Would you like to improve your travel photography? Ever wondered why professional photographer's images look so very amazing, and when you visit the same location, you don't get that 'wow' factor? Pro-photographers, have a few tricks up their sleeves. We'll show you how to make your pictures awesome.
Do you ever look at your images and wonder why they just don’t have the ‘pop’ that you see on other people’s shots. There are many reasons that this could be, but we have found that the main one is down to processing. We would like to show you some of our before and after photographs of the steam train we shot in South Africa. If you haven’t read the article yet, click here for these images and more.
But I don’t want to manipulate my photographs
We hear this all the time. “I don’t manipulate my images”, “I only show the ‘truth’”, “What I saw is what I show you” or even “My shots reflect reality”. Let us look at what it is to ‘manipulate’ or ‘process’ photographs.
A photograph is all about using light from a scene and translating it onto a flat surface. This could be a print or on a digital device. Just the act of taking a photograph means you put your own slant on the image. You decide what to include and what to exclude. You change your camera settings and some things are darker and some things are extremely bright as the camera doesn’t have the same range of sensitivity that the human eye has. These things are, of course, a form of image manipulation.
Using dodging and burning as well as all the other options in Raw are just ways of getting the image to look how you envisaged it. Even one of the great photographer masters, Ansel Adams used a lot of image manipulation.
Black and white beach photography can be a really cathartic experience. Standing on the rocks hearing the crash of waves, feeling slight spray whilst watching the sun come down, can help the day’s worries just evaporate! After this blissful experience, you get home hoping for some gorgeous black and white masterpieces that you envisaged, but sometimes you end up with grey, lifeless images.
Let us show you 5 techniques that we use to get around this problem, when doing black and white beach photography. These will ensure that every time you go down to the sea, you will come back with unique photographs to be proud of.
During our recent trip to Cape Town, South Africa, Ally and I took a day trip to a tiny beach called Slangkop. (This means Snake Head in Afrikaans.) If you’re looking to go there, it is right next to a small village called Kommetjie. There is a beautiful old lighthouse there that dates back to 1919. This 33m high round cast iron tower looks so interesting from a distance that we hoped to get some amazing images of the area. We arrived mid afternoon and stayed until just after sunset. As you will see from the images in this article, the lighthouse was probably the least interesting thing to photograph, mainly because it closes at 3pm and is surrounded by a huge ugly electrified and barbed wire fence.
Why use black and white photography
One of the joys of photographing along the shoreline are the subtle colours one gets from the turquoise of the sea to the orange of the setting sun reflected off of rocks to the pale tan sand. It’s a watercolour painter’s dream, so why would we want to give up these amazing subtleties for a black and white image? There are a number of reasons, but the main ones we find are it forces you to look at the shapes of your scene and we end up with much better compositions.
Black and white can give you incredible dramatic images that any colour can dilute.
Everybody has taken photographs of the beach. Sofor your images to stand out you need to present them with something that’s not been seen hundreds of times before. Black and white photography will do this.
The 5 top techniques we use
1: Photography in the Golden Hour
The golden hour is the hour before sunset and after sunrise. It gives colour photographs a beautiful soft warm colour cast that is really desirable but what does it do for black and white photography? Well, we love shooting in the golden hour because the lighting gives objects a wonderful 3D feel with long and dark shadows. All the textures on rocks just come to life and even sand takes on a new textured look.
2: Silhouettes and contre-jour lighting
Of course the golden hour is perfect for photographing contre-jour. For a more in-depth look at contre-jour look at our article here. By photographing into the sun you will find the scene take on new and interesting shapes as the light just touches the rim of objects, throwing the rest of the object into darkness. With large areas of darkness you can create mystery in your images as it leaves the viewer’s brain to fill in the details. Be careful with the extreme lighting as it’s really easy to totally blow out (lose all detail) in your highlights. If you’re photographing in an auto mode be careful as your camera could be lying to you by giving you the wrong exposure. Exposure compensation is your best friend in these situations.
There are so many interesting things on the beach to photograph and some of them take on a totally different look and feel when photographed as a silhouette. The stacked rocks have almost an alien world feel to them.
3: Details, details, details
The shoreline is like a fractal. The more closely you look, the more detail you see. Worlds within worlds. So why just photograph the big world everybody else is doing. Look at the details and sometimes some of the most interesting landscapes can be found there. Rocks and sand have so many beautiful textures on them but our favourite textures are to be found on old metal. When doing texture photography we look for old rusted structures wherever we go as they always give wonderful detailed images.
4: Polarising the light and filters
One of the must have filters for any outdoor photography is a polarising filter. A polariser will do so many things to both colour as well as black and white images. For our black and white beach photography we use it mostly to darken the sky. However it is also very useful for getting rid of reflections.
Slangkop lighthouse with a dark sky created by the polarising filter
The other filters we use in beach or any landscape photography are red or orange filters. This filter also darkens the sky (black and white photography only). We always have a UV filter on our lens to protect it as well. The protection is not just about damage either. Sea spray on your lens will degrade the contrast of the image and its so much easier to swap to a clean filter halfway through your shooting rather than trying to clean a lens in sandy sea spray conditions.
Be wary however of ‘stacking’ multiple filters on your lens. Unless they are the very expensive multi-coated variety, you will lose quality especially when photographing contre-jour. With wide-angle lenses you will also be adding a vignetting effect.
5: Neutral Density Filters for misty movement
Another technique is to use a long exposure to get a misty water movement. An ND filter will cut the light coming through your lens allowing you to do really long exposures that give the water a misty ethereal effect.
Don’t forget to use a stable tripod for these long exposures. Even the smallest bit of wind can cause subtle movement and ruin an otherwise perfect image. Usually, we try to put the tripod on rocks or really hard compacted sand to keep it totally steady.
If you are using film be aware of your exposure and reciprocity law failure and compensate accordingly. Depending on your exposure time you might even end up doubling the length of exposure to compensate. If you are not aware of reciprocity law then just bracket your exposures like mad.
Extra techniques – safety for you and your camera
The coastline and your camera don’t mix very well. Salty sea-spray will corrode your pride and joy so very quickly. Keep it out of the spray or sea mist as much as possible. This might mean keeping it in a bag when you’re not shooting or, if the spray is really fierce then put a clear plastic bag over it. (The ones you get for keeping food in work well.) Just cut a hole for the lens.
Be aware of changing lenses in areas where sand is blowing around. Once again sand and sensors don’t play well together.
Be aware of your surroundings. When we were photographing at Slangkop, I was so busy with an image that I didn’t see a very shifty looking person hovering around eyeing our stuff. Fortunately Ally was there, and some locals arrived too, so he scuttled off but if I was on my own things could have been very different.
Extra techniques – what settings should I use for best beach photography
We are doing a whole series on aperture, shutter and exposure compensation articles in this blog but the main thing about beach photography is that your camera can be fooled very easily. The bright sand and reflections off the sea make the camera think that there is more light than there really is so your images can turn out slightly underexposed. If in doubt, bracket a lot.
370,000 miles of unique possibilities
Around our planet there’s approximately 370,000 miles of coastline from stunning long sandy beaches to ragged cliffs. There is just so much variety and so many options to create unique and exciting images. Be safe, look for the less obvious and craft your own black and white beach photography and masterpieces every time.
How to photograph steam trains to get great images
To paraphrase Mr Toad. “There is nothing quite so awesome as messing around in steam.” We love steam trains. Old, new, big, small – we don’t care. To be perfectly honest we don’t even know much about trains. We just know that these huge steam breathing, snarling and grunting creatures, that have a life of their own, make stunning photographs. In this article we’d like to share a few tips on how to photograph steam trains to get great images. (Of course we love all things steam – see our Steam, Smoke and Noise post.)
When we first started photographing steam trains we were rather disappointed with our results. The incredible steam beast that was so full of life on the track had been reduced to a dull, lifeless, public transport vehicle. We see the same issue in so many photographers’ images. We would like to show you how we tackled the problems, to create images that do these beautiful machines, and their keepers, justice.
Find your unique angle
What do you want your image to say about the train? For us it is showing the engine as a living entity, so we look for angles that are unusual but still show the train as living and breathing. We spend a lot of time with the engine at the station wandering around getting all sorts of angles. When we photograph moving trains we tend to scout the area for an interesting (sympathetic to the type of train) background first and then look for our position to photograph from. We tend to treat moving steam train images like a landscape photograph. If you can remove the train from the scene and still have a stunning shot then you’re onto a winner.
When thinking about how to photograph steam trains, one of the things we always advise, is to look for angles that not everyone else does. Go high, go low, go inside, put your camera under the train if it’s not moving and safe to do so. Just don’t be boring.
The decisive moment
As the train is not moving for most of our images we try to show the movement by including steam as much as possible. While the train is waiting in the station we usually are able to create images with a small amount of steam; however the perfect steam comes just as the train starts to move. Clouds of steam and smoke billow out. This has 3 functions. Firstly it gives the train ‘life’. Secondly it hides distracting background details (cars in the carpark, hoarding board advertising etc) and lastly it gives the image a wonderful impressionist look with swirling clouds of white and the front of the engine emerging from it. You can also try panning to capture the movement.
Details, details, details
A steam train is filled with interesting details but don’t get so carried way that you forget your composition. Sometimes it can be helpful to look at the details through your camera but un-focus the camera so you just see the blurry shapes. This helps to concentrate your brain on the relationship between shapes and you will fin your composition improves. If you have an auto-focus lens you can usually switch to manual focus to do this. If you can’t then just focus on something far away and don’t touch the focus button until you’re ready to shoot.
Ask and you might receive
People who run steam trains are usually very proud of their engines, and rightly so as they put a lot of work into them. If you ask politely they are often willing to let you photograph areas of the train that the public don’t normally get to see. Remember not to get in the way and send them some images afterwards.
One of the issues with trains in bright sunny conditions is the high contrast in the scene. We tend to expose for the highlights most of the time as the shadow detail is easier to retrieve in developing in Lightroom or Photoshop Raw converters.
Leaving your camera set to auto is great if you are constantly switching from sun to shade and don’t have time to check the exposure as you could miss an important image. However if you do this be careful that the camera isn’t being fooled and over- or under-exposing. Ally always shoots on manual. I (Tim) occasionally shoot aperture priority but if I do I always keep an eye on my exposure and use the exposure compensation button if I need it.
Develop your images to create your vision
Don’t forget that a large part of the image creation process is developing your images. Were not talking about just taking the image and converting it from Raw to jpg. We’re talking about getting your image back to how you envisaged it when you shot it.
In the raw file converter:
Correct your exposure. Make it look like you saw it.
Sort out your colour (white) balance. ‘Correct’ is not always ‘right’. Make it look like you envisaged it. Warm it up, cool it down. Whatever works for your image.
Increase or decrease the vibrance / saturation as needed.
All the above are done to movies. This is called Colour Grading. Different movies have different ‘looks’ to complement the scenes for example The Matrix series had a very green tinge. Some movies very contrasty or orange. Nothing is right or wrong.
Once you have created your ‘vision’ with the basic settings, save it as a preset so you can use it on the other images in that set. Most developing software, be it Photoshop Raw file converter, Affinity Photo, Lightroom or other has the ability to save and reuse Raw settings.
On an individual image basis go in and use the adjustment tools on the image to dodge, burn, increase or decrease contrast and vibrancy. Remember all the great photographers used dodge and burn techniques. From Ansel Adams’ landscapes through to Dorothea Lang’s migrant worker images.
When you are learning about how to photograph steam trains, filters can be a great help. If you are having trouble with the contrast between the sky and the dark of the train details, try adding a graduated ND filter.
To get rid of reflections and increase the saturation in vegetation try using a polarising filter.
As always the most important part of the whole process is to thoroughly enjoy your photography.
About the Umgeni Steam Railway (Inchanga Choo Choo)
All of the images you see in this article were photographed in South Africa in KwaZulu-Natal at the Kloof railway station. The train that runs here is the Inchanga Choo Choo that is part of the Umgeni Steam Railway (USR). The USR is a volunteer run organisation dedicated to preserving these railways in South Africa. The Inchanga Choo Choo runs on the last Sunday of every month generally. It is a lovely ride from Kloof to Inchanga (a tiny village approx half an hour’s ride away). It has a craft market at Inchanga and people often take a picnic. It’s a perfect way to experience the atmosphere of a traditional steam locomotive. It is a favourite of young and old alike. Tickets sell out fast in advance!
Many thanks to the Inchanga staff, particularly to Andre the driver, for allowing us to photograph inside the engine cab. We apologise to both the fireman and engineer, in whose way we inadvertently got in. For an awesome photographic experience we cannot recommend this highly enough
What is aperture – why it is important to travel photography
Aperture is one of the ways we control how much light gets to the film or sensor but it is is just so much more useful than that. In this article we will look at how it affects the image in so many other ways. Of course, aperture also enables lots of creative ideas to be realised. Come with us on an enjoyable journey down the exposure rabbit hole while we explain what aperture is, and how you can change your camera settings to create exceptional travel images.
The basics of aperture
The hole that changes size
Aperture is the hole in the lens that gets bigger and smaller depending on your settings. The bigger the hole, the more light that comes through onto the film or sensor. The hole can get bigger or smaller because it is made up of a number of blades.
Wide aperture means the hole is big (more light enters).
Small aperture means the hole is small (less light enters).
Different lenses have different numbers of blades. Some are straight and some are curved.
The number of blades (and if they are straight or curved) will affect how the out of focus areas look. The quality of the out of focus area is known a bokeh.
What are f-stops?
The light that comes through the aperture is measured in f-stops. Each full f-stop is double (or half) the light of the next stop. So f.5.6 allows double the light through than f8. f16 allows half the light of f11.
The lenses are usually advertised with the maximum aperture value so for example you might have a zoom lens that says 24mm-70mm f4 – f4 being the widest aperture of that lens. The bigger the maximum aperture, the more light can come in and the lower light you are able to photograph in. Of course larger maximum apertures come at a price. A wide aperture lens is usually heavier and more expensive than a smaller aperture.
All lenses are different but this lens shows the f-stop of 2. The number after that is the lenses focal length.
If you want really sharp images, shoot in the f5.6 to f11 range. Not to get too technical but less expensive lenses are corrected for sharpness better in the middle than at the edges. So why not shoot with very small apertures? Well the light is diffracted by the edge of the aperture blades causing the image to be less sharp.
A prime lens (not zoom) will usually be sharper than a zoom lens.
What is the difference between a “pro” lens and the kit lens that came with my camera body. Is it the aperture?
Generally yes. The aperture is usually wider on the pro lens.
Other factors also affect come into play.
The kit lens is often made of plastic, whereas the professional lens needs to take a beating and so is usually made of metal.
The more expensive pro lens probably has better correction for colour fringing – chromatic aberration.
While the kit lens that comes with the camera usually has very good middle sharpness at most apertures, the images are not so sharp in the corners and especially so at wider apertures.
Aperture can be controlled from either the lens or in the camera
Aperture also affects focus
The wider the aperture you use, the narrower the depth of field. This means that out of focus areas will be more out of focus which allows you to isolate subjects away from their background
The smaller the aperture, the greater the depth of field
As a gross generalisation, people photography works well with wide apertures where you want to isolate the person from the background, whereas landscape photography works well with small apertures where you want everything in focus from foreground to infinity.
Drag the slider to see the difference between f4 and f16
For the left image of Ally, I used a larger aperture f4. Doing this ensured that the background is thrown totally out of focus.
For the right image I used a small aperture f16 so the background is more in focus and is less visually pleasing.
So how does it work – The Tecky Geeky stuff
This diagram shows how bigger apertures make the out-of-focus areas more blurry
The light comes from the scene, goes through the lens and the wide aperture and focuses to a point on the film or sensor plane.
The light comes from the scene, goes through the lens but is out of focus. The focus point is in front of the film or sensor plane. As the aperture is very big, the out of focus area called the circle of confusion will be big too. Lots of blur.
The light comes from the scene, goes through the lens but is out of focus. The focus point is in front of the film or sensor plane. As the aperture is very small, the out of focus area will be small too. Much less blur.
How does this affect travel photography then?
Lets look at some images
Ally shot this steam train handle glow, with a large or wide aperture (f2.8) to isolate the handle from the details in the steam.
Tim shot the Croatia “hole in the wall” using a small aperture, to get everything in focus from foreground to infinity.
So finally lets break some rules!
Once you are comfortable following the ‘rules’ of aperture it will then be time to break them. Maybe try photographing a wide vista landscape wide open to isolate the horizon or a foreground tree. Try shooting a portrait with a busy background with a small aperture to get all in focus. The more you experiment, the more you will learn so keep trying new techniques.
Aperture seems such a mine-field; however armed with the knowledge we looked at in this article you should be able to improve your technique, and create some awesome photographs.
What is Bokeh and why it is important for travel photography
Bokeh! Got to be one of the weirdest terms in photography It is only beaten by scheimpflug (ability to get your focus plane to any angle you like on a large format camera) and mackie line (helps make your film images sharper by developing the edges more). But more to the point. What is Bokeh and why do we love it.
When looking at lens reviews you might come across the reviewer talking about the ‘buttery soft’, ‘swirly’ or even ‘donut’ bokeh. In this article we’d like to explain about it and why you might need to be interested in it – or not, for your travel photography.
Don’t stress the Bokeh stuff
Bokeh (pronounced BOH kay) is the aesthetic quality of the blur in the out-of-focus areas of your images. The narrower the depth of field (bigger the aperture), the more out of focus areas you get. So Bokeh being an aesthetic quality means that it is subjective and nothing is right or wrong. This is a big relief as it means we don’t have to get bokeh ‘right’, just ‘how we want it’. Phew….
Types of bokeh
Bokeh can be described in all sorts of creative ways so here are some of the more popular adjectives that people use to describe it:
circular or oval
The type of bokeh and the smoothness of it, is a product of the construction of the lens. Both glass and the aperture blades will have an effect on the bokeh. The round look on the previous photograph is down to the blades (10) on the Leica Summicron lens I was using. More blades give you rounder out-of-focus highlights. Round blades will compensate for less blades to give more round highlights.
A mirror lens that uses mirrors rather than glass will give you extreme donut highlights.
Image with small aperture so no noticeable bokeh
When the same image is defocused the soft buttery bokeh in the out-of-focus areas complement the hexagonal bokeh highlights
What and how Bokeh does the job
So bokeh is the quality of the out of focus area. The out-of-focus bit can add so much to an image, but one of its main ‘jobs’ is to make the background appear separate from sharp foreground subjects. This could be to separate the person you photographed from a busy background, or to create a sense of depth in a cityscape or landscape. We use this technique a lot in our night photography as it allows us to create beautiful out-of-focus highlights.
Ally used an aperture of f8 on these mushrooms in Wivenhoe woods, Essex to isolate the subject while still keeping them in focus
Ally used an aperture of f4 on her portrait of Idris inside Truth Coffee in Cape Town, S Africa
To create more out-of-focus areas you need to have your subject a reasonable distance from the background and then use a wide aperture on your lens. (The smaller the aperture number, the wider the aperture is eg, f16 is a small aperture while f2.8 is wide.)
Bokeh is a fashionable word at the moment. Sometimes people pour over images, drooling over the bokeh or criticising it at the expense of the content of the image. It is not nearly as important as lens reviewers would have you believe. The most important thing is the image – not the quality of the out-of-focus areas.
London at night is an awesome city. Lights, music, noise and a feeling of culture mixed with bohemian lifestyle. There are millions of images of London at night from the main tourist areas to dimly lit backstreets of East London where Jack the Ripper once stalked. So how can you do unique night photography in London? We would like to show you a few techniques we use to shoot London at night.
We are fortunate to live within an hour’s train ride away from the centre of the city and I, Tim, spend a lot of my life around there running Adobe training courses for business. Of course at the end of the day the last thing one wants to do is to go around creating images especially if it’s winter so Ally and I make special photography trips to London just to shoot. If you are visiting London from other areas there are lots of Airbnb places near the centre but even if you are further out, you can still get late night tubes (24 hours Friday and Saturday) or a night bus home when you’re ready.
A few tips before we start
Dress warmly as the river area can get particularly cold out of summer months.
Travel light – You will walk a lot so remember, the weight of your equipment is inversely proportionate to how far you can explore.
Try to walk as much as possible using maps and not the tube. You will discover more this way.
We rarely carry a large tripod at night, preferring to hold a mini tripod on a wall or other solid surface for long exposures.
London is relatively safe but don’t flaunt your equipment in deserted areas.
Movement with long exposures
Steady your camera against a solid object and use long exposures to get moving lights. The image of Parliament Square with the red bus blur was created by putting the camera on a small wall and using long exposures. Ally tripped the shutter just as the bus entered the scene with a 5 second exposure.
London Bus Blur long 5 second exposure
Long exposures of water at night are really effective especially if there are coloured lights in the scene. Ally actually hand-held the fountain one, just balancing it carefully on the edge of the fountain.
For more about long water exposures read our ND Filter article.
Long exposure of water in Trafalgar Square, London
London at night is just a mass of coloured lights and the river Thames (pronounced Tems) is perfect to reflect these lights. For more on why reflections can make awesome images read this article.
The view across the Thames to London city from Charing Cross bridge
I hand-held the image above from halfway across Charing Cross bridge. I was also aware of composition rules and used symmetry on the horizon as well as placing the largest buildings on the third. For more details about composition rules see our article on How to photograph like Arnold Newman
Look for the unusual
A few years ago I was out photographing by myself (Ally and our daughter India were at the ballet at the Royal opera house). I quite like ballet but I thought I’d go shooting instead. It was just after the terrorist attach in Paris at the magazine Charlie Hebdo. I came across this memorial outside the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. The person paying respects just happened along as I was taking the image.
Paying respects at Charlie Hebdo memorial
Use a narrow depth of field.
Try isolating subjects and get interesting out-of-focus light details. I used f2 on a very old leica 40mm lens on my Sony A7R to get the interesting bokeh donut highlights when I photographed this scene in a night market in Greenwich, London. The complementary colour scheme red/yellow and blue also helped.
Lights in Greenwich using narrow depth of field with aperture wide open
Doing night photography in London during summer is an absolute joy and you may find yourself photographing into the small hours, but the lack of sleep is far outweighed by the incredible images you create. London at night during winter is a totally different city however, and the main obstacle to photographing during winter nights is the cold. Enjoy your winter photography by stopping every so often at the numerous late night cafes around central London. Not only will you warm up but you might see interesting scenes that you would otherwise have missed.
Using panning to create camera motion blur
(or how to photograph like J.M.W. Turner)
This is Creative use of Shutter and Aperture series no 1
We are great fans of super sharp images and usually do all we can to get things razor sharp. This could be by spending extra on lenses (we both use sony camera now with rather pricy Zeiss glass). Or it could be we sacrifice our health to carry a heavy tripod to our chosen scene to avoid any camera shake. Sometimes however, the subject calls for a more impressionist style and this is where some camera motion blur created by panning comes in.
The how and why of the subject
The subject I (Tim) choose for my panning for camera motion blur was old cars. Now 2 things you should know. Firstly both Ally and I really like photographing old stuff, be it trains, planes, boats or automobiles. Ally aIso like cruise ships and gets very excited whenever she sees one – real life or on the screen. This strange affinity for large floating hotels is because she spent some time as a photographer on the Caribbean cruise ships many years ago. That was about the same time as I was photographing crime scenes around London. Mmmm… I wonder who had the better gig? I digress, so on to the subject matter.
The second thing you need to know is that I absolutely love a painting by J.M.W. Turner called ‘Rain, Steam and Speed – the Great Western Railway’ that gives the impression of the movement in the painting. If you haven’t seen this beautiful painting then look here. Turner painted a slightly blurry impression of the train and then used the steam to add movement to the scene the and I hoped to create the impression of movement in my cars photographs.
London to Brighton Veteran car run
There is a ‘race’ every autumn for vintage cars that goes from London to Brighton in the UK. If you’re travelling around the UK November time, this is a really interesting spectacle to photograph. I use the term ‘race’ lightly as most cars go well under 20 mph and often break down several times along the route. There is no place order – if you finish before 4 pm you get a medal. The run has been going every year since 1927 but was first started in 1896 and is for cars built before 1905. There was even a fictional movie about it made in the 50’s called Genevieve. Now combine the beautiful autumn yellow leaves with a blue sky and an old car and you can see we are already set up for some amazing images especially when you add the steam of a cold morning into the mix.
Now while I like to travel light I don’t always make things easy for myself. I wanted beautiful images of the cars with all the colour of fall so I went with medium format and colour film. A Hasselblad 500c/m with a standard 80mm lens and a Hasselblad SWC/M which has a super wide 38mm (by medium format standards) fixed lens. When I was standing at the side of the road watching a few cars go by I realised my mistake. Super sharp images of these cars wouldn’t show the movement. If you’re looking at getting into film photography, see our best film cameras for beginners guide, best black and white films for travel photography, and how to load 35 mm film into your camera.
Sharp but dull image
Not so sharp but an infinitely more pleasing image
Panning for camera motion blur
I decided to use the super wide Hasselblad to pan with a slow shutter speed to create movement. The SWC/m has a separate finder on top so it’s actually easier then you would think.
The way this works is to follow your subject, as it passes, with the camera and when you push the shutter button to take the exposure just keep following. Don’t stop the panning movement until well after the exposure is finished. Now combine this with a slow shutter speed – start with around 1/15 second. It’s best to practice this with a digital camera as it takes a bit of getting used to and there will be many ruined images. The longer the shutter exposure, the more blur you get, but the less sharp the main subject will be.
Panning with a slow shutter speed keeps subject sharpish and background a blur
Pan and blur for images with a JMW Turner like impressionism
The other thing that happens is that the car wheels end up with circular motion blur too. Cool!!
Circular motion blur created by the longer exposure
I used a really wide angle so I was really close to the cars. This meant that the blurs have this awesome distorted look to them.
The final results
I scanned the negatives using a flat bed Canon f8600f scanner and then cleaned them up with the Raw file converter. Sounds weird but I scan the images to tif files and then you can open both tif and jpg files into the Raw file converter in Adobe Bridge. Ctrl + R (PC) or Cmd + R (Mac)
This technique works so well on any moving subject. Mechanical objects are a-given but panning for camera motion blur can create incredible images of people and animals with blurred backgrounds and interesting blurs on legs and swinging arms.
Take lots of shots, get a nice smooth panning action and finally experiment with different shutter speeds. Above all – enjoy every new technique.
Photographing Contre-jour : Shooting into the light
What is shooting Contre-jour? Well Contre-jour is a French term for “against daylight” and it is a technique where you photograph directly into the sun. The technique has been used for decades as it was originally a painting technique.
The New Forest in the UK just after dawn photographing directly into the sun
So what should you do to create awesome contre-jour images?
There are a few things to watch out for when you point your camera at the sun. It does however usually depends on the type of final image you want but here are our top recommendations.
Unless you want lots of lens flare on your image make sure your lens is scrupulously clean. Smudge and dust-free will make all the difference. Very often, we will take off the protective UV filters we use so that we have a perfectly spotless lens. You could also cary a spare clean filter for just such an occasion, say if you were photographing in a very dusty or sea spray environment.
Sunrise on our local river with a clean lens for very little flare
More lens flare
Of course maybe you want tons of flare. The same applies in reverse. Carry a spare old filter that you have smudged with oily fingers. The heavier the smudge, the more flare you can expect.
This also goes with flare. If you are shooting a contre-jour image it will have a lot of contrast as you are photographing and possibly exposing for the sun, and of course the objects in the scene that face you are in shadow. Think silhouette. Haze in the scene will also reduce contrast. If you look at our New Forest image above you will see where the light streams through the early morning mist there is very little contrast.
The issue with contrast is that it’s very hard to get all the detail your eyes see in the scene. Your eyes dart around the scene that you are photographing and your iris opens and closes to get you detail in all areas. In photography we don’t have that luxury, so in order to let the viewer see all the detail (in a suitably contrasty scene) we need to help things along. If you were photographing in a studio you would help things along with a reflector to get details in the dark areas. In landscape photography we dodge and burn.
How it works in practice when shooting contre-jour
We usually increase the shadow slider in Raw to claw back some of the darker details. However we then counter this by increasing micro contrast with the clarity slider. After doing the basic edit we will then use adjustment brushes to dodge and burn (as well as selective contrast) specific areas. Even the most basic Raw file converter will allow you to do these edits. Finally we resize and sharpen our images.
Original image exposed to get enough detail in the highlights and a bit in the shadows
After a bit of dodge and burn processing in Raw I retrieved the shadow details
What else can you do when shooting contre-jour images to improve them?
Hide the sun
One of the tricks we use most of the time is to hide the sun behind an object in the scene. It could be trees or even the mast of a boat. We find this technique for photographing into the sun leads to our most pleasing images as we can still see some details as the sun doesn’t ‘blow out’ (overexpose) the main areas.
Watch your exposure
In digital we tend to expose for the highlights and let the shadows take care of themselves. This is the opposite of working with negative film where you expose for the shadows and let the highlights take care of themselves. (Unless you are a zone system shooter like Ansel Adams in which case you control everything with development based on the contrast of the scene.) We also bracket a lot (bracketing is when you take a number of different exposures of the same scene).
New Forest early morning contre-jour pan with added texture layer
The New Forest
The New Forest in the images above is in the south of the UK about 70 miles south west from the centre of London. It was proclaimed a Royal Forest by William the Conquer (First Norman king of England). It was later used by the Royal Navy as a supply of wood for their timber based war ships built in the nearby ports of Portsmouth and Southampton.
So finally give contre-jour photography a try. Get out early in the morning and don’t be afraid of the direct sun. Keep your lens clean and bracket like a crazy person.
Mostly just enjoy yourself. It’s why we all create photographs anyway isn’t it?
“But Tim, he is an environmental portrait photographer you know. What is he doing in a travel blog and why would you want to show us how to photograph like Arnold Newman?”
Yes, okay, you got us! We know that, but while most travel photography revolves around places and landscapes, one of the interesting things about travel are the wonderful (and occasionally weird people that you meet). While most photographs of people we meet when travelling are quick images, there are times when we have the opportunity to create more in-depth photographs. The more you know about different photographers’ styles, the more you can develop your own unique one. This is why we’d like to show you how to photograph like Arnold Newman.
Using Arnold Newman’s style to photograph the Pianist
One of the things that Ally loves, is talking to people. Put her on a train, plane or crowded bus and by the end of the trip she will have made a new friend and know their life history … well almost. I, on the other hand, in spite of spending my life talking to groups of people as a trainer, am not so sociable. This means that Ally is far more inclined to create the instant and spontaneous photographs of people whereas I prefer to get to know them first and then photograph them in a very set up manner, so photographing in the Arnold Newman way just works for me.
Not in the Arnold Newman style, this Cape Town Flower Seller was photographed in under 5 mins by Ally, but you can see the beautiful rapport she has with her subjects.
So, here is how to Photograph like Arnold Newman
Now if you don’t know Arnold Newman’s work, then have a look here. I am sure you will recognise many of his images. Whilst he photographed a few images in colour, he is primarily known for his black and white work. See our thoughts on what makes a good black and white image.
So how do we do that?
Let’s start by looking at what makes an Arnold Newman photograph unique.
On looking at his environmental portraits, the first thing that struck me was the overriding dark and haunting feel that many of them have. Not that all his images are dark per-se, but they ooze that moody and serious feel that seems to personify a lot of the great artists and political figures that Newman photographed.
The next thing that I noticed in his portraits was a wonderful 3 dimensional look that they have. No long lens, no wide aperture, so, very little bokeh here then! (Bokeh = out of focus-ness for those of you who are not au-fait with super-photographic trendy terms!)
His lighting is another area that is very Newman. Very deliberate light and shadows that are perfectly controlled to create the correct ambience and contrast for the individual subject.
So where to start
Let’s look at the subject in their environment.
There is more to an environmental portrait than popping the subject in a scene related to their hobby or occupation. Arnold Newman is a master at composition so let’s start by composing our subject in a pleasing way.
Design features to look for:
lines that lead in to the subject
rule of thirds.
For my pianist I saw the repetition of the strings leading to her, the reflection of her in the black piano lid and the lines as my main environment composition elements.
I also really like the large white negative space like silence just waiting to be filled by the piano sound.
Subject on the thirds
Lines pointing to main subject
Triangle holds the subject in the negative space
I removed the distracting wall hanging with the content aware fill tools in Photoshop
To photograph like Arnold Newman you need to have control over your lighting.
If like us you are traveling light you probably don’t have a full lighting kit with you however there are other ways to get light to do what you want it to do. Reflectors. Anything can be a reflector from a travel fold up circle type to an old white shirt you have in your backpack. A reflector can be highly reflective and harsh ( think tinfoil) or soft and gentle (old white T-Shirt).
These reflectors can be used in your scene to add light to darker areas and augment details you wish to show the viewer.
This is the opposite effect. Use a black reflector to remove light from overly bright parts of the image or to darken down areas to get that unmistakable Arnold Newman heavy shadow on face signature look.
We used a reflector to add to the face details and then used burning in at the processing stage to darken down some unwanted details. See our tutorial on dodging and burning.
Although we used softer lighting as we didn’t have a full lighting kit with us, these techniques enabled us to increase the image contrast. However, to truly photograph like Arnold Newman, we should have had more side lighting.
Silver reflector to add harsh light to the subject
Most of Newman’s subjects are serious to the point of being sombre. These images are not ‘happy snaps for the family album’ and the serious look, directly into the camera, helps us to see into the subject’s soul.
We find asking the subject to think about their art, music or profession usually brings a deep look into their eyes and also helps them to relax and not concentrate on what we are doing with the camera.
You are unique
As with all our ‘How to photograph like….’ series, use your favourite photographers to help you find your own style. Learning from them might mean mimicking their work at first, but after a while you will add your own uniqueness to your images. Arnold Newman’s portraits look the way they do, not because of his technique, but because he had an amazing way of seeing his subjects. Every one of us has a unique way of looking at people and we should embrace that difference and use it to create our own unforgettable images.