Tutorial2

Photographing in Bad Weather

Bad Weather

In this weeks post, I would like to talk about bad weather; why you should go out when the weather sucks, how it can help you to get better images, and how to concur rain, hail and wind. Especially autumn is a time, in which a lot of people stay inside and leave their camera on the shelve to collect dust.

With this post I hope to encourage you to go out anyway! Despite (I would say: thanks to) bad weather, there are lots of amazing opportunities to be found, the weather simply adds to the drama and atmosphere! As a matter of fact, my best images are shot during bad weather. One of the major advantages of bad weather is that your not restricted to golden hour! And remember, there is no such thing as bad weather, there is only bad clothing!

Bad weather will deliver you mood and drama as long as you are willing to emerge yourself in it. This image looks peaceful but there was a strong wind blowing. Luckily these rock pools were sheltered from it! Tamron SP 15-30 f/2.8 @ 15 mm | f/11 | 2/5 sec | ISO 100.

Bad weather will deliver you mood and drama as long as you are willing to emerge yourself in it. This image looks peaceful but there was a strong wind blowing. Luckily these rock pools were sheltered from it! Tamron SP 15-30 f/2.8 @ 15 mm | f/11 | 2/5 sec | ISO 100.

Overcast and drizzle

While I am writing this, the weather outside is miserable and gray. The light is flat, there is no texture in the sky, and it is drizzling. A day you wouldn’t think of going outside for photography right? Wrong! Even though the light is flat, the colors are popping! Reason for this is that an overcast sky forms a huge soft-box. Of course, this isn’t the type of weather to shoot grand vistas or plan a sunset session. This is the type of weather to go into the forest (where you will find shelter from the rain too) or into a park, and focus on a more intimate type of photography.

Because the peak of autumn is long past, a lot of trees now have lost most leaves. All those leaves are on the ground and form an incredible orange carpet. This alone is worth shooting! To top it off though, there are certain types of trees and bushes that still have their leaves, some will even stay like that throughout winter! These leaves are often orange, and really jump out against a grayish tree trunk background. This is especially true when the light is soft and diffuse. Because of the flat light, there are no highlights, therefor all attention goes to the colorful leaves. One huge advantage of this type of weather is that you are not at all dependent on golden hour, you can shoot all day because the color of the light won’t change.

Fog

Next to amazing light, fog is one of the coolest conditions you’ll get in landscape photography! I really love fog! Fog brings atmosphere, fog can be spectacular, and fog can simplify your image. In other words, perfect conditions for a landscape photographer. There are certain types of fog (ground fog, cloud inversions, low hanging mist etc.) and each has its own amazing character, but for this article I am talking about persistent fog that doesn’t seem to dissolve during the day. Most people hate it and wouldn’t think about grabbing their camera. It is the type of fog that disrupts traffic and makes the air around cities smelly and unhealthy. But it is this type of fog that really helps to get amazing results. The further you look, the softer the contrast gets, and thus much of the details get dissolved. This helps to simplify your image by creating order and a sense of depth.

I’d been at this place so many times before, knowing there is an image to be had, but conditions were never right. Until this moment! Thanks to the fog, the otherwise chaotic landscape got simplified. Tamron SP 24-70 f/2.8 @ 53 mm | f/5.6 | 1/6 sec | ISO 100

I’d been at this place so many times before, knowing there is an image to be had, but conditions were never right. Until this moment! Thanks to the fog, the otherwise chaotic landscape got simplified. Tamron SP 24-70 f/2.8 @ 53 mm | f/5.6 | 1/6 sec | ISO 100

I love to stroll through the forest when it is foggy. The fog dampens the sound, so it is really serene! You can hear water dripping from the trees, and the forest will smell amazing. Photography-wise there is much to be gained too. People who’ve seen my latest video know that I struggle with woodland photography, but when there is fog, this struggle disappears. All of a sudden, I’m able to find compositions everywhere. So next time, when there is a persistent fog, don’t complain but grab your camera and head for the forest.

Backlit mist at a seascape can be really mystical! Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 @ 50 mm | f/18 | 9 sec | ISO 100.

Backlit mist at a seascape can be really mystical! Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 @ 50 mm | f/18 | 9 sec | ISO 100.

As with an over cast sky, you are not dependent on golden hour because the light of the sun won’t be able to penetrate the fog. I do advice you to go out early anyway because, even though persistent, you never know how long the fog stays! If you are planning to incorporate parts of the canopy of the forest in your image, it might be advisable to bring a soft- or medium edge gnd filter (i.g. the NiSi Soft edge GND4 (2 stops)).

Rain

Rain is definitely one of the hardest conditions to work with, especially for your morale. When it is raining, most photographers won’t bother with photography and leave their camera inside. But if you come prepared and are willing to get wet and miserable, it can lead to crazy results! In this section, I want to discuss two types of rain; rain showers and persistent rain.

Rain showers

Given the right circumstances, rain showers, or showers for short, are awesome! Showers often have a short duration. They tend to be quick and come in bursts, often scattered across the sky. If you are close to the sea, or a large open space, you can see them moving in, or even developing. Showers come from puffy clouds or cumuliform clouds, like cumulus or cumulonimbus. These clouds on its own are extremely photogenic, but combine them with sun and a huge rain shower and you have something amazing! Although short in duration, rain showers are often more intense than persistent rain and can be accompanied by heavy winds, so bear that in mind! Despite that, rain showers are the perfect ingredient for moody and atmospheric images.

A shower moves part on the other side of the fjord. It was easy to notice the front- and back end of this shower. This image is taken with my phone.

A shower moves part on the other side of the fjord. It was easy to notice the front- and back end of this shower. This image is taken with my phone.

Because showers are a temporary and strong outburst of rain, they are good to work with. You’ll be able so see their trajectory using weather apps, or by looking up when on location. This way, you can act accordingly. One of the coolest things with showers, is that they can occur together with a sunny sky. This in turn means that the chances for seeing a rainbow are high! A rainbow develops when the sun is in your back, whilst in front of you (or even above you) a shower occurs. With some planning, you will be able to predict the trajectory of a shower. Of course you need a bit of luck, because like I mentioned before, the duration is often short. But if luck is on your side, and the shower aligns with the sun right in front of you, while you’ve composed your image, you’ll hit a pot of gold!

To get this image, I had to wait for a shower to move in, and then align with the sun exactly above my composition. This was a really tense moment because the sky was heavily clouded. Slowly the rainbow moved into the right position and even intensified. Tamron SP 15-30 f/2.8 @ 20 mm | f/11 | 1/15 sec | ISO 100 with NiSi Medium GND8 & NiSi Landscape CPL.

To get this image, I had to wait for a shower to move in, and then align with the sun exactly above my composition. This was a really tense moment because the sky was heavily clouded. Slowly the rainbow moved into the right position and even intensified. Tamron SP 15-30 f/2.8 @ 20 mm | f/11 | 1/15 sec | ISO 100 with NiSi Medium GND8 & NiSi Landscape CPL.

Persistent rain

Another type of rain I’d like to discuss, is persistent rain. This type of rain stays all day, makes you awfully wet and miserable, and is almost always accompanied by a dull gray sky. It is the type of rain that makes you want to stay inside close to a fireplace, dreaming about the tropics. But even if the weather is this dreadful, there are images to be had. With this type of weather, it really doesn’t matter at what time of the day you will be shooting. You definitely won’t see the sun!

Because of the overcast sky, you need to find a subject that has color and/or is dynamic. This way you’ll be able to create something of interest in your image. Thanks to the aforementioned softbox effect, colors will really stand out against the miserable grayness.

When shooting in persistent rain, you have to accept that both you and your gear will get soaking wet. Most new camera’s and lenses are weather sealed, but be sure to check this before you head out! It is possible to put a rain cover around your camera, but I don’t like that. They are often flappy, loose, annoying and will get foggy. What I do like to do though, is to use a lens hood. This helps (a bit) to avoid raindrops on your lens. Although this works ok, you still need to wipe your lens before every image. As for yourself, wearing waterproofs helps a lot, but I always seem to get wet anyway. I guess you have to endure something to get the best results 

This image is taken on one of the worst days I’ve seen on the Lofoten this far. It took me over an hour and 6 images to get one I was happy about. Raindrops and the right timing, made this really hard. I had packed my camera a couple of times as the rain worsened. I was soaking wet, even my waterproofs seemed to be at a point of giving up. Rain was literally dripping from my camera, but I am stoked about the final result! Tamron SP 15-30 | 19 mm | f/18 | 1/3 sec | ISO 100.

This image is taken on one of the worst days I’ve seen on the Lofoten this far. It took me over an hour and 6 images to get one I was happy about. Raindrops and the right timing, made this really hard. I had packed my camera a couple of times as the rain worsened. I was soaking wet, even my waterproofs seemed to be at a point of giving up. Rain was literally dripping from my camera, but I am stoked about the final result! Tamron SP 15-30 | 19 mm | f/18 | 1/3 sec | ISO 100.

Snow

Personally, I don’t consider snow as bad weather. But shooting in a snowstorm, wet snow or plain snow showers can be quite a challenge. When it snows, the landscape becomes pretty gray and the light becomes flat. As with persistent rain and an overcast sky, the thing to do is to find color. Wet snow is definitely less preferable since it will stick to you, your camera and your lens. But besides the hassle, snow brings so many opportunities to be creative. You can choose a high shutter speed and freeze the snowflakes or choose a slightly longer shutter speed to get the effect of falling snow.

Wet snow 

I’ll kick off with the less preferable type of snow, namely wet snow. This type of snow sticks to everything in its path, but will melt as soon as it hits a surface. In other words, it will get you and your gear soaking wet. The best way to photograph this, is by finding a composition with the wind in your back. Reason for this is that the snow will instantly stick to your lens and melt. Leaving a wet and cold mess in your lens hood. That being said, wet snow can create dramatic images! Because of its thickness a lot of light will be lost and therefore create a lot of mood. If you want to get a dynamic image, you can use a slightly longer shutter speed to create the suggestion of falling snow.

It might not be my best image, but it illustrates perfectly what I mean. The wind was powerful and the snow wet. By using a slightly longer shutter speed, I managed to get the feeling of movement by the falling snow. Tamron SP 24-70 f/2.8 @ 24 mm | f/9 | 1/5 sec | ISO 100.

It might not be my best image, but it illustrates perfectly what I mean. The wind was powerful and the snow wet. By using a slightly longer shutter speed, I managed to get the feeling of movement by the falling snow. Tamron SP 24-70 f/2.8 @ 24 mm | f/9 | 1/5 sec | ISO 100.

Snow showers, snow storms & persistent snow

As with rain, snow often comes in short bursts. These can be violent and heavy, but also nice and gentle. Sometimes snowfall can be really persistent. When it is accompanied by heavy wind, you’ll get a snow storm. This is a condition in which it is quite hard to photograph because of the heavy wind. If you find a sheltered place however, you can get amazing and dynamic images. On the other hand, when the snowfall is more gentle, it will be easier to work with. When the snow is dry, it won’t stick to your camera either. A snow shower has the same characteristics as an overcast sky, therefore it is best to find a composition with color.

To shoot this image, I let the snow storm pass and then took this image. Just before, the wind had been too strong to do so. Tamron SP 17-50 f/2.8 @ 35 mm | f/22 | 20 sec | ISO 100.

To shoot this image, I let the snow storm pass and then took this image. Just before, the wind had been too strong to do so. Tamron SP 17-50 f/2.8 @ 35 mm | f/22 | 20 sec | ISO 100.

On my winter tour on Lofoten last March, I’d set the alarm at 4.30 am to find a dark and complete overcast sky, without any detail and nothing looked like it was about to change. Where the sun was supposed to rise, there was nothing to see, not even the faintest light. We took it slowly, but than, out of nowhere, the sky became fully orange. We rushed to a nearby location and were lucky to be in time to get a piece of the action. What had seemed like an overcast, dull sky, had in fact been a really large snow shower moving towards us. As the sun started to rise, the falling snow got backlit. This was a nice lesson for me too! When awake, go out cause you never know what happens.

The falling snow is backlit by the rising sun. It almost looks fake and I had never seen this before! Tamron SP 24-70 f/2.8 @ 62 mm | f/18 | 1 sec | ISO 100 with NiSi Medium GND8 and NiSi Landscape CPL.

The falling snow is backlit by the rising sun. It almost looks fake and I had never seen this before! Tamron SP 24-70 f/2.8 @ 62 mm | f/18 | 1 sec | ISO 100 with NiSi Medium GND8 and NiSi Landscape CPL.

Storm

Last but not least; Storm! Possibly the hardest condition to be out photographing, especially when it is combined with rain. This is definitely one of the conditions in which I will be struggling. It is really hard to use a tripod when it is super windy, let alone use filters (especially when using the 150 mm filter system as I do). But often with heavy wind and storm, you will get a dynamic and fast changing sky, packed with drama and massive clouds! What I do under these circumstances is to find shelter among the rocks, and shoot from low vantage point. The legs of my tripod will be super wide for maximum stability. It is best to get rid of the camera strap (if you haven’t already) because that will cause camera shake and thus unsharp images. Try to keep a fast shutter speed, but if you are in a place that is sheltered enough, do not hesitate to experiment with longer exposure times because the results can be mind blowing!

Just before I took this image, the weather was dreadful. It had been raining on and off for most of the day. Besides rain, there were gale force winds I had to endure. Crawled between the rocks, I had to wipe off salt water before every shot I took. Tamron SP 15-30 f/2.8 @ 15 mm | f/11 | 1/15 sec | ISO 100 with NiSi medium GND8 & NiSi Landscape CPL.

Just before I took this image, the weather was dreadful. It had been raining on and off for most of the day. Besides rain, there were gale force winds I had to endure. Crawled between the rocks, I had to wipe off salt water before every shot I took. Tamron SP 15-30 f/2.8 @ 15 mm | f/11 | 1/15 sec | ISO 100 with NiSi medium GND8 & NiSi Landscape CPL.

Thanks a lot for reading

That’s it for this week’s article! I hope it inspires you to go out, even when the weather sucks! If you get yourself into the elements now and then, you will see that you will grow as a photographer! If you enjoyed reading this article, please feel free to share on social media! And, if you like my photography, please follow me on Instagram @harmenpiekema

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Was this helpful to you? Are you still confused? Leave me a comment down below!

How to photograph the Lunar Eclipse (Blood Moon) 

How to photograph the Lunar Eclipse (Blood Moon) 

Tonights lunar eclipse will be the last for quite some time. It will be visible across most of Europe and America. The totality will be around 1 hour , while the whole eclipse will almost take 3 hours. During the totality phase, the moon is going to have a bright red color, hence the unofficial name "Blood Moon".

Why does it occur? 

Source: www.pacificsciencecenter.org

Source: www.pacificsciencecenter.org

Usually we would see the moon in a white colour, as it reflects the light caused by the sun. During an eclipse, though, the moon enters the shadow of the earth. In the earths atmosphere blue light is filtered out, meaning that the bypassing light, which is reflected off the moon will be red.

How to photograph the lunar Eclipse?

What you will need for photographing the Milkyway:

- A DSRL or mirrorless camera, where you have the ability to set manual settings

- A tripod that keeps your camera steady during longer exposures.  

- A lens that has a high aperture of at least f/5.6, better would be f/4 or even as low as f/1.4

 - A lens with 200-400 mm focal length for close ups, you can go wider as well if you wish.

 - Clear Skies, check the weather forecast. Small clouds could ruin the shot!

 - Make yourself familiar when the moon rises and sets at your place!

A shot of the 2015 lunar eclipse, as seen from southern Germany! This was shot at 70mm and cropped!

A shot of the 2015 lunar eclipse, as seen from southern Germany! This was shot at 70mm and cropped!

What settings do I need? 

That's a hard question, and I will tell you why. During the eclipse the moon changes from white and bright to dim and red, meaning that you will have to adjust the camera during the eclipse. When photographing the standard full moon I usually start off with something like 1/300 to 1/400 of a second, wide open aperture and a low ISO, like 100. Especially when shooting with a 400mm lens you will need a fast shutter speed, if you want your images to be sharp. If you have a tracking mount you can expose for longer, of course. I suggest that you start off with the above settings and then just play around and see what works best with your camera and lens!

Once the the eclipse goes towards totality (the phase where the moon is way dimmer), your exposure can well be up to 1-2 seconds. Don't shoot longer than that, and rather increase your ISO to ensure sharp photos!

A photo of the full moon at 600mm by Steffen Eisenacher

A photo of the full moon at 600mm by Steffen Eisenacher

Things to consider:

If you want to shoot the whole eclipse, be prepared, as it almost takes 3 1/2 hours. So pack something to snack and to drink, and ensure that you've got enough batteries and storage. Last time I photographed the eclipse I filled two 64 GB SD cards. 

The Lunar eclipse is a stunning astronomical occurrence and really easy to shoot. I wish you guys all the best of luck, especially weather wise. And don't forget to look up and take it all in!

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Was this quick tutorial any help for you? You are still confused and want to know more? Let me know in the comments below!

The Polarisation Filter (PART 1 of the Filter Series)

With and Without: The Polarisation filter

In this blog, I would like to show what Polarisation filter does and why I use it. Every post in this category will consist of at least two images (and a few single images to make it more fun to read). One taken with a certain filter, and one without. I will add a description about what the actual filter does and why I choose to use it in this particular scene.

I hope it will inspire, give insight, and help to decide which filter to buy and use. In my opinion, using filters is the best way to get better results. If everything is right in-camera, you can spend more time in the field instead of behind a computer. In my opinion,  photography is about being outside, creating beautiful images!

I was comfortably sitting on the waters’ edge waiting for the light to slowly change when this fisherman rowed into the scene. Tamron SP 15-30 f/2.8 @ 16 mm | f/11 | 16 sec | ISO 100 with NiSi Medium GND8 & NiSi landscape CPL.

I was comfortably sitting on the waters’ edge waiting for the light to slowly change when this fisherman rowed into the scene. Tamron SP 15-30 f/2.8 @ 16 mm | f/11 | 16 sec | ISO 100 with NiSi Medium GND8 & NiSi landscape CPL.

The polarization filter

This week, we will discuss the polarization filter. In last weeks video, you can see this filter in action. A filter capable of amazing things not possible in post-processing! That alone is why I think everybody should try this filter at least once to see its effect (after which you want to get one yourself for sure). This is one of the filters that I use so much! I love its effect and its power! When used correctly, it can add so much to your photo. And you can use it in so many different situations too. In fact, more often than not, this filter is on my camera and it is always in my bag where ever I go for photography. I even bring a spare one on longer photography trips and on my tours.

This filter can be bought as a screw-on filter but also for a filter system. I love to use the latter since this allows me to use the same filter on all of my lenses. Even on my ultra-wide angle lens. Therefore, I use the NiSi S5 filter system (150 mm) and the NiSi Landscape CPL.

Without the pola, I would not have been able to reveal the amazing details at the bottom of this rockpool. Tamron SP 15-30 f/2.8 @ 15 mm | f/11 | 1/4 sec | ISO 100 with NiSi Landscape CPL + NiSi Medium GND8.

Without the pola, I would not have been able to reveal the amazing details at the bottom of this rockpool. Tamron SP 15-30 f/2.8 @ 15 mm | f/11 | 1/4 sec | ISO 100 with NiSi Landscape CPL + NiSi Medium GND8.

How it works

In everyday life, unpolarized light from the sun (or when it is cloudy, from the sky) comes from different directions and is (partly) reflected or (partly) absorbed by objects around us. That is why we see those objects, their shape, their brightness, and color (or lack thereof when the light gets fully absorbed). Light that is reflected by an object becomes polarized. Because objects have different properties (color, texture, shape etc), light will be reflected in different directions. These properties will cause the reflected light to have a certain wavelength (color) and strength/brightness. When the texture is smooth and shiny, more light will be reflected (and polarized) in the same direction. That in turn causes a strong reflection or highlight to occur. Light reflected by color is much softer (to get a certain color, parts of the light are absorbed by the object) and therefore gets overpowered by the reflected highlight.

When we put a polarization filter in front of our lens, we will be able to block light with a certain polarization. This means that we will be able to block the glare, but let the light that reflects color enter the camera. For example, a polarizer rotated to pass only light in the direction perpendicular to the reflected light, will block light from all other directions. This effect applies to all reflections from shiny, non-metallic surfaces like, for example leaves, (wet)rocks, glass, skin, ice and even tree trunks. A polarization filter needs to be rotated to allow a certain direction of light to enter. This way, rainbows, reflections, and other polarized light will jump out or nearly disappear.

In this image, the glare was not caused by direct sunlight, but by the reflected sky. This was easily removed using a polarization filter. This intensified the beautiful color of the water. Tamron SP 15-30 f/2.8 @ 24 mm | f/16 | 1 Sec | ISO 100 with NiSi Landscape CPL + NiSi Medium GND16.

In this image, the glare was not caused by direct sunlight, but by the reflected sky. This was easily removed using a polarization filter. This intensified the beautiful color of the water. Tamron SP 15-30 f/2.8 @ 24 mm | f/16 | 1 Sec | ISO 100 with NiSi Landscape CPL + NiSi Medium GND16.

Therefor a polarization filter allows the natural color and detail of what lies beneath to be revealed. Fantastic for landscape photographers. But because the filter also removes reflections from glass, it is an amazing tool for architectural and cityscape photographers too. It will remove distracting reflections from windows, making it possible to see what is behind. It will remove glare from (wet) roads enhancing contrasts and it will add drama to the sky. This effect will greatly improve the drama and atmosphere in cityscapes, especially during blue hour and when it is wet.

The 90 degree angle rule

The strength of the polarization depends on its angle with the sun (or light source). The filter is at its strongest in a 90 degrees angle. When shooting straight into or away from the sun, its effect is at its weakest. In order to know where this maximum effect is you can form a pistol with your thumb and index finger, and point towards the sun. Keep pointing straight towards the sun and rotate your hand clockwise or counterclockwise. Your thumb will point towards the area with the maximum amount of polarization. To know where this spot lies is particularly important when shooting with an ultra-wide angle lens, or when taking panoramic images, but this we will discuss later.

Around water

The polarization filter is a popular filter, and for good reason. A filter that is capable of removing glare and reflections is a valuable tool! Therefore it is not hard to guess that one of the most well-known (and sought after) purposes for this filter is removing reflections from water. That is why most photographers love to use this filter around lakes, waterfalls and wet rocks! Imagine yourself standing at a lake, the water is crystal clear and the bottom is full of nicely colored pebbles. When you look close to your feet, you can see the bottom without any problem, but as soon as you look further than a few meters, the reflection starts blocking your vision and you won’t be able to see the bottom anymore. But even when you’re high above the surface and unable to see the bottom, this filter will have an incredible effect, as you can see on the next image.

If you look closely, you will be able to see a big difference. The most obvious is the glare on the sea. In the filtered image, this is mostly gone, revealing a deeper color and enhanced contrast. But if you look at the rocks and the color of the light, you can see that the colors are deepened and the reflections are removed too.

Plants and vegetation

Another purpose for which I love the polarization filter, is to remove reflections from plants and vegetation. Because most vegetation is covered in a protective waxy layer, its surface is often reflective. Therefore, color details get lost in highlighted parts. This also reduces the contrast, and with it, the impact the image has on the viewer. To illustrate this, I’ll use this image of a mushroom on  a dead tree. In the unfiltered image, you can see that a lot of color, detail and contrast is lost. Instead you see a distinct white glare. This glare is visible on all parts that reflect light from above (I was in a forest). In post-processing, I won’t be able to get rid of this because the information that lies underneath is lost. After I had attached the polarization filter, the effect is easy to see. It is a completely different image. The ugly and somewhat distracting glare is mostly gone and the colors are much more prominent. This draws all the attention to the nicely colored mushroom.


Woodland photography

A certain type of photography for which the polarization filter is really awesome, is woodland photography. This is where this filter really shines! The reason for this can be explained with the 90 degrees angle rule I mentioned earlier. When you are in a forest, the light mainly comes from above. This means that when you apply the 90 degrees angle rule, the maximum polarization effect lies in an horizontal plane. In other words, the maximum effect lies all around you. Combine this with a forest in its full autumn colors and the effect is simply mind blowing!

Looking at this image, the effect of the polarization filter is immediately visible when looking at the road. The glare is gone, making it much darker. But when looking at the leaves on the ground, the leaves that form the canopy of the forest, and the tree trunks, you notice that the glare is gone too. The colors are much deeper and warmer, and the overall contrast of the image is much stronger. In my opinion, the glare causes a disturbance and makes the image less pleasing to look at. With the glare gone, the disturbance is gone. Which makes for a stronger and better image.

How to use this filter?

As we can see, the polarization filter is a strong and valuable tool for landscape photographers, but how and when do we use such a filter? Well, with the 90 degrees rule in mind, you’ll know where the maximum effect lies, but even when shooting sunset straight into the sun, I find that it has a useful effect because the sky itself often causes a lot of glare on the foreground/subject. After attaching the filter to the lens, I look for the maximum effect by rotating the filter, it can be helpful to zoom in on certain parts of the photo using live-view. When I’ve reached this maximum, I’ll look for possible errors introduced by this, for instance caused by over polarization. If that is the case, I reduce the filters effect until I am satisfied. This of course is subject to taste, so if you like dark blue skies, go ahead and do so (but make sure to prevent errors discussed in the next section)! If I observe no effect, or the effect is not satisfying, I remove the filter.

In this image, it is clear to see that not all glare is removed. This is partly because the filter was unable to remove it all, but also because I intended to leave some of the glare because, in my opinion, it adds to the drama. Tamron SP 15-30 f/2.8 @ 15 mm | f/11 | 1/15 sec | ISO 100 with NiSi Medium GND8 & NiSi Landscape CPL.

In this image, it is clear to see that not all glare is removed. This is partly because the filter was unable to remove it all, but also because I intended to leave some of the glare because, in my opinion, it adds to the drama. Tamron SP 15-30 f/2.8 @ 15 mm | f/11 | 1/15 sec | ISO 100 with NiSi Medium GND8 & NiSi Landscape CPL.

Errors

When using a polarization filter, there are a few things to keep in mind! First of all, if the filter has no effect, don’t leave it on the lens. Remove it! Some photographers think that if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t do any harm either. But that is wrong. It will reduce the amount of light with 1 to 3 stops (depending on the brand and quality) and it if the glass has a low quality, it will reduce the sharpness of the image.

One thing that you shouldn’t forget is when you take a photograph in landscape orientation, and you change the camera to portrait orientation, you have to readjust the filter accordingly. It sounds logic, but trust me it is easily forgotten when you are excited. It happened to me too. Always double check and don’t rush!

When shooting panoramic images while using a polarization filter, make sure to correct for the angle with the sun. This means that you have to readjust the polarizer every time you move the camera for the next image. Check every image and make sure that you won’t introduce a dark spot exactly where the polarization is at its strongest. Have a look at the following image to see what I mean:

The arrows mark a dark area in my photo. This is caused by the polarizer, I had forgotten to adjust my polarizer while panning. This illustrates that you have to adjust the amount of polarization when panning.

The arrows mark a dark area in my photo. This is caused by the polarizer, I had forgotten to adjust my polarizer while panning. This illustrates that you have to adjust the amount of polarization when panning.

The same problem occurs when using an ultra wide angle lens. Try to avoid a lot of sky in your image or reduce the effect. Keep this and the 90 degrees rule in mind when composing your image and make sure to check the result. This can be done by using live-view. The last thing you should try to avoid, but this is a matter of taste, is over-polarizing an image. When doing so, the sky becomes really dark blue, so much that it starts to look unnatural. This effect can be really nice in black and white alpine scenes but often an image will start to look fake.

To be able to see the bottom in front of me, but also keep the reflection, I searched for the maximum amount of polarization an then reduced its effect until I was satisfied. Tamron SP 15-30 f/2.8 @ 15 mm | f/11 | 1/3 sec | ISO 100 with NiSi Medium GND8 & NiSi Landscape CPL.

To be able to see the bottom in front of me, but also keep the reflection, I searched for the maximum amount of polarization an then reduced its effect until I was satisfied. Tamron SP 15-30 f/2.8 @ 15 mm | f/11 | 1/3 sec | ISO 100 with NiSi Medium GND8 & NiSi Landscape CPL.

Thanks a lot for reading
That’s it for this week’s article! I hope you learned something from it and if you have any questions, tips or advice feel free to let me know! If you enjoyed reading it, please feel free to share on social media! And, if you like my photography, please follow me on Instagram @harmenpiekema If you want to read more about filters, check out this post.

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How to check whether your exposure is correct?

How to check whether your exposure is correct?

In this weeks article, we are going to talk about how check your exposure settings, and how to get the perfect exposure settings for each image. To correctly expose is often regarded as a difficult matter. Especially for beginners, it can be hard to grasp. After failing a couple of times, beginning photographers might resolve to the automatic mode of their camera again. With this article, I will try to show that it doesn’t have to be that difficult. With learning how to read the histogram you will see that it is a very good tool to find the best exposure and to manipulate and correct the exposure to get the image you want.

Image 1: Shooting toward the sun is a tricky thing to do. I is easy to get blown-out highlights or clipped shadows. Therefore the histogram is of great importance to shoot images like these. Tamron SP 24-70 F/2.8 @ 27 mm | F/18 | 2 Sec | ISO 100 with NiSi Medium GND8 & Landscape CPL

Image 1: Shooting toward the sun is a tricky thing to do. I is easy to get blown-out highlights or clipped shadows. Therefore the histogram is of great importance to shoot images like these. Tamron SP 24-70 F/2.8 @ 27 mm | F/18 | 2 Sec | ISO 100 with NiSi Medium GND8 & Landscape CPL

In photography, the basic element is light. You won’t get a good picture without a proper exposure; it’s as simple as that.  That used to be the case with analog cameras and it is no different in the digital era. If there is too little light on the sensor, the photo is underexposed. If there is too much light on the sensor, the picture will be overexposed. In the case of an underexposed photo, the details will disappear in the dark areas and, in an overexposed photograph, in the light areas. The room to correct this afterwards is very limited so it is best to get it right in camera. In contrast to the analogue era, however, we now have some amazing tools that we can use to guide us in finding the best exposure we need to get the results we desire.

Required shutter speed
The required shutter speed for a well-exposed photo is determined by the amount of light and the subject (still or moving), in combination with the aperture and the ISO value, plus the intended effect of the photo. If you want a waterfall to be sharp and detailed, you use a shorter shutter speed than when you want to emphasize the effect of moving water. The ‘correct’ exposure therefore depends on what you want to show. A good example of a ‘correctly’ exposed image is Image 2. Because the northern lights were moving constantly, I did not want to make the shutterspeed too long because that would mean the beautiful details in the aurora would be lost. Still, I did not want to lose too much light because then the photo would become too dark. By choosing a shutter speed of 5 seconds and setting the aperture and ISO accordingly, I succeeded in freezing the movement of the northern lights without losing detail in the foreground.

Image 2, I wanted both the aurora and the foreground to have enough detail. Based on the speed of the aurora, I set the shutterspeed to 5 seconds. By adjusting the aperture and ISO accordingly, I managed to keep enough detail in the foreground. Tamron SP 24-70 F/2.8 @ 24 mm | F/2.8 | 5 Sec | ISO 1600

Image 2, I wanted both the aurora and the foreground to have enough detail. Based on the speed of the aurora, I set the shutterspeed to 5 seconds. By adjusting the aperture and ISO accordingly, I managed to keep enough detail in the foreground. Tamron SP 24-70 F/2.8 @ 24 mm | F/2.8 | 5 Sec | ISO 1600

Back in the days of the analog camera, it was necessary to determine the correct exposure values using an external light meter. This was based on knowledge, experience and a certain dose of luck. This was really hard practice and you had to get a lot of experience to master this. Film was expensive so you wanted to have it correct right away. There was no way to preview your image. Fortunately, nowadays the camera has a number of very useful functions. We have the LCD-display, the built-in light meter, and the histogram. I deliberately put them in this order, because that is the way they should be used, as we will learn in the following part of this article.

LCD-display
Now you might think that the image on your LCD screen or digital viewfinder provides sufficient information about the exposure. Overall this might be true, but it is anything but accurate. Because you can set the brightness of the LCD screen, it is variable. Furthermore, environmental factors such as sunlight, reflections or darkness also influence what you see on the screen. It is a handy check to know if you’re getting there, but it’s not a reliable method to perfect your exposure. Therefore, the  LCD-display should only be used as a rough indicator.

Built-in exposure meter
To determine whether your settings are correct or not, you can use the built-in exposure meter. You do this by pressing the shutter button halfway down (as with autofocus). A bar with scale will now appear. This is the exposure indicator. The pointer indicates whether your exposure is correct (image 3). The camera thinks the picture is right when the pointer is in the middle. With an underexposed photo, the pointer is on the left. With an overexposed photo, on the right. The numbers are called stops. From 0 to -1 means half the amount of light, and 0 to 1 means a double the amount of light.

Image 3: This image clearly shows what the exposure meter does. With an underexposed photo, the indicator shows a negative value. With an overexposed photo a positive value.

Image 3: This image clearly shows what the exposure meter does. With an underexposed photo, the indicator shows a negative value. With an overexposed photo a positive value.

Personally, I often use the outcome of the light meter as an indication. It often happens that my exposure turns out to be either above or below zero. This really depends on my subject and my intentions. For instance, photographing in snow or straight into the sun messes with the exposure meter. In those situations you need something else, something much more reliable. Luckily we have it! It is called the histogram!

Histogram
The histogram is an amazing tool! Unfortunately, it is also feared by a lot of people because of its seemingly complex appearance. For that reason, a lot of (beginning) photographers won’t use the it. This is a pity because it offers so much information and once you know what it means, it is really simple to use. As mentioned, the histogram is a much more reliable method to check whether your exposure is correct and to make sure you get the result you want. Let me begin by explaining what a histogram is by using a definition: the histogram is a compressed bar graph of a frequency distribution. This might sound a bit abstract but stay with me, it will be a lot easier once you know what the graph stands for. It is a graphical representation of an exposed image, which shows you how many pixels in your photo have a certain tone on a scale from 0 to 255. The horizontal axis runs from pure black (0, very dark) to pure white (255, very light), with mid-gray in the middle.

Image 4: The histogram is nothing more than a graphical representation of the number of pixels with a certain brightness.

Image 4: The histogram is nothing more than a graphical representation of the number of pixels with a certain brightness.

Each tone is one pixel wide. The vertical axis shows the amount of pixels that have that certain tone. If you see a peak, then many pixels have that tone. If the photo is predominantly dark, then the weight of the graph is on the left. If the photo is light, then the weight is on the right (Image 4 & 5).


Image 5: The histogram explained

Image 5: The histogram explained

How to read and use the histogram
Using the histogram, it will become quite easy to see when details will be lost in either shadows (pure black) and/or highlights (pure white). A peak at the immediate left side means that image information disappears in pure black. A peak against the right side means information dissolves in pure white. Both are not desirable, but if you are forced to choose (because of extreme contrast difference for instance), go for a peak on the pure black side. In general, black shadows are experienced as less disturbing than blown out highlights. The shape of the graph depends on the subject and the amount different tones (light and dark areas). And, because all brightness information is displayed in this graph, we can use the histogram for checking our exposure because it accurately reflects the brightness levels. Moreover, you can clearly see what you are doing using live view and therefore prevent errors when fine-tuning your exposure (Image 6).

Image 6: Using the histogram allows you to easily check for errors.

Image 6: Using the histogram allows you to easily check for errors.

Because each picture is different, your histogram will be different too. If the histogram shape doesn’t match the typical mountain shape with the center of gravity in the middle, it does not mean that it is poorly exposed. Do not compare your photos with a certain type of histogram. It is a tool that is useful for correcting over- or underexposure and to check whether all tones are represented or not. It is not a fixed rule that you should keep with every shot. The final exposure is determined by what you want to transfer with the photo and your creative vision. This means that you sometimes deliberately overexpose a photo and another time you will underexpose. Sometimes, you even have to over- or underexpose to get the correctly exposed image.

Correctly exposing light scenes
In situations where you have predominantly light areas in your photo, such as a beach or in the snow, the automatic mode will produce an underexposed photograph. To illustrate this, I used a picture of the Paard van Marken lighthouse in the Netherlands (Image 7). At the end of the winter, there was a beautiful ice deposit due to prolonged cold and strong eastern wind. I wanted to capture this during blue hour (an hour before sunrise) to emphasize the icy cold even more. The first photo is exposed to the middle. The gravity point is exactly on medium gray. It can clearly be seen that the photo is underexposed. As a matter of fact, the pars that should be white turned out medium gray. In order to get the correct exposure, I’ve exposed this image towards the right, which means that the center of gravity within my histogram has shifted to the right side of the graph.

Image 7: It is easy to see that exposing towards the middle results in an underexposed image with a lot of tones missing.

Image 7: It is easy to see that exposing towards the middle results in an underexposed image with a lot of tones missing.

Put it to use!
Almost all modern cameras have a means to view the histogram. Depending on the brand and type of camera, this can be live, which is awesome because it immediately shows the effect of adjusting the shutter speed, aperture and/or ISO. Your camera doesn’t have a live view of the histogram? That’s no problem; use the light meter of your camera as an indication, take a picture and view the histogram in the viewer. Adjust the exposure and repeat until you are satisfied.

Thanks a lot for reading
That’s it for this week’s article! Thanks a lot for reading! I hope you’ve enjoyed it and you learned that using the histogram isn’t scary at all. I hope it will help you to get better images. If you have any questions, please let me know! If you enjoyed this article please feel free to share on social media! And, if you like my photography, please follow me on Instagram @harmenpiekema

I would like to thank my buddy Cody Fjeldsted for proofreading this article! Your help is awesome and means a lot, thank you so much.

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Optimising images for social media

Optimising images for social media

I’ve had a lot of people reach out to ask when the next blog was coming and to share their ideas for topics they would like me to write about. So, thank-you for your patience. All of the ideas and requests on topics have been most welcome and I’ll certainly do my best to cover off as many of them as possible over time. 

Okay, here we go. One of the recurring themes in the questions I’m asked is how I optimise my images for social media. That is certainly reasonable, as it’s a problem I’ve broken a light sweat over from time to time, so that’s the topic I’ll try and focus on in this piece. 

Instagram+Elephant.jpg

 

 

First things first though, let’s say hi to the elephant in the room - the Instagram crop which doesn’t matter, yet somehow really matters a lot.

When I joined IG a few years ago, it hurled a big pineapple in my entire workflow. Why? Because of the stupid low res 1:1. 

Then in July ’15, Zuckerberg gave us a warm “we’re listening to you” with an upgrade to the pitiful 640pixel square to a heartier 1080.

 

 

Instagram+Pineapple.jpg

A few weeks later, it was announced that IG would support non-square uploads. A peak into the fine-print affirmed we could now post landscape images in a 1.91 to 1 ratio which was wonderful. I assume this was an exercise towards cross platform compatibility for FB and IG ads because 1.91:1 is exactly the same as a Facebook link preview image but, it solved my issue. 

The truth I’ve learnt though is posting a landscape image on IG is of little value. All images will be cropped to a square on your grid so only the 1:1 mid-section of your beautifully wide shot will be shown, which generally looks a bit naf.

What’s more, they don’t present well on vertical mobile devices which is exactly what IG is designed for. That’s not a big deal to some but it discourages others from re-sharing your images which will really curb the breadth of your exposure, if that matters to you, then this matters to you. Sorry. 

 

 

WHO, WHAT, WHERE

As with any process, we can’t decide the best steps to take unless we first nail what it is we want to achieve.

Who are the audience, what is the format, where will it be seen? An image should be finished very differently for presentation on a wall at an exhibition than it should for Facebook or Instagram.

My process is exclusively geared towards online viewers and I’ll keep a full resolution tiff file saved in the event I need to re-visit the image for printing purposes later.

My primary online audience is Instagram and my secondary audience is Facebook and Flickr. All the others fall a distant third. My images are optimised for these audiences to view on their mobile devices but also on a larger desktop screen, so I need a balance between file size and resolution.

 

IN THE FIELD

As recently as a few years ago I was shooting almost, exclusively, panoramic. I had a camera and lens set-up dedicated to this style of shooting and my images were all finished at at-least a 3:1 if not wider.

I loved that look, and I still do, but it was more work. Today I shoot single frames. I find myself choosing a vertical frame more often. This has been a hard transition, as the purist landscaper in me just doesn’t see the same aesthetic character in a tall and thin image as I do in a more grandiose wide scene, but I’m mindful of how my images are most commonly presented and what’s most satisfying for the viewer. 

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IN POST

Once I’ve edited my RAW file (I just use Adobe Camera Raw) I’ll open it in Photoshop. By this point, I have an idea of what proportion the end result will be. For example, 3:2, 5:4, 1:1 and if it’ll be vertical or landscape. In the rare instance where I’ve taken multiple frames for a panoramic, I’ll place the stitched image on a blank canvas and literally skew and scale parts of it to fit the canvas using the transform tools in photoshop (Edit > Transform > Scale / Skew / Warp / Perspective shift).

Screen+Shot+2018-04-06+at+8.38.51+pm.png

Once I’ve finished editing the image to my liking, I’ll flatten all of the layers and save it as a high res file (there’s a bit to this so make sure you see my dedicated section on Saving below). Now that I have a high res version of the file safely tucked away it’s time to go to town on it.

If the image is a portrait, I’ll crop it to a 5:4 vertical – that’s the max vertical proportion I’ll use for Instagram, resize and save as low res. Note, I would happily share a 3:2 jpeg online and a second 5:4 version of it for Instagram only. If the image is a landscape I'll save it in its native aspect ratio and then create a second IG-specific 1:1 version of it.

 

80s+workout+clothing.jpg

Getting a 5:4 or 3:2 down to a 1:1 can be a calamitous and heartbreaking ordeal, slicing away mountain peaks hurts. Where possible I’ll try to scale in sections of the image and that works but I STRESS caution - an overly shrunken image catches the eye like 80’s workout clothing, it's function and, for a fleeting moment it’s a good idea but everyone will notice right away, and no-one will think it’s cool.

I recommend only doing this to selected portions of the image without any identifiable shape to them. Sky, water etc. 

 

SAVING

This isn’t the place or time for an in-depth analysis on file formats and compression but understanding the basics of how to properly save an image is important. Photoshop (and most other editing applications) offer an abundance of file formats and options so here’s what I know.

Image quality is a product of two variables; resolution and compression, both of which can be cryptic business.

The easiest convention for resolution is the one that’s used to describe the width x height in pixels.

Compression is a little more complex and used to manage the file size of an image. If you’ve heard the terms lossy and lossless in a conversation than chances are you were inadvertently talking compression (nerd alert). Compressing an image reduces file size which is great for getting a big file to a small enough size for uploading online.

Lossy and lossless compression are characterisations of explicating data from an image file. Saving an image using lossy compression discards information from the image which drastically reduces the file size. The problem comes when we need to re-save the file. Each time a lossy file is re-saved it’s recompressing, compression on compression, and each time, the quality of the image is reduced.

Lossless compression is akin to vacuum sealing a suitcase. Sucking out the air reduces the size for storage, but the air can be let back when it’s unpacked, and everything returns to normal.

Compression+copy.jpg

 

The reason I’m talking about this is because I do both. I’ll save a full resolution version of my image as a TIFF (Lossless). I’ll then reduce the image size (File > Image Size) to 1080 pixels on the longest side and re-save it as a JPEG (Lossy). If I need to create a second version of the image for Instagram (5:4 or 1:1) I’ll revert to the original image size, crop and scale as necessary then re-size to 1080 again and save as a second JPEG. All files will be saved at 300dpi using an RGB colour mode. 

I will never re-open either jpeg and re-save it. Any changes or copies I need to make will be done from the TIFF and then saved as another JPEG from it. 

Files+types+copy.jpg

 

THE FINISHING TOUCHES.

My TIFFS are saved on two separate hard-drives (usually) and backed up to the cloud. My JPEGS are saved on one hard drive.

300x0w.jpg

I have two dedicated folders on my phone, IMAGE UPLOADS and IMAGE UPLOADS – IG. I’ll airdrop both JPEGS from my laptop to my phone (Airdrop = Apple, just, do it) and store them accordingly.

I’ll upload my jpegs to Facebook and Flickr separately, I don’t automate this, then upload to IG. I generate half my hashtags using an app called Focalmark and then take a punt on the other half. 

For anyone who has seen my IG stories, I use an app called LumaFusion which is an iOS video editing app and super capable. I’ve made a standard project template in it for IG stories and set to 1080 x 1920 resolution (the standard IG story size) at 30fps and saved as an MPEG4. I’ll then open the saved video file in a second app called HypeType to add the animated text, re-save and upload. 

 

WATERMARKING

Last but not least is this old chestnut. I’ve seen some heated debates on this topic and there isn’t a right or wrong approach, but I haven’t put a watermark on an image in two years now.

This all comes down to your objectives and use cases for social media. If you want your images to get shared and drive traffic back to you then don’t watermark them. They’ll still get shared, just a lot less and IMO watermarking just cheapens a classy shot.

I know many people will argue that they need to prevent theft and that’s fair enough, but I’d ask who you are afraid is going to steal your image? If a scoundrel is bold enough to pass off your image as their own, chances are they’re probably bold enough to remove your watermark as well. If you’re worried about the opportunity cost of someone downloading your image for commercial use, then I’d recommend making sure the version you publish online is no bigger than 1080pixels. Whilst this size looks good for social media, it’s rather ineffectual or inoperative for any other purpose.

Well that’s about it folks. I hope this has been helpful and please keep the questions coming. I don’t have an awful lot of time to churn out blogs, but I’ll make a better effort at keeping them a little more frequent.

Muchas gracias. 

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