Landscape Lessons….

Elgol Beach, Skye

Taken from a similar spot to Joe Cornish’s iconic photo.

Last week’s holiday on the Isle of Skye was a delight, and one of the standouts for me was the ‘photo day’ I had with Russell Sherwood (see link below).  Russell is a local professional photographer, has a fine art photo gallery and runs individual and group workshops and courses. I wanted someone to show me the best sights on Skye for photos, and felt that I could pick up some tips on how to take better photographs. In particular I reckoned that I wasn’t getting as many truly sharp images as I thought I should.

My very reasonably priced one-to-one day with Russell was certainly full-on – we covered a lot of ground (Skye is a big island!) and walked and carried gear across a lot of rocky paths and beaches, but I got some photos I am delighted with. I definitely picked up some useful pointers, and figured out how to get much better and sharper photos – here are a few of the ‘lessons’ from the day.

#1.  Don’t try and cover too much ground. Stay in one place until you have the shot you want, or exhausted the possibilities there – wait and get the best shot possible rather than rush off to the next location.

#2. Stability is everything. Use a tripod big enough for the job – my Manfrotto 190 was struggling in the wind, and wasn’t really tall enough for some shots. A tripod head that is easy to level is a great help – either a good ball & socket head or a geared head. Use a remote release and self timer – this ensures the camera doesn’t move at the point of taking the photo. I’ve been guilty of not using the remote release, thinking I could ‘squeeze’ the shutter without moving the camera.

XT103930

#3.  Get the exposure right in camera. Although its easy to adjust exposure and contrast on the computer back at base, its so much better to get the image right in the camera – it gives you so much more to work with.  Key points are – use graduated filters to even out extremes of brightness across the shot if possible, and always check the histogram when taking the shot to ensure highlights in particular are not burnt out (shadows can usually be brightened, but if the highlights have gone, there is not much that can be done.)

#4.  Don’t overdo long exposures.  The trend nowadays to to use a ‘Big Stopper’ type extreme neutral density filter to give a long exposure to blur water and skies. There’s a real danger this is just a fad, and its certainly overdone! Best to try less extreme exposures as well.

#5. Don’t try and change lenses mid-stream. Literally! Depends on location, but switching lenses while on location can be a nightmare – consider the obvious risk of dropping gear while you are standing on a cliff edge or in a stream, and the possibility of getting dust or spray on the sensor. Either use a zoom lens to adjust field of view if its not feasible to change position, or even just set up two camera bodies as they are generally easier to change over.

So as well as picking up on the technique points above, I have a new heavier duty tripod and head on order, a ‘Little Stopper’ filter for less extreme long exposures, and a new larger camera bag to make it easier to work with all the paraphenalia when out. I’m sorely tempted by the Fuji 10-24mm zoom lens, but this is physically much bigger and heavier than the gear I have now, and will mean swapping out all my lovely neat little Lee Seven5 filters for the very much larger and heavier 100mm versions!

Russell can be found at http://skyescapegallery.zenfolio.com

Here are a few more of my favourites from what was a brilliant day out! 

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Why I love Fujifilm….

I switched to Fuji around two years ago after being a near-lifelong Nikon photographer. The reason why? Well, it was mostly about the bulk and weight of the new generation of DSLR cameras. My (extremely good) Nikon D800 weighed almost 2kg with its zoom lens, and all the other lenses I had for it were pretty big too. I found I was increasingly reluctant to go out with – it was just too heavy to want to be bothered with if I was going to be any distance from the car. If I was taking ‘people’ photos, this bazooka sized camera and lens was often off putting – discrete photography was out of the question.  I wasn’t ‘knocked out’ with the quality of some of the lenses – sure the camera itself was awesome with its 36 million pixel sensor, but both my zoom lenses distorted horribly and were not good for landscapes.

91npjD2GO8L._SL1500_Mirror less cameras seemed to offer a good alternative – much smaller and lighter, and ‘good enough’ image quality, and I was impressed by the reputation Fuji had, so decided to take the plunge with an X-E1 and lens.  Weighing only around 550gms, it was a delight to carry around and certainly not intimidating to potential subjects.  Sure it was a different experience – a fully electronic viewfinder and far less capable autofocussing, but the image quality from the 16Mp sensor was, and still is, outstanding. Everyday JPEG images are sharp and contrasty and the colour saturation is amazing. With some post processing in Photoshop or Lightroom, the RAW images rivalled the photos I was getting from the Nikon, all from a camera a fraction of the size, and far less expensive.  I’ve invested in several more lenses (all superb, and a fraction of the size of Nikon) and now have 2 camera bodies and flash units etc…… I don’t claim it’s a perfect system, but it works for me, and it’s restimulated my love of photography. I rarely go anywhere these days without a camera, and now take far more photographs than before. I’m exhibiting a selection of photos for the first time, and have another exhibition planned later this year – I couldn’t have envisaged this a year or two ago.

But there’s one more thing that really sets Fuji apart from the other camera manufacturers, and turns my enthusiasm into real love, and that’s it’s support for the model range. With Nikon (and the others..) you buy a camera and that’s it. It never gets any new features or improvements – you wait a year or so and then there’s a new model that makes yours obsolete.  Fuji is different.  Very different. Every few months there’s a free firmware update that makes performance improvements and adds new features. And this isn’t just for the latest model – Fuji provide these updates (to the extent they can) on models that are several years old.

img_main01Today Fuji announced a radical upgrade to the auto focus system of the X-T1, which will address many of the requests users have asked for to make their cameras function more like a conventional DSLR camera.  Chief of these is the implementation of dual Wide and Zone tracking modes which will allow better focussing of moving subjects.  Also included is Eye Detection AF which will detect and focus on human eyes, a major benefit if using wide aperture lenses that have limited depth of focus. Other features/improvements include Auto Macro Mode, better Movie AF, improved shutter dial operation, and additional Exposure Compensation capabilities.

I’m really looking forward to this upgrade, due for release in June – it will be like having a new camera!