Skip to main content

Photography in the digital age: what’s changed?

An old lady weaving pandanus leaves laughs as she works. Suau Island, Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea. Colin Munro Photography © Colin Munro
A school of Convict Surgeonfish graze a reef promontory, Nuie Island, South Pacific. © Colin Munro Colin Munro Photography

A school of Convict Surgeonfish graze a reef promontory, Nuie Island, South Pacific. Photographing light coloured fish against blue water is one of many situations where you don’t want to use auto settings. Image taken with a Nikon D610 and Nikon 20mm in an Aquatica housing, while free-diving around Nuie Island, October, 2019.

When I was young, both the World and photography was much simpler. The changes that have occurred in the World would take more than a blog to describe, so I’ll stick to those that directly affect photography. Back in the 1980s photography was film, and cameras were electro-mechanical machines – and so fairly simple to understand how they worked.  In fact, I started out in underwater photography before ever seriously using a camera on land, and the camera I started with (a second-hand, mid-1970s vintage Nikonos III) was entirely mechanical, to all intents and purposes a slightly tweaked version of the Calypso-phot designed by the Belgian engineer Jean de Wouters for Jacques Cousteau’s La Spirotechnique  company.  Incredibly simple by modern standards, my Nikonos III had the great advantage that if the camera flooded during a dive, one simply took it apart – a very easy process – washed it with fresh water, left it to dry, and put it back together.  Good luck doing that with any modern camera!  A second advantage of my mechanical Nikonos was that taking pictures underwater wasn’t that easy, especially so in the dark, turbid waters of the Firth of Clyde where I was based at that time. That may be counter-intuitive, but if you actually wanted to make money from taking photographs, then you definitely did not want it to be something that could be done with little or no skill or training.  There was no light meter, so you had to base settings on experience.  Flash lighting ( a necessity in such waters) was manual only, so you needed to know the power of the flash, estimate the total light path distance and set your camera aperture accordingly.  Add to this that a film roll contained only 36 frames, and of course film could not be changed underwater.  Once the 36 frames were used up, that was it. Dive over.  The end result of this was that there were far fewer underwater images around in the early 1980s, and a pretty low percentage of these were actually useable.  Nowadays there are estimated to be around 6 Million active SCUBA divers Worldwide (Diving Equipment and Marketing Association, 2019) and a fair percentage of those are taking underwater photographs.

Many of the changes in underwater photography over the past few decades have been replicated on land. Cameras have changed from being (relatively) simple devices for creating images on film, to hugely sophisticated instruments that convert light to electrical charge and so create and store digital images.  A modern digital SLR will produce images that are sharper and contain far more detail than the best 35mm film images of just a few years ago. They are also created at a far greater rate.    A total of somewhere around 25 thousand million photographs were taken in 1980, a vast number that is true, but compare that with 2017. Around 1.2 Trillion photographs were uploaded in 2017.  Gizmodo estimates that 300 million photographs were uploaded on to Facebook alone in 2019.  This creates two immediate problems for any serious photographer. Firstly, almost all of the millions upon millions of images that are online can be viewed freely, so why should someone pay for your images?  Secondly, even if they want to pay for your images, how on earth do you get people to find them within this staggery vast array of pictures?  These are the key problems facing pretty much all photographers trying to sell images nowadays.

The problems do not end there. Most images are licensed through stock agencies to print companies, newspapers or magazines (e.g. a licence is granted to use the image for a limited period of time or set publication or print run).  Back in the 1980s this could generate a serious income.  But now, not only are there many, many more images to choose from, but the newspapers and magazines no longer make the same profit from advertising as they too have lost out to the online world.  Almost all newspapers nowadays lose money, so they are looking for the cheapest images possible much of the time.  It is not possible to come out with a scientifically robust figure, but from personal experience and talking to lots of friends and colleagues, I estimate that – for similar levels of effort – the income generated from stock image sales is between a 1/10th to 1/20th of 1980s levels.   That does not mean you cannot make money selling images through stock agencies (or directly) but it does mean you will need to work hard at it and are unlikely to make your fortune doing so.

A black and white edit of beach and skyline, One-foot-Island, Aitutaki, Cook Islands, Polynesia. Colin Munro Photography © Colin Munro

A black and white edit of beach and skyline, One-foot-Island, Aitutaki, Cook Islands, Polynesia. Monochrome for landscape is very much a personal preference. Generally it works better with high contrast images.  Nikon D610, Nikon 20mm, polarising filter. Aitutaki, October 2019.

One of the great things about modern DSLRs and mirrorless digital cameras is that they are incredibly powerful image-creating machines, with a huge array of setting controls, functions, custom-settings, menus and sub-menus that allow the photographer enormous control over the appearance of the final image.  But the awful thing about modern DSLRs and mirrorless is that they are incredibly powerful image-creating machines, with a huge array of settings and controls ……  so you get the idea.  Picking up a modern DSLR or mirrorless for the first time can be a very daunting experience.  Our cameras have never been better equipped to capture images that are incredibly faithful to real life or to create stunning artistic images, and yet the overwhelming majority are rarely used other than on auto mode. Fortunately, many people are motivated to get to grips with more of the full potential of the high tech piece of very expensive hardware they have paid good money for.  As a consequence many professionals, myself included at times, have made the shift across from solely taking photographs to teaching photography.

An old lady weaving pandanus leaves laughs as she works. Suau Island, Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea. Colin Munro Photography © Colin Munro

An old lady weaving pandanus leaves laughs as she works. Suau Island, Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea. I prefer longer lenses for people shots.  It makes obtaining a shallow depth of field so much easier, but just as important, it provides some distance, so the subject is more likely to be behaving naturally rather than posing for the camera. Nikon D610 and Nikon 80-400mm 4.5-5.6D lens.

Teaching photography can be a rewarding process.  For one thing their is nothing like teaching any subject to make sure you really understand it yourself. Secondly, this is far from a static field.  The techniques I teach now have changed radically from those I taught  ten years ago, because cameras themselves have changed radically in that time.    Photography is a constant learning and re-learning process.  When digital photography began to supplant film based photography I deeply resented it.  Digital was precise, more automated; photochemical changes in silver halide crystals were not precise.  Film was ….. well, magic.   But the more I learned as a (initially) reluctant convert to digital, the more I appreciated that many of the skills I had learned in the previous 25 years were not redundant but actually quite transferrable and highly useful still in the digital era.  More than that, the limitations of my early mechanical cameras and the photographically challenging environment of the dark waters of Southwest Scotland meant that I was forced to really learn the basic principles of photography and how light behaved.  These basic principles still underpin photography using todays latest digital camera systems.

An Australian Flatback Turtle, Natator depressus, hauls itself up a deserted beach, Adele Island, Kimberley Coast, Northern Australia. © Colin Munro www.colinmunrophotography.com

An Australian Flatback Turtle, Natator depressus, hauls itself up a deserted beach, Adele Island, Kimberley Coast, Northern Australia. A wide-open lens helps isolate the subject from the background. A long lens allows nice tight shots without encroaching close on the subject and possibly disturbing her.  The arrival of a fallback on the beach was completely unexpected, but her slow progress across the sand to above the high water mark where her eggs would be laid allowed plenty of time for multiple shots to be taken.  I like this one because of the eye contact.  Nikon D610, Nikon 80-400 4-5.6D lens.

 

Despite all the advances, photography still remains the manipulation of light in order to obtain a sharp (mostly) and correctly exposed image on light sensitive media. The control we have in order to achieve that has expanded almost out of all recognition, but the fundamental variables: shutter duration, aperture size, ISO, lens properties and sensor dimensions are still fundamentally unchanged since the days of George Eastman’s Box Brownie developed 120 years ago.

Shutter speed control on digital cameras, what exactly does it do?

The LCD Display on a Digital SLR camera showing the shutter speed (here set to 1/30th of a second). This diplay may be on the top or back of the camera, depending on model. Colin Munro Photography

About a week ago I put up an article looking at looking at what the ISO control on a camera does, so it seems logical to cover the other camera controls that determine image exposure. So logically the place to start is with the first, most basic control, the shutter.  The shutter is basically light-proof barrier placed between the camera’s sensor (or film frame, if you’re old school) and the aperture through which light passes in to the camera.  But, and this is the key aspect, it is a barrier that can be opened for precise durations of time.  Now image exposure is determined by the amount of light hitting the sensor: too much light and the image is overexposed, too little and the image is underexposed, the correct amount and the image is just right (think of Goldilocks and the three bears).  So one way we can control the amount of light hitting the camera’s sensor is by controlling how long the shutter is open and light is allowed to pass through and reach the sensor, rather like controlling the flow of water in to a glass with a tap.

So what does a shutter look like?  various designs have been used over the years with different camera types and as cameras have evolved.  Digital SLR cameras (and film SLRs for that matter) use what is known as a focal plane shutter, that is a shutter placed directly in front of the flat area where the camera sensor (or film) is located.  These consist of a series of overlapping blades that lift and fall as the shutter opens and closes.  Compact, point and shoot, cameras generally do not have a mechanical shutter (as the focal plane shutter is) rather they have an electronic shutter.  Electronic shutters are an integral part of the camera sensor and primarily work by ‘turning off’  reading of the light hitting the sensor.

Focal plane shutter in a film SLR, showing mechanism.  Shutter CLOSED

Focal plane shutter in a film SLR, showing mechanism. Shutter CLOSED

Focal Plane shutter mechanism in a film SLR. Shutter OPEN.

Focal Plane shutter mechanism in a film SLR. Shutter OPEN.

Shutter speed. When we talk about shutter speed that we are actually referring to is the duration the shutter is open and the sensor exposed to light.  In most general photography these durations are only fractions of a second and, despite the spread of decimalisation, we still tend to use common fraction rather than decimal fraction notation (e.g. 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/15th of a second).   Setting the shutter speed on a camera serves two purposes: firstly it determines how much light hits the sensor, and secondly it freezes or blurs movement across the image.

Shutter speed control on a film SLR, showing standard shutter duration increments. Colin Munro Photography

Shutter speed control on a film SLR, showing standard shutter duration increments.

The LCD Display on a Digital SLR camera showing the shutter speed (here set to 1/30th of a second).  This diplay may be on the top or back of the camera, depending on model. Colin Munro Photography

The LCD Display on a Digital SLR camera showing the shutter speed (here set to 1/30th of a second). This diplay may be on the top or back of the camera, depending on model.

Motion blur. Not everything we photograph remains perfectly still. So, the duration the shutter is open will also influence how sharp a moving object is, or whether it is blurred due to it moving across the field of view whilst the shutter is open.  This can be a person, an animal, cars, flowing water etcetera.   Mostly we want our images nice and sharp, with objects frozen in time, but sometimes we will deliberately allow (our induce) motion blur for artistic reasons or to give the impression of movement.  A further consideration here is that motion blur comes not just from objects in front of the camera moving.  If we hand-hold a camera (as opposed to mounting on a tripod) there will always be a slight amount of ‘hand shake’.  At faster shutter speeds this is not noticeably in the captured image but with very slow shutter speeds the camera will wobble slightly in our hands whilst the shutter is open. This results in everything in the image being slightly burred.  A general rule of thumb is to shoot at 1/60th or faster when hand holding your camera, for non-moving objects when using a standard lens (i.e. not a telephoto lens).  When shooting using a telephoto lens, or shooting fast moving objects (maybe motor sports) you will need a significantly faster shutter speed to freeze motion, maybe 1/250th of a second or possibly up to 1/1000th of a second depending on factors such as the focal length of the lens, the speed the subject is moving at and how close you are to the moving subject.

Find me on Google+ Colin Munro

Like my page on Facebook
My main website Colin Munro Photography
Follow me on twitter @colinmunrophoto

ISO setting on digital cameras, what exactly does it do?

ISO setting on digital cameras, what exactly does it do?

This is part of an occasional series looking at the basic controls on a camera. It’s here primarily to supplement, and as a taster for, my beginners photography classes and one-to-one sessions. Some of the controls on a camera are fairly intuitive. Zoom, for example, controls the focal length of the lens and so the degree of magnification of the image (we zoom in, or we zoom out). Shutter speed controls the…er…speed of the shutter; well accurately it controls the duration the shutter is open, and so the amount of light allowed to pass through the shutter and impinge on the sensor, which in turn directly influences how bright or dark the image is. But ISO? Knowling that the acronym stands for International Organisation for Standardation doesn’t help that much either, and yes, I know it should be IOS not ISO (there are reasons but truthfully that would simply be too much of a digression to go there now, ask me after class :)). So if we simply accept that the name, ISO, tells us nothing about what the control actually does – then what does the ISO control on a camera do? Essentially the ISO setting works rather like the amplifier on a radio or CD player; it varies the signal gain to produce a brighter (for higher iSO values) or darker (for lower ISO values) without any changes in the amount of light hitting the sensor. Typically ISO values range from 100 (low) to 3,200 or 6,400 (high) on some cameras. These numbers are derived from film; with film cameras the film had a set sensitivity to light. Film that responeded quickly was termed fast film; film that responded slowly …. you’ve guessed already ..slow film. The film’s sensitivity could not be changed, so once it was loaded into the camera the ISO value of that film was then dialled in using the camera ISO control, allowing the film’s sensitivity to be taken in to account when exposure was evaluated by the camera’s light meter (or it would be dialled in to the meter if a hand held light meter was used). The ISO sensitivity in a digital camera is created very differently to in a film camera, but the same numerical values are used and they approximate closely to the changes in sensitivity to light that occurred in film. Essentially, the steps between each ‘standard’ ISO value represents a doubling or a halving in senstivity, depending on whether one goes up or down. So ISO 200 is twice as sensitive as ISO 100; ISO 400 is twice as senstive as ISO 200, and so on. What does this mean in practical terms? Well, if a particular scene was correctly exposed at a shutter speed of 15th of a second at ISO 100, then (all other settings remaining unchanged) the same scene would still be correctly exposed at 30th of a second at ISO 200 (a shorter time the sensor is exposed to light, but a more sensitive ISO value) it would also be correctly exposed at 60th of a second at ISO 400. Okay, so what would the correct ISO setting be if the shutter speed was changed to 500th of a second?
Hopefully this explains how the ISO values influence image exposure, but why do we want this control? Well there are a few situations where it is useful but the fundamental one is that a higher ISO allows us to use faster shutter speeds. If we go back to my first example, a shutter speed of 15th of a second at ISO 100. A 15th of a second is very slow and likely to produce a blurred image, a) due to the slight shakiness in everyone’s hands and b) as people (or animals, cars etc.) move. By selecting a higher ISO value we can then change to a faster shutter speed where these problems will be greatly reduced (for the sake of simplicity I have not considered aperture values and have assumed they remain unchanged).

 

Find me on Google+ Colin Munro
Like my page on Facebook
My main website Colin Munro Photography
Follow me on twitter @colinmunrophoto

The rules of landscape photography: The Golden Hour

Sunset creating a dramatic sky of pinks, purples and orange hues. Colin Munro Photography

The rules of landscape photography.  That’s a fairly ambitious title huh?  Maybe I’ll backtrack a little. As with all photography there are no absolute rules.  There are only guiding principles; and like all guiding principles they are there to be broken  – once you understand them and have a clear understanding of the effect you are trying to acheive by breaking them.  But I’m getting ahead of myself here…. let’s get but to the rules ..er.. guiding principles.

The Golden Hour.

Just to make life that little bit more confusing, the Golden Hour is actually two hours each day.  It’s generally considered to be the first hour after dawn and the last hour before sunset.  At these times, when the sun is near the horizon, the light we see travels almost parallel to the land. This creates longer shadows, adding a more pronounced three-dimensional look to our images.  It also mean that the light passes through more air before it reaches us, scattering more blue light and creating a warmer more reddish hue.  i confess I am addicted to working during the Golden Hour(s).  In summer this means getting up at stupid times in the morning to be on location as the sun rises; in winter you get to stay in bed later but often have to brave sub-zero temperates.  But if conditions are right, the images are well worth it.

Low winter sun and breaking waves on Dawlish Warren beach, Exe Estuary, South Devon, UK. Colin Munro Photography www.colinmunrophotography.com

The Golden Hour can be very golden indeed. Late afternnon in early December.

 

By creating shadows and so releif, the low lighting that occurs during the Golden Hour enhances the three dimensional appearance of features such as pebble beaches.  Sunset, Axmouth pebble beach, beneath Haven Cliff.

By creating shadows and so releif, the low lighting that occurs during the Golden Hour enhances the three dimensional appearance of features such as pebble beaches. Sunset, Axmouth pebble beach, beneath Haven Cliff.

generally we want the sun coming in from the front-side of the image, creating shadows on the photographer side of the image.  If we place the sun closer to the centre of the image we create silhouettes, which can be interesting, but run the danger of large amounts of flare in the image.  One pleasing effect that can be created by shooting towards the sun is backlighting peaple or objects, creating a rim light around their edges.  Often with people this in the sun catching the hair of the person (in the similar way to the way a ‘hair light’ works in studio photography).  The image below, with the silhouette of a young boy (my son actually) juggling on the beach near sunset helps illustrate these effects.  The silhouetted girl below that shows how backlighting can be used to light features such as long hair.

A backlit image with the sun almost directly central in the image, creating silhouettes.  The low lighting picks out the texture of the sand clearly. Colin Munro Photography

A backlit image with the sun almost directly central in the image, creating silhouettes. The low lighting picks out the texture of the sand clearly.

Of course it doesn’t have to be people that are backlit.  A nice effect can equally be creating with animals as the subject, such as this highland cow I photographed in Perthshire on a summer evening.

A highland cow in semi-silhouette, backlit by the setting sun. Colin Munro Photography

A highland cow in semi-silhouette, backlit by the setting sun.

 

A girl silhouetted by the setting sun.  The backlighting from the sun catches on the edges of her hair, creating a pleasing backlighting. Colin Munro Photography

A girl silhouetted by the setting sun. The backlighting from the sun catches on the edges of her hair, creating a pleasing backlighting.

The other thing worth noting is that just after sunrise, or just before sunset, often produces the most dramatic skies.  Clouds are etched in stark relief due to the low light, and are often painted in varying shades from delicate pinks to blood reds.

 

Sunset creating a dramatic sky of pinks, purples and orange hues. Colin Munro Photography

Sunset creating a dramatic sky of pinks, purples and orange hues.

Find me on Google+ Colin Munro

Like my page on Facebook
My main website Colin Munro Photography
Follow me on twitter @colinmunrophoto

Light and shadow

tara in light and shadow Colin Munro Photography www.colinmunrophotography.com

As a rule I don’t do standard portraits.  It’s not that I have strong feelings against them, they have there place of course.  It’s simply that they don’t interest me greatly.  I have always preferred working with light and shadow.  It’s about creating shapes and outlines, creating a certain atmosphere.  This applies also to many of my landscape images but is particularly true of images of people.  Simply put, images where the eye cannot see everything, and one must deduce what is there from a certain shape or pattern of light, are much more interesting to me.

with landscapes I am particularly drawn to combining colour and shadow; or maybe I am drawn to sunrises and sunsets, which naturally means colour and shadow.  We often think the quality of light is the same whether it is dawn of sunset.  It is not. At dawn the air is much cooler and generally less dust laden.

Sunrise over the Navua River, Viti Levu, Fiji. Colin Munro Photography www.colinmunrophotography.com

Sunrise over the Navua River, Viti Levu, Fiji

This tends to produce more subtle colours, such as the pastel shades of sky and cloud in the above images from dawn in Fiji. The intense blood reds skies are more likely to occur at sunset, as blue light is scattered when the low sun’s rays pass through hot dusty air.

 

Pirogue fishermen at senset, Senegal, West Africa. Colin Munro Photography. www.colinmunrophotography.com

Pirogue fishermen at senset, Senegal, West Africa.

But it is the human face, and the human figure, where light and shadow are most compelling.  The curves, angles and textures that we all recognise so well are most strikingly captured in stark black and white, like pen and ink drawings.

The grace and elegance of a dancer, the beauty of youth, the lined and weathered face of experience are all best painted by selective shafts of light.  Photography is often considered to be painting with light; this is only half true for it is also the selective absence of light that differentiates an artistic portrayal from a passport photograph.

Find my stock images on my ColinMunroImages website

Find me and more of my images on Facebook

Photoshop Elements: adding text and changing transparency in Photoshop Elements 11.

Working with Photoshop Elements 11.

Photoshop Elements is a hugely powerful tool for the price and one of the nice features of the lastest version, Photoshop Elements 11 making many image editing tasks very easy by introducing the ‘guided’ mode.  The ‘expert’ mode provides the greatest number of features and options, and most closely resembles the full professional version of Photoshop.  One of the most useful features only available in ‘expert’ mode is the layers feature (note, the layers menu is still visible in the top menu bar in both ‘quick’ and ‘guided’ modes, but all options in the drop-down menu are greyed out).

In this blog I’m going to talk about using the Horizontal Type Tool (symbol ‘T’) to create text layer on your image, and then how to modify the text appearance, making it semi-transparent, by changing the layer opacity.

Step 1.  Once you have opened up Photoshop Elements, select Photo Editor mode, then ensure you are in ‘expert’ mode.  Once this has loaded then open the image you wish to add text to.  As my example I have chosen an image of a black swan guarding her nest as the River Exe floods.  I am going to add copyright text to this image, something I often do to identify my images prior to placing them online.

Step 2.  Once your image has loaded, click on the Horizontal Type Tool ‘T’ (highlighted in grey on the lower LHS of the image below).

Adding text to an image in Photoshop elements 11, step one, select the Horizontal Type Tool (T).

Image 1. Adding text to an image in Photoshop elements 11, step one, select the Horizontal Type Tool (T).

You’ll notice that a sub-menu pops up beneath the image. Heer you will find options to change the default font, font size, font style, colour, leading and anti-aliasing. Leading (pronounced ‘ledding’) refers to the spacing between lines in a paragraph, should you be writing more than one line of text. Anti-aliasing (very briefly) smooths jagged edges that can occur around the edges of text; if you’re not familiar with anti-aliasing leave the box checked.

Sub-menu where text font and styles can be edited.

Image 2. Sub-menu where text font and styles can be edited.

Step 3.

Once you have select the style of text you want, move your mouseso the cursor is over the area of the image where you want your text to appear and left click.  You’ll notice that a new layer suddenly appears in the layer palette on the RHS of the image (see image below).  This is the text layer, by default named layer 1.  You can change this simply by going to the layer drop down menu and selecting rename layer.  This is useful if you are creating multiple layers and prefer to name them intuitively.

Text appears as a new layer Colin Munro Photography

Image 3. Text appears as a new layer

The next step is simply to type your text.  I’ve chosen to add copyright text to my image, something I tend to do before uploading any images.

dding copyright text to an image colin munro photography

Image 4. Adding copyright text to an image

Sometimes text can look very intrusive in an image.  One way of reducing this is to change the opacity of your text.  We do this by going back across to our layers menu and clicking on the arrow at the side of the opacity box, immediately above our layers.  This then displays a slider control whereby we can vary the opacity of the active layer (i.e. the one highlighted in blue) in this case out text layer, from between 1-100%.  As you can see in this example I’ve selected 41% opacity.  As an aside, you’ll also note that Elements has changed the name of the layer to the text I’ve typed.  This can also be helpful in allowing us to remeber which layer is which.

Image 5. Changing the opacity of your text

Image 5. Changing the opacity of your text

xxxxxxx

Image 6. Text with reduced opacity

Image 6. Text with reduced opacity

Okay, so we’ve got our text written, we’ve reduced the opacity to our liking, only now it’s there we suddenly realise it’s in the wrong part of the image.  Not a problem.  We simply select our ‘Move’ tool.  You should then see a bounding box appear around our text, as in image 7, below.

Image 7. Selecting text with the 'Move' tool

Image 7. Selecting text with the ‘Move’ tool

Moving our mouse over the text, hold down the left button and drag the text to the part of the image where you would like it to be.

Image 8. Our text has now been moved.

Image 8. Our text has now been moved.

 Our final steps and to flatten our image, reducing our two layers back to one, and then save our image.  To flatten our image we open up the Layer drop down menu in the top menu bar and select ‘flatten image’ which should be the option right at the very bottom of the drop down menu.  Once we  click on this you should see that our two layers become one, as in image 9 below.  We can then either save our image or rename it through the ‘save as’ option.

Image 9. Our final step is to flatten our image.

Image 9. Our final step is to flatten our image.

 

The rule of thirds for Photography

Image illustrating rule of thirds. Sunrise over mudflats, Exe Estuary near Cockwood Harbour. Colin Munro Photography

The rule of thirds is one of the first principles we come across if we start delving in to image composition. The rule was originally developed for paintings, but of course it applies equally to photographs. As a principle it has endured pretty well, it’s first description being attributed to an 18th painter called Sir Joshua Reynolds, the first president of the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

So what is the rule of thirds?
Counter-intuitively, you do not divide the image in to thirds. Rather you divide the image in to nine sections with two vertical and two horizontal lines.

rRule of Thirds diagram Colin Munro Photography

Rule of Thirds

The idea is that objects of interest in the image should be placed either at intersects of lines or along the lines dividing the image. This, according the rule, creates a more pleasing balance to the image than simply placing the object of interest in the centre of the image.

Sunrise over mudflats, Exe Estuary near Cockwood Harbour. Colin Munro Photography. www.colinmunrophotography.com

Sunrise over mudflats, Exe Estuary near Cockwood Harbour.

Image illustrating rule of thirds. Sunrise over mudflats, Exe Estuary near Cockwood Harbour. Colin Munro Photography

Image with lines showing horizon lying roughly along upper line, sun near top right intersect.

In the above image, placing the horizon roughly along the upper horizontal line, and the sun roughly in line with the intersect of the upper horizontal and the right hand vertical, follows the rule. For me at least, it works here, creating a far more appealing image than if the horizon lay along the mid-line of the image, or the sun placed centrally.

 

As with all rules, rules are meant to be broken. Sometimes by breaking a convention one can make the image more arresting. When to do that is ultimately a personal decision, but it always helps to understand the rule you are breaking.

Heavy rain clouds above Teignmouth Pier, Teignmouth, Devon. Colin Munro Photography

Heavy rain clouds above Teignmouth Pier, Teignmouth, Devon, England, UK.

I will be running a series of One day Landscape Photography Courses in Devon. First is around the Exe Estuary on 24th of November, details here
You can find out about more of my Photography and Photoshop Courses here

Filming over-under shots at sea: the pros and cons of high-end video versus DSLR

An over-under shot of a diver waiting to be picked up at the end of a dive. Colin Munro Photography
An over-under shot of a diver waiting to be picked up at the end of a dive. Colin Munro Photography

An over-under shot of a diver waiting to be picked up at the end of a dive.

I recently completed a short shoot requiring over-under shots at sea; shots of a boat passing by and of a girl who had ‘fallen’ in to the sea. This was UK waters in late September, so conditions were – shall we say – not mirror smooth and crystal clear. If fact we ended up shooting about an hour and a half before sunset with the water darkening and a noticeable sou’westerly breeze creating a bit of a swell; so on the positive side the look was realistic. The shots had been planned for a Sony Alexa, but housing availability and cost considerations pushed the shoot to a DSLR; a Canon 5D MkII to be precise. At first consideration shooting video on a DSLR may seem a big step down from the 2K Alexa, but that’s not necessarily so. The shoot brought a number of these points to mind, so I thought I’d write a short blog on the pros and cons of dedicated high-end video cameras versus DSLRs for shooting over-under or surface shots in open sea. I’m not going to consider or compare camera image quality here; there are plenty of websites reviewing and out there doing just that. Instead I’m going to look purely at usability in this rather problematic situation. Producing good images is not simply a question of image resolution; factors such camera steadiness, ability to focus and frame accurately and freedom from water splash droplets need to be taken in to account also. I’ve randomly selected some well known manufacturers to as examples. This is not to imply the are particularly better or worse than others, simply that they are brands many will be familiar with and the data for them is readily available (and sometimes because I have used them and so have experience and images). Equally, any implied criticism is merely to point out that in this very specific type of shot certain types of equipment have inherent problems. In general, for underwater shoots (which is what they are designed for) they perform excellently.

Weight
A key consideration is the overall weight of the rig. Now of course well designed housing-camera combinations are near neutral buoyancy below the surface as the air spaces inside the housing providing positive buoyancy and so compensating for the weight of the metal, glass and perspex of the housing and the camera itself. Close to the surface a large housing with plenty of mass is also a distinct advantage. Swell and surface chop will buffet both cameraman and camera, tending to make the image jump about. A large system with plenty of mass will resist such buffeting and moves more slowly than a little lightweight system, in much the same way as a small rowing boat is tossed about by wave action that has no effect at all on a naval destroyer.

Colin Munro setting up a Sony EX1 in a Gates Underwater housing on the surface prior to a dive. (C) Holly Latham.ll size video housing above the surface

Holding a full size video system partially out of the water requires the strength of Arnie Swarzenegger, even with a trailing line to hang on to. Picture by Holly Latham.

On the surface however, other factors come in to play. That positive buoyancy that balances the weight of the system disappears, and the downward force of the weight of the proportion of the camera and housing above the surface is counteracted only by the upward force applied on the grip handles by the cameraman’s arms. That is damn hard work! As an example, a Gates housing for the Red Epic or Scarlet, in air, weighs in at about 43lbs (19.5kg) including camera. That’s roughly the weigh of a six year old child. It is true that not all of that weight will be felt as not all of the housing will be above the surface; but even if it is only 20lbs for those half and half shots you are going to need pretty impressive biceps and shoulder muscles to hold it up and hold it steady whilst getting that 3rd take of that key shot. You are also going to be finning like hell to counteract the toppling forward effect of the unbalanced weight of the housing held in front of you. Comparing this with a suitable DSLR for video, a 5D MkII in an Aquatica housing (again, given as a representative example) weighs in at around 9lbs (4kg). This is still not much fun in a choppy sea but you don’t have to be built like Arnie to be capable of doing it.

Leverage
Essentially the weight distribution combined with the overall length of the rig. Again, a DSLR wins hands down in the category. A Gates housing for the Sony EX1 is around 17 inches (44cm) long; an Amphibico housing for the Sony EX3 squeezes in at a tad over 20 inches (52cm). For over-under shots one will almost certainly need to be working with a wide angle lens and a big dome port (if you don’t understand why, read the last paragraph). This can mean having something like the exceedingly beautiful and optically wonderful, but extraordinarily heavy Fathom superwide port fitted to the far end of your housing. This will produce stunning images but cause vein-popping strain on your upper body as you attempt to lever this half out of the water. Big glass ports on DSLRs are also heavy (e.g. the fantastic Zen DP-230 9 inch superdome, weighs in at 3.9lbs, 1.8kg) but due to the much shorter length of DSLR housings they are mounted only a couple of inches in front of the grip handles. There is still a forward tilting effect, but it is much less pronounced.

Colin Munro leak testing a Hugyfot housing for a Canon 5D MkII DSLR, during setup prior to filming.

As can be seen in this pic of leak testing a Hugyfot, the dome port is only fractionally in front of the grips handles.

A final consideration is focussing and viewing. Most housings for professional video systems do allow viewing of the camera’s viewfinder, but this is generally small and tricky to use through a housing even in easy conditions. So instead most come equipped with a larger external monitor that can be mounted on top of the housing. This is perfect for underwater, but at the air-water interface simply adds additional weight above the water’s surface, pushing the camera further down. External monitors are also available for DSLR housings, and again they are extremely useful beneath the surface but not at the surface. DSLRs do have the advantage of having a large LCD screen that is much easier to view at the surface of a choppy sea; many housings will also take a 45 degree enlarged viewfinder that can make focussing and framing through the viewfinder a much more practical proposition when floating on the surface.

Why do we need to use wide-angle lenses and large dome ports?
This is a brief summary of quite a complicated subject. We need to use large dome ports when taking over-under shots for two reasons. The main reason is because light travels at a different speed through air than water. If flat ports are used with wide angle lenses then considerable bending occurs to light rays passing through the port other than those passing through perdicular, significantly distorting all except the central part of the image. However, this change in wave velocity of light passing through the dome (effectively a curved water-air interface) causes the dome to act as a powerful diverging lens below the water surface making objects at infinity appear to be at a distance of slightly less than 4 x dome radius. This is known as the virtual image. Thus using a small dome port, with a small radius, will bring the virtual image very close to the lens entrance pupil. For example, a 4 inch dome port will result in a virtual image approximately 5.5 inches in front of the port. Above the surface, with air on either side of the dome, this effect does not happen and the lens must focus on the actual image to produce sharp images. Consequently a lens with a large depth of field (DoF), i.e. a wide-angle lens, is required. However 5.5 inches to infinity is too great a DoF for almost any lens, thus a larger dome is required, moving the virtual image further away from the front of the dome and so decreasing the required DoF for both underwater and above surface images to be in focus simultaneously. An 8 inch diameter dome is generally considered the minimum necessary to allow simultaneous focussing above and below the surface (a more detailed technical explanation, with calculations and downloadable formulae has been produced by Dave Knight of Cameras Underwater. This can be read here. The example figures I give here also came from Dave’s page). The second consideration is that, if working in a pool with a mirror calm surface, then we can precisely line up the water surface with the middle of the lens even on a tiny dome or flat port. It’s not like that in the sea though; if you are lucky you’ll be working with just a few ripples or maybe a lazy swell passing through, if not you may have 18inch waves slopping through (if you have more than this, give up and go home). A bigger dome gives you more surface area to play with when lining up the camera. It also means that small waves or splashes are less likely to cover the upper half of the dome, leaves droplets visible on the surface. Whilst on the point of droplets and splashes, the biggest curse of trying to shoot half in-half out, although heavier and more expensive, glass domes do have the advantage of shedding water more easily that their acrylic counterparts.

How and why: creating a customised Copyright Logo in Photoshop

How and why: creating a customised Copyright Logo in Photoshop

A clear but unobtrusive logo helps identify the image as yours.

Why add a copyright logo?
Posting images online is a great way to get your images seen but (there’s always a but) it does leave you open to image theft and unauthorised use. While there are various tricks around – disabling right-clicking, placing images in Flash displays etc., if someone knows what they are doing and are prepared to put a tiny bit of effort ito it they can lift your image. For a photographer it is not always desirable anyway to prevent people doing this; potential buyers may want to store a copy of some images to browse later or as a reminder. In this way photographs can be like business cards, and we don’t ask for those back as we leave the conference hall do we? But like any form of advertising we want the (potential) client to remember where the image came and, most importantly, who it belongs to. Now this can (and should) be done adding to the image metadata, however this is not immediately obvious and must be actively searched for (it can also be stripped out, unintentionally or otherwise, by some programmes). A simply logo has the advantage that it is immediately obvious so is like branding – the more your image is shared around the more people associate it with your name and or website.
What should it include?
There is more than one way to do so, this just happens to be my preferred way. Thekey information I want included are 1. my name; 2. clear identification of my copyright 3. a quickway the viewer can locate me, and 4. a quick way for the viewer to find more of my images. This obviously has to be done as succinctly as possible, no-one wants to look at an image covered in screeds of text. 1 and 2 are easy to combine as (C) Colin Munro Photography; it helps in my case that my business name includes my own name so there is no confusion as to exactly where the copyright lies and no need to repeat both seperately. With 3 and 4 I could include both my email and website, but as my email is very clearly displayed on my website I chose to keep things compact and just go with my website.
Ok, so to creating a logo.
These instructions apply to Photoshop, however the workflow is similar in other editing packages. You have you final image, resized for the web and suitably sharpened. Decide on the colour you want the text to be (generally white or black) and set this as the foreground colour using the set foreground and background colours icon in the toolbar. Click on the Horizontal Type Tool. The icon is a capital T, located in the toolbar. This will change the horizontal toolbar at the top of the window to change and display font, font size, formattint etc. Select the approximate font size you’d like (you may have to experiment here). Clicking on the type tool will also create a new layer (visible in the layers sidebar) which will be the active layer in which text will be created. Then simply position the cursor approximately where you’d like the text to start and begin typing. Once your text is all typed out it may not be ideally positioned, or it may appear slightly too large or too small. To rectify this click on the ‘move’ tool (the cross with arrowheads at all four compass points). This will make the text a selection which can be be moved, shrunk or expanded using the cursor. However if you do re-size you will need to apply the transformation (by clicking again on the move tool and then selecting ‘apply transformation’ in the pop-up box) before you can complete other tasks. Sometimes you may not want your copyright logo too prominent; one way to change this is to reduce the opacity, making is partially transparent. This can be done using the opacity slider in the layers dialogue sidebar. Once your text is suitably sized, positioned and has the right level of opacity, your final task is to flatten the image, merging your text with the underlying picture. Simply click on the layers tab; right at the bottom of the drop-down menu you will see ‘flatten image’. Select this, save and your image is ready to upload. Of course we can automate this process by creating batch processing actions in Photoshop, but that’s for another blog. For those based in Exeter, Devon, I am currently running Digital Photography classes later this month and will also be running Photoshop classes subject to demand.

 

The advantages of winter photography

The advantages of winter photography

A friend of mine recently complained that she wished winter would hurry up and end so she could get out and start taking photographs again. No, no! I contradicted, winter is a fantastic time for taking photographs; all those heavy, brooding skies, the low sun, those stormy seas and frost-coated landscapes. It’s true I’ve never been a fan bright sunny scenes; give me grey, moody, atmospheric vistas any day. A sun high in the sky rarely makes for great photographs, even in summer landscapes generally appear more interesting shortly after dawn or close to sunset when the sun is low.

Sunrise over Cockwood Harbour at low tide, Exe Estuary, Devon.

Dawn over Cockwood Harbour on a frosty December morning.

In winter the sun follows a lower arc across the sky, thus a greater proportion of the available daylight produces what is, in my view, a more interesting light. A corollary of this is that the sun rises later and sets earlier, thus one does not have to drag oneself out of bed at five in the morning, or hang around until almost 10pm, to get those sunrise and sunset shots. It is true that some wildlife shots become trickier when one has to work with slower shutter speeds and wider apertures, and sometimes one has to rely on a tripod, not exactly condusive to high mobility for stalking some flighty subject. However, on the flip side, many animals become markedly less wary in winter, when hunger overrides normal timidity.

Heavy rain clouds above Teignmouth Pier, Teignmouth, Devon, England, UK.

A long exposure shot of Teignmouth Pier on a winter’s afternoon. Teignmouth, Devon.

I have always been fond of long exposure shots of moving water, producing beautiful soft, fluid and slightly surreal effects on waterfalls or waves on the beach. This does require low light levels entering the camera though, and in summer (even at minimum apertures) one must either stack neutral density filters in front of the lens, or get up really early or wait really late to get those shots around dawn or dusk. In winter it is so much easier, light levels are much lower anyway and as the sun rises and sets at a more acute angle to the horizon so the period of gloomy light lasts that much longer. This can be crucial if you are rushing between spots to try and find the best angle for you ‘money shot’. So dig out the winter boots and woolly hat and make the most of these chilly and gloomy landscapes. If nothing else it’s such a great excuse to eat lots of chocolate and warm up in a pub afterwards.