Articles Tagged with: photography
How to Capture Movement on the Street

Long exposure photography has become very popular over the past decade, particularly among landscape and astro photographers looking to to add a more surreal mood to their pictures. However, this is doesn’t mean that long exposures are limited to those specific areas of photography. With street photography, people often people think of the ‘typical’ black and white, static and candid captures that freeze the action. This may be popular, but it’s also great to break the mould and apply some creative uses of slower shutter speeds. After all, street photography is about anticipating and capturing a moment before it’s gone, which often requires the photographer to react within a split second of a moment unfolding in order to grab the moment. Adding a slower shutter speed shutter can help add drama to street photographs, in fact there are many different times when a longer exposure may be beneficial in bringing out the essence of a street moment.

Here are my seven tips to inspire and hopefully give aspiring photographers some insight into how they can add a sense of motion to provoke their street shots.

PRE-VISUALISE 

Just like all types of photography it’s important to have some kind of image pre-visualised in your mind in order to best understand what it is you are trying to communicate. This could be as simple as deciding on a location, time of day, subject matter or even how you want your viewer to feel when they view your image. By pre-visualising your shots you’ll be able to work out what length of shutter speed is required to more accurately capture the image you have in your mind. For example, if you want to capture a sense of motion as someone passes by your camera, you will probably need to be side-on so that when the subject passes through your frame you can track or pan with them to grab your shot. You’ll also be able to determine what length exposure will work best depending on the available light.

EXPERIMENT

Experimentation is the key to learning new things in photography, and it should be something you do from time-to-time. Not only will it help you stay passionate, the more you experiment, the more opportunities you will discover. Long-exposure street photography is a great example of this kind of experimentation.
Go out shooting during the early hours of the morning or late afternoon on dusk when the light is low. Adjust your camera settings to increase or decrease the amount of light on your sensor. Take a mental note of what settings are favourable for the ambient light. Your shutter speed might be too long for the image you want to capture; as a result you may need to increase the sensitivity of the sensor by boosting the ISO, wait for a time when there is more light, or add light to the scene artificially.

LIGHT AND MOVEMENT

Choosing the right conditions is paramount when shooting longer exposures. Just as you need to pick a scene that includes some movement if you want to introduce movement blur to a long-exposure landscape, the same applies on the street. For example, long-exposure landscapes typically have elements that a slower shutter can blur, such as dappled clouds blowing in the wind or water flowing down a stream. Static subjects don’t work. The same goes for street scenes – if you don’t have the right amount of movement on the street, a slow shutter will not give you the effect you’re after. Busy crowds and streets are always interesting with slower shutter speeds. By slowing your exposure you are able to add a sense of motion and isolate certain elements in the scene, which can be extremely useful in focusing attention on certain parts of a frame. Shooting on an overcast day, early morning or afternoon is often the best time because the light is not intense – that means you can drop your shutter speed down significantly. You may also want to invest in some neutral density filters (ND filters) to aid in increasing your exposure time for the desired effect when the light is brighter or more direct. Again, the key is to experiment with settings and different situations to find out what works best.

ANTICIPATE THE EXPOSURE

This is a basic technique that street photographers use regardless of whether they’re shooting long shutter speeds. The only difference, and one thing to remember when you start using slower exposures, is that you have less time in-between shots due to the shutter speed remaining open for longer. This is why it’s a good practice to be alert and time the shot to capture the most interesting moment. It’s a fairly basic practice but it’s worth perfecting to heighten your photography opportunities on the street.

PRACTISE PANNING

In short, panning is a technique applied by moving your camera to track a moving subject. Done right, you’ll end up with a nice sharp subject and a blurred background. Sometimes, getting the best results is down to sheer luck, but like anything you can improve your ‘hit rate’ the more you practise. Either way it’s fun to do and a fantastic way of giving a shot a feeling of movement and speed. It can be particularly useful when trying to photograph fast moving subjects like cars, cyclists and other moving objects.

Try different shutter speeds to see what gives the best results. There are a number of factors that can make or break a good panning shot including the speed of the subject, your position relative to the subject, the lighting and, of course, the shutter speed. First, you need to activate your camera’s auto-focus function and half-press the shutter button to lock it onto your subject. Once locked, aim your camera and pan with the moving subject. The key is to allow the pan to continue after you’ve fully pressed the shutter. It’s often hit and miss, so don’t get too frustrated if you don’t nail it straight away. Keep practising and you’ll soon work out a formula that works for you. It’s also important to note that it’s much easier to pan and track a moving subject if the subject is on a relatively straight path. If a car is moving in a straight line then it’s likely it will continue in the same direction, where as if your subject is moving side to side you may find it difficult to predict the movements. I’ve found the best place to practice panning is on busy intersections where there is high traffic that will give you more chances to grab that perfect shot. Keep practising until you work out a rhythm.

ZOOM AS YOU SHOOT

Another great effect for creating a sense of motion is to add a slight zoom blur, also known as “zoom burst”. It’s fairly easy to do and can give some incredibly dynamic results. Zoom can be added either by adjusting the zoom on your lens or, if you are using a prime lens, by travelling on a moving vehicle while shooting with a slow shutter speed. I’ve found anywhere between 1/15s and a couple of seconds is usually long enough to achieve a nice clean zoom effect. The result gives subjects increasing radial blur around the edges of the frame, while the centre appears sharp or less blurred. It’s a great way of drawing attention to a specific element within an image to make the viewer feel as if they are moving through time.

SHAKE IT UP

Camera shake is often frowned upon, but it can be desirable in some cases. Intentional camera-shake can induce an artistic and unique feel to an image, especially on the street when there’s a lot of clutter around. An exposure between 1/30s and one second is usually enough time to give a nice blurred effect while handholding the camera. This effect will allow you to have complete creative freedom to move around and paint motion with your camera during the exposure. Just as with panning, it will require a few attempts to master but when perfected your images will stand out from the crowd.

This article was originally written for and published in the March issue of Australian Photography magazine.

Top 45 – Travel Photographer Society Awards 2017

We are delighted to announce the Top 45 Photographs shortlisted in the Travel Photographer Society Awards 2017. We received an incredible 3681 entries from 108 countries worldwide.

Entries were open from the 19th of November 2016 – 10th February 2017. Our jury panel judged each image on the following criteria; narrative, originality, relevance to the category, composition and overall image quality. The categories were Landscape/Enviornment, Travel/Documentary, People/Culture and Street.

The Grand Prize Winner and Category Winners of TPS 2017 have already been selected by the jury team, and are among these Top 45 photographs, which will be announced on April 6th on Facebook, Instagram and our website: www.travelphotographersociety.com

You can also view all 3681 entries on the TPS website gallery!

Cheers,
Editor-in-Cheif

Drew Hopper

Tips for Mastering Monochrome

The very first photographs were once all shot in black and white. This dates back to 1839, after Mr. Daguerre discovered a method to fix an image captured inside the camera obscura – he called this the Daguerreotype. If you want your images to evoke a response and standout in monochrome you’ll need to put some thought into your shots. Here are my seven tips for mastering the art of black and white photography, or at least learning to see what works and what doesn’t in monochrome.

Learn to see in black and white

The key to successful black and white photography is learning to see in monochrome. This means pre-visualising your images before taking the shot. Not all images will work in black and white, some images rely on colour for impact, and therefore they may not be as powerful in black and white. For example, in colour photography we tend to compose images around elements of colour, often working with complimentary colours to build a strong visual statement. However in black and white photography, most colours have the same brightness and/or tone, so the image will appear dull and flat. Removing colour from our vision will bring out the hidden details, textures, and shapes.

Work with shapes, patterns and textures

Once you start to see beyond the colour palette of a scene, you’ll begin noticing other elements such as shapes, patterns and various textures to build a compelling composition. For me, black and white photography is very similar to street photography, where you have an open canvas and must deconstruct and/or exclude certain parts of a scene to compose the strongest possible image. Keep an eye out for interesting juxtapositions and striking repetitions that could be used to grab your viewer’s attention.

Think about tonal contrast

Tonal contrast is important in all types of photography, however it becomes more apparent when you start shooting in black and white. The tonality of an image is what gives a photograph atmosphere and mood. Some images are dark and punchy with distinctive definition of contrast, while other images may be more subdued and softer in appearance. To capture stronger monochrome images it’s essential that you understand tonality and how to use it. The easiest way understand tonal contrast is by categorising into three simple categories: high, medium and low. An image with high tonal contrast will consist primarily of white and black. Medium tonality is a balance of all three, while low tonal contrast is when an image looks more washed out, usually just with grey tones.

Use Light Effectively

Lighting is the single most important element in any image. Different lighting will give your pictures different moods. When colour is removed, the quality and efficacy of the lighting is dramatically transformed. Harsh light tends to be more effective, creating dynamic tones in shadow areas, and giving a monochrome image a more edgy and contrasted aesthetic. Soft and/or subdued light has an opposite effect, often producing a dull or flat look. Shooting during the middle of the day when the light is sharp can give some great monochrome images. The secret is to make sure that light is suitable for your subject. Go out at different times of the day and see how the light falls on your subjects.

Experiment with High-key and Low-key

You’ve probably heard photographers mention the term ‘high-key’ or ‘low-key’, but what does this mean? High-key refers to images that are typically brighter with a light range of tones, often a lot of whites with very few black or mid-tones. Low-key images focus on the shadows, true blacks and darker tones, with very few white tones. These images are often more moody with deep contrasts.

Using high or low key can be an effective way of capturing a scene in black and white, as we are using the tones to bring out certain elements within a scene. It’s best to experiment to grasp what kind of subjects work best under different lighting.

Discover the relationships between your subjects

Once you see start seeing the world in black and white you will begin to recognise the importance of composition, without the distraction of colour within a scene. You may have a strong foreground element, but the background is distracting due to a certain colour that is weakening your narrative. When colour is stripped from a scene the focus becomes solely about the relationship between the subject and the rest of the scene. No longer will you have to contend to uncomplimentary colours and hues; instead you’ll be drawn to the structure of how to compose an image with the key elements.

Visions of the Past

Black and white photography definitely has a timeless quality, which can often provoke an entirely different emotion and response from your viewers. When we view a photograph we are viewing the past, but when we shoot in monochrome it has the power to freeze the present moment and transpire us into history.

I took an image in 2016, in Kolkata, India. The old Classic Ambassadors are an icon of the past, however when I converted to monochrome it took on a whole other level. It could have well worked in colour, but in black and white it really encapsulates life before the present. When you start to envision your subjects, think how you want your audience to respond or feel, as this will help envision a shot and give your images a quality that you may have never imagined.

This article was originally written for and published in the February 2017 issue of Australian Photography magazine. You can read the article on their website here!

Fujifilm X-T2 Review

First Impressions of Fujifilm’s X-T2

I love new gadgets, especially the latest camera equipment. Over the past decade I’ve owned various cameras, which has given me the opportunity to understand what I want, need and dislike about many of them. I have found that there’s no ‘magic camera’, and there will always be room for improvement. The perfect balance for me is finding the camera that’s lightweight for travel, works how I need it to work, and has a few bonus features thrown in to keep me satisfied. Am I asking too much?

Physically, the X-T2 is very similar to the X-T1. I know looks aren’t everything, and it probably shouldn’t determine whether it’s a suitable camera or not, but it does have a classic look and feel to it that I really like. For years I shot primarily with DSLRs and recently added a Fujifilm X100S to my arsenal, which has become my go to camera for travel and street photography. When I saw the specs of the X-T2, I knew Fujifilm had taken a good long look at their rivals, and have made serious attempts to offer a camera similar in performance to a DSLR, wrapped in a more compact body.

On the surface, the shutter speed and ISO dials have been refined and improved with the inclusion of click and declick locks. This really helps avoid accidently knocking the dials during use. Fujifilm have also added photometry functions to the base of the shutter dial, leaving the left hand ISO dial to select drive modes. The X-T2 now shoots 4K video, a first in the x-series, with the video function set on the left hand dial. It’s a nice placement, allowing for easy switching between stills and video. There are also plenty of function buttons (Fn) to allow complete customisation, all of which make it easy to setup an ergonomic workflow.

In the hand, the X-T2 feels solid and water resistant. On the left hand side of the body you’ll find an HDMI port, USB port and a mic jack, which videographers will appreciate. With its dual SD card slots and a redesigned locking door hinge, you’ll be left in doubt how serious this camera is.

I like that Fujifilm have added a joystick/lever that can be used to set focus point similar to what can be found on high-end DSLRs – your days of using the focus assist button are over. Browsing the menus is a breeze using the joystick, as well as playing back images on the LCD.

Speaking of the LCD, one of the biggest improvements is the 3-axis tilt screen, giving both landscape and horizontal orientations. This makes shooting from the hip responsive and really helps you nail the shot. There’s also a new EVF (electronic viewfinder) with a refresh rate of 60fps in normal mode and a whopping 100fps in boost mode with the new booster grip installed (more on that later). I didn’t notice any lag – it feels very smooth. The EVF performs exceptionally well in low light even manual focusing with the split focus screen. It’s responsive with barely any suppression between shots, which some X-T1 users have mentioned.Battery life and speed is where the X-T2 shines with the addition of the new booster grip. As mentioned earlier, you’ll get a refresh rate of 100fps with continuous bursts at 7fps when using the mechanical shutter, and 14fps with the electronic shutter. Attach the grip and you’ll get an astonishing 11fps with the mechanical shutter. I have no hesitation shooting all day with the grip installed – goodbye spare batteries!

Inside, image quality is superb with the same 24.3MP sensor as the X-Pro2, producing a crisp resolution of 6000 x 4000px. The dynamic range is impressive, allowing you to really push the shadow/highlight detail without the need to bracket exposure – perfect for landscapes when you don’t want to use graduated ND filters. You will of course still have to watch your histogram, as it does still have limitations to how much information can be recovered in the highlights, but it’s very impressive. High ISO is clean; I had no issues shooting ISO 6400 at night.

The most significant upgrade of all is the Autofocus, an outstanding 325 AF points, with 49 being phase detection. Auto focus is important for my travel and street photography, so it’s critical that my camera nails focus at least 98% of the time. AF is accurate and fast; even in low light it locks focus quickly. In AF-C mode you now have various profiles with three simple parameters: Tracking sensitivity, speed tracking sensitivity and zone area switching. It means you can make your own adjustments to fine tune AF for any situation, which is really useful.

Inside, image quality is superb with the same 24.3MP sensor as the X-Pro2, producing a crisp resolution of 6000 x 4000px. The dynamic range is impressive, allowing you to really push the shadow/highlight detail without the need to bracket exposure – perfect for landscapes when you don’t want to use graduated ND filters. You will of course still have to watch your histogram, as it does still have limitations to how much information can be recovered in the highlights, but it’s very impressive. High ISO is clean; I had no issues shooting ISO 6400 at night.

 

My Personal Rating

Handling (5 stars)
The X-T2 is one fine piece of kit featuring Fujifilm’s classic stylish looks: it’s sure to be a conversation starter. The body feels pro and it responds like a pro body. I had no need to read the manual everything works as you’d expect it to. The buttons and controls are positioned for ease of use, I had no problem adjusting the settings during mid-shoot, although I did find the exposure compensation dial a little awkward at times. I prefer the exposure compensation dial on the X-Pro1, with the slight indentation for my thumb. That aside, the menu was simple to navigate. The new joystick made AF selection quick and simple.

Features (4 1/2 stars)
With an abundance of features the X-T2 packs a punch. The EVF has been improved substantially, making it more adaptable when shooting fast paced subjects or photographing in difficult lighting. AF-C settings strengthen AF performance. If you shoot video you will appreciate having 4K video, I tried it briefly and it worked well. I did miss not having a built-in ND filter like the X100S; I found the ND useful for landscapes, but this is easily overcome by purchasing ND filters. Like all Fujifilm cameras the X-T2 has film simulation with my favourite being Classic Chrome, a perfect all rounder.

Exposure (5 stars)
Adjusting exposure is simple with a dedicated shutter dial on the top of the camera. Auto exposure is accurate 99% of the time. I shot mostly with the exposure set to ‘A’ mode and set my aperture accordingly. Auto white balance was also accurate. No complaints here.

Image Quality (4 1/2 stars)
Images are sharp even at 100%, and it handles high ISO surprisingly well. I found I was able to achieve clean results up to ISO 12800. The Classic Chrome film simulation for people photography is absolutely gorgeous. I did find the images a little contrasty when shooting landscapes, however I was able to adjust this in Lightroom. Dynamic range is really impressive, allowing me to really push the shadow details to obtain a natural looking HDR. I do feel it performs better shooting people than it does landscapes, but it did a very nice job overall.

Value For Money (5 stars)
In the world of mirrorless APS-C, I feel there’s no other camera that compares to the Fujifilm X-T2.

This review was originally published inside Australian Photography magazine, and shared with consent on my blog. 

Travelling with a Light Footprint

 

“Take only photos, Leave nothing but footprints”

We’ve probably all heard the saying, but what does it mean? Basically ‘take only photos, leave nothing but footprints’ means to make as little impact on an enviornment as possible. As a travel photographer I’m always doing my best to work with humility, respect and a light footprint. It’s not rocket science, but there’s a lot of photographers who either don’t understand it or simply don’t care. This is the wrong attitude, and can spoil it for others who do the right thing. Here are my six tips to inform aspiring travel photographers about how they can move lightly and enjoy their travel photography experience at the same time.

Understand Culture

Culture isn’t just a race or ethnicity; in fact it goes far beyond that. We are all members of numerous cultural groups with cultural identities based on influences. This is an ongoing process and development. When we travel we are exposed to different sets of beliefs and values that may not be part of our culture or upbringing. This is what makes travel culturally rich, vigorous and complex. However, it’s important not to become too consumed with our own beliefs or habits.

Culture is a system of shared beliefs that are used by a society or group in order to socialise with the world as well as each other. Accepting other people’s ways of life can sometimes be challenging, even for seasoned travellers. The key to accepting this is to be open-minded and positive. By respecting different cultures you will learn a lot about yourself and the people you meet, which will allow you to go deeper into a culture to capture stronger images. Acknowledge these new experiences and embrace every encounter. It’s a rewarding experience that can shape your journey as a photographer.

Practice self-awareness and remember everyone is equal regardless of ethnic background, religion, demographic or income. Never try portraying someone else in false light. Be honest with the message you wish to convey, respecting different cultures whilst enabling, not disabling people through your work. Photography is a powerful medium, so use it effectively and wisely.

 

Respect People

The further you travel into unfamiliar lands and cultures, the more varied the people you’ll encounter. This is probably the most exciting part of travel. At times it can feel somewhat alienating, but remember, it works both ways. The key to interacting with people as a travel photographer/storyteller is to treat them with respect. Whenever I travel I live by the golden rule: do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. It’s good practice to acknowledge a person’s intrinsic value as a human being. It’s almost impossible to learn anything or capture the true essence of a place without meeting the local people. Be polite and ask before you take someone’s photo if you feel the situation calls for it. No one appreciates having a camera shoved in his or her face, so try avoiding it despite how much you want ‘that’ shot.

You can learn a lot about a destination or a person by making an effort to have a conversation. Respect goes a long way, more so in unfamiliar territory, when in actuality, you are the stranger. Never demand anything from your subjects, bribe or violate their human rights. Be friendly, move gently and always work with a light footprint – it makes the world a difference. 

Respect Property

This is just as important as respecting people, if not more significant. A prime example of disrespect for property was in Cambodia’s Angkor archaeological park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), which consists of ancient temples including Angkor Wat. Five foreign visitors were arrested and deported after they were caught taking nude self-portraits at the sacred sites. These sites hold enormous spiritual and historical significance. It’s completely disrespectful to climb these structures, let alone strip off and strike up a pose. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with nude photography when done tastefully and respectfully, however there’s a time and place for everything. 

As travel photographers it’s our duty to document these incredible places. A lot of it comes down to common sense, which unfortunately seems very uncommon for a lot of people who travel abroad. Just because you’ve left home doesn’t mean you should leave your manners and morals behind. Travel is fulfilling so be respectful, don’t take it for granted by being another idiot abroad.

Avoid Paying For Photos

This is a difficult one, and it will vary depending on what photography means to you and why you do what you do. As a travel photographer interested in having culturally rich experiences, I very rarely pay anyone to take their photo. There’s obviously a difference between travel and commercial photography, but where do you draw the line?

Here’s an example from a recent trip to Asia, where I spent 8 months travelling and photographing both commercially for a client and for my own enjoyment. My assignment brief was to capture the essence of the destination and it’s people for a book. My client provided me a specific brief for the type of images they needed. Some of the images required me to setup moments with models, which of course came at a cost. This is the commercial side of travel photography. I was able to capture and deliver exactly what my client asked, however, it wasn’t exactly fulfilling and it felt as if I was spoiling part of the culture. There’s nothing wrong with shooting commercially and paying to get the shots, except this does set expectations among the people who may assume everyone who travels will pay for photos. I found it difficult on many occasions where people on the street would ask me for money even if it were a candid moment. It became frustrating because I ended up missing photo opportunities due to other peoples expectations.  Some people would get aggressive, which at those times I would kindly respect them and move on. The main concern for me was that the culture seemed blanketed by this expectation; this made it challenging in places to find authentic cultural experiences.


Instead of paying people with money, try giving something back; food, water, clothing or a kind gesture is a great way to thank someone for their time. I remember photographing a group of sadhus (holy men) in Varanasi, India. These men would ask me for money every time I walked past. The day I stopped I knew I wanted to take their portraits, and no doubt they knew they would receive something from me. Rather than paying money, I bought the men a meal each. Instantly their moods changed to being thankful for the food. By offering something people need will allow you to interact without spoiling the culture. There’s nothing worse than watching a bus load of tourists handing out countless amounts of cash to people on the street, it’s setting a bad example and high expectations for other travellers.

Keep in mind the importance of understanding the purpose behind your travel photography. Once you understand this you’ll be able to move, tread lightly and enjoy your travels. A real traveller knows that it’s not about the destination; its about the journey. Seek and you will find.

Foster Tolerance 

This comes back to respecting people and culture, and is a very important concept to assist in accepting cultural differences. It is not a passive concept and does not equate to indifference or indulgence. It’s all about acceptance of differences of other people and is the recognition of the significance of those dissimilarities without any judgement. How does this apply to photography? Well, if you judge someone or something on appearance or behaviour without fostering tolerance than it’s likely you’ll miss parts of the story, therefore resulting in missed photo opportunities. By acknowledging these differences new opportunities will arise, opening up new doors that may have never opened without the open-mindedness. 

Be tolerant and listen before acting. Great images don’t create themselves; you need to go deeper than just clicking the shutter if you want to take your travel photography to the next level.

 Assess then Act

When we travel into new and unfamiliar territories outside of our comfort zone we are exposed to a different lifestyle. The best way to deal with this is by assessing each situation and knowing that the same approach cannot be necessarily applied to every occasion. As an Australian, I’ve spent the majority of my life in the western world. I understand the system and find a level of comfort working where I live. For example, if you’ve never travelled to Asia than it’s likely that you will feel anxious at times resulting in your nerves taking over. Language barriers can be difficult when trying to move freely as a photographer in a foreign land. In order to handle these challenges it’s good to make photography secondary to your travels. Slow down while taking in the moment and then assess if it would make a great photo opportunity. Once you’ve travelled enough the urgency to photograph in a manic way wears off and this is when you’ll evolve as a photographer.

Every time I find myself in a new enviornment or situation, I always pause and observe what’s going on around me. Analyse the mood, the light, the interaction and behaviours of the people to get a sense of understanding. By doing this you’ll be able to find exactly what you want or need to document. It also puts other people at ease with your presence, you will no longer be ‘the foreigner’ with the camera, you’ll be immersed in the culture, which will help you shoot more inconspicuously.

 Tell the Truth

As photographers, we have the power to change the world, but in order to make a positive impact we must work with integrity. This means being honest and precise, especially when working as a documentary photographer or photojournalist. If you are commissioned to document a story, it’s crucial to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. Your images should be relevant to the event and society for it to be effective. If you photos are inaccurate or misleading of the message it will have a negative impact. It pays to do a lot of research in order to work lightly and openly.

 Lastly, Pack Light

This is probably the most literal way to work with a light footprint when travelling. It’s also one of the best ways to move around generously without the burden of being weighed down by your gear. As a travel photographer specialising in street and landscapes I always try to minimise weight as much as humanly possible. There’s really nothing worse than lugging around gear that you don’t need. Take only the necessities you know you will use. This takes time and a few trips before you work it out, but once you get it sorted you’ll be able to take full advantage of being nomadic. During my first trip to Asia, I took way too much camera equipment, which mostly ended up staying in my bag or back in the hotel room. On the second trip I knew what I needed and what was going to slow me. So remember, take only the essentials and forget the dead weight. You’ll be glad you did. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog post. It was originally written for Australian Photography magazine, and published in their November 2016 issue. 

 

Capturing Compelling Compositions

Every great photograph consists of three key elements. First and foremost composition, lighting and of course the moment. Look at any great image and you’ll notice these elements. What part of the image caught your attention? More often than not, it will be the compositional structure that sets the scene. A poorly composed photo can make a fantastic subject dull, but a well-executed composition has the potential to turn an ordinary situation into something extraordinary. This is why composition is critical and should be paramount for every shot you take.

I want to discuss composition and how photographer’s can improve their work by thoughtfully constructing images that make sense. There a few imperative things to understand when discussing the various principles and importance of composition. Let’s face it; people will not be drawn to our photos if there is nothing of interest to grab their attention. To properly grasp composition and capture powerful, and meaningful photographs, we should understand how the human mind works.


The Basics

Basically, “composition” describes the placement of relative elements in a photograph. A strongly composed image will lead the viewer’s eye towards the main aspects of an image, usually in a specific order. There’s a number of factors that can affect the way an image is visualised and how people perceive your work. Framing, positioning, perspective, focal length, are just a few things that can make all the difference.

There is no way to overstate the significance of composition in any art form. The art to composing a great shot over a good shot requires thoughtful arrangement of particular elements that best portray the photographer’s vision. This can be done by physically rearranging elements within a scene i.e. portrait or landscape photography, where the photographer might ask the subject to reposition, or they might move a stick from a scene to clean up the space. Another approach is by visualising and anticipating a moment before it unfolds; a perfect example of anticipating composition is street photography. Street photographers must think/act quickly to keep up with the fast moving pace of the moving world. It’s often not physically possible to move or ask your subject to change position, therefore you’ll need to anticipate the moment and be ready to click the shutter when the moment unfolds. This is called the ‘fleeting moment’, something to remember when working in fast moving environments.


Reverse Painting

Photography and painting, as art forms have a lot in common. Just, as paintings represent images through the artist’s imagination, a photograph can also be represented through the imagination of the photographer by pre-visualising an image beforehand. The difference between the photography and painting is that painters normally start with a blank canvas and add elements with a paintbrush. Often, photographers work in reverse, starting with a ‘full canvas’ and selectively eliminating the distracting or unwanted elements from the picture. It has been said that paintings are less realistic than photographs, which is habitually true because a photo is usually something that exists. However, a poorly composed photograph can also become unrealistic and misleading. Both art forms require an attentive eye for detail and compositional value.


Visual Tension

Understanding visual tension and how to leverage it in your pictures, you should first consider how the human brain responds to visual information. Think of your mind as a visual archive that processes information and paints a picture in your head of how you perceive the world. When we view an image for the first time our brain instinctively processes this information to show us the bigger picture. To understand this it’s important to note that without our brain it wouldn’t be possible to capture what our eyes perceive. Simply put, what our mind does not know, our eyes cannot see.

As we live in a three-dimensional world, our brain must process the information in order to transfer it onto our eyes, this is because a photo is two-dimensional and that’s all our eyes will distinguish. When we view an image our mind automatically selects the vital features and passes it onto our vision. The brain is also responsible for how we feel when we view an image. Without it we wouldn’t be attracted or emotionally moved by a photograph.

Our brains are limited to how much material we can absorb at a single time. It doesn’t have to be obvious when trying to get your message across. You could be as subtle as you wish, just as long as you entice your viewer’s attention towards the core aspects. Often, it’s possible to derive a whole understanding from the small details and assign meaning to what an image represents without revelling the entire story. If you engage your viewer’s minds in a consequential way than you’ve successfully done your job. If they divert their attention away from the vital parts than it’s likely they’ll lose interest and move on. Adding tension to your pictures can prompt the attentiveness of your viewer’s brain to spend more time studying the image. The key is finding the right balance. With the right amount of detail your audience will recognise that there’s to the picture, giving it meaning.


Contact Sheet

I was with a photo group when I found these men building a house out of bricks in a small fishing village near Hoi An, in Central Vietnam. The group continued ahead, no one stopped to observe this as a potential photo opportunity. I spent 5 minutes watching the men and how they moved. My vision was to create a sense of tension using the layers and textures of the brickwork, however an empty brick wall wasn’t the most interesting subject. The first three shots were very ‘straight’ or obvious that the men were building a house. As I observed the scene, I anticipated the moment when the man would disappear behind the wall to lay another brick, which added a point of interest within the detail. Isolating the foliage in the background and framing just the brickwork enabled me to draw the focus on the man.

Fuji X100S, fixed 35mm f/2 @ 35mm, 1/210s @ f4, 800 ISO, handheld. Contrast, curves, saturation adjusted in Adobe Lightroom.



Exclude the Extraneous

Composition should never complicate the facts. All it takes is some practice to train your eye to identify the various principles of composition. Once you familiarise yourself with the components, you will begin noticing patterns that work for your shooting style. An essential part of the process for capturing powerful and meaningful images is to exclude any irrelevant details. Every shot we take is a frame; this is why it’s good practice to be selective in terms of what we fill our frame with. Of course, the story or narrative will vary depending on how we choose to portray our subject, but there are some basic ‘rules’ or guidelines to consider. For example, you may want to leave your image open to interpretation. If so, you’ll likely eliminate certain parts of the scene, allowing the viewer to put the pieces together.

Another way to compose a frame is by framing within another frame. This can help draw attention to the main part of an image. A strongly composed photo will typically be constructed with some kind of thought or meaning guiding the viewer’s eye to flow naturally, or organically through the entire frame, rather than being forced. When you include only the necessary pieces, your narrative will intensify making it easier and quicker to communicate what it is you want to say.


Relative Distance

Relative distance when talking about composition usually refers to the distance between your subject(s) and the rest of the objects in the frame. This is very similar to adding tension. A basic rule is to avoid overlapping your subjects, as it often over complicates the message. For example, if two people were walking in opposite directions it would more visually engaging to avoid taking the shot when your subjects intersect. Keeping an eye on the relative distance between your subjects, the foreground and background will aid you in how you compose your shot. You obviously don’t want your subjects to overlapping, but you also don’t want any distractions in the background crisscrossing on your main focal point. A good method is to frame your background first and wait for the right moment to take the shot when everything falls into place. It takes time, but it will show that you’ve put some thought into your shot.


Fill The Frame

While negative space can be used effectively to create powerful photos, there’s an old saying by a famous photographer, Robert Capa, who once said, “if your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Robert wasn’t referring to sticking a telephoto lens on his camera and zooming in; he means physically moving closer to the subject and become more immersed in the moment. This approach can help with not including too much extraneous detail, as the framing and focus will be solely on the subject. Filling the frame makes it obvious in showing your intended objective, which helps carry your message across from the moment your audience view the photograph.

When we fill the frame with the subject up close and personal, the whole dynamic is amplified making for a more dramatic shot. For example, a close up portrait is much more intimate than a full body portrait, as it immediately connects the viewer’s eyes with your subjects eyes. When shooting street photography it’s also good to get in nice and close with a wide angle to give the viewer a sense of being there in the scene. Try finding the contrast between subject and the background to give your images more impact.

It’s also important to mention that filling the frame can become problematic if it’s not accurately executed. An example of this would be missing vital parts to the narrative by cropping off critical elements. The solution is to take a few shots, move back and forth to see what works best. If you have the time, it takes very little energy to use your feet. Avoid using a zoom lens, as this will make you lazy. A nice fast prime lens is your best friend.


Avoid Cropping

This may be a personal preference of mine, but try to avoid cropping my images in post. I find greater satisfaction in perfecting the composition in camera. Not only does this save time when it comes to post-processing on the computer, it also makes me more observant when composing my shots. Now, this may not suit everyone and will vary depending what you shoot, but I find it good to practice perfecting composition without relying on cropping later.

Patterns and Repetitions

Patterns are aesthetically pleasing when we look at photos, but the best is when the pattern is interrupted or broken. This may seem mundane in everyday life, however when we start thinking in terms of composition it can really give your images impact. Think of patterns as a photographs rhythm, they give the structure harmony. When we start experimenting with different repetitions (lines, patterns, colours) our images come to life.

There are two ways of using repetition in photography. You can either emphasize it or break it completely. Filling your frame with repetitive patterns will allure you eye into the shot. A good rule is to focus as close as possible, perhaps zooming in on the detailed area so that the pattern resumes its repetition throughout the entire frame. This also adds depth and complexity. For example, I used the lines and texture the brick wall to add repetition. This made the image more visual, giving it a jigsaw puzzle feel.

When we start breaking patterns we increase the tension within an image. This can be a great way of focusing on a specific element. An example could be a straight line that suddenly changes directions and directs your eye to the main subject or focal point. Positioning your subject within an attention-grabbing pattern can aid in stimulating your viewer’s attention and encourage them look deeper into an image.

ANZANG 2016 Botanical Runner Up

In celebration of World Photography Day, Australian Geographic have just announced the winners and runners-up for the 2016 AG Nature Photographer of the year competition. I was fortunate enough to win the runners up award in the Botanical category with my image ‘Mist Shower’ , taken in New England National Park. 

You can see all the winning images and results on the Australian Geographic website.

New England National Park was registered as a World Heritage area in 1986, due to the universal significance of its biological and landscape values. The park’s genetic diversity and natural cycles remain unaltered, which has allowed the survival and evolution of rainforest species over geological time.

New England National Park, New South Wales

Canon 6D, Canon 16-35 mm f/2.8, 2.5, f/13, ISO 200, tripod and circular polarised filter.

8 Compelling Reasons Why I love Mirrorless Cameras

As photographers we’re always searching for that perfect camera, but is there really such a thing? In the past decade I’ve been shooting with Canon DSLRs. They have served me well in that time, especially with landscape photography and commercial work. However, technology has advanced and small cameras are now becoming popular among professional photographers. I’ve always been a firm believer that it’s not the camera that matters; it’s the end result that counts. It’s still my view on photography, yet everyday I’m trying to push the limits of my gear to get the best possible results – I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

I want to share some of the benefits of using smaller cameras, and mirrorless cameras in particular, and how they can change the way you shoot – potentially opening up a new world of opportunities. All the images in this article were shot with the Fujifilm X100S mirrorless rangefinder camera. It’s what I’ve predominantly used over the past eight months while travelling in Southeast Asia. It’s worth mentioning that I’m in no way affiliated with Fujifilm. I’m purely writing this based on my personal experiences using the Fujifilm system.

This article was originally written and published in Australian Photography magazine. You can read the article on their website.

Size and Weight

DSLRs and most traditional cameras are often bulkier and heavier than the more portable compact cameras on the market, making the camera act as a barrier between the photographer and their subject. Because of this it’s often a common occurrence to miss certain shots when the camera viewfinder is pressed to your eye. The bulkiness and size sometimes obscures your vision, which can be frustrating when shooting in busy and chaotic environments. It can mean missing other photo opportunities.

On the other hand, mirrorless cameras or smaller more portable cameras don’t really have this issue. The smaller build size enables you to move freely and quickly with the freedom to see what’s happening around you. The smaller body size in most cases makes these cameras lightweight, creating an easier and more enjoyable experience to carry a camera with you at all times, increasing the chance of capturing moments that may have been impossible with a DSLR.

Being Discreet

Ever wondered how to be invisible as a photographer to capture more candid and natural photos without disrupting the scene? Although it’s not humanly possible to be invisible, there are certain methods to be discreet when shooting in public. Some photographers use telephoto lenses from a long distance to grab candid shots, however, formidable DSLR cameras are not preferred in a lot of situations due to the attention they draw.

There are times when holding the cameras viewfinder to your eye is abundantly obvious that you are shooting. When trying to capture candid and natural moments you don’t want your subjects aware that you are taking images. Smaller cameras have the benefit of being less invasive due to their compact size; therefore increasing the chances of grabbing more natural shots. People react differently to small cameras than what they do to big cameras, especially for street photography.

Silent Shutter

With film cameras, there was only one kind of shutter: the mechanical type. These days, digital cameras you have two types of shutters; hybrid and electronic shutters, effectively replacing the old mechanical shutters.

The advantages of electronic in comparison to mechanical shutters are simple. They are more robust and reliable because there are no moving parts – this makes the shutter completely silent. It also helps eliminate the risk of blurry images at slower shutter speeds.

As a result, the electronic shutter allows faster shutter speeds. Most mechanical shutters quickest speed is 1/800th. Auto focus speed and tracking is also improved due to the autofocus sensors being placed directly in the main image sensors that are constantly exposed to light.

Many of the mirrorless cameras available today offer a silent shutter. This is a huge plus when trying to capture photos of people without being obvious you are shooting. People tend to react differently when they hear the camera clicking. The Fujifilm X100S is unique in that it has a leaf shutter and an electronic shutter. Leaf shutters are extremely quiet; basically dead silent. Often you won’t hear it even fire a shot. Leaf shutters also allow extremely fast shutter speeds with flash.

Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)

Relatively new in digital camera technology, the electronic viewfinder (EVF) has become popular among professional photographers. Traditional DSLR cameras bounce the image up into the viewfinder by a mirror and prism. This is an optical view of what the lens is capturing and requires no electronics, just the same as looking through binoculars.

Mirrorless cameras with an EVF use the light from the lens straight into the sensor that records the data and displays a preview in the viewfinder of what the sensor captures. Think of this as live view mode through the cameras eyepiece. There are various advantages of EVFs: the ability to display the histogram in real time, which is extremely beneficial when shooting in tricky lightening situations when properly exposing. Another advantage is live display rendering. You are able see the dynamic range of highlight/shadow detail before pressing the shutter. When shooting in low light environments EVFs are much brighter, therefore the benefit of ISO can be clearly visible. Focus peeking is useful, as is the focus assist zoom. But probably my favourite feature of EVF is the option to review your images without removing your eye from the viewfinder, great when outdoors in bright environments.

Dedicated Dials and Controls

Modern cameras, in principle, tend to be complicated, jam-packed with features that most people don’t need, not even professionals. Introducing new features, dials and controls isn’t always a good thing. In my opinion, this evolution is complicating matters making it an overwhelming experience for beginners starting out in photography. People may say it’s just a matter of learning to operate whatever camera you have available, however, it’s easier to adapt to a design that’s intuitive.

Mirrorless technology seems a step ahead with intuitive cameras with only the right ingredients. Most of these cameras are far more instinctual, making it easier to adapt with their dedicated dials and controls. I like Fuji’s simple ergonomic design, which, from my experience, are some of the simplest cameras to operate straight out of the box. There’s nothing worse than buying a new camera and being overwhelmed by it’s design and features. Usability improvements such as dedicated dials for aperture, shutter speed, and ISO are important. It becomes a mess when you have to fiddle through a menu in order to adjust settings; this is the big advantage of dedicated dials in the right places.

Misleading Value

A huge advantage of travelling with a smaller more portable camera is that it tends to look less expensive than a bigger traditional DSLR.

The general person on the street tends to assume the smaller the camera, the lower its value. I’m not saying it’s a complete deterrent, as people who steal will commit crime regardless of the camera, but smaller cameras do tend to be smaller targets.

Another advantage is people don’t really associate compact-style cameras as ‘professional’ cameras. It’s a great way to be inconspicuous while still retaining optimum image quality.

Accurate Autofocus

Traditionally, DSLR cameras have offered faster and more accurate autofocus than mirrorless cameras but the gap is closing. For some DSLR users, the hassle of framing with the little centre square point and then re-framing to get the desired composition can lead to missed shots.

It’s safe to say DSLR autofocus right now is much faster than mirrorless, however, vast improvements have been made in recent mirrorless cameras that allow them to utilise both contrast-detect and phase-detect autofocus systems. The latest mirrorless cameras use phase-detection autofocus in live view. Phase detection autofocus systems are used to get your subjects pin sharp. Learning how to effectively use this method you can efficiently lock focus in even the most challenging lighting situations. Mirrorless may not be the quickest focusing system yet, but it is accurate when the camera locks focus, making for an enjoyable and effortless shooting experience. Plus, you never need to fine-tune autofocus on mirrorless cameras. To me, this is a huge advantage.

Superb Image Quality

Both DSLR and mirrorless cameras produce high quality pictures at similar resolutions, with agreeable amounts of digital noise (grain) at higher ISOs. Earlier mirrorless camera models meant lower quality files, as they did struggle in low-light situations, but technology has advanced tenfold. Camera manufacturers have developed more sensitive chips which suppress digital noise. It is important to keep in mind, mirrorless is continuously evolving and there is still debate about image quality, but in such a short period of time mirrorless is most definitely changing the world of digital photography.

 

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!