Offshoot at Glendalough with Peter Gordon
Last Saturday, Offshoot organized a members’ workshop at Glendalough with renowned landscape photographer Peter Gordon who teams up with his dad as Explore the Light – and he’s fairly handy on big days out as well!
Twenty of us arrived at dawn at the eastern end of the Upper Lake with lenses fixed and tripods drawn! Peter demonstrated the use of graduated, polarizing and neutral density filters to keep detail in the sky, reduce reflections, and to smooth out the water. The next shot is my favourite from here and naturally Glendalough’s “special stick” made an appearance – it’s even been known to magically move according to the rule of thirds or the golden mean as compositionally required :-)
I exposed this shot for 15 seconds at f11 and ISO 100 at 20mm using my Canon 17-55 EFS lens - an exposure this long was possible in the low light levels before sunrise. I had my circular polarising filter on the camera when I took it but I rotated it so that it did not remove the reflection from the lake surface - this made the stick more prominent.
As the light increased after sunrise, a “big stopper” is required to lengthen the exposure enough to smooth the water – some of our group had the Lee 10 Stop Neutral Density filter, while Peter prefers B&W’s 6 stop filter. I don’t have one of these yet – so head on over to the Offshoot Flickr group to see the results of these shots, especially Olive’s example here, taken about 15 minutes after sunrise.
In my shot, I used daylight white balance to keep the colours as they were at the time – about 20 minutes before sunrise. As landscape photographer David Noton says:-
“If the light is cool and blue I'll not interfere. If the rays are warm and golden I want them to look as such. Who am I to interfere with Mother Nature?”
I also set the “picture style” on my Canon 7D to the “landscape” option and both of these settings usually produce an image fairly close to how I saw it. Of course, when shooting in RAW, you may say it doesn’t matter what white balance or picture style I choose because these only affect JPEGs and I can change RAWs anyway I want in Lightroom. That's true, BUT setting them on the spot gives me two advantages. Firstly, the JPEGs on the camera’s LCD will be washed out if I use auto white balance, making it harder to judge if I have captured the scene properly*. Secondly, in my Lightroom import preset for landscapes, I have already chosen (i) the “As Shot” option in the White Balance panel, AND (ii) the “Camera Landscape” setting in the Camera Calibration panel – both of these are in Lightroom's right hand develop menu. As Lightroom generates the previews of my imported images using these settings, it produces a close approximation of the camera’s LCD images. Furthermore, when I match these settings on the camera and in Lightroom, there is no disconcerting change in the appearance of the image when it is imported. Remember that, even when you shoot in RAW, you can’t see RAW images, only JPEGs as rendered by your camera or computer based on the inputs you set. So, if you don’t specify in advance how you want your JPEGs to look, they may differ considerably between the camera and the computer. Of course with a RAW image to start with, you can deal with these mismatches and change the image radically from the original Canon appearance according to your taste. I just prefer a consistent starting point on both the camera and the computer that is close to the scene as I saw it – an approach that also speeds up my workflow.
*[I mentioned above that use of auto white balance may cause washed out colours on the LCD, particularly at dawn and dusk. Even with daylight white balance, however, you would still get washed out LCD images if you use the “expose to the right” technique to reduce digital noise in the shadow areas of your shot – so the trick is to get everything looking right on the LCD with a normally exposed image - then push up the exposure until the histogram moves to touch the right hand edge – or even slightly climbs the right hand wall. This takes advantage of the of the extra stop or so of dynamic range in RAW images. My rule of thumb is that small areas of blown highlights as shown by the blinkies will be OK in landscapes - however I would always avoid blinkies in skin areas of portraits. Finally, if you are using your LCD in this manner particularly in low light conditions, you may to turn down its brightness.]
After we finished at the lake edge, our next stop was the nearby stream below the Poulanass Waterfall where the now overcast conditions were ideal to do some silky water photography as shown in the above four shots. For these, I chose my Canon 70-200mm f4 lens because I thought getting in close on the rocks would be good – but also because there were lots of us around the stream, so wide angle shots wouldn’t work. The settings were ISO 100 & f11, with exposures - again on the tripod - of between half & one second. The focal lengths of between 113 and 200mm. For these shots, I did use the circular polariser to reduce reflections from the rocks and to increase the exposure time. In Lightroom, I worked the tone sliders to avoid blowing out the whites in the water and bring out the detail and colours of the rocks. I also bumped up the vibrance and clarity. I also modified the daylight white balance towards the blue end to bring out the blue tones in the water.
After, finishing with the rocks I worked my way up the stream and saw this stick stuck at the bottom of the waterfall - a different one from the lake! I tried a number of compositions and zooms and I liked this tight framing best. Then I decided to do a horizontal flip to see if would look better with the stream flowing left to right – and when I was looking at the two versions side by side I suddenly saw that they would look really interesting if I combined them in Photoshop. In the the end I made two versions, one with the left hand edge in the middle and one with the right hand edge in the middle. I can’t decide which I prefer – so I’d be interested in your opinion in the comments.
That's it for now, I hope to do another post on this trip when I've tried out Peter's processing strategies that he demonstrated to us later in the day.
Keywords: Glendalough, John Coveney, Peter Gordon, Poulanass Waterfall, composite, graduated filter, green, long exposure, photography, polarising filter, rocks, silky, stick, stream, water", white balance
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