What a difference an angle makes

Low level angle

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In this tutorial, I want to show just how easily the feel of an image can change just by shooting from a different angle. 


Shooting from different angles allows you to create something a bit different, something with a different perspective to how the viewer of your image might normally see the world.

Portraits

We’ll start by the standard “hand held at eye level” height. If I take a photo of Marc using the same eye level as him, it gives a fairly flat, neutral look. There’s nothing wrong with this point of view at all. However, if I change the angle I shoot him I can really change the feel of the portrait.

I’m using an X-T1 camera which comes with a handy pull-out tilting screen. If I angle the screen down, I can shoot Marc from above. This can be quite a flattering angle ( in his case though with that expression… I’m not so sure 😉 ) when one looks upwards towards the camera. Equally, if I pull the screen out I can angle the camera low and shoot up towards him. As you can see, this makes him look more powerful and authoritive and with a little bit of Dutch tilt, almost epic!

Still Life

And it’s not only portraits where this works.
See the difference between a “high”, “standard” and a “low” shot of something like a car. The low shot definitely gives a far more epic feel, whereas the high shot has that Autotrader look about it.

Landscapes

For shooting landscapes, going low removes the “middle ground”. The “Mid” and “High” shots below show the same scene taken at different heights. They both contain the foreground and background elements, but if you decide that the middle area is dull, you can go lower (as in the “Mid” shot) and effectively remove it from your shot.
And also, if the foreground is something small like a flower, mushrooms or even a bit of dog-chewed wood, getting low allows you to bring them in to be the real focus of the image, rather than just a minor element of the shot.

Hopefully that’s given you a bit of inspiration to go out and try shooting from down low, or up high and see how you can affect your images.

Until next time.. Happy Snapping!

🙂

Natural vs artificial light

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w360_6415757_tutorialbannerfordotmailerLight. There’s a lot of it about. And as photographers it’s up to us to harness it in every shot we take.

You may have a personal preference as to which light source you prefer, be it natural or artificial and, despite the combative title of this blog, we’re not for one minute going to suggest that one is better than the other. Instead, we’d suggest that it’s what you’re shooting that counts and should make your choice accordingly.

By way of demonstration, I set up a couple of still-life images, lighting one using artificial light from a humble desk lamp and the other using diffused daylight on a cloudy day. Along with the lighting being switched, I also changed the subject, but nothing else – the background is the same as is the kit – a tripod-mounted X-T1 with the spectacular XF90mm F2.

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Shooting in artificial light

The beauty of artificial light is that it’s completely controllable. Even a simple desk lamp, like the one I’ve used here, can easily be moved around so you can direct the light where you want it. The same, of course, applies to flash, LED and fluorescent light sources. Compared to daylight, artificial light sources are comparatively small, meaning the light they emit is more harsh. You can diffuse it or you could simply play to these strengths, as I did here to light my spanner collection. Metallic objects – among others – are great for this kind of light, which throws deep shadows on the opposite side to the light source. For the collection of images below, I simply moved the light around the set up to get a variety of different effects.

As well as being a harsher light source, artificial light like my desk lamp tends to be less powerful, so you may need to increase your ISO if you want to shoot hand-held or – as I did here – mount the camera on a tripod. You also need to consider your white balance settings, but we’ll come to that a bit later.

Shooting in daylight

Putting my desk lamp to one side for a minute, I moved on to shooting with daylight, using a large, north-facing window in my house as the light source and opening the curtains completely. North-facing windows are best because no matter what time of day you shoot, the light will always be soft as the sun will never shine directly through it. I had no such problems on this dreary day. Daylight like this is lovely and soft, so it lends itself perfectly to flattering portraiture. With no willing human subjects on hand, I switched to this gerbera, which benefits just as well from the diffused light.

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I started by setting up with the window directly behind me, which created the shot above. It’s OK, but the light is very flat and the background is a little more prominent than I would have liked. To solve this, I moved the flower round by 90° to help create some shadows between the petals and tried again. Much nicer – there’s some improved definition on the stem of the flower and the background is darker!

The daylight was a little brighter than my artificial light set up, but not by a huge margin and, wanting to keep the ISO down, I shot tripod-mounted again. With a human subject, I’d have pushed the ISO higher. Despite the fact that I was shooting within one metre of a floor-to-ceiling window, daylight levels do drop off quickly as you move away from the window. To counteract this, I used an A2 sheet of white card as a reflector to push light into the left hand side of the flower.

A question of white balance

Every light source has its own colour temperature, which is measured in Kelvin, essentially this means that different types of light have different colours. The human eye automatically corrects for this, but cameras can’t so you need to make sure you set the correct white balance setting to make sure colours are accurate under different lighting conditions. It’s tempting to shoot with white balance on Auto, but this one size fits all approach can get caught out. Which is why I always change the white balance setting myself when I shoot. Shooting in Raw is also an option as you can change the white balance setting in post production; a luxury that isn’t available with JPEGs.

Your X series camera comes with a variety of preset white balance options – daylight, incandescent, shady, fluorescent etc – in the first instance, use one of these. But the X-series cameras also have a Custom white-balance option which helps you get super-accurate colours 100% of the time.

Using it is simple, just frame the shot as you want it, select the Custom white-balance mode and then follow the on-screen instructions. Essentially, you need to hold a piece of white paper or card in the same lighting as the subject and then let the camera do the rest. I did that on both set ups, as well as used some presets, the results of which are shown here. Of course, there’s no right or wrong here, you can simply pick the shot you like the best, but it’s well worth playing about with white balance settings. Give it a go, whatever lighting you’re using!

For more help with white balance & settings please find our dedicated tutorial here.

Getting started with flash

Off cameraw360_6415757_tutorialbannerfordotmailerSo how do you get on with using flash? If you’re like 90% of the world’s photographers the answer to that will be ‘pretty badly’. You’re never quite sure what it’s up to, never feel fully in control of what’s going on and are never completely happy with the results you get. And that’s a shame because, when you come to think about it, flash is the most controllable light source you have at your disposal. You can fire it when you want, put out lots of power (or very little) and you can even shape or colour the light. Just imagine what brilliant landscape photographers we’d all be if we had the same amount of control over daylight! So, flash isn’t the bad news that many photographers consider it to be, it’s simply a question of learning the functions you have at your disposal and how to bend them to your creative will.  

No doubt, after the rousing words of my opening paragraph you’ll be wanting to get to grips with multiple flash set ups right from the off. But that’s a little like competing in the 100m at the Olympics before you can walk. Let’s ease you in more gently by giving you an overview of the flash features you have at your disposal on a Fujifilm X-series camera and when you might press them into service. In this particular case, I’m heading to the Flash Set-Up menu on an X-T10.

Within that menu you’ll find the Flash Mode option, which gives you five choices: Forced Flash, Slow Synchro, 2nd Curtain Sync, Commander and Suppressed Flash. The last option is perhaps the most obvious; selecting Suppressed Flash means the flash won’t fire even if it’s popped up ready for action, nor will a hot-shoe flash fire if it’s attached to the camera and switched on. But seeing as this a guide to firing the flash, we best move on.

Forced Flash is the polar opposite of Suppressed Flash. As long as the integral unit is flipped up or a hot-shoe flash is attached and switched on, the flash will fire on every shot, irrespective of how bright the light in the scene is. This may sound a little odd, but you’re actually most likely to use this mode in bright daylight for a technique called fill-in flash. This is where you ‘fill-in’ shadows – typically in a portrait – with a low powered burst of flash, which is achieved by combining Forced Flash and the Flash Compensation mode. Take a look at the two shots above. The one on the left is taken without flash. It’s OK, but the subject’s face is in shadow. By using Forced Flash and -1 Flash Compensation, we got a lower powered burst of flash that filled in the shadowy area and put a nice catchlight in our subject’s eyes.

Slow sync

Next on the menu is Slow Synchro, which is used to add a touch of dynamism to action images or to shoot portraits in low light conditions. Selecting this function and a slower shutter speed produces the sort of image you see above on action shots. Panning the camera during the exposure introduces the blur, but then the burst of flash momentarily freezes the subject so you get this look. The shutter speed doesn’t have to be too slow – the shot above was taken at 1/8sec, but it adds an extra dimension to your shots.

Equally, using Slow Synchro can help capture more ambient light in low light conditions. Take a straight shot with flash at night and you’ll end up with a shot like the one below left – rather dull. Use Slow Synchro and the longer exposure ensures the background appears while the flash illuminates your subject perfectly. In this case you’ll need to keep both the camera and the subject still – we’d recommend a tripod and a head brace. Ok, maybe just the tripod.

Note: It’s worth noting that Slow Synchro is only available on the menu in aperture-priority and program exposure modes. If you want to combine a slow shutter speed in shutter-priority or manual modes you still can – just switch to Forced Flash and select the shutter speed you require.

2nd Curtain Sync is another one for those who want to make movement look natural and, much like Slow Synchro is a question of combining a burst of flash with a longer shutter speed. The ‘curtain’ part of the equation refers to the camera’s shutter curtain. In any given exposure, the first curtain begins the exposure, the second curtain ends it. Typically, when you’re using flash, the flash is fired at the start of the exposure – when the first curtain moves. But switching to 2nd Curtain Sync, the flash fires at the end of the exposure. This is largely irrelevant if the exposure is a fraction of a second. But it’s important with a longer exposure. Take a look at the two shots below. For the shot on the left, the flash has fired at the start of the exposure and then the car has moved to create the blurred light effect. The trouble is, it looks as though the car has reversed. It didn’t, it moved forwards. By selecting 2nd Curtain Sync, the flash fires at the end of the exposure after the car has moved, so you get a more natural-looking effect with the blurred lights.

Note: When using 2nd Curtain Sync with a built in or hot-shoe flashgun, two bursts of flash will fire. The first at the beginning of the exposure, is purely designed for the camera to get an exposure assessment and does not effect the actual exposure. The second flash, at the end of the exposure, is the one that actually illuminates the subject.

Finally, we have the Commander mode, where you can use the camera’s integral flash to fire a second flash away from the camera. This is used for more creative on-location effects, like the one below. It’s simple enough to do and produces professional looking results.

Off camera

So that’s the top line when it comes to shooting flash. Hopefully, this top-line introduction has armed you with enough information to start getting to grips with the flash modes you have available. But we’ll be going into more detail on each of these techniques in subsequent blogs over the next few weeks.

Which focus mode should I use with my X-series camera?

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w360_6415757_tutorialbannerfordotmailerMost people know what it means to focus with your camera lens. To do this, you adjust the distance of the lens (or an element inside the lens) from the sensor. There are two ways you can focus your camera – automatically (Autofocus or AF) or manually (MF).

As you probably already know, autofocus is there to do the hard work for you, and in most shooting situations this is all you will need to take great in-focus photographs. What you might not know is that there are different types of autofocus for different situations; this is what we hope to give you a better understanding of here.


Focus modes

focus-mode-selectorThe focus modes are generally set using a dial on the front of your camera. On some cameras this control is a switch on the side of the camera.

Single Autofocus (AF-S)

With single autofocus, once you half press the shutter button, the camera will focus on the closest object within the focus area (which we come onto shortly) on the screen. You can then take a picture knowing that the subject is in focus. This can be a very useful setting for portraiture, still-life, macro work and landscape photography.

Continuous Autofocus (AF-C)

When using continuous autofocus, half pressing the shutter button will focus on the closest object in the focus area, and then while you hold the shutter half pressed, will continue to refocus on that point. This mode can be very useful for sports, action, children & pets who are moving and wildlife photography – a great choice for moving subjects.

Manual Focus (MF)

As useful as the autofocus modes are, there are many situations where using manual focus could be the better option. Don’t worry, we’ll go into the manual focus mode in a bit more detail later on.


AF modes

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49 focus points

The “Focus mode” lets you choose how often the lens will focus while the shutter button is held half-pressed, while the “AF mode” determines where in the frame the camera will focus.

Most of our Fujifilm X-series cameras offer 49 focus points. From this you can select a single AF point, a group of points, or even make all of them active. Let’s look at the different options available:

AF mode: Single Point

AF-S + Single PointWhen combined with the AF-S focus mode, this delivers highly accurate autofocus on a specific area. You can choose one of the 49 available focus points and also change the size of the focus point to suit your subject. This is your “go to” focus configuration.

When combined with AF-C focus mode, this tracks a subject with a fixed direction of movement, e.g. moving straight towards the camera. Again you can choose which of the 49-point focus areas to lock onto and also change the size, however this time when you half press & hold the shutter button you activate the continuous tracking on that area. Fully press the shutter button when you want to take the shot.

AF-S + Zone

AF mode: Zone

This setting is effective for a subject with moderate movement which the Single Point mode may have difficulty capturing. You start by choosing a 3×3, 5×3 or 5×5 block of AF area points and then position them where you want them in the frame. We recommend you choose the phase detection AF areas for faster autofocus speeds – these appear in a different colour and make up the middle 5 x 3 points.

When combined with AF-C mode, the camera will continue to refresh the autofocus while the shutter is half pressed and this is how we recommend you use this mode. This way you can “lock” onto your subject once it enters your chosen block size by half pressing and holding the shutter button, the camera will then continue to re-focus as you follow the subject with your camera.

If you use the Zone AF mode with AF-S, the camera will simply lock onto the closest object within your block of focus points once and then stay focused at the same point. If the object then moves it is possible your image will not be in focus.

AF-C + Wide tracking

AF mode: Wide/Tracking

This mode is perfect for capturing a subject that moves unpredictably up/down, left/right and closer/further from the camera, where you do not wish to move your camera around to “chase” the subject.

Decide the composition and layout of your shot first and then move the AF point to the point where you want to start tracking the object from. When combined with AF-C, half press the shutter button while your subject is within the AF point and the camera will lock onto the subject and follow it wherever it moves within the whole frame while the button remains held. Fully press the shutter button to take the shot.

Note: The Zone and Wide/Tracking modes are only available on the X-T10 and X-T1 (firmware 4 and above) cameras.


More about Manual Focus

Here are some examples of how and when MF might be used:

When the light is dim. The autofocus sensor in your digital camera needs light and contrast to perform properly. When you’re shooting in low-light, AF may not be able to see subtle, indistinct details, so it will have a hard time locking onto a specific area of your subject.

When you’re shooting fast action. With manual focus, you can set up your camera to capture a certain area. Then when your subject comes into the frame, you can shoot continuously to get the best exposure. This is ideal for shooting at races and can even be used for street photography.

When AF gets confused. Sometimes you are shooting something that has another object in front of it, like a fence or a branch. AF will try to focus on the closer object. This may also occur when another moving object moves into the frame. So, if you’re shooting animals in the wild or active children, manual focus often makes more sense.

For full maximum control. Some photographers actually prefer to use manual focus on a regular basis as it gives them more creative control. With advanced functions like focus peaking, techniques such as focus stacking and panning shots, MF allows the photographer complete control.

racing car

 

Tutorial: Understanding exposure & using it creatively

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w360_6415757_tutorialbannerfordotmailerWhat is “Exposure”?

We’ve all taken them – an amazing once-in-a-lifetime photo but when we look closer, the photo is too dark or too bright or the subject doesn’t pop enough. A properly “exposed” photo will show details in both the lighter and darker areas of a photo AND show the subject and background in proper focus.
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Exposure can be defined as the amount of light that enters the front of the lens and hits the sensor of your camera.

There are 3 elements that determine the correct Exposure and they are heavily dependent on each other – ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture. There are many combinations of these 3 elements that can produce a correctly exposed photo BUT the “effect” of each combination will drastically impact the creative look of the photo. Let’s look at each element.


ISO = Film speed

If you’re old enough to remember using a film camera, you would have bought various “speeds” of film depending on the lighting conditions you were shooting in. ISO determines how sensitive the camera is to incoming light.

Today’s digital cameras allow you to adjust the ISO (aka film speed) either through an ISO dial or through the menu system. The downsides of using a high ISO is that the photo will become “grainy” or noisy. It might be properly exposed but it will not be as sharp.

Generally, you don’t need to fiddle with ISO, as it has the least effect on the creative side of your image out of the 3 elements. To minimise the grainy effect simply set your maximum AUTO ISO to 1600 through your menu system and your photos should never appear grainy. Or if you prefer, you can also set your ISO to a specific number like 200 or 400 and adjust the other 2 elements to get the correct exposure. You may need to use a higher ISO if you have manually set the other 2 elements and your camera is still warning your photo is underexposed. Most cameras have the capability to shoot at ISO 12,800 or higher if needed, but generally you are ok at ISO 3200 before you will see any “noise”.


Aperture = Focus Depth of Field

We’ve all seen them. Those professional looking photos of Aunt May where only she is in focus and the background is blurry. This is easily achieved by adjusting the Aperture setting on your camera. Aperture is the amount of light that can pass through the camera lens and determines how much of a photo will be in focus (called depth of field).

Depth of field example

Click here to learn more about Depth of Field

Setting the correct Aperture setting (called f-stop) will provide you with the desired effect for your photo. BEFORE you set the Aperture you need to know what type of “effect” you want depending on what scene you are shooting.

Aperture blades at different f/stops

If you are shooting a landscape, for example, you will want to have everything in focus so an F-stop of F8 or higher should be used. If you are shooting close-ups or portraits, you will want to blur out the background to make the subject stand out so you should use the lowest F-stop your lens allows like F2.8 or F1.4. Or if you are shooting in low light, you will need as much light as possible so an F-Stop like F2.8 will be adequate. Each lens you use will have different F-stop ranges so be sure you use the right lens depending on what you are shooting.


Shutter Speed = Controls motion

Next to Aperture, Shutter Speed is probably the next element that you will adjust the most. Shutter Speed is defined as how long the sensor is exposed to the light and scene you are shooting. The longer the exposure (slower shutter speed), the more light that hits the sensor and the more movement will be captured. The shorter the exposure (faster shutter speed), the less light and less movement will be captured.

Shutter Speed comes into play mostly when you are shooting moving objects OR low light scenes. Again, you will need to determine beforehand what kind of “effect” you want your photo to show. If you are shooting a moving object like your child playing soccer or a friend playing badminton, you can “freeze” the action by selecting a high shutter speed of 1/500 or faster.

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Fast shutter speed used to freeze the movement in the image.

Likewise, if you are shooting a moving object like a flowing water, you can show “movement” by selecting a slow shutter speed of ½ second or even longer with the use of a tripod.

Slow shutter speed used to increase movement and create a fog-like water effect.

You can even use a slow shutter speed to help capture the drama in an image by panning with the subject as you take the shot.

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Shutter speed set to: 1/40 – image taken whilst panning with the car.

Or if you are shooting low light scenes, like a night sky, where fast moving objects is not an issue, you can select a slow shutter speed of 1 to 30 seconds with the use of a tripod. You can also use slow shutter speeds to create light trails from cars and other similar light sources.

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Slow shutter speed used to capture the light trails from car headlights

Keep in mind, that slow shutter speeds will usually require a tripod as even the smallest hand movement will cause a blurry image. General rule for hand holding, is to take the focal length you are shooting at, say 100mm, and use the reciprocal number for the min shutter speed 1/(focal length) or 1/100. Any slower, and chances are you will get a blurry picture.

One of the hardest photos to take is an action shot in low light, like your child’s school play. You will need a fast shutter speed to “freeze” the action and prevent “blur” due to camera shake so an f-stop like F2.8 or lower is required to allow as much light in as possible. In this instance, you may need to increase the ISO setting to ensure the photo is properly exposed up to 1600 or higher.

How do you know if your scene is properly exposed BEFORE you shoot? Most of our Fujifilm cameras will either show on the LCD screen the shutter speed or aperture settings you have selected in RED if it’s not exposed properly. OR your LCD screen will actually preview the exposure on the LCD screen itself before you shoot.

We know that this topic is probably one of the hardest ones to get your head around at first, but don’t worry, you definitely will and it’ll be sooner than you think!

Happy snapping! 🙂

 

Tutorial: To take great pictures first you have to S.E.E.

w360_6415757_tutorialbannerfordotmailerSo how do I take better pictures?

Great question, glad you asked! There are so many ways to take better pictures, but I would say the easiest way to improve is to read tutorials, watch tutorials and try all the techniques you see to develop your skills. Think of every tutorial as a new recipe that you can add to a larger collection, then when you need a certain flavour of image, you just choose the relevant recipe. It not only means you will feel more confident when shooting, but you’ll also start producing consistently good, consistently your-style images, which is very important.

And don’t worry if you don’t quite get a technique straight away, because you will, and when you do, embrace it. Use it over and over until it becomes part of your very own photography recipe book.

So with this in mind, I want to introduce you to a new recipe to add to that book. This is a simple mnemonic that I want you to memorise, and then try out as soon as you can.

S: Search – E: Evaluate – E: Emphasise

S : Search

Being a budding photographer, I can assume that you are always looking for an interesting subject to take pictures of and this is what this step is all about. Search for the perfect photo any time you have a camera handy ( which of course, you always do 😉 ) because an interesting shot can find its way to you very quickly in almost all circumstances. Whether you are doing street photography and suddenly a flash mob arrives, or maybe it’s some landscape photography and you notice a small glint of the sun peeking through some trees. Be mindful of these possibilities and be ready.

Now, here’s the important part – when you find an interesting subject, don’t just shoot a picture of it and move on. This is a habit of many photographers, and it doesn’t mean that they will take bad pictures, on the contrary, they could be good photos. But, to take great photos, consistently, look to the next step..


E: Evaluate

So you have found something to take a picture of? That’s great! Now ask yourself this very simple question:

Why do I want to take a picture of it?

Think about what makes this subject special? Is it the colour of the ladies hair? Is it the shape formed from the shadow of that building? Maybe it’s the emotion that you want to capture? Or could it be the sharp stylish lines in the car? If you cannot answer this question, it probably isn’t worth taking a photograph. But, if you can answer it, take that knowledge to the next step.


E: Emphasise

So now you have a potential shot in mind, and very importantly, you know what makes it interesting. So this last step is to emphasise that point. Here are some ideas and examples to this way of thinking:


The red haired girl

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Let’s say you’re taking an image of a red haired girl, if the reason you chose her as your subject is because of her beautiful hair colour, don’t shoot her in black and white – consider complimentary colours in the background (greens usually work well) to help her stand out from the background. You could even increase the saturation ever so slightly to boost the colour further.

Tip: Your eye is always drawn to the warmer colour palette first in an image followed by cooler tones (blues).


The aggressively styled car

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If it is a car you’re shooting, and the reason that you chose it is because it looks mean and aggressive, getting down low to the ground, close to the car and shooting upwards can really add to the drama, especially if you add a little dutch tilt as well.

Tip: Using a wide-angle lens like the XF10-24mm or XF14mm can really increase the mood further as it pulls the centre of the frame forward, towards the viewer.


The modern city building

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If it’s an interesting bit of modern architecture you’re shooting, and the reason that you chose it is because of its modern lines and edges. Consider following one of these lines of the building from one edge of the frame to the other. Look at capturing the symmetry of the building, try it in black and white and also look at increasing the contrast to make the building ‘pop out’ from the image.

Tip: Try shooting in the 1:1 ratio (square crop) to enhance the symmetry and pattern-like nature of the image.


Why S.E.E. can help you

If you don’t go through these steps every time you go to take a picture, there is a high chance that you will only ever take good photos, not great ones.

This process is there to remind you to squeeze out every last drop of special into every photograph you take. After a while you will know this recipe off by heart and it will become second nature, very much like the difference between learning to drive and being able to drive – it just happens naturally with a little repetition.

And most of all.. have fun and keep snapping!

😀

 

Tutorial: Shooting landscapes

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w360_6415757_tutorialbannerfordotmailerIn this tutorial I wanted to give you some of my favourite tips to get you started with landscape photography from the more obvious tips to some of the lesser known ones. I have not listed them in order of importance as I believe this is subjective, more so the order in which they came to mind.

Remember, you don’t have to apply any or all of these ideas to take a great landscape picture, but it may just help you on your way.

Shoot Raw

Although Fujifilm JPEGs are renowned for their quality, when shooting landscapes I strongly recommend that you shoot RAW. This is because more image ‘information’ is retained in the image than from a JPEG and this will allow more flexibility when correcting exposure, enhancing colours and boosting tones. RAW files can be processed & converted with the camera specific bundled software or you can use popular programs like Adobe Lightroom, Capture One etc.

Essential accessories you may have overlooked

When you’re going to be standing in the dark on a misty morning up to your kneecaps in mud there is nothing worse than not having the right gear to keep you warm and comfortable; after all, you may be out for a few hours in these conditions. Here are some accessories that you might have overlooked taking with you:

  • Wellies – May be obvious for wearing in marshland environments but also extremely helpful on the beach (where you might normally associate wearing sandals)
  • Headtorch – When going out to shoot a sunrise, finding the perfect location can be really hard if you cannot see where you are going. Make sure that it is a headtorch rather than standard torch to keep your hands free for more important things.
  • Strong windproof umbrella – When shooting long exposures it is vital to keep the camera as still as possible. A tripod is a must-have accessory but I’d also recommend using an umbrella to keep strong winds from hitting the tripod & camera during these long exposures. As an obvious bonus it will also keep you dry, which is particularly important if you need to switch lens.
  • Waterproof jacket with zip-lock pockets – Not just to keep you dry, but more importantly to keep useful camera accessories close to hand. Things like spare batteries, remote release cable, cleaning cloth etc. Whether dawn or dusk, when the sun rises or sets it happens very quickly and this is exactly when you want all accessories within easy reach.

A further tip is to keep as much gear in your car boot at all times. That way in your daily travels if you see a beautiful landscape, you can just jump out whatever the weather, walk cross-country across muddy terrain and have a much more enjoyable experience.

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Think about composition even when you don’t have a camera with you!

Training your eye to ‘see‘ the best possible shot is probably the most important skill you could hone. The key point here is to imagine the frame of your camera whenever you see something beautiful. Think about all aspects of the shot; where would you stand to take the picture? Where would you position the tree/boat/sun in the frame? What lens would you choose and why? What aperture might you select to impact on the depth of field?

The more you ask yourself these questions, the quicker you answer them too. This means when you actually go to take a picture, you might just get it perfect first time round.

You should also check out my rule of thirds tutorial.

Try different perspectives

When you find a nice landscape location, try every conceivable angle you can think of until you get ‘that shot’ that brings a huge smile to your face. If that means getting down on your hands and knees, let it happen. After all, the picture you take could end up being your favourite of the day, month or even the year. And don’t be afraid to try an angle, look back at the image and think ‘That was no good’ because it is all about learning what works and what doesn’t.

Remember, the more you experiment, the more ‘mistakes‘ you make, the quicker you will find your own style and know what works for you. Here’s a shot I took that ruined my jeans and shoes, but to me, it was worth it!

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Use ND grad filters

You may have heard the term ‘ND grad filter’ or ‘Graduated neutral density filter’ but not necessarily known what it means. Think of an ND grad filter as a pair of gradient sunglasses (the ones that go from dark to transparent) for your camera lens. Its job is to stop a specific amount of light from reaching the sensor of your camera – but why would you want to do this?

Well, when you look at a sunset with the human eye, you can see all the detail in the lights of the sky and shadows of land without any problem. Unfortunately, even the best cameras cannot do this as well as the human eye can. Therefore to try and get the best reproduction of what the eye can see the camera is going to need a little help.

This is where the ND grad filter comes in. By choosing the right strength ND grad filter and positioning it correctly in the frame, you can perfectly balance the exposure above and below the horizon to give a stunning image that is colourful, full of tonal detail and a much truer representation as to how you saw it with your own eyes.

Your next question may be which ones should I buy? Or how exactly do I use them? My recommendation is to read forums, ask other photographers and watch videos on YouTube to get a good understanding of the best practices to ensure great results.

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Check the weather

Even within small regions the weather can vary quite a bit. You may find that location A is raining in the morning but location B is not. Use this information to your advantage, amend your itinerary to get the very best out of your day. There are lots of free weather apps for smartphones out there so have a look around to find one that suits you best.

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Prepare an itinerary

When you go away on a specific landscape photography trip, take the time to plot out the locations you want to visit, what times you want to visit them and how long you will spend at each location. Although this sounds very regimented it will help to keep your trip on track. Of course, if you find one of the locations particularly beautiful stay there longer, enjoy the experience. Simply think of the itinerary as a check list or a guide to get the most out of your trip as possible.

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Find the sweet spot for your lens

Getting the best out of your lens is important, especially in landscape images. Now if you are looking to get as much in focus as possible in your photo, simply set your lens to the smallest aperture available (which is the largest number) for example: f/16 or f/22. But if you are looking for the sweet spot of your lens (where it performs best in terms of clarity and sharpness), this is usually around 2-3 stops from the maximum aperture of the lens (which is the smallest number) for example: if you are using the XF14mmF2.8 lens then you expect to see the sweet spot at around f/8 as this is 3 stops from f/2.8.

Here are some other examples:

Lens Maximum Aperture +1 stop +2 stops +3 stops
XF14mm f/2.8 f/4 f/5.6 f/8
XF10-24mm f/4 f/5.6 f/8 f/11
XF18-55mm f/2.8* f/4* f/5.6* f/8*

* at 18mm

It doesn’t mean that you have to abide by this rule of thumb but it can help you find the best quality from your lens quickly. If you find some spare time, I would recommend setting the camera on a tripod, take the same picture on a few different apertures with the same lens and then look back at the results – find an aperture that gives you the perfect balance between depth of field, sharpness and image quality. Once you know what it is, use it as a starting point when out and about taking shots.

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Is there a ‘right’ hour to shoot landscapes?

One of the first tips to help capture better landscape images is to shoot at the ‘right‘ time of day. The golden hour is widely considered as the ‘best‘ time of day to take a landscape image. It is the hour in which the sun is rising or setting. This is due to a number of reasons but the main ones being the rich warm colours in the sky and the long trailing shadows that are created.

Don’t think that the only time you can take great pictures is at golden hour however, so many stunning images have been created at all times of day. Just think of it as a good starting point.

Extra tip: The time just before a sunrise or after a sunset is a great opportunity to take pictures too. This is known as the Blue Hour, it is called this because the indirect sunlight creates a blue hue in the sky and can help produce some of the most beautifully natural subdued tones.

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Example image of the blue hour

The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE)

This is one of the most useful tools in a landscape photographer’s bag of tricks. It is a third party application map-centric sun/moon calculator that shows how the light falls on the land. This allows you to know precisely where the sun is going to rise/set in a specific location way ahead of actually being there. It can come in handy when creating your itinerary as you can plot out the suns movements across a virtual map. The application is available on desktop, iOS and Android devices so it can be taken on-the-go as well.

Find out more here.

Use the Histogram

When shooting any image it is very important to maximise the amount of detail captured from the lowlights to the highlights. This is especially the case with landscapes due to the difference in the exposure between the land and sky. You can use your eye to judge whether an image is overexposed or not when it is very obvious, but I strongly recommend you use the camera’s histogram to tell the full story. It will allow you to make much smarter decisions when deciding the best exposure for the shot.

You may or may not know that when the highlight details in a scene are overexposed and burned out they are impossible to recover and get back regardless of how good you might be in post-editing. This could mean white blobs in the sky instead of detailed clouds or white mass areas in the sea instead of crashing waves etc.

So how do you avoid it? Well, shoot RAW (to maximise post production flexibility) and then look at your histogram. You want to aim to get the bulk of the histogram information to sit on the right hand side of the scale – this is known as exposing to the right. The most important part of this technique to ensure that the trace of the histogram does not peak right at the end of the right hand side as this would mean the highlights have been lost / burned out. An easy way to adjust this can be to use the Exposure Compensation dial / button found on the camera and decrease the exposure in 1/3EV at a time and then recheck the histogram until it looks perfect.

Don’t panic

Making mistakes is a natural part of learning any skilled craft. Accept that you are going to make mistakes along the way. You may take blurred shots, blow the highlights to kingdom come and delete your favourite image from the memory card by accident, but in the end, with practice, you will be a creative machine that can make beautiful images wherever you are, whatever time of day and with any camera & lens combination. Enjoy the journey and don’t panic, it will happen.

As with any tutorial there is always more that could be said, more tips that could be shared but the idea here is to give you a good starting point which you can grow from. Ask questions with other photographers, search tutorials online, share your images and ask for constructive criticism, look at work from inspirational landscape photographers and most importantly, enjoy photography.

Happy snapping!

 

Tutorial: Understanding Depth of Field

w360_6415757_tutorialbannerfordotmailerWhat is “Depth of field”?

Simply put, Depth of Field refers to the area in front of your camera that is in focus.

If your camera is set to focus one metre from the lens, Depth of Field refers to the area in front of, and behind one metre from the camera where subjects are still sharp enough to be considered in focus.

Along with Exposure and Composition, Depth of Field is one of the most important aspects of photography.

How do you control it?

Less is more

The main way to affect the Depth of Field is by adjusting the value of the Aperture

The bigger you set the aperture size (smaller number), the smaller your depth of field will be. The smaller you set the aperture size (bigger number), the bigger the depth of field will be. I know that sounds confusing but hopefully this diagram will help to explain it.

The yellow area shows the area in front of and behind the focal plane (the point when the camera is focused) that is in focus. It’s just a guide with no actual scale.

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The Depth of Field is actually also affected by the focal length of the lens, and also the distance of the subject from the camera (which is why there is more in-focus area behind the subject than in front of it), however for the benefit of just getting you started, in this post I’ll only talk about the aperture value.

Aperture Priority mode

X30 (top) and X100S (bottom) set to Aperture Priority mode
X30 (top) and my well-lived X100S (bottom) set to Aperture Priority mode

The best way to get started with adjusting the Aperture value is to set your camera to Aperture Priority mode. In this mode, you can control the Aperture value and the camera will still adjust the shutter speed and ISO value in order to correctly expose the image.

If you have a camera with a “M / A / S / P” dial on the top, switch it to “A” (for Aperture). If your camera doesn’t have this dial, just change the value on the Aperture ring to anything other than “A” (which in this case stands for Automatic) and set your shutter dial to “A” (Automatic). Your camera is now in Aperture Priority.

How does it affect my images?

Less is more

Using the largest aperture possible (smallest number) allows you to isolate your subject within a shallow depth of field and effectively make the foreground and background far less prominent. These example pictures were shot at f/1.4 using an X-T1 with XF35mm lens. They show foreground and background areas out of focus, allowing you, the viewer, to focus on the subjects.

More is more

Using a smaller aperture (larger number) increases the depth of field and allows you to include more, or all of your image, clear and in focus.

In this image, I wanted to get the tree in the foreground in focus, but still include the background as a prominent part of my image. Using a very wide lens with the Aperture set to f/8.0 allowed me to take this.

Aperture Priority at a glance

1. Activate Aperture-Priority
2. Generally shoot “wide open” – the lowest value Aperture your lens can shoot at. This means that your images will all draw the viewer into the part that you want them to look at – the part in focus.
3. “Stop down” your aperture (increase the value number) to get more of the shot in focus – great for group shots or landscapes / cityscapes

Conclusion

The amount of light captured in a shot is governed by three aspects – Shutter Speed, ISO value and Aperture value. You generally want as fast a shutter speed as possible (unless you are trying to capture motion within your image). You always want the ISO to be as low as possible to maximise the image quality and reduce noise.

However, there is no “you always” rule for Aperture as it is the one thing that affects your final image more than the others. Your decision to include all, or just a certain part of the image within the in-focus area is where you add your own creative touch to your image and direct the viewer’s eyes to the part of the image you want them to look at.

Tutorial: Using Film Simulation modes

w360_6415757_tutorialbannerfordotmailerFujifilm knows film. The clue is in the name. And they’ve spent a lot of time and effort bringing classic film traits to life in the current range of digital cameras.
Each Film Simulation mode* has unique properties to help you express your creativity without the need for time-consuming post-production. Varying degrees of Saturation and Tonality are composed with just the right balance to bring each Film Simulation mode to life.

Film Simulation ModesThe camera’s Electronic Viewfinder can show the effects of the selected Film Simulation mode before the shot is taken, and if you shoot RAW, the in-camera RAW processing function allows any of the Film Simulations to be applied post-capture, broadening your shooting options.

Which Film Simulation mode is best for your shot?

I cannot tell you this, but I can recommend certain Film Simulation types that lend themselves to particular photography subjects. However, just treat this like an initial guide and explore for yourself to find your own style.


Portraits

I would recommend Astia or Pro Neg. Std. Astia’s soft tones are perfect for capturing beautiful skin tones. Pro Neg Std. takes the look slightly further by also lowering the colour saturation.

Click on any of the images for a larger view.


Street photography

I recommend Classic Chrome or Monochrome. Photography is often called the “Art of omission”. Classic Chrome and Monochrome settings omit the element of colour in order emphasise the story you want to tell.


Landscapes / Seascapes / Cityscapes

I recommend Velvia. At the opposite end of the scale from Classic Chrome, Velvia uses colour as the main element. It adds more depth and the colours become more vibrant. There are certain emotions that only image colour can deliver and this is where Velvia comes in.


Image comparison

The images below were all created using the X-T1’s in-built RAW file converter and are all JPGs straight out of the camera.

Colour

Mono


Conclusion

All of the Film Simulation profiles have been developed (pun intended) by people with years of experience working with film to allow you to really alter the feel of the image without the need for lots of time-consuming post processing. Try it yourself and let us know how you get on in the comments below.

Bonus Tip!

If you’ve got a big enough memory card, set your camera to save “RAW+JPG” and then use the in-camera RAW File Converter to convert the same image into different Film Simulation modes after the shot has been taken.

* The number of Film Simulation modes available on your camera will vary.