Icebergs (small variety), Seymour Island, Antarctica.
Canon EOS-1D X, 24mm lens, f11 @ 1/200 second, ISO 100.
These cute little icebergs (each is about the size of a table) were found stranded on a remote beach at low tide on Seymour Island, tucked away in the Weddell Sea.
I've just returned from a voyage with Aurora's Polar Pioneer down to Antarctica, across to South Georgia, up to the Falklands and then back to Punto Williams in southern Chile. I travelled with Abraham and Jen Joffe and Blake Castle, who were shooting video while I was shooting stills. We all agreed it was a great way to earn a living and pinched ourselves several times that we were really down in the deep, deep south, experiencing some of the world's most delightful and exotic locations. All about our job will be revealed in the next few weeks.
On my previous trip to Antarctica, I spent seven days in overcast or heavy snowfall with just a two hour window of half-sunlight to play with. On this trip, we had a perfect blue-bird evening with a full moon rising just as the sun set on the other side. The following morning was just as clear, but by the afternoon, the weather had closed in and, as you can see from the unedited image below, the light was a little lacklustre. However, it snowed that night, giving us the four seasons in one day.
So while the light wasn't perfect on Seymour Island, overall there was nothing to complain about and I just had to make the most of what was there. I spent an afternoon walking along this beach, shooting a series of photographs that featured these amazing shapes. It reminded me a little of the beach in Iceland where the icebergs get washed up - it would have been great to see what Seymour Island was like at high tide!
The photographs were taken with a 24mm wide-angle lens with two exposures, one normally and a second with a ND filter so I could blur the water. I then joined the two images together. I find that the camera only has to move half a pixel during the 30 or 60 second exposure to introduce some unwanted blur. By using the normal exposure (at 1/200 second) as the base, everything is crisp and sharp. I then add in the long exposure as as second layer and brush in (through a mask) the blurred water. It gives me the best of both worlds and while it might not make too much difference in a small reproduction like this, it can be very important for a larger print or paper reproduction.
The raw files were processed in Capture One and the post-production completed in Photoshop. I also moved the foreground iceberg up a little bit to make a tighter composition (just in case you noticed a difference!). More from Antarctica soon!
Hanging Cow Creek, New Zealand High Country. Taken on our NZ workshop last year.
I asked our New Zealand tour guide Will Parsons for the name of this little alpine river.
"Hanging Cow Creek", was his immediate reply. Will has lived in this area all his life and, as an ex-farmer, he seems to know everyone and every place. I'm sure he told me whose land this was as well!
We had all bundled out of the minibus when I spied this turn in the river several hundred feet below us. Although the sun was reasonably high in the sky, you can often find interesting light in the mountains because the sun is side lighting the landform somewhere.
Out on the plains when the sun is positioned directly above, the light is flat and generally pretty boring. This is why photographers prefer to shoot in the early morning or late afternoon because the light is at a more acute angle to the landscape, creating form and shadow and revealing much more detail.
However, once you get into the mountains, this rule no longer applies because the landscape is no longer flat. Look around and you'll see some mountain sides in bright sunlight, others in deep shadow, and the ones in between often have some wonderful side lighting.
This photograph wasn't taken at midday, but as you can see in the background, it was still quite high in the sky. Some clouds created an interesting chiaroscuro back there, but what really caught my eye was the cliff face at the apex of the bend in the river. It was bathed in bright sunshine, while the surrounding cliffs were in shadow. It was a perfect vignette.
I used a 10x neutral density filter and a sturdy tripod, meaning my exposure was 30 seconds at f11 and ISO 35. This blurs the river and gives it a slightly milky appearance.
The file was processed in Capture One, including some adjustment layers to control the tonality. I darkened the foreground which was also in bright sunshine - and not wanted. The image was then slipped into Photoshop for some final adjustments and the result is above. It still has a little work to do - and maybe a larger tree or a building out on the edge of the cliff.
Perhaps I could hang a cow? (Just a plastic one, of course. After all, I am a vegetarian!)
If you're interested in joining Tony Hewitt and me on a workshop to the north of New Zealand in June this year, including this location, there are still places available. For more information, visit the Better Photography website and look for the workshops in the online shop, or click here.
'Apodization' sounds like a terrible disease, but it is actually some cool technology to give us more of what we love. And the technology isn't digital, it's analogue!
The 56mm f1.2 lens for the Fujifilm X-series cameras is a portrait lens, equivalent to an 85mm mid-telephoto on a full-frame DSLR. And with a maximum aperture of f1.2, you can get some beautifully sharp portraits against some severely out-of-focus backgrounds. The 'bokeh' is beautiful.
But wait, there's more coming! The new Fujinon XF 56mmF1.2 R APD lens incorporates an apodization filter to create even more blur in your backgrounds.
Fujifilm says the apodization filter smoothes the bokeh's outlines. But it doesn't say much more!
I remember Minolta (and then Sony when Sony bought Minolta) had a 135mm soft-focus portrait lens and, as I understand it, it also used a apodization filter.
The apodization filter essentially looks like a circular graduated neutral density filter - probably better described as a 'radial' ND filter which is dark around the edges and clear in the middle. We used to use filters like this on the front of our ultra wide-angle lenses for large format photography, but this was to even out the exposure..
So what does this filter do? When a lens creates its bokeh or out-of-focus blurs, the resulting mish-mash of tones can appear a little contrasty and brighter towards the edges of the frame. The apodization filter reduces the exposure towards the edges of the frame, darkening down these areas and smoothing out the bokeh. Don't ask me more than that!
According to reading I have done (and I'm no expert), you can get a similar effect with a filter screwed onto the front of the lens, but optically you get a superior result if the filter is next to the diaphragm (aperture) itself. This is what Fujifilm has done.
The result is also similar to the gaussian blur filter you find in Photoshop and Lightroom, but of course, when you're blurring in post-production, you're blurring absolutely everything, including your subject. And masking out your subject doesn't work without a lot of extra work. In comparison, with the apodization filter in the lens, your subject remains crisp and sharp and only the background is blurred.
I haven't used the XF56mmF1.2 R APD yet, but perhaps Fujifilm will send me one to play with when they read this! I have the non-APD version of the lens and it is truly beautiful to behold!
Join David Oliver, Peter Eastway, Bruce Pottinger and Clare Oliver on beautiful Hamilton Island. It's not only a Barrier Reef paradise, it will supercharge your photography as well!
Check out our full brochure by clicking here.
Or visit the Hamilton Island website to book: click here.
Hill Inlet Catamaran, Whitsunday Island - shot on the 'Away - The Art of Photography' workshop last year.
I've been fortunate to do quite a bit of aerial photography. Not as much as some of my professional friends, one of whom was telling me he was spending all day, every day in a plane doing survey work. I guess too much of anything becomes monotonous, but I wonder if the pilots at Hamilton Island ever get sick of flying out over Whitsunday Island and the nearby Great Barrier Reef?
Aerial photography is greatly affected by the weather. Sometimes you can fly to where the light looks interesting, on other occasions you have to make the most of what is there. Last year we had picture-postcard perfect weather for our helicopter shoot. Part of me was ecstatic, but another part disappointed because some cloud and inclement weather around the islands can look really interesting and moody.
However, I wasn't complaining and I dare say the people who hired the catamaran in the photograph above were pretty happy as well. They are sitting at the mouth of Hill Inlet up the north end of Whitsunday Island and Whitehaven Beach. The water really is this colour (and I know some readers might doubt the veracity of a statement like this from someone like me - but no colour pixels were transformed in the production of this photograph).
The challenge when shooting from the air like this is nailing the exposure. It's important to retain detail in the white sands, but fortunately, there is so much light being reflected up that most cameras automatically reduce the exposure, so chances are your shots on automatic will be okay. Of course, if you have time, take a test shot quickly, check your histogram, then move on.
In recent years, restrictions for flying over Hill Inlet have become tighter and tighter. Essentially we can fly around, but not over the top. Nevertheless, a telephoto lens will get you in close enough to create some great pattern shots. These photos were taken with a 70-200mm zoom. Normally I recommend a 28-70mm zoom or similar when shooting from a helicopter, or take two cameras with different lenses which is what I did on this occasion.
So, which shot looks better? The tighter crop above, or the more expansive view below?
And will we see you on Hamilton Island this June for a helicopter shoot and four days of fun?
A wider view taken a few seconds earlier. Which works better for you? Personally, I prefer the tighter angle as it is more abstract, but a travel agent may prefer this one.
Using contrast in post-production lets you reveal the shapes of the sand below the water - simply amazing.
Another aerial over Hill Inlet. I like the square format.