You are out on a day walk with friends and suddenly the view that opens up before you all is fabulous. You really want to photograph it. After all, photography is your hobby and you never turn a good opportunity down. It makes your walks all that more interesting and memorable.
Whilst you enjoy taking pictures of the places you have visited, you are now getting more serious about photography. However, no matter how appreciative your friends are of the landscape, they don’t seem to match your enthusiasm when it comes to photography. Whilst they are content to snap away with their cameras or phones, they bemoan you for ‘holding’ them up as you go to get your tripod out. Of course you will enter into a bit of banter but they will probably just leave you to it and walk ahead.
All photographers are familiar with the famed ‘golden hours’ around sunrise and sunset and it’s probably fair to say that the majority of landscape images are shot in these periods. The low, warm light is extremely flattering to the landscape, so it’s easy to understand why. However, it would be a mistake to restrict your landscape photography to these times, as you would then miss the magic of the ‘blue hour’.
The blue hour is the period of twilight each morning and evening when the residual sunlight takes on a predominantly blue hue. During this time, the sun is below the horizon, but it illuminates the upper layers of the atmosphere – the longer, red wavelengths pass straight out into space, while the shorter, blue wavelengths are scattered in the atmosphere. his results in images with a blue colour cast and saturated colour. The cool, blue tones in this period can create an atmosphere of mystery and romance – so if you like your landscapes moody, this is the time to shoot. Continue reading True Blue: Shooting landscapes in the twilight with the GFX 50S
Ah, the simple pleasures of life. They invigorate the soul! Changes and new experiences are great but it’s nice to do what you enjoy. It gives us you a lift. Genesis, my favourite band of all time, summed it up nicely when Peter Gabriel lent his unmistakable voice to, “I know what I like” and I am, sure many of you reading this will feel the same.
We are all ‘routined’ to a point and I suppose I fall into that bracket. Whilst I may be laid back I am never complacent. I regularly slip out of the ‘comfort zone’ and push myself, but if there is one thing I do not like to disrupt, it is enjoying a good night’s kip! A comfy bed with clean sheets, bit of a read, lights out and I am off.
I awake, have an invigorating hot shower, get dressed and breakfast. Then it is time to attack the day. I definitely know what I like and I approach my photography in exactly the same way. I love the mountains and great views. I will never tire of them but it would be easy to keep going along to regular haunts never being bored with them and marveling at what they give me. That won’t change. After 40 odd years of shooting professionally, I am still learning my craft and I enjoy exploring new ways to enrich my skillset. It was on one of my, “what can I do now?” days that I thought about wild camping. Continue reading A Quest to Capture the Golden Hour: Wild Camping in the Lake District
Photography is all about the light and, as landscape photographers, we are constantly searching for the most interesting and evocative lighting conditions. Without it our pictures can be dull and lacklustre but when Mother Nature performs her magic, the landscape is transformed enabling us to capture some stunning imagery.
Some of my favourite conditions are shooting into the sun to capture those dramatic sunbeams, starbursts or beautiful back-lit scenes. Although this is counter intuitive to everything we are taught early in our photographic journey, this technique helps emphasise, shapes, lines and silhouettes to produce some striking images.
I’ve been shooting with the medium-format FUJIFILM GFX 50S since early April 2017 and have been more than impressed with its performance as a landscape camera. But for a camera to be truly usable by landscape photographers it has to be able to withstand the elements and, until recently, it would be fair to say that my GFX had had a fairly sheltered life. I was keen to see how it would perform in harsher environments, so took it with me on a recent trip to Iceland; this also gave me the opportunity to test its high ISO performance while shooting the Northern Lights.
I’m lucky enough to have visited Iceland on numerous occasions and it remains one of my favourite destinations for landscape photography; there really is nowhere else like it. On this occasion, I was co-leading a workshop and we were based on the south coast, beginning the tour near the town of Höfn and working our way back west. On this trip, we were able to include the ‘must-see’ locations of the Stokksnes Peninsula, Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, the beach at Vik, with its dramatic rock stacks, and many places in between.
The weather in Iceland can be harsh, to say the least. On this trip we experienced winds which threatened to knock us off our feet and temperatures which dropped below minus 10. Perfect for finding out how tough the GFX is. Despite the unpredictable weather, winter remains my favourite time for visiting Iceland: changeable weather makes for dramatic conditions and the low winter sun means that there is a permanent ‘golden hour’ during the day.
The good news is that the GFX held up really well under some tough shooting conditions. The environmental sealing was given a severe test on a morning when there were gusts of wind so strong that we had to kneel down and cling on to our tripods to prevent kit from flying off into the distance. The wind whipped up the gritty, volcanic sand from the beach and sea spray coated all our gear. None of this bothered the GFX, which didn’t miss a beat and allowed me to grab some shots in between the gusts.
On the days when we were able to stand up, we were treated to some exceptionally good light – a fabulous sunrise on the famous ‘ice beach’ at Jökulsárlón and a colourful sunset at Vik. Fujifilm has an excellent reputation for colour and it goes without saying that the GFX captured beautiful colour on these occasions, but the sensor’s wide dynamic range was also a key factor in being able to make the most of the conditions, especially at Vik. Because of the shape of the cliffs there, it wasn’t possible to use a graduated filter to darken the bright sky; however, filtration proved to be unnecessary, as it was possible to capture the full range of tones without a grad.
The ability to set different aspect ratios in-camera is a feature which frequently comes in handy and it did once again on the Iceland trip. Not all scenes will suit the native aspect ratio of your camera, whatever it is, so being able to experiment and see different ratios in the viewfinder, rather than having to try to visualise them, is a real boon. I found, for example, that a square crop or 3:2 ratio made for a better composition at Vik than the GFX’s native 4:3.
Of course, one of the main reasons photographers visit Iceland is the Northern Lights. I’ve been lucky enough to shoot some really good displays over the years, but sadly, that was not to be the case on this trip as we suffered a lot of cloudy skies and low activity on the nights which were clearer. On the one night that we had a reasonable display, strong winds restricted our viewpoint to a sheltered spot where it was hard to get a good composition. However, this didn’t stop me being able to assess the GFX’s technical performance and its suitability for astro work.
The main things to be aware of when shooting the Northern Lights are getting enough light on the sensor to record an image while keeping the shutter speed short enough to avoid star trails. Depending on the focal length used, 15-20 seconds is usually a good maximum. This means that in order to get a usable exposure, you will need to use a high ISO and open up your lens to its widest aperture. Having a lens with a fast maximum aperture such as f/2.8 is desirable and as there are no native Fujifilm wide angles faster than f/4, I had considered adapting a third party lens for the trip. In the end, however, I decided to take the GF23mm and trust that the GFX’s high ISO performance would compensate for not being able to shoot wider than f/4.
The GFX acquitted itself really well; high ISO noise is impressively low and the nature of the noise fine-grained and therefore easy to deal with in post-production; a fast wide angle lens is certainly desirable but you can live without one and I’d certainly have no reservations about using the GFX + 23mm f/4 combination on my next Iceland trip. Another important point to bear in mind when shooting the night sky, is being able to find true infinity focus – not always straightforward with modern autofocus lenses. Using the distance scale in the EVF meant that this was a simple matter with the GFX and GF23mm – another point in its favour.
Iceland is always great fun and I’ve never failed to come back with interesting shots. This trip was no exception and there was the added benefit of my gaining increased confidence in the GFX system.
The FUJIFILM GFX 50S delivers the world’s best image quality. It combines outstanding resolution of 51.4 megapixels with exceptional tones, advanced color reproduction and high-performance lenses. This level of image quality is purely motivational. The world around you changes the moment you hold this camera in your hand. Appreciate all that can be achieved with Fujifilm’s new medium format mirrorless camera system, GFX.
Whilst out and about on your travels, I am sure you have come across a view that demands your attention and you instantly reach for the camera. “Wow, we were on this ridge and the view? Well you should have seen it. I tried to photograph it but it didn’t come out right. Why could I not do it justice? It just didn’t look the same as I saw it.”
I hear this all too often. Now I have to say here that there isn’t a generic answer, as every location, the available light etc. is different at that time but we can put a process into place that will ensure we do capture it well. A phrase I use regularly is, “a beautiful view doesn’t necessarily make a beautiful photograph”.
The great man Ansel Adams said, “We don’t take a photograph. We make it.” He is absolutely right.
So what does that mean? Putting it simply, it doesn’t just happen. We have to work at it and create the best from what we have in front of us. To explain, I often refer this to the analogy of baking a cake. Stick with me please! If we give six people the ingredients for a fruitcake they will blend them differently. They will present us with a fruitcake and whilst some will taste similarly they will all come out different. Subsequently, if you ask six people to take a photograph of the same view… you can see where this is going.
So, I liken the natural features we see in the landscape as ‘the ingredients’ and how we blend them and present will decide upon the way the photograph looks. Told you we would get there….
We know it as composition.
Understanding how your camera works will always help rather than just putting it on auto and hoping for the best. They are good but they all need controlling by us. No matter how technically competent you are with a camera, your photographs will lose impact if they are compositionally poor. The two factors go hand in hand.
We will assume then that you do have the technical under control. I find that the majority of people who come on my workshops have a basic knowledge of the dials and menus but struggle with composition. I have to say that that is not uncommon with those who are proficient too. A good image will ‘pull you into it’ and make you want to keep looking at it. The beauty of photography is that it is subjective. You only have to look across social media to see a plethora of genres being put out there for us to view. Interest is the key, inviting the viewer to become immersed in the photograph. Once lead into it, their eyes then dance around the frame.
We all have our own perspective on what we see but there are some rules or guides that you can use to enhance your photography. Of course ‘rules can be broken’ and occasionally something that goes against convention can still work. The most common guide that we read about is ‘the rule of thirds’.
Most camera menus now carry the simple grid that you can ‘impose’ in the viewfinder thus helping you ‘balance’ the image by placing interest in all three sections.
This image of a waterfall with the magnificent Tryfan providing the backdrop is a good example of an unbalanced image. Whilst it is a nice memory shot for the photographer, it visually jars with you. Too much sky has made the photograph top heavy.
By changing position, introducing more interest into the frame (those ingredients again) and showing us how the falls integrate with the landscape, creates a much more pleasing photograph.
Earlier this year I was invited by Granada TV to take Kerry Gosney, one of their weather presenters out for a full day’s workshop. It was to be filmed and inserted into the local news programme, recorded in the Longdendale Valley in Derbyshire. I was delighted to be asked and having produced and directed many programmes over the years, it would be a change for me to be on the other side of the lens!
When we met, Kerry readily admitted that she had no idea about taking ‘real photographs,’ but wanted to be able to. She had a basic understanding of how the camera worked and I talked about ‘the fruitcake’. That’s the analogy not me…
After introducing her to the FUJIFILM X-Pro1, we put on our wellies and stood in a delightful river called Middle Black Clough. The director shouted “Action!” and Kerry said, “So tell me Mark, why here? It is beautiful, such a lovely spot; the trees, the river, its waterfall and lots of rocks but why here?”
I asked her what else she could see. She shook her head. Why did she think I had picked this particular spot when there were a lot of options to explore? She reiterated the features of the scene again and whilst I agreed, I then pointed to the grooves that had been etched into the fault plane right under our noses. They lead the eye to the waterfall she was admiring. You will often hear people quoting leading lines and these were classic. Of course I mentioned the ‘fruitcake’ again and how we now had all the ingredients for a nice photo.
After getting the settings, we then set up the tripod and I showed her how it all looked in camera. Kerry was literally taken aback. “Wow I would never have seen that. Amazing!” I had added more depth to the image, allowing the foreground to dominate and by using a wide XF10-24mmF4 lens that exacerbated the lines, drawing you into the picture. “So, you are telling us that we should open our eyes more?”
I couldn’t have put it any better.
The culmination of the shoot was to be an image that she managed to visualise and capture. As the producer said “We need a show stopper Mark, something that presents the development in a day.” No pressure then…
It was good to see Kerry being more deliberate about her choices and spotting things she felt were ‘good ingredients’ for a picture. After settling on a place by the river with a nice array of natural features, we set up and I liked what she had come up with.
This shot is thought out with the foreground rocks leading you to the little waterfall. You are taken into the image and then your eyes look around it. To give the photograph a little bit more appeal, I suggested adding a big stopper to create the swirls in the stream.
These are just a couple of examples of ways in which you can tighten up and present your photographs. Whilst you will initially be presented with a view that you come across, looking with your own eyes, it is good to approach the same vista by then looking through a lens. After all, that’s how the finished image will look. That’s the view you will present to people.
Never be afraid to experiment and you will find that different lenses will create different perspectives. Be choosy and only press the shutter when you are happy that you have the best of the scene captured. Just as importantly, enjoy what you do. It’s a great way of presenting the world the way that you see it to other people.
Everything we do in photography is a matter of perspective. My view is different from yours. We can stand side by side and look at the same thing but we don’t view it in the same way. We might recognise the exact features our eyes see but how we perceive and construct it is never the same.
IN FOCUS is a series of articles where we ask some of the UK X-Photographers to give us advice, provide insight into their photography and share some of their favourite images of all time. In this blog, we wanted to go in search of the most inspiring locations for photography.
Professional photographer and current PPANI Landscape Photographer of the Year 2017, Steven Hanna is from Northern Ireland and specialises in wedding and landscape photography. The FUJIFILM X-T2and FUJIFILM X-Pro2 are his usual weapons of choice, however eager to try out the FUJIFILM GFX 50S, Steven recently put the medium format system through its paces. In this interview, we find out how he got on.