Archive for the ‘Creating an Image’ Category

*Enlarging your digital images beyond a certain point will affect quality. Your home is at risk if you do not keep up repayments on a loan or mortgage secured on it. Caution: contents may be hot. May contain nuts. Do not bend. Insert generic anti-litigious statement here.

OK… so the title of this post is a statement that comes with strings attached, but nevertheless I will show you how to squeeze some serious wall estate out of your images without noticeable drop in quality.

Firstly, I come at this nugget of advice from a serious dislike of post processing. I hate it. I much prefer trying to get the shot right in the first place, using polarising filters to get the intense colours (talked about here), underexposing to set a gloomy feel, selecting lenses and focal lengths carefully to create compression/distortion as necessary. As much of a techno-geek as I am, I’m happier with a camera in front of my eye than a computer trackpad under my fingers, and so applying any kind of post-process to my images makes me grumble and want to procrastinate. Don’t even get me started on the horrors of keywording and cataloguing…

But my business model is all centred around physicalisng the digital photograph. Putting it bluntly, I sell big images for folks’ walls. I sell little ones too, but some people (myself included) want a huge-arse image right in full view to really dominate a space. So how huge-arse (it’s a technical term, means ‘big’) can I get?

What size is my camera sensor, and what size prints will it do out of the box?

Now, I mostly capture my photos with a 12 mega-pixel (MP) sensor. To be precise, if I don’t crop the image in any way, I have 4,288 pixels on one axis, and 2,848 on the other (multiply them together to get the total number of pixels – a little over 12 million). Bear with me on the number facts and maths – it’s not complicated, won’t take long, but is necessary. The “optimum” resolution for viewing a printed image is, very arguably, between 260 and 340 pixels per inch (ppi), though this gets complicated very quickly with other stuff that I’ll brush over later. Let’s call this optimum resolution 300ppi – one: it sits as a nice average in between the two ppi figures above, and two; it’s easier to do the maths. So, with my 12MP camera sensor, in order to print an “optimum” resolution of 300ppi, I divide the total number of pixels I have by the 300ppi to give me my maximum print dimensions. I hope you’re still with me, but if you’re beginning to glaze over let me rescue you with the answer: 4,288 pixels one axis A divided by 300 = 14.29 inches. 2,848 pixels on axis B divided by 300 = 9.49 inches. So the largest print I can produce at 300ppi is roughly a 14″ x 10″ – twice the size of a 7 x 5, and a little smaller than a sheet of A3 paper. For those of you who don’t know what huge-arse actually means, this is not it. Now, we can cheat a little by reducing our 300ppi to something more like 250, 200 or even 150ppi – but the lower this number gets, the more ‘pixelly’ your image will look. You might get away with this if the viewer is going to be far away from the image, but certainly not in someone’s living room.

Interpolation, dear!

So, how do I enlarge my potential print size (we need huge-arse, remember?) without dropping the ppi and making it look pixellated? I will show you one method of many for interpolating your image. Interpolation is the process of making something bigger by making up some more pixels to squeeze in between the existing ones. Think of it as a, ummm…. a petri dish of fungus. Yeah, that’ll work. At first, you look at the dish and you have to look really hard to see the individual spores, and you can’t make out colour or shape very easily. Add more fungus to it to fill in the gaps between the existing fungus, and soon you can see a rich, colourful shape of fungus that could be examined closely without seeing gaps between individual fungi spores. And that, children, is how we make stilton cheese. But I digress…

The Aperture to Photoshop Enlargement Workflow

Interpolation on Photoshop is a doddle. But it’s important to get that doddle to work seamlessly in your workflow otherwise you’ll get bored and stop bothering to do it. Now, workflow is for another post, but suffice to say here and now, I use Aperture. I did use Lightroom for a while, but it was a while ago and I can’t quite remember how this process works from there, but I seem to remember it being similarly straightforward. So, you have your image in Aperture, and you want to upsize the resolution through interpolation in Photoshop. Here we go…

  1. In Aperture Preferences, choose Photoshop as your External Editor in the Export tab (one time only).
  2. Go to your image, apply any exposure tweaks, crops etc, but not sharpening. No, we do that later now!
  3. Right-click the image and click ‘Edit with Photoshop CS6’ or whatever version you’re on.
  4. Photoshop will open, with your image there and waiting. Click on the Image menu at the top.
  5. Click on ‘Image Size’.
  6. In the dialogue box, you will see the current pixel dimensions in the top section (for me, this will be the 4,288 x 2,848 we used before). The next section will be document size. It will display the desired resolution in ppi or ppcm if you prefer, and will calculate the print width and length for you based on that. Don’t do anything yet.
  7. Below, are three tick boxes and a drop down. Leave the tick boxes ticked (scale styles, constrain proportions and resample image) and choose Bicubic Automatic from the drop down.
  8. Now that you are sure your proportions won’t be jiggered unnecessarily, go ahead and type in the desired ppi resolution (300 ppi is best – not 300 pixels per cm!).
  9. Now, you will see what print size that will get you with your current pixel count. Go ahead and type in the sizes you desire (e.g. if you desire a 30″ print on the longest dimension, replace the larger inch number with 30). You will see the other dimension change automatically to keep your image looking normal, and you’ll see the pixel dimensions at the top change.
  10. Click OK, let the program do its thing, and then zoom into 100% to get check it at nose-to-paper distance. Bear in mind that your viewers will probably not be examining it this closely.
  11. If you’re happy, close down the Photoshop window and it will ask you if you want to save it. Click yes, and when you return to Aperture, your grossly overweight image is there, stacked in with the original.
  12. Now you’re back in Aperture with your overweight image, you can sharpen!

A screencast video of this step by step guide is here:

So how much can I enlarge by using this method?

This question gets us into some of the murky confusion I mentioned earlier. The answer is… it depends. No, really. It depends on how far away your viewer will be – if they’re going to be looking at it across your cavernous reception hall and spiral staircase, then you can afford to reduce that 300ppi some. If you’re printing embarrassing pictures of your ex on the mahoosive (note: this is significantly bigger than huge-arse) billboard down the High Street, you can reduce the resolution a lot. Maybe even sub-100ppi. If your image is of something wispy, fluffy or generally not needing to be pin sharp and edge-specific, you can afford to cheat a little on the ppi resolution. If you’re viewers suffer from pretty poor vision, you can bring down the ppi. If your image is of a style that would benefit from more noticeable noise, grain or pixellation, you can afford to bring down the ppi more than normal. Do you get the picture? It is entirely subjective. So here is my subjective opinion. I go for 300ppi and no more than double the dimensions as a rule of thumb. For long distance prints, like theatre sets, I will drop down as low as 150ppi – but no lower. If the image is sharp and is being printed on glossy paper, I won’t even go as much as double the print dimension, but will limit to double the MP count (Photoshop calculates this too in that little dialog box).

I don’t like the sound of this here Interpolation…

Then the other options are: to simply stretch the existing pixels without adding new ones; use a bigger camera sensor, or; put up with prints smaller than A3 and stop whining.

All joking aside, they are your options. There’s nothing wrong with any of them, so long as you understand the limits of each. My next preferred option after interpolation is to buy a camera with a bigger sensor. That would either be a very pricey but amazing medium format camera, or the more likely and awesome-looking D800 from Nikon. The latter offers over 36MP over a full-frame sensor, giving the ability to print huge-arse without interpolation. Or another way of looking at it – the ability to print mahoosively with acceptable interpolation. I’ve just got to convince the wife now…

A set design I’m working on for a forthcoming show requires some hints and suggestions of a rundown part of a generic city in an unspecified decade between 1950 and today. Large panels of 2 metres and above, with photographed close-ups suggesting such worn urbanity are in order, and so gave me the opportunity to shoot some street shots with a very specific brief in mind.

Fire Hydrant and Bright Blue background

Bold colours and simplicity, with a peeling orange and red fire hydrant close-up, set against a brilliant blue painted wall. Hard, functional fittings against eye-catching solid colour.

I will share a few more of the images created to this brief in future posts, but first let’s take a look at the brief itself:

1. Nothing complete. For the stage set, it is important not to allow the perception of attempting to create “doors” or “walls” or any pieces of scenery out of photographs. It must be clear that the intention is to suggest urbanity, and not to recreate it.

2. Grot, grime and decay. Each image should show an angle of urban life that is worn, used, industrial, or downright grubby. Nothing that shows affluence, or the facade of city living.

3. Must be framed in a way that can be cropped to square format without losing the balance or message of the original image. This is to satisfy the technical requirements of fitting the printed panels into the set.

4. Must not be busy. The images must not detract from the action taking place in front of them – simple and bold.

5. Must be acceptable as existing in any developed city. Particularly an American city or Singapore (the two cultures hinted towards in the show). Nothing that pinpoints a particular place.

6. Must be acceptable as existing at any point within the last 50 – 60 years. Nothing that is unique to any particular decade or year.

The image of the Fire Hydrant, added to the sales gallery at satisfies all of these criteria, and in doing so proves that excluding so many elements from a photograph can give a much more powerful, attention grabbing image. I’d love to know what you think – share your thoughts with me, and I’ll share some more images out of the set as well as covering some of my tricks for ensuring super-large, 4 metres squared prints still look awesome.

I have always been fascinated by lightning storms. I love the blindingly bright instant of each strike – and particularly love the patterns of each fork as it staggers its way across the sky towards civilisation and the Earth.

Capturing this beauty is a little more tricky than viewing it though. I currently live in Singapore, which has been reported in some sources as having the most lightning strikes of any country in the world. I do have a little moment of amusement when I see folk here trying to capture one of the many, many lightning strikes – by pointing their camera skyward, holding their breath and then pressing the shutter button as soon as they see a bolt, usually swinging their camera round to the strike area at the same time. The man (it’s always a man) then looks at their camera screen immediately, shakes his head and mutters under his breath, before repeating the process. Needless to say, he won’t get the shot with 10,000 or more attempts.

Lightning over the Bay

A purple tinged lightning bolt is reflected in the water of Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.

The trick is to accept that you cannot react faster than lightning. Don’t try to capture it when it strikes; you have to be aware of where it will strike, and then shoot the empty space in anticipation of the bolt.

This is where a camera with a manual mode is vital. Depending on how dark your scene is, you need to close your aperture down as small as you can get away with (high f-number), and leave your shutter open for as long as you can get away with. A tripod and a remote shutter release cable will be your bestest friends here. Once you’ve got the right combination of aperture and shutter speed (a minimum of 5 seconds, but preferably 30 seconds if it’s dark enough) you just need to compose the shot and fire away on continuous mode until you see a strike within your frame. As soon as you get a strike within your shot, release the shutter and review the image. If you need to recompose or re-expose, do so and repeat. Then, it’s very much a case of luck – but as all photographers know: you have to make your own luck, and without the preparation and patience, you won’t get the shot.

The shot above, of the lightning strike over Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, was captured after around 15 minutes of watching two storms approach from opposite directions. The tripod was setup on the deck of a small boat on which I slept for 3 days, and though the seas were calm and flat, there was still enough motion to prevent me from keeping the shutter open for long periods – even with the tripod. I watched the storms and deduced that most of the strikes were taking place over an area spanning roughly 90 degrees. So, using a wide angle lens to cover as much sky as possible, I pointed in that direction and simply shot frame after frame until I got lucky.

Lightning close by

A bolt of lightning strikes the apartment block opposite, clearly visible at close range.

This shot took around 5 minutes to capture, and was taken from my living room as I ate my dinner. With a minute or two to set the correct exposure (aperture and shutter speed combined), I simply munched on my pasta and kept an eye towards where my camera was pointed as my camera did the hard work of continuing to fire from my $20 remote cable. When I saw a strike that was within frame, I stopped and checked and saw I’d hit lucky with this bolt appearing to hit the apex of the block opposite mine. Had I bothered to remove the mosquito net from the window I may even have a shot worth tidying up and selling – such is the clarity and closeness of the lightning.

The point is, you will never be able to predict, control or react to lightning. So don’t bother. Notice where most of the strikes are happening, set up for that zone and let your camera fire away. Sooner or later you will capture a strike, and if you’ve planned your composition and exposure, it will be a clear and useable shot! My shots here were taken purely as afterthoughts, and without much time spent at all – so if I can do this and eat pasta at the same time, you can do this and capture a stunning landscape too, without much extra thought.

Taking a look at the most popular shots over the last week, this low-angle shot of a sugar cane carriage on a railway track sits top of the pile at the moment.

Sugar Cane Railway Carriage

A sugar cane car, full of produce, sits on a cane railway track in Queensland, flanked by its neighbouring cane cars.

Story Behind the Shot

Criss-crossing Northern Queensland, Australia, is a network of narrow gauge railway tracks that serve the vast sugar cane plantations in this sticky, humid environment. The railways are clearly king here: even the main road artery in this neck of the woods – the Bruce Highway route 1 – is carved by diagonal and perpendicular railway, slashing its way as it sees fit across the tarmac and bush. Road traffic is at the mercy of the Cane Trains. Sandwiched between the ferocious ocean waves of the Coral Sea and the sudden mountainous folds that keep the outback at bay is territory owned by sugar as far as the land is flat. In every one of the harvest seasons, empty cane carriages are deposited by fields, waiting to be filled with produce before rolling heavily to one of the giant sugar mills nearby to be chopped, boiled and refined into packages big and small for onward sale.

I like the rawness of it all. There is no prettiness here, no neat ordered lines as you would find on a passenger railway, or even a freight railway in a built up area. No sweeping curves to navigate around long-standing buildings or outcrops, no impressive engineering and artistry creating bridges and tunnels to carry the trains smoothly through busy cities. It is the simplest and quickest way of getting cane from point A to point B – raw cane, transported the raw way. I like that the carriage is a dull, dirty kind of mustard yellow – not dissimilar in colour to the cane it carries, and certainly not prettified or scrubbed up for anyone else’s benefit. I like that the cane has just been dumped into the car – no pretty levelling off at the top, no nice lid to keep the contents hidden. The rusty undercarriage is clear, as is the unkempt sidings and rails running alongside. This is functional and minimal.

Some technical and artistic notes

I wanted to provide a single clear subject that captured the raw functionality of the ‘blood vessels’ of Northern Queensland, and loved the pale browns and yellows of the recently harvested cane. When driving past this train of carriages that seemed to be painted in the same rough and ready ‘cane colour scheme’, I wanted to create the uncluttered, single-subject image, but also be aware that this is one long network: a rail system that snakes from one plantation to another; from one mill to another; from one community to another. This network is the circulatory system of a huge area of Queensland, and that sinewy outstretching feel should not be discounted in the name of creating a ‘clean’ shot. It was important to include hints of the neighbouring carriages when framing the shot. They allude to continuity, to the long stretching veins of the cane industry, without drawing focus from the dirty rough colours and lines of the single cane car. The inclusion of the foreground rails reinforce this notion of never-ending networks – and highlight the raw untidiness of the bush around the train. A wide angle was used to distort the rails – a similar image with level, flat, parallel lines did not make the grade simply because it appeared too contrived; too perfect, for this whole area of Australia.

What do you see? Rough and rural, or an unclean inefficiency? Remind you of something else?

Yellow Cable Drum

A yellow, empty, large cable drum sits by the roadside in Singapore. Close up.

I recently posted about the wonders of black and white photography, and so feel it necessary to restore the balance and extol the joy of colour. After all, colour photographs account for almost 100% of all photographs existent on the internet, mainly thanks to the mindless numbness of drones posting every smartphone picture ever taken into the public domain regardless of worthiness or interest.

If you make the decision to include colour – there must be a reason! Like any element of the frame, it should only be there if you intend it to be there (a philosophy that, in honesty, I need to practice more). Filling the frame with a single colour is one way of drawing attention to a colour you find interesting or worthy of attention. Dodging an image (selective brightening) to highlight a colour you want to draw attention to is another.

In the image of the cable drum above, it was the bright, toy-like yellow that reminded me of JCB bulldozers and Tonka trucks I used to play with as a child. With the grime and distress on the rim of the drum, I found that the bright child-like colour is a great juxtaposition to its heavy industrial use. And so, the colour in this shot was important to me. In order to highlight this, I chose to fill the frame with it. Other angles that set the yellow drum against green grass, and grey concrete, became too messy – not enough focus on the colour. And so here is the result. What do you think?

I’m talking about a new addition to – this Black and White of a single tree in a freshly cut rural landscape:

Black and White tree under dramatic sky

A filtered black and white image, with a solitary tree in a recently harvested field, set against a dramatic sky of white cloud reaching into inky black.

I created this image purely by accident. The photo was shot in colour, and that is how it remained in my library until yesterday, when I clicked an option I had no intention of clicking. I was struck by the result – which turned a nicely composed, but with weak colour in the sky image into something I am happy to put my name to on the Wall Art shop floor.

Moral of the story? I will be revisiting a lot of images in black and white now: it really does remove the distraction of colour, and provided the elements in the shot are composed interestingly, will enhance the impact significantly.

Here’s the original image, that was ruled out of being offered for sale:

Lone tree in field - colour

The original file: the sky wasn’t blue enough for me, and there was a little too much yellow in the foreground field. The wonky horizon was also fixed.

There are two types of photograph that catch the eye. The first type excludes almost everything, giving a blank canvas that the photographer then paints on with a single subject. Framing a neutral or blank background, with only a single, clearly identifiable object is so successful that the stock photo industry and advertising industry primarily uses such processes. Fine art photography also makes use of the exclusion technique, though not exclusively, of course.

So what is it about the exclusion technique that makes it so successful? It is one of those unwritten rules (that of course means it can, and should, be broken): the eye is drawn first to the part of the image that most in focus, contrasted with its surroundings, or simply brighter than the rest of the photo. Where there is one lone subject amongst a plain background, it is the contrast in colour, shape or brightness that draws the eye in.

Man in crowded street

A man in a yellow t-shirt stops to watch the world go by in this bustling street market in Hong Kong.

So we can apply this theory to images that either you don’t want to strip of all other mise-en-scene (literally the things in the scene), or can’t. Such as street photography. Now, when in a busy environment, it is of course possible to apply the exclusion theory by getting closer to your subject. But capturing the hustle and bustle is just as valid as excluding all from a shot. To draw the eye, simply follow the same rules. Take the image above – where is your eye drawn first? For most of you, it will be the man in the yellow t-shirt. In a sea of dark coloured clothes and hair, his shirt stands out by far. He is also facing the camera, as opposed to the majority of the crowd which is facing away. And he is in focus, which contrasts against the blurred heads in the foreground.

What about photos that don’t have a natural highlight? If there is a point you want your viewer to be drawn to, you can provide some subtle help. Digital photo software offers the ability to lighten and darken selective parts of an image using a brush (mouse) to select. This is called Dodging (lightening) and Burning (darkening), and can be found in Aperture, if you’re an Apple fan, and Photoshop if you’re an Adobe fan. Lightroom by Adobe doesn’t have this built in as of yet – you have to export to Photoshop.

Balinese Women Side Saddle on a Motorbike

In Bali, living is made possible with the motorbike. Friends and relatives share journeys; like this woman carrying groceries in a basket.

This image was originally difficult to focus on, as the brightness of the road was similar in intensity to the brightness of the woman on the motorbike. With selective dodging of the women and motorbike, and burning of the road and background, more of the viewer’s initial attention goes to the motorbike – particularly the woman sat side-saddle on it.

For travel photography, which is most of what I do, I believe it is crucial that the photograph represents what I actually saw at the scene. I don’t like using Photoshop or anything else to artificially create an impression of a scene that wasn’t what I actually saw. So, for me, any use of digital dodging and burning has got to be true. Keeping it subtle (exposure shifts of maybe a third of a stop) is key. I am happy that the refinements applied above bring that photograph back to what I saw when stood on the street – and are not creating a false view of something that I kind of saw. Of course, if I don’t have to refine on the computer, even better. The man in the yellow t-shirt at the top of the page is completely untouched: no digital enhancements whatsoever.

To sum it up – brighter points of your photo attract attention first. Try and achieve that in-camera first, and then give dodging and burning a shot as a Plan B.

Snow on Roof at Sunset

A roof-side view of the setting sun, with perfectly smooth snow sitting in the foreground of the roof.

Why am I posting a picture of a snow-covered roof in August, when it’s 32 degrees centigrade outside? Firstly, it’s because I long for the cool touch of snow and ice, and secondly; it’s snowing somewhere in the world right now.

Thirdly, this photo was recently ‘faved’ on our Flickr feed, and so I thought I’d give a little background on how the shot came about and was put together.

Story behind the shot

It had been snowing in this little corner of Lancashire, UK, for about a week. Being a semi-rural area, the landscapes were simply stunning under endless blankets of white carpet, which rolled and bumped with the steep valley and vanishing foothills. I took heaps of shots of snowy fields, snowy trees and snowy sheep – some of which made the grade for the Wall Art collection at – but I wanted a different angle on the pretty snowscape. Our house in Lancashire is an old stone terrace with fields front and back, and the loft has been converted into a bedroom, with a wide opening window in the roof – perfect for poking your head out like a meerkat from the middle of the roof. And so when I opened the window to have an unobstructed view of the snowy hills behind the house (and covered the carpet and bed in snow), I caught this angle by accident really, and was drawn to the perfection of the snow: level, even, crisp, with the low sun catching individual crystals of snow, transforming them into diamonds upon the tiles. Once I’d seen it, I had to get the camera and make the shot work, technically.

Getting the shot right

Shooting into the sun can be tricky. Your camera’s light meter will be overwhelmed and may result in a shot exposed for the sun, leaving everything else in the frame in complete darkness with no detail visible. There are two ways round this, but by far the easiest way is to ensure you are ‘metering’ for the area of detail you want exposed correctly. DSLR cameras have a little metering switch. On the Nikon, this is a little 3-way switch on the back (on most, near the viewfinder at the top), with 3 little symbols.

Centre-Weighted Metering

The setting with a little white dot with brackets around it will meter weighted to the centre of the frame – meaning whatever is in the middle is what your camera thinks you want exposed correctly, with other parts of the frame not completely ignored, but given less attention. The weighting is roughly 75% to 25% in favour of the centre area, whose size you can usually change.

Matrix (or whole-frame) Metering

The dot inside a rectangle refers to Matrix metering, which (simply put) tries to meter correctly for the whole frame by analysing everything and comparing it to a database of images – pretty useless in this kind of shot, where you have massive dynamic range (big differences in brightness within the frame).

Spot Metering

The third option on the metering switch, and the winner for the snowy roof shot, is the lonely dot. This dot setting denotes spot metering, and means that whatever is in the small AF square in the viewfinder (which can be moved around on DSLRs) is what the meter reports exposure for. Put the square on the bit that needs correct exposure, or focus and lock exposure on that bit and then recompose the shot, and you should be fine. It isn’t just DSLRs that have the ability to expose on a particular part of the frame – even the iPhone camera is able to expose on wherever you tap – if you tap and hold it will lock that exposure setting and let you move to reframe the shot. Magic.

The final piece of advice, or rambling – depending on your viewpoint, is to say that this shot came about as an alternative to the usual snow landscape shots you get. With anything – not just snow – there’s nothing wrong in taking what might seem like standard shots. But please do try to get a different perspective on something. This could be simply kneeling down, lying down, or standing on a chair. Or, like here, sticking your head out of a roof window. It might not work, but more often than not it gives something quite interesting.

Surfer Looks On In Envy

A surfer in a wet suit, carrying a surfboard, runs toward the water as he watches fellow surfers ride impressive waves off shore.

The most vIewed Image of the last few days is…

So from time to time – as often as I can – I will poll my photo views on Flickr, and give some background info on the most viewed shot of the last week or few days. Today, such a look at the stats shows that ‘Surfer Looks On In Envy’ is getting a lot of hits. Now this actually comes as a surprise for me, as I had only taken this image off sale from a few days ago as I thought it wasn’t good enough to be displayed. I’ll tell you why in a moment, but first – the story behind the shot:

Cape Bridgewater Beach

I’d been driving for a few hours on the coastal road between Adelaide and Melbourne, in Southern Australia – before it comes to the official ‘Great Ocean Road’. This road is stunning. This whole coastline is stunning actually, and I’d managed to get quite a few decent images before the tedium of inland roads behind a tractor took over. When the tractor finally pulled off the road into a field, the crest of a hill appeared in front of me. As I very quickly reached the top of the hill, one of the most spectacularly beautiful scenic sights unravelled before my eyes. A deep and endless blue sea stretched towards me from a clear but distant horizon, wrapping itself around unfolding green-topped craggy rocks. In between two of these rocky headland points, a stunningly beautiful golden sand beach swept across the landscape, offering a great contrast between the deep blue and the luscious greens.

The huge, empty expanse of fine sand, blue sea and sky, and approaching wispy cirrus cloud at Cape Bridgewater, Australia, was a real tonic after hours of driving.

I drove down to the beach and found it almost completely empty. That’s the thing that gets me most about Australia: they are blessed with not just one beach that is amongst the world’s best looking, but thousands. Thousands and thousands of huge, golden fine-sand beaches that seem to cover 99% of the vast continent’s coastline. And 99% of these have nobody on them. There were so many of these really pretty beaches that I had all to myself.

Cape Bridgewater beach wasn’t entirely all mine that day. There were a smattering of surfers in the water, and one more on the beach, sat on the sand struggling to pull his wetsuit on. I watched him looking forlornly out at the waves, feeling every missed ride, as he bumbled and fumbled to get himself out there as fast as he could. After one failed attempt to run towards the water without his board, I snapped him on his second attempt, managing to capture him looking out to see another surfer getting the waves he was missing, as he ran out to enter the water away from the submerged rocks.

Why I took the photo off display

There are many basic “rules” in photography. None of these “rules” are really rules – they are merely guidelines. But one of them is that objects in the foreground shouldn’t be out of focus, as it distracts the eye. I’ll paste the photo here again, so you can see what I’m talking about without having to scroll up and down:

Surfer Looks On In Envy

A surfer in a wet suit, carrying a surfboard, runs toward the water as he watches fellow surfers ride impressive waves off shore.

My decision at the time was to highlight what the surfer was looking at, so the breaking wave and second surfer riding that wave, is in focus (and further highlighted by the sun making it the brightest part of the image, thus further drawing in the eye). I could have used a smaller aperture (bigger f-stop) to increase the depth of field and have them both in focus, but this would have slowed down the shutter speed so much that the main surfer’s motion blur would have been so much so that he’d have morphed into an unidentifiable splodge of ink.

So my reason for writing off this image is the foreground main object being distractingly out of focus. I was then pretty surprised for this image to get as many views as it did, leaving me asking the question: am I being too rigid with these “rules” of photography?

I’d love to know your thoughts on it!

Art Gallery, New South Wales

The neo-classical facade of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, in Sydney, Australia, looms out of the deep blue sky with wispy cloud.

One of the most valuable pieces of kit you can buy as a photographer is a polarising filter. If that surprises you, then I should let you know that it surprised me too. I’ve spent thousands on camera bodies, lenses, bags etc. etc. etc…. but the polarising filter used in this shot cost me £40. A polarising filter is probably the only ‘effect’ you can’t replicate in post-processing – even if you shoot RAW. What it does is weave some kind of witchcraft between the object and your lens, cancelling out much of the reflections of light that bounce off of haze, water vapour and other small particulate matter suspended in the air. It has a similar effect in minimising reflections in glass and surface water too for that matter, making seaside shots and through-glass shots an easy target for cheap but effective image improvement. You can get linear and circular filters: any camera that meters through the lens (i.e. any autofocus camera, or most made in the last 40 years or so) needs a circular filter, but they’re simple and flexible to use.

Once you’ve got a filter that matches the size of your lens (I use Hoya, not the most expensive and I’m happy with the results), screw it on the end – but do note that the filter itself needs to rotate once it’s screwed on. This is because you need to get the glare-cancelling witchcraft sorcerers at the right angle depending on the position of the sun relative to you. Best results (including the gorgeous deep blue sky in the photo above, and the ‘poppy’ vivid colour in the stone of the museum) are picked up at 90 degrees to the sun. This includes up and down 90 degrees, not just left and right – great when you live on the equator and take shots at noon! Rotate the filter to get the effect you want.

Some people caution about using polarising filters with wide angle lenses under 35mm or so. Rubbish. What they don’t like is that you get an uneven sky, as the polarising effect changes with angle from the sun, so a wide angle lens will pick up more of the sky, ergo more variance in the angle. Like this:

Rocks in the Blue

Coastal erosion at a fierce rate leaves the south coast of Victoria, Australia, littered with stacks of rock, collapsed arches, and isolated islands to be battered by the intense blue ocean waves.


You see where the sky is light blue at the left, goes darker and then lighter again as you follow it right? That’s the effect we’re talking about. Some people hate it, I love it – it’s up to you. It can be really effective when you line up a light bit in the centre of your image, surrounding the main subject; giving a natural halo effect that draws the eye into the bit of the image you want to focus on, tapering off into darker skies at the edges.

One other thing to bear in mind is that – as with anything you plonk between your lens and the scene/subject – polarising filters chew up a little bit of light: you will need to allow for 1 or 2 stops of exposure absorbed by the filter. For this reason, don’t bother using a polarising filter at night.