Spirited Away

Battling the Elements

Battling the Elements

Last winter, the top destination which had been sitting on my bucket list for around 5 years finally became reality, the Lofoten Islands of northern Norway. As a photographer who has always been drawn to coastal locations I’m always on the lookout for unique combinations of elements. Ocean and mountains in the same scene usually makes for dramatic photography. Add in the possibility of the northern lights to this and the lure is irresistible. A big thank you to premier landscape photographers Arild Heitmann and Stian Klo of Lofoten Tours for the opportunity to collaborate on a 10 day tour of this region.

Although I had never photographed the phenomenon before, I had a good idea about what makes a good aurora image and the technical challenges involved. For this reason, I brought a Nikon setup (D810 body and 14-24mm lens) for its great high ISO performance and dynamic range. To be honest I had few expectations of making any stunning aurora shots. I was just happy to witness some sort of show at least once.

At the end of our workshop, we had seen the northern lights on 5 of the 10 nights, 2 of which were impressive displays. In the wash-up, I made around 3 photos which I put into my middling category of quality landscapes. I know it’s a cliche but really the experience of watching the night sky with a group of ten photographers was what I really will treasure the most. I’ll always remember the excited shout of our driver when the overcast sky cleared for several hours ‘Aurora!’ And we were off, headed for a group of mountains behind our cabins. Watching the wonder on the faces around me, reflecting green and the collective “wows” as the curtains of light suddenly started to rapidly move in a star studded sky was the moment that moved me the most. Even more than the excited chatter and energy on the drive back home afterwards having witnessed something thrilling and special.

Spirited Away

Spirited Away

About the Photo

Panoramic stitch of multiple vertical frames on Nikon D810 and 14-24mm at ISO 1600, f4, 25 seconds. This was in fact one of the less impressive aurora displays of the tour due to heavy cloud cover, however the formation you see here remained stable enough over a few minutes to be captured on a series of long exposures. The light on the mountains is reflected from a village behind me.

I’ve updated my personal website with a gallery of Norway landscapes. Several of images have made the final roundof the 2015 BBC/Veolia Wildlife Photographer of the Year and will be released after judging is complete in May.

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2014 – A Year of Changing Gears

Best of 2014

Best of 2014

For the first time in ages I’ve been able to put together a ‘best of’ collection at the start of the new year. Part of the reason is that there are not that many of them to choose from. I’ve some up with a dozen ‘worthy’ images which makes up the collage you see here. To kick off my new Instagram account I’m posting my best twelve images of 2014 which fit the square format of this social network.


Compared to previous years, 2014 was a very low output in absolute numbers of portfolio worthy images. The previous year on the other hand was huge by comparison, drawing from a wide range of subjects including landscapes, Carnevale in Venice and even dance photography.

I didn’t get many shooting days this year however it’s always a good sign to be able to leave out certain photos which initially were assumed to make the cut. The locations which make up the twelve differ markedly different from previous years : 6 from the Czech Republic, 3 from the Canadian Rockies, 1 from Paris, 1 from Tasmania and 1 from New Zealand.

Despite all this, I’m very satisfied. To use an Apple analogy, 2014 was a ‘Snow Leopard’ year, where I refined and built on my landscape photography skills. An image I shot early in the year, “What Dreams Are Made Of”, depicting Cradle Mountain with the Milky Way took out 1st prize in the Australian Geographic ANZANG competition for landscapes, a category I have most desired success in since I started entering 8 years ago.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Bohemian Rhapsody

I am also very proud of the portfolio I made in the Czech Republic. One aspect of travel and landscape photography where I very much want to be a leader and not a follower is regarding locations and capturing fresh images. That’s the reason why I so often choose places where nobody else is interested in shooting. There was New Zealand in 2008-2010, Brittany in 2012 and now the Czech Republic in 2014. I never ask anybody for guidance for shooting locations as I prefer to discover them on my own. I believe this is an important step in the creative process. There are photographers’ who work you see an immediately know that the images are borne out of a desire to get a photo out of the location no matter what. Nothing wrong with the trophy hunting style; it’s a great way to build up a portfolio. But personally I tend to prefer photos where it is clear that the subject and/or light has inspired the photographer to pick up the camera rather than because of a primary need to make a shot. To mention just a few names who I think fit this style there’s Guy Tal, Valerie Millett and Theo Bosboom.

It is this style of photography which I adopted while making my forest scenes in Czech. I felt that I was letting the landscape come to me rather than scouting them out. I have already been asked about locations, (even from Czech people!) and the fact is that many were simply random stops where I’ve seen something beautiful or where the beauty of light and conditions gave me pause. In any case I am really pleased to finally be able to add some good forest landscapes to my portfolio. I can’t ever recall seeing a Czech landscape from a non-central European photographer so I’m doubly proud of being able to show the natural beauty of this country.

Forest Code

Forest Code

In addition to forest landscapes, I had the opportunity to improve my mountain photography at the end of the year with a winter trip to the Canadian Rockies. When the opportunity to take a workshop with Marc Adamus presented itself, I quickly took it with the intention of seeing how the world’s best mountain landscape photographer approached his subjects. The other aspect I wanted a refresher in was post-capture processing. As a result of the workshop, I believe that I have taken both my mountain landscapes and digital workflow to the next level.

Winter's Dream

Winter’s Dream

The question of photo workshops was brought up in a forum and I’m going to quote my own reply there.

“I see a lot of photographers who are in ruts who don’t know it – expanding their portfolio but not making any actual improvement in their actual photography in my opinion. I believe that a workshop with the right leader would make the world of difference to them and the money would be better spent than on gear or more travel. I will enrol in a photography workshop from time to time, just to open my mind to see how other people approach photography, work flow, etc.”

Which seems to be a great segue into a plug for the workshop I’m co-leading with Lofoten Tours very soon with a couple of spots still open. This is a grand tour of the location which I’ve placed at #1 on my bucket list for ages and presents the opportunity to photograph aurora in a fantastic location.


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Checking Out Bohemia

Prague at Sunrise

Prague at Sunrise

Prague has inexplicably remained on my bucket list European cities for over a decade. During that time the Czech capital has gone from being a something of a destination for the more intrepid explorer to the 6th most visited city in Europe. Even though the Czech Republic retains its original currency rather than the Euro, the country is no longer a cheap holiday location, although less expensive than most western European countries.

On my recent trip, I had made no plans past landing in Prague where I expected to spend a few days shooting the landmarks and some street photography. From there I had vague thoughts about travelling to parts of the UK such as Ireland and Wales for landscapes.

But first, a few impressions of Prague. The layout reminded me a bit of Paris. Instead of the Seine, you have the Vltava river winding S-like through the city which is crossed by numerous bridges. The famous Charles Bridge (Karluv Most) is rightly popular as it is perhaps one of the most beautiful in the world. Apart from being itself physically splendid, it links up two of the best perspectives of the city from either end : Prague castle and the Old Town. Shooting in the evening is difficult due to the number of tourists so most of my sunrises were spent here, hoping for foggy conditions (which never eventuated).

In spite of the many touristy shops in the centre, I found Prague to be a strikingly elegant and romantic city. I could imagine spending a great deal of time exploring the city in more depth like I did with Paris. But it was time to move on and I commenced looking at flights to Dublin, Edinburgh and London. However, a Czech local suggested to me why not stay in the country and see some of the small towns and national parks? After a bit of research we singled out a few places to visit, although I remained unconvinced about the potential for landscape photography.

From Prague With Love

From Prague With Love

To cut a long story short, there’s a lot more to the Czech Republic than just Prague and I ended up spending my entire trip in the country. Most visitors combine their visit to the capital with a trip to the fairy tale town of Cesky Krumlov. Ignore the cheesy souvenir shops and it really is a very charming town with a medieval look to it. However from my brief explorations, I believe that there are many more interesting off-the-beaten-track locations to discover.

Tell by Night

Telc by Night

The big surprise was that I managed to come back with a handful of portfolio-worthy landscape images which will be released in due course. While there are no seascapes to shoot in Czech, being a land-locked country, there are beautiful forests and mountains. Even though I arrived after the peak, the autumn colour was among the most impressive I’ve seen anywhere. I’ll finish with an image showing features of the typical Czech wilderness in Bohemian Swiss, beech trees, luminous mossy banks, cascading rivers and limestone canyons. I didn’t even manage to visit Moravia, eastern half of the country, known for its wine regions and rolling hills. That will have to wait for my return trip.

Last Days of Autumn

Last Days of Autumn

Posted in Czech, Journal, Landscape, Travel | 6 Comments

An Unexpected Adventure

IMG_8638I think that it’s no surprise to most people that landscape photographers often have to go the extra mile to get their shots, both in a figurative and literal sense. We are in our element wandering around in the dark at ungodly hours in search of the perfect scene in ideal light. Our photos are often accompanied by thrilling ‘hero stories’. We all have our ideas about how we present our images and one of my quirks is making up fanciful titles for them. Personally I tend not to dwell too much on whatever ordeals were endured in the creation of my landscapes. I think the public already have an expectation that these are part and parcel of the perseverance required to be in the right place at the right time. When I do focus on a back story, I prefer to use one which illustrates some aspect of my creative processed. Or in this case an entertaining anecdote which from a personal perspective makes me treasure a photograph more.

The deep southern region of New Zealand known as the Catlins is remote and sparsely dotted by sleepy towns. During winter, the feeling of isolation is even more apparent with almost no supermarkets, restaurants or banks open. However this was exactly what appealed to me on my recent trip to New Zealand. I had always wanted to return to this region to reshoot some of the waterfalls and continue my exploration of its coastline.

I already had a rough idea of the coastal areas I wished to visit, so one afternoon we made a scouting trip to a relatively obscure beach, mainly known to surfers. At this stage I had relinquished the wheel during the more tortuous roads to my companion, whose constitution was not appreciating the centrifugal forces generated by my turns. As she pulled into the dirt patch which doubled as a car park, I commented that from previous experience it was also possible to park on the beach itself. After a brief hike, the view opened out onto a beautiful sandy beach which had a couple of features sought after by seascape photographers : a tannin creek running into the sea and cliff tops in the distance. Pleased with a composition I made, I decided that we would return to photograph the sunset here. In passing, I made mention of the old beaten up car parked on the beach and that we could have done the same to avoid the short hike.


On consultation with the owner at the beachfront studio where we were staying, it seemed that there was a grand total of one restaurant in the general region open for dinner. After a pretty dodgy tasting pork chop at the tavern for dinner, we returned to the beach for our sunset shoot. Given the remote location and the burgeoning darkness, this time I suggested parking on the unsealed road rather than the beach just to be safe. However she had other ideas and we ended up parked on the edge of the beach. The conditions were too overcast for any sort of sunset colour so I decided to wait a while for some blue hour shots. This gave me some time to recompose since the composition I had scouted earlier in the day had been altered too much by the outgoing tide. By the time we had finished up, it was dark enough for my exposures to be around the 5 minute mark without any filtration.

In hindsight I should probably have taken control of the wheel again as evidenced by the loud crack when she backed out. The rear wheels of the sedan had rolled over and become lodged behind some rocks. Attempting to drive forward or in reverse only served to cause the vehicle to sink further into the sand. After half an hour of digging, pushing the car and attempting to fashion a ramp out of sticks and branches, we admitted defeat. Although I was fairly certain we were far out enough to be safe when the tide came back in, the sand was still a bit damp underfoot so I couldn’t be 100% that it would not be a problem at high tide. I knew we were a long distance from getting a cell signal so off we went to the highway to try our luck. Fortunately within a few minutes we had managed to wave down a car with our iPhone torches. We asked the male driver whether he might be able to give us a lift to a nearby town where we could get reception. He appeared somewhat high and there was an incredible amount of rubbish in the car but it was quite likely that there might be nobody else pass by at this time of the night. He mentioned that there were no nearby towns where he could take us but could bring us to his father’s farm a 15 minute drive away to use their landline.


Adding to the drama was that the two of us had recently watched Wolf Creek (both 1 and 2!) before the trip so when we arrived at the farm, we were somewhat alarmed at the scene before us. Three rough-looking guys in various states of inebriation were standing around a garage. Several monster trucks were parked out front. I could see a rifle in the front seat of the one in the driveway. The carcass of a large animal split in sagittal section was hanging from the room of the garage. One of the men went up to it with a carving knife and hacked a large piece of raw meat off – not the most comforting gesture under the circumstances!

In any case the blokes cleared out one of the monster trucks and agreed to attempt to tow our vehicle out. On the way back to the beach, my companion who normally likes to criticise my driving was oddly silent despite the driver’s wayward driving, which was punctuated with swigs from a bottle of beer. After some difficulty finding something suitable to tie the rope to, one of the guys scooted under the car and attached it to the rear axle. But despite a few firm attempts, the car refused to budge. A closer inspection underneath revealed that some rocks were catching the midsection of the vehicle. The main guy asked me “Is this a rental? We can try to use brute force but can’t guarantee that it will stay in one piece”. I replied “Do whatever it takes”. I was slightly reassured that I had taken out the maximum insurance but wasn’t overly confident that it would cover something like this. The moment of truth arrived. With a fair run-up, the monster truck managed to dislodge our car with an almighty CRACK! There was a puff of dust and an acrid odour in the air. To our amazement, the car remained intact. At various stages during the night, we had imagined our car drowning at high tide, being raped or shot. In the end it turned out that we were in the right place at the right time and found just the people who could help us.


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ANZANG 2014 Wrap-Up – Full Circle

ANZANG Exhibition at the South Australian Museum

ANZANG Exhibition at the South Australian Museum

So the results are in and I’m delighted with the five images which made the final 93 being exhibited right now at the South Australian Museum in Adelaide. I was able to be present at the awards night last week which was well worth the trip. It was really pleasing to view the images so well presented by Atkins Technicolour. We tend to see so many photographs on-screen these days that the experience of a real print serves as good a reminder of how every image should ideally be viewed.

I finally snared the top prize in the landscape category. A few years back I managed to be the runner’s up. Along the way I also managed wins in the threatened species and monochrome sections over the past 3 years. But being primarily a landscape photographer, this was the one that I will treasure the most. I had two finalists in the landscape category but surprisingly the one which I had considered the weaker of the two ended up taking out the top honours. The winning image “What Dreams Are Made Of” is actually fiendishly difficult to print (as with many night photos) and the publications in the Australian Geographic magazine really paled in comparison to what was hanging up in the museum.

Before discussing my own photo, here are some other thoughts about the exhibition. Firstly, one of my favourite aspects about awards nights is meeting up with other photographers, some whom I may have already become acquainted with from online forums. It’s a nice way to spend the evening, hearing others talk about their work. It’s certainly not just about being Narcissistic, collecting your award and admiring your photo on a wall.

I thought the judges nailed the overall winner, which looked quite stunning in print. The electric blue of the bluebottle’s stingers against an inky black background under a beautiful sky would have had my vote as well. Congratulations Matthew Smith!


Another image which particularly caught my eye was the winner of the BW category by Charles Davis, a terrific animal behaviour shot in great conditions.


I also enjoyed Ted Mead’s botanical winner, a wonderful representation of the primeval Tasmanian forest in fog.


Finally, there was Raoul Slater’s stunning detail shot of a spider in rain. I loved the backlight there and the lesson that a prize winning photo may exist in one’s backyard (literally in the case – his garden shed).


There was something poignant about winning the landscape category with a composition very similar to the first photograph I remember ever taking with a D-SLR. Back in 2005, with a Nikon D70 in automatic mode I woke at dawn and captured Cradle Mountain in early morning light reflected in a still Dove Lake. During the summer of 2014 I photographed the same scene but at the opposite time of the day (around midnight) as a stitched panorama.

What the judges had to say :

“This image shows careful planning and excellent execution. The Milky Way has been photographed before, but framing it over Cradle Mountain and successfully capturing the reflection of the stars and detail of the night sky is the key to this image’s success.” 

There’s a bit of irony that I finally won the landscape category with this particular photograph. Generally, I don’t do a lot of Milky Way shots – mainly because I haven’t found that many subjects which I feel warrant staying up at night rather than snuggling in bed! In Australia however, the twin horns of Cradle Mountain are so distinctive that even in silhouette its peak is quite recognizable, hence providing a strong subject. Sometimes I think people will shoot anything just as long as the Milky Way is above it but I prefer to choose my nocturnal photography carefully.

I think ‘What Dreams Are Made Of’ illustrates some important points regarding competition entries. It was one of the least popular landscapes I have posted over the past year on various platforms. If I had entered this competition based on how many likes or votes the image received on social networks, it is doubtful that I would have had this success. Let me share some of the considerations regarding my ANZANG (and other competition) entries.

  1. In my opinion, the most important rule of choosing images is to put yourself into the judge’s shoes. Imagine that you are on the panel and consider for what reasons the judges may single out your photograph out of thousands of other entries.
  2. If choosing a personal favourite, try to remove any emotional attachment you may have to the photograph. The judges’ may not know anything about the story behind the image, any of the hardships involved in its making or how technically challenging it was to shoot.
  3. If choosing a photograph that has been popular with social platforms, note that the same sort of images get up-voted over and over again. Subjects like Moraine Lake, Twelve Apostles and Mesa Arch often do well, even if the hundreds to thousands of versions cannot be easily distinguished from each other. If I had entered one of my Cradle Mountain images with the classic view of a sunrise reflection in Dove Lake, it would have had zero chance of seeing light of day in ANZANG. Iconic views that offer nothing new won’t get the attention of experienced judges, many who are photographers themselves or magazine editors well familiar with what imagery is already out there. On the other hand a fresh interpretation of a common subject is not something you see every day.

A final tip is not to be too hasty with sharing your best photos. I generally try to keep my competition worthy close to my chest until the entry deadline has passed. Good images potentially will have a very wide audience. I want to keep these photos fresh so that the judges will not have had time to see them beforehand and I think the anonymity is an advantage too. Finally, an original idea or a new location is really hard to come by – best to make your mark before there are hundreds of copies floating around on photo sharing platforms.

See all the finalists here. http://www.anzang.samuseum.sa.gov.au/gallery/

What Dreams Are Made Of

What Dreams Are Made Of

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Shifting Goal Posts

ANZANG finalists

ANZANG finalists

The ANZANG/Australian Geographic exhibition opening and announcement of prize winners at the South Australian Museum takes place this week. I’m very to pleased to have appeared on the honour roll every year since I started entering the competition 7 years ago. 2014 has been my most successful attempt so far with 5 of the 93 images to be exhibited being mine. I was a bit surprised to note that four of these five photos feature very iconic subjects : three of them are of Cradle Mountain in Tasmania (by far Australia’s most photographed peak) and the fourth is from Milford Sound (arguably New Zealand’s most famous landscape). Despite this, I think few would consider any of these images to be ‘standard’ depictions of these popular subjects. I started to reflect on how my vision has changed since I started taking pictures 9 years ago. As we all go down this road our goals and priorities inevitably change, with the results no doubt reflecting this.

When I first started using a D-SLR, the gold standard for what I wanted to create was postcard quality photography. Construction of solid compositions, the use of aesthetically pleasing light and mastery of a good technique were the cornerstones of achieving my goal of postcard-perfect scenes. Within a few months and plenty of practice under my belt, I was able to regularly and consistently produce photos I was happy with.

The next step of my development was mainly concerned with building on this foundation. I worked on expanding my portfolio with more images, using different locations and broadening the subject material. The majority of photos in this phase were shot during the magic hours. I never consciously set about developing a particular style but I began to settle into a routine way of presenting each scene. Even now it’s difficult for me to put a finger makes my work distinctive but people began to comment that they could often identify many of my images quite easily.

In recent years, the explosion in social media and photo sharing platforms, we have seen a big increase in the volume and quality of images exposed to an ever-expanding audience. This constant supply of excellent photography is counter balanced by the relatively short longevity of their appreciation. Photos of the day, popular pages, editor’s choice, posts on Facebook timelines and the like tend to give an exposure half life of around a day. Popular images may get massive views over this period but are usually forgotten days later, buried under the next influx of pictures. I think many photographers get caught up in this cycle and obtain a ‘hit’ out of these spikes in popularity, with one eye on their vision and another on how it may be received by the masses. We’ve even seen some well known and respected photographers stooping to stealing images and passing them off as their own to continue to ride the wave of popularity.

These days, the thing which really drives me to keep on taking photos is the pursuit of creativity and originality. I’ve always wanted to be a pioneer rather than a follower. When well-meaning people encouraged me to go to a certain spot because ‘lots of photographers’ get their shots there, it inspired me to scout out new locations. The year that everybody seemed to be setting out for Patagonia and Iceland, I made my ground-breaking trip to New Zealand instead. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with making the standard images and I do this from time to time. However these days, I’m more likely to keep the camera in the bag and just enjoy the moment if I’m not feeling especially inspired.

For me creating work which is both original and memorable has become my holy grail. Just as that mythical object is said to contain the elixir of longevity, I seek those images which endure beyond the brief applause of social media and photo sharing fame.




Milford Sound, the jewel in the crown of New Zealand’s south island has long been one of those locations which I’ve put into the tough basket. This is a majestic and awe-inspiring location however virtually all the photographs I had seen focused on the roundish rocks on the shoreline or simple reflections of the mountains. In my opinion these approaches suffered from an imbalance between a relatively weak foreground leading into a powerful background. One exception to this is Craig Potton’s famous image of a gigantic deluge cascading off the side of a mountain in torrential rain.

When shooting iconic landscapes, it is a strong priority for me to be making a useful addition to what is already out there, if I’m intending on presenting the result to the public. I imagine that there are a thousand other photographers out there and wonder how I can shoot the scene in a unique way. This may be in the form of a different composition, mood or some novel idea.

On a private workshop almost a year ago after the sunrise shoot, I noticed how the tide was rapidly coming in from a long distance away. I came up with the idea of trying to capture the dynamic aspects of this. The build up of clouds on a blue sky day further helped to distinguish my effort from the crowded field of sunrise/sunset Milford Sound images. It took me 5 years to finally make and image of Milford Sound that I liked, but the reward is that 1 year after shooting this, I treasure it as much as the day it was created.

“Incoming” will be part of the 2014 ANZANG/Australian Geographic travelling exhibition starting off at the South Australian Museum in Adelaide this week.

Canon 5DMkIII, 16-35mm 2.8L, ISO 50, f22, 4s

See the complete list of finalists on the ANZANG website.

Posted in Awards, Competitions, Landscape, New Zealand | 3 Comments

Back to the Future

MorningI photographed this on a weekend looking for white sand beachscapes at Wilson’s Promontory, the southern tip of the Australian mainland. Most of the shoots were busts due to clear skies but on the final morning I came across some very thick fog. On the way back from shooting the Tidal River beach at sunrise, I came across this scene as early morning sunlight filtered through the lifting fog. I shot this one handed at full stretch with my arm above my head on my tippy toes to get as much separation front to back as possible.

What is old may be new again. For those who came into landscape photography in the digital age, this style of genteel scene is probably not something you see too often. First off, the focal length at 95mm is a bit unusual. Secondly, the atmosphere is calm and sedate rather than dramatic. Thirdly, the image was captured in truly bright conditions. It may be a trifle unfashionable but I like this reminds me of the days of large format cameras and when the Lake District was more popular than Iceland.

Blushing Ripples

Blushing Ripples

Another trend I’m seeing is the dwindling number of landscape abstracts. Although these have never been plentiful, the vast number of wide angles and panoramas have made the intimate landscape an almost endangered species. I believe that these require a more developed eye to ‘see’ but the reward is adding versatility and variation to one’s portfolio. I’m glad I made the effort to shoot these sand patterns on the Tidal River beach reflecting the sunrise glow since my other seascape images on the day were pretty standard fare.

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Confessions of a Lazy Landscape Photographer (and Blogger)

Familiar Territory

Familiar Territory

Priorities change. Magic hour shooting and blog postings at religiously observed intervals have taken a backseat in mine. When I first started my journey, digital landscape photography was in its infancy and sunrise/sunset images were not quite as ubiquitous as they are today. Nowadays when I see something that doesn’t rely on the lottery of the sunrise/sunset conditions, it makes me pause and take a second look.

The fact is that I have shot many magic hour landscapes over the past 9 years. If my own portfolio were not already full of such images I would probably be more disciplined about chasing this sort of light these days. Shooting the sweet light will always be the modus operandi of the landscape photographer but creating something unexpected rewards with its own thrills.

Frozen World

Frozen World

Last week, I shot this new image at the ever increasingly popular Tasman Lake, a magnet for landscape photographers in search of floating icebergs. Coincidentally, days before shooting this, I happened to visit New Zealand Geographic’s exhibition of past winners at Christchurch’s Cathedral Square where my effort at the same location was displayed. It had many ingredients of a classic style landscape photograph : shot during the magic hour, ultra wide angle lens, near-far perspective. The twist was that I manipulated the scene by physically removing a chunk of ice and placing it on a rock.

This new image is in many ways the opposite. I visited the location at noon, with no expectation of even taking out my camera from its bag. It was shot handheld with my 50mm prime lens (normally reserved for portraits) in cloudless bright sunny conditions and very straight-forward 5 minute process mainly using Nik’s Silver Efex.

Posted in Landscape, New Zealand | 5 Comments

The Digital Roadmap

Barely a week goes by without somebody enquiring about whether I do digital workflow videos of if there is an eBook in production on this subject. I think that there are already plenty of this sort of thing out there on the web. Truth be told, much of it far more advanced than what I can offer at this point as my post-capture processing is incredibly rudimentary by comparison. Yet it seems that not too many people have levelled criticisms about the way my images look. Nor do I feel that I’m missing any special techniques which are going to be transformative to my portfolio. Does this mean that I can afford to sit back in self-satisfaction and ignore the rapidly-growing advancements in digital enhancements? No. New tools open the imagination to greater possibilities.

I often see images presented by photographers who obviously have a better grasp of digital techniques than myself yet observe that the results are hamstrung by glaring flaws such as overzealous application of contrast, funky looking colours in landscapes or going overboard with flavour-of-the-month-type processing styles.

The way I see it, there are two resources at play in photo finishing, both equally important. First there is the ‘roadmap’ which I regard as a mental picture of how the end product should look like. Now this does not have to be an exact representation of the final image but rather, a rough range of the possibilities in mind. Integrated into all this is some idea what the boundaries are as to what is natural, optimised, artistic or over-the-top. I believe that this concept of developing one’s mental roadmap is generally neglected in favour of developing the second part of the equation, the digital ‘bag of tricks’, workflow techniques which bring vision to fruition on physical media. While the latter can be readily learnt through classes, videos and books, this in not the case for the former.

So how does one develop one’s roadmap? Essentially we are talking about producing the best version of somebody’s vision and what looks right or wrong. There’s obviously a lot of subjectivity at play here. Perhaps the best way to approach this is to find a respected peer willing to give an honest opinion and then being open to their critique.

Something that I have noticed from teaching workshops is many people tend to form a sort of tunnel vision in various aspects of photography. In the field, I see this when participants set up their compositions at the start of the shoot, but persist with the same framing even when the light changes and their first idea no longer works. The same applies to the post-capture process. People get so used to rigidly following a particular formula that some of the variables and imagination are taken out of the equation. I think that a more individual and thoughtful approach to each file helps us to exercise that mental roadmap a little more.

Here are two examples where conceptually the treatment was quite different, although both utilised the same basic tools in Photoshop.




Canon 5DMkII, 16-35mm 2.8L, ISO 100, f14, 1/30

This is a seascape which I recently rescued from the oblivion of my hard drive archives. It’s a sunset at what I consider one of the world’s best coastal locations for photography, found in Cornwall. I’m quite delighted with the result you see here now, hence the reason for my title.

The scene obviously shows a pretty large dynamic range to be captured, with sun on view, crepuscular rays and some shadowed areas. A graduated neutral density filter was used to allow a satisfactory amount of the necessary information to be captured in the one exposure. Due to the level of difficulty, I took some insurance shots from dynamic range but in the end did all my processing from a single RAW file. I processed the same file a few times for highlight, midtone and shadow detail, blending them by hand. Contrast work was achieved by multiple adjustment level layers with fine tuning using Tony Kuyper’s luminosity masks. Finally, some extra detail was brought out using Nik’s Viveza. Overall nothing fancy by today’s standards and the result is a combination of relatively simple digital workflow tools and artistic judgement. A lot of consideration went into aspects such as how bright and dark every inch of the frame should be, making sure that the lighting source falls in a natural way over the landscape and that the hues are optimised rather than over the top.

“Ghost Towers”

Ghost Towers

Ghost Towers

Canon 5DMkIII, 16-35mm 2.8L, ISO 50, f16, 15s

Images of Milford Sound, probably the most iconic view in New Zealand, are a dime a dozen. And there’s not a whole lot distinctive about this composition, I’m finding some zen from the softness and ethereal appearance of the peaks partially covered in low cloud. Rather than crank up contrast as is fashionable nowadays, I’ve kept the processing understated. In contrast to “Discovery”, I only needed to process the RAW file once for dynamic range. Some gentle contrast work using levels layers and finally the gradient tool to darken the reflections to match the top half. All up less than 10 minutes.

“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus”. Mark Twain

The digital tool kit is important but it’s the direction your mind takes that will have most influence on how the final image looks.

Posted in Cornwall, Landscape, My 2 cents, New Zealand, Postcapture | 1 Comment


Blaze-6Most discussions around creating landscape images focuses on rules of composition, perspective, visual balance and flow. However there is one aspect often forgotten which I think can make a landscape photograph far more effective – scale. The difficulty with the genre is that we are usually trying to represent a vast three dimensional subject on a puny two dimensional medium. The easiest and most practical way to convey scale is inclusion of a human figure. However placing a person in a natural environment is not generally something I want to do too often. I’m always on the lookout for visual cues in the scene which give a reference in size and how best to present them to greatest effect. The Archway Islands are gigantic rock formations, popular with photographers. Compositions are fairly limited at this location and I generally have a hard time getting a true feel for how massive these ‘islands’ are in images. I think this interpretation does a serviceable job in this regard. I included one of the shorter surrounding rock formations to emphasise height of the Archway Islands. In addition, having the cloud directly above taking up a similar amount of real estate as the formations gives some impression of vastness.

Posted in Composition, Landscape, My 2 cents, New Zealand | Leave a comment