus downwards to their books while using the wall on the left to draw a line towards them.

untitled-shoot-4551-Edit   Here I composed my shot with the novice in the left third of the image and used the pillars on the right hand side to add depth into the shot. The lines along the pathway to the right add a leading line towards the monk while the ceiling draws the eye downwards with the monk looking down as he walked towards me. A very simple but strong composition taken with a wide angle lens.

12   This is another centred composition with the monk sitting in the lower middle of frame. By shooting from a low angle I was able to create some distortion with the wide angle lens to point diagonal lines downwards towards the monk while the brickwork created focus horizontally to the middle of frame. The tiles on the floor also pointed lines inwards to make this a tight composition.

13   This was an unusual composition for me as I don’t really favour titled horizons, however it worked in this scenario by shooting from a low angle from the fisherman’s boat. As he held out his basket it created a reflection on the water which added direction pointing towards the centre of frame. The horizon runs from the bottom left and diagonally to the upper right creating a cross section composition.

cover2   Another fairly straightforward composition. The light was spilling in from the left of frame so I composed the shot with the novice standing on the right of frame looking across towards the light. The angled light pointed towards the monk creating deep contrast which helped pull the shot together.
10 Tips for Successful Street Photography

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The essence of Street photography is about documenting everyday life and society on the streets. You can find opportunities to practice street photography everywhere and you don’t necessarily need to travel to capture great shots. It’s a genre of photography usually done candidly without permission and without your subject’s knowledge. However, street photography doesn’t rule out staged pictures. You may spot an interesting character that catches your vision; you can wander up to strangers and ask for permission to take their picture. This is a great way to get a more intimate portrait of someone in his or her environment.

 The most important thing with street photography is to have fun and enjoy getting out with your camera. Remember your goal is to capture emotion, humanity, and depict a person’s character. It takes time to get your shot, but with some practice and patience it is rewarding.

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Choosing the best lens

Deciding what lens to use is one of the most important factors for street photography. You may be tempted to use a telephoto lens, however that’s more than likely to result in more harm than good. You don’t want to be that creepy person standing across the road aiming a giant lens at strangers. If you want to look inconspicuous you’re going to need to get up close and amongst the action. Use a wide-angle lens and get lost in a busy crowd. Many street photographers choose a compact camera that’s less confronting than a large DSLR, the advantages being smaller, lightweight, and discreet.

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Camera settings

The quickest and easiest way to setup your camera for street photography is by switching the camera to AV (aperture-priority mode) and selecting your f-stop (aperture) and ISO manually. The camera will then decide the shutter speed (exposure). On a bright sunny day a good place to start is around f/16 with an ISO between 200-400. If your camera displays a shutter speed higher than 1/200th a second you are ready to roll. Take note of the shutter speed your camera is reading and make adjustments to aperture and ISO accordingly. If your camera is giving you a shutter speed that is below 1/80th you run the risk of a blurred shot, but that could be used for good effect too. To overcome blur simply increase your ISO and/or choose a wider aperture. If you’re new to photography you can always set camera to P mode (program or auto) and let the camera select the correct settings. You can still adjust the EV if you want to over or under expose the shot to your liking.

This is useful if you are shooting run and gun (in a hurry with no time to think), but you have little control over what the camera is doing, so this isn’t always the best option. Program mode does a pretty decent job but I wouldn’t rely on it in low light where there’s a high possibility your shutter speed will be too slow to freeze the action.

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Get close to your subjects

Using a wide-angle lens enables you to get nice and close to your subjects. The advantage of the wide angle gives the viewer a sense of being there in the moment. You’ll also blend in with the crowd as part of the environment, rather than standing out across the street with a long lens.

Many successful street photos were taken only few meters from the action and sometimes only centimeters away. Walking through a busy street, market or park can result in some rewarding pictures if you are observant and keep your eyes open for interesting subjects. If your images aren’t how you visualised them then you may need to get closer, so use your feet as your zoom to be sure you’re in the right place at the right time.

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Take your camera everywhere

Street photography is spontaneous and waits for no-one. It’s a discipline you must practice to make perfect. Your camera is an extension of yourself, it’s your gateway to sharing your vision with the world and you don’t want to miss an amazing photo opportunity by not having your camera on you. If you’re serious about street photography you will have your camera within reach at all times.

This is known as the ‘decisive moment’ where you have only a split second to capture your subject before it’s gone forever. You rarely get a second chance so be prepared.

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Ignore the voice in your mind

Some people struggle with the idea of street photography. Some concerns may be the fear about your subjects getting angry because you took their picture, threaten you with physical violence, or even worse call the police. Fear is simply false evidence appearing real. These are all common fears, but it’s possible to overcome by practicing and getting out more with your camera. Here are some suggestions to overcome your concerns.

Find an interesting spot to sit with your camera. I spend a lot of time at cafes and restaurants when I travel, my camera ready for any opportunities. Observing from a comfortable setting you’ll feel at ease and can wait for pictures to come to you. You are less likely to be noticed sitting outside a café with your camera than what you would be standing in the middle of the street.

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Tune out and listen to your iPod while you are out walking with your camera. Music is somewhat of a distraction that can help relax and inspire creativity. It may not sound logical but it works wonders and if it means you’re comfortable in your surrounds than it’s worth a shot. [I don’t suggest doing this at night, in uncrowded or unfamiliar places! Always be aware of your surroundings.]

 

Shoot from the hip

As a general rule of street photography, if you can get the shot with the camera to your eye, you will get a better shot. However, there are times when it’s not possible to raise the camera to your eye, and so shooting from the hip is a useful method of capturing a decisive moment. When I first started shooting on the street I found it difficult holding my camera to my eye and pointing it towards strangers, so I started holding the camera by my hip to capture more candid pictures. At first I wasn’t successful, but the more familiar I became with my camera and the focal length I managed to capture some great candid moments.

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Shoot at night

Night photography in the city is a great opportunity for unique images. It’s not as easy as shooting during the day; you will need to be mindful of low shutters speeds to avoid blur and use your ISO and aperture to compensate for low light.

Take a tripod with you if you plan on doing long exposures. Alternatively, using a fast aperture lens will enable you to shoot low-light scenes and still freeze the action. When shooting at night try finding interesting lines, shadows and compositions to give the image a bold visual statement. Silhouetted subjects are interesting and can create nice compositions with the shadow filling the foreground.

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Think outside the box

Powerful ideas and emotions can be portrayed through the simplest of scenes. Most people wrongly associate street photography with people or portraits on the street. You don’t always need people in frame, or capturing interesting juxtapositions or fitting as many different people or objects into frame. It may be difficult in some busy places, but take a walk down a quiet alleyway or side street and look for different subjects that interest you. There are infinite opportunities for all kinds of images with or without people. While in Vietnam I spent time wandering the streets photographing bicycles, which I have turned into a small series titled ‘Transportation’, that has been quite popular among the photo community. This was unintentional, but by doing something different I discovered a series that I may not have explored otherwise.

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Image quality isn’t everything

Some photographers may disagree with me here, but from my personal experience, shooting on the street I haven’t been concerned with image quality as much as I am when shooting landscapes or commercial work. Yes, you should strive for high image quality when possible, however, with street photography it’s not as important. In my opinion, composition, light, drama and the story you are trying to tell are of more important than image quality. If your images capture those four things than you’re on the right path to becoming a great street shooter.

Sharpness, low noise and immaculate image quality are worthless if you have poor composition, bad light and no atmosphere to tell a story. Focus on what’s important, that’s essentially what makes a great street image.

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Most importantly have fun

Like all genres of photography it’s important to enjoy what you do and do what you enjoy. If shooting on the street doesn’t sound like your kind of thing then chances are you’ll probably take ordinary images. Creativity flows where the passion lives, so do what makes you happy, not what other people expect to see. I love shooting street because it gets me out and about, meeting interesting people and seeing everyday life from a fresh perspective. That’s what inspires me to do what I do.

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Conclusion

Street photography requires practice and the more you get out there, the more your eye will develop and your confidence grow. The approach is much simpler than other genres and manipulation should be kept to the essentials, with minimal to no post-processing. The only manipulation I tend to do with my street photography is done through the camera viewfinder. 

Perception and intuition are the most important factors. Perception requires a creative eye for detail and is an attentive effort. Intuition is immediate and is not duty-bound to any attentive reasoning. These two factors are combined to create the decisive moment, an amazing process that takes your images to the next level. Because of this process, it’s here in the moment that street photography is captured and expressed. 

Strong street photos come from powerful ideas and emotions captured in a simplistic manner. It comes down to perception to force yourself out with your camera to capture decisive moments that unfold in front of you.

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Capturing The Essence of the Rainforest

Australia is home to some of the most extensive areas of subtropical rainforest in the world. These protected environments are often the highlight of many international visitors who travel thousands of kilometers to experience the unique flora and fauna. The best part about these geological wonders is that there’s always something new to discover and they make ultimate subjects for nature photographers. Over the years I’ve developed a strong connection for these natural environments and happily say some of my best work has come from countless hours of trekking through these lush environments in search of those raw and beautiful moments.

Best Time to Photograph

Photographing in the rainforest is all about timing, ultimately it’s best to be in forest is when it’s overcast or raining. It’s a common mistake to assume clear skies and sunshine are the best time, but this is often not the case. On an overcast day the clouds act as giant diffuser softening the light which helps prevent harsh highlights and shadows. If there’s moisture in the air you’ll most likely find mist enveloping the forest, which is ideal for capturing those atmospheric shots. Unfortunately it isn’t always possible to be in the forest when it’s overcast/raining. If you are holidaying you may not get the conditions you had hoped for. As a general rule of thumb it’s a good idea to visit early in the morning when the light is low and the air is cooler. This will give you a better opportunity to capture something more subdued without the distractions of harsh light and shadows and mist will only add to the atmosphere.

Choosing Your Lenses

Wide-angle zoom lenses have several advantages in the rainforest. Firstly, they exaggerate a sense of perspective, which can help give the viewer a sense of being in the middle of forest. Another advantage is the ability to capture everything in frame. This is great when shooting from a low angle looking up at the canopy for example. The downside is the wide-angle distortion on the edges of the picture. Trees can sometimes appear like they are falling into frame. You can make this work in your favour if you have a strong enough focal point in the centre. Trees or people standing in the center of frame make great subjects when photographing from low angles, giving an un-deniably surreal feeling to the image.

Another useful lens I like to use is a telephoto (I use a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L USM). This a great lens for capturing wildlife, getting up close and personal to wildlife or for capturing an image from a point that may be inaccessible by foot. Keep in mind 200mm isn’t quite long enough for serious wildlife photography, at least not on a full frame sensor. If you are serious about shooting wildlife then I recommend something in the 400mm-600mm range.

Macro photography opens up a whole new realm in the rainforest. We often forget to stop and look at what’s beneath our feet. Macro photography can be extremely rewarding in the forest and the best part is you don’t have to walk very far to find interesting subjects – get down low and observe the miniature world. Mind you don’t flatten a potential macro shot when you put your bag down or step on something tiny and beautiful. If you’re serious about macro photography then it’s a good idea to invest in some speedlites because the light can be challenging in the forest. This will make it easier to shoot fast moving insects in low light. Alternatively, a small LED torch can add enough fill light to get a great shot.

Use a Polarised Filter

A polarising filter is the most important piece of equipment apart from your camera and lens. Polarisers will help reduce the glare on water and saturate the green foliage to give your images more impact and eliminate unwanted distractions from your image. Even on a sunny day a polarised filter will dramatically improve your photos. Circular polarisers come in a wide variety of brands and sizes for different lenses and allow you to “dial” the intensity for best effect. Some popular brands are Hoya, B+W, Tiffen, Lee and Cokin.

Use a Tripod

An essential piece of equipment that every landscape photographer should have in their kit. It’s important you use your tripod in the rainforest because it’s often dark beneath the canopy when shooting at small apertures (f11 – f16), so handholding your camera isn’t always an option. By using a tripod you’ll be able to increase your exposure (slow your shutter speed down) while still capturing a sharp focused image from foreground to background. Trying to capture steady shots handheld with small apertures in low light is almost impossible unless you’ve got really steady hands or can brace the camera against something solid. For this reason I always carry a sturdy tripod, especially if the wind picks up and you are trying to take long exposures – you don’t want your camera to end up on the ground or in a river.

Photographing Waterfalls and Rivers

Water is the heart and soul of all rainforests and give photographers incredible opportunities for beautiful imagery. Standing amongst the forest with the tranquil sound of water gently flowing past is one of those timeless moments every nature photographer cherishes, so why not capture it’s serenity. Waterfalls and rivers can be tricky to photograph because it’s another element (water) to contend with to get a dynamic shot. Observe your surrounds – Where is the light falling? What foreground subjects grab you? How fast is the water moving? These are all factors to consider when shooting moving water. For best results plan to shoot on an overcast day where the light is diffused rather than dealing with direct sunlight.

A polarised filter will also help cut down the glare on the water and saturate the foliage to bring out those rich organic colours. If you are trying to achieve the silky smooth water effect use a smaller aperture (f11 – f16) and low ISO of 100, this will allow you to use a slower shutter speed. Anywhere between 1/5th to a few seconds will give you the desired effect. If the light is harsh then the use of a neutral density filter (ND filter) can help with getting long exposures to smooth out the water. Most people photograph rivers looking upstream, however you could try shooting downstream to capture the water flowing away from frame. You will want to capture clean lines, the curvature of the river as it snakes through the forest, rocks that pull the viewers eye towards a waterfall in the background or an overhanging tree branch framing your shot. Be creative and don’t be afraid to get your feet wet. Make sure your tripod is firmly footed when placed in the river, slippery rocks and the force of the water could spell disaster!

Choosing Your Subjects

Rainforests are busy environments, cluttered and full of distractions. It can sometimes become overwhelming choosing your subjects to shoot. An over abundance of trees, foliage, roots, rocks, vines may make or break your shots. The old adage of less is more and composition is equally important as light. A great rainforest image requires balance and structure in order to make visual sense. You may already have an idea in your mind for the type of pictures you want to create. Scope the location and look for details that immediately catch your eye. Once you’ve found your subject study it from various angles to work out what works and then frame your composition. Keep in mind you’ll often be shooting at small apertures, which means your background will also be in focus.

It’s always nice have something interesting in the foreground that leads the viewer’s eyes into frame. My all time favourite rainforest picture was shot from the ground; literally on my stomach shooting up at the canopy with a dominant tree in the center of frame as my focal point. The background is very busy, however by finding a solid focal point I was able to draw attention away from the clutter in the background and focus on the foreground subject even at a small aperture.

Invest Time and Patience

Time is the most important investment you can make in getting great rainforest pictures. Your time begins the moment you make the decision to visit a new destination. It takes time researching new locations, time driving or hiking to get there and time taking the photo. You’ll want to figure out where the sun will rise and set to make the most of your time in the field. Perhaps you’ve found an interesting tree but the light is falling on the opposite side to where you had hoped to shoot – you can either recompose your shot or revisit when the lighting has changed angles. Often I’ll do both to get a different feeling of the same subject. Be patient, the forest has all the time in the world. That gigantic tree you want to photograph didn’t sprout up overnight. That’s the best part of photographing the natural world -Mother Nature is extremely patient. Sometimes you’ll be rewarded with something special, other times you may walk away empty handed with zero pictures. Find time to reflect and take in your surrounds.

Be prepared for the elements

You don’t need an expensive wet weather setup ~ raindrops, water falling from leaves and mist will all add to the moisture issue. Here are a couple of simple solutions to ensure your gear stays dry.

  • A large micro fibre cloth for wiping down the camera or lens which can be placed over the camera while it’s on the tripod if there are water droplets falling from the canopy. You’ll still be able to see the screen and body of the lens.
  • An extra large ziplock bag can be placed over the camera while still on the tripod if you’re walking and brushing past water laden trees.
  • If the ground is really wet or dirty, you can always hang your camera bag from the centre support of your tripod which adds stability as well.
  • Take care if using your tripod in water – the hollow legs can sometimes fill with water.

Cleaning Up

Your shoes, bag, knees, and tripod may be covered in dirt, leaf matter and compost from the forest floor. As we know, water is number one enemy of electronics and anything metal.

  • Make sure you allow time for internal moisture to dissipate when you get home and leave your camera out of it’s bag in a warm, dry environment.
  •  Check your tripod legs and latches for dirt and moisture, extend the legs and wipe down with a clean cloth. A little water dispersant spray on metal nuts and bolts, and then wiped down will prevent corrosion.

Don’t Worry About ‘Rules’

This would be the most important piece of advice I’ve learnt over the years as a photographer. How do you identify yourself as a photographer? What got you interested in photography? Firstly, not everyone will like what you do. There will always be someone who disagrees with what you are doing or how you achieve what you do. Don’t let this stop you from enjoying your craft. Do what you love and love what you do. Yes, there are certain guidelines to capturing great pictures, but these ‘rules’ aren’t mandatory to creating a successful shot. Take photos that express who you are for the things you are most passionate about. Most importantly – be yourself, no one else is better qualified – Own it!