Photography Tutorials

Use and Control Colour to Elevate your Landscape Photography

Today we’re talking colour. Beautiful vibrant colour or even the complete lack of it. We’re going to look at how colour feeds into the entire photography process and how we can use and control that colour to improve our landscape photography.

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Style

One of the first things to strike us when we first look at an image is the colour. This is particular true if the colour is designed to make a statement or the photographer has just made a complete hash of it, like some of those horrible HDR’s where it looks like you’ve just thrown up all over the page.

How you use colour in your landscape photography is an important part of what gives you your style. Do you prefer big vibrant colours? Do you use more muted tones? Are you a black and white person?

It doesn’t really matter and no one way is better than the other but what is happening with the colour in your image is something we need to think about and not just let it end up happening by chance.

So how do we start controlling the colour?

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Planning

The first part comes right at the start during the planning phase. Photography is all about storytelling so when planning a shoot I will first decide what kind of story I want to tell. Colour has a big impact on story. Big vibrant saturated colours create a story of hope and happiness whilst more muted subtle, colours have a more thoughtful, down beat, artistic feeling. Colour is directly linked to our brains and affects our emotions heavily so as a photographer I want to use that to my benefit to take the viewer on an emotional journey.

The type of story I want to tell will then guide the location I choose to shoot in. The weather also has an impact on colour. Sometimes I will head out chasing a story. For example, I am in a happy mood and I want a big colour sunset type shot. I’ve checked the weather, I know there is a chance of a colourful sky, so I head to the beach. Finding a composition it then time to hope that the big sky comes. Sometimes it doesn’t pay off but often it will and the story be chased is told.

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On other occasions I’m not in control of where the shoot is happening so it is necessary to adapt the story to the landscape and conditions. Thats exactly what happened in the Peak District last week. That location was set because I had plans with a friend. I knew the weather would be changeable and there was a good chance it would come good at the end of the day. I used colour in the images to drive the story of adverse weather from the desaturated drought shot, through the monochrome rain shot, to the black & white bleak, shot at the top before heading through the extreme clouds and into the sunny colourful sunset at the end.

Watch the video here - https://youtu.be/bsMlvi_RBxI

Compose with Colour

Placing some striking colour into an aspect of your composition can take a photograph from a good shot to a great shot. A blue sky compared to a big colourful sky is an obvious example and it is true of the foreground and mid ground too. Take British moorland as an example. It’s covered in heather and most of the year it is an uninteresting browny green colour. But every Autumn/September time it flowers and turns into a stunning and vibrant pinky purple colour that can turn a composition.

We can take this a step further by using good light. We all know about the golden hour but having the warm light hitting a scene will enhance the colour of everything, without creating nasty highlighted area that you can get during the middle day. This definitely happens with the heather but the same is true of rocks, sand, buildings, trees and pretty much everything else.

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When good light is absent a scene will be much less vibrant, like in dull grey conditions. When I am faced with that I will often combine the more subtle colours with a long exposure to produce a more ethereal and fine art feel to the scene with muted colours or monochrome.

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Black and White and Monochrome

Black and White is an interesting area of landscape photography. To get the best images it is really important to try and decide at the time of shooting if the final image should be black and white, rather than just using it in post to try an rescue a bad image. It does not mean the image need to be captured in Black and White, just have it in mind for the final composition.

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I use black and white when there is a really interesting composition but the colours are dull and actually detract from the image. Even in those dull colours, interesting tones are present that will work well in black and white. You can also post-process grey tones much more aggressively than a colour image to really add drama to a black and white photo.

A black and white image in monochrome but a monochrome image is not necessarily black and white. It just means we’re working with the varying tones of one colour. Monochrome images are difficult to plan for but it’s something I am massively attracted to when the conditions present themselves. Often it will happen in cloudy or foggy conditions. When the conditions present themselves it is good opportunity to create something a little more unique..

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Post-processing

With Adobe Lightroom and other modern editors, they provide a massive amount of control over the colour. Several adjustments can be made to change the colour and transform an image.

White Balance

White balance is the first in the list. This is also the first time I have even considered white balance. When shooting in RAW white balance can be completely changed in post with no reduction in quality whatsoever. Setting the camera to auto white balance will be accurate most of the time and my method in post is to match the sight and feeling I had of the scene at the time.

Vibrance and Saturation

Vibrance and saturation both affect colour but in different ways. Saturation will change all of the colour in the image. It is a bit like the contrast slider in that it can be very tempting to add too much. A good tip is to dial it up to where you think it is right, then dial it back a bit to end up in the right place.

Vibrance on the other hand is smarter and only affects the middle colours so the changes are often more subtle. In the majority of my landscape images I add about 20 vibrance and 10 saturation and that gets me near to where I want to be.

HSL

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The HSL panel gives control over hue, saturation and luminance. It gives massive control over colour in an image. It is through this that many of the presets out there are built around and it certainly creates the opportunity to make an image look unrealistic or stylised. I do not use this very often but it can be handy when you want to control individual colours. With a sunset boosting the overall saturation can take certain colours like orange and yellow overboard, so dialling those individual colours back in the HSL panel can balance the image back out. I try to keep things fairly natural so any changes I make in the HSL panel are mostly very subtle.

Grads and Brushes

Next we have software grads and brushes which give control over the colour in individual parts of the image. It can used especially to give control over the sky or the ground separately and is a very useful tool for colour.

NIK Collection

One bit of software I would massively recommend is the DxO NIK collection. It is collection of photo editing plugins that has changed hands now on a number of occassions. Silver Efex Pro is the pick of the bunch and is a way to convert and edit a black and white image. I don’t use it for every conversion but I think it’s worth it alone for the toners that mimic old dark room toners like selenium and sepia.

Printing

When it comes to printing we’re really just looking to control the colour as much as we possibly can so our prints look as much as possible like they do one screen. I have done a video on Printing before but three good tips here are:

  • Add about a 3rd of a stop exposure in Lightroom before you print. This extra brightness will help compensate for the fact there is no backlight on your paper and stop the image looking a bit dull when it comes out the printer.
  • Use the best paper you possibly can. This is particularly important for reproduction of saturated colours. Canson Premium High Gloss is the best I have found for this and holds more colour than pretty much any other paper I have tried.
  • Calibrate your monitor - I’m going to be making a video about this soon.
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Conclusion

Thinking about colour throughout the landscape photography process will assist every aspect of what you are trying to achieve. This includes composition, exposure, perspective and many other things. Colour is something most of us are lucky enough to experience everyday so we can easily take it for granted. Using it carefully and intentionally however will see your photography elevate to the next level.

Landscape Photography Tutorial

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The essential elements to capturing beautiful landscape photography images.

In this video we give you an introduction to landscape photography. Landscape photography is arguably the most popular area of photography as we capture the amazing scenes the world has to offer. Most people who have ever touched a camera will at some point have taken a landscape photograph. This does not mean it is easy however with most of these images being nothing more than snapshots. The interest in viewing these images is also massive with landscape photography shots capturing far greater attention on photo sharing mediums such as Instagram and Flickr.

With this in mind, truly great landscape photography is not as common as you might think. A quick flick through Instagram will show this and is proof that landscape photography is an art. Having the natural talent and 'eye' for things will be a large help but there are certain rules that, if followed, will allow you to start capturing some beautiful images.

Gear - Great landscapes can be captured with any type of camera including smartphones. To take things to the next level though you will need a camera with the ability to shoot at wider angles. Having these wider angles allows more of the scene to be captured. Extreme wide angles can also give the sense of how big the scene is when used correctly.

A tripod is also extremely useful for landscape photographs. It becomes essential for long exposure landscapes or even when the light begins to fade and your shutter speed slows down.

The Secret - The absolute key to getting amazing landscape photography images is to travel to somewhere with amazing scenery. A simple fact that is not always easy achieve.

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Rule of Thirds - This is a common photography rule that gives guidance to composition and to what can create pleasing images. In landscape photography the rule of thirds is best applied to where we place our horizon line. Keeping the horizon line along the bottom third of the image or the top third of the image will create a much more pleasing image than a horizon that runs along the middle of the frame.

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The Golden Hour - The hour after sunrise and before sunset is known as the golden hour. When the sun is low in the sky it creates a beautiful golden light that will flood your scene and produce long interesting shadows. Use this to your advantage when composing your shot.

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Focusing - Most landscape photography will require sharpness from the front to the back of the image. Focusing on the area about 1/3 of the way into your scene will usually provide the optimal focus. Hyperfocal distance dictates the science around this and can be read about here. If you have a key point to your image such a castle, then focus on that point.

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Camera mode - Manual. Use landscape photography to introduce yourself to shooting in manual and controlling your exposure in every way.

Aperture - To get everything in focus we generally want to use a small aperture (large f/stop number). To get front to back sharpness, f/11 or f/16 will nearly always provide this. If your shot does not contain any foreground then f/8 can be used to maximise sharpness as many lenses are at their sharpest at f/8.

ISO - 100 or lower.

Shutter Speed - Control your overall exposure with the shutter speed. If the shutter speed starts to get slow then ensure you employ your tripod.

Lighting - Shooting into the sun might, at first, seem like a silly thing to do. However it can result in some really interesting images and includes all sunset shots. Shooting with the sun directly behind you will often result in flat images in terms of contrast. the same applies when the sun is directly above.

Filters — Your landscape photography can be taken to the next level by introducing filters such as neutral density gradients, circular polarises, infrared and big stop neutral density filters that allow you to capture long exposure landscapes.

Long Exposure Photography tutorial - https://www.firstmanphotography.com/tutorials/long-exposure-photography-tutorial

Infrared Landscape Tutorial - https://www.firstmanphotography.com/tutorials/infrared-photography-part-1

Use the timer - When using a tripod, using the timer or a shutter release cable will ensure there is no unwanted movement in the camera.

Following these simple rules will give you a solid base on which to start building your landscape photography portfolio. Be warned, it is an addictive pursuit and you will find yourself regularly checking weather forecasts, tidal times, sunset and sunrise times and travel times to certain locations. Good luck and enjoy.

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Macro Photography Tutorial - Using Budget Gear

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An introduction to macro photography using affordable gear.

In this video tutorial we give you an introduction to macro photography and show you how you can start capturing beautiful macro images without breaking the bank.

Macro photography has a reputation for being expensive as it introduces the need for specialised gear and expensive lenses. Whilst a dedicated macro lens can be extremely useful it is not the only way we can get in close and magnify the micro.

A number of options exist for capturing macro photography with the gear you already own and most cameras built in the last few years will have some kind of macro mode. Many compact cameras, phones and DSLR kit lenses have the ability to focus very close to your subject. This is essentially what achieving macro photography shots is about.

There is much theory out there about what true macro photography is, where you achieve at least 1:1 magnification (where the actual size of the subject is the same as the projected image on the sensor). Often this only serves to discourage people from getting into this exciting world. Very simply we want to magnify small things and make them look larger than life in our final image.

All camera lenses have a minimum focus distance. If you get too close to the subject the lens will no longer focus. This is exactly the same as to how your eyes work. If you hold your finger very close to your face your eyes will not be able to focus on it. Macro lenses are specially designed to focus in very close but there are different, cheaper, types of gear that we can also use to reduce this minimum focus distance.

Let’s discuss a couple of options.

A macro photography reversing ring is a very cheap piece of kit and attaches to the filter threads of your lens. Once the lens is detached it can be reattached the opposite way. It then allows you to focus much closer and magnify your subject. However the electrical connection to the lens is broken so you will not be able to adjust the aperture and any image stabilisation the lens has will not work along with auto-focus. Likewise, if your lens is focus by wire, manual focus will also not work. You then have to focus by manually moving further away or move in closer. With some lenses the aperture can be locked before detaching the lens. Do this by setting the aperture as required and then hold down the depth of field preview button whilst detaching the lens. This should not cause any damage to your lens or camera but is not recommended by camera manufacturers. Wide zoom angles of the lens will mean more magnification and zoomed in will show smaller in the frame. This is opposite to when mounted normally.

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Macro extension tubes are an attachment that adds space between your lens and camera. They have no optics so do not alter image quality but allow closer focusing since the lens is moved away from the focal plane. This allows you to turn many lenses into a macro lens. It works especially well with prime lenses like a 50mm or 85mm. Many macro extenders have electronic contacts so will still have aperture and stabilisation options and auto-focus. Macro extender tubes can also be coupled with a dedicated macro lens to get even closer. This is an excellent option to test the waters of macro photography but is slightly more expensive than the reverse ring. Macro extenders are very simple pieces of kit so please do not waste your money buying the Canon or Nikon versions when £20 versions from Neewer do the job just as well. See link below.

Macro Extension Tube Set for Canon Mount

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Armed with this gear it is then a case of shooting and seeing what interesting images can be found.  Apply all the usual rules of composition and you will soon be capturing some great images. For ideas of what to shoot with macro photography please subscribe to my channel where there will be two more videos in this series. The second will be shooting images using a more advanced set up, including a macro lens and a macro flash, and the third will show how to do focus stacking.

In the meantime check out my video on how to do water drop photography that is an exciting use of macro photography. Water Drop Photography Tutorial

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How to Change Your Camera Lens

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Change Your Camera Lens Without Fear

In this video we show you how to change your camera lens quickly and safely.

Photography is becoming evermore popular and, in addition to DSLR's, many of the latest crop of camera systems have interchangeable lenses. This means that when it comes time to change your camera lens the sensor of the camera becomes exposed.

Much of the advice out there instructs that you must only ever change your camera lens indoors away from any tiny spec that could turn your camera into an expensive paper weight. This over reaction is a symptom of advice handed around by over protective photographers that seem to prefer their gear over anything else. The phrase 'all the gear and no idea' springs to mind. My thoughts, and the working methods I employ, are very different.

Essentially a camera is nothing more than a tool to capture photographs and hopefully some beautiful images along the way. It should therefore be used as such. If a situation arises where you need to change a lens, even when you are outside in the field, then you should change it. Many do not have the luxury of owning two camera bodies so changing lenses regularly will become normal once you upgrade the kit lens that came with your camera.

Changing your camera lens should be done without fear. Following a few simple methods you will minimise the risks to your lens and camera, building up confidence to change your camera lens in most shooting situations. This will ensure you do not miss a shot because you are too afraid to change your camera lens.

Once you become accustomed to changing your lens when required, used to the fact that your camera is just a tool you will be able to focus on honing your craft and capturing beautiful images.

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