Yellow Dwarf, Vancouver, 2015 – 30 Jan 2016 – Flickr


Sol, an unremarkable G type main sequence star, or yellow dwarf, as seen from its unremarkable third terrestrial planet, Terra. Terra is currently undergoing a seventh mass extinction precipitated by the recent emergence of an otherwise unremarkable alpha predator, Homo sapiens sapiens. This is a common theme in universes where abiogenesis is common. Note the technological artifacts of the alpha predator on the horizon.

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How to Photograph Reflective Surfaces

Photographing reflective surfaces and objects is usually quite challenging, and can easily turn the work of the photographer into a frustrating task.

Reflections are a hard to tame beast, but it gets easier to control if you know the rules. So, in this article I will show you how to create a high impact image with controlled reflections, like the one below, with a really simple, but highly effective, technique and using equipment you most certainly already own.

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A reflective surface acts like a mirror reflecting light, so if the light source of your image comes from the same direction as the camera, it causes specular highlights resulting in blown out spots without texture, and an overall poor looking image like the following one photographed with the flash mounted on camera.

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It all comes down to the basic principles of light and the way it behaves, which is in fact very predictable. The law of reflection explains this phenomenon. If you project a ray of light on a flat reflective surface like a mirror, then the angle of incidence equals de angle of reflection, like the following diagram illustrates:

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So, physics apart, what this really means is that if you are trying to photograph a reflective surface you should never light it from the same angle as the camera, otherwise you will only get light bouncing straight back at you (depending on the angle of the object).

The trick here is to use a big light source, and position it in the same opposite angle of your camera, in relation to the photographed object (behind it).

You can do this with a studio flash head and a big softbox, but there is a much simpler and cheaper way of doing it. You just need some white cardboard, a flash, and trigger system to fire it off-camera.

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Here is how you can use this lighting setup:

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The light from the flash bounced off the cardboard is a much bigger light source, allowing you to control the reflections on your image, creating gradients that shape the object, and avoiding specular highlights. Notice it also creates texture on the rock background.

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This simple technique allows you to create a lot of different lighting effects in your image, depending how you position your flash, and angle the cardboard in relation to the photographed object, which also creates texture on the background stone and water drops.

Here are some examples of light variations on this imag,e with just some small adjustments to the cardboard positioning.

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Knowing that light rays will always bounce from a reflective surface, at the same angle at that at which they strike it, makes it possible to determine the best positioning for the camera and the light source, taking into consideration the family of angles as you can see in the next diagram.

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The light positioned within the family of angles will produce a direct reflection and the light outside of the family of angles will not light a mirror-like subject at all, from the camera’s point of view.

Even though the reflections on these images are not direct, but rather diffused reflections (which makes difficult to calculate the light angle as it is being bounced and dispersed in different directions) the family of angles can give you a good estimate of how to position your light in relation to the camera angle, in order to control the reflections in your image.

All this technical information about light physics may seem overwhelming at first, but it will all make sense when you start playing around with it. So, give it at try, I’m sure you will get great images. Please share any questions and your images of reflective objects in the comments section below.

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5 Starter Steps to Batch Processing using Adobe Bridge

Post-processing can be a minefield. Beginners especially can feel overwhelmed when confronted by amazing software, that can do almost anything, like Photoshop for example. However, everyone starts from somewhere, and not everything is terribly confusing. I am personally a fan of simplicity, when it comes to technology. Let me share with you a few simple steps on how to get started batch processing using Adobe Bridge.

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Editing in Bridge is super simple, and as easy as one – two – three. Open your file, edit your photo, save your file. I will walk you through it, and try to demystify the first step in post-processing, without touching Photoshop.

What is Adobe Bridge?

Bridge is part of Adobe’s Creative Suite, and is a media browsing application. It is an app that enables you to view your entire computer contents, manage and organize your digital files, and edit your photos without the need to import and file them in various catalogs elsewhere. For photographers specifically, Bridge simplifies the first step in the editing process, because within Bridge you can do the following easily, to name a few:

  1. Browse photos
  2. Rate photos
  3. Delete photos
  4. Rename, move, or copy multiple files at the press of a button
  5. Organize your files using various filters so you can perform your desired function in batches
  6. Watermark, copyright and manage metadata information

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Adobe Camera Raw

To edit photographs in Bridge, you need to have Adobe Camera Raw, a powerful plug-in that allows you to edit and enhance any photo, including JPGS. RAW files however, can only be opened, and read, in Adobe Camera Raw.

I would suggest that you shoot in RAW. Here is a good article about RAW vs JPGS which explains the benefit of shooting in RAW format. I shoot in RAW, and always edit from that format in Bridge, as my starting point. If you photograph in RAW, make sure you have downloaded Adobe Camera Raw, preferably the latest version, onto your computer before you can edit the files in Bridge.

A first word

This tutorial is a very basic suggested process of editing in Bridge, meant to aid your understanding if you have never used Bridge before. I do not claim it is the better way of editing nor the perfect way; it is one option, among many others available. Bridge is my personal preference over Lightroom, and I choose to use as much or as few of the functions in Bridge as I see fit for every image, or batch of images, that I edit. I like Bridge because, together with Adobe Camera Raw, it is straight-forward, hassle-free, and offers a non-destructive way of editing.

Loading your images

Before starting the batch processing, you need to load your images to a new folder on your computer.

My suggestion would be to download your images from your memory card, directly onto your computer. In my opinion, this is the safest, and most direct way, to copy over images from your memory card to your computer, without having to go through various software that potentially could complicate the copying process. Keep it as simple as possible to try and eliminate any malfunctions or errors right at the start. Use an external USB card reader to load your images into your computer, if it doesn’t come with a built-in one.

Put your images in a new folder clearly labeled so you know exactly where to find them. As an added step, when I copy a new set of images from a memory card on to my computer, I also immediately copy the same set to various external hard drives and cloud storage for back-up and safe-keeping. Always copy from the same memory card so you keep the transfer direct, and minimize potential errors. For example, if you copy your memory card images to a folder called Set A, do not then copy the images from Set A into another external hard drive folder; do not create this unnecessary step. Paste the same set of images from the memory card, directly where you want them stored on an external hard drive or on the cloud.

Once your images are safely copied, open Bridge. You will need to be subscribed to Adobe CC to have access to this. Subscriptions are now very affordable, compared to previous years when you had to buy a license of the very expensive full Adobe Suite just to use one software.

 batch-editing-adobe-bridge-photography-tutorial

You will see the contents of your computer on the left side navigation menu. Find your folder, click on it and your images will be displayed on the main window. RAW files will be displayed as CR2 or CRW files for Canon cameras, NEF files for Nikon cameras and DNG for some other cameras (each manufacturer has a proprietary raw file format).

Select your RAW files, and open them by clicking the Camera Raw plug-in icon with the images selected.

 batch-editing-adobe-bridge-photography-tutorial

As a RAW file is an unprocessed image containing all the information the camera sensor sees. It can appear very flat, and darker than what you may have seen on your camera’s LCD screen, which displays a JPG preview of your image, and as such has already been processed by the camera for preview purposes.

An important note to consider when batch processing, is that it is most effective when used on images that are photographed using similar light and settings. The main thing to remember is that you are able to apply global edits in a few steps to multiple images, but the reality is that you may still have to tweak each image as appropriate before you save it.

sync-settings_WEB

Batch processing

There are two ways of applying edits in batches. Below I make reference to selecting all images using cmd/ctrl+a, and making your adjustments by applying them to the images simultaneously – that is one way. The second way is to synchronize edits. To do this, use one image with all the adjustments made, then select all other images and click the synchronize button to apply the same adjustments to the rest of them.

 batch-editing-adobe-bridge-photography-tutorial

The idea behind batch editing is that you can apply a set of edits to multiple images, by only doing the adjustments once. To do this you can either select all the images you want to edit and make your adjustments while all the images are selected –  or you can edit one image first, followed by selecting all the images (making sure the edited image is the one highlighted with the blue box around it) then synchronizing the edits across all the images. A new window opens up with a series of boxes so you can check the settings you want to synchronize across the batch. I tend to uncheck the crop and local adjustments as those settings usually need to be specifically applied to each individual image.

Here is a key point to bear in mind when synchronizing your settings across the batches: It is important to note that you only want to do this with global adjustments that you want applied to the entire batch, and do it at an early stage of editing. If you use the synchronize function at the end of your edits, when you may have made various local adjustments to each individual image, any synchronizing action done then will overwrite previous adjustments (depending on what you select in the Sync settings popup box).

Step 1: Correct Lens Distortion and Chromatic Aberration

 batch-editing-adobe-bridge-photography-tutorial

On the left hand navigation filter, choose Lens. A dropdown menu of the lenses used appears. I correct distortion on all images photographed around the 50mm focal length and under. By clicking on the specific lens, you are filtering the set so that only images photographed with that lens are shown in the thumbnail window. Select all the images by clicking cmd/ctrl+a . With the images selected, click the camera lens icon to open the Camera Raw plug-in and window. Select the images again by clicking cmd/ctrl+a, and go to the Lens Correction tab on the right hand navigation panel. On the Profile tab click the box that enables lens correction and choose your camera and lens details from the drop down menus. If your lens isn’t in the list, alternatively you can do this manually using the sliders on the Manual tab. Click done and your changes will automatically be saved.

Often with extreme lens distortions coupled, with straightening adjustments, you will need to crop your images. Type c (keyboard shortcut) and the crop box at the top will be highlighted. Hold down the crop icon to bring up the crop ratios. By doing this, your image will be constrained to the ratio you have chosenwhen you crop. Don’t forget to click done to save your changes.

Do this for all the lenses for which you want the distortions corrected. If you are only editing a batch photographed using one lens profile, you do not need to click done just yet. You can keep making further edits before clicking done.

Next correct any Chromatic Aberration. I only do this step if I know I have taken images in bright light using a very wide aperture such as f/2 or wider. The filtering and batch editing method is the same as above. However, I do this for each image individually at 100% view as each image would have various amounts of chromatic aberration and varyious color fringing.

Step 2: Correct your White Balance

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Once all the distortions on various lenses and focal lengths have been corrected, open your images again in the same way. Now you are ready to make batch edits.

Once in Camera Raw, select a set of images that have been photographed in the same, or similar light. With the images selected correct the White Balance using the eyedropper tool. You need to find a neutral area (gray, or white) to click the eyedropper tool on and aim to get the RGB numbers to read the same, as much as possible. That way you know you are getting the most neutral color in the image. You can also correct White Balance by eye if you are confident enough to differentiate color temperature, although this will be less accurate than going with the RGB values.

You will notice that the White Balance changes on all the images you selected just by setting it on one image. Images that have been photographed in different light, or at varying times, will register a different White Balance. So, batch editing an entire set of images photographed in various places in this way, will produce irregular color results.

A solution to this is to use a gray card and have this set when photographing, or set your color temperature in-camera. By doing this the White Balance will be consistent throughout your images, for that time and setting. Here is a useful article on how to set your white balance in camera using a gray card. For more information on white balance and color temperature click here.

Step 3: Correct your exposure and make local adjustments

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You may want to click Auto first, to see what Camera Raw’s suggested edits are, then start making your adjustments from there. To batch process, it is important to select sets of images shot in the same setting and light to make the most of this editing function. Batch editing images that have settings in opposite extremes will very likely add to your editing time, as you will need to go back and correct all the other images, thereby doubling your editing process. This is just one of the benefits of shooting in Manual mode where you have full control of your camera settings, rather than the camera making the decisions for you. If you are considering switching to Manual mode, in case you are still shooting in any of the other modes, see: How to Learn Your Camera’s Light Meter and Master Manual Mode.

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When making adjustments, it is important to keep an eye on the histogram, which is the coloured graph displayed on the upper right hand corner of Camera Raw. The histogram tells you if there is clipping occurring in the dark and light areas of your image. Clipping simply means that there is no detail left in that area, as the tonal values have fallen outside the minimum and maximum brightness boundaries, where detail can be represented in the digital image.

Type U and O together and the window will display any clipped bright areas in red. Type U and O together again to display clipped dark areas, and one more time to turn off the clipping warnings. You can then make adjustments by moving the sliders to eliminate the clipped areas. Remember to keep checking the histogram. You don’t want to clip either the blacks or the whites, you will see this on the histogram when the colours start climbing up on the left and right walls. Ideally you want the colours to be evenly distributed around the middle area until they are just touching the walls. Here is a link explaining: How to Read and Use Histograms.

Local adjustments

There are useful tools that you can use in Camera Raw, but which will not be beneficial in batch editing such as: spot removal and healing, adding gradients, straightening and cropping. However, you can edit smaller sets within the opened big batch, with ease using the same process. Regardless of the number of images, you can select consecutive images you want to edit in smaller groups, and apply specific batch edits to those images only, such as cropping and other local adjustments.

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 batch-editing-adobe-bridge-photography-tutorial

While I find local adjustments very useful, for instance brightening or darkening selected areas, warming up and cooling down specific parts of an image, and all the tools available on the adjustment brush panel, these tools need to be applied to each image individually, as necessary. Bridge and Adobe Raw can only go so far. If more fine tuning, and intricate edits need doing, you will need to take the image into Photoshop or a similar software to do so.

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Step 4: Remove Noise and Sharpen

Adjusting the sliders to remove noise in an image is essential for all images, more so if you are shooting at a high ISO. Noise in a digital image is composed of the grainy look that you see, and the red, green, and blue spots that show through on the image, especially in the dark areas. The luminance slider fixes the grainy issue, and the color slider removes the dots, so move both sliders until you remove the noise.

An image shot at a very high ISO such as ISO 8000 will need a different noise reduction value than an image shot at ISO 400. If this is the case with your set of images, you can go back and filter your images again as in Step 1, but using the ISO speed ratings this time, then proceed with batch editing. This process can be tricky, but is worth the extra step, especially when dealing with higher ISOs. It is essential to view the images at 100% when removing noise, so the effects of the sliders are visible. A word of caution: do not go overboard with the noise reduction and sharpening settings when doing global batch edits. The danger is that you may end up removal detail and color. The best way to ascertain the noise removal settings appropriate for an image, is to do it on every single image, due to the ISO and exposure variables which greatly determine the amount of noise in an image. But there is no reason why you can’t apply a gentle global noise reduction setting to your batch of images, and adjust from there individually as needed.

It is always good practice to sharpen all your images, ready for output. Sharpening values vary according to the detail, and information in the image. You can apply your chosen sharpening values globally if you are confident that the values are gentle, and general enough for all the images in the batch. A little sharpening is better than nothing. Some images however, may need specific, more aggressive, sharpening values, and this is where you need to apply the appropriate value to each individual image. Similar to removing noise, the best practice is to custom sharpen each image one by one.

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Step 5: Save your images

Once you have made global batch edits to your images, I suggest you go through them one at a time, in the same Camera Raw window, and make final local adjustments for each one. Type cmd+alt+p to toggle between before and after previews. There are a variety of preview formats, so play around with the options given, to choose your preferred format.

Now it’s time to save your images. This is one of the features of using Bridge with Camera Raw that, for me, trumps all others. Select all your images again, and click the Save image button. A window opens up where you can specify where you want the images saved, or create a new folder for them. You specify the format you want them saved in, as well as quality. You name the files once only, and voila they are saved. Don’t forget to click the done button to store all your adjustments. If you close the window without doing so, all your adjustments will not be saved. Always make sure your images are in sRGB and are saved in sRGB color profile.

Summary

These are only very basic steps to get you started, Bridge and Adobe Camera Raw have so much more to offer. Play around, experiment for yourself, and find out how your workflow can be even more simplified. Editing in Bridge and Camera Raw does have its limitations, especially when it comes to fine edits on skin, and blemish and hair removals, but with their batch editing functionality, you can get you to a place where you’re ready for finer edits in Photoshop, much faster than opening each image in Photoshop as a starting point, and applying the same edits one at a time.

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There you have it – a few simple tips for batch processing. By saving your images in a different format, you will have your new set of edited images, while your RAW files are safe in the original folder. When you open these RAW files again they will show the adjustments you have made, but you can reset at any time if you want to re-edit from scratch. Your edited images are now ready to be further edited in Photoshop, should you want to do more creative and artistic edits, or if there are more edits necessary like head swapping, skin blemishes and hair removal as mentioned above. Bridge and Camera Raw are only the beginning, they gives you a good clean edited image to build on.

A last word

Batch editing is not for every photographer, nor for every photograph. Neither is batch processing necessary for every photography job that comes your way. But it is an option that can be easily learned, and might just save your sanity one day when you need to edit thousands of images within a short time-frame.

Here are the two images before and after editing in Bridge and Camera Raw.

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Do you have other smart tips to share when batch processing in Adobe Bridge?

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Fstoppers + Elia Locardi Landscape Photography Tutorial Review

I still remember the first time I met Elia Locardi. I was busy passing through the vendor exhibits of the Photo Plus show in New York, when I saw a small crowd of people watching a presentation. What attracted me was not the crowd, because people were everywhere – it was the large LCD screen with some stunning imagery. At first, I stood there and paused for a moment, enjoying the fine scenery in front of my eyes and as I continued to hear the story behind each photograph, I came closer to the seating area and sat down. It was the Fujifilm booth and the young man with long blonde hair giving the presentation seemed to be very enthusiastic about his story and his technique of blending photographs. I did not even notice how quickly time went by – I probably sat there for at least 30 minutes, getting myself immersed into the presentation. At the end of the presentation, most people left and I just sat there. I really wanted to meet the man face-to-face and get to know him. As I started talking to Elia, I realized that he was not just an amazing photographer, but also a very down to earth guy. I also got to know his equally friendly and welcoming wife Naomi Locardi, who was there to support her husband every step of the way. At the end of our chat, I had a feeling that I had known Elia for years: that’s the type of a person he is. Since then, I have met Elia a number of times and I have been wanting to post about Elia and his work at Photography Life. Sadly, due to Elia’s crazy busy schedule and continuous travel all over the world, that project never materialized, but I am still hopeful that he will share some of his experience with our readers (Elia, it is never too late!). Fast forward to last July, when I found out that my good friends Patrick Hall and Lee Morris at Fstoppers.com collaborated with Elia Locardi in creating a brand new tutorial called “Photographing the World: Landscape Photography and Post-Processing“. Having seen some of the tutorials that Patrick and Lee produced in the past, I knew this one was not going to disappoint.

With 15 lessons and over 12 hours of video content, this tutorial was one of the most complete and detailed ones I have seen to date. My biggest problem, however, was finding time to watch the content. I really wanted to sit down and watch through each video without skipping through, which was a huge challenge on its own, since finding time has been really tough, considering all the fun projects I have been working on. John Bosley and I were also busy working heavily on releasing our own first video course, the Level 1 Photography Basics, so all my plans on personal development and learning from Elia’s tutorial got postponed. Yesterday, I finally finished watching the last video and I have to admit, I regret not doing it earlier.

Elia Locardi

Elia Locardi

Throughout my photography journey, my biggest challenge has always been Photoshop. I know Lightroom pretty well and that’s what I use primarily for editing my photos, but when it comes to Photoshop, I cannot similarly cruise through it with ease. And I guess that’s pretty much a given for many of us, since Photoshop is complex software, giving the flexibility to achieve the same result using many different tools. That’s why many of us get so easily confused with it – we see one tutorial that shows the best way to do something, then we see another, which uses a completely different technique, leaving us wondering which one is better. But what’s worse, we easily forget both and then after a while, try to remember the steps, failing miserably to replicate them. Sounds familiar? Well, you are not alone, because I too have exactly the same challenges.

Elia Locardi - Aldeyarfoss Waterfall

Aldeyarfoss Waterfall, Copyright © Elia Locardi

NIKON D810 + 16-35mm f/4 @ 16mm, ISO 64, 8/10, f/11.0

While Photoshop masters that work with the software on a daily basis can easily find solutions to every problem, many of us are not at that level, continuously struggling with establishing specific workflow steps. So if someone offered me a solution, which covers specific techniques in detail, allowing me to go back and re-learn the same steps, serving as my “reference material” in the future, I would be glad to pay for such a solution. And that’s exactly what Elia Locardi does in this tutorial: he shares his specific methods of post-processing, starting out with some relatively easy steps, then moving on to more advanced techniques towards the end of the tutorial. And for me, that’s the biggest value I got out of this tutorial – post-processing in Photoshop.

Here is the 12 minute intro to the course that Elia and Fstoppers put together:

Every lesson in this tutorial is organized in two parts. The first part shows Elia on location, whether it is the beautiful winter landscape in Iceland, or the colorful sunsets of New Zealand. Elia first showcases the location, then talks about his camera techniques, talks about composition, why he framed the subject that specific way and how he plans to photograph it. While at it, he also talks about what he is planning to do in post-processing with the photo, which is always important, as it allows one to visualize the end result before the image is captured. Then, the video continues with the second part, where he takes what he has done in the field into Lightroom, performing some basic adjustments before the image is finally taken into Photoshop, where advanced adjustments are made.

Production Quality

When it comes to production quality, this tutorial is a visual stunner (as the intro video above proves). After watching the footage, I can honestly say that very few can actually deliver quality of work that is this good. Patrick and Lee at Fstoppers having been making video tutorials for several years now. While I have seen some of the content they have produced in the past, I can tell that they have learned a lot along the way – this tutorial looks far better than anything they have done so far. Throughout the lessons, you will see amazing drone footage, all kinds of timelapses and other interesting material to not only supplement the tutorial, but also give you the feel of reality and presence. Patrick and Lee carried tons of equipment with them on every scene to make this happen and it definitely paid off.

In addition to this, you will also get great “behind the scenes” (BTS) videos, which are great to watch when your brain is completely fried. Here is the first BTS episode:

As you can see, it is really funny and entertaining. You will find 8 of these BTS videos – they are all included as part of the tutorial.

Let’s now go over some of this tutorial and see what value you might potentially find in it and understand whether this tutorial is for you or not.

What is Covered in The Tutorial

With a total of 12 hours, there is obviously a lot of material to cover. Below is the type of education you will find throughout the tutorial:

  • Photography Basics (ISO, Shutter Speed, Aperture, White Balance, etc)
  • Overview of best lenses and gear for Landscape photography
  • Tips for better composition
  • Focus Stacking and maximizing depth of field
  • Bracketing and multi exposure blending
  • Graduated Neutral Density Filters
  • Solid Neutral Density Filters
  • Blurring water and skies with long exposures
  • Building Panoramic images
  • Dealing with Sun Flare
  • Understanding Light (Golden Hour, Blue Hour, Sunrise and Sunset)
  • Using lens compression to your advantage
  • Removing and adding the human element into your images
  • Polarizers​
  • Bracketing and multiple exposure blending
  • RAW Processing and Editing Workflow
  • Color correction and image adjustment
  • Basic object removal, painting, and cloning
  • Masking and Layering Techniques
  • Introduction to Luminosity Masking
  • Time Blending (combining exposures shot at different times)

Tutorial Material and Who It is For

The tutorial is organized into a total of 15 lessons. The first lesson starts out with gear, where Elia spends a little under 40 minutes talking about his gear: cameras, lenses, tripods, filters and other accessories he uses in the field. He goes over his camera choices, which includes the Nikon D810 and the Fuji X-T1 and spends some time explaining why he uses specific lenses for both camera systems.

The second lesson is called “Introduction to the Basics”, where Elia gives a crash course to the camera and exposure basics. Under 50 minutes, this crash course is in no way intensive and it is not meant to be – Elia only goes over the most basic things, to serve more as a quick reference for those who are starting out. To be honest, I personally think that this lesson should have been excluded from the tutorial, since basics really don’t belong with the rest of the material, which is more advanced in nature. It feels like an afterthought, more like a filler than anything else – perhaps Fstoppers and Elia wanted to make the tutorial appealing for everyone, not just advanced photographers. At the same time, perhaps it is not a bad idea to start out with some basics, so that the person does not immediately feel intimidated with the learning curve. Keep in mind that I am writing this based on my experience, which is obviously going to be different than everyone else’s. Still, if you feel like you know your camera and your ways around exposure, I would skip the first two lessons and get into the “meat”.

The whole point of this tutorial is to show real-life shooting environments, then take photographs into post-processing software in order to work the way through the final image. And that’s where the meat is! The first real lesson starts with the beautiful and iconic Kirkjufell mountain in Iceland. Elia starts out by pointing out the location, talking about its features, best angles and viewpoints from where to photograph, then shows what compositions work best with the mountain and the flowing waterfalls. It is a pretty easy lesson to cruise through, because Elia kept it fairly simple – a great way to dive into the tutorial. Once he takes the photos he wants, he then moves on to the post-processing part. Again, Elia starts out easy here – he first explains some of the basic sliders in Lightroom, then moves on to explaining his workflow and why he does things the way he does.

Although anyone can easily go through this material, don’t expect any foundation material in this lesson – the pace and the learning curve might be a bit too fast for those who have never used Lightroom before. With each lesson, Elia only covers what works for that particular photo, so you won’t get multiple case scenarios for each slider and feature of Lightroom. Again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing – this tutorial is not meant to be a Lightroom or a post-processing basics tutorial in the first place. From there, he takes the photo into Photoshop and also does a quick crash intro into the specific tools, plugins and functions he uses. I would highly recommend to pay close attention to the first few lessons, because if you fast forward to other lessons, you will have a hard time understanding and following the flow.

Here is the before and after of the image from the first lesson:

You will find plenty of images like this in every video. And the beautiful thing is – Elia was kind enough not only to provide the original RAW files, but also the final Photoshop PSD files, so that you can see every step of post-processing that he went through. I can tell you that very few photographers out there are willing to provide such material with each chapter!

The rest of the material is built like a step ladder – things get more complicated towards the end, particularly when it comes to post-processing. And that’s what I really liked about this tutorial, as it really builds you up. In between, Elia also goes over specific techniques that he uses for both photographing the subject and post-processing. Lesson 4, for example, is about using the shooting technique for stitching panoramas, while Lesson 11 is all about focus stacking and why at times it is a necessary technique to get every object in the frame looking sharp.

One lesson that slightly bothered me and it might bother many others as well, was Lesson 12. In this lesson, Elia photographs Lake Matheson in New Zealand and after several unsuccessful attempts with the conditions, only manages to capture an image of the lake and the mountains with a very bland-looking sky. He then uses an image from a previous tutorial that had a blue sky with some cloud coverage, and copy-pastes the sky into the Lake Matheson image, demonstrating ways to make it work through luminosity masks in Photoshop. Here is the before and after he presents in the video:

I will be honest, while I strongly believe in the importance of post-processing and I don’t mind using techniques to blend several exposures together to create a single image, I personally choose not to go the composite route that involves taking components from other irrelevant images and blending them together. For me personally, it takes away the challenge of photographing landscapes. If it gets so easy to just copy paste skies, why waste my time and revisit the same location over and over again for that one perfect moment where everything aligns? Having been to so many places dozens of times and coming back with nothing, only to challenge myself to go back and try again, I know that getting unique shots is not easy. If in the back of my head I can make an assumption that I can just make it look beautiful in Photoshop, it takes the precious part of the challenge and the experience away. I know that artists are free to use whatever tools they want to make a beautiful work of art, but I personally try to limit my tools, especially when it comes to manipulating nature. And if I do do it, I try to make it obvious, or at least let my viewer know that it is a manipulated / composite image. To me, that’s what differentiates a photograph vs art. I want to see reality and I want to believe that the scene was indeed as beautiful as the photographer shows. But if in the back of my head I am left with a thought that the image is not real, it takes away the feeling of joy and happiness I experience when looking at such photographs. I don’t mind images with added contrast, saturation and boosted colors, but if an image looks fake, or worse yet, looks real while being fake, it just does not work for me. In situations like this, I would rather call myself a photographer than an artist…

Now that’s not to say that Elia does such kind of manipulation to all of his images – I am not trying to mislead my readers into such thoughts. While Elia is certainly known for blending scenes at varying times of the day to create a beautiful composite, he practically never heavily manipulates his photographs. Lesson 12 is more of a demonstration of Photoshop capabilities – he leaves it up to the viewer to decide whether it is appropriate to use such techniques.

The most important take away from me personally in this tutorial, is the importance of post-processing, especially when it comes to working on those “portfolio shots”. I often come back with beautiful images, but my lack of expertise in Photoshop leaves my images looking unfinished. I know there is something missing and I know I want to come back to it in the future, but I rarely ever do. Part of it has to do with lack of time – I shoot a lot, often with all kinds of different gear. If I work for more than a couple of minutes on each image, my readers will be seeing a lot less of my photographs and the content that goes along with them. At the same time, I do realize the importance of highlighting my capabilities as a photographer and educator to my readers, so I do have to step up and continue learn and enhancing my skills.

Elia’s tutorial has helped me tremendously in understanding some of the functions and tools within Photoshop. While I could not immediately put what I have learned into practice, as it would take a lot of trial and experimentation, I am planning to go back, re-watch the videos and continue my learning process.

Summary

If you find yourself stuck where you are at, I would highly encourage you to look into this tutorial. It will help grow your skills, as it did for me. It will not only blow you away with its eye-candy footage, but also give you a tremendous opportunity to learn how to photograph and post-process landscapes. At $300, it is not a cheap tutorial to buy, but in my opinion, it is worth every penny, as you will get a lot of value out of it in the long run. I have seen many different tutorials in the past that cost even more than this one and I will be honest – very few of them were actually worth the investment. Is it perfect? No, it is not. As I have pointed out, there were some things I did not like about it. There were also a couple of minor education errors that I pointed out to Elia. But that’s not a big deal, as none of them were really critical. I have seen far more errors and misconceptions from other photographers in other educational material. We are all humans and we all make mistakes (and that first and foremost includes myself!).

Overall, I have really enjoyed this tutorial from Elia and Fstoppers. I would say that it is one of the best video tutorials I have seen to date, particularly when it comes to post-processing landscapes. While I personally would not recommend it for beginners, I believe those who know how to use their gear and have their basic ways around Lightroom and Photoshop will get tremendous value out of the “Photographing the World: Landscape Photography and Post-Processing” tutorial. Kudos to Elia and Fstoppers for making this excellent video.

Where to Buy

You can purchase this tutorial for $299 through FStoppers Website.

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Review of the Manfrotto 322RC2 Joystick Tripod Head

I don’t use my tripod extensively in the same way a landscape shooter does, but I do consider a tripod an essential part of a photographer’s arsenal.

With regard to tripod heads, I have used a ball head for many years and they are extremely versatile. They’re very quick and easy to adjust. The most basic models having a single locking screw or lever; release it and you get a full range of pan, tilt, and swivel adjustments. Once you have the camera in position, you simply tighten the screw/lever to lock the head in place.

I use my tripod essentially in the following ways:

  • When the shutter speed is too slow to hand hold my camera, and I want to get a tack sharp image (s), or shooting in low light conditions.
  • Framing the shot through the viewfinder and then taking in the scene with my eyes without having to hold my camera, or having it on me. I like to see the shot I want to to take, rather than take the shot that I see through the viewfinder.
  • Most simply to act as a perch for the camera, ready to go. I spend most of my time prepping the shot before taking it.

The ball head that I used was the Manfrotto 486RC2 compact ball head which has now been discontinued and replaced by the 496RC2.

Manfrotto-496RC2-Ball-Head-2

Image courtesy of Manfrotto

Over recent months, I have found this system of loosening the screw/lever on the ball head to make small adjustments frustrating, due to the weight of the camera and lens. I had to hold the camera with one hand and move the lever with the other. This was cumbersome at times, as the lever was sometimes too tight.

This may sound fickle. But I like my gear to work efficiently, and for me not be conscious of it, or thwarted by it. I prefer to concentrate on the shot I am about to take.

It was time for me to purchase a new head but I was undecided over whether to stick with the ball head type, or try a different style head altogether. Recently, I was working on a job in tandem with another photographer. He had the joystick type head on his tripod. I gave it a go, and found it it incredibly intuitive to use.
Talk about being smitten. I just loved it. It turned out to be the Manfrotto 322RC2.

Build

Manfrotto-322RC2-Joystick-head-in-vertical-position

The Manfrotto 322RC2 is built out of magnesium. It weighs 1.43 lbs (.70kg).

The 322RC2 is made of magnesium, and is designed to keep the weight of your kit as close as possible to the tripod’s centre of gravity, by way of its reduced height. It weighs 1.43 pounds (.70kg), and while it’s not lightweight, it doesn’t feel heavy either, and the accompanying literature states that it can accommodate up to 11 lb. (5kg).

Camera-in-horizontal-mode

I have my Nikon D750 with the 24-120mm f/4G ED VR attached which is roughly 1.510kg (just over 3 lb.).

Key Features

Let’s take a closer look at the key features:

  • One single lever for quick control of all movements
  • Quick release plate with built-in secondary safety pin
  • Built-in bubble spirit level
  • Friction control, adjustable for different camera weights
  • Customizable for left or right handed use, in a vertical or horizontal position
Top-view-of-322RC2-joystick-head

Top view of the Manfrotto 322RC2. The trigger is big so that all your fingers rest against in when squeezing it.

Camera-in-vertical-mode

Going from horizontal to vertical mode is so easy using this joystick head.

Straight out of the box, I was able to attach the head to my tripod. It does come assembled for right-hand users, but the 200PL quick release plate assembly can be removed and positioned for left-handed use. Uniquely, it can also be placed on the top of the grip in a vertical position like the traditional 222 design, but when used in this position the maximum load reverts to 2.5 kg capacity.

Where-the-200PL-assembly-plate-sits-on-the-grip-handle

Top view of the end of the grip on the Manfrotto 322RC2, where you can attach the 200PL assembly plate, so that the camera sits on top, similar in deign of the 222 model by Manfrotto.

I was able to adjust the friction wheel by turning it either to the right or left. I then placed my camera and lens onto the quick release plate, and made further adjustments allowing for the weight of both. This friction control wheel lets you regulate the power of the blocking mechanism to match the weight of your camera/lens, which is key to its design.

close-up-of-tension-indicator

The friction wheel scrolls to the right or left. The small red strip is the tension indicator which moves to the left or right as you adjust the friction wheel.

The built-in bubble spirit level is a nice touch. There wasn’t one on the ball head, so this feature just makes orientating your camera, horizontally or vertically, quick and easy.

Spirit-bubble

The bubble spirit level is a handy feature, especially if you are adjusting your camera positions between landscape and portrait modes.

Observations

I’ve only had this joystick head a mere six weeks, so I can’t really comment on what the cons may be at this point. Obviously, this type of tripod head may not be to your liking, or suit your photography needs.

Although, this tripod head isn’t lightweight, I feel the weight justifies what it will be holding, especially when you combine the weight of a DSLR body and a large zoom lens. That said, from my experience, I only wish I had come across it sooner. The two areas I find it most useful are:

Title-Manfrotto-322RC2-Joystick-head

  • It is easy and intuitive to use
  • It offers very flexible camera positioning, using just one hand

In fact, the more I use it, the more I like it. Maybe over time, I will encounter some negative aspects, one thing I noticed is that it doesn’t fit into my existing tripod case with the head attached. By placing the head in a vertical position, this adds another nine inches to the total length.

I didn’t want to buy another dedicated camera tripod bag, as they can be expensive. So instead, I just bought a Hockey bag ($16.00) to store my tripod away when not in use, or to bring to location shoots. I now use my old tripod case for my small light stands and umbrellas.

There isn’t an independent pan lock. This doesn’t bother me, but I can see this being a necessary feature for some photographers who shoot panoramas, and so forth.

Conclusion

I would definitely recommend this tripod head, but I think the best advice is to test it out first. This type of tripod head is a matter of personal choice. Plus, this head is not new on the market, so check around for deals.

Disclaimer: I was not contacted or sponsored to test the above equipment. Opinions are purely by the author only.

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Should you Study Photography at College or are There Better Options Now?

If someone were to ask me whether it’s worth going to college or university to study for a degree in photography I would find that a difficult question to answer. I don’t think there is much value in studying photography at college, yet I don’t want to destroy anyone’s dreams (the good news is that there are plenty of other less expensive paths to a photography career).

If you are thinking about studying photography at tertiary level, these are the two most important questions to ask:

  1. What will you learn during your course?
  2. How much will it cost you?
photography education

You can learn a lot about photography by going to Amazon and spending a few hundred dollars on photography books, or purchase ebooks like on offer here on dPS. I’ve learned far more from books than I ever did from my photography degree.

What will you learn?

The first is important because, incredible as it may seem, you may not actually learn much while taking a photography degree. I know this is true because I studied photography at what was supposedly the UK’s top photography college, only to find that the level of teaching was so low, that I made my way through the three year degree learning next to nothing.

Let me give you an example. In our third year, the tutor gave a single one hour class per week. After a few weeks he gave up on doing that because only five or six students (out of a total of around 30) were turning up. The reason for the low turnout? Most of the others were so worried about writing the required thesis that they couldn’t concentrate on photography. And the reason they were so worried? The same tutor had spent weeks explaining how the thesis would be one of the most difficult things they had ever done, without giving any practical support or solutions to us.

Another example (bear in mind that I took my course between 1996 and 1999). We had one computer between 90 students, with an out of date version of Photoshop installed on it. The college had identified digital photography as an important trend – yet didn’t support the students enough to learn it.

GotCredit

By GotCredit

The truth is that degree courses are a tremendously inefficient way to learn. Whereas a typical working week is filled with 40 odd hours of work, a typical week in our course only had a few hours work. The rest of the time was wasted.

Plus, you may have the additional living costs of moving to another part of the country to study, and the loss of income from not being able to work a full time job while you are at college.

My theory is that our course was caught in bit of a time warp – the tutors probably came from an era when it was normal for arts courses to take a relaxed approach to education. University education was free in the UK at that time, and there was little concept of students paying for an education and expecting to receive value for money in return. Whether that has changed since then I have no way of knowing – I hope so.

The world of education has changed tremendously since I was at college. You can go online and learn by reading the blogs of some of the top names in the business. You can buy books, ebooks and video courses for just about any aspect of photography you care to learn about. Computers are much cheaper, and almost every student would have one.

You can also learn by taking workshops with some of the best photographers in your field. They may seem expensive, but it is a pittance in relation to the cost of obtaining a degree.

photography education

dPS writer Valerie Jardin runs photography workshops in the United States, Australia and Europe.

If you were going to study a photography degree today, the main question you have to ask is, what value does it give you over and above what you can learn from books, online resources, and workshops? Here are some ideas.

Interaction with other photography students: If you struggle to find like-minded people to talk about photography with, then this may be an attraction.

Industry experience: Does your course give you actual experience working in the area of photography that you want to get into?

Industry contacts: Very important, as these contacts will help you when you leave college to embark on your career.

Solid business training: Most photographers are self-employed, so it is essential to know the basics of self-employment and running a business. If your chosen course doesn’t teach these, then don’t even consider it. You won’t be prepared for the practical side of a career in photography.

An understanding of the newer ways of earning money from photography: Do the tutors on your course understand the emerging world of the business of workshops, and creating ebooks and video courses to sell online? This is important because these are all ways you can bring income into your business. One day there may be more money to be made from teaching photography, than from doing commercial photography assignments, and you need to be ready for that possibility.

The quality of your tutor:. Is there a highly regarded tutor at your college who can help you get started on your journey as a professional?

Another important factor is that drive and determination, combined with some innate creative talent, good business sense, and a willingness to learn are the primary characteristics you need for a successful career in photography. How many of these are taught at college?

photography education

Digital Photography School has a fine selection of photography ebooks for you to learn from.

How much will your course cost?

How much will your photography course cost you to study? The answer varies widely because it depends on where you live, and where you’d like to study. Bear in mind that graduating from college with lots of debt is a financial handicap that may hold you back for many years to come. Don’t forget to factor in living costs, and loss of income, as well as the cost of the course itself.

A good exercise is to calculate how much your course is going to cost you each week. Then, once you know how much you will learn during each week, you get a true idea of value.

In my opinion, the only reason that you should get into debt for an education is if you are studying something such as medicine, engineering or law which holds the promise of a lucrative career path at the end of it.

GotCredit

By GotCredit

Photography doesn’t have that lucrative career path. Some photographers make lots of money, some don’t. Lots of photography students (including some from my course) end up in careers other than photography. There are no guarantees in this business, and you need to be aware of that.

In the book The Millionaire Next Door the authors take in-depth look at the characteristics of the typical American millionaire. Most of them leave school early, start a successful business, and build it up. Very few millionaires have a college education. Why? The years spent studying (and therefore not working or building up a business) and the debt built up during that time prevents most people, regardless of qualifications or earning potential, from building up enough income or assets to become millionaires.

The solution

If you have a burning desire to make a living from photography, then look at these learning opportunities first.

  • Books and ebooks
  • Video courses provided by photographers and organizations like Lynda.com

    photography education

    DPS has two video courses for photographers. There are countless others available online.

  • Workshops (half-day and full-day)
  • Longer workshops (two days to a fortnight)
  • Part-time courses provided by local schools and colleges
  • Online courses provided by organizations like the New York Institute of Photography (I have no experience of these courses and no idea whether they are any good, so do your research).

All of these will be significantly less expensive than a photography degree, and can be carried out in your spare time while you have a full-time job.

Another approach is to look for a job in the industry. While you might not immediately be able to get a position that you really want (such as an assistant for a prestigious advertising photographer) you may be able to work in a related position.

For example, you might get a job working for a picture agency, a job as a receptionist in a portrait studio, a position working for a photography magazine, a job as a picture editor somewhere – you get the idea. There are lots of possibilities, and working as closely as you can to the area you want to end up will give you the opportunity to learn from established professionals and make the contacts you need to develop your career.

Given my experiences I would never advise anyone to study photography at college or university. However, I appreciate that there must be courses that are far better than the one I took. If you had a positive experience studying photography at college I’d love to hear about it, please post your comments below and let’s discuss it.


Mastering Photography

Mastering Photography ebook by Andrew S Gibson

My ebook Mastering Photography: A Beginner’s Guide to Using Digital Cameras introduces you to photography and helps you make the most out of your digital camera. It’s aimed at beginners and will teach you how to take your camera off automatic and start creating the photos you see in your mind’s eye. Click the link to learn more or buy.

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