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Making and Understanding Great Landscape Photos

August 16th, 2018 - By One Stop Photo Workshops | Landscape Photography Tips

Miners Beach, Port Macquarie, New South Wales

When people begin photography, one typical question they ask is what makes a great landscape photo and what doesn’t?  Why do some photos jump out and others don’t? Why do professional photographers create great landscapes and how can I do the same? These should be any aspiring photographers thought. We aim to explore these questions.


Firstly, it should be noted that there are many factors that create great landscapes. These include light, composition, subject matter, point of difference and colour. For this blog we will first explore light and composition.


If you have analysed any good photograph, the first thing you will notice is that lighting is an essential element for any good photo. This is so for landscapes, portraits and street photography. It can have such a dramatic influence on the final result, that it should not be ignored, but studied carefully as a keen photographer.


Arguably, for any landscape image, light is one of the most important aspects of a stunning photograph. If you have taken time to analyse any stunning landscape image, you will begin to notice that they have been taken when the light is lower and more even. Often just as the sun sets beyond the sunrise leading to the term “maximum depth of colour” where colours become more vivid and the light even. If you have ever taken a photo at 12pm in the day, where the light is at its strongest, you will notice the image is very contrasting with many shadows and harsh light. However, at evening as the sun sets, the light begins to soften the landscape, providing a warm glow of golden even light that make the scenery in front of you change dramatically. Equally this also occurs just as the sun begins to rise. This is known as the golden hour where the landscape lights up.




A second important consideration for a great landscape is composition. Composition in any image is essential to please the human eye. Good composition in your photos will attract interest immediately and better still, capture their attention for a reasonable time. A well-crafted composition will lead the eye through the entire photo. A failure to understand this process will make an image or break your image. However, some simple tested rules can help improve your photographs.


Rule of Thirds

The most basic rule is that of the rule of thirds. You will see and hear those in the photography world talking a lot about this rule. This technique aims at dividing your image in to thirds both horizontally and diagonally forming a grid. Placing compositional elements on intersecting positions of the grid is considered to appeal to the viewers eyes. The human brain generally finds this to be extremely pleasing when viewed. Try to think first third foreground, next third to have your subject and the last third for your skyline. But remember these rules are not steadfast. For example, if you have a boring sky but interesting foreground, the foreground could equally take up two thirds of the picture. Composition is about finding what works best. Equally cameras allow you to view in live view, your composition with the rule of thirds grid showing.


Golden Ratio

A second compositional element to consider is the golden ratio. This is a spiral figure that looks like a nine and is a well trusted compositional technique. In order to use this rule, place the subject matter in narrower compressed section of the spiral allowing the eye to move and be directed outwards through the picture.


Leading Lines

Incorporating leading lines into your landscape image can increase the visual impact of your photo. Lines are important in a landscape image to often direct the eye through the picture to a vanishing point. They are also important to create a notion of depth in an image. In the example below, you notice how the rocks allow your eye to move from the bottom right of the image to the top left-hand corner. You as the photographer are in a way forcing the viewer to follow those lines through the entire image.

Jokulsarlon, Iceland, September 14 2012






Learn from the greats:

Equally, studying art works and great photographers should be a priority for any aspiring photographer. Indeed, if you have studied master landscape painters or photographers and their works, you will have come to recognise some important compositional techniques that have served many well. Firstly, most have a strong foreground detail. This is a grounding an interesting aspect that grabs the viewer. Equally some form of subject matter in the middle ground and a background element. What does this achieve in a photograph? It creates a sense of depth. What your eyes see every day is a 3d world that pops out and depth is clearly defined. However, the camera only produces a 2d representational view that doesn’t seem so dramatic. So how do we achieve this? It is up to the photographer to use techniques to trick the viewers eyes into believing what they are seeing is three dimensional.


Planning your image:

Ask what the scene in front of you is telling you. Question everything. What made you stop and decide to take the photo? Ask whether the sky is eventful? What middle image are you going to focus the photo on? Is the foreground dynamic? How can you use it? Should you get lower or higher? Move left or right? Where is the light hitting? Also what is the focus point of the photo?

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Capture sharper landscapes (part 2)

February 17th, 2014 - By One Stop Photo Workshops | Landscape Photography Tips

by Bob Simpson (One Stop Photo Workshops tutor for the Sunshine Coast)

A sharp, interesting foreground invites viewers into the image and gives the impression you could reach down and touch the rocks, grass or whatever else is present. The closest rocks were only around 60cm from the front of my lens but with a focal length of 17mm and aperture set at f13, I focused at the hyperfocal distance (~0.8m) for front to back sharpness.

A sharp, interesting foreground invites viewers into the image and gives the impression you could reach down and touch the rocks, grass or whatever else is present. In this image, the closest rocks were only around 60cm from the front of my lens so with a focal length of 17mm and aperture set at f13, I focused at the hyperfocal distance (~80cm) for front to back sharpness.


Nail the focus

Accurate focusing is fundamental to achieving sharp images….no surprises there! A common selling-point for new camera models is the promise of better and faster auto-focus, with more AF sensor points, new focus-tracking modes, and improved AF performance in low light. As clever as these advancements are, and as useful as they are in certain scenarios, for most landscape photography I’d recommend turning off the AF functions and learning how to manually focus your lenses.

The thing with landscape photography is that we often want to keep the whole image, from close foreground to distant horizon, in sharp focus. So rather than focusing on any particular object in the scene, the aim is to maximise the depth of field so that all objects in the scene appear sharp. An old rule of thumb to achieve this is to set a wide aperture, say f16, and focus one-third of the way into the scene. This usually works okay with a wide-angle lens but it can be hit-and-miss in a lot of cases, especially as you move to longer focal lengths.

A more precise way of working out where to set your focus is to use the hyperfocal distance. By focusing at the hyperfocal distance, everything in a scene from half of the hyperfocal distance to the horizon will appear acceptably sharp. The hyperfocal distance is different for every combination of focal length and aperture, but you don’t need to memorise these things or be a mathematician to work them out – hyperfocal distance charts and apps are readily available online so you can either download one and keep it in your pocket or just refer to your smartphone. I carry a small laminated chart for each of my lenses in my top pocket every time I go out.

As an example, the hyperfocal distance for a 17mm lens (on a full-frame DSLR) with the aperture set at f11 is approximately one metre. This tells you that by setting your 17mm lens to f11 and focussing at one metre, everything in the image from a distance of 0.5 metres (half the hyperfocal distance) to the far distance will appear acceptably sharp. You can check this using the depth-of-field preview, if your camera has one, or by zooming into a captured image on the LCD screen.

While this method works fine in most cases, there are techniques available to take the matter further and achieve virtually unlimited depth-of-field at any aperture or focal length. Focus-stacking is a process of taking multiple images with the focus set at a slightly different position in each, and then combining the sharpest bits of each image into a single, final result. This method is especially popular in macro photography where the depth-of-field is often so narrow that it would be impossible to get the whole subject in focus with a single image. So a series of images are captured at different focus settings and then bundled into a program like Helicon Focus, Zerene Stacker, or Photoshop for automatic blending.

Focus-stacking can also be used to expand the depth-of-field in landscape photographs. I’ve found it useful when shooting with longer focal lengths where hyperfocal focusing won’t produce the depth-of-field I want to achieve. Often in these cases, only two or three images at different focus settings are needed to ensure everything is sharp from front to back, and these can be easily blended together manually using layers and masks.

It isn’t always the case that we want our landscape images to be sharp from front to back. A wide aperture can be selected to minimise the depth-of-field so that only the portion of the image that we want to highlight is in sharp focus and the rest is blurred. In this case, precise focus on the main subject is required. Auto-focus can do a good job here, but for full control, I’d recommend using manual focus in conjunction with the liveview LCD screen – just zoom in to the part of the image where accurate focus is most critical and adjust the focus-ring as needed.

Miscellaneous tips

I’ve run through some of the most important factors that can affect image sharpness but the story doesn’t stop there. Below is a list of other tips to keep in mind to help maximise image quality and sharpness.

Use good quality filters

A filter placed over the front element of your lens has the potential to reduce image quality and sharpness. Higher quality (and more expensive) filters are engineered to precise standards and include coatings to minimise lens flare and other aberrations, so it’s worth buying the best filters you can afford. The risk of reduced image quality increases if you stack filters together, especially if they are not kept spotlessly clean, and when shooting directly towards a light source.

Use a lens hood

Lens flare occurs when strong light enters the lens and is reflected around by the internal lens elements before it hits the sensor. It is a common problem in landscape photography when shooting towards the sun and will often show up in images as colourful polygonal shapes or washed-out areas of reduced contrast. To avoid it, you need to keep direct sunlight off the front element of your lens and one way to do that is to attach a lens hood. Unfortunately, with wide angle lenses a lens hood can’t extend too far out from the front of the lens or it will cause vignetting so its effectiveness is limited. You can overcome this by using your hand or some other object to shade the lens while an exposure is made – just make sure to keep your hand out of frame. Of course, a lens hood (or your hand) isn’t much use when shooting directly towards the sun, but there are other ways of minimising flare in these situations – but that will have to wait for another article!

Think about distance from subject

Objects that are close to the camera will invariably appear sharper and more detailed than those that are far away. The light that reaches us from a distant object has been diffused and deflected as it passes through the atmosphere so  the distant object will often appear hazy, less clear, and less sharp than a close one. This is a simple fact that is easily understood and experienced by all of us on a daily basis – we expect distant objects to appear less contrasty and well-defined. It’s worth keeping this in mind when processing an image and resisting the temptation to add too much contrast or sharpening to distant objects. A natural graduation of contrast, decreasing from the foreground to the background, adds a sense of depth to an image.

Don’t zoom to extremes

In many zoom lenses, image sharpness and quality tend to fall away at the extremes of the zoom range. You will often find the focal ‘sweet spot’ of a lens is somewhere in the middle of the zoom range, so it can pay to back off a little from the widest focal length or the longest telephoto setting.

Take multiple shots

A good insurance policy to employ when photographing in strong winds, or any other situation where there is a high risk of camera-shake, is to take multiple shots of a scene in the hope of getting at least one sharp one. The LCD screen on your camera allows you to review an image for sharpness after each shot, but small amounts of blur might not be obvious until you get home and view the image large on a computer screen. Taking a few extra shots costs nothing and could mean the difference between bringing home a keeper and having to discard your morning’s work because it’s all blurred.

Keep everything clean

And a simple common-sense rule to finish – start each session with a well-cleaned lens and filters, and make sure they stay that way throughout the session. Always carry several clean microfibre cloths, and maybe some lens cleaning fluid or a LensPen for more persistent grime. A greasy thumb-print on your ND filter will result in a blurry patch in your image that can’t be easily fixed with processing, if it can be fixed at all. Windy days at the beach are especially problematic when fine salt-mist can settle on all surfaces, including the front element of your lens. Wiping this with a cloth will just spread the salt around, so a small dose of lens cleaning fluid is sometimes needed to restore a sparkling, clean finish.

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Capture sharper landscapes (part 1)

February 3rd, 2014 - By One Stop Photo Workshops | Landscape Photography Tips

by Bob Simpson (One Stop Photo Workshops tutor for the Sunshine Coast)


A blustery wind was buffeting my tripod but by setting it low to the ground and crouching beside it to shield it from the wind, I was able to use a slow shutterspeed to record the movement of the waves while still keeping the rocks perfectly sharp.

Most digital images benefit from some post-capture sharpening. Digital camera sensors and lenses always blur an image to some degree and to correct this, photo-software like Photoshop has a range of sharpening options like unsharp mask, smart sharpen and the high pass filter. These tools are great for polishing an image before it is presented to the viewing public, but the path to getting consistently sharp images begins well before we go anywhere near Photoshop. Good camera technique and a knowledge of all the factors that can work against the apparent sharpness of an image are vital if we want to take control and produce the sharpest images we can.

There’s no doubt that expensive, high quality lenses generally have the edge over cheaper models when it comes to sharpness, but the reality is that most of us can’t afford the thousands of dollars it takes to own one of these top-end lenses. But there’s no need to despair – even the relatively cheap kit lenses around today will produce excellent results if they are used to their full potential. You don’t need to break the bank to get consistently sharp, high quality images.

So here, in no particular order, are some capture tips and tricks to help you squeeze that extra bit of sharpness out of your images.

Keep it steady

It’s no secret that a steady hand and/or a stable tripod are important factors in getting sharp images. Setting a fast shutter speed can help overcome the blurring effects of camera-shake but from a creative point of view, we don’t always want to use a fast shutter speed to freeze all motion. And in low light situations, it may not be possible to achieve a good exposure with a fast shutter speed unless you set a very high ISO, which in turn will reduce the quality and apparent sharpness of the image.

There are lots of little tricks to help keep your camera stable and motionless when you’re not using a tripod. If you’re standing up, find a comfortable posture with your feet comfortably apart and elbows tucked into your sides. If possible, brace the camera against a tree, fence-post  or some other structure to keep it steady, or consider sitting down or kneeling to reduce the chance of your body swaying. Hold the camera firmly but not tensely, breathe evenly, and practise operating the shutter button with a gentle squeeze or roll of the fingertip. If your lens has image stabilisation or vibration reduction, turn it on. There is an old rule-of-thumb that says the slowest shutter speed you should use when hand-holding a camera is the reciprocal of the focal length of your lens – so for a 50mm focal length, use a shutter speed of at least 1/50th second. This of course depends on a lot of factors, including how good your hand-held technique is, and it is often possible to use a much slower shutter speed if your lens has image stabilisation or vibration reduction.

As a landscape photographer I use a tripod most of the time, but there are still occasions when this alone isn’t enough to ensure a stable platform for my camera. Expensive tripods tend to be more stable than cheaper ones so it is worth buying the best you can afford, and new materials like carbon fibre help to dampen any vibrations that do occur. The risk of vibration increases in windy conditions and when the tripod is standing in moving water, like a flowing stream or at the beach. You can reduce this risk by hanging a heavy weight (like your camera bag) off your tripod, and in windy conditions, by using your body to shield the tripod from gusts. A tripod will also be more prone to vibration the higher it is set, especially if the centre column is raised, so try and keep it set lower if the conditions are less than ideal. In soft substrates like sand and mud, a tripod can slowly sink without you noticing – take some time to push the legs firmly down into the substrate before capturing your image. Image stabilisation or vibration reduction can be counter-productive when your camera is mounted on a tripod so read your camera manual to see what the manufacturers advise. Finally, invest in a cable release or wireless release so you don’t have to touch the camera to fire the shutter – an alternative is to use the self-timer, but a remote release makes it that much easier.

Choose your camera settings wisely

The three camera controls we use to set exposure – shutter speed, aperture and ISO – all play a role in image sharpness. Shutter speed is perhaps the most obvious factor here. As discussed above, a slow shutter speed is more likely to produce an unsharp image than a fast one, although a tripod will overcome this issue in most cases.

But what about the situation where we are photographing a scene that has moving elements in it, like grass swaying in the wind or water tumbling down a cascade? We can just use a fast speed, like 1/1000th second, to freeze all motion but from a creative point of view, this is not always ideal and can make an image look static and lifeless. By using a slower speed, say 1/4 second, the moving elements in a scene will be captured with some degree of blur which helps convey the sense of movement and dynamism in the scene. This approach is particularly effective when an image is composed around the stationary elements of a scene, like rocks and tree-trunks, and there is a strong contrast between the sharpness of these features and the motion-blur of moving elements. This contrast can really highlight the apparent sharpness of the static elements. Many photographers take this approach to extremes by using a strong neutral density filter to produce a very long exposure – say several minutes. In this way, even clouds will be rendered as streaks across the sky, which can create a pleasing, artistic backdrop that further enhances the apparent sharpness of any stationary elements.

The ‘best’ aperture setting (f-stop) for any given scene should be considered from several angles. One of the first things we learn as photographers is that a large, wide-open aperture, like f1.2 (or maybe f4 on some lenses) will create a shallow depth-of-field. This just means that a relatively small part of a scene will be recorded in sharp focus – closer elements and more distant elements will appear out of focus. On the other hand, a small, closed-down aperture, like f16 or f22, will produce a larger depth-of-field so that all parts of a scene, from very close elements to the distant horizon, appear sharp.

So it seems obvious from this that if we want maximum sharpness throughout an image, as is often the case in landscape photography, we just choose the smallest aperture available on our lens and use that. Unfortunately it’s not quite that simple. Most lenses, even very expensive models, don’t retain the same level of sharpness throughout their aperture range – they have an aperture ‘sweet-spot’ that will produce the sharpest possible results. The sweet-spot is usually several f-stops down from the widest aperture setting, often around f8 or f11. Choosing a smaller aperture than this may produce a larger depth-of-field, but sharpness will begin to drop off. This might not be apparent unless you make large prints of your image but it is something to keep in mind. You will find information on the sweet-spot for many lens models with an internet search, and lots of websites explain how to carry out your own tests to determine the sweet spot for your lens.

The ISO setting on digital cameras determines the relative sensitivity (or light-gathering capacity) of the camera sensor. A high setting, say ISO1600, means the sensor becomes very sensitive, and it only takes a small amount of light to properly expose an image. A lower setting, ISO100-200, means the sensor is less sensitive and more light is needed to expose the same image. As we adjust the ISO setting, we also have to vary the shutter speed and/or aperture to allow more or less light to reach the sensor as required.

The problem with choosing a high ISO setting is that it leads to increased digital noise in an image. This is unavoidable in some cases where the only way to achieve a good exposure is to bump up the ISO – a noisy image can be better than no image at all. And there is always the option of using noise reduction software to counter the problem post-capture – that is, or course, if you see it as a problem. A little noise in an image might be to your liking, in the same way that the ‘graininess’ of images captured on film was often deliberately used to create a certain look. But I think it’s fair to say that most current photographers, particularly those who focus on landscapes, would prefer to minimise noise as much as possible most of the time. That is my preference and I always use the lowest ISO setting I can.

As for the relationship between ISO and sharpness, there are some differing views. A common opinion is that a noisy image will appear less sharp than a ‘clean’ one because any fine detail in an image is made less clear and well-defined by the presence of noise. Others say there is no real relationship between ISO and sharpness, and some suggest that a little noise can actually make an image look sharper. I can see where this idea (noise = sharpness) comes from, but it is a gritty sort of sharpness that I prefer to avoid in my landscape images.

There is less argument about the effects of applying post-capture noise reduction to an image – this invariably leads to a softening of fine detail, and if it is applied too heavily will result in an unnatural ‘plastic’ look. As a general rule, I believe that the best path to achieving a high quality, sharp image is to use the lowest ISO possible and avoid the issue of noise altogether.

In the second part of this article, I will look at how focus, filters and other miscellaneous factors can affect the sharpness of our images.

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How to photograph landscapes with your iPhone

January 21st, 2014 - By One Stop Photo Workshops | Landscape Photography Tips

You don’t need a flashy expensive camera to take some amazing photos. With the right knowledge and some imagination, any camera you have is capable of capturing some great photos together with a little post processing to finish. And there is no more widely used camera today than the iPhone – it is always there with you! As the saying goes – the best camera you have is the one you have with you! So we’ve come-up with an eBook that gives you everything you need to know to produce some high quality images using an iPhone all right in the palm of your hand.

Go ahead and download it and grab yourself a cuppa!



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What’s in your bag?

January 6th, 2014 - By One Stop Photo Workshops | Landscape Photography Tips

by Bob Simpson (One Stop Photo Workshops tutor for the Sunshine Coast)

It’s exciting to hike to out-of-the-way places, but you don’t want to be weighed down with unnecessary items in your pack. (Kwiambal National Park, New South Wales)

Sitting in camp at Sundown National Park recently after a tiring but satisfying morning photographing the stars from a high ridge, I was prompted (once again) to review the contents of my camera pack. It’s something I’m sure we all do from time to time – this particular episode was triggered by a pair of sore feet and shoulders brought on by lugging myself and my pack around the steep hillsides, and the consequent nagging question, “…Do I really need all this stuff?…”.

Of course, the ‘stuff’ you choose to take on any particular photo session is going to vary with the location and circumstances, and in a relatively remote and rugged place like Sundown it’s wise to err on the side of too much rather than too little. There’s no dashing home to grab that filter you rarely use but suddenly and desperately need, no mobile phone reception to get you out of a jam if things go awry, and no shop at the top of the hill to grab a refreshing drink and bite to eat.

While I’m all for the make-do-without attitude, safety gear like a first aid kit, torch, raincoat, adequate food and water, and some means of communication are non-negotiable occupants of my pack – they go everywhere with me. So that leaves camera gear as the biggest variable in the equation. The question of what to take and what to leave at home is, for most photographers, a work in progress.

So without further ado, here is what is in my camera pack and why it is there.

Cameras and lenses
My kit doesn’t change much whether I’m in a remote area or down at a suburban beach. It basically consists of a single dSLR body and two zoom lenses, a 17-40mm and a 70-200mm. A second body would certainly be good insurance in the case of a breakdown or a drenching, but as I’ve never experienced either of these (touch wood!), I’m willing to take the risk. But I do carry a good quality compact camera in more remote areas so all would not be lost in the event of a camera-related mishap.

The two lenses I carry limit the types of images I can seek, but that’s part of the trade-off. It would be nice to carry a 400mm plus tele-converter for wildlife, and a dedicated macro lens for the miniscule – and while I’m at it, another zoom to bridge the gap between 40mm and 70mm. On the other hand, a limited array of available focal lengths makes you focus on the things you can do rather than try and spread yourself across every possible option. I might miss out on that shot of an eagle perched high in a distant tree, but I can’t recall ever running short of ideas or subjects to command my attention – nature is good like that.

Filters still have a place in my pack. These days I limit it to a polariser and a couple of neutral density filters for each lens – these really expand the photographic options for very little cost in terms of size or weight. Many landscape photographers also use graduated neutral density filters to help balance exposures but, for the moment, I prefer to ‘bracket and blend’. It’s a work in progress and I might go back to my ND grads one day, but I feel that in many cases the new approach gives better results than the filters – and there is a feeling of liberation in leaving them at home!

My tripod and remote shutter release are essential companions on all of my photographic outings. For low-light scenarios, like around sunrise and sunset, they are necessary to ensure the camera stays perfectly still during long exposures. Even in bright conditions, a tripod gives you the option of attaching a neutral density filter to slow down the shutter speed and capture the movement of clouds, water and grasses. I also find a tripod to be an excellent aid to composition – it makes you slow down and allows you to fully consider and fine-tune your compositions. A good sturdy tripod can add considerably to the weight you have to carry, but materials like carbon fibre provide a lighter (if more expensive) option. My tripod stays strapped to my pack with an elastic occy strap.

Spare batteries and memory cards…never be caught out without them! Both can fail unexpectedly, batteries run down and memory cards fill up with important images. Genuine spare batteries can be expensive, but they don’t take up much space and you will be thankful to have them if (when) you experience a failure. A spare memory card weighs about as much as a pencil so it’s a no-brainer to always have two or three in your pack.

I also carry a few spare rubber tips for my tripod legs – I’ve lost them before in mud and crevices, but they also just wear out eventually. Genuine parts from your tripod manufacturer can be expensive but you can try your local hardware store for cheaper versions made for chair legs. I get mine from Clark Rubber for about 50c each.

While you don’t want to be pulling your camera apart in the field to clean the sensor, it’s a good idea to have some basic maintenance items on hand at all times. I carry more clean microfibre cloths than I’m ever likely to need, but they’re cheap and light, so why not? These are ideal for wiping mist or raindrops off your lens and camera body, but they can soon become wet and dirty so it’s worth having several on hand. I also carry a LensPen for more thorough cleaning of my lenses and filters – it has a soft brush on one end to dislodge dust without scratching and a dry cleaning tip that does a great job of removing fingerprints and other blotches. And it’s the size and weight of a pen!

Rain cover
Some form of rain cover for your camera is a must, even on those days when you think “…It couldn’t possibly rain today…”. Famous last words, if ever I’ve heard them. There are some very good purpose-built rain covers for cameras, like Kata’s range, or there are less high-tech solutions like a plastic bag and rubber bands. I carry a hiking dry-bag that weighs next to nothing and slips over my camera and lens when mounted on a tripod – it doesn’t have a clear window like the Katas, but it has kept my camera bone dry in several torrential downpours. I also carry a small hiking-umbrella so I can keep shooting when the rain starts. It’s a solution with some flaws, but it’s simple and has worked for me on many occasions.

* * *

Well that’s just about it, and on reflection, I think I really do need all this stuff! It’s not surprising really…I’ve been through this exercise quite a few times and my kit is already pared back to the basics. The fact is, getting to out-of-the-way places takes some effort, so tired feet and shoulders are part of the adventure….it’s a small price to pay when the reward is having a little piece of nature’s beauty all to yourself.

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The making of Surviving

December 23rd, 2013 - By One Stop Photo Workshops | Landscape Photography Tips

by Steven Fudge (One Stop Photo Workshops tutor for Brisbane)


Surviving (Deception Bay, Queensland)

This lone mangrove has been much photographed over the years by various Brisbane and south-east-Queensland-based based photographers. It holds a certain charm for many and for myself – well, I’m just a sucker for trees in water, dead or otherwise! This one and its brother are currently still very much alive.

To shoot this tree requires a bit of planning and forethought. First up you have to decide what kind of image you would like to produce as an end result: a pared-down minimalist representation, or one that is more inclusive of the surrounding landscape. To explain further, this tree and its close brother/sister are surrounded by rocks, which can add to the image or detract depending on your style of shooting and processing. Also two headlands can impinge on the image, so to clone or not is another decision to be made. Personally my preference is to keep the tree as the main focus by excluding all other distractions.

An important first step in photographing this area is to visit it at low tide to get the lie of the land/water/rocks. As it is in a sheltered bay, there is mud across all surfaces and the rocks are slippery, so grippy shoes that you don’t mind getting wet and dirty are a must….as are a pair of shorts as you are going be up to your knees and more in murky water . Don’t even think about bull sharks…

After shooting this a year or so back with minimal success I decided the time was right to give it another crack. First stop was the tide chart –  I wanted the tree to be  surrounded by water, which meant taking a cold bath in Moreton bay, pretty much up to my thighs in water and I’m 6 foot 2. If this isn’t your idea of fun then you ain’t gonna get this image… not even with a zoom from the shoreline. The tide has to be within two hours of high on either side to be sure of plenty of water around the tree – I chose to shoot it on an incoming tide so the close rocks were submerged. You can always clone out the rocks later if they aren’t covered with water but I’d prefer to get it right in-camera. Second, I wanted calm weather (ie. NO WIND!) or the leaves would move resulting in a blurred image. Thirdly I wanted grey skies – I had seen a few blazing sunrise efforts which are fine, also some star trails, but I feel the sky distracts somewhat from the reason you are there…to shoot this beautiful lone mangrove.

So you can see it takes some planning to get these requirements to coincide.

Well they did all coincide for me so after an early start to allow for the one hour drive to Deception Bay, I arrived in the dark with flashlight ready and headed down into the cold waters. At first there was only a trickle of water over the muddy rocks, but the tide rises quickly over the intertidal flats and the tree sits around 80-100 metres from shore, so I mapped out an exit route in case I had to make a quick retreat. The sky was perfect – a grey storm front was approaching from the south-east, so no colours around at sunrise but I knew I wouldn’t have long before the rains hit.

I wanted to shoot the scene as a panorama, so worked out my two positions on the rail. I also wanted to capture the scene with a long exposure to smooth out the few ripples in the water. There was hardly any breeze about so the long exposure wouldn’t cause any serious blurring of the tree’s foliage.

Shooting in the dark like this, it really pays to know your camera and which f-stop is going to give the right exposure time in the available light. When capturing multiple exposures for a panorama, you want them to be well balanced and matched, and as the light is changing by the second at first light, you have to work quickly to achieve this. You can get fairly close to the tree so a wide angle lens is ideal.  I use a medium-format camera and captured the two exposures with a 35mm lens which is my widest – it’s equivalent to 28mm on a full-frame dSLR camera (remember though a medium-format sensor has around 30% more real estate than a full-frame dSLR sensor). I print large and wanted a big print, hence the panorama, but it can be shot as a single image with a wide angle lens.

Tide is coming in, clouds and rain are approaching and the sky is getting lighter. Staying calm and focused is important – yes, you can sit and breath and do some Yoga, meditate,  listen to the mosquitoes buzzing around your ears,  watch the sunrise and take in your surroundings…but you need to be on the ball because the next suitable combination of tide and weather to shoot this might be six months away.

I was lucky – it all panned out how I had planned it (or at least had hoped for) and that’s all you can do. Weather forecasts are often wrong,  but this one was pretty good. I only got the one panorama that morning but my planning and forethought paid off and I was happy with the result.

Lastly I would like to add that shallow coastal ecosystems like this are very fragile.  Mangroves survive the daily tidal floodings with pencil like air roots so they can breathe oxygen and also excrete the salt from the water when flooded, so care must be taken to not disturb or damage these roots. As an instructor for OSPW , I can take/teach anyone who would like to shoot this and make it easy for you, just follow the links on the website and make your booking with me.

In part 2 of this article, I will describe  the methods I used to process and arrive at the final image.


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The making of Tea Tree Falls

December 10th, 2013 - By One Stop Photo Workshops | Landscape Photography Tips

by Bob Simpson (One Stop Photo Workshops tutor for the Sunshine Coast)

New England National Park, NSW. June 2013

New England National Park, NSW. June 2013

In June this year I spent a few days camping at New England National Park near Armidale in New South Wales. It was only the second time I’d been there, the first being in 2012 when I arrived to a drizzly 4°C in the middle of the day….the temperature did get up to 8°C the next day but not for long! But despite the chilly weather, the variety of great mountain and forest scenery got under my skin and I’d been looking forward to a return visit as soon as I could make the time.

The image above was captured along Tea Tree Creek, not far from Thungutti camp-ground, on my latest visit to New England NP. I’d walked the Tea Tree Creek track before and found the photo opportunities for general creek-scapes somewhat limited. The creek is narrow and overgrown so it can be hard to find compositions that aren’t cluttered with branches and foliage. I’d heard the sounds of this waterfall on my first visit, but it was hidden away from view of the track and there was no obvious way to get down to it, so I bypassed it to look for other options.

This time I was keen to investigate further, so following the sounds of rushing water I headed off into a tangle of shrubs and vines. After skirting around a steep rocky slope I eventually made it down to the creek downstream of the falls. Mossy rocks and slick, wet logs made every footstep treacherous, but after five minutes of slipping and sliding, I reached the base of Tea Tree Falls.

My first good view of the falls was through a tunnel of overhanging trees and fallen logs as you can see in the image above. This immediately looked like an interesting composition, but I decided to explore further and after scrambling over the big log in the foreground, I had a clear view of the four metre high falls and its sandy plunge pool. I found a spot to take off my pack and sat down for a drink and to take in the surroundings.

While it was a special moment to sit quietly and absorb the sights, sounds and smells of these little falls hidden away from the rest of the world, I could see that it would be difficult to find a clean composition that would do the scene justice. The plunge pool was shallow and littered with woody debris from the forest upstream – the sort of thing you’d expect in a natural setting, but also the sort of thing that can look messy in a landscape image. I set up my camera and tripod and framed and captured several compositions, and then headed back to the tunnel-view through the trees.

It took some manoeuvring to find a stable place for my tripod – it had to be set down low to get a clear view of the falls and the legs were perched precariously on a tangle of wet, springy flood debris. There weren’t many options to vary the composition, other than moving forward or back on the same line of sight, and I settled on this one that includes the mossy log in the foreground to frame the falls and put them in the context of their surroundings. Even though it is still a cluttered composition by most standards, the clutter serves the purpose of framing the falls and providing some bold and interesting shapes in the foreground – at least I’m hoping that’s how people see it!

With my zoom lens set at 40mm and f16 for front to back sharpness, and camera set to ISO200, I captured three bracketed shots spaced at two-stop intervals. Even with a cloud cover the falls were much brighter than the heavily-shaded foreground logs and foliage, so later in Photoshop I blended two exposures (0.6 seconds and 2.5 seconds) to produce a more balanced final image.

There is an article about photographing waterfalls on my website – you can read it here.

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Stand and deliver, or wander and create?

November 26th, 2013 - By One Stop Photo Workshops | Landscape Photography Tips

by Bob Simpson (One Stop Photo Workshops tutor for the Sunshine Coast)

I found this composition by torchlight well before sunrise, and tucked it away in my memory while exploring further around the rocks. I headed straight back there to capture this image as sunrise started to unfold.

I found this composition by torchlight well before sunrise, and tucked it away in my memory while exploring further around the rocks. I headed straight back there to capture this image as sunrise started to unfold.

Are you the kind of landscape photographer who finds a composition and then steadfastly sticks with  your choice and waits for the light to do its stuff? Or do you continually move around looking for alternative perspectives on a scene? I’ve seen this issue discussed quite a bit lately on various photography blogs so I thought I’d add my own ten cents worth.

I think it’s fair to say that one of our primary goals as landscape photographers is to capture a view of a scene in a way that resonates with others and hopefully reveals something about the nature of the place we are photographing. Composition plays a key role in achieving this aim….or not! As Ansel Adams put it, “…a good photograph is knowing where to stand…”, and it’s hard to argue with that logic. But how do we decide where to stand and how do we know when we are in the ‘right’ spot?

There aren’t any simple answers to those questions, and for any given scene, there will be many possible answers. It’s a safe bet that if you were to take any two photographers to a new location and ask them to photograph it, they would come up with different results. We all see the world a little differently and that’s a good thing from an artistic perspective – it allows us to develop our own individual styles.

Over the years I’ve observed the different approaches of many photographers when they first front up to photograph a landscape scene. At one end of the spectrum are those who single-mindedly make a bee-line for a particular spot – maybe a flat rock ledge overlooking the ocean or a valley – set up their tripods at a comfortable eye-level and then stick to that spot as though it is the only option that will deliver a result. At the other extreme are those who frantically race around trying to capture the scene from every possible angle and height in the hope that their scatter-gun approach will produce something worthwhile. There is a happy medium lying somewhere between these two extremes and the challenge for the photographer is to decide on the best approach for any given set of circumstances.

Regardless of whether we are photographing a familiar location or a new one, I believe the most productive step we can take on arrival is to put our gear down and spend some time observing what is going on around us. That can mean wandering around the location to get a feel for the landscape elements we have at our disposal – trees, flowers, rocks, water, sky – or just sitting quietly and absorbing our surroundings. It’s about tuning in to nature and it’s something that gets easier with practise – in fact it becomes instinctive the more time we spend in the outdoors.

Chances are, after spending some time getting ‘in the zone’, a number of ideas will have come to mind as to how we could capture the nature of the location in images. There might be one obvious composition that shouts out for attention but there will always be alternatives that show a different side of the location or that will come into play as the light changes. I’ve yet to meet a landscape that could be appropriately or adequately portrayed by a single composition.

There are, however, occasions where there isn’t much choice about where to stand. Some iconic locations have restricted access and the only real option for a photographer is to stand on a viewing platform and capture much the same image as every other photographer that comes along. There’s nothing wrong with chasing these sorts of images but they can limit the capacity to be creative and capture a unique perspective on the scene.

It might be clear by now that I lean towards the ‘wander and create’ approach. Edward Weston summed it up nicely when he said, “…If I wait for something here, I may lose something better over there…”.  Unless you are confident that you can walk up to a scene and immediately find the definitive composition (if such a thing exists), then it pays to think laterally and experiment with different options. At the same time, every image we choose to create is worthy of our full attention to detail, and it makes no sense to take shortcuts or rush things just so we can move on to the next image. It takes a little time to carefully consider and frame a composition and to choose appropriate camera and lens settings, but it is time well spent if it means we don’t make silly mistakes.

Perhaps the best bit of advice I’ve heard on how to approach a landscape shoot is to arrive with no preconceptions and let the landscape tell you how it wants to be photographed. It is still worthwhile doing some research on a location beforehand to get an overview of likely conditions and potential photographic options, but many of our best images come from a spontaneous reaction to the conditions at the time – the way the light is shining through the leaves of an overhanging tree,  or the colours of sunrise reflecting off wet rocks on a beach. Approach each shoot with an open and eager mind and the world will reveal itself to you.

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7 essential pieces of equipment you may not have thought of

November 13th, 2013 - By One Stop Photo Workshops | Landscape Photography Tips

By Mel Sinclair (One Stop Photo Workshops tutor for Brisbane)

Water makes a great subject in landscape images but it doesn’t play nicely with the electronic circuitry in our cameras! Some way of keeping everything dry is a must for outdoor photographers.

Years ago when I started out, I thought I had everything I needed. A camera, a lens, a computer. I was set, ready and rearing to go like a drag racer at the starting line! Little did I know that there’s so much more to it than that. Safety while out and about, for yourself and your expensive camera gear, is paramount. So with that in mind, here are a few things that every landscape photographer, whether amateur or professional, should have.

While some of these may seem like common-sense, I’ve come to learn a thing or two about this and the fact that it’s not too common any more! All of us at One Stop Photo Workshops want to make sure you’re safe on location, whether you’re shooting with us or alone, so these items should be a staple in your kit.

1. Headtorch
Not just any torch, but the kind that’s mounted to your head. Why? Because this is the hands-free version. Imagine you’re in a new location, somewhere you’ve never been. You’ll have no idea of what’s on the ground – tree stumps, electric fences, slippery rocks, cliffs… you need to be able to see where you’re going and what you’re doing. A standard torch won’t cut it, you’ll need your hands free for navigation and negotiating anything that comes your way.

2. Appropriate footwear
Hiking boots, gumboots, work boots, joggers. I highly recommend some kind of closed-toe footwear for landscape shooting. Once again, you don’t know what’s in the grass or in the water. The last thing you want is to be bitten by something and be out of mobile range.

3. First-aid kit
Whether it’s in your car or in your bag, always be prepared. A simple first-aid kit can be bought from most large supermarkets and specialty shops. There’s no excuse not to have one. You should add to this with your chosen painkiller and antihistamine.

4. A reliable mobile phone
Don’t take this for granted. I left a cheaper carrier to side with Telstra, the nominated national-carrier. The advantage of this is coverage in remote and regional places. Sure the plans can be a bit more expensive, but the money is nothing compared to the ability to be able to check maps on the run, calculate exposure times with an app, or call for emergency help should it be needed. Also being contactable by loved ones stops the anxiety of where you are and what you’re doing.

5. Paintbrush
I forecast strange looks at this one. Doesn’t matter what size, any of those cheap coarse-bristle ones will do. What’s it for? Dust removal. Your rocketblower might be too bulky for daytrips and you may only have one microfiber cloth for cleaning your filters and optics. Dust storm, sandstorm, unexpected pollutants in the air or dropping onto your gear. To quickly clean away dry substances and continue shooting (remember, one speck of sand can kill your dSLR), grab your brush, make sure its dry, and flick off any offending particles. DO NOT however, apply this to your camera’s mirror or sensor in the field. This is for external use on cameras and lenses only.

6. Plastic bags
They’re everywhere, they come with nearly every purchase. Store one or two in your bag for emergency situations. Scrunch them up small and stash them in spare pockets or as protection for accessories. Protect your smartphone, keys, even your camera for an unexpected rain shower, dust storm, soft-drink spillage… the uses are unlimited. If you can’t afford a raincover, go to Ikea and buy the boxes of large 4.5 and 6L dual ziplocks. They should be enough to make impromptu covers. Wet shoes after shooting by the sea? Hello bag!

7. Gaffa / electrical tape
So many uses the mind boggles! Seals breaking and need to cover a port? Broken filter holder? Broken shoe? Want to secure your remote to the tripod? Keep a small roll of electrical tape in your bag for all those times you need to tether something to something else. I once lost the battery cover to my remote shutter release and the batteries wouldn’t stay in place…until I taped them in. The remote stayed like that until its death a few months ago, and it lasted years.

So it may seem like I’m a bit of a walking hardware shop at times, but you really can’t afford to have unexpected and unfortunate happenings ruin a shoot. Inexpensive and small, think about all the little things that can make your experiences all the better :)

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The making of a landscape image – Floating Crumbs

October 29th, 2013 - By One Stop Photo Workshops | Landscape Photography Tips

By Mel Sinclair (One Stop Photo Workshops tutor for Brisbane)

Jokulsarlon, Iceland, September 14 2012

Jokulsarlon, Iceland, September 14 2012

“How lucky are you right now?” my alter ego spoke to me in disbelief.

“Seriously! Shake your head, bat your eyelids, yes kiddo, this is real, you are really standing at the edge of a glacial lagoon on the other side of the world!”

There has to be something said for consciousness when, as a landscape photographer, you’re standing in front of a scene like this. A little over a year ago, I was standing at the foot of the 25km-round Jokulsarlon lagoon in southern Iceland at sunrise. I was 15,873km from home and 11 days into a 21-day trip of a lifetime.

Let me take you back to this morning. Despite it being ‘autumn’ in Iceland, it was remarkably cold for a Queenslander such as myself! Average daily maximum was about 10 degrees, colder with wind chill. Sunrise took, on average, about an hour or two to complete – it was slow and graceful like a ballerina, with the colours and flare to match. The beauty was a welcome distraction from the fact that, despite my 3-4 layers of clothing, I still could not feel my hands or toes. Thank goodness for remote releases!

Depending on the month, in Iceland the sun never sets. In September however, we had “normal” (as defined by Australian sunrise/sunset times for winter) sunrise times, but they lasted longer due to the country’s proximity to the Arctic Circle. We had about a 2-3 hour sunrise, with the best of the light happening about an hour into the rise when the sky turned pink and reflected beautifully over the lagoon.

In a location such as this, where you’re the tourist in a far and foreign land, taking as many exposures as possible becomes something of a habit. Bracketing to 3 or 5 stops, depending on the location, was a necessity. Three stops required -1, 0, +1 and 5 stops required -2, -1, 0, +1, +2 to ensure I had accounted for all light situations. Combined with the power of shooting RAW, I have a great depth of choice when it comes to the post-processing.

You don’t have the chance to go back and re-take the shot – all the ice changes day to day. This composition wouldn’t have been there even an hour or two after I took it. That’s the intricate beauty of Jokulsarlon, it’s ever-changing.

So what have I done to this image to get it in its current state?

First things first, in Lightroom I cleaned up any dust bunnies and made sure that the image was straight and the horizon was level. I recovered any outstanding highlights to make sure the image was within acceptable ranges of exposure. I then took it into some third-party plugin software, Nik Viveza 2, where I did spot adjustments to different parts of the image. Typical adjustments are different from what you’d get in Photoshop or even lightroom. A spot adjustment in Nik Viveza 2 is about playing with 10 different sliders: – Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, Structure, Shadow, Warmth, Red, Green, Blue and Hue. Depending on where you drop the point, the effects are different. You can add so much drama to a scene, but beware of the noise! I’d love to show you one day the dramatic difference that this program can make to an image!

I love the things I am capable of doing in the Nik suite, and count it as a must-have for any serious landscape photographer. Because this was an individual adjustment, there is no hard-and-fast recipe. It relies on your keen sense of what’s right for an image – and yes, you can go overboard, it’s up to you ;)

For me, Iceland was the trip that changed my photography. It changed me for the better, it (seemed) to put me on the map. I learnt so much about myself and my style of image taking in those 3 weeks. It was a trip that didn’t come cheaply, but it was worth every cent after all.

It took 3 days of flying to get there. I had 20 days on the ground with fellow photographer and friend, Josh Robertson.

Be guaranteed that I’m going back in 2014. Bigger, better, and well equipped.

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