Category Archives: Nepal

2011: A year in review

What a year 2011 has been for Marianne and me! If you were to ask us what the highlight of the year would be, of course the simple answer would have to be the birth of Charlotte.  Sure there were sleepless nights, bad days at work etc but why focus on negativity when the everyday little things she does makes us smile and proud. From her first toothless smile, gurgles, discovery of her fist and all things which fit into her mouth, her first triumphant roll. Milestones fly in unexpectedly and will continue to do so over the years . We hope to be as good a pair of parents to her as we can be ! What about photography? We’ve been a little slack in updating this blog post but I think somehow time has eluded us like never before and what used to be done in 10 minutes now takes 10 minutes spread over several hours! Nonetheless, it has been a big year for us and we look forward to 2012.

In January , we photographed Katie & Trent at the botanical gardens of Adelaide and learned a thing or two about being prepared for 4 seasons in one day. An old image of Cape Huay also ended up on the front cover of Australian Photography Magazine.

Katie & Trent got married

Cover art: Australian Photography Magazine January edition

In February, we travlled to Longview winery and continued to evolve the way in which we handle weddings both at the scene and in post production. Bettina and Simon were particularly cooperative and even walked in the rain with us to take some images on a wet and blustery day. We found ways to catalogue files for two photographers such that merging the combined proofs would still result in a presentation of files in logical order.

Bettina & Simon got married

In March, Australian Photography Magazine featured Marianne’s image of Korpudalur on the front cover as well as a 8 page feature article on travelling Iceland. Our wedding forays also continued with Anh and Ty’s wedding at the beautiful Mount Lofty house. It was our last wedding for the 2010-2011 season.

Anh & Ty got married

Cover art : Australian Photography Magazine March edition

In April and early May, Marianne and I planned a 10 day trip over Easter to Tasmania. This trip was one where we travelled slightly more comfortably than previously as Marianne was 5 months pregnant. We still managed short walks to slightly  ‘out of the way’ places and managed to snag a few images which would later be published. Fortuitously, we also bumped into Ian Wallace and Tom Putt’s photography workshop at Cradle Mountain on many a dawn and dusk. From the brief encounter, I was introduced to his website. After becoming a regular contributor on the site, one thing led to another and the end result is my first contribution to a publication! (More on that later)

Tasmania's forests were magical

Bay of Fires and its striking lichen.

One could go into waterfall overload in Tasmania!

In June, we took our last chance to travel without children and travelled to Victoria for an extended long weekend. It coincided with a lunar eclipse which I managed to photograph over the CBD but unfortunately, it also coincided with a flu-like illness which affected me for most of the brief trip. We based ourselves in the Dandenongs while travelling out as far as Cape Woolamai on Phillip Island. With Marianne now in the third trimester, serious walking was quite limited and taken with caution given the  slippery wet conditions.

The end of the eclipse from Federation Square

Cape Woolamai and the wild weather!

The weather was mostly wet and slippery in the Dandenongs

In July, we had the first of several exhibitions for the year which taught us the value of picking locations for exhibiting our work. We felt that our canvas prints of images from our big trip in 2010 looked better than any other work we had produced, however, canvas printing meant that our costs were also significantly higher.  We achieved great exposure at Hampstead Rehabilitation Centre and sold some prints not related to the actual works exhibited. During this penultimate month of Marianne’s pregnancy, I felt as though I needed to get the photography bug out of me and travelled further from Adelaide on my weekend forays. One particularly memorable dawn occurred at a favourite location down at Port Willunga.

Old and new technologies to harvest wind near Burra

A most memorable dawn at Port Willunga

In August, we also managed to exhibit our works at the SANTOS conservation centre outside the Adelaide Zoo. In retrospect, we feel that our works aren’t suited to exhibiting at SALA ( South Australian Living Artist) . Photography as a medium seemed to be appreciated in a different manner to other more traditional or abstract mediums and as such, most of the questions directed at us were regarding the use of photoshop! An annoyance which has since given us much time to consider future responses. And of course, at the end of August, Charlotte came into the world!! Need I say any more than I already have!

Travels were limited in August for this reason!

One of our 40" prints to sell during the year

 

In September life was all about working out this thing called parenthood! Photography took a back seat but toward the end of the month, I started making some trips out on weekends again and we had to consider how to photograph a wedding with Marianne needing to express milk and training little Charlotte to be ‘babysittable’. As it turned out, she has given great joy to our grandparents while being cared for (with scattered moments of anxiety during prolonged fits of crying).

Daddy's little girl!

Our little lady!

One dawn took me to Lochiel and Lake Bumbunga

In October, we got back into the swing of wedding photography with our busiest season planned to date. A total of 7 weddings booked until March 2012.  Alice and Matt’s wedding was photographed at Clare and Bungaree Station. It was the first time we had offered to create an album for clients and we are awaiting the final result of the album. We as a family also survived Charlotte’s first prolonged absence! Later in October, Carina and Paul tied the knot at the picturesque Al-Ru Farm in the northern outskirts of Adelaide.  Also in that month, we squeezed in another cover and feature article in Australian Photography Magazine based on our travels in Tasmania earlier in the year.

Cover Art: Australian Photography Magazine

Alice & Matt got married

Carina & Paul got married

In November, the book production process was finally reaching its end. Starting from June, the 12 contributors were busy selecting , rating  and re-editing images for publication while Ian Wallace had the mammoth task of coordinating,  putting together the book and sorting the necessary technical requirements and authorship. As the months progressed and the various drafts of the book unfolded, all of us became even keener for the release date of the book. Personally, 15 of my images were chosen for publication including the back inset and back cover image. The book so far has been a great success , particularly for the Tasmanian contributors who rapidly recuperated their own costs. Thus far, of my 100 copies, 50 are either sold or consigned for retail which has been great considering the very little time I’ve contributed to promoting the book. The book would only arrive a few days before Christmas!

Tasmania : A Visual Journey (back cover)

The books finally arrived!!

December rounded off 2011 with our busiest month yet. Another image found its way on to the cover of Australian Photography Magazine and the editor Robert Keeley requested an article and cover(s) for early issues in 2012. We also managed two further weddings. Jane and Mike’s wedding was set in the beautiful vineyards of Bird in Hand Winery in the Adelaide hills. We are also in the process of creating an album for them. Our final wedding was photographed in the interiors of St Marks College in North Adelaide due to the inclement weather.  Over Christmas and New Year, I managed to take a few more images around South Australian sites in between managing Charlie’s disrupted routines from the various celebrations during this period.

Jane & Mike got married

Amy & Dylan got married

Cover Art: Australian Photography Magazine December edition

In summary, we have much to be  thankful for in 2011 and here’s a short list :

  • Black and White photographics who consistently print our work and bring reality to our digital visions
  • All of the exhibition centres who have allowed us to display our works. Hampstead Rehabilitation centre, the Challinger Gallery, SANTOS conservation centre and Gallery M in Marion.
  • The online community and photographic support we have received through : Facebook (thanks to the 1000 fans!) , Flickr , Australian Photography forum, Deviant Art and Google Plus. Thank you to all of the photographers on these sites who continue to inspire and critique images.
  • All of our family friends who have been incredibly supportive throughout the years and particularly since Charlotte arrived in the world. She now has many playmates, friends and cousins to grow up with over the years.
  • Ian Wallace and all of the other contributors from the book project : Tasmania, A Visual Journey.
  • Robert Keeley and the editorial staff from Australian Photography magazine who continue to ask us for content and publish our work. We are only happy to deliver !
  • Our brides and grooms for allowing us an intimate look in on their most personal and special days. We hope you have enjoyed our services!
  • Mother nature and her fickle ways ; thanks for the beauty all around us waiting to be captured by would be artists.
  • Lastly, a personal thanks to Marianne and Charlotte for being the base upon which anything in life has been achieved and will be achieved in the future !

Cheers to 2012 and for those around in South Australia, we hope to see you at Gallery M for our first engagement of the new year! 🙂

One final shoot on New Years Eve

-D&M

The Rise of the Armchair Expert

These days, information about any facet of life seems to be at our fingertips. Whether it be through internet search engines, library databases or other forms of intangible media, we are spoiled for access to data. With such a variety and number of sources available, it also seems that our attention span dedicated to one particular area of interest is also diminishing.  As a result  of this information excess , a new breed of critic ; the armchair expert has arisen.  This new breed of forum spamming monster pays no heed to their own ability, nor the reputations of others. They often have limited (or no) experience on the field of their chosen areas of pseudo-expertise  yet display supreme confidence when actions are not required to back up words. Armed with a few phrases found on Wikipedia, a few quotes from random search engines and a lightning quick ability to press [Ctrl-C] and [Ctrl-V], they will shoot down anyone who dares to encroach their turf. Call them the grim reaper of tall poppies perhaps, call them a group of left wing internet socialists, call them what you like. But once spotted, their words can be a great source of ironic amusement.

With that introduction in mind , I’d like to draw your attention to the following link:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/andrerabelo/70458366/

This image of a cyclist was taken by a famous photographer (Cartier-Bresson). I’m very poor on my photographic history and had no idea that this was a famous image.  It was presented as a joke to flickr group (photosharing site) in which participants voted to keep the photo or delete it from the group with some kind of rationale behind their decision.  There was a flurry of comments regarding its slight motion blur, flatness, lack of depth of field and poor composition. Those “in the know” sat back and chuckled or frankly abused the nay-sayers.  I must admit that on first glance and even on closer inspection, I’d have to agree with most of the critique given even if it was all on technical grounds.

One could criticise those with a negative view of the image for being the so called armchair expert, the theory based expert focussing entirely on the technical concepts of photography without taking artistic interpretation into account. On the other hand, I’m also quite sure that many of those who took the righteous stance of defending the image were equally guilty of being internet art critiques who had stumbled across this image through many hours of ‘research’ . Many from both groups were undoubtedly proficient photographers but many were just as likely those who freely give opinion and are yet unable to produce anything of similar quality themselves. What exactly is my point then? It seems that nowadays, advice is so freely given and so easily researched online, that it’s often nearly impossible to differentiate between a true expert in the field and pseudo-armchair expert. In fact, the armchair expert may be more eloquent in his argument since he invests far more time in commenting rather than doing. Sometimes, just sometimes though, the armchair expert is caught out on nuance and hence my approach is to take anything I read online with a grain of salt.

Here are a few random examples of critique on my images by some armchair experts which you may or may not agree with.

“I would clone out the power lines and the hiker”

Annapurna Ranges, Nepal

I blame the sophistication of software for these kinds of comments. Adobe Photoshop’s ‘content aware fill’ allows the user to select an area of the scene and with one click, quite effectively remove a feature from the image while filling it in with the surrounding elements. The ease of ‘cloning out’ among other tools has very likely created an era of photographers who shoot first, compose later. In the above image, I like to think that part of the image was supposed to depict man in the environment and the scale of the surrounds? Perhaps I failed in that intent and people thought I was trying to depict wilderness alone.

“You should make the sky brighter than the reflection”

“You should clone out the flowers from the foreground”

Sure, if I wanted a 100 % faithful replication of the scene I could do that. But given that I had used a wide angle lens to distort depth perception , used filters to even out the gradient of light from the scene and accentuated colours in the sky I’m not sure why I should be trying to bring back reality to the image in the reflection.  I found it a strange detail to criticise. I really don’t know what to say about the flowers and cloning them out. Does it look accidental that they are there?

“The image is dark”

In my defence, it was taken at night……..

“You’ve ruined a perfectly good image”

Hrafnntinnusker Sunset : RAW file

Hrafntinnusker Sunset: Edited file

The top image is what came straight out of the camera in RAW format. The second is how I had chosen to process the image.  The background to this image is that it was 1030pm after a long day of hiking and I had gone out to the toilet to find a glowing red sunset. I rushed back in to get the camera and photograph the scene of Iceland’s incredible interior. In reality, the mountain was glowing red and the black sands dotted with bright tents.  When displaying this scene to someone else, is it more important to portray exactly what the scene looked like or to portray how I felt when I was sitting there in awe?  To me , I think it  is the latter that is more important and that is the approach with which I present all of my landscape photographs.  Often that means exaggerating colours and the depth of a scene to the point of unreality. While I appreciate differences in opinion, I believe I have highlighted the reasons in a previous blog post why any image straight out of the camera is just as unlikely to portray the reality in a  scene anyway.

“This picture has too much contrast and has an unusual crop”

This brings me to my last point about armchair critique. Critique from this source often follows the current opinion of a body of experts in the field. The current trend in wedding and portrait photography is to present images in flat, washed out tones with a slight sepia tinge akin to an aged photograph.  Also, for ease of printing,every image should be presented a standard 6X4 crop. I love wedding photography not just for the technical aspects of it but for the joy and happiness you can feel from sharing in the couple’s day. To me this translates as colour and vibrance and so, why not put that into images. As for the printing issue , we could just inform our clients to tell printers not to crop images when printing instead of limiting our composition. I have no issue with those who choose to process their images according to what seems now accepted as the norm but it seems there are those who choose to dislike the fact that our images don’t necessarily conform to a perceived industry standard.

This is my rant for the day. You should of course believe my every word because of the armchair expertise I’ve tried to demonstrate.  😉

-D

How to carry a refrigerator in Kathmandu

OK, so I lied. I can’t tell you how to actually carry the fridge but I can tell you how I processed the image I took of a man carrying a fridge in Kathamndu.

The setting:

If you ever go to Kathmandu, Thamel , the main tourist district has great advantages in terms of convenience, location and perceived safety. It is tirelingly repetitive with the same stores repeating every 5 stalls, the same taxi and rickshaw drivers offering you rides to places you never wanted to go. The positive aspect is that is small enough that you can wander out of the tourist area quite easily where I found photographing much more in keeping with normal local behaviour. I basically sat myself down with some locals on a storefront (who really didn’t show me any interest) and snapped away at anything that looked interesting. The main focus was on trying to get some images showing aspects of Kathmandu living and trying hard to remain inconspicuous with a white canon L lens mounted.

About the shot itself :

The following image shows the progression of the original RAW to the final result .

The first thing I do after a day’s shooting is catalogue the images in Lightroom. Even though I may have only taken a handful of images on a 16GB card, Marianne and I had a sense of paranoia that the card would randomly break down. We wanted to minimise the potential pain of losing images, hence the daily routine. I tag them all with my name and a location (to make it easy to separate my images from Marianne’s).  In Lightroom, the major corrections I find easier to handle here (over CS5) are:

–          Cropping

–          White balance correction (not needed for this one)

–          Fill light and contrast

–          Graduated filters (not needed for this one)

–          Recovery of highlights

–          “Clarity” boost (which I didn’t use for this image)

–          Vibrance (often no changes made because I find colour work better in CS5)

The image itself is a bit underexposed in the foreground and the afternoon sky was a haze and not recoverable for blown highlights so I adjusted sliders ignoring the unrecoverable pixels in mind.

I then export the file as a 16 bit TIFF file with no sharpening at 300dpi. Why 16bit instead of 8? No very good reason – andecdotally, I have found that the banding issues are less prominent when working in 16 bit then converting at the end to 8bit rather than working all in 8 bit. (I stress – this is personal anecdote and based on no ‘fact’)

The first thing in photoshop I do is duplicate the background layer in case I stuff something up royally and need to revert to the original export. On this duplicate layer, I usually bring up the shadow highlight box and make corrections based on how much the image needs it (often I make no corrections). I don’t tend to adjust the sliders any more than 10% – especially for highlights in plain skies since posterising tends to occur. I have a plugin by Imagenomic called Noiseware pro which I am a big fan of. I usually start off using a preset then make some adjustments based on how much noise I want in the image.

(noiseware pro interface box – at 100%, details can just become smudges)

Next up, a levels layer (usually to boost contrast a little). Notice the horrible histogram with blown pixels on the right. I adjusted levels taking that out of consideration since there was little I could do anyway.

Next , a generic minor vibrance and saturation boost.

Next, I create a new layer in overlay mode with 50% neutral gray filling the image (these options can be achieved by alt-clicking the new layer icon at the bottom of the layers panel). Using a soft brush (shortcut B) with say 10% fill and 10% opacity, this functions as my dodge and burn layer. In this image, the main subject was too dark for my liking and some of the features in the stalls were also a little dark . So I set the brush to white at the above settings and slowly played around. Clicking the eye icon next to the image on and off is a good way to see just how much change you may not notice what you’ve done from the gradual changes at such a soft brush setting.

Next up – a whole bunch of selective colour work. In this image – I wanted the man to stand out not only with the depth of field but from the surrounds as well. The ground tones were a bit bright and dominated the scene a bit. Using the drop down menu for select colour (see image) , I selected the ground colour and adjusted the sliders so that as much ground was covered by the selection as possible but little else. Once the selection is made, marching ants appear on the screen and any new adjustment layer created will only affect this layer. The good thing about this selection technique is that CS5 does the feathering for you.  From this selection, I created a new levels layer and darkened the ground. I could have done this in the dodge and burn layer but I find this method more precise.

Next up, the sky was a slight golden colour at the time but in this image, just hopelessly overexposed. I wanted to see if I could bring back any of the original colour realising that there wasn’t recoverable detail. One way to do this is to use the same selection tool and click on the sky. I then created hue/saturation layer with that selection and clicked on the ‘colourise’ button. What this will do is ‘paint’ the selection with the colour it detects. Sure you can paint it with any colour but you can run into great difficulty doing this. For instance, CS5 picked a colour in the yellow spectrum and I adjusted the lightness and saturation to give a slight golden hue – if I had changed the colour to blue and tried this, I would have ended up with bizarre looking halos on the buildings where the transition of the selection ceased. It’s a great tool but the temptation to use it unsubtly should be resisted.

At this point in time, other than sharpening, I’ll often stop the post processing with a final image here. The result from here is the 2nd image in the original panel of three.

The following steps all take advantage of different blend modes. So that all of the layers are visible in the thumbs , I flattened the image prior to proceeding but you can keep all of your layers in a super big file if you like – just merge all of the visible layers and work from that merged layer.

The next screenshot shows you the 5 duplicated layers that I create. I often don’t use all 5 but they are all there for me in case I need to. It is important with this layer stack to work from the top down.

The order of layers and roughly what I use them for (from top to bottom) :

–          Luminosity &Gaussian blur

–          Overlay or vivid light for a high pass sharpen layer

–          Soft light (for contrast)

–          Multiply (for darkening)

–          Screen (for lightening)

Luminosity + Blur

The function of this layer is to create a glow effect. The Gaussian blur adjustment is to a huge amount that really makes the image look a blob. Changing the blend mode to luminosity makes it see-through to a degree and blurs the edges of the colour so the end result is varying degrees of softening and glow. If you do not want areas of the image to be affected, simply use a layer mask and brush them out with the ‘black’ brush. (eg. Portraits of great detail in old skin etc).

High pass sharpening:

This alternative method of sharpening is one I do like because you can change the blend mode of the layer for different degrees of sharpening.  The radius is similar to what you would pick for unsharp masking. Using soft light /overlay /vivid light then provides increasing intensity of the effect .  The unwanted result of this though, is that there might be some noise introduced to smooth areas. I usually layer mask out skies and smooth waters in this layer for landscapes. I prefer this over unsharp mask because you can see what you are sharpening before you click OK (see image below)

Soft light [contrast]

The next layers blend mode is changed to soft light. Leaving it on default settings I find results in too much contrast and oversaturation of the image. On this layer, I typically lazily address this by pressing Ctrl-U to bring up the hue/saturation dialogue box and reduce the saturation to a desired colour and increase lightness until there aren’t any crazily black or dark areas.

One good way to keep an eye on what you’ve done (other than clicking the eye button on and off) is to click the “\” key. This should bring up in red the areas of the image that have been masked out. From the image below, you can see that I didn’t want the man darkened and I didn’t want the already bright sky to be brightened more by the contrast effect.

Multiply:

I have come to prefer using this blend mode of darkening of dodging and burning because it is harder to ‘overdo’ the effect. The layers name comes from the effect you would get if you were to stack two slides over each other and look through it. With each slide, you’d be blocking out more and more light so the overall result is darkening and some contrast boosting too.  I don’t use this layer extensively so when I create a layer mask (which on my PC is set to ‘white’ or see through) , I press Ctrl-I to invert the mask so that it is all opaque. I then use the brush tool on ‘white’ to brush in the effect I want.  The pic below shows that most of the image is red when pressing “\” meaning that I’ve only used the multiply effect in small parts of the image (sky and buildings and slightly on the ground)

Screen:

Think of screen as the opposite of multiply. I wanted the fridge man a little brighter and some bright bits of clothing and sign on the side so I underwent the same process as described above for the multiply layer.

Finally – once I’m happy with it all, I’m relieved to press that flatten button and change it back to 8bit and watch the file size drop from 1gig to 50mb or so !

For presenting on the web, it’s a few touches of border, watermark, repeat slight unsharp masking and brightness /contrast adjustment because I know my screen ends up producing stuff that looks darker on the web than it would at home.

I hope that was helpful and it probably went through a lot of the same processes I’ve described in the other tutorials. Please remember , this post wasn’t about telling you what to do or even what is the ‘best’ way to do it.  It is simply a workflow out of many different ones, much of which I developed out of trial and error really.

Thanks for reading if you made it through!!

-D

The End Result