Landscape Photography Vlogs

Using Long Exposure Photography to Exploit Bad Light

We don’t always get great landscape photography conditions. Bad light can be exploited though by using techniques such as long exposure and black and white photography. Especially when combined and edited using Silver Efex Pro from the NIK collection.

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In this video I head into the depths of the Yorkshire Dales for a day of landscape photography in some less than ideal conditions. 

It’s easy to imagine photographing a beautiful landscape in great weather. It’s warm, the sun is about to light up the evening sky and life is good. It’s an appealing experience that we chase over and over again. On the other hand amazing images can be captured in rough, stormy weather with unique conditions. But what about those grey days in between? Here in the UK we have a lot of them. They can be bleak and getting off the sofa to go out and take pictures is not an obvious choice. However, there are great shots to be captured in all conditions if we are willing to get creative.

One effective method to make the most of grey conditions and flat light is to use long exposure photography. It creates interest by smoothing out clouds and water and creating an ethereal feel. I have talked in depth about long exposure before:

See here - https://youtu.be/vKAu0IluyR4

Whilst grey conditions produce flat light it does not necessarily mean it is bad. An extreme long exposure of over two minutes essentially turns textures of the sky and water into smooth tones. It creates new possibilities with composition and the soft light adds to the overall fine art photography feel of the image. Combining this with a black and white conversion can add to the image even more and create something unique on a day when no other photographers were out.

Black and white images can be post processed much more heavily than colour images which creates extra creative possibilities, especially with contrast. Using Silver Efex Pro from the NIK collection is a brilliant way to edit black and white pictures. Whilst this video is not a silver Efex pro tutorial I go through the edit of the image I capture to show how the app can make your black and white images pop.

5 Ways to Simplify and Improve your Landscape Photography

Improve your landscape photography by simplifying your images. 

When working with clients on a workshop, the single biggest thing people are looking to improve is their composition skills. Finding a good composition will often result with a photographer being told they have ‘the eye’. This is fine, but it also implies it is a god given talent that cannot be improved upon. I do not believe this is the case. Certainly some are more creative than others but there are still skills and knowledge that can be learned to improve photography composition.

Although it may play a part, simplifying an image is not just about removing items or objects from the picture. What we are really talking about is simplifying the story. For this we must first understand what the story actually is. What are you trying to convey to the viewer? What emotions are you trying to evoke? What is the story? Without this, an image will be a purely technical exercise and will be left lacking. The story can only come from you so there is no prescriptive method. However, when standing in front of a scene, think about how you are feeling, what does the landscape say to you? Is it a beautiful scene? If the answer is yes, then why? Being in touch with your own feelings is vital in making the work personal to you. Aim to tell the story of landscape from your own point of view.

The next stage is to consider the actual composition of the scene in front of us. Rules of composition work. They are often a good starting point once a subject has been established. Identifying a subject is not always easy, but look for the good light, good shapes and interesting features and things should become easier. Subjects can include anything from a rock in the foreground, a tree, a distant mountain or cliff, a sky full of colour or even the whole scene itself. An image can also include more than one subject if the story flows from one to another. Leading lines are a good narrative tool. They tell the viewer where to begin and guide them through the scene and story. The rule of thirds is also worth considering until you find something better and the rule is broken.

To simplify the image, focus down onto the story and use composition and technique to achieve it without distraction.

1. Long Exposure

Take the image above which looks out from the Scottish mainland to the Isle of Skye. There are a number elements that make the image work. Firstly the leading lines of the jetty guide the viewer from the bottom of the image and out over the loch towards the distant mountain. The snow covered mountain is also framed by the two either side of it with more rock than snow showing.

I have then used long exposure to remove detail from the water and the clouds; this literally simplifies the image. The smooth water shows more reflection and also puts more emphasis on the jetty and the mountains and there is no distraction in the sky.

The jetty is in a small village called Glenelg in a remote area of the West Coast of Scotland. The people living there have to be resourceful and do things for themselves in order to get by. This creates a functional industrial feel to the village. The jetty, which is clearly old and not designed for recreation, hints toward this heritage. The jetty is also in a truly beautiful location and this juxtaposition is shown in the loch and distant mountains.

Further simplification can occur in post-production. The second image shows a test exposure that is an unedited standard exposure.

The conversion to black and white was planned at the time because the colour creates distraction and is not particularly appealing. However the soft morning light was beautiful and where it hits the metal of the jetty, creates some really interesting tones. Finally a blue toner has been added to enhance the overall metallic industrial feel of the photograph.

2. Negative Space

Another way to simplify an image is to draw attention to the subject by using negative space. The image above shows where this can work in a landscape image and produces what is often described as a fine art feel. The white areas of the sky and the bright surface of the sea serve to draw all the attention to the old groins. The image was shot on a bleak beach on the remote and neglected spot of Spurn Point in East England. It is actually a colour image but the natural lack of colour, and focus placed on the groins, support the bleakness and loneliness of the story.

3. Isolate the Subject

Isolating a subject in a photograph is a very common way to simplify a picture and enhance the story. It is the basis of the majority of portrait photography where all focus it put on the model by either blowing out the background with big apertures, or using plain backgrounds in a studio setting.

The same applies to landscape photography where an image can often be described as intimate or a ‘portrait of the landscape’. There are countless ways to achieve this including using a longer lens, capturing a tree in a foggy woodland or using an extreme wide angle lens very close to the subject.

The image above shows a tree growing out the side of a Welsh mountain. For a few moments the sun shone perfectly down a small gully in the mountain and lit up the tree in a very exciting moment. I used the light and natural contrast to isolate the tree from the background to emphasise the fleeting moment the image represented. The second image shows the exact same composition just a few moments later once the sun has passed. You can see how the tree blends back into the cliff face and there is no image at all.

4. Simplifying the Image VS Simplifying the story.

Removing features and items from an image does not necessarily mean we are simplifying the story. Take the two images above of a mountain in Glencoe on a truly stunning day of landscape photography — watch the video now — https://youtu.be/iXyUDwB9sMQ.

In the picture on the right I have removed the road in photoshop. There is a lot I prefer about the composition without the road but it has complicated the story. My location becomes less clear, it deceives the viewer and most importantly it has removed the sense of scale provided by the road in the absence of any other permanent object.

Another example is shown here. The picture on the left is full of detail and colour; there is lot going on in the summer scene consisting of a view dear to my heart. However the photograph works using a number of compositional elements. The heather bathing in the warm light immediately tells the viewer it is the height of summer, the winding curves of the path lead you round and up to Roseberry Topping, which along with the sun, is sitting on the cross sections of the rule of thirds. In the other image I have removed the heather. Very often less is more, but by removing the heather the story is now lost. The composition no longer works, particularly as the light hitting the hill to the right distracts the viewer from the main subject of Roseberry Topping.

The aim is to simplify the story, not just the elements in the photograph.

5. Cropping

 

‘Get it right in camera!!!’ It is a common phrase that I do not subscribe to when it comes to processing an image. However it is more applicable with composition. You simply cannot change perspective in post production. You can however crop. It is always better to plan a crop like a square or a panorama at the point of shooting but cropping can be used in post to remove distracting elements that you missed at the time of shooting. Whether you end up using that particular image or not, use the new found knowledge and hindsight as a reason to re-visit the scene and capture it again.

The images below are an example of where cropping can work. The picture on the left is the full un-cropped frame. It was an incredible evening for a number of reasons (watch the video here — https://youtu.be/6NqDSY2nVu0) but when the sky set on fire I was not totally focused on the photography.

The image on the left is not bad. It just has some distracting elements that do not assist the story. By cropping in, the leading lines of the cliffs and the road become more prominent improving the pathway through the image towards the sky of fire. The horizon now also sits on the rule of thirds which adds to the overall balance of the image. The crop has worked because all the right elements were captured in the original file.

Simplifying an image is just one way in which composition can be improved. Give it a try, work hard and your images will almost certainly begin to improve.

Handheld vs Tripod Panoramas

I wake up on the top of a mountain ready to capture the sunrise in this landscape photography vlog. We also compare two ways to capture your panoramic photographs, handheld or with a tripod.

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Wild camping and landscape photography are married and there is no better way to capture a sunrise than waking up on a mountain in the Lake District. The peace, harmony and wellbeing felt from an experience like that is second to none. Not to mention a brilliant opportunity to capture some stunning photographs.

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This includes some panoramic photography, or panorama photography. I have talked recently about doing handheld landscapes, particularly panoramas so I wanted to test out which was better; handheld or with a tripod. I took two series of images of the same scene and then combined them both into a panorama using Adobe Lightroom. Lightroom has a feature called boundary warp that pulls the edges of a panorama to fill in any blanks created whilst merging the individual images. It is very powerful and does a great job, especially with landscape images when there are not many straight lines.

In the video my handheld panorama is shot pretty irrationally, but with a combination of boundary warp and cropping, the final image looks virtually identical to the more ‘text book’ tripod shot.

Using a tripod is still the best way for overall quality. It is a faff though and more difficult to do, which includes have a very level tripod. Handheld panoramas are fast to shoot and the results are almost as good. The upside is that you will almost certainly create more images using the handheld method, where in the past you might not have bothered to get the tripod out.

Raise your Landscape Photography Game Using Long Exposure

Discover new creative tools by using long exposure to take you images to the next level. We travel to Whitby in this landscape photography tutorial and vlog.

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In this landscape photography tutorial I travel to Whitby in North Yorkshire to capture and share how I create my long exposure images. 

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If you have never seen long exposure photography before you are in for a treat and capturing these images brings new challenges and creative possibilities. Essentially what is happening is by increasing the exposure time we introduce movement into our image that would normally be frozen and it gives the picture added interest and a look that would not be seen by your own eyes.

This video focuses on capturing long exposure landscapes during the day but the principles are the same no matter how or when you use it..

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You will already understand the exposure triangle so when increasing exposure time we need to balance things by reducing ISO or making our aperture smaller to prevent the image being over exposed. However, in daylight conditions, even with ISO at 100 and an aperture at f/16, your shot could still be over exposed before even one second has passed. To achieve the desired effect we want our exposure to be at least 30 seconds. The only way to do this is to use ND filters. These are filters added to the front of your lens that reduce the amount of light passing through the lens without severely affecting the colour. ND filters are rated by how many stops of light they reduce the exposure by. For example if you attach a 2 stop filter to your lens you will need to increase exposure in your camera by the same 2 stops to obtain a proper exposure.

Neutral Density Filters

Neutral Density filters like the Lee Big Stopper reduce the amount of light entering the lens. In the tutorial we are using a 6 stop filter, a 10 stop filter and a Formatt Hitech 82mm 16 stop ND filter which allows us to get some extremely long exposures of several minutes, even in bright daylight conditions.

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Why do Long Exposure Phototgraphy?

Exposures of this length have a number of uses. It will reduce the roughest waters to a smooth tranquil scene and add lots of movement to even the slowest moving clouds. In city scenes it can also be used to remove people from your images. At night it can be used for star trail shots and create interesting and varied light painting images. 

Shutter Release Cable

In addition to the ND filter you will also need a shutter release cable, unless you have a built in timer, allowing you to lock the shutter open when using the bulb mode. Keeping your camera very still is also essential so a good sturdy tripod is handy. If you don't have a tripod you could also place your camera down on a wall or some raised ground. A bean bag can be used to allow a small amount of adjustment or to keep things level on an uneven surface. When using a DSLR it is worth covering your viewfinder with some gaff tape or a viewfinder cap because light can creep in and ruin your image.

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Once you are armed with this knowledge and the few tools you need; get out and take some pictures. It is an amazing motivation to go and see the world and can really pull you out of the landscape photography dip.

Panoramic Landscape Photography with the Canon 24mm TS-E Mark II lens

The Canon 24mm TS-E Mark II tilt shift lens can be used to capture some stunning panoramas free from distortion. I travel to the LakeDistrict again to put it to good use in this landscape photography vlog. 

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Last week I used the Canon 24mm TS-E Mark II lens in London to capture some cityscape images free from distortion. The tilt shift lens can also be used to capture some beautiful panoramas free from the normal distortion created when you rotate a lens around a fixed axis (ie on your tripod). This is achieved simply by using the shift function. By shifting the lens left to right you can capture five overlapping images that stitch together in Lightroom absolutely perfectly. We get used to looking at panoramas and we get used to the distortion, sometimes it even benefits the image. However when you see a panorama shot with a tilt shift lens they have an extra element of quality. Even a feeling that you are standing in the scene yourself.

Panorama Photography

I am a very big fan of panorama photography. They are big and impressive and the files generated in Lightroom are large and detailed. There is a problem though. They do not share well on screen; and therefore on social media. To get the whole width of the image in, the height has to be reduced and you end up with the image looking much smaller than a normal 3x2 or 16x9. Screens are not designed to display panoramas. The only way to truly appreciate them is to print them and see them in person. When printing landscape photography, I am a true believer in bigger is better.

Winter in the Lake District

For the shoot I managed to get up early again and head over to the Lake District for what turned out to be an absolutely stunning morning.I wanted a more accessible day with locations close to the car so picked out spots at Tewet Tarn, Castlerigg Stone Circle and Bassenthwaite Lake. I have been asked a few time now to provide a guide and GPS details for the locations and vlogs I have done. Please let me know if this is something you would be interested in. It will take a lot of work, so I will not be able to offer it for free, but I was thinking somewhere in the region of £5 per guide. I’d love to hear your thoughts.