Autumn photography: capturing the season

What to point your camera at this coming season

My autumn photography talk went ahead on Zoom on 21st September, this season’s subject entitled Autumn Photography: Capturing the Season. Predictably, it was all about the kinds of things you could be photographing during the autumn, many photographers’ favourite photography season.

The full talk can be watched below. Just click on the image to start the video.

Autumn colours, one of the season’s top subjects

When getting stuck into some autumn photography to capture the season, inevitably one of the top choices of subject matter is going to be autumn colours among the trees. In the UK’s natural woodlands that generally means golden colours among beech, birch and larch trees. Oaks, which make up a large proportion of our forests, unfortunately rarely produce good autumn colours. Another tree native to the UK that produces great golden colours is the Field Maple, a tree commonly found in hedgerows.

Unfortunately, the stunning reds we see in maples in the forests of North America and Japan don’t occur in our woodlands. To see and photograph these in the UK, head for almost any public garden or park.

Autumn colours are not always as straightforward to photograph as you might expect, the complexity of trees mingling together in a woodland making it hard to create a strong composition.

I often find myself just concentrating on a part of a tree, and in particular with a composition that has clear space behind it, such as an opening created by a river or stream. This helps to simplify the background, reducing clutter and increasing the possibility of being able to put the background out of focus.

If coming in close to leaves it is best to use only compositions where there is a single layer of leaves. Multiple layers usually result in a bit too much complexity, in which the leaves become confusing and rather start to merge with one another.

Autumn photography: capturing the season

Mist and fog

Autumn is a perfect time for fogs and mists, particularly early on a still clear and damp morning. Ground mist at dawn can be a stunningly beautiful sight across a wet meadow or in a shallow river valley. However, in many parts of the UK you have to be very early as once the sun is up the mist will burn off quickly. Only if temperatures are really quite low will the mist linger very long after the sun has risen.

Hill fog is of course also very common in autumn, and can easily hang around all day long, particularly in windless, rainy conditions. This can be fantastic for moody, ethereal woodland photography.

River or lake fog is also stunningly beautiful, and again can hang around for many hours in the right conditions. However, more often than not, it does last only for a short time during the early morning, so once again you have to be very early.

Mist and fog have the wonderful effect of reducing clutter and detail, restricting subject matter to simple outlines and silhouettes. The results are hugely evocative, generating images that really could not be caught under any other conditions.

Autumn photography: capturing the season

Autumn wildlife photography

Autumn can be a fantastic time for wildlife photography. Firstly, there is the autumn deer rut, most famously among the herds of Red Deer. What’s more, the numbers of wading birds in our marshes and estuaries are greatly swollen by over-wintering birds. This can provide some fantastic photo opportunities with both flocks and individual birds, provided you have a good telephoto reach with your equipment.

One final aspect of autumnal wildlife photography is that this is the time of year when Grey Seals give birth to their oh-so-cute white pups around our coasts. This mostly takes place in inaccessible coves, though there are a few sites where it is possible to obtain reasonable photographable views.

Autumn photography: capturing the season

The human world

Don’t forget the human world during the autumn, whether this be photography of people involved in autumnal activities such as the harvest, or festivals, most often associated with Guy Fawkes’ Night.

There are always plenty of opportunities for seasonal people photography, and it’s really worth trying to grab a few of these. In southwest England these can include such things as the grape harvest at the growing number of vineyards, plus the dramatic spectacles of such events as Bridgwater Carnival (in Somerset) and Ottery Tar Barrels (in Devon), both held in early November.

Autumn photography: capturing the season

Autumn photography: capturing the season

As this brief introduction shows, there is a huge amount to photograph out there during the autumn. I hope you’ll get stuck in and enjoy the season.

You can get plenty more ideas in the above video: there is a lot more material covered there that than I’ve been able to in this article.

Future talks

My next online Zoom talk will be on Wednesday 7th December at 8pm GMT, and will cover coastal photography. If you’d like to attend, just register using the link below, so I know to send you the link. It’s all free!

Autumn photography: capturing a rainbow

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Underwater coral reef life: a relaxing video

A few minutes that will help you to feel better about the world!

No long-winded explanations of photographic technique in this blog, just a relaxing four-minute video of underwater coral reef life.

So just put your feet up, chill out with a glass of something nice and swim along with the turtles and fish.

All footage here was shot by Nigel Hicks, on location in the Maldives and the Philippines.

I hope you’ll enjoy the next few minutes, and that it’ll help you feel so much better about the world!

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The Techniques of Underwater Photography

Photography of tropical coral reefs in the Maldives and the Philippines

In my summer online photography talk, given live on 22nd June, I showcased the techniques of underwater photography. Though a relatively small part of my photographic work, it is one that I hugely enjoy. So I thought I would introduce some of the work I’ve done photographing the marine wildlife of coral reefs in the Philippines and the Maldives.

A recording of the talk can now be watched any time. Just click on the image below.

The challenges and techniques of underwater photography

The most obvious initial challenge to underwater photography is of course the very fact that it is under water! Inevitably, a first prerequisite is to be able to scuba dive, or at least snorkel, before any photography is possible. Once that is sorted, then you can start to face the challenges of underwater photography, which include:

  • Light levels rapidly fall away as you go deeper, even in the most sunlit conditions;
  • The colour balance of the light rapidly changes, with red light being absorbed in the first few metres, leaving only blue light by the time you reach a depth of about 10 metres;
  • This loss of white light makes it important to use flash lighting to provide white light, and hence to show up the true colours of any subject;
  • No seawater is completely clear: there are always at least some suspended particles able to block and reflect flash lighting back to the camera;
  • It is usually necessary to come as close as possible to the subject, often using a very wide-angle lens, to minimise the camera-to-subject distance and hence the amount of suspended matter between the two;
  • Two flashguns (or strobes as they’re called for underwater photography) are commonly used, each mounted some distance on either side of the camera, increasing the angle of the flash, and helping to reduce the amount of light bounced back to the camera from suspended particles;
  • High pressures encountered while diving mean that all equipment – especially the camera’s housing – must be highly water- and pressure-resistant, making them rather cumbersome and heavy (at least when on land), especially when coupled with two widely-mounted flashguns;
  • Despite measures to reduce problems caused by suspended particles, most underwater images require considerable amounts of post-photography cleaning up in order to remove specks and make the images appear at their best.

These are just the main photography-specific challenges to the techniques of underwater photography, and are quite apart from the general challenges of scuba diving. The latter include limited dive time due to a restricted air supply, safety limits on the maximum depth of any dive, as well as the speed at which one can ascend or descend, and restrictions on the frequency with which you’re allowed to dive.

Techniques of underwater photography

Photography of corals

Corals are among the most beautiful living structures on Earth, consisting of colonies of thousands of coral polyps that together build complex forms. These can vary from huge 2-metre fans (such as in the image above) or rounded boulder-like solid structures, down to tiny tree-like organisms.

Many are the most important building blocks of the coral reef environment, and to me are a joy to photograph. And yet, they are often overlooked by photographers in search of the more high profile charismatic and mobile animals, such as turtles and sharks.

Corals deserve far more photographic attention. Being immobile, they aren’t going to swim away just when you’re trying to line up a shot. But corals can be fragile and require significant care when being photographed: one badly timed kick of a fin can destroy several years of coral growth. So it is critical for a photographer to have close and exact control of their movements when under water, something that is not always easy.

Techniques of underwater photography

Photography of mobile reef animals

The techniques of underwater photography of course encompass both those of immobile corals and of the more mobile animals, such as turtles and fish, to name just the most obvious.

This of course includes the hundreds of commonly seen reef fish, many of which are extremely colourful and beautiful, but also rather small and shy. The latter points can make them rather tricky to photograph as they will almost always swim off and/or hide in a reef crevass the moment you approach. My usual technique is to zoom in a little with a short telephoto lens. Although this then suffers from the problem of increased amounts of suspended particles between me and the subject, it is a worthwhile compromise that helps me get the shot.

Other animals are rather less of a problem, either being much larger than most reef fish, or not at all bothered by the human presence, or both. When I first started diving in the Philippines 20-plus years ago, turtles were very shy and hard to photograph, but today they’re largely at ease with the diver’s presence. This makes it possible to swim alongside them for some distance, shooting more or less at ease, with or without a flashgun.

Sharks too are generally undisturbed by the presence of divers, and can readily be photographed. Obviously, they do have a fearsome reputation, something enhanced by their aggressive appearance, but the great majority of species are quite safe to be around.

Techniques of underwater photography

Scuba diving versus snorkelling

Scuba diving requires some rigorous training and then certification before you can even consider starting underwater photography via this route. So there is some temptation to give it a try while simply snorkelling, since this is unregulated and equipment-free.

While some forms of underwater photography can be done while snorkelling (such as swimming with whale sharks, as in the image above), it is not at all easy, requiring some tricky control of your buoyancy in order to be able to dive, even for a few seconds, below the surface.

Furthermore, many of the most varied, interesting and photogenic forms of coral and fish can’t be found close to the surface, and so can only be photographed while scuba diving.

So, although photography while snorkelling does have its uses, it is rather limited in what can be achieved. Scuba diving, though presenting more of a challenge initially, does offer a much more versatile and effective way of carrying out the techniques of underwater photography.

Techniques of underwater photography

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A guide to panoramic photography

How to shoot sequential images and then merge them together in the computer to create a panoramic view of a scene

Nigel recently gave his first online talk of 2022, and on this occasion he gave the audience a guide to panoramic photography. This is the technique associated with the creation of a large rectangular image from several standard images, often with a wider view than is possible in any single image.

He gave an overview of both the in-camera photographic techniques, and the post-photography in-computer skills needed to create beautiful panoramic images. This talk is now available any time on You Tube, and can be watched here. Just click on the link below.

Step 1: Creating a sequence of images

As a guide to panoramic photography the first step towards success is to shoot a series of overlapping image that pan across a scene. To do this follow this list of do’s and don’ts:

  • Shoot with the camera in the vertical/portrait orientation. This gives a wider (ie from top to bottom) image that can help if any later cropping is needed.
  • Mount the camera on a tripod. Although the sequence of shots can be done with the camera hand-held, you are much more likely to be able to maintain a level horizon throughout the sequence if the camera is on the tripod.
  • Make sure both tripod and camera head are completely level. If they are not, then as the camera rotates to shoot the sequence it will start to tilt, putting the horizon out of line.
  • Shoot the sequence with a lens no wider than 35mm in focal length (on a full-frame camera). Using a lens with a shorter focal length than this can result in distortion in the image corners, making it difficult for the panoramic software to subsequently merge the images.
  • If shooting a view where there is no foreground with elements less than about 30 metres from the camera, it is fine to rotate around the camera body.
  • However, if shooting a view with a foreground and nearby elements, to avoid any parallax changes as the camera rotates it is better to rotate the camera around the lens’s nodal point, not the camera body. The nodal point is the lens’s optical centre, not necessarily the physical centre.
  • To achieve this, have the camera mounted on a sliding focussing mount, coupled with a vertical locking plate that allows the camera to sit above the focussing rail in the vertical position.
  • Slide the camera backwards on the rail until there are no parallax changes as the camera rotates: the relative positions of all foreground elements remain the same.
  • Once the camera is set up, focus on the scene and then turn the autofocus off, ensuring that the focus will not change as the camera goes through its sequence.
  • Meter the exposure in aperture priority, pointing the camera at something that is towards the middle of the view. Then switch to manual exposure and set the exposue manually. This will ensure that the exposure will be the same for all images in the sequence.
  • If shooting with a slow shutter speed make sure to use either a remote shutter trigger or a two-second time delay, and (if using a DSLR) switch the mirror-up facility on. These steps ensure there will be no vibration to blur the images.
  • Go through a couple of practice sweeps to make sure everything lines up nicely, and that there are no nasty surprises creeping into the view.
  • Then go through the shooting sequence from left to right or right to left. Make sure to leave about 30% overlap in the view between successive images. This ensures that there is plenty of duplicate data that the panoramic software can use to accurately sequence and line up the images.
  • Most sequences shot with the camera in the vertical/portrait orientation will need 7-8 images to make a complete view, but fewer or more may be needed for some views.

And that’s the in-camera work done. Now we move on to the in-computer work.

Guide to panoramic photography

Step 2: Merging the images in-computer

Continuing with our guide to panoramic photography, having shot the sequence of images we now need to merge them together in-computer to create the final panoramic.

If you shot the images as Raw files you’ll first need to convert them to the Tiff format. In doing this, any changes you make to colour temperature, saturation, contrast etc will need to be applied to all the images equally.

Having created the Tiff files you can then load them into the panoramic software. In this article, I’m assuming the use of Adobe Photoshop. Follow these steps:

  • Access the panoramic tool via the File>Automate>Photomerge commands.
  • In the dialogue box that opens load the files using the Browse option.
  • Choose the type of image merge method you need from the list on the left. For panoramic photography it is as well to stick with ‘Auto’, the default option.
  • Of the four boxes at the bottom, tick those whose actions you need. ‘Blend Images Together’ must be ticked to ensure the images are correctly blended to together. Tick ‘Vignette Removal’ if there is any shading in the corners of your images. I generally leave ‘Geometric Distortion Correction’ unticked as it often results in a curving horizon rather than the nice straight one I have in my original images. ‘Content Aware Fill Transparent Areas’ is a useful tool that you might to tick. Usually, the merged images don’t marry up to create a perfectly rectangular panoramic image. Instead, the outer edges curve or slope, leaving blank/transparent areas around the edges. Ticking the option to have these areas filled can be highly effective. Leaving it unticked will make it necessary to crop the final panoramic image to create the correct rectangle.
  • Once ready, hit ‘OK’ and sit back.
Guide to panoramic photography

Depending on how much computing power you have, it may take some time to process the images to produce the panoramic. When finished, you’ll have a panoramic image with all its component images arranged in separate layers. If you’re happy with the result then flatten the layers into a single layer by going to Layer>Flatten Image.

You may then need to crop the panoramic to remove blank/transparent outer areas. Finally, check the whole panoramic for any bits of sensor dust that might be present and repeated across the panoramic. Also look closely for any artefacts due to imperfect image merging.

Finally, name and save your file. You now have your completed panoramic image.

guide to panoramic photography

Upcoming talks

Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed this guide to panoramic photography.

Our next online talk will be about underwater photography, on 22nd June. All our talks are free to attend – just register to be sent the Zoom link below.

You can also watch past talks. Just click on the link below.

Guide to panoramic photography

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In-Computer Photo Workflow

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.

In-computer photo workflow

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.

In-computer photo workflow

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-computer photo workflow

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