Photograph by Simon Harsent from his exhibition GBH, opening this Friday in Sydney. And no I don't know if the sitter is a hooligan - you'll have to attend the exhibition to find out!
Is it me, or does this gentleman look like a football supporter? I think it's in his eyes. Having read the press release, I know the photo is part of an exhibition featuring Great Britain's leading hooligans, but his white woollen jumper is somewhat incongruous. However, I am intrigued enough to tag along and, after all, anything that Simon Harsent shoots is worth looking at.
These days, advertising and art photographer Simon Harsent splits his working time between Australia, the USA and UK. Better Photography magazine featured his Melt exhibition of icebergs a number of years ago now and I remember Simon explaining it was challenging as a successful advertising photographer to be accepted within the contemporary art world.
For some people (but certainly not all), you need to struggle and starve for your art, so too much fiduciary success is seen as an anathema to true creativity. Simon's view back then was by self-funding his art, he was free of all financial constraints as he didn't need to sell his work nor fulfill the conditions of an art grant. Surely this was an equally pure approach?
Winter Trees #2, Yosemite Valley, USA.
Phase One XF with IQ180 back, 240mm lens, 1/13 second @ f11, ISO 35
Last week I explained my basic technique for shooting tree details in easy light - in 'hero' conditions. This photo is taken in tough light - in the middle of the day with bright, harsh sunshine. Interestingly, there had been a bush fire through this area a few months before, so the tree trunks were very dark and a lot of the finer branches were bleached and white.
The composition is similar to last week's photo - strong vertical lines created by the tree trunks, surrounded by wonderful detail and patterns created by the branches. There is no sky, no foreground. A telephoto lens is used to isolate the subject. Focus is kept on the important branches near the front. Add to this the strong highlights on the tops of all the horizontal branches and you have a very problematic lighting position.
If you've ever watched fashion photographers like Peter Coulson work, the trick to their outdoor portraits is ensuring the highlight values on the skin are not clipped. This is where many photographers make a mistake, going for an exposure that looks okay on the back of the LCD screen, rather than using their histogram and 'placing' their tonal values correctly. The trick is: don't clip your exposure.
In this case, it was hard not to clip the exposure. The shiny tree branches are reflecting so much light that I really had to darken down the exposure to avoid as much clipping as possible. However, even so, there is some clipping of the highlights, but the highlights don't 'bleed' into the lighter values. They are controlled (well, at least I feel they are controlled) and this keeps the image together.
In post-production, I first set the exposure so the highlights were just white, but not clipping unnecessarily. Then I adjusted my contrast and here's what you might find interesting: the contrast slider is moved right down to its minimum setting. I'm using Capture One, not Lightroom, but the principle is the same: low contrast post-production for a high contrast lighting situation.
So which do you prefer - this week or last week? This to my mind is a more challenging image with its strong contrast, but I'm thinking the 'easy' shot is a little quiet in comparison? Let me think on this for a week or so...
I'm presenting an advanced Photoshop workshop in Sydney on Sunday 5 June. Click here for details.
Winter Trees #1, Yosemite Valley, USA.
Phase One XF with IQ180 back, 240mm lens, 1/4 second @ f11, ISO 50
Okay, I confess that this is a personal favourite. And when I made this as a print, I loved it even better. No, it's not an 'in your face' composition and it doesn't have an atomic colour palette either. Some unkind souls may even suggest it's not very 'me' given how subtle the colouration is, particularly the greens in the shadows. I think it will work nicely on my wall for a while...
So, what are the tricks to capturing photographs with lots of fine detail like this? First up, you need the right conditions. At 1/4 second, any movement would have caused detail-killing blur. Of course, I could have waited for there to be more light (so I could use a faster shutter speed), but then the quality of the light could have changed. On this morning, there wasn't a breath of wind down the bottom of Yosemite Valley. There was snow on the ground which was reflecting light into the trees and the overall illumination was very soft. So, yes, the light is directional (the tops of the branches are lighter than the bottoms), but it's a soft light with lots of detail. Tripod mounted. Sharpest aperture for the lens.
Second point: don't over expose your image. A camera meter will look at this scene and give you a great 'average' exposure, but even in low light situations like this, the highlights on the tree branches, especially the dead branches which are very light grey in tone, can be easily 'clipped'. The histogram might look like it's okay on the back of your camera, but take another shot two stops darker and you might find there are still a few bumps in the histogram up next to the white values. If you want to keep detail in your highlights, you need to manage your exposure correctly in camera.
Third suggestion: spend a little time in post production adjusting your exposure, your contrast and your black point. I set the exposure so the highlights were light but not clipping (not paper white), then adjusted the contrast to bring out the texture in the tree trunks, then finally I used the black point (you can use the black slider in Lightroom/ACR or the black point on a curves dialog) to darken the shadows to give me some rich blacks. It's the blacks in the photo that makes the rest of the tones stand out.
Perhaps I was channeling Ansel Adams a little bit and while I did convert this to a black and white, I found it hard to resist bringing back a hint of colour. Next week I'll show you how I shot tree details in difficult lighting conditions - you may be surprised at the technique!
I'm presenting an advanced Photoshop workshop in Sydney on Sunday 5 June. Click here for details.
This print earned David Evans a massive score of 97 in the landscape category of the AIPP's Australian Professional Photography Awards last year. Can you see the second reindeer?
David Evans won the 2015 Australian Landscape Photographer of the Year Award and his work features in the current issue of Better Photography magazine. One of the images that helped him win the Award (shown here) earned a score of 97 and a Gold with Distinction, but when he entered the print earlier into his local South Australian awards, it received only 81. What was the difference?
David describes more fully the thought process and changes he went through in the magazine, but the big difference was the inclusion of two reindeer (can you find the second one)?
However, what I picked up was David's approach to photography competitions and judge comments.
He was open to suggestions.
Said David, "The judges at the SA state awards provided some excellent feedback. Aside from some comments about snow detail and handling of the white tones, which were easily corrected, Alan Moyle commented that he was led nicely into the scene by the water, but ultimately there was nowhere for his eyes to rest and he ended up at the small patch of sky at the back. Not ideal and of course I could see what he meant immediately."
This is where the idea to include a couple of reindeer began.
"I had felt prior to the state awards that the image was nice, but I wanted to like it more. It needed a reference point and a counter-balance ˗ an animal perhaps. Something elegant. Alan had given me an idea to make the print really sing.
"It is actually quite a simple composite. I spent a bit of time ‘seating’ it into the landscape with some light dodging and burning on its fur and the snow underneath. The result is exactly how I had imagined it. The second, white reindeer was added as a ‘hidden’ element and also to ‘engage’ with the first reindeer’s body language."
So, the moral of the story is that sometimes those judges really do know what they are talking about (even if they don't always give you the score you would like)!
You can read the full article about David and his arctic photography in Better Photography magazine - and single online issues can be purchased here.
And you can go on a photo workshop with David to Sweden next year - there are still a few places left. Details can be found here: https://travelentropy.com/swedish-lapland-aurora-borealis-photography-tour/
The amazing Daintree Rainforest - from up above.
Photograph: John de Rooy
Is this art? Imagine John's photo as a two metre wide print, with every leaf in crisp focus. It would have quite a different impact to this 700 pixel image on your screen. For many years, I used to think of a photograph as a photograph, but it was only when I started working with Les Walkling that I started to understand the importance and impact of size. Les does an amazing presentation on the theory of size and I learn something new every time I listen to him. It helped explain to me why, for example, a photograph that does really well in an online competition does not necessarily translate well onto the wall of a gallery. Similarly, a powerful print on a wall can look decidedly unimpressive when reproduced on a web page.
This is the type of stuff I need to get my head around to make my photographs work. So when Les asked if I'd like to do a workshop with him in the Daintree Rainforest, and what should we teach, I was a little bit selfish. I pretended to know all about this 'art stuff' and suggested we focus on what happens after we've mastered our equipment and post-production.
What comes next? Where do you go?