31 May 2013

Thoughts: Research before photo shoot

Impressive entrance to the cathedral in Montpellier, France.
Capturing a good travel or landscape photo is never easy. It requires a lot of skills, a lot of luck and a lot of patience. Well, it requires good equipment too (never believe that you don't need good equipment to capture good photos). With so many factors you have to do something to increase your chances. And what I have in mind is doing a research before arriving on location. By research I mean checking various things about the location (eg. shape of terrain), conditions (eg. weather, time of sunset). Why is it important? I listed a few examples below:
  1. You want to capture a night photo showing Milky Way over the mountains but when you arrive at the location it turns out that Milky Way is not over the mountains but on the opposite side.
  2. You want to capture a long exposure photo of water during high tide so the water looks silky smooth but when you arrive at the location it turns out that it is in fact low tide and you wouldn't be able to take photo you had in mind. Also it could turn out that you would have to walk on the slippery rocks to get decent shot what becomes quite dangerous.
  3. You want to capture golden hour in the city but it turns out that sunset isn't above the most interesting building but opposite to them.
  4. You want to capture photos with nice blue sky but it rains all the time during your stay.
  5. You want to capture nice photos but don't know what are the most interesting spots so you waste time moving from location to location and you end up with rather mediocre and random collection.
Sunset in Warsaw, Poland as seen from the Poniatowski Bridge on 31st May 2013.
Research would help in all these cases by providing useful tips and details about the location. There are many tools you can use to do the research. Here are the ones I use most frequently:
  • Travel guides - they help me to make preliminary choices of places I would like to visit. I also try to think which of them would look good during golden and blue hours. Good travel guide might be really helpful because it can give you hints for instance on using public transportation to get there quickly what is essential when you try to photograph more than one subject during sunset/sunrise as they last very short.
  • Weather forecasts - of course weather forecasts are only predictions and they are often wrong (especially long term ones) but if you see a weather forecast telling it will rain for 2 weeks there is great chance it really will. So it might be better to choose different location.
  • Looking at the photos - I spent quite a lot of time looking at the photos of chosen locations. You can use Flickr, 500px or Google Images for that. Thanks to looking at the photos I can learn how the location looks at different times of day and what are the most popular compositions - then I know which compositions to avoid :)
  • Google Earth - one of my favourite tools and a very powerful one. You can learn a number of things from it including terrain curvature, location of 3D objects (buildings, statues, etc.), photos from different places, etc. You can even use it to plan your trip. But one of my favourite features is that it shows exact sun position and real-time shadows on terrain and buildings. As it's possible to set the time very precisely (smallest unit is a second!) you can use it to plan your sunrise/sunset photos.
  • Blue/Golden hour calculator - very useful tool giving you details about blue hour, golden hour, sunset and sunrise at location of your choice. Details include start and duration of them.

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30 May 2013

Crazy weather in B&W



I shared this photo previously in color. However, I really like the contrast and textures in the b&w version so here it is again :)

One more thing you might have noticed. From today I start to add watermarks to the images I upload. The watermark is likely to change because I don't want it to be very distracting as described here. The reason for adding a watermark is that my photos are shared more frequently recently and I want to make sure I get credited for my work.

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29 May 2013

Stars above the hotel

It'll never cease to amaze me how starry the sky is over Fuerteventura island. Even lights cannot make the stars disappear.

For this photo I stood very close to the sea hoping no wave would come and grab my tripod. And believe me I was nervous because I had to stand a few meters away from it as the ground was very wet and soft. Even changing location of feet while standing quite close to a tripod resulted in a completely blurry shot because it caused tripod to move.

In this case I used 5 exposures and manually blended them. This way I have both the stars in the sky, properly exposed hotel as well as nice reflections.

Technical details:
Camera: Canon 5D MK II
Lens: Canon 24 f/1.4 L USM II
Focal length: 24 mm
Aperture: f/1.4
Exposure time: 2.5 s ("middle" exposure)
ISO: 800
Number of exposures: 5
E.V. Step: 1
Flash used: no
Tripod: yes
Filters: no
Software: Magic Lantern 2.3, Lightroom 4.2, Photoshop CS6

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28 May 2013

Morskie Oko lake in Winter

Morskie Oko (Eye of the Sea lake) is the largest and fourth deepest lake in Tatra Mountains. When I was going to the mountains at the beginning of February I hoped to get some cool shots with warm winter sun light reflecting in the ice. However, after getting to Zakopane I realized that I will have to change my plans as there was thick layer of snow everywhere. Something between 0.8 and 1 meter of fresh fluffy snow. It became obvious that there will be even more snow on the Morskie Oko surface as it is in the small valley. So instead of capturing my dream shot I took a panoramic photo you can see above. I quite like it because mountains look really monumental. You can also see people wondering on the lake's surface - it gives nice sense of scale.

However, it's far from what I had in mind. Hopefully I will manage to capture MY PHOTO next year. I also plan to visit Tatra mountains one more time this year and I hope to get nice reflections but this time in the turquoise water of the lake.

BTW it's a manual blend of 3 exposures.

Technical details:
Camera: Canon 5D MK II
Lens: Canon 24-105 f/4 L IS USM
Focal length: 24 mm
Aperture: f/9.0
Exposure time: 1/500 s ("middle" exposure)
ISO: 800
Number of exposures: 3
E.V. Step: 2
Flash used: no
Tripod: no
Filters: no
Software: Magic Lantern 2.3, Lightroom 4.2, Photoshop CS6

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27 May 2013

HDR from Milan

I love going through my photo archives. I hate most of the photos now for technical reasons - they have so many mistakes, they are often ugly. But at the same time there are a few which I still like and one of the examples is above. Ok, this photo is far from being perfect too. I know. Today I would shoot and process it differently for sure. But there is something in it I like.

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26 May 2013

Colourful tram

There are 4 tramlines in Montpellier, France. What I really liked about them is that each of them looks differently but all are pretty colourful. I wanted to show it in the photo above so I use selective colouring technique.

Camera: Canon 5D MK II
Lens: Canon 24-105 f/4 L IS USM
Focal length: 47 mm
Aperture: f/8.0
Exposure time: 1/80 s
ISO: 100
Number of exposures: 1
E.V. Step: n/a
Flash used: no
Tripod: no
Filters: no
Software: Magic Lantern 2.3, Lightroom 4.2, Photoshop CS6

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25 May 2013

Rain in Montpellier

During my stay in Montpellier, the weather was bad for most of the time. It was windy, rather cold and rainy. That was one of the reasons I didn't take many photos. Above you can see a street scene I photographed soon after rain stopped falling. Although the scene is very busy I quite like reflections in it.

One tip: when doing HDRs of scenes with reflection in them remember to remove ghosts in reflections as well.

Technical details:
Camera: Canon 5D MK II
Lens: Canon 24-105 f/4 L IS USM
Focal length: 24 mm
Aperture: f/8.0
Exposure time: 1/160 s ("middle" exposure)
ISO: 100
Number of exposures: 3
E.V. Step: 2
Flash used: no
Tripod: no
Filters: no
Software: Magic Lantern 2.3, Photomatix Pro 4.2.6 (Details Enhancer), Lightroom 4.2, Photoshop CS6
Photomatix Pro settings: download

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24 May 2013

Evening fog

This shot is rather simple, however, I really like blues and purples in it.

Technical details:
Camera: Canon 50D
Lens: Canon 24-105 f/4 L IS USM
Focal length: 45 mm
Aperture: f/8.0
Exposure time: 4 s ("middle" exposure)
ISO: 320
Number of exposures: 5
E.V. Step: 1
Flash used: no
Tripod: no
Filters: no
Software: Magic Lantern 2.3, Photomatix Pro 4.2.6 (Fusion/Natural), Lightroom 4.2, Photoshop CS6
Photomatix Pro settings: download

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23 May 2013

Lightroom Vintage presets

before after

Today I would like to share a bunch of vintage presets for Lightroom 4 (they are also good for Lightroom 5 beta). You can download them here.

You can see example of one of the presets in action in the photo above. I took this photo in Montpellier old town. The After version was developed using Vintage6 preset which you will find in the ZIP. No additional editing work was required apart from sharpening using High Pass filter.

My presets work best for well-exposed (and slightly over-exposed too) outdoor scenes taken in day light. If the scene is too dark (eg. indoors) it might have magenta cast.

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22 May 2013

Carre St. Anne

I'm just back from Montpellier, France. I spent there a few days and I must say I really liked this city. It might be not that impressive as other Mediterranean towns but has very nice atmosphere, beautiful architecture with lovely narrow streets. And fantastic French cuisine around each corner.

Today I would like to share a photo of a church in St. Anne's Square (Carre St. Anne). It's a HDR from just 3 exposures and taken without tripod.

Technical details:
Camera: Canon 50D
Lens: Canon 10-22 f/3.5-4.5 USM
Focal length: 10 mm
Aperture: f/7.1
Exposure time: 1/400 s ("middle" exposure)
ISO: 200
Number of exposures: 3
E.V. Step: 2
Flash used: no
Tripod: no
Filters: no
Software: Magic Lantern 2.3, Photomatix Pro 4.2.6 (Details Enhancer), Lightroom 4.2, Photoshop CS6
Photomatix Pro settings: download

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15 May 2013

Plastic railway station

I'm not a great fan of fake tilt-shift photos but in this case the scene looked so surreal that I just knew I have to create one. This is Atocha Railway Station in Madrid. The building in its current shape was opened in 1892 (the original from 1851 was destroyed in fire). There are many old railway stations but this one is unique - there is a small jungle in the middle of it (you can see it in the photo above). This small tropical forest looks so weird and so surreal that it's really hard to believe your own eyes. The drawback is that it's pretty hot and stuffy inside.

Technical details:
Camera: Canon 5D MK II
Lens: Canon 24-105 f/4 L IS USM
Focal length: 24 mm
Aperture: f/7.1
Exposure time: 1/30
ISO: 800
Number of exposures: 1
E.V. Step: n/a
Flash used: no
Tripod: yes
Filters: circular polarizing filter
Software: Magic Lantern 2.3, Lightroom 4.2, Photoshop CS6

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14 May 2013

Fog at sunrise

Shooting morning fogs is one of the landscape photographers Holy Grails. When I was in Koscielisko in Tatra mountains earlier this year I had some amazing fogs to work with. Most of the time they were too dense in fact what limited photography options. But a few sunrises were really beautiful with clouds lurking in the valleys. As my hotel was about 700 meters above I had a really nice perspective.

This photo is a single photo (no HDR involved). Editing it was straight-forward and very quick. I just used Cloudy white balance and played a little bit with Contrast, Whites, Highlights, Shadows and Blacks sliders to get nice contrast and exposure.

Technical details:
Camera: Canon 5D MK II
Lens: Canon 24-105 f/4 L IS USM
Focal length: 85 mm
Aperture: f/14.0
Exposure time: 1/160
ISO: 100
Number of exposures: 1
E.V. Step: n/a
Flash used: no
Tripod: yes
Filters: no
Software: Magic Lantern 2.3, Lightroom 4.2, Photoshop CS6

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13 May 2013

Follow me

A bit of self-promotion today. As I'm present on a few photography related portals, I would really appreciate it if you could follow me there and comment on my photos. I will try to do the same :)

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12 May 2013

Colourful umbrellas

Today I would like to share another street photo taken in Madrid. There was very long queue in front of Royal Palace despite the fact it was raining heavily. I took the opportunity to capture some of the colourful umbrellas and their reflection in a puddle.

Technical details:
Camera: Canon 5D MK II
Lens: Canon 24-105 f/4 L IS USM
Focal length: 80 mm
Aperture: f/4.0
Exposure time: 1/1250 s
ISO: 800
Number of exposures: 1
E.V. Step: n/a
Flash used: no
Tripod: no
Filters: no
Software: Magic Lantern 2.3, Lightroom 4.2, Photoshop CS6

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11 May 2013

One large bubble

Plaza Mayor in Madrid
Click on the photo to view it in large size on black background.
Although I don't take street photos very often, I just had to capture photo of that huge bubble in the middle of Plaza Mayor in Madrid. I wasn't the only one enjoying the show - the kids all around were just crazily excited when they saw it.

Technical details:
Camera: Canon 5D MK II
Lens: Canon 24-105 f/4 L IS USM
Focal length: 32 mm
Aperture: f/5.0
Exposure time: 1/1250 s
ISO: 800
Number of exposures: 1
E.V. Step: n/a
Flash used: no
Tripod: no
Filters: no
Software: Magic Lantern 2.3, Lightroom 4.2, Photoshop CS6

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10 May 2013

Sunset by the palace

I love golden hours in the city. Last rays of ultra warm light on the buildings almost always result in great images. With Madrid it was sort of different. Most of the interesting buildings are facing wrong direction! Royal Palace isn't an exception. So instead of photographing warm light on it during sunset, I decided to capture some of the sky as well as the sun itself.

To make this photo I took 7 bracketed exposures, merged them to HDR and tone-mapped with Details Enhancer in Photomatix Pro. Some final tweaks to colour and contrast were done in Photoshop CS6 using Luminosity Masks.

Technical details:
Camera: Canon 5D MK II
Lens: Canon 24-105 f/4 L IS USM
Focal length: 28 mm
Aperture: f/16.0
Exposure time: 1/8 s ("middle" exposure)
ISO: 100
Number of exposures: 7
E.V. Step: 1
Flash used: no
Tripod: yes
Filters: no
Software: Magic Lantern 2.3, Photomatix Pro 4.2.6 (Details Enhancer), Lightroom 4.2, Photoshop CS6
Photomatix Pro settings: download

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9 May 2013

Have a rest under the stars - redone



Yesterday above photo was Top 1 for a few hours on 500px portal (if you're there make sure to add me to your friends) reaching 99.7 points and about 4000 views! Although this photo isn't new and I uploaded it earlier here, I think I prefer this new version. I really like magenta cast in it as well as more details in the darkest shadows. This version also benefits from deblurring using Topaz InFocus plugin.

Changing a subject a little bit, a few of my photos have been recently shared on a few websites. Just yesterday 50plusser website featured me, and a few days ago +Miroslav Petrasko added me to his Great Photographers list. Thank you!

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8 May 2013

End of the world

Photographing dramatic skies or light conditions is one of the easiest ways of getting powerful and beautiful image. You just press shutter button, apply a bit of post-processing and you're done :) the only difficult thing is to actually come across such conditions. A lot of patience and a bit of luck is required.

I took this HDR photo in Dahab, Egypt last year.

Technical details:
Camera: Canon 50D
Lens: Canon 10-22 f/3.5-4.5 USM
Focal length: 10 mm
Aperture: f/16.0
Exposure time: 1/200 ("middle" exposure)
ISO: 100
Number of exposures: 5
E.V. Step: 2
Flash used: no
Tripod: yes
Filters: no
Software: Magic Lantern 2.3, Photomatix Pro 4.2.5, Lightroom 4.2, Photoshop CS6

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7 May 2013

Ski lift

Ski lift might be not the most interesting subject. However, I really liked how it looked in the warm morning light. As you can see there was some fog in the valley.

Technical details:
Camera: Canon 50D
Lens: Canon 70-300 f/4-5.6 L IS USM
Focal length: 70
Aperture: f/8.0
Exposure time: 1/400
ISO: 100
Number of exposures: 1
E.V. Step: n/a
Flash used: no
Tripod: no
Filters: no
Software: Magic Lantern 2.3, Lightroom 4.2, Photoshop CS6

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6 May 2013

Thoughts: Think about output not tools

One of the common mistakes is to focus on the tools a bit too much. It's easy because there are so many of them - from hundreds of lenses (both zooms and primes), focal lengths, choices of exposure (both aperture, shutter speed and ISO), filters (neutral density, polarizers, warming or effect filters), tripods etc. during shooting phase. But it gets even worse when you get to the post-processing. Apart from simple tools like contrast or saturation enhancements there are whole workflows which can be considered as tools - HDR, fusion or manual blending being the most interesting for me as landscape/HDR photographer. You can also use various plug-ins like Topaz Adjust or Nik Viveza. Possibilities are virtually endless.

Such a great choice makes it very tempting to try various things hoping that one of them will work brilliantly. And in some cases it will. But it's not always good to leave everything to sheer luck. It's much better to control what you do. It's better to know each of the tools and choose appropriate one for a given situation.

One more problem is that many beginner photographers try some tools just because they are trendy (like HDR or manual blending) without fully understanding what they are really about.

But what you have to bear in mind is that it is not a tool that is important in a creative process. Tool is just a helper, something that can help you in achieving a certain goal. And this goal should be a photo you would like to take. Do you want vibrant colours, dramatic mood, smooth water? Think about what you want to get in your shot. What emotions you would like to show. Then think about what tools would be necessary to create such an effect. For instance for smooth water you would need longer exposures. To get longer exposure you can for example:
  • Use neutral density filter to stop some light,
  • Use slower aperture (eg. instead of f/8.0 you could go with f/16.0).
Both tools will give you longer exposures but please note that they aren't exactly the same. Each filter degrades image quality a little bit. Using slower apertures like f/16.0 in turn gives you bigger depth of field than using f/8.0 but at the same time this aperture might be less sharp than f/8.0 (which is often the sharpest aperture of a lens).

As you see there are often various tools to achieve the same effect. Another example - increasing dynamic range. There are numerous ways of achieving this: you can use gradual density filter (both soft- and hard-edged), you can use HDR and tone-map it, you can use exposure fusion or you can manually blend the bracketed photos. Each of the approaches has its pros and cons (eg. HDR & tone-mapping increases local contrast but might also enhance noise) and you have to decide based on the situation you deal with and what effect you want to achieve.

So summing up - when taking a photo think what you would like to take and then think how you do that. Never reverse this order.

Technical details:
Camera: Canon 5D MK II
Lens: Canon 24-105 f/4 L IS USM
Focal length: 24 mm
Aperture: f/8.0
Exposure time: 2.5 s ("middle" exposure)
ISO: 400
Number of exposures: 5
E.V. Step: 1
Flash used: no
Tripod: yes
Filters: no
Software: Magic Lantern 2.3, Photomatix Pro 4.2.6 (Exposure Fusion), Lightroom 4.2, Photoshop CS6
Photomatix Pro settings: download

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5 May 2013

In the woods

Polish forests are quite dense what makes it quite difficult to get clear landscape shot even with ultra wide-angle lens. However, they are quite good to create shots full of mystery.

There was some fog when I was photographing so I decided to go with the latter. In post-processing I manually blended 5 exposures to restore some of the darkest shadows. Besides I greatly decreased image saturation what resulted in a sepia-like look of this image.

Technical details:
Camera: Canon 50D
Lens: Canon 24-105 f/4 L IS USM
Focal length: 24 mm
Aperture: f/8.0
Exposure time: 1/2 s ("middle" exposure)
ISO: 200
Number of exposures: 5
E.V. Step: 1.0 EV
Flash used: no
Tripod: yes
Filters: no
Software: Magic Lantern 2.3, Lightroom 4.2, Photoshop CS6

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4 May 2013

Morning on Fuerteventura

Today another photo from Fuerteventura island, this one taken during early morning. I used ND8 neutral density filter to smooth water a little bit. This resulted in a very tranquil and calm scene.

Technical details:
Camera: Canon 5D MK II
Lens: Canon 24-105 f/4 L IS USM
Focal length: 28 mm
Aperture: f/8.0
Exposure time: 25 s ("middle" exposure)
ISO: 100
Number of exposures: 5
E.V. Step: 1.0 EV
Flash used: no
Tripod: yes
Filters: ND8 neutral density filter
Software: Magic Lantern 2.3, Lightroom 4.2, Photoshop CS6

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3 May 2013

Forest path

I took this photo of a forest path in Masuria, Poland. It's a manual blend of 5 exposures.

Technical details:
Camera: Canon 50D
Lens: Canon 24-105 f/4 L IS USM
Focal length: 24 mm
Aperture: f/8.0
Exposure time: 1/2 s ("middle" exposure)
ISO: 200
Number of exposures: 5
E.V. Step: 1.5 EV
Flash used: no
Tripod: yes
Filters: no
Software: Magic Lantern 2.3, Lightroom 4.2, Photoshop CS6

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2 May 2013

Apocalypse

I took this photo almost one year ago. Initially I didn't like it but when I was going through the older photos yesterday I thought that it looks sort of cool. The sky was really dramatic, it looked as if some nasty storm was approaching.

Technical details:
Camera: Canon 50D
Lens: Canon 10-22 f/3.5-4.5 USM
Focal length: 10 mm
Aperture: f/16.0
Exposure time: 1/200
ISO: 100
Number of exposures: 5
E.V. Step: 2
Flash used: no
Tripod: yes
Filters: no
Software: Magic Lantern 2.3, Photomatix Pro 4.2.5, Lightroom 4.2, Photoshop CS6

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1 May 2013

Cold morning in Tatra mountains

Another photo from Tatra mountains, Poland. This one was taken during one cold morning. The light was very soft.

In this case I decided to compose the image with several layers - sky, mountains, forests, valley and snow in the foreground. I think it works quite nice.

Technical details:
Camera: Canon 5D MK II
Lens: Canon 24-105 f/4 L IS USM
Focal length: 70 mm
Aperture: f/8.0
Exposure time: 1/200
ISO: 100
Number of exposures: 1
E.V. Step: n/a
Flash used: no
Tripod: no
Filters: circular polarizing filter
Software: Magic Lantern 2.3, Lightroom 4.2, Photoshop CS6

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