Category Archives: Landscape

The Many Faces of Lake Moogerah

I discovered Lake Moogerah by accident. I was driving towards Warwick, a city located southwest of Brisbane, when I stumbled upon this magical place. Since then, I have been camping and taking photos of the location. The spot never disappoints. I would always find something new every time I visit.

For the past two weeks I have shot Lake Moogerah twice and I could not help but wonder how quickly it changes. There is no better way to show that than by giving sample shots of this beautiful place.

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That’s Lake Moogerah during sunset when the sun is just kissing the horizon. A few minutes later, the warm light is replaced by fiery clouds:

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If you stayed until it gets dark and waited for the moon to rise, you’ll get warm light again. This one is when the moon is just above the horizon:

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At close to 11PM when the moon is high above the sky, you’ll get much cooler colours and it looks something like this:

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Notice the stars hiding behind the clouds. ­čÖé

And that’s Lake Moogerah in four shots.

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Easiest Way to Get a Good Shot

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Here is a very simple tip if you want to capture nice photos: find ONE subject and isolate it from everything else. That’s it.

Why do you think that shallow depth-of-field portrait shots look nice? It’s not just because of the creamy/blurry background but because shallow DoF isolates the subject from any background distraction. If the background is simple and non-distracting you do not need shallow DoF to get a good portrait shot. Studio shots, where the photographer has full control of the environment, are normally shot at f/5.6 or f/8 or even f/16 because the subject is already isolated.

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The main reason why n00bish shots look crap is because beginners tend to cram everything into the frame. This one goes especially to the n00b landscape photographers who would sell their kidneys just to get the widest lens possible. They want it ultra-mega-wide so they could include EVERYTHING in the frame. That’s the quickest way to get a crappy shot. STOP.

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Find a subject that you like and have a really good look at it then ask yourself: what is it with this subject that I really like? Is it the entire subject or just some parts of it? Is it because the subject is in a particular environment? If you can’t answer those simple questions then your shot will look crap.

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Once you find your subject, concentrate on it. Isolate it from everything. You may have to zoom in or get closer to your target. Do everything you can to single out the subject then take the shot. Now check your LCD and assess if you like your framing. If you think that it’s too empty or too simple then find something that will complement the subject. Zoom out or get into a different angle. Just make sure, when you do want to include more elements in the frame, that they will enhance the subject and NOT conflict with it.

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So again, the quickest way to get a nice shot is to pick ONE subject and make sure that nothing else is in the frame. Go out and try it. You’ll thank me.

In Search of Sunlight

It’s been a while since I last posted anything in this blog. I have lots of excuses to back it up though: Firstly, there’s work that gets in the way when the weather seemed to be ideal for a photoshoot. Of the few times that the weather seemed to cooperate, I am assigned┬áto do 24/7 on-call shifts ­čśŽ ┬áThen there’s another hobby of mine that has been competing with photography: music. I was gigging around Brisbane before I shifted into photography. It was my day job that required me to fly all around Australia to conduct trainings and do consultancy work and it was because of this that I had to quit my band. Travel was taking its toll and I needed something that would sustain me and keep me excited. And so I decided to take photos. Photography betrayed my music and now it was payback time for my guitar.

When the Christmas holiday season started, I still could not shoot. I already had two gigs booked which required me to learn about 20 songs, most of which I have not heard and played before. But that’s over and, as always, the bad weather strikes again whenever I am free to shoot.

The weather forecast tells me it’s going to be stormy for at least 10 days. By then, my holiday break would soon be over. Heck, the year would soon be over. Yesterday I decided to make a suicide run.

I know it was going to be very gloomy so I had to pick a subject that would work well on overcast weather conditions. Water falls and creeks come to mind but I find them to be uncertain and dangerous especially with the non-stop rain. I chose to shoot flowers.

With my gummy boots and trusty weather-sealed Olympus EM-5 camera and 12-50 kit lens pair, I made a two-hour suicide drive into unknown weather conditions. The destination was a small town called Allora where I’m supposed to find sunflower fields. The Willy Weather iPhone app told me that rain is expected during the morning and afternoon so I started driving at 10AM hoping to get there by mid day. Mid day is usually bad for landscape photography but the overcast skies should give me the soft light that I needed for the flower shots.

I got there at exactly 12 noon but I could not find any sunflowers. There was a tourist drive called sunflower route but it seemed like they have already harvested the sunflowers. After an additional 10kms of driving I finally found acres of sunflower fields. What’s really surprising was that this field was unfenced. It is quite rare here in Australia to have something like this that is totally unfenced and I did not see any “No Trespassing” sign anywhere. I parked along the shoulder road and started framing shots. After about 20 frames, I called it a day and started the long drive home.

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Such is the beauty and frustration of landscape photography. You go into the unknown hoping that you would return with some decent shots. In my case, a four-hour drive and a late 3PM lunch got me four frames that I thought were good enough. No, I am not really happy about them but this is better than nothing. I haven’t shot for a few months and I needed to break the spell.

That’s it for me. (Belated) Merry Christmas and may all of you have a prosperous 2015!

Shooting the Moon

How could something so simple be so difficult to shoot? If anything, the photos I will be posting here are examples of my failure to get a moon shot that I’m happy with. Let this be a lesson of how NOT to shoot the moon LOL!

I mean if all you ever want to do is shoot the moon directly then it’s easy: Get your longest lens then use the sunny f/16 rule and overexpose by a stop. But that’s boring. Every photo of the moon that was captured in this manner looks exactly the same so what’s the point other than showing off your long lens? Let’s consider then something more challenging and exciting…

How about adding an interesting foreground? If this is what you want then timing is everything. You would want to shoot when the moon is rising while it’s not yet completely dark. Why is this? Remember that the moon is directly lit by the sun so the sunny f/16 rule applies. Depending on atmospheric conditions, you’d probably want to overexpose it by a stop or two so a good approximation is ISO 100, f/11, 1/125s. With these settings, your foreground will be severely underexposed when the sun is well below the horizon. If you expose for the foreground, you will overexpose the moon. This is what happens:

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One way of approaching this problem is by making two separate shots: one to expose for the foreground and another to expose for the moon. Careful though because you don’t want the sky to look too different. Since you’re doing composites anyway, you might as well zoom in at the moon. I think I shot the foreground too wide in this one so the moon looks unusually large. Note that the moon is also a bit overexposed because the correct exposure would have resulted in a darker sky and caused halos when superimposed over the foreground shot.

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Another thing you would have to consider is that when you include a foreground it will need to be very far otherwise it would fall outside the depth of field and look blurry. You can’t just use a small aperture because you will end up in a longer exposure and result in a blurry moon due to subject movement. The moon moves quite fast especially when using long lenses. A far foreground also means that it will have to be tall enough to cover your framing angle. So here’s what happens when your foreground isn’t far and tall enough:

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Note the grainy shots. This is what happens when it’s too dark. I had to push the ISO to freeze the blood moon and to expose the foreground properly.

Lastly, here’s my most recent attempt to shoot the August 10 supermoon:

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I made a stupid rookie mistake. I didn’t realise that my camera was set to auto ISO until much later. That’s ISO 800 with my Olympus E-M5. I do have low ISO shots but they were shot much later when it was already too dark and the magenta tint in the sky was already gone. They weren’t worth processing at all. It would have been the ideal time for a shoot because moonrise was just ten minutes after sunset. There was enough ambient light for my foreground rocks to balance the luminance of the moon. It was so frustrating.

Shooting the moon is my nemesis. If you guys have better tips then please share them below.

Shooting In JPEG

Ask any experienced photographer and, aside from a very few (Ken Rockwell comes to mind), they will always tell you to shoot in RAW instead of JPEG. That is actually good advice but it’s not for everyone.

To make full use of raw files, you are expected to be reasonably good at post processing. Depending on how much time you have in your hands, learning how to shoot and how to process your images at the same time will definitely slow you down. Beginners in photography are better off spending more time shooting instead of sitting in front of a computer. I would advise them to shoot in JPEG instead because it does not require much processing.

To give an example, I will use one of my recent shots which I took using my Sony NEX6. I shot in RAW+JPG mode just for comparison. I know that the light is going to be tricky for this night shot and that I may have to push the shadows in post later on. I intentionally underexposed the image because it was a night shot afterall. Leaving the camera by itself to judge the exposure will render the image much brighter than intended and will ruin the mood. It was a beautiful twilight and the sky had a wonderful display of colours. I wanted to capture the fantastic magenta so I set the white balance to daylight otherwise the camera will think that there is too much red in the scene and it would shift the balance towards green.

Here is the JPEG image as captured straight from the camera:

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I’m quite happy with the composition. The camera has done a good job of capturing what I saw that time. Twilight is typically a low contrast situation. You could choose to increase the contrast in camera but doing so will only bury the scene in deeper shadows. Bottomline is, reality is quite dull and boring. The raw file is even worse: contrast is very low, colours are dull, there is too much barrel distortion from the kit lens and then there’s vignetting.

I went through my shots for that day just to see if there is something worth processing. There wasn’t much to go through anyway. For every hour of shooting I normally produce between 20 to 30 frames. I think before I shoot and if I like what I see in the LCD I would take 2 or 3 more of the same angle for safety. I tried processing some of the raw files in Lightroom but I could not come up with something that I liked so after a few minutes I decided to turn off my computer.

The day after, I got bored so I opened my iPad and decided to try processing my shots in Snapseed. It is a very simple app. Every beginner should install it. In just 5 minutes I managed to transform the JPEG image above into this:

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The difference is obvious but subtle. It’s practically just a few contrast adjustments, a gentle shadow push and a bit of sharpening. I also cropped the image a tiny bit to remove that white mark on the ground that can be seen on the lower left portion of the original shot.

The point is that if you start with a good image, a JPEG capture is all you will ever need. You do not need to perform heavy post processing that a JPEG file might not be able to handle. Thing is, if you have to spend hours tweaking a raw image then it probably means that you spent too little time thinking about the shot.