Landscape the year round was Stephen Spraggon’s topic in his presentation “Four Seasons In One Day”. Stephen has been to Reflex before and this was another high quality session. A locally based photographer Stephen makes a substantial part of his income from the Somerset countryside and across the south-west. He showed us that time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted and is a regular user of The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE also on IOS and Android) and OS Maps. Above all time, patience and a lot of practice are key, as, I would imagine, are a decent set of notes.
The essential piece of equipment, aside from glass and body, is a sturdy tripod. Stephen related that all his landscape photographs are tripod mounted, necessitated by shooting at low ISO’s, 50, 100, sometimes 200 chasing minimal noise, which when combined with deep depths of field mean low shutter speeds.
There are hundreds of different tripods on the market and choosing the right one is as much about perceived need, experience and value for money as it is weight or brand. Basically tripods come in two parts. The legs and the head. As with everything else photographic you can spend as much as you like as design and function are moderated by the materials of construction: aluminium; carbon fibre; magnesium and alike. The heads can have pistol grips or a selection of knobs and locks to keep them steady and again money is no object.
Tripods for landscape are probably the ones open to the most compromises and certainly involve the most decisions. This is primarily due to the weight rigidity pay off. Your average 1600mm f5.6 Leica lens weighs in at 62kg so needs a particularly rigid tripod, though, lets face it, the people who are going to lug it around are probably accommodated in its 4 x 4 Mercedes support / camera bag and do not include the photographer. The weight of what the photographer wants to support, comfortably, is the primary factor and that is going to be the heaviest combination.
The variation of weight and the requirement for good rigidity to ensure stability over fairly long exposures in sometimes hostile weather conditions. This extends to both legs and heads. A 3 way geared head, one that has knobs that finely control movement and provides sturdy locking in three planes, means a lot of engineering and materials in its manufacture. That means, to keep the weight down the serious landscaper with deep pockets is probably going to go for one made from magnesium which ensures that the cost goes in the opposite direction to the weight.
Height is also a factor. If you are going to get that vital foreground object in focus you will often have to go in low. A decent height can also save the back when using the view finder or if your live view doesn’t have a tilt facility to it. An adjustable centre column is also desirable for those in between heights. Then there are the way the legs are locked into position, these days almost always via screw locks though there are still tripods around with catches.
So the rock steady, shake free image is in the bag, still or video (video ‘pods tend to be more rigid, heavy, technical and expensive, especially the heads) but a tripod can also help in creating panorama’s by keeping a fixed point around which the camera turns whereas hand holding it sometimes works to skew some uprights (parallax error where the lens acts as the eye). Or maybe that’s just me. Either way slower shutter speeds can be selected with no penalty in terms of camera shake.
The key is in setting up the tripod on the level in the first place. Most tripods have levels built in as do most camera these days. It is always wise to check that the camera stays level throughout the pan. It is an easy technique to get good looking results from. The key is to make sure the settings on the camera are the same all the way through (meter in aperture or shutter priority first then set the camera to manual for the capture) and to leave plenty of overlap. Essentially what is on the right of frame 1 is on the left of frame 2. Most cameras have grids that can be viewed when composing, thirds being the most popular but some have fifths and other variations. These can be used to ensure a decent overlap for stitching the panorama together using the same right left pattern.
Although 180 and 360 degree pans are popular, there is good mileage in smaller three or four frame panoramas especially when the camera is used in portrait mode which allows for more ground and sky. It also allows for greater detail and much larger prints. The downside can be the size of the stitched image, especially with larger megapixel count sensors, so there can be some useful mileage in using lower resolutions when constructing, especially the wider portrait version, panoramas.
Stitching the images together is far simpler than it used to be, thanks to options within Photoshop and Microsoft’s ICE (or MICE) is free and very easy to use for both horizontal and vertical panoramas.
Easy to do and fun why not give it a go?
It must be Autumn because last meeting we did a light painting session courtesy of Myk Garton and guest light painter Tony Cullen – many thanks guys. Every time we do this there is something new and I will admit that it is one of my favourite things to do photographically. Attendance was high which proves its popularity with other club members too. This was the introductory evening and we will be doing some more advanced techniques on December 1st. Of course light painting isn’t necessarily seasonal, but the ever shortening days this side of the Winter Solstice means that available light is at a premium. The “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” (that man Keats again) means a lot more than landscapers getting a lie in. The light, generally, has a quality of its own because of the relatively low angle of the sun to the horizon. Problem is there isn’t a lot of it.
So, provide our own. This is as close outdoors as we get to the degree of control of light in a studio. The big difference is we make benefit of the dark. The contrast levels are extreme, but that is a virtue not a vice. The canvas is light on dark but in a more high contrast way than we see in daylight, where we could argue that the opposite is true (wrong as everything we see is via reflected light, but since when did wrong prevent an argument?). Strobists use flash guns to recreate the flood of light which they can control the direction and beam, with a white balance of its own. When drawing on the black canvas, with torches, coloured lights or even fire, the colour balance doesn’t tend to be a big consideration, at least in the sense of it being something that needs correcting. Painting a scene in light as opposed to drawing a scene with light presents different technical challenges, but can be done with the same kit and a bit of patience. I say a bit, oftentimes a lot of patience.
In fact there are a number of different ways to think of light painting, and where we start, the way in which we are thinking of the images we want to capture, determines the outcome more than anything else. Yes this may come under the heading of “Well, duh” but any technique has strengths and weaknesses according to the situation. Selection is the key. The first decision is are we lighting the subject or creating an effect? Our desired look will determine the way we use the lights and the sort of lights we use. Again, we may say “Duh”, but it’s surprising how hard we can make the job by not prepping for a final outcome in the first place. We might be combining both, after all. What about spontaneity and experimentation, we say? Much better to have an idea to execute and vary than to just turn up having watched several hours of YouTube videos with a load of kit and a vague idea. We may be technically proficient but that is no good if we are subject deficient – the difference between a body with a camera and a photographer.
The point to start, where when who and how because that is going to dictate what we can and cannot do. Use a familiar or scout a location in the day light. Decide what the subjects are likely to be and what kit we are going to take with us. If unfamiliar with orbs, zoom bursts, camera rotations, double exposures and the like the answer is “Should have been at club”. That aside, the first thing is, if not in total darkness or very near, determine what the level of ambient light is. This determines the time we have to paint in. If it isn’t a factor then fine, open the shutter for as long as it will go or as long as needed, then set the camera pre-focused and to manual – this meeting was about familiarising people with their equipment in those modes in order to capture those sort of effects.
If we want a basic explanation of light painting it is that it is long exposure photography. In the dark. The meter is useless without some level of ambient light and the length of exposure is dependent upon what we want to paint in and what we are painting with, that is to say, in the practical sense, it is going to be the product of experimentation. The light gathering capabilities of the sensor are going to be tested, select the lowest ISO to help keep the noise to a minimum (remember boost the signal, boost the noise and that is what you do when we up the ISO). We are going to need a tripod and, a personal preference, a remote shutter release.
Light trails, using moving lights – the most popular seems to be vehicle trails which, let’s face it, aren’t too difficult to come by in a city of 400,000 people – are also simple to set up and to execute. 8 to 10 seconds, ISO 100, F8 on a well lit street, as a starting point towards getting a reasonably exposed photograph overall and, as long as the vehicles are moving even relatively slowly, then some interesting effects can be captured. Vary the angles, either by setting the camera up more obliquely to the traffic than at a right angle, or find a bend or a roundabout to get some swoosh into the picture. Zooming whilst the shutter is open also does interesting things to the trails often setting them off at angles we wouldn’t expect and rotating the camera through 90 degrees during the exposure, as long as we keep the axis constant, can do interesting things to lights in the background (as alluded to above).
I know that is a cliché but nonetheless I am going to repeat it. There are so many variations that we truly are only limited by the imagination and for once, it doesn’t have to be at any great expense. Yes we can spend an inordinate amount of money on these techniques but actually experimenting with the basics will yield some fine and interesting results. I, for one, am really looking forward to part two of our light painting sessions.
Member Adrian Cooke took us through some of his favourite landscape pictures last meeting and his presentation was well received by the members. We are now regularly fielding 40+ at each meeting and that has something, a lot, actually, to do with the programme. In the words of Butler and Yeats, “A good thing”. Active members mean a healthy club.
Adrian shoots a lot of landscape photography, he has a lot of it on his door step, nonetheless the fact that he showed us a wide variation of images of the same landscapes just goes to prove that no two images are ever the same, even when the subject is identical (Maybe). Adrian showed some scanned slide film images among the purely digital images and the colours were quite different in comparison. Now there are a whole lot of technical issues in scanning slides to digital, and the image sensor may not have the same dynamic range as the (negative) film, and just how much information you can get on film as opposed to a modern sensor, the way that each respective medium records light, standardisation of results, and a swathe of other pros and cons constantly rumble around like a number of other technical questions that seem to get in the way of people making pictures. None of those, and all of them, are my point. It is refreshing to sit back and rediscover some of the features that many people now can’t appreciate because they have never been exposed to the processes nor the outcomes. Sometimes I suspect that the memory of those images is superior to their physical reality. One day I will go for a rummage in the attic to find out. These technicalities were hurdles and barriers to entry, the number of photographs taken was exponentially smaller, but the role of mastery has not changed. Just the size, number and relative cost of the spanners it takes to make even a poor image.
Not that Adrian’s images suffered in the quality category, familiarity and technique were in evidence aplenty. Perhaps the most consistent point to come across was the importance of the focal point. There are a number of ways to promote the (usually single) focal point. With landscapes it is generally held that greater depth of field is desirable but, nonetheless the question still remains what is the focal point and where in the frame am I going to put it. Yep we are back to the thirds, fifths, sevenths and “Golden ratio” , so I will move on. The f-stop isn’t the only way of highlighting the focal point. Careful use of, or observation of, contrast and shapes will also do it, as, of course making it the largest thing in the picture (OK, obvious, but worth mentioning). It also helps with not providing too many points for the eye to rest on, and thereby confusing things, and that is less likely to happen if there are fewer places to fill them with.
The eyes journey around the image is important. The photographer creates that journey and the elements within it make up the story. As was stated at the judging of the last round of the ROC, for a photograph to really make an impact it really should be telling one story and one story only. As Adrian implied, these images don’t just happen they are created. Another feature of Adrian’s photographs were the role that lines play in the journey we make around each image through the use of horizontal, vertical, diagonal and converging lines in making patterns to give impressions of depth and scale or leading to the focal point.
Timing is also important. Adrian related how he tended to shoot towards sunset, though there were a good few early mornings represented in his presentation. This is the period of the “Golden Hour“, where the light has a different quality to that of the rest of the day and for which The Photographers Ephemaris is a great tool. Almost by implication this brings in the idea of longer exposures, which have effects of their own, pretty much demand the use of a tripod, for lower ISO settings tend to give better results with less noise but increase the problems surrounding camera shake. Almost counter intuitively this allows for the capture in motion, especially of water and clouds. Adrian discussed using ND filters to cut down the light and ND grads to help even out the exposure (back to dynamic range again – the range of lighting that a sensor or film can represent. Of course it helps when you don’t confuse your Infra Red Filter for your big stopper ND filter as I did on Sunday (apologies to Dan Ellis who I leant it to) but then there is something there about labelling things. Or in this case not loosing your filters. Maybe I should take note. Also Dan discussed the use of a polarising filter (and when to use one) and certainly this can have a quite dramatic effect on skies and cut down on reflections when the light comes in from the side. And of course not just limited to landscape.
Adrian’s presentation provided a thoughtful and thought provoking refresher on landscape photography, and the club thanks him for his time and effort. Next meeting we have a speaker, who will talk about editing and take us through the process using some pictures from the club. Marko Nurminem has worked at the “Very high end” in editing images, including for previous speaker Damien Lovegrove. See the link RCC EVENTS Feb_05_15 Marko Nurminen_No_Images for more information.
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
A reminder from Dan Ellis about the Ask The Club session. Get your questions in by 12th February, either via FB or the forms you can get from the table where the register is kept on club nights.