Author Archives: richdysonphoto

A mystery solved

Who is the mystery artist?Just outside the centre of Edinburgh is a beautiful place called Dean Village. The Water of Leith flows through this small area which is lined by picturesque buildings that were built in the area toward the end of the nineteenth century. However, in the last week or so the river has had some new and interesting additions made to it that have stirred interest in both locals and visitors to the area. About a week or so ago two structures made of rocks balanced on top of each other appeared by the walkway that crosses the Water of Leith, then by the end of the week many more had appeared with the complexity of the balances becoming more and more impressive. I couldn’t help but take a photo of them which was shared on Facebook with a plea to find who the artist was that was constructing these gravity defying towers and since then nearly 100,000 people have viewed the image and over 3,000 people have clicked the Like button but despite a few snaps of the mystery builder, his identity was unknown.

Walking through Dean Village this evening the mystery man was stood in the river building yet more of these wonderful stacks and watched on in awe by countless passers-by. The man himself is Nick Hortin who lives in Dean Village and started to build the stone stacks after seeing a video on YouTube and thinking that it would be something that he would like to teach himself to do. He’s been building them up and down the Water of Leith over the last few months and loves that the process allows him to take his mind off day to day things and concentrating on finding the natural balance point of the rocks as they are stacked on each other.

If you get a chance to see Nick in action whilst passing the Water of Leith stand and watch the immense skill and patience he displays finding the right shaped rock and then balancing it, almost like magic, onto the rock below.

Thanks Nick for your chat this evening and for making a wonderful talking piece in an already fantastic location!

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Posted in Artwork, Edinburgh, Uncategorized

New Lightroom CC features

Tuesday saw the launch of the much awaited new version of Lightroom from Adobe. There have been two versions launched, Lightroom CC that has a subscription model and Lightroom 6 which is a perpetual licence. There are some differences in what you will get as future updates between the two products but I don’t intend to get into that discussion in this blog. I am using the CC version as I was already a Creative Cloud member and it meant that I received the new version of the software on launch day with no change to the value of my subscription and I also get the latest version of Photoshop too in the Photographers Package.

There are a number of features that have been updated but perhaps two of the biggest changes are the ability to merge images into a panorama without leaving Lightroom and similar functionality to create realistic HDR images again without needing to switch to Photoshop, Photomatix or HDR Efex Pro. I know that some people have an aversion to HDR due to its misuse in the past to create nausea inducing colours but there can be a place for it if used in the right way – however, as it is a Marmite type package I will leave this one to the end so that you can skip it if HDR just isn’t your thing.

I’m sure most people reading this are fairly familiar with how to take images ready for a panorama. Essentially you need to take a series of images panning across the scene ensuring that there is about a third of the scene kept in the then next pan from the previous one. It’s also good practice if you can to take the images in portrait on your camera as there is less barrelling in this format than landscape so you do get a better end image. Finally, use the spirit levels on your tripod to ensure the base of the head of the tripod is level so that as you pan around the scene the horizon stays level.

Once the images are in Lightroom it used to be a case of clicking Edit In and then taking the option to Merge to Panorama in Photoshop. This worked well enough but for me but there was always something I didn’t like with this approach – the benefit of Lightroom is that it is non-destructive to raw files yet by exporting out to another program it disconnected the image from the original and produced a brand new TIFF or PSD file. With the new Photo Merge option in Lightroom you can now process a panorama from within the software and the resultant file is a DNG with all the extra data that you get from the format so you now have a much more powerful image to work with. It’s also really easy to create a great looking pano;

Select all the images that you want to make into your panorama in the library module, remember that to get a realistic image any changes that you may make in the Develop module need to be synced across all the images before making the merge. However, remember that you are going to have a DNG output so you can make those kind of edits post-merge if you like and still have all the available data.

Images ready to be processed in Lightroom

Next, you can either press the Ctrl key and M or go to the Photo dropdown, click on Photo Merge and then click Panorama

Selecting the Merge to Panorama

 

In just a few seconds a new box will appear with a preview of the panorama image, you can manually chose which method or merging to use or you can let Lightroom decide which works best for the image. You can also ask Lightroom to automatically Crop any areas that are lost in creating the Panorama – that was another bug-bear for me when using Photoshop that you had to manually crop the lost spaces of the merged image – now it’s done at the click of a check-box, so much more efficient.

Preview panorama screen

 

Simply click on Merge and Lightroom then goes off to create the merged image. The really great thing is that Lightroom is now doing this in the background so you can move on to another image you may want to edit whilst it is joining the images together and creating the new raw file for you. My iMac is pretty old (please feel free to donate a 5k 27″ iMac if you feel bad for me) and chugs along  but it still only took four minutes for 10 full sized raw files to be merged in to one panoramic image and despite looking at 100% I am still struggling to see where the joins of each image are, the conversion quality is superb – much better than previous results I would have received from Photoshop merges and certainly much quicker too. I have add the three different merge options (Spherical, Cylindrical and Perspective) below so that you can see the different effects of each of the merges – I do think that the Lightroom suggested option of Spherical does work the best out of these three.

Spherical Pano

Spherical Merge Option

Cylindrical Mode

Cylindrical Merge Option

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Perspective Merge Option

 

So if you don’t like HDR now is the time to jump to the last wrap up paragraph and skip this bit but I would recommend sticking with it and you may be surprised at what Adobe have done. As a little bit of background to the reasons for using HDR we need to look at the capability of a camera v the capability of our brain and eyes in capturing light. A pretty good DSLR can capture a range of around 13 to 15 stops of light from shadow to highlight whereas our brain can process far more stops of light (somewhere around 22-25) which means that we can see far more detail, particularly in scenes which have a mix of both bright highlights and very dark shadows. During my Switch to Manual workshops I like to use some of the Fuji Photo-trail locations to capture some of the iconic shots of Edinburgh, one of these is the entrance to Advocates Close opposite St Giles Cathedral, which has a great view straight down the close and frames the Scott Monument. This is one of these locations where our brain processes light far more effectively than our camera can so to see the image as our eyes do a solution is to take a set of bracketed images and then merge them in a HDR program such as Photoshop, HDR Efex Pro or Photomatix. This final step is where the hatred of HDR usually comes out as you are presented with a myriad of options, many of which produce an image that is overly saturated, has horrendous fringing around edges and generally looks totally unrealistic. The new functionality in Lightroom has taken away this danger and is only there to try and produce a realistic image that accurately captures the various shades from Shadow to Highlight as our eyes may see it.

For this test, I bracketed seven images, three stops either side of the base shot to give me as much information as possible to create the file. You can imagine it takes a fair bit of patience on a busy street like The Royal Mile to get seven shots that didn’t have people walking past but more later on how you can reduce time with this new functionality.

Bracketed Images

Just like the Panorama function it is is the Photo dropdown, under Photo Merge and HDR or click Ctrl and H and you will again be presented with a new dialog box which allows you to chose to Auto Align the images (why wouldn’t you have this switched on) and also Auto Tone, I actually think it is more realistic to leave this switched off as the end result is much closer to what my eyes could see. You can also get Lightroom to prevent ghosting which I have set on this image because there were a group of tourists at the bottom of the step getting to find out about the history of Edinburgh and they were moving slightly.

Merge HDR Box

Click on the Merge button and again Lightroom goes to work in the background creating the HDR image whilst you can get on working on another edit. I talked earlier about bracketing seven images and the frustration that can cause, however, Adobe have done some amazing maths with the HDR function and they can actually produce a better image using less images to start off with – it sounds unbelievable but I have merged just two of the images from the set, the three stops under exposed and the three stops over-exposed images to compare the results and there is really very little difference (if any) between the two images so you can actually save time by shooting less shots when you need to use HDR and obviously the processing time will be reduced as well when you are in front of your computer – a win win for sure!

To give you a comparison of the images using either seven or two images for the merge and Auto Tone being on or off I have added the four resultant files at the bottom of the post so you can see the difference (and by them being at the bottom the people that don’t like HDR may pop back up a few lines and see it is possible to create realistic HDR images that don’t look like a comic book). I have allowed you to click on the images so you can see them at full size to see the difference for yourself.

This is by no means an in-depth review of Lightroom CC/6 but hopefully it gives you a flavour of a couple of the major changes that have taken place in the update that came out this week. Lightroom is now pretty much at the core of my own processing due to a really great method for cataloging images and finding them quickly when you need them and I also really love being able to take my images with me using the Lightroom Mobile that means I can show my clients images on my iPhone or iPad and, for those that have them, Android devices too. These couple of functions have really brought forward Lightroom as being the tool that I will use to process my images 95%+ of the time and only occasionally  will I need to flick over to Photoshop now for some real detailed editing. You can sign-up to the Creative Cloud option at adobe.com where the Photographers Plan including Photoshop and Lightroom is just under £9 per month.

Auto Tone switched on - Two Image Merge

Auto Tone switched on – Two Image Merge

Auto Tone switched on - Seven Image Merge

Auto Tone switched on – Seven Image Merge

Auto Tone switched off - Two Image Merge

Auto Tone switched off – Two Image Merge

 

 

Auto Tone switched off - Seven Image Merge

Auto Tone switched off – Seven Image Merge

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted in Edinburgh, Lightroom, Software

The best way to learn photography(?)

City PhotograhySince I gave up my old job and became a photographer I am rarely kept up at night worrying about something. This is because I am lucky enough to be doing something I enjoy and doing enough of it that it is paying my bills. However, I responded to a question on a social media group from someone calling out they were new to photography and were looking for ways to learn. In true internet forum style, everyone gave their responses and it soon led to the usual rubbishing of other people’s views and the poor original poster is now even more lost and confused than when they started and I had a shorter sleep than usual concerned for them.

So what is the right answer? Well, to be honest there isn’t one! End of blog post, thanks for reading. Of course, that isn’t the end of the post – there isn’t a right answer because every one of us is different and has different priorities. Instead, I thought it would be good to share a set of options that I am aware of and my view of the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Before we go into the options though I thought it would be good to regurgitate something I learned in my old corporate days but is really pertinent to this topic. When we are starting something new we don’t know what we don’t know – let’s use the analogy of learning to drive and then apply this back to photography later.

Unconscious Incompetence

In this stage of learning you know you want to learn to drive but you have no idea of how to start the car or the fairly complicated procedure of changing gear, when to change gear, why you are changing gear, how to park etc. You are either going to deny that you need to learn to drive or you are going to start taking lessons or have someone show you what to do. This then takes you into the next stage of learning.

Conscious Incompetence

You’ve had a few lessons and are now bombarded with all this information. You can guarantee that you’ll have a few stalls at traffic lights and it all becomes over-whelming. You kind of get the things you need to do but actually doing them is a struggle so you either decide that driving isn’t for you and buses are pretty good or you practice more and reach the next stage of development.

Conscious Competence

It’s driving test day and you’ve had weeks of practice and now someone is going to spend 45 minutes in the car with you after you sit a theory test and you are going to show them that you can drive. You’ll be concentrating so hard to prove that the things you have learned are demonstrable by you. You know what you are doing and you have to think hard every time you do it to make sure it’s right.

Unconscious Competence

Nirvana! Well not quite. You’ve been driving a couple of years and doing 10,000 miles a year, never had an accident. You’re now not needing to think about how you are driving, it is has become instinctive. There are dangers at this level that you become so used to not thinking you don’t concentrate and so it’s always worth taking yourself back to an earlier development stage and refreshing now and again.

OK, so that’s the theory – lots of words and hopefully you aren’t too bored and have kept with me. So how does that relate to the tools for learning? I’m going to look at a few of the responses to the post that got me thinking about this and you can decided yourself where things fit.

Online Articles

The internet is amazing, so much information that it is hard to imagine that you can’t find anything with a Google search or two. There are some terrific resources out there, Lynda, Kelby One, Creative Live and Phlearn are all great examples of sites that have comprehensive and reliable videos to watch.

If you know what you are looking for then you can find free videos that will get you the information you know you need but what if you are so new that you don’t know what to search for? Unconscious Incompetence – it’s going to take you a while to find what you think you need and the downside of the internet is anyone can post anything (look I have done it overnight for this article!) and it may be totally wrong – just as there are many great resources such as the ones mentioned earlier, there are just as many band and frankly wrong videos that you can watch.

The other consideration of online is that it is a one-way process. You can’t ask questions and get an immediate answer unless you are paying for the live courses and your answer is picked from the many going up on the message board.

Finally you are, by necessity, sat in front of your computer learning so if you want to then apply the knowledge you need to be able to retain that knowledge to put it into practice – imagine if you were told to learn how to drive online and then be given the keys to a car and to do everything you have just been shown what to do?

Workshops and Tours

There are quite a number of photographers who supplement their incomes by providing a workshop session to photographers that allow them share their knowledge with people willing to pay. The advantage of this is that there is a two way process involved here – you can ask a question and you’ll get an immediate response. Good workshops will usually use a teaching process similar to the ones that you have probably seen when you have attended a training course in your own job – tell, show, observe, review – where you are told how to do something, give an example, let the learner do it for themselves and review how thy did it.

There are things to be aware of here too. Anyone can set up a website and say they teach photography, you don’t need a licence to be able to do this so how do you know if what they teach is any good? Check the quality of their own photography, try and find reviews of other people that have attended.

This isn’t going to be a magic bullet solution, you won’t attend one of these sessions and instantly become the next Ansel Adams. You will need to put into practice your learning from these sessions so ask the workshop if you get any post-learning support or if they toss you back into the world after they have given you your allotted time.

Online Courses

I have never tried this option so I will limit my views on them. You will often see discounted courses that allow you to become a pro-photographer in just 10 weeks, usual price £499 now only £50 and at the end you will be certified as a pro-photographer.

There’s a reason I have never tried these – would you believe it if you were told that from being unable to drive in 10 weeks time you’ll be racing against Lewis Hamilton – that doesn’t happen.

I am sure that some of these courses are reputable but from the many pro-photographers I have met with, I have never heard one of them coming through this route.

Formal Courses

This is a traditional route for photographers to learn their craft. Some of these such as the Open University may well have an online element to them, others such as HNC, HND or Degree courses will need regular attendance. This is definitely going to give you an excellent grounding in photography, you’ll be learning from people who have had to be assessed for their capability to teach and it will give you lots of what you need to make photography a career.

The considerations for this style of learning are fairly obvious, it is going to be quite a time commitment and probably a reasonably hefty cost commitment too. You also need to think about whether you need to do something like this if you are happy to continue to be a hobbyist photographer – do you really need a qualification?

I have also heard from some people on this route that they became frustrated having to learn things that they didn’t think would be useful in the future. Be prepared for this and go into it with open eyes.

Finally, some of these more formal courses have restricted numbers so you will often need to show a level of competence to get onto them although there are often shorter courses that can be easier to get on.

Friends

Photography isn’t a team sport but it can be. If you have a group of friends that are all interested then why not head out with them and pick up what they know and apply it to your own photography.

Certainly nothing wrong with this route and obviously you will be limited by the knowledge of your friends. It’s nice and social and hopefully you’ll have fun which is really what it’s all about! Don’t forget though that some photographers become different when thy are taking photos – they are concentrating so hard on what they are doing that they aren’t the jovial chap that you recognise from ‘normal life’.

Camera Clubs

Throughout the world there are many clubs and societies dedicated to photography. Often they’ll have special interest groups such as Nature or Studio and the people running them will usually be competent.

The criticisms of Camera Clubs can sometimes be that they have a reputation of being ‘stuffy’ and stand-offish. It can be quite intimidating as there are often club competitions where everyone shows their work and a judge will give (hopefully but not always, constructive) criticism of the submitted photographs and it can be quite hurtful to hear your image being destroyed in public.

My own experience of a camera club has been that they are a good place to pick up some knowledge but you will rarely find someone that will help take you through from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence.

So which is best?

The right answer is probably a combination of most of them depending on what you want to do with your photography, how much time you have, and how much do you want to pay?

I’ll share you my own route but don’t think that this is the definitive right answer. I started off by going out with friends taking photos and in parallel spent six months or so searching the internet in frustration trying to find the way to do things. I eventually joined a camera club and gradually progressed to the ‘advanced’ section where I decided to work toward attaining the Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society with some assistance from some members of the camera club. Along the way though I have practiced every day and every so often I attend a workshop or a course on something that interests me. A mix and match will work but you need to think for yourself which mix works for you.

 

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Great way to Geotag your photos

When I am running my photography workshops I like to be able to share the locations we use with the groups so that if they are ever in the area again they can easily find the place where we shot, however, as I use the Canon 5D MkIII which doesn’t have a built in GPS function there were two options, either manually find the approximate location in Lightroom to geo-tag the images or alternatively pay a pile of money for a GPS receiver to add onto the camera. Speaking with another photographer recently, he suggested a great alternative which is an app that is available for iOS and Android operating systems called Geo Tag Pro which costs a bargain £2.99 and automates the process using the technology that sits in your pocket and a smart feature in Lightroom Maps.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 09.45.26When you download the app, you first need to ensure that the time on your camera and the time on the app are aligned. Once out in the field and you are about to start shooting, switch on recording and it will autolog your GPS position at user-definable intervals (I have it set for every two minutes or when I have moved 50 meters). The app designers have recognised that using GPS usually wears down you battery so they have put in some clever tech to reduce the amount of charge being taken by only switching on GPS tracking when it is actually tracking your movement rather than being always on. Once you have finished the shoot you then have a number of options to retrieve the data – automatically download it to a Dropbox folder; automatically send it to the server at Geo Tag Pro where you can then download it once you get back home; or e-mail it to yourself. All three options create a GPX file which you can then import into Lightroom and with a couple of clicks join together the data with the images you took. In Lightroom, click on Map/Tracklog/Load Track Log and then once that has been done go to Maps/Tracklog/Auto-Tag Photos and then as if by magic everyone of your images will be matched to your GPS position at the time it was taken.

This is going to be a great addition to future workshops so I can produce a personalised map of the route for each event. If you are interested in attending any of my workshops, including the fantastic Iceland Lights and Landscape tour in October then please go to www.edinburghphotographyworkshop.com

The Old Pier at North Berwick

 

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Another Icelandic Saga

The early history of Iceland is documented in the various Saga stories that tell the tales of the early settlers to this wonderful country in the North Atlantic nestled between the two continents of Europe and America. It would seem that each of my trips to Iceland turns into its own saga of adventures that make the trips memorable for many, many reasons.

My last visit to the island in December resulted in a first night spent sleeping in a car due to the high winds and drifting snow and I was sure that nothing so drastic could happen visiting in March, the week before the onset of Spring. Reading the in-flight magazine on the journey out, Iceland is the second windiest country in the world behind the Falkland Islands and only an hour or so later we were treated to evidence that this is the case as the aircraft was diverted from Keflavik Airport near Reykjavik to Egilstaddir on the far East of the country where we sat on the tarmac for three hours waiting for the hurricane force winds and snow to dissipate. Eventually we were given the all-clear to fly back to Keflavik where the conditions had marginally improved, albeit we had to fly through those same hurricane winds that were now sweeping towards us in the east – it’s fair to say that the journey was a little bumpy, to the extent that the stewardess spent 30 seconds or so flung across the lap of a passenger and holding on desperately to prevent falling further. Our landing was treated with some relief, although it was a momentary respite as we were told that the winds were too strong to open the doors of the aircraft and so had a further three hours to wait before we could eventually disembark – as a result the two hour journey to Borgarnes where we were scheduled to stay just wasn’t possible but fortunately, the booking agency we used were able to find alternative accommodation closer to Reykjavik where we could finally rest.

On the first full day the conditions had improved and our journey to Borgarnes was much more comfortable and allowed our first day shooting on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. The south of the peninsula is home to one of only four black churches in Iceland at the small hamlet of Búðir. We were treated to small pockets of blue skies that allowed this beautiful church to stand out from the snow covered landscape and was our first treat of this amazing trip.

Buðir Church, Iceland

The Black Church at Búðir

 

Day two of this trip, which is my final ‘recce’ before launching my own Iceland Photography Tour which will take place this October, took us onto the north of the peninsula to the fishing port of Grundarfjörður which is close to the beautiful mountain of Kirkjufell. This has become a mecca for photographers as a series of waterfalls produce a leading line to the majestic mountain, however as Iceland is experiencing the worst winter in over 30 years the waterfalls were frozen and only a dribble of flowing water was visible however it provides a quite different view to the ‘usual’ shots that are seen from this position – little did we know that there would be an even more unusual view later in the trip.

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Frozen Waterfalls at Kirkjufell

 

We were due to stay another night on the peninsula, however, the weather reports were coming in that another storm was about to hit from the West and so we took the decision to leave early and head down to the South coast and the town of Vik. On the way to our destination we pass several of the well known waterfalls such as Seljalandafloss and Skagafoss. The conditions were far from perfect but the white snow and dark skies make a very interesting monochrome conversion without the need for any software.

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Seljalandafloss – Not Monochrome

 

The storm did indeed hit quite heavily overnight and we woke up to much brighter and calmer conditions which allowed us to venture onto the cliffs that overlook the Black Beach. Whilst it was calmer, in perspective the winds were still around 25mph and the resultant swell on the ocean was leading to huge waves crashing onto the shore that had made the unhindered journey from the warm seas of the Caribbean and gathered pace to batter the Icelandic coast. I was able to get enough shelter behind a small hill and perch precariously on the edge of a cliff to shoot some longer exposure images across the bay toward the sea stacks on the opposite side.

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The Black Beach at Vik

 

One of the hidden gems of this area is a DC3 plane that crashed onto the basalt sands in 1973, the crew survived the crash but the plane was left to rot on the beach rather than being recovered. There are some strict rules about off-road driving in Iceland, although this 6 mile stretch from the main road to the wreck seems to be overlooked and the foolhardy and adventurous attempt the trip to see this eerie sight – it’s really difficult to find in the light of day, could you imagine trying to find it at night…!

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DC3 on the Black Beach

 

We went to bed with the crash of thunder and flash of lightning accompanied by a text message to advise that the aurora was likely to be quite good early in the morning and the forecasters promising a clearing in the clouds at 3am. Alarm clocks were set and sure enough the storm had ended and there was a large gap in the clouds overhead with the familiar movement of misty aurora! The aurora hunt was on and a location was needed that would be a great foreground for this beautiful display – why not try and drive six miles off the road to go back to the DC3 – in the dark?? We had great fun painting the plane with light both inside and out to produce this mystical image.

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The lights of the DC3

 

The next day we headed to our most Easterly (planned) destination at The Glacier Lagoon. By now the cold temperatures we had arrived to had become a distant memory and a new danger was on us, flooding caused by the snow melt coming off the mountains. At the beach opposite the Glacier Lagoon the blocks of ice had been falling so profusely off the glacier that the beach was full of growlers and smaller chunks of glacial ice making it really difficult to isolate individual ice-bergs and made even harder by a still quite strong ocean swell that resulted in wet feet getting this image.

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Glacier Lagoon Growlers

 

The following day we started our journey back towards Reykjavik where our trip would end the next day but on the way we had a few locations planned to capture, however, I always like to keep an eye out as we drive for something a little different and a tiny glimpse over a few hills captured my interest, so we turned around and headed along a small and bumpy track to come across another glacial lagoon but not the famous one a few miles away. What a find it was as the icebergs were still well formed, the blue glacier behind them was majestic and the shore had tons of foreground interest. This is definitely going to be on the agenda for the tour so we can avoid the crowds at the famous lagoon and capture something a little different than most of photography tours.

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The Secret Lagoon

 

Also on the journey back westwards we wanted to stop again at Vik as there is a really pretty church that sits just above the town and is dwarfed by mountains behind it.  Our timing was perfect as the sun illuminated the white walls of the church which made it ping out against the mountains behind. This really is my favourite church in Iceland.

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Vik Church

 

So, our trip had come to an end and after a pleasant last meal in Reykjavik we headed to bed ready for the flight home the next day. The flight wasn’t until mid-afternoon so we spent a few hours in The Blue Lagoon, relaxing in the hot waters and enjoying the mud masks. However, in the back of our minds was the prediction of clear skies and an aurora prediction of an amazing display. A conversation with a pleasant American chap in the lagoon led us to the inevitable conclusion – when we are already in the best location in the world for aurora why would we leave it just as the conditions were going to be amazing – flights were changed, car hire extended and hotels booked and we headed northwards again to Snæfellsnes.

Leaving our hotel just before dusk, our first stop was the Kirkjufell mountain. What a difference a week makes as most of the snow had now disappeared and the waterfalls were flowing giving us some great foreground interest. As dusk fell the aurora was already visible to the naked eye and it was even possible to capture it using an iPhone camera. Normally, the best place to shoot the Northern Lights is by pointing the camera to the north which is the perfect position to include the magnificent mountain, however, the electrical impulses were so strong there were displays of green, purple, red and blue flashing all over the sky.

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Kirkjufell Aurora

 

With such an amazing display, the crowds were flocking to this famous spot so I took the decision to move on and try some different locations. I had spotted a small abandoned boat house on the journey to the peninsula in the first week and I thought it would make a great foil for the aurora above. The lights didn’t fail us and with a little torch illumination on the wood it created a beautiful image of a slightly different location.

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The Old Boat House

 

By 5AM we were starting to flag and to some extent so were the Northern Lights that had given us an 8 hour display. However, ou accommodation looked toward Kirkjufell and there was still some indication from the various apps that there would be yet more auroral activity above. The water in front of the mountain was devoid of photographers so were given free range to find a good view point. The lights were again favourable to us and gave us one final display before the first light of dawn started to creep over the eastern horizon – what a night!

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Ring around the mountain

 

Unsurprisingly, the next day was a little subdued after such a long and exciting night but we still managed to get out and explore a little more of the peninsula. The weather predictions were once again spot on but unfortunately this meant that cloud was covering the sky and snow starting to fall again. However, a bit of off-roading again paid dividends as this little beach was discovered after a bit of a clamber over some slippy rocks. Given better conditions that we will hopefully get in October, this will be a cracking sunset location.

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Snaefellsnes Beach

 

A little further along the track lies the Saxholbjarg Lighthouse which stands on top of some huge cliffs that are home to gannets and if you are brave enough to look below also has a small arch that the ocean was swirling around below.

Óndverðarnes lighthouse

Saxholbjarg Lighthouse

 

And so, once again, this was our last day in Iceland. The flight was a little later so we had a leisurely trip down to Reykjavik but on the way had a couple of stops for some locations that we hadn’t quite had time for in the preceding eight days. The first was in the fishing port of Akranes which has two lighthouses, again this will be a lovely location to play with in different conditions but it’s nice to give you a flavour of the kind of thing that we will be getting to do on the October trip.

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Akranes Lighthouses


Our last stop of the day was in Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik where we had an explore around the Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral. Outside the cathedral is a statue to Leif Erikson who is now recognised as being the first westerner to set foot on the shores of America. The heavy clouds give a nice moody back-drop to his strident pose and is a perfect end to a wondrous trip.

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Leif Erikson Silhouette

 

During this trip I was accompanied  by a friend who is also a very talented photographer. You can follow her work through her Facebook page. Throughout the trip I was shooting using my Canon 5D MkIII camera and most of the day time shots were also using my Lee Filters which I can’t recommend enough for helping to expose correctly in the really difficult conditions we faced.

I will be launching the October tour later this week through this page, however, if you would like to get an early-bird notification drop me a mail to contact@richdysonphotography.com with the subject heading “Iceland Tour” and I will send you an e-mail 12 hours before the tour is released to the general public. It will be a fantastic experience!

 

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Posted in Edinburgh, Iceland, Uncategorized

Winter Wonderland in Japan

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I am a firm believer in the power of sharing knowledge and as a result I subscribe to a number of photographers’ podcasts so that I can gain knowledge from them and as a result continually enhance my workshops and pass these skills and techniques on. One of the podcasts I really enjoy is by Martin Bailey, originally born in the UK, but who is now living in Japan. Every year Martin runs a series of workshops badged as his Winter Wonderland Tour that covers two prefectures of this wonderful country; Nagano and Hokkaido; and I spent two weeks at the end of February travelling with Martin and a group of fellow photographers.

I have attended a number of photography workshops around the world and it is fair to say that this one is the best organised and provides the greatest opportunity for both shooting and personal development. Probably the main reason for this is the decision Martin took a number of years ago to have a Tour Conductor who manages the logistics of getting around the country, checking into hotels, and, as we were to later discover, changing flights. This frees Martin up to devote all his time to educating and developing the group.

The tour starts with a coach journey from Tokyo to Nagano for three days of photographing the, now world famous, ‘Snow Monkeys’ at the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park. The park is a home to around 160 Macaques and uses the natural resources of the hot springs of the Yokoyu River to heat a large pool where they bathe throughout the day before heading to the mountain slopes during the evening.

I’ve selected four images from this section of the tour to demonstrate the variety of emotions that these little creatures display. This first image is showing the humanity that is visible as you look into the eyes of the monkeys – something you can only really do through the lens of a camera, as direct stares in the animal kingdom are seen as an aggressive act so the barrier of the Canon 5D MkIII gives us a much safer view.

Into the eyes

Into the Eyes

 

The next image was a test of nerves for me to capture. I was sat by the heated pool when two of the monkeys behind me got into a spat; a quite normal sight in the park. However, their fight led to them standing facing each other, one on either side of me. I had two options; either get the hell out of there or put my camera up to my face and snap – I think this image tells you which one I went with as he snarls and shouts inches away from me!

Screaming Banshee

Screaming Banshee

 

The next image is the antithesis of the last one and captures a mother and baby having a tender moment as she protects her young one from the biting wind and snow that had started to fall. It was made even better when the little one briefly opened its eyes and stared straight at me. One thing to say about the park is that it is really busy so patience needs to be a virtue if you want to get an intimate shot like this; either that or some very selective framing – this was taken with a large group of tourists around these two monkeys all trying to get a ‘selfie’ whilst this affectionate scene took place.

Tender Moment

Tender Moment

My final image of the Macaques still makes me laugh. The little baby monkey here seems to be the spoilt one of the group. Every time he gets into the heated pool he swims around with his arms in the air as if his little hands get too hot and the rest of the older monkeys seem to take him under their wing and look after him. I can just imagine him saying in monkey language “Why is nobody listening to me?”

Why is nobody listening?

Why is nobody listening?

After three great days in Nagano we headed back to Tokyo ready for an early morning flight to the north island of Japan, Hokkaido, where our tour would continue. Without unpacking we headed straight to the Akan International Crane Centre; essentially a large field where Red Crowned Cranes and Whooper Swans come to rest throughout the day so they can benefit from the feeding session that takes place at 2pm during the winter months.

I recall another photographer stating that when you go to a location you should have an idea of an image that you would like to capture and then forget everything once you get there so you can react to things as they happen. One of the images I wanted to try and get was this shot of two cranes making their mating call and their heads crossing so it looks like they are intertwined around each other. There are so many cranes in the field that trying to isolate two together is a task in itself and to then also capture them in the position I wanted was like a lottery win!

Singing Cranes

Singing Cranes

Martin, like me, is an advocate of shooting in manual and exposing so that the histogram just touches the right so that it produces bright, well-exposed images without any blown out highlights. This technique served me well as these swans flew over us and I really like the minimalist feel that you get from the colour elements of the beak and feet standing out against the grey/blue sky.

Swans in Flight

Swans in Flight

At the end of the first day in Hokkaido we headed to a smaller field where the Red Crowned Cranes fly out from and were able to take some slower shutter speed images and panning as they flew into the darkening sky. This shot was taken at 1/25th of a second and I really like the artistic feel that you get through the blurring movement of the head and wings.

Evening Cranes

Evening Cranes

My final image from this section returns to the Whooper Swans at the Akan Crane Centre. We were blessed throughout the trip by intermittent snow showers falling between the cold winter sunshine. The trees at the back of the park really help the swans leap out of the scene and the falling snow again adds a painterly feel to the shot.

Swans in the snow

Swans in the snow

Our next location was the scenic Lake Kussharo; home to more Whooper Swans. The nearby supermarket has a popcorn machine and sells bags to the tourists so they can feed the swans as they nestle in the water warmed by a hot spring that melts a small hole in the ice. I’d never describe myself as a nature photographer and my natural leaning to landscape started to kick in at this location – it’s when you are in places like this that you can identify where the Japanese art culture gains its inspiration from – this could almost be a charcoal pencil drawing than a photograph of the surrounding mountains.

Kussharo Landscape

Kussharo Landscape

I also used the mountain landscape in the next image which required me to get down and dirty to get this interesting angle of these three swans gracefully swimming along the lake and an almost perfect reflection in blue water. I always like to impress upon attendees at my workshops to try and find different angles that help their images to stand out and sometimes that means a little personal hardship – definitely worth it though I think.

Swan Lake

Swan Lake

In the same vein of unusual views, I took a stroll along the edge of the lake and spotted this still life image that really appealed to me. The lake was frozen at the top of the scene and the hot spring water in the bottom of the image heated the small stones. The couple of swan feathers add that little bit of interest and put it in the context of the lake. Don’t forget to look around at interesting little details; they can help to tell the story of your day.

Frozen in time

Frozen in time

The last of the Kussahro Lake images is another slow exposure shot; similar to the crane shot earlier. However, this time I took the shutter speed up to 1/50th of a second and you can see a lot more sharpness in the head of the leading swan yet still capturing the movement of the wings as they fly out of the lake.

Swans Depart

Swans Depart

On the way to our final location of the tour we took a trip along the shrimp-shaped Notsuke Peninsula, which has a large population of Ezo Deer. On the day that we visited they weren’t particularly active and the lack of deep snow meant the majority were hidden in brush; however, I do like this shot of a family group heading across the frozen inland sea.

Ezo Deer

Ezo Deer

Whilst on the peninsula we came across this little Japanese Red Fox who was nestled amongst the fishing nets and almost seemed to be laughing at us for taking photographs of him.

Laughing Fox

Laughing Fox

At the end of the road along the peninsula there is a small nature reserve. The sea-wall protections across the road from it make a really nice abstract image to view before we headed north to the seaport of Rasu.

Hokkaido Sea Defences

Hokkaido Sea Defences

The next three mornings required us to be up well before dawn to get on a boat and head out to the sea-ice that lies just off the coast of Hokkaido. The captain of the boat had a challenging job trying to get us into parts of the ice that gave us the best view of the eagles that was also pleasing from a photographic perspective. The last morning blessed us with a fabulous sunrise and these two Stellar Sea Eagles positioned themselves perfectly on a large chunk of ice so they were silhouetted. Japan really lived up to its ‘land of the rising sun’ moniker in this shot!

Land of the Rising Sun

Land of the Rising Sun

As the sun warmed up a little I was able to get this close up shot of a juvenile White Tailed Sea Eagle who had just landed on the sea-ice and it is quite obvious from the steam coming off him that it was quite an exertion getting out to the feeding frenzy that would happen in the next few hours.

Morning Exercise

Morning Exercise

The trip out to the sea-eagles is reminiscent of a Le Mans start as around five or six boats, laden with photographers, head out to the sea ice. The crew of the boats have two jobs; firstly to navigate safely through the ice and secondly to attract the eagles to the boat by throwing out frozen fish on to the ice, or if we are really lucky, into the sea, so we get to see the spectacle of an eagle rising from the water with its rather easy-to-catch prey. I have to admit this was a really challenging couple of days retaining focus as the eagles swept in but I was quite happy with this shot of a Stellar Sea Eagle just before impact.

In for the kill

In for the kill

During the days we had the benefit of some classroom sessions with Martin and it was particularly interesting to discuss his workflow for managing images whilst on the road and merging these with his vast collection of images back in the office. It wasn’t all desk-based though and on one of the drives out we came across this Hokkaido Fox – it looks like this image required hours of tracking to make him feel comfortable around us but in reality he was a little poser who ensured that every photographer got his shot from the comfort of the bus!

Hokkaido Fox

Hokkaido Fox

My final image from this set is one that I am really proud of; another shot of a White Tailed Eagle coming in with its claws at the ready to grab one of the fish. It’s really worth viewing all the images as large as you can but particularly this one to see the detail in the feathers and even a nice catch-light in the eye.

Final Approach

Final Approach

I mentioned at the start of the post, what an excellent addition to the trip our tour operator, Yukiko, was and our final day proved to us how invaluable she was. Weather reports were predicting a huge snow-storm that was going to hit the island and we awoke to the news that our flights back to Tokyo had been cancelled due to the huge dump of snow that resulted. Several of us had connecting flights to catch in Tokyo and it looked like we were going to face some pretty hefty bills in changing flights. Unbelievably though, Yukiko managed to find an airport that was still open and flying back to Tokyo and had room for the entire group to get on! It meant a three-hour coach trip in quite terrible conditions but it was still an opportunity for some beautiful, typically Japanese, landscape images from the bus window like this one.

Hokkaido Landscape

Hokkaido Landscape

So, two quite simply amazing weeks of photography summarised in 21 images but I left with many more gorgeous shots and hundreds of beautiful memories. If you enjoy any of these images they are available to purchase through Fine Art America in a number of formats. You can also find more details of Martin Bailey Workshops including bookings for the 2016 Winter Wonderland Tours by clicking on the link.

Thanks, Martin, for some great opportunities and for some really great discussions about photography.


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Lee Field Pouch Review

Lee Field Pouch being used attached to tripod

Whenever I speak to photographers new to using filters when they attend my landscape courses, one of the issues they always talk about is having the time and patience to swap and change the filters to get the right effect that they would ideally like. This is particularly difficult to do when you are in places where there isn’t much room to put your bag on the floor or when you are in water and it’s just impossible to bend down and pick up a different piece of glass. The people at Lee Filters have listened to their customers and a few months ago produced a relatively cheap piece of kit that gets around this issue.

Until you have used the Lee Field Pouch you’ll just think that it’s another gimmicky item that relieves photographers of cash to remain in your home while you are out shooting. However, I have been using this for a couple of months now and I find it as invaluable as any of my lenses when I am out shooting landscapes. The concept is fairly simple; a fairly slim bag that can hold up to 10 150mm x 100mm filters but the simplicity belies its practicality.

Lee Field Pouch with zip open allows easy accessibility
The Field Pouch comes with three different ways of holding the pouch whilst you are shooting; over the shoulder; on a belt; or my preference, strapped to your tripod. What makes it great though, is that whilst the side zips are fastened the filters are held nice and tightly and are almost impossible to slip out accidentally yet can easily slide out when held firmly with you fingers. This was ideal when I was shooting in 50mph plus winds in Iceland a few weeks ago. Undo the zips though and you have really easy access, especially if you are storing 100mm x 100mm ND filters or the Big or Small stoppers. The other advantage of having it strapped to your tripod is that it allows you to put straps underneath it to stop them flapping around is a nice little platform to rest a shutter release on for long exposures.

Once you have a had a few hours of shooting seascapes with your camera-bag strapped onto your back but having the flexibility of switching filters you’ll be a convert to this clever little device. Suddenly you aren’t stuck with the filters that were on the camera when you started shooting, prior to this it would mean walking away to somewhere more protected to switch, now you simply switch filters around with no risk of damage to your expensive filters.

The Field Pouch retails for £38 from your usual Lee stockists and comes in either Black or Sand so is ideal for the photographer with a bit of Christmas money hanging around to be spent on something you aren’t going to waste money on.

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Posted in Uncategorized

Iceland planning trip

For a landscape photographer, Iceland is one of the places that is a must-go location. The country is like a living book of how the world was created and shaped with active volcanoes and glaciers cutting out the landscape.

I am in the process of planning a photography workshop over to this fabulous country and I have just returned from an eventful trip which just happened to coincide with the strongest storm of the year, however, despite conditions which included wind speeds in excess of 100mph, driving snow and road closures, it was still possible to get some great images.

We arrived into Keflavik Airport on Monday evening and planned to head to Grundarfjörður on the Snæfellsness peninsula which should be around 3 hours drive. This was the first night of the storm though and we didn’t actually make it to the little village and had to spend the night in the car as we eventually became stuck in snow drifts, fortunately we had all our clothes with us and had a full tank of fuel so we managed to stay warm into the morning when things had calmed down. We took the decision to drive back toward Borgarnes and on the way stop off to take some photos of interesting locations.

Throughout Iceland you will see farms often with old machinery in the fields, which can make for good foreground interest. This plough was in front of one of the vast plains with just a hint of sun over the mountains as the previous nights storm was dissipating.

Plough in a snowy landscape

We drove on to Borgarnes and on the outskirts of the city we found this pretty little church. It plays a large part in the Egill Saga as it was the birthplace of Egill. It is an unusual church in that it points North to South instead of the usual East-West which would make it great for Northern Lights photos if we were lucky to have clear skies.

Church at Borg

That evening we had dinner and noticed the skies were starting to clear over Borgarnes and so walked along to waterfront just as we were treated with a stunning display of the Aurora Borealis. I positioned myself so the display looked as if it was appearing from the monument on the top of the hill which celebrates the point where Egills nursemaid jumped into the seas to escape Egills father, Skallagrímur Kveldúlfsson, who was angry at her for stopping him killing his son! Interesting stories these Icelandic Saga’s.

Aurora over Borganres

The following morning we were faced with road closures so had to spend a few hours in Borgarnes waiting for the winds to die down enough that it would be safe to drive (apparently 70mph winds aren’t that bad). We headed to a local park area that had some lovely trees that were standing out against the snow and took this fun little image by moving the camera whilst the shutter was open. I quite like the painterly feel it has and it would make a lovely abstract print.

Trees in BorgangresEventually the roads were opened and we were able to get as far as Reykjavik where we headed up to the imposing Hallgrímskirkja Cathedral which is lit up nicely at night and the icy walkway seemed to keep people from walking in front of me whilst taking this shot.

HallgrímskirkjaThe next morning we finally got back onto the planned agenda with a trip out to Geysir. The conditions made photographing the Strokkur geyser quite difficult with the eruption of water, which happens every five minutes, so almost impossible to capture against the grey skies. As were driving away from the geyser field the sun started to come from behind the clouds just as we spotted this small herd of Icelandic Ponies who were more than happy to pose for us. I was given a tip by local that if you have a plastic bag in your pocket the rustling sound makes the pony think you will be offering it a sugar cube and so they turn their head to you – one of the least expensive photography accessories you will need for a trip.

Icelandic Pony at GeysirThe next stop was the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, a famous landmark as it is possible to walk behind the waterfall, or at least it is in the summer months, however, with freezing pathways they were closed off. I always try to look for something different in a location from the usual shots that other photographers take and I was rewarded with a short walk down the river to capture the sun setting in the distance and large cracks in the ice that had frozen over the river.

Seljalandsfoss sunsetThe following morning we were heading to the Vatnajökull National Park area. The trip from our lodgings was about 3 hours, much of the journey, across huge lava fields looking like the surface of the moon. Halfway across one of them we found a parking place and managed to capture one of the most spectacular sunrises I have seen.

Lava Field sunrise

As we entered the National Park we headed toward one of the several glacial tongues and what would be my favourite location of the trip. The Svinafell Glacier is a short drive off the main road and has a small lagoon that the glacier drops icebergs into as it retreats back away from the sea. There is a fairly gentle walk around the lagoon where you can get very close to the icebergs and have the huge mountains in the background. It would have been very easy to spend the rest of the day here but we had another location to get to and so drove on.

Iceland 2014

Svinafell Glacier

The final location of the day was the famous Glacier Lagoon at Jökulsarlon. The vastness of the lagoon can make it quite difficult to find the right way to photograph it so I tried to hunt out one or two icebergs that were isolated from the rest like this one which was nicely placed in the pool of glacial water which was being lit up by the golden light that is pretty much continuous in the daylight hours when the skies aren’t covered in cloud.

Jökulsarlon Glacier LagoonAs the daylight was ending we headed across the road to the beach where the fresh glacial waters meet the Atlantic Ocean that roars onto the black sands and pushes escaping icebergs back onto the beach. Unfortunately for us the tide was coming in rather than the better scenario of a retreating – this meant having to brave the water coming in and hoping that it wasn’t so big as to come over the top of our insulated boots. The gift shop at the lagoon did a roaring trade in selling fresh socks to those of us got caught by the waves but it was certainly worth it for shots like this final one of the trip.

Jökulsarlon Glacier Beach

The plan for our final day was ruined by another snowstorm that hit the South of the island. We were going to capture the large sea stacks at Vik but this will need to be on my next trip which I am planning for March next year.

If you are interested in finding out more about the workshop I will be running in October 2015 please drop me a mail to contact@richdysonphotography.com and I will add you to the mailing list when it is launched next year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted in Iceland

The Lee Landscape Polariser v Heliopan Slim Circular Polariser

Anyone who has attended one of my Edinburgh Photography Workshop Seascape or Highland sessions will tell you that I am a massive advocate of the Lee filter system and I think when I started to use it that my photography significantly improved. However, the one filter I used that wasn’t Lee was the circular polariser. I was discouraged from using the ‘old’ Lee polariser by many other photographers who said the quality wasn’t as good as the Heliopan 105mm Slim Circular Polariser SH-PMC filter and so that was the one that found its way into my bag and I was pretty happy with it except for one problem – at the wide end of the 17-40mm L lens that I have on my Canon 5D MkIII there would always be quite a significant amount of vignette visible and so it meant either cropping the image after or pulling back to about 18 or 19mm and losing some of the edge of the scene that I really wanted to capture.

Lee have responded to both the quality issue and the vignetting issue with the launch of the new Lee Landscape Polariser which promises to remove vignette on 16 and 17mm lenses and also add a warming tone to increase the impact of the greens, browns and golds in landscapes. Being a bit of geek the first time I used the Landscape Polariser I had to put them up against each other to see the difference between the two. All the images you can see below were shot on the same camera using the same focal lengths and with a Outdoors White Balance applied in camera, they were then imported into Lightroom using the standard import and have not had any other changes applied before being exported as standard JPEG’s so any differences are caused by the polarisers and not any other influence.

First up, I wanted to test the vignette issue, as that was the one that was causing me the most pain. These two images were taken at 17mm at f/11 with 0.8sec exposure and you can clearly see the first image taken with the Heliopan has a very strong vignette caused by addition of the polariser to the Lee system. The second image , taken with the Lee Landscape Polariser doesn’t suffer this issue at all with no signs of vignette even at the widest end of the lens on a full frame camera. I am impressed that I now have an extra couple of millimetres available to use the polariser with but you can also see in this image that greens and browns are slightly more vibrant. It is normal for polarisers to take around two stops of light, however, the Lee version seems to be about 1/3rd of a stop less than this so you do get a brighter and ‘poppier’ image as a result.

Wide shot with Heliopan Polariser

Heliopan Polariser on Canon 5d MkIII (17mm, f/11, 0.8 sec)

Wide angle using Lee Landscape Polariser

Lee Landscape Polariser on Canon 5d MkIII (17mm, f/11, 0.8 sec)

 

Secondly, I wanted to see how much of a difference the warming effect had on the image so I removed the vignette issue by now shooting at the long end of the lens (40mm) and I also introduced a 2 stop soft graduated filter to add a bit of detail into the sky so a little more like I would use the system in the field. This time the top image  is using the Lee Polariser and you can see that compared to the next image which is using the Heliopan the overall image is brighter and the greens and yellows are much more vibrant.

Lee Landscape Polariser

Lee Landscape Polariser on Canon 5d MkIII (40mm, f/13, 1.3 sec)

 

Heliopan Polariser

Heliopan Polariser on Canon 5d MkIII (40mm, f/13, 1.3 sec)

You are probably now thinking the same as me, that the difference has been caused by the extra 1/3rd of a stop that is passing through the filter with the Lee Landscape filter, so I then took a further image using the Heliopan with the extra stop added in through opening the aperture up to f/11 and whilst we have a much more comparative image there is still a marked difference in the vibrancy of the Lee Landscape Polariser compared to the Heliopan equivalent.

IMG_3895

Heliopan Polariser on Canon 5d MkIII (40mm, f/11, 1.3 sec)

For me, the Lee Landscape Polariser has clearly performed better than the Heliopan version and it will now be changing places in my camera bag and I can now truly call myself a full advocate of Lee Filters with my entire system now using the same brand. I was also trying out the new Field Pouch which I am sure I’ll cover in another blog posting once I have had a chance to use it a little more in the field but it is a really convenient way of carrying my standard pack of Lee filters and having them to hand.

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Sharing knowledge with Edinburgh Photography Workshop

IMG_1692As well as being a professional photographer, I also provide photography tuition through my sister company, Edinburgh Photography Workshop. I love seeing the huge improvement in people who attend my sessions as they get to grips with moving away from the auto-settings and Switching to Manual. Here’s an image from today’s workshop taken by Jacqui Swann and shows just how a short understanding of manual settings and a few composition techniques can deliver really great images. Even better Jacqui walked away from the workshop with the understanding to do this without me being by her side.

 

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Posted in Edinburgh