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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.

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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

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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.

 

Colin Munro

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

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.

 

Moorland streams on Christmas Day – how to do things the hard way.

Moorland streams on Christmas Day – how to do things the hard way.
A small stream Dunsford Wood, Teign Valley, Devon, England.  This is a long exposure images taken to produce a fluid, surreal look to the flowing river. Colin Munro Photography

A small stream Dunsford Wood, Teign Valley, Devon, England.

Like all photographers I am sometimes asked how I created certain images, and how difficult getting certain pictures were. The answer in most cases is ‘not that difficult provided you’ve planned it and are well prepared’. But sometimes I just make things difficult for myself.

The above picture is a long exposure, 30 seconds in this case, used to blur movement (in the above picture the flowing water) producing a milky, fluid and slightly surreal look to the flowing stream. Obviously the amount of light hitting the camera sensor has to be limited to compensate for such a long exposure. Stopping down to a very small aperture helps but will only get you so far, rarely all the way to 30 seconds exposure. Stacking neutral density filters in front of the lens is one way, but a simpler way (especially this time of year when days are short) is to shoot at dusk, when light levels are naturally low and long shutter speeds are not merely desirable but also necessary.

Late Christmas Day I made a snap decision to get out on to Dartmoor, go for a walk and get some nice images. I left in a rush, trying to multi-task ineffectively as usual. The moor was not inspiring – low grey cloud and steady drizzle do not make for great pictures, so I turned around and reluctantly headed home. Light was fading fast when I found this little stream in the steep, wooded valley of the River Teign. I pulled over and decided to try and get some shots. This was where my rushing and lack of preparation came home to roost. I realised I had left my walking boots by the entrance to my boat and had only the city shoes I was wearing with me. Worse still, upon opening my tripod case (not checked before I left) I discovered that somehow the tripod head had snapped in two (I’ll be writing to Manfrotto shortly). Luckily I also had a small, six inch, tabletop tripod with me, but that meant actually getting in to the stream and perching it on top of boulders if I were obtain any useable shots. By the time I found a suitable spot along the stream it was about 4:15pm and getting gloomier by the minute. A quick scan around confirmed that there were no suitable boulders at the edge of the stream on which to mount the tripod; there was no alternative, shoes and socks had to come off and I had to wade out in to the middle of the stream. Thirty minutes later I stumbled to the side. The light had well and truly gone, so it was time to pack up. I had by then also lost all feeling below the ankles. It was not until i started driving home again that feeling began to return to my feet, doing so in painful waves as flow returned to constricted blood vessels. I had ample time to reflect on the stupidity of my lack of planning. My first actions the following day were to buy a spare tripod and place wellingtons and thick socks on the boot of my car in readiness. Hopefully that is at least one mistake I won’t repeat. Meanwhile I have now place some of these images in my art images of Devon Landscapes Gallery. This can be viewed (and prints purchased) here. Hopefully it was worth the effort. Colin

The Port Royal Pub, Exeter historic quay, at night.

The Port Royal Pub, Exeter historic quay, at night.
The Port Royal bar reflected on the River Exe at night. Exeter historic quay, Exeter, Devon, England. Image MBI000910.

The Port Royal bar reflected on the River Exe at night. Exeter historic quay, Exeter, Devon, England. Image MBI000910.

 The Port Royal bar reflected on the River Exe at night. Exeter historic quay, Exeter, Devon, England. image No. MBI000910. Please email me, quoting this number if you’d like to license use of this image or purchase a fine art print.

I took this pic a couple of nights ago. The last of the revellers had staggered home and the quayside was quiet.  It was warm and perfectly still, with a clear starry sky overhead.  Perfect for this type of image. So a little after midnight I pulled my gear together and climbed out of my boat’s saloon.  For a pic such as this, relying solely on distance sodium street lighting and faint starlight the iso needs to be cranked up a bit, but not so much as to make the image very noisy, and, obviously, the shutter speed way down.  Depth of field is not an issue as everything in the picture is distant, so the iris can be (and was) wide open.  I used an old 20mm prime lens, a favourite of mine.  The sodium lighting gives the pub and adjacent buildings an unearthly yellow hue.  I rather like  it this so did not atempt to change this, feeling it added to the rather surreal look.  Clearly the stars and buildings differ massively in brightness. To acheive useable exposure of both required melding two images at very different shutter speeds (four stops difference if memory serves me).  Some post processing of the starry sky was also required. The image was converted in to a grey scale image to remove colour noise, then reconverted back to an RGB image before melding.

Basking shark images Cornwall

Basking shark images Cornwall
Basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus, feeding with mouth wide open

Basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus, feeding with mouth wide open

After a couple of years of bad weather I was lucky enough to get out and finally get in the water with a small group of basking sharks last year. We launched my Zodiac out of Newquay and headed west, through some fairly substantial rollers coming in off the Atlantic. After a few hours of steaming along we finally caught up with them. They were swimming steadily, completely ignoring us but also moving pretty quickly. So once you hit the water you had to move pretty sharpish, swimming diagonally to their path, before they cruised past and left you in their wake waiting to be picked up again my the boat. In the end we had two days with them, first day I was helped by Jules and on the second Kat boat-handled for me.
Baskers are never that predictable, but they should be arriving off the tip of Cornwall in the next week or two. I plan to get out again and hopefully improve on last year’s pics. Hopefully the weather will be kind – we’re currently having once of the coldest May’s in nearly 20 years.
For more basking shark (Ctenorhinus maximus) images from last here click this link here
Watch this space for updates on success (or not) this year! As always these are stock images and footage available for righst managed license. If you’d like to use any of these get in touch email me

A clip of a Large basking shark feeding near the surface, North Cornwall, 2009.
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_-GIMCkP7Q

Basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus, feeding in surface waters.  Cornwall, UK. Colin Munro Photography

Basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus, feeding in surface waters. Cornwall, UK. Colin Munro Photography

Large basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus, feeding in surface waters.  Cornwall, UK. Colin Munro Photography

Large basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus, feeding in surface waters. Cornwall, UK. Colin Munro Photography

Old Piers and simple pleasures

Old Piers and simple pleasures
Mussels, Mytilus edulis, and Obelia indivisa hydroids on an old pier leg

Mussels, Mytilus edulis, and Obelia indivisa hydroids on an old pier leg

I took my first underwater pictures bimbling about between the uprights and cross-members of an old wooden pier. That was with second-hand Nikonos III, a set of extension tubes and a Sunpak 28 strobe. I’ve probably still got it somewhere. Underwater photography has moved on a long way since then but I still love exploring old wooden piers and the opportunities they present for macro-photography. The uprights are normally festooned with filter-feeding life: hydroids and sea squirts often forming dense carpets. Dahlia and Sagartia anemones add a splash of colour. To me the beauty of macro-photography is that the basic skills can be learned quite quickly and sharp, colour-saturated images can be created even in our often quite turbid coastal waters. There is also the fun of exploring and discovering small creatures in crevices and overhangs; the joys of being a kid again for an hour or so. Each pier or jetty presents its own particular hazard. This can range from watching that a dropping tide doesn’t leave you trying to clamber up the bottom rungs of a badly corroded and rickety old ladder when trying to exit the water, to avoiding being knocked unconcious by the weapons grade halitosis of betching bull sealions as they lie flopped across the jetty cross members. But the pleasures tend to remain the same; hunting for that perfect patch of jewel anemones or symmetrical cluster of featherduster tubeworms.

The above pic was taken on the legs of a fairly tide swept pier in Southern Ireland. Large, fat mussels gaped in the rich feeding currents and between them bright orange Obelia hydroids swayed like tiny sunflowers. The trick with all macro-photography (and indeed much temperate water photography) is to slow down and look closely at what is literally just in front of your nose. The other pleasure that often comes from macro-photography is that one often discovers new things in the image that you never saw at all when composing the photograph. To take the above example; I was completely oblivious to the tiny crustacean scuttling about between the Obelia polyps, only noticing it once I had developed the film (yes, this is a film image), scanned the slide and viewed it on my laptop. This still applies with our current top-end DSLRs. Although lcd screens are improving all the time, small details are only revealed when the image is downloaded and viewed on a much larger screen.

Underwater Photography Workshop
For those interested I will be running a one day workshop, an introduction to underwater photography, in Exeter, Devon next month (6th March). This is intended for those relatively new to underwater photography looking to acquire a good grounding in the theory and practical skills, or possibly decide which system they are going to go for. There are still a few places left as I write this. For more info go to: Introduction to underwater photography workshop

Boats and wind and winter skies

Boats and wind and winter skies

We’ve just had around ten days of stormy weather here in southwest UK; a series of deep lows have driven rain-laden westerlies out of the Atlantic and up the English Channel. I’ve spent this time trying to effect repairs on my deck between squalls, while winds howl through the rigging. Trying to pour molten pitch into leaky seams between planks, each seam rather less than quarter of an inch wide, in a force eight gale is somewhat akin to attempting to juggle ping-pong balls whilst standing in the downdraft of a helicopter. A stream of bubbling pitch carefully aimed at a newly raked out seam will unexpectedly slew sideways to decorate my newly sealed deck with a long string of tarry sine waves. I spend the next ten minutes scraping off rapidly solidifying pitch, then retire to my laptop as the next squall arrives. Days like this can make me long for the blue skies of summer. When trying to work outdoors on the water, winter offers relatively few advantages. It does offer others though. Whilst sun-kissed beaches and clear blue skies look pretty, I generally prefer my landscapes to look dramatic. Dark skies and storm clouds with shafts of sunlight breaking though are, to me, intrinsically more interesting. Very often the look of a landscape will change dramatically in seconds as cloud cover waltzes light and shade across the terrain. It’s the opportunity to capture these ephemeral patterns that makes me climb out of bed early on winter mornings, pile camera gear into the cab of my old Landrover and try to make it to my selected vantage point in time for sunrise. Okay, sometimes it does; and sometimes I’ll hit the ‘snooze’ button on my alarm, turn over and reassure myself there’ll be other mornings like this.

Landscape photography is one of the few areas where I still on occasion use film. In terms of workflow and cleanness of image 35mm film no longer compares with current DSLRs (to be brutal, spatial resolution, signal to noise ratio and even the old weakness of dynamic range are all better on good DSLRs than 35mm film equivalents), but there is something about producing images by initiating and influencing a chemical reaction on a medium you can touch and feel that has a magical quality about it. I no longer process my own film; cutting, mounting and scanning slides is enough of a chore. Yet exposing images on film still feels closer to the spirit of Louise and Auguste Lumiere’s autochromes or Hurley’s Paget Plates than allowing photons to kick electrons up the energy escalator in layers of silicon.

Given the wintry weather we (in the UK) are experiencing at the moment, I thought a local winter scene would be an appropriate image of the week. This one was taken a couple of years ago, on a chilly November afternoon on the Exeter canal near where it joins the Exe Estuary. The sun was getting fairly low and boat hulls were shining brightly against the dark water. It was very still, and where the canal widened to allow vessels to moor alongside, just in front of the first lock (the Turf Lock) a perfect mirror image of the moored boats reflected of the water. It may have rained later that day but I’m really not sure. It’s the moment I remember.
Link to image of the weekRead More