A personal approach to handling and processing photographs post-photography
In his December 2021 talk Nigel outlines his own in-computer photo workflow, the steps through which he handles and processes his images post-photography. That talk is now on You Tube, and you can watch it right here. Just click on the image below to start.
From RAW file to finished Tiff
Downloading, captioning and keywording
My in-computer photo workflow makes use of three programmes: Adobe Bridge, Adobe Photoshop and Capture One Pro. Using these I’m able to bring all my images from basic RAW files straight off the camera through to finished, optimised Tiff files ready for use and storage.
I start by downloading the images from my camera via Canon’s own EOS Utility software, with the camera plugged straight into the computer. The images are downloaded not to the computer’s internal hard drive but to an external hard drive, as this is where they will all be stored.
Once downloaded, I then view the images using Adobe Bridge. With this programme I caption and copyright all the images, and then I make a selection for those I intend to process. I do this by dragging each selected image into a separate folder that I call ‘Selection’. I don’t use Bridge’s star-rating system as I prefer to physically separate those I intend to process from those I don’t. They’re either in or out – there’s no grey area.
As a final step in this process I back up all the images to a second external hard drive, giving two copies of everything as an insurance.
Optimising and converting the RAW files
The next stage of my in-computer photo workflow is to process the selected RAW files in Capture One Pro. This programme is intended primarily as a RAW file processing software, though it can also be used to process both Tiff and Jpeg files. The programme also contains some databasing properties, though I use it purely as a RAW file processor.
I’m often asked why I use Capture One Pro rather than Adobe’s Camera Raw converter (embedded within Photoshop and Lightroom). For me, Capture One Pro works more smoothly and has a superior high dynamic range ability, reaching deep into both shadows and highlight areas to pull up otherwise lost detail.
Typical steps that I undertake in Capture One Pro include:
Application of len-specific image aberration corrections;
Adjustment to colour temperature, contrast and saturation;
Straightening of sloping horizons;
Keystoning (ie straightening converging parallels, especially in architectural photography);
Removal of the most visible of dirt spots;
Application of some sharpening, if needed;
Decreasing digital noise, most especially in long exposure or high ISO images.
The final step, once I’m satisfied with the image, is to use the Process option to generate 16-bit, 300 ppi Tiff files from the Raw, the former being saved to a folder on the computer’s internal hard drive.
Finishing off in Photoshop
The final stage of my in-computer photo workflow is to run the newly created Tiff files through Photoshop for some final tweaks. These consist most especially of removal of sensor dust spots and any distracting minor elements, such as litter.
The final image processing step is to convert the 16-bit files to 8-bit. Having the images in 16-bit mode is very useful during the image processing phase due to the very smooth colour gradations that can be generated in sky and water. However, once processing is finished it is better to convert to 8-bit. This both halves the file size and makes it possible to generate Jpeg files, a format that cannot be generated from 16-bit Tiff files, only from 8-bit.
With processing finished, I then generate low resolution (72 ppi) Jpeg files for possible internet use. The finished high resolution Tiff files are backed up to two external hard drives, and deleted from the computer’s internal hard drive.
With processing finished, it’s time for a coffee and a well-deserved break!
In Nigel’s November talk, held live on 17th Nov, he aimed to inspire photographers not to put their cameras away during the winter. There is some great photography during the winter months, those short cold days a time of day-long low sunlight, dramatic storms, and over-wintering wildlife.
A recording of this talk is now on You Tube, and you can watch it here. Just click on the link below.
Looking for subjects during the winter months
There is a temptation for photographers to go into hibernation during the winter, putting the camera safely away until the weather improves in spring. But this would be a major mistake as there is really is the possibility of great photography during the winter months.
With the sun continually low in the sky, it is perfectly possible to do some magnificent, moody landscape photography right throughout the day. Moreover, with dawn/sunrise and sunset/dusk both at very civilised times of day, it becomes much easier to shoot during these prime photogaphy periods.
Admittedly, the sun doesn’t shine a whole lot of the time during winter – hence the temptation to hibernate – but when it does then the light can be magnificent. Moreover, even when it isn’t shining, the frequent storms that sweep in from the Atlantic provide some very wild, dramatic weather for landscape photography, both on the coast and inland. This is particularly so just after the main storm front has passed through, a time when the clouds usually break, providing some great – though rapidly changing – light, along with a succession of rainbows.
Wildlife photography too can still be worked on to great effect during the winter. Although many mammals hibernate, others do not, including foxes and all our deer species. Moreover, hundreds of thousands of migratory birds, mostly wetland waders, though also woodland and garden birds, arrive in the UK from colder climates to over-winter here. Their numbers greatly swell local bird populations, especially in marshes, lakes and along the coast, providing opportunities for some fantastic avian wildlife photography.
Fog and frost
Winter is of course the main time for fog and frost, most especially during the early morning, but also often throughout the day and in the evening.
Fog and frost provide some of the most effective and beautiful opportunities for great photography during the winter, the latter adding a stunning sparkle and sheen to any landscape and/or foliage scene. Fog – especially ground fog – really makes for some ethereal and often monochromatic scenes, reducing complex details to simplistic outlines that can have fantastic photographic impact. This is most especially so when some sunlight is still visible through the fog, providing some delicate illumination.
Snow and ice
Not surprisingly, no discussion of great photography during the winter would be complete without snow and ice. The latter can quite transform any normally watery scene, whether it be an entire lake, a puddle or just a dripping gutter. Convert that water to ice, and suddenly we have beautiful crack and freezing patterns, pointed daggers of icicles, often quite blue when seen in low light levels, and rendered even more magical if frost and/or snow are also present.
Snow, of course, completely transforms an entire landscape, creating wholly monochromatic scenes when the sky is cloudy, and truly dynamic high contrast landscapes when under a blue sky. Wide vistas, closer landscape elements, or really close-up details (such as of snow or ice gripping vegetation) all make for stunning subjects in this kind of environment. Shortly before sunset (or shortly after sunrise), snow will usually reflect the sun’s pink glow magnificently, creating some wonderfully delicate colours.
Putting it all together
With so many photographic opportunities available during the winter months, opportunities that don’t exist at any other time of year, there’s really no excuse for not keeping on shooting throughout this season. Pick your subject matter(s) and get cracking!
Just keep an eye on the weather forecast, and prepare to head on out whenever the right weather seems to be heading your way. Just wrap up warm and waterproof and enjoy the outdoors at a time of year when too few people get outside often enough.
A word of caution
Although I’m really enthusiastic to get everyone doing some great photography during the winter months, I do need to sound a few words of caution. Not surprisingly, with storms, rain, frost, ice and snow all prevalent at this time of year, some care and preparation are needed. And not just simply to keep warm and dry.
Plan carefully, drive carefully, and in really bad weather don’t push yourself further than you feel comfortable. Think ahead of all the things that could go wrong and prepare accordingly.
The top of a high cliff is no place to be at the height of an Atlantic storm, for example. You would probably find it hard to do much photography anyway. It’s better to wait until the main storm front has passed, winds have eased slightly and the light has improved. You’ll still get hugely impressive storm photos and with a lot less risk to yourself.
If venturing out in snow and/or ice make sure you’re prepared: take food and drink, extra warm and dry layers, a shovel, sheets of a material that can be pushed under slipping tyres to give them grip, and even a tow rope, just in case.
And of course, as always, make sure someone else knows where you’re going, and also ensure that you have a phone with a fully charged battery.
Once you’re equipped and prepared you’re well protected. Get out there and enjoy the winter photography!
In October’s online talk, Nigel covers many of the basic principles of close-up photography, explained in clear and unambiguous terms. Often also called macro photography, the subject covers the photography of both very close details and/or patterns in a host of subjects, and the photography of very small subjects. It is particularly widely used in wildlife photography, to enable the shooting of small animals and plants, such as butterflies, damselflies and many of the smaller wild flowers.
A recording of that talk is now available on You Tube, and can also be watched here. Just click on the start button below. We hope you’ll enjoy it.
The subject matter of close-up photography
The talk begins with a short introduction to the kinds of subject matter commonly shot in close-up photography. These range from detailed patterns in quite large subjects, down to small household objects, and all the way down to the tiniest animals and plants. Close-up photography techniques are commonly used to photograph butterflies, damselflies and other insects, as well as many flowers.
Some techniques and equipment explained: static subjects
The talk goes on to cover a range of basic techniques used in close-up photography, starting with the photography of static subjects.
Static objects such as flowers are usually shot with the camera on a tripod. With the camera inevitably close to the subject, focussing is critical, so a useful aid is a focussing rail. This is a track that fits between the tripod head and camera base that allows the camera to be slid forward and back over very small distances. It is a simple yet very useful little device.
Then there are the lenses. The fundamental problem for close-up photography is that you need to come really very close to your subject in order to get the necessary magnification. Unfortunately, this just isn’t possible using standard telephoto lenses as their minimum focussing distance – the shortest distance from lens to subject that they’re able to focus at – is too long. You need to be able to focus at a much shorter distance.
This problem can usually be overcome in one of two ways:
Use of a dedicated macro lens. This is a telephoto lens specifically designed to focus at very short distances. They are generally available with focal lengths ranging from 60 to about 180mm. The lens can also be used for standard photography, and its autofocus works throughout its focussing range, right down to the closest distance and smallest subject. This is the more expensive and bulkier, but more versatile option;
Use of an extension tube coupled with a standard telephoto lens. This is quite simply a tube containing no glass, but with all the necessary electrical contacts, that fits between the camera body and a telephoto lens. The effect is to allow the lens to focus much closer to a subject, providing it with an effective close-up facility. This is a small, cheap and highly convenient piece of close-up kit, but it does have limitations. A lens cannot be used for standard photography while it is coupled to an extension tube, and the autofocus usually does not work reliably. Focussing is usually achieved, if using a fixed focal length lens (a prime lens) through a combination of moving the camera (eg on the focussing rail) and by hand turning the focussing ring. If you’re using a zoom lens, the most convenient way to focus is to turn the zoom ring, though this will also change the magnification.
Photography of moving subjects
When photographing moving subjects, such as insects, amphibians and small reptiles, the photographer needs to be mobile, so the tripod and focussing rail necessarily have to be dispensed with. This is almost entirely the realm of hand-held photography.
The same focussing limitations apply, so in this technique we’re still using macro lenses or extension tubes coupled with a normal telephoto lens (zoom or prime). In addition, it is also useful (though not always necessary) to have a flashgun attached to the camera. There are a number of points to bear in mind when using a flash for close-up photography:
The flash is usually fired in such a way that it balances with the ambient light, removing any shadows lying across the subject and providing even illumination. Only occasionally is it used as the dominant light – in poor natural light conditions or at night, of course. On those occasions, although the subject will be well-lit, the background will come out very dark or completely black;
Another reason to use a flash is to help reduce the risk of camera shake, and hence blur to the images. Inevitably, using a telephoto or macro lens and coming in so close to a subject the risk of camera shake being visible in the images is quite significant. Removing that risk ordinarily means using quite a fast shutter speed, but this would then make it difficult to maximise depth of field through use of a narrow lens aperture. The very short duration of a flashgun’s flash (about 1/1000 second) helps to mask any camera shake, thus making it possible to use a significantly slower shutter speed;
Rarely fire the flash directly at the subject, but instead either bounce it off a reflector or fire it through a diffuser. This will help to reduce, or completely overcome, the risk of hard flash-induced shadows around the subject. The only occasion when you might fire the flash directly is when shooting in very bright sunlight and the flash is struggling to generate enough power to balance with that sunlight;
The flash needs to be mounted either some way above the camera or off to one side, or perhaps with a special mount near the end of the lens. Shooting in one of these ways will ensure that the flash does not put a shadow of the lens across the subject – remember that your subject is very close to the lens, and so a lens shadow could easily reach it if the flash is in the wrong position. Do not be tempted to use the pop-up flash found on top of many cameras: this does not give you enough control of the light, it only fires directly at the subject, and because it is so close to the camera body it will fire its light along the lens, generating a long lens shadow that may very well reach the subject;
Because the flash and camera are so close to the subject (less than half a metre usually), a flash firing at full power will almost certainly overwhelm the subjec with too much light. It is important, therefore, that any flashgun you use has a dial-down facility, enabling you to greatly reduce its output.
Apart from these flashgun rules, techniques are similar across both static and mobile close-up photography, and are described below.
Close-up photography, whether tripod-mounted or hand-held is best done in soft or even quite flat light. It is tempting to do it in bright sunlight simply to have higher light levels, but then there is the risk of bright highlights and/or shadows being thrown across your subject. With the subject being so small even what appears to be a small shadow or highlight area can have a dramatic negative impact on the final images. That said, if photographing animals and so shooting hand-held with a flashgun attached, sunlight can be very effective, as long as the flashgun has enough power to provide lighting that balances with it.
Naturally, if photographing plants you also need to have windless conditions as any movement will result in blurred images, especially if slow shutter speeds are being used (as is usual, especially in soft lighting conditions).
Remember also that the closer you come to any subject the smaller is the lens’s depth of field (ie the amount of a view that can be sharp). By the time you come down to close-up photography, in which the lens is usually a lot less than a metre from the subject, depth of field is generally only 1 cm at best. To maximise depth of field it is usually necessary to use a very narrow lens aperture – such as f/16 or 22 – something that will further lengthen exposure times and so increase the need for windless conditions.
Of course, it is also possible to improve the situation by increasing the camera’s ISO – the sensitivity of its sensor – thus reducing the amount of light that the sensor needs to be correctly exposed. The problem here is that as ISO increases so image quality declines, so there is a delicate balance to struggle with. There are occasions when the only way to get a useable image is to put the ISO up, but I would always do so only very carefully and to the absolute minimum needed.
I firmly recommend that, as far as possible, you always shoot using the camera’s lowest ISO setting, increasing it only when absolutely necessary.
Finally, a word on composition. Since depth of field is so small, it can be quite a challenge to get the whole of your subject in focus. For some flowers this is not always such a bad thing as having a small part of the flower a little blurred can help to direct attention to one particular part. However, that still leaves the challenge of ensuring that the right part of the flower is sharp!
Things are a little tricker when it comes to photography of insects, such as butterflies. It is quite common to see images in which one end of the insect is sharp and the other end blurred, a result that is rather off-putting and not very satisfying. This problem is the result of the insect being at an angle to the lens: the head is a few millimetres closer to the lens than the rear end of the wings, for example, enough to throw one or the other out of focus.
Ensuring maximum depth of field by using a very narrow lens aperture can help to overcome this, though even this may not be reliable. The most effective solution is to have the insect’s body at exactly right-angles to the axis of the lens, ensuring that all parts of the body are roughly the same distance away. This of course requires that you get yourself and camera in the right position – the insect certainly isn’t going to do it for you – something that can be quite tricky, especially as any movement you make when close to your subject risks frightening it away.
A final word
There is no doubt that close-up photography can be quite a challenge. The difficulties created by short focussing distances, minimal depth of field, awkward lighting, wind, and rapidly moving (and easily spooked) subjects all work to make things very difficult.
However, once you have a few pieces of critical kit together and then make the time to practise, practise, practise the techniques and hence success will slowly come together.
Ge stuck in and enjoy it!
The next two talks are on 17th November and 11th December, when I’ll be talking about winter photographer and my in-computer workflow. Click on the link below to register – it’s free!
My September 2021 online photography talk was held recently, the subject this time Storytelling Through Photography. This is the art of creating a set of images that tell a story about an event, a place or a person, something that is very different from simply shooting high quality stand-alone images. When telling a story, the images must work together as a team, with no single image dominating the others and distracting attention away from the aim of the story.
The talk is now available on You Tube, and so can be watched here. Just click on the image below to launch the video.
The essentials of building a photographic story
The talk runs through a series of tips about how to go about storytelling through photography. These can be summarised as follows:
The aim is to create a set of photos that work together as a ‘team’, building the story and without any single photo dominating the collection;
Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Without these, it is just a collection of uncoordinated images;
The beginning should consist of a couple of images that set the scene – the type of environment or general location for instance;
The end should again consist of a couple of images that round off the story, giving a summary of what transpired or the end-result of whatever process is described in the story;
The middle is the main meat of the story and is the longest section, consisting of a string of images that describe the heart of the story, such as what is happening, arranged in a sequence that a viewer can follow;
Production of technical perfection and spectacular stand-out images is secondary: telling the story is paramount. Things often happen so quickly and unexpectedly in a story-telling situation that perfection has to take a back seat. However, if there is time to craft perfect images then so much the better;
Report and record what you see impartially – leave any preconceptions or prejudices behind and photograph what you actually see, not what you think you ought to see or what you would like to see. If you want to put a particular slant on a story, do this at the post-photography image editing phase, not during the actual photography.
Examples of storytelling through photography
To illustrate the process of storytelling through photography, the talk uses images from two of Nigel’s own stories: conservation work with the Philippine Crocodile and reindeer herding in Lapland, in the far north of Sweden. These can be summarised as follows:
1. Conservation work with the Philippine Crocodile:This is the world’s most endangererd crocodile, and the photography in this story illustrated the work of the Mabuwaya Foundation in rearing infant crocodiles in captivity and then releasing them back into the wild once they were large enough to fend off predators.
The photography started with a couple of images that set the scene, one showing the forest and lake habitat, another the team of workers involved. The main part of the story then illustrated the work in catching captively reared crocodiles, taking their vital statistics, transporting them into a nearby national park, and then releasing them into a lake. The final images rounded off the story by showing a crocodile being released and then swimming as a free, wild crocodile in the lake.
2. Reindeer herding in Lapland: Every autumn the Sami people in the far north of Sweden round up their reindeer from the mountains, bring them down to lower winter pastures, and temporarily corral them in order to mark out ownership of newborn deer and to kill some of the older males for winter meat.
The photography in this story illustrated the corralling process and the capturing of both young deer and mature males. The story begins with a couple of images that introduce the environment, showing the wild mountains where the reindeer spend the summer, photographed from a helicopter just as the first winter snows arrived. The images of the main story showed thousands of corralled reindeer, with the Sami people picking out and lassooing newborn animals and mature males. The story rounds off with a summary of the family nature of this process, with a picnic once the work is done, including the presence of the family’s pet albino reindeer.
The importance of storytelling through photography
Most photographic tuition available in one form or another concentrates on teaching people how to create fantastic single standalone images, but don’t look at the storytelling process at all. This is a shame, since throughout its history telling stories has been one of the most important roles of photography. It is a skill worth cultivating. Hopefully, the tips in this talk will help give you some ideas about how to go about storytelling through photography.
The next talk
The next online photography talk will be about macro photography, and will be held on Wednesday 20th October at 8pm (BST). It’s free to join, just click on the link below to fill in and submit the form. This will enable me to send you the link.
The art of deliberately blurring your subject in stills photography
My July online photography talk came at the end of the month, and this time covered blurred motion photography. This is, in other words, the art 0f deliberately blurring your subject to put over the sense of movement, energy and dynamism.
A recording of that talk is now available via You Tube, and you can watch it here. Just click on the image below and the talk will launch. I hope you enjoy it. If you have any queries or comments just get in touch.
The art of subject blurring
This talk, Blurred Motion Photography, covered a range of techniques and scenarios in which you would want to blur your subject to put over the sense of movement.
The technique is particularly associated with landscape photography, most especially in blurring the movement of water, whether that be the sea, with waves rolling into shore, or perhaps a fast-flowing river running over and round rocks.
Blurred motion photography is used not just in landscapes but also in wildlife, people and street life (particularly traffic after dark), where all kinds of activities can be blurred to give the sense of movement. So the beating wings of a bird, the movements of a working person and the colourful lines of traffic tail-lights are all great examples of commonly blurred moving subjects. Even a blurred background as the camera pans to keep up with a fast-moving object (such as a bird, a sportsman or traffic) is part of this technique.
The technique of blurred motion photography
In essence, it is a very simple thing to do. Just put the camera on a tripod and use a long exposure, thus ensuring that anything moving in the frame will be blurred.
Of course, this can only be achieved within the limits of how far the lens aperture can be stopped down. The narrower you have this (ie the higher the f-number) then the less light that is allowed through to the sensor, and hence the longer the shutter needs to be open to compensate. Of course, there is a limit to how narrow the aperture can be, and once you’ve reached that limit any attempt to make the exposure time longer will just allow in too much light and result in over-exposure.
So doing this in bright sunlight will often require you to add a neutral density filter to the front of the lens, thus cutting down the amount of light getting into the lens, and mimicking low-light conditions. This is particularly so for landscape photography. Things may still work well in bright sunlight, however, if you’re intending to blur the motion of something that is moving really quite fast, such as a fast-flying bird or free-flowing traffic.
Without filters, blurred motion photography still works well in dull, overcast conditions, at dusk, dawn and at night, any of which will yield great results.
How much blur?
Just how much blur you need will depend on the effect you’re trying to generate and how fast your subject is moving. For example, when photographing surf rolling onto a beach, or a mountain stream babbling around rocks, an exposure of several seconds will result in the subject completely blurring out. A wave will become quite invisible in itself, replaced by a very soft, often white, smooth silken effect that, though still depicting movement, is actually very calming and which will serve to isolate a static object (such as a rock) from the rest of the view, and removing any clutter.
Replace that very long exposure with a rather faster one, say one-tenth of a second, and the blur will become rather jagged, producing what I call a ‘shards of glass’ effect, with sprays of water clearly visible. The effect now is very restless and dynamic, very different from the smooth ‘white-out’ of the long exposure.
It’s a similar thing with photography of evening traffic. How long the exposure needs to be depends very much on the amount of traffic and how fast it’s going. However, an exposure of several seconds will be enough for the individual vehicles to become quite invisible, replaced by colourful, continuous red tail-light lines. It’s a highly effective way of illustrating the evening life of any urban district. Using a shorter exposure – say one-tenth of a second – in this scenario is less effective, as the vehicles become visible and the tail-light streams become broken up into dashes that don’t link up into a continuous stream.
Blurred motion photography of static subjects
This may sound a little odd, but it is sometimes possible to give the sense of blurred motion to a static object. It works particularly well with evening lights, and is achieved by moving the camera during an exposure lasting a few seconds.
This movement may consist of moving the whole camera (while on a tripod), or of turning the zoom ring on a zoom lens, something that produces quite a dramatic and very dynamic effect.
Getting stuck in
Blurred motion photography is a technique that has very variable and unpredictable results. The only true way to really hone one’s skills in this is to get stuck in and just play! Enjoy it, and experiment as much as you can.