Whilst I’m busy sorting my photographs from Fuerteventura and the photographs I took this morning when I made a trip with my good friend and fellow blogger Poppy to capture the sunrise, I thought I’d write this quick article that I hope some of you will find useful.
With modern digital cameras, we tend to take focus as a given. We all have auto focus so why would we ever resort to manual focus? There are times however, particularly with landscape photography, when auto focus can let us down and to get optimum results, we do need to think about manual focus if this is an option with a particular lens.
When taking landscape photographs, we’re usually looking for maximum depth of field. We want our pictures to be sharp from front to back. Using auto focus, if we focus on our foreground interest, there’s a good chance that whatever our background might be is going to be soft. Similarly, if we auto focus on whatever is in the distance, our foreground interest is going to be soft.
To get over this, we might resort to focusing at the hyperfocal distance using an app on our phones to determine where that is but again, there’s a good chance this won’t actually give you the best result. Hyperfocal Distance Focusing is great for producing column inches in photography magazines but not much else in my experience. The hyperfocal distance will give you a theoretical optimal point but in all probability, your photograph will not be as sharp as it could be. The optical physics maybe spot on but I have never managed a good sharp result using this method and boy did I try.
As a rule of thumb, if we auto focus approximately one third into a scene, we’re going to get a sharp picture with good depth of field but where exactly is one third into a scene? This can be a little difficult to determine. This is where a bit of experimentation comes in as every lens has a sweet spot. A spot on the focus ring where you’re going to get optimum focus from the front of your picture to the very back. An hour or two spent in the garden determining the sweet spot on your particular lens can be time very well spent. Particularly when it comes to long exposures at night where there’s a good chance there’s not going to be an option to auto focus on anything anyway.
I’m lucky enough to own an AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 lens. It’s a beauty but when I first bought the lens and started using auto focus, I wasn’t particularly happy with the results I was getting. So, I got an app for my phone having read various articles on hyperfocal distance focusing but I was still not happy with the results I was getting. I knew this lens to be an exceptional one so I wasn’t really sure what was going on. I solved the issue by going out into the garden with tripod and laptop nearby and started to experiment. After a little, well actually a lot, of trial and error, I found the sweet spot on the lens where everything, front to back was sharp. I never auto focus with this lens now. I don’t focus at the hyperfocal distance. I manually set the focus ring to my sweet spot and it works everytime. Here it is, conveniently right on the right edge of the infinity symbol so I didn’t have to mark my lens in any way..
Now, even if I go out in the dead of night to photograph the Milky Way for example, I don’t need to worry about trying to auto focus my lens maybe using a torch to illuminate a distant object to get a focus point. I just set my lens to the sweet spot and I know I’m going to get a good result. An hour or two spent experimenting with your particular lens, really getting to know it, can save an awful lot of hassle whenever you go out to take pictures.
To prove my point, here’s one of the pictures I took this morning, up on the Malvern Hills just before the sun rose. As you’ll see from the very tight crop below particularly, the bench and the buildings way below the hills and the trees in the distance are all in perfect focus. You can even read the dedication on the bench, ‘In memory of John Alfred Knight who with his wife Maureen and family, loved these hills’. The combination of the Nikon D800e and this amazing lens really do create images with the most incredible detail.
And here’s a picture taken just as the sun rose above the horizon bathing everything in golden light. It was about minus 3°C up on the hills this morning. A little different to Fuerteventura to say the very least. I had to get up at 4 to make it to this point in my wheelchair by first light but I think it was worth it.. :-)
On my recent visit to Fuerteventura, I decided one morning to get up very early and drive into the mountains to wait for dawn. I didn’t have any particular destination in mind but given the island’s landscape, I knew if I took a mountain route, I was bound to find a photograph or two.
The following pictures were taken during the blue hour, the hour between first light and the actual rising of the sun when the light is very much at the blue end of the spectrum. Next time I’ll post a few more pictures from the mountains taken as the sun started to rise and the light and colours changed significantly..
A Postcard or two from Fuerteventura
Regular followers of this blog will know that I love the sea, I love the coast and I love the beach. Whether visiting the beaches around the coast of my home county of Cornwall, the black volcanic snow and ice covered beaches of Iceland or the sun drenched beaches of the Canaries, I’m a happy man.
Here a few picture postcard beach shots from my recent visit to Fuerteventura, I hope you enjoy them..
At this time of year, the sun barely dips below the horizon in Iceland so it doesn’t truly get dark. Sunset and sunrise are within about four hours of each other and during this time, twilight prevails. I decided it would be nice to visit Jökulsárlón again at dawn so after just a couple of hours sleep, we set off from Höfn for the hour-long drive. My previous visit to this glacial lagoon was a couple of months ago and you can see details of that visit here and here.
Despite there being much less ice in the lagoon itself this time, there was still plenty of ice on the beach as you can see from the pictures. I was doing very well at keeping clear of the waves until the wave in the first picture surged ashore. To say the water was cold is an understatement. I’ve been soaked many times taking pictures on the beaches around Cornwall. This particular soaking is one I’ll remember for a long time. For the next few hours, I drove the car barefoot whilst my hiking boots and socks dried in front of the heater vents. Click on the images for a clearer sharper view! :-)
A few nights ago, our last night in Akureyri, I had a bright idea.. Following reliable information from the Icelandic Met. Office that the Aurora was in an active phase and we were in for a clear night. How nice it would be I thought to photograph Godafoss under moonlight with the northern lights thrown in. A plan was duly hatched to leave Akureyri at 2am which we did, in sub-zero temperatures and snowy roads.
Completely dark and clear skies are best for viewing the Aurora but even with a full-ish moon, if activity is good, the Aurora can be seen. We got the clear skies, the Aurora however, failed to show.. in super sub-zero temperatures, there is only so long one can hang around waiting. That said, we were at the falls for about three hours. As we left, mainly due to the cold having got through to our bones, the first rays of the dawn could be seen.
As we drove on, we were treated to a quite extra-ordinary sunrise. The colours were so vivid, rather than upping the saturation a little, which is usual with a RAW file, I was seriously thinking I would have to desaturate. As it is, I’ve left the colours just as nature presented them to my camera, nothing added, nothing taken away..
This post has been sitting around unfinished for a little while which as the last few days have been very intense, photography and travel wise, and there just hasn’t been time which, on reflection, is just how it should be. Click on the images for a clearer, sharper view.. :-)
Something prompted me awake at five a.m. this morning.. Whatever it was I was glad of it. Perhaps a photographer’s sixth sense? When I looked out and saw the colour of the sky I knew I’d have to take a picture or two and share them here.. :-)
70mm f/22 0.6 sec, ISO-100
I’ve just learned that my picture of a Pentireglaze sunrise here in Cornwall is a finalist in the See. Me International ‘Exposure 2014‘ competition.
I’m thrilled and more than a little humbled given the standard of photography and art on display amongst the finalists. This is my picture..
I’d really appreciate it if you could stop by https://exposureaward2014.see.me/ and give my picture a ‘like’. You can sign in to See.me with Facebook or sign up. There is some really wonderful art and photography on display at See.Me and it’s a site well worth taking a look around. Thank you. :-)
I’ve taken this picture before and I expect I’ll be taking it again. It’s always different. This is what I woke up to this morning. I love these misty late spring/early summer mornings. When the day starts like this, it’s got to be a good day and it was. I hope the same for you..
Dawn really has become my favourite time of day of late and my experiences yesterday morning just confirmed my belief that there is nothing quite so glorious as sitting on a beach, on rocks or on the top of a cliff waiting to greet a brand new day with your camera primed.
This is a series of photographs, some long exposures, some regular shots that document the changing light over the course of about 45 minutes as the sun rose. I used a graduated neutral density filter to allow for a balanced exposure given the brightness of the sky, shooting directly into the sun.
If you’re thinking of buying a set of graduated neutral density filters, I wouldn’t bother with the soft variety. It’s important to position a hard graduated filter correctly to ensure you don’t get a line across your picture but I don’t believe a soft grad ND filter is a substitute for not positioning your filter correctly in the first place.
I hope you enjoy the pictures. Click for a clearer sharper view.. :-)
There’s nothing worse than taking a beautiful sunset shot and then processing it to find that Photoshop or Lightroom has been really lazy and lumped lots of subtle shades together to create bands of colour, totally spoiling your photograph. Here’s an example of what I mean.
The algorithms that work these things out are designed, I guess, to save on processing but it’s a disaster for those of us wanting to create photographs with nice smooth gradients. The workarounds are very simple and only take a minute or two. It’s not ideal but it certainly helps.
The first thing to check is if you really have a banding problem. The resolution of the photographs from my Nikon D800 is 7360 x 4912 pixels. These are big pictures and when editing in Photoshop, I’m usually working on the images at about 12% of their actual size. This means that banding may be evident that isn’t evident if you view your pictures at 100% or when you print. If this is the case, you can reduce the resolution of the picture to fix the issue.
If you’ve looked at your pictures at 100% and there is still banding evident, this is what you can do.
It goes against the grain (pardon the pun) but adding a little noise to your images can make the banding simply disappear at best or reduce it significantly in images where contrast and brightness setting make the problem particularly bad.
First things first, duplicate your layer and making sure the layer is selected.
I wouldn’t recommend adding noise to all RGB colour channels, perhaps just to the channel where the noise is most evident. This will in all likelihood be the blue or green channel if the banding is evident in the sky. The RGB channels can be accessed by left clicking on the channels tab next to the layers tab in Photoshop. Adding between 4 and 11% I’ve found works pretty well. The less the better obviously.
If the problem persists, again duplicate your layer add a gradient of another colour by clicking the fx button at the bottom of the layers palette. I’ve found that adding an orange gradient, set to around 2 or 3 % so it’s barely perceptible works well, being the opposite side of the colour wheel to blue. Plus, if it’s a sunrise or sunset shot, any slight colour cast may well add to the impact of your shot. Select ‘overlay’ as the blending option.These fixes, and they may take a bit of trial and error to get right, should give you markedly smoother gradients on your sunrise and sunset shots. Despite exaggerating the problem with this image for demonstration purposes, you can see that adding noise has improved the banding problem with this shot considerably..
A friend of mine was taking a balloon trip this week, a father’s day gift from his children and he asked me if I’d like to go along and photograph the event. I thought this was a great idea. I didn’t think it was such a great idea as I dragged myself from my bed at 3.30 on Wednesday morning but I was committed. As dawn broke I found myself in a field just outside Launceston, about an hours drive away from home.
I found the process of getting the balloon ready for flight fascinating and for me as a photographer, it was an interesting challenge given my usual subject, the landscape, tends not to get up and float away. Anyway, here’s one of the pictures..
Click for a clearer, sharper view ;-)