Advanced Advanced Lessons Art Landscape Photography Photography

Keep It Simple

Sometimes when taking a photo it is tempting to include a lot of “stuff” to give you more to look at. Often it is better to get rid of all the extraneous and simplify the composition.

This photo was inspired by several of the works of Joel Meyerowitz. I remember seeing these back in College and I have always been sucked in by the simplicity. The images are very meditative.

To get this image, I waited until the boat was framed between the two rock islands. I increased the overall saturation and brightness and lightened the boat. I also removed a second boat on the horizon that was distracting. I also did some other local adjustments to the sky and water. This image is not “straight out of camera”, however it is how I saw the scene at the time.

Basic Lessons lessons Photography

what makes a photographer

I had brunch today with a group of artist friends. Most of these friends are painters and we were having a conversation on what makes an artist, and the difference between painting and photography.

As a photographer, I said I notice details and know how to get the essence of a scene. I have also learned how to translate a scene into the language of photography. As a challenge I was asked to take a photo. I only had my cell phone, but I noticed the light and reflections off the glasses on the table. It is not a great photo, but I chose my angle of view to eliminate the background distractions and to crop in to get the essence of the image. I think I was able to express something…

Moral of the story? Be aware of what you see. look at light. Look for distractions and figure out how to get rid of them. Look at relationships between objects. And don’t look for excuses; use the tools you have to make the best image you can.

Basic Lessons lessons Photography Workshops

Old photographers loved fractions

One of the things that seems to confuse new photographers is the fact that everything seems to be the opposite. For example, a small f-number lets in less light than a large f-number. The reason for this is that many of these controls are represented as reciprocals, or fractions.

The fractions representing shutter speed are intuitive. People understand when “250” is displayed, it means 1/250 of a second for example, and “500” (1/500) is a shorter time. However when it comes to aperture, people don’t equate the f-numbers with fractions{{1}}. f16 is a smaller hole than f8, just as 1/16 is a smaller number than 1/8. Maybe the issue is some of the larger apertures are called f2.8. We are not used to seeing a fraction mixing decimals.. 1/2.8 looks wrong, however it is just a way to show 5/14. Just like shutter speeds, the “1/” is assumed and not printed to save space.

Once you realize the number is just a fraction, it makes sense that a smaller f-number, like f4 (1/4), lets in more light than something like f16 (1/16). just like a smaller printed shutter speed number like 60 (1/60 second) lets in more light than a printed 500 (1/500 second).

f-numbers, or f-stops, are listed so that each number in the series (1.4, 1.8, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22…){{2}} lets in twice the amount of light (or one stop more) than the previous number{{3}}. This makes it easy to match an f-number and a shutter speed to give a consistent exposure. If you halve the shutter speed, say from 1/30 to 1/60, you can open the aperture from f8 to f5.6. This will allow the exact same amount of light to reach your sensor.

In the next post I will talk about depth of field and how to control it with aperture.

[[1]]An f-number is the focal length of the lens divided by the diameter of the opening. In theory an f-number such as f8 should let in the same amount of light, ie exposure, regardless of lens, however due to physical differences in the glass and construction of lenses the actual amount of light may differ slightly. For this reason high end cinematic lenses will be marked in T-stops, which is a measured transmission of light for each lens.


[[2]]some cameras will show 1/2 or 1/3 stop f-numbers between this standard series.


[[3]]If you accept that some numbers are rounded to make things easier, you may also notice that each number is double the number two places away, and if you are really mathematically nerdy, each number is root two times the previous number, and a circle with root 2 times the diameter has twice the area.[[3]]

Art Basic Lessons Landscape Photography lessons Photography

My Christmas card

I went for a short walk with my dad the other day at the Malcolm Knapp research forest. As we were entering the park, I saw this scene and thought I could make it into a Christmas card. I had to move around a little bit to get it to line up the way I wanted it.

Once I posted it to Facebook, I received quite a good response and people were amazed that I saw the image. I am not sure if “seeing” an image can be taught, it comes with experience, or it is an innate talent. I think it is a combination of all three.

One of the advantages of digital is that extra exposures do not cost anything. You can take lots of shots without worry (unless you fill your card…). However the other side is that you do not have much invested in each exposure, you can develop a “spray and pray” mentality where you try to take lots of images and hope one works out. SLOW DOWN. think about each and every shot. why are you taking this image? If you are not sure of a scene that meets your eye, try walking around and observe how the background changes in relation to your subject. move closer and further away to judge perspective. Once you have your position, choose a focal length that crops the scene how you want it. Look in the corners for distractions. Try to figure out how you will post-process the image. Take notes if you like.

A lot of this gets easier and faster with practice, and you can take a few variations to compare back at home.

My point is to conscously make photos rather than just snap an image, Your viewers will appreciate it and you will grow as an artist…

Basic Lessons Computers and Software lessons

My workflow, and how I organize my images

Post processing is a necessary step in creating a great photo. Back in the day, I had binders full of negatives, slides, and proof prints and I would spend hours in the darkroom burning, dodging and manipulating prints. Today, I use Adobe’s Lightroom and Photoshop{{1}} to organize and to make my images come alive.

In this post, I will describe my typical workflow and how I organize my images. I have written (and will no doubt write more) posts on various retouching processes.

  1. Import images to Lightroom… I also add keywords associated with location, or anything else all the images from the shoot have in common. I have a preset that renames my raw files with the date, and then imports them into a year/month/day folder hierarchy{{2}}.
  2. Delete any obvious screw ups.
  3. Quick rating. I do a quick run through of the photos, ranking from 1 to 5 stars. One star means it is not a good photo, but I want to keep it for some reason, maybe an image I just want to keep for reference purposes. 3 stars is decent and I may want to come back to work on the image. 5 stars is an awesome portfolio quality image.
  4. next I review and mark any not worth keeping as a discard (x), and possibly mark others with one of several custom colour labels{{3}} such as “Model Release”, “Do Not Publish” or “To Work On”.

Now the images are catalogued and rated. I may leave the files alone and come back to them later, or, if an image or two are inspiring, I will start tweaking them right away.

I usually do white balance, and maybe exposure compensation in Lightroom. I could do it in Photoshop, but I would have to transfer as a smart object, and I find that is more trouble than it is worth. I may do some other global adjustments in contrast, etc before opening the file in Photoshop.

If you right click on an image and select “Open in Photoshop” this will create a PSD copy with all the cataloguing of the original raw file. All changes made in Photoshop will be reflected on this copy. At this point, I will drop the original raw file to 2 stars, as the Photoshop file is the main version of this image, and I don’t want the unedited raw file to show up in searches or smart catalogues.

At the end of the day, I will have all my raw files with some keywording and a ranking. Some of them will have duplicate Photoshop files with the same keywording. I can also drag images to different catalogues, but that is another article.

[[1]]There are other programs and workflows that may work as well or better for some people, however I have been using Photoshop for a long time and it is what I am comfortable with…[[1]]

[[2]]I also have a top level folder for “jobs”, i.e. commercial work, that is subdivided into year/month/day folders. I use keywords to describe the job and client.[[2]]

[[3]]You can set custom label text for your colour labels to make it easier to categorize images. Some people use keywords instead, but I find this can mess up searching. For example, if you search for “publish” you will also get all the files keywords “Do not publish”.[[3]]

Basic Computers and Software Retouching Web Design

Watermarking your images.

Putting images online is a bit of a double edged sword, on the one hand you can show your work to many people, many more than was possible in the years before things like Facebook, Twitter, etc., on the other hand, re-sharing may make it harder for people to know a photo is yours, and unscrupulous people/companies may even use your photo without compensation or acknowledgment. Watermarking your images is one way to address the downfalls of publishing your images online.

Like everything in Photography, there are a number of opinions on watermarking images. On one hand, watermarking provides some{{1}} protection to your images, on the other hand, watermarks, especially large marks across the main part of the image, can look bad and reduce the appeal of your images. 

I do put watermarks on my online images, but I try to keep them small, relatively discrete, and aesthetically pleasing. Currently I am using a stylized version of my signature with my website listed. Realistically this does not provide much protection, but it will let honest people find me.

So now do you add a watermark to your images? Many programs, such as Lightroom, have a built in watermarking function. You set up a watermark, either text or a small graphic, and when you save the image, you can automatically add the watermark. For other programs, such as Photoshop, Elements, or even GIMP you can manually add a watermark by creating a new layer and importing the graphic, or typing text.

Again, a watermark is no guarantee of protection, and an unscrupulous thief can retouch your photo to eliminate the watermark, but, in my opinion, a watermark can help honest people find you, and, if done with taste, does not hinder the look of your image too much.

[[1]]although with image manipulation programs such as Photoshop, it is not too hard to remove a watermark if you are determined[[1]]

Basic Lessons lessons Photography

A Perspective on Different Lenses

Some time ago, I got into a discussion on the different looks of wide angle vs telephoto lenses. There is a lot of misconception with focal length of lenses. If you talk to some people about lenses, especially with regard to different size sensors in your camera (medium format, full frame, crop frame, etc) you can get all kinds of opinions. I was always taught two images would look the same if you cropped the wide shot to show the same field of view as a telephoto image.

This is not a rigorous scientific test, but a real world experiment{{1}} that should be good enough for what I do. In fact it is so simple, you can do the same thing to prove for yourself that perspective depends ONLY on camera position and not lens choice or camera type.


First I took a wide angle shot:

24mm at f5.6
24mm at f5.6

Then the telephoto shot
85mm f5.6

Then I cropped the wide angle shot to include approximately the same field of view as the telephoto image.

Cropped 24mm at f5.6
Cropped 24mm at f5.6

Other than the traffic on the road, I don’t see much difference… Objects are all the same relative size in each image.  At web sizes, there is not even any apparent difference in sharpness or grain.

I guess the next step will be to shoot something with less depth of field, i.e. close-ups, but I suspect the difference will be just as little….

for the record, I tried to do extreme crops of details from each of the telephoto and cropped wide angle, but my focus on the wide angle was a bit off. I may have to go back and redo this. or just go with my initial conclusion…

close crops from within the telephoto shot and the wide angle crop.
close crops from within the telephoto shot and the wide angle crop.


[[1]] I simply used a 24-85 zoom lens set at f5.6. I stood in the same spot, focused on (close to) the same spot, and shot one frame at 24mm and one at 85mm. I imported the images into Lightroom, made a copy of the wide angle shot and cropped it close to the field of view of the telephoto image.[[1]]

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Another New Old Photo

This is the result of looking through the viewfinder as I was focusing and composing. It is also the result of understanding how cameras actually “see” (Hint: it is not the same as how humans see)

I did enhance the colours a bit, but there is very minimal processing…

Moral of the story is to experiment and try new things. Try manually over-riding what your camera wants to do… 

Advanced Lessons lessons Photography

Using a Zoom Lens

There are many articles, youtube videos, and general opinion on prime lenses (one focal length) vs zoom lenses. The most common advice is that primes are sharper, and often generally better. Many people say if you want to zoom, use your feet…

Using your feet to zoom assumes that you are only using a zoom lens to change the magnification of the lens. In other words, it assumes you are changing the focal length to “get closer” to your subject. If this is all you are doing, then moving your feet may be a viable option. This may be a bit difficult in a number of situations, but that is not the main reason I have a problem with this explanation.

wide lens perspective
Taken with a 20mm wide lens. Notice the car really seems to recede. I was maybe half a metre away from the rear bumper.
Also notice the exhaust pipes…

Choosing your point of view has less to do with subject magnification than with perspective. This is important, so let me explain. The closer you are to your subject, the larger the apparent distance between foreground and background. This perspective is NOT affected by lens focal length or sensor size, only distance to your subject.{{1}} As a very general rule, the relative size of foreground and background is quite important for fine art.

 When I am shooting with a zoom lens, I first choose the perspective by using my feet to establish my subject distance. Then I zoom so that I only include the frame I want. In other words, I use the zoom more as a crop tool than a magnifier.

Of course there are always exceptions to every rule…

[[1]]You can prove this for yourself. set your camera up on a tripod with a few subjects at various distances. Without moving the tripod, take a number of photos with different focal length lenses (or zoom your lens from minimum through maximum) Now crop the wide angle images to the same area as the telephoto images. Other than possible noise or resolution issues, the two images will look the same.

The second half of this experiment would be to move the tripod so the foreground object is the same size with the different lenses/focal lengths. You will see the background “recede” as you move closer to your foreground subject.

You can do this same test with different cameras or whatever. As long as the distance to your foreground subject stays the same.[[1]]