Saturday, 11 January 2014

It's behind you!!

A Moment Of Colour (asp100-4952)
A brief splash of colour on an otherwise very grey morning.
It's quite apt that I should choose this image for my next post as I'm typing in the height of pantomime season - but more of that later!
While landscape photography is a solitary pursuit in the main, it's always nice to head out for a shoot with friends. 2013 seems to have been a hectic year for myself and my usual photography buddies and we haven't had many joint outings this year - in fact, we haven't had that many solo outings either! Guess what one of my New Year Resolutions is?!
Now, to some of my non-photographic friends this seems an alien concept. They seem to think that I'm colluding with "the enemy" and don't understand why we would want to venture out together when we're all vying to make the final step from semi to full-time pro photographer. But, put three of us in a line with tripods virtually touching and you'll still see three quite different resulting images as we all impose our own style. That always sounds quite grand, and almost pretentious, to me, but it's true, we would all put a very different spin on the same location and moment in time. For example, one friend would look for the classic composition hidden in the scene, another would massively exaggerate the perspective and aim to distort time while I would probably shoot vertically and emphasise the foreground so you would almost feel your toes at the base of the frame.
Also the fact that I run workshops through the year teaching other people how to take better photos makes them think I'm training up the competition but then I'm fully aware that photography needs a lot of thought and input to make a success of it, and an afternoon or two of training, even with the best pro in the world, will only make you a more thoughtful and considered photographer and not an overnight professional.
The part that always makes me chuckle though is how secretive people will be about locations. If you look at my followers and friends on Twitter, Flickr and Facebook, the majority are photographers. No surprise really, but what does amuse me is a nice image pops up online and usually one of the first three questions is "where is this" which is usually followed by some squirming and question avoidance by the captor of the image as they try not to give the location away. Personally, I'm not that bothered about revealing locations. I started making a lot of images at one particular location in the New Forest and couldn't help but notice the plethora of other images of the same venue that started coming online not long after. Were these new images down to me? The first four visits to this particular location I was on my own all morning; the latest visit I was in the presence of about eight photographers all hustling and bustling to get "the angle". I just grinned, bade them all a good morning and carried on to see what I could conjure up around the next bend in the track. Now, this rise in popularity could partly be down to me, it may not, but if I was really worried about revealing the location I wouldn't have used the word "Mogshade" in any of the image titles from my first shoot!
Which brings me back to me featured image, "A Moment Of Colour" - and before you ask, it's near Ellingham, just off the A31 running though the heart of the New Forest. As I mentioned before, a friend is an exaggerator of perspective and stretcher of time, and he had seen an image of mine of a dead tree with a lovely shape. This dead tree is also all on its own in a great big clearing, so quite easy to isolate. We decided to visit the venue together a) because we hadn't seen each other for ages and b) so I could show him where the tree is.
With busy schedules, we finally fitted a morning in and arrived in plenty of time before sunrise. Unfortunately, the forecast appeared to be letting us down and the promised light cloud that could light up with the rising sun was quite thick and grey. Undeterred, we threw bags on our backs, switched on headlamps and headed off into the forest.
Once at the dead tree we recce'd our options and consulted the Photographer's Ephemeris to make sure we were pointing in the right direction and how long we had before sunrise etc. The sky seemed even greyer, and a colourful sunrise was not going to happen so we went off in search of other possibilities around us. While my friend kept going back to the dead tree to try different angles and perspectives, I ventured off in other directions looking for other trees and subjects that might be useful on other days in better conditions.
As I turned a corner and headed off in a new direction, I saw a patch of blue had appeared in the sky - at last! The clouds were moving quite nicely, and the patch of blue was drifting along almost teasing me. I needed a composition and quickly!
As I turned to head back to my gear, I spotted the Scott's Pine pictured here and liked the colourful foreground so started looking for angles and composition options that I might be able to use. Looking around, I found the almost pyramid shaped patch of more orange coloured heather, which I thought could be used as foreground interest with the angled edges acting as lead-in lines to draw the viewer up and into the image.
Foreground? Check.
Distant nicely shaped tree? Check.
No discarded crisp packets or empty Coke cans? Check.
Blue sky / white cloud combo? No, not yet.
Turning back to where the blue patch had been, I caught sight of my buddy again, this time lying prone in the grass using a telephoto lens to presumably shorten perspective and isolate the dead tree more from the distant backdrop. Thankfully, my patch of blue was getting bigger and still heading in the right direction.
The foreground / sky lighting difference was negligible due to the grey blanket, but I opted for my 0.6 ND Grad filter in the knowledge that the patch of blue would make a bigger difference, and I wanted to enhance the foreground colour. To minimise movement in the image, I opened my aperture a full stop to halve the suggested shutter speed and I was ready to shoot. The blue patch passed behind my chosen tree - click - I had an image. I tried another composition, but the blue had already passed by and the sky was returning to grey.
From spotting the blue patch to capturing the image had probably been no more than two minutes - and a good reminder why I teach the importance of knowing your camera inside out. I instinctively know which dials to turn to change settings so I didn't need to take my eye from the viewfinder in case I missed the "moment".
Meeting up with my photographic buddy again, he was completely oblivious to the colour with only mono images on his memory card and was wondering where I'd got the colour from. As I said earlier, you can take multiple photographers to the same location but they'll come away with quite different images!
Exposure information: 1/6 sec @ f/8, ISO100
Filters used: 0.6 / 2-stop Neutral Density Graduated Filter.
Post processing: RAW file processed in Lightroom with small Contrast boost.
Prints of my images are available from my website.
All images are protected by Copyright Laws for Andrew Stevens Photography.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Rain, rain, go away...

Bratley View (asp100-1951)
Bratley View in full colour
After all the recent horrid weather we’ve been experiencing in the UK, we have finally passed a milestone moment. The annual shortest day of December 21st is now behind us, and summer is well and truly on its way!!
Ok, that seems quite an optimistic statement looking out the window at the quickly gathering storm clouds and darkening skies, but the days are lengthening by a few minutes each day and we’re now a few days into the New Year.
Which reminds me, Happy New Year to you all! I hope 2014 is good for you.
While stormy weather can bring dramatic lighting, and some of my best-selling images were shot in or just after rainfall, I’m sure we all prefer to shoot in the more pleasant conditions of the summer months – or the later summer months when colour palettes warm up and landscapes look ever-more appealing. Even in the summer, when shooting around sunrise as in the featured image here of Bratley View in the New Forest, coats and woolly hats are often required as it can get quite chilly standing around for ages before the sun rises – but it’s only a temporary thing and layers can soon be shed. But then again, I feel fairly naked photographing without my woolly hat regardless of time of day or month of the year!
Looking back at the featured image, despite the tell-tale late summer signs like the warm coloured heather and bracken in the foreground and distant temperature inversion so common during warm days and cool nights, this was taken the day after a period of torrential rain had passed. For several days before, we had all been cowering in our homes trying desperately not to have to go outside and get a soaking.
You can imagine the look on my wife’s face when I said “I think I’ll go and get some sunrise photos in the morning”. Don’t worry, I was also questioning my sanity at this point as I cleaned filters and charged batteries while trying to ignore the rain thundering against the window pane beside me. but, as usual, I had been obsessing over various weather forecasts and the weather front appeared to pass over in the early hours followed by clear skies and then a drop in visibility around sunrise - so pink skies and mist were on the cards.
Thankfully, as my alarm rang and I dragged myself out of bed just after 4am, the Met Office had got it right and the sound of rain had disappeared and there was calm all around. Now despite how much I enjoy shooting a sunrise, there is still a split-second sigh when I realise I do have to actually get up and head out into the world and can’t crawl back under my lovely warm duvet.
If you have read my posts before, you will know that I try to minimise my honey-pot location photography. Each honey-pot becomes famous for good reason, normally some fantastic image from a world-famous photographer which many try to emulate, but I generally try to shoot other views around these well-known subjects. This tree has been photographed thousands of times and the only “problem” with Bratley View is this great old tree is virtually in the car park! I had headed to Bratley with the intention of parking there and wandering the couple of hundred yards to Mogshade to capture colourful skies reflected in the still water.
As I changed my shoes for welly boots, pulled my hat down firmly and zipped my jacket up, I could see this image appearing out of the corner of my eye. Even as I walked away from the car park towards Mogshade, I kept looking back over my shoulder at the unfolding landscape image. It was no good, after a couple of reflections I had to turn back and set myself up for this shot.
For those of you who have never ventured out to Bratley View, there really aren’t that many compositions you can make of this tree. If the New Forest workers could kindly carry out some “controlled burning” (where they encourage new bracken and gorse growth by deliberately razing sections to the ground) then more compositions will open up (you can see the edge of the huge gorse bush to the right which we landscape photographers could quite honestly do without).
On arrival back at the tree, the foreground was more colourful than the sky, so the horizon compositional decision was made and I always prefer a tree to lean “in” to the frame rather than “out” so the point-of-interest compositional decision was also made. Now to find the right heather and bracken to offer contrasting colours as well as upright structure all contained within the immediate foreground frame to lead your eye up through the image.
The distant mist (or the temperature inversion I mentioned earlier) helped separate the Scott’s pine from the background, so it was just a matter of waiting for the clouds to move over a little to offer wider colour coverage to the sky. This probably took no more than ten minutes to realise, although it seemed an eternity as I fretted over all the colour disappearing from the sky before I had chance to trip the shutter.
During these few minutes, and don’t forget this is before 6am, I was quite surprised how many cars swung into the car park, cameras were pointed out of half open windows and cars roared off again like I was witnessing some kind of photographic treasure hunt. “Ok, I’ve got the colourful sunrise, now on to get the deer portrait” thoughts were passing through my mind as I visualised passengers ticking off a “to do” list. The odd person actually got out of their car and stood tall before shooting, but nobody really considered compositions or looked around them for a better vantage point – or came anywhere near the tree! Having walked the 10 metres to where they all seem to be stopping and shooting from, all I could see was a big patch of gravel car park and some pink sky. I stood there with the same bemused look on my face they had been using when looking at a sole photographer stood on a bank staring at the clouds with his camera looking in a different direction with a big tree in the way…
I could say the difference between them and me is I’m trying to make money and they were just capturing the “moment”. But then, I do my photography for the enjoyment factor and try to capture the best image possible at that particular time – or the best “moment”. The fact that people like my work enough to buy prints or hire my time for photography lessons is a huge compliment and bonus.
So, with summer on its way we can all look forward to the green shoots of spring and warm colours of summer heading our way. But then again, remembering this image was taken after a long spell of rain – and the forecast for Saturday looks to brighten after a storm on Friday and overnight rain. Perhaps the winter isn’t so bad after all and I need to look at potential weekend venues!
Exposure information: 1 second @ f/11, ISO100
Filters used: 0.9 Neutral Density Graduated
Post processing: RAW file processed in Lightroom with +10 Shadows lift.
Prints of my images are available from my website.
All images are protected by Copyright laws for Andrew Stevens Photography 2014.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Wait for it, wait for it...

The receding surf at dusk, Hengistbury Head
On a recent workshop, I had a (small) Eureka moment!
Henri Cartier-Bresson called it "The Decisive Moment" while Charlie Waite describes being in "the presence of some wonderful alignment of events". To me, this particular Eureka moment (a minute or two after the image above was taken) suddenly made perfect sense of these statements and made me realise that some photographers have "it" - whatever "it" might be.
Having led five budding photographers on a very enjoyable coastal workshop, we were spending the last few minutes of daylight capturing some final images. Having spent time through the workshop discussing and shooting lead-in lines and foreground interest, the question came up as to how would I suggest capturing the beach with just the sea and no foreground rocks, groynes or other objects.
With the sun about to set, I was hoping for some reflected colour in the surf at my feet - but the surf looked a little flat. Time for some manipulation - but I'm referring to physical manipulation and not the digital darkroom kind (if you don't know my normal working style, any more than a minute of post processing is deemed a re-shoot required). Some chunky pebbles tossed into the sand provided disturbance to the surf as it turned and drew back out to sea. This seemed to work well and added some streaks and definition to the immediate foreground that would help lift the viewer's gaze up into the image. I was too far away though and this new texture and interest needed to be nearer - time to get wet feet. Heading further into the surf, I pushed the tripod legs firmly into the sand in the hope that my camera wouldn't try a cross channel swim.
So, I had a brooding sky, some interesting surf and a sun about to set any minute. I wanted to exaggerate the brooding sky and lift the light on the surf a little, so slid the 0.6 (2-stop) Neutral Density Graduated filter out and replaced it with my 0.9 (3-stop). I virtually always use mirror lock-up to minimise the vibrations through the camera body during capture. But when you need precise timing, and have waves lapping around the tripod legs, you can afford to turn the lock-up off.
Ok, time to capture the image. Having preached the benefits of aperture f/11 all afternoon, it was time to drop to f/22 to a) lengthen the shutter a little to add movement to the water and b) to make use of the diffraction often found at such a small aperture and hopefully capture a starburst around the setting sun.
Focused, composed and poised for action, all I had to do was wait for a wave to come right in past the limits of my viewfinder, let it turn and start to recede, count to two and hit the shutter. And by the way, this sequence had been perfected during the half dozen frames shot before capturing this image! Finally, the "right" wave came in, I watched it all the way in through the viewfinder, felt my ankles get wet, waited for the wave to turn and start to recede, Job done!
Now back to the Eureka moment. Having talked about what I was doing, and captured a pleasing image, it was time for my guests to do the same. Straight away, the difference in our positions was noticed; I was at the water's edge (if not ankle-deep at times) while my guests were a few yards back on dry sand. Having advanced to the water's edge and composed the view, it was then time to capture the image. Having talked through the capture process, I noticed the eagerness of my photographers to press the shutter and get a shot - too early, the wave was feet away from the bottom of the frame and no blur or lead-ins.
Next wave: "wait for it to turn and start to recede before shooting". Here comes the wave close to the tripod... click. Too early again and static water captured at our feet.
Third wave: "ok, wait for me to say when".
Too early again. Better, but still no dynamic water.
This is when my Eureka hit me. We can all have top quality cameras and lenses, and lets face it, there aren't many bad cameras out there these days. We can all learn the capture process and understand aperture settings and their effect on sharpness, light captured and the relation to shutter speed and ISO. I could go on, but the vital element we don't seem to all be able to grasp, is "it".
At the start of this post I wasn't 100% sure what "it" was. Having typed away for a while, I can only think that "it" is timing. My guests captured some decent images, and I'm pretty pleased with mine and the only real difference was I waited for the "right" moment before tripping the shutter.
I'm never going to rival Henri's street photography or Charlie's landscapes, but that is putting me on the right tracks.
Exposure information: 0.6 sec at f/22, ISO100
Filters used: 0.9 Neutral Density Grad filter.
Post processing: RAW file histogram tweaked slightly in Lightroom, exported as TIFF and inspected at 100% for filter spots (sea spray etc.)
Prints of my images are available from my website.
All images are protected by Copyright laws for Andrew Stevens Photography 2014.