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I Shot 343 Frames to Get This One

Sue and her employees, Middlehurst, NZFujifilm X-T3, 200mm lens, f2.5…

Vision and Workflow for Anwar, the Alpha Male

A guest blog from regular Better Photography magazine contributor, Nick…

Early morning, Phobjikha Valley overview, Bhutan
Phase One XF 150MP, 110mm Schneider-Kreuznach, f5.6 @ 1/250 second, ISO 50

The first time I visited the Phobjikha Valley, I didn't feel it. The second time I found a couple of shots. The third time we were overnighting in a different part of the valley, in an old farmhouse, and while there were some great angles, I still didn't find anything particularly special.

On the fourth visit, it was magic!

Early morning bands of fog drifted across the valley floor as the sun rose, highlighting an old farmhouse here and revealing a mountain top village there. I was mesmerized! David Oliver and a few of our photographers wandered further along the road and found a herd of horses with frost cloaking their backs. And there was a lone tree, also blanketed with frost, backlit against a dark headland covered in trees. It seemed everywhere I looked, there were photographs to be taken.

When travelling (remember the days when we could travel), it is always tempting to sleep in. After a week or so on the road, the body gets tired and it takes me a little more effort to get out of bed. But I always do. I would hate David to get up early and find something I missed out on!

With the mist moving slowly and the sun rising, the landscape kept changing and whoever said you have plenty of time as a landscape photographer clearly hasn't visited the Phobjikha Valley at dawn! My first inclination was to use a wide-angle lens to incorporate as much as possible. I'm happy with a few of those frames, but huge expanses of sky and foreground seemed overpowering. For this photo, my choice of lens was a mid-telephoto. It required me to make some decisions about what to include and exclude, but this isn't an insurmountable problem as you can take as many photos as you need to.

As long as the light and the fog remained.

What I love about this photo is the mood and atmosphere provided by the slightly toned black and white rendition. When I look at it, it brings back fond memories of half a dozen trips to Bhutan. While there are plenty of pristine landscapes in Bhutan, what I love are the punctuation marks provided by farmhouses, dzongs and small stupa. And as with landscape photography generally, it's the light that makes the image. A few minutes later, the mist had lifted, the angle of the sun was higher and the magic was gone.

If you're looking for some excellent reading and inspiration as we await our next chance to travel overseas, check out my book The New Tradition. You can see a sample flip-book and introductory video on the Better Photography website - 

Foyn Harbour Weather Study #3, Antarctica 2020
Phase One XF 150MP, Schneider 110mm, f3.5@ 1/320 second, ISO 100

I should have pushed the ISO a stop higher. The shutter speed just isn't fast enough for shooting from a moving ship in low light and, out of five frames, only this one was sharp enough.

The problem was that I had processed and published a different frame for my book Late Season (you can see a flip-book in the online shop at Before, I was quite happy with the result, but then I was asked to make a print for a friend and suddenly the frame didn't look quite sharp enough. I also saw a colour difference that I hadn't noticed before.

Refine. Refine. Refine.

I'll never make a successful business person because I'm probably the only one who will ever notice. Nevertheless, I returned to the raw files, compared the five frames that were similar and chose the sharpest one. I then re-processed the photograph, made a new print and updated the book file as well, so the next time the book is published, it will have the refined file.

Is there something wrong with me? Don't answer that question - allow me! No, there's nothing wrong with refining our work. Photographs can always be improved and finessed with time. Not only do the processes we use improve, our own skills and outlook change and mature, hopefully for the better. Rather than being something wrong with me, I see it as a positive trait that I'm still critical of my work - and I mention it because I'm sure thousands of readers will feel the same way.

There is nothing wrong with the pursuit of perfection. This doesn't mean you should pursue it all the time, of course. I don't care if the windows at home have one or two smudges down the bottom where they weren't cleaned properly - one needs to be practical. But when it comes to things that matter, to photographs that you're going to send out in the world, then I think as much 'perfection' as is possible is a positive. 

You can check out the frame that I have now replaced below (or on my website, depending where you're reading this!)

Water gums from Paul Curtis's book, The Heritage of Trees. 

Paul Curtis has published a book titled The Heritage of Trees and we'll be running an article in the next issue of Better Photography about his techniques. However, in the meantime, here are some tips from Paul if you're out and about this holiday season looking for trees!

1 – Know your subject and understand what makes it a good subject. Is it worth returning to and when would be the optimal conditions? I have stumbled across many great trees in my wanderings and sometimes a return was probably not possible, so you make the most of it like any subject and approach it from all angles and with all lenses. Or if you can, return when it is flowering or leaves are turning colour.

2 – Lenses and focal lengths. Consider all your available resources. I have found myself favouring a mild telephoto if I can get back far enough. It allows a more ‘face on’ perspective and avoids the ‘looking up’ view which can get repetitive. A wide aperture may assist in knocking the background slightly out of focus, isolating your subject better.

3 – If your subject can only be viewed from the base, ensure the foreground is in sharp focus. Often great trees have gnarly trunks full of interesting detail, even though your sharp focus may trail off into the canopy.

You can purchase a copy of Paul’s book A Heritage of Trees direct from his website at The cost is $44 and includes postage and packaging within Australia. For orders outside Australia, contact Paul via the website for pricing.

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