Visiting Liverpool

The Entrance to Button Street in Liverpool

The entrance to the area where The Cavern is located.

Liverpool has a strong history in many ways. It has football, shipyard industry and the music to mention a few. The Beatles came out of Liverpool and in particular, one club is known for having the Beatles playing there, and that is the Cavern.

In particular, The Beatles have put a lot of footprints in the Button Street and Mathew Street area, where The Cavern is located. The Cavern as it was back when The Beatles played there, does not exist anymore, due to construction work. But a new Cavern has been built in some of the original areas. Whether that is kind of fake or good enough I think is a subjective matter.

To me, The Cavern was a bit over the top touristic wise, but the rooms were pretty cool and gave an impression of how it might have looked back then.

We went on a Beatles tour too, with our own cab with a knowledgeable guy from Fab4Tours. There is a huge amount of mythology and The Beatles stories. Some are just good stories but have got nothing to do with the real world. Sorting out what is real and what is not, is hard work or impossible work. Fab4Tours have tried to find into the core what supposedly is the truth.

But seeing Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields and how they relate to the songs is quite fantastic.

This photo I shot at the entrance to the party area. It is a 3 shot HDR I shot on my new FujiFilm X100F. Did I mention, that I love that camera?

–Jacob

Fujifilm X100F is a great camera but…

Morning View of Åre Skisport Resort

Åre early in the morning seen from my hotel room.

It was a Fuji X100 that in 2012 was one-half of the cause to start my photo disease. That is the sickness in which one is driven to take the next bold photo.

A lot has happened since 2017. I have moved to first DSLRs and later I included mirrorless cameras. But even the mirrorless cameras are not pocketable, the X100 was.  , but I was very pleased when there was finally a

The X100 had two major limitations, which meant that I didn’t use it terribly much. First of all, the sensor was 12 megapixels, which was only just enough. And not enough for cropping. Second, it only did -1, 0 and +1 in bracketing, which is rarely enough to shoot the HDR scenes that I shoot.

But when the X100F got out, I was happy. Finally – 24 megapixel and -2, 0 and +2 autoexposure bracketing, and still the amazing image quality. I bought it instantly and I love it very much. The smallest camera I have, fast and amazing image quality. I have used that diligently since then.

I shot the image on top, with my X100F from my hotel room in Åre, Sweden. It is a panoramic picture consisting of 3 pictures. I actually had much bigger ambitions with this image than I managed. I would have made a ‘compressed time’ picture, in which I merged pictures together, to show time from when it was completely dark until it was bright.

But, the fantastic little X100F came in short. Funny, because it can easily take time lapse pictures for hours. Even bracketed. The camera also has Manual focus, which works great by the way. First I tried using autofocus, but fair enough, it was nearly pitch dark. The camera could not focus. Instead, I switched to manual focus. But it made a funny mechanical sound after each photo. After having lied in my bed, I eventually got up and checked. All of the images where slightly out of focus.

Then I looked out of the window and thought ‘this is pretty damn nice – I will just shoot a panorama’ – and the result is at the top.

Time compressed photo

A night I picked up my Nikon D800 and put that up for time lapse photography. The good old real DSLR does not play any of the funky electronic games. This image below is 5 hours compressed into one image.

A Mountain Sunset in Sweden

Åre in Sweden in a time compressed photo.

–Jacob

Tour de France will start at Saint Mont Michel

I know! It has been a bit quiet lately on my blog. But don’t worry I am working on some goodies. I am working on my next book, which will cover composition. There are a lot of so-called ‘rules of composition’. As I have grown as a photographer, my understanding of ‘rules of composition’ has changed, and I think I have found a good way of understanding and approaching composition.

I am a late bloomer as a photographer, and I think about everything that I do. I have put in a lot of hard work to get to where I am today,  but it is not longer ago than I can still remember what frustrated me in the beginning. Just like my first book ‘10 Essential Tips for Fine Art Photographers‘ (the 50% discount code “Welcome50” is still active), my new book on composition will be the book that I wanted 4 years ago. It will not only cover some theory on composition but also suggest ready-to-cook compositions, making it possible to go out and shoot a great photo using the recipe.

I believe in that you have to build a foundation before going for more advanced stuff. An important part of that is to learn from what others do, not only from a theoretic point of view but also from a practical ready-to-cook point of view. At least that is my belief.

Anyway, I am working on the book, and will try post a bit on my blog too, but time is not unlimited.

About the photo

I shot this photo a couple of years back at Mont Saint Michel in France. It is one of the most fantastic places I have been to, and it is the photographers wet dream. Recently I learned Tour de France would begin from here this year. What an awesome scenery for a start for the world’s biggest cycling race on the planet.

It is an HDR from -3 to +3. I shot it very late in the evening when people were leaving, and this couple just stood there to get a last look at this magnificent building. The Dynamic range in the scene is incredibly high and difficult to control. The spotlights are so bright, and the shadows so dark, that it got quite difficult to blend them together to and get a good balance in lights and shadows.

–Jacob

Review of Voigtländer SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm III for Sony FE mount

Sunset at Tadre Mill

Sunset at Tadre Mill in Denmark. One of the very first images I shot using my brand new Voigtländer SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm III for Sony FE mount.

I have been waiting for this lens for what seems like AGES. Since I got my Sony A7R two years ago I have been looking for a good wide angle lens solution. I bought the Sony 10-18mm, and though some say you can use it for full frame, I do not agree. It is by far too soft in the corners, and the distortion is a mustache like distortion. And then I can use my Nikon lenses on my Sony cameras, using my Metabones adapter. But neither solution has been satisfactory.

The Metabones adapter has no electronic connection to the Sony camera, and does not transfer the EXIF information, and it does not trigger the focus peaking. Smaller things, and yet still annoying things. The reviews of the first automatic adaptor for Nikon to Sony FE mount, haven’t impressed me.

So Voigtländer SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm III for Sony FE mount is the lens I have been waiting for, along with a native f/2.8 16-35mm.

At the time of writing, the lens is in pre-order most places. But if you like the review, and consider buying the lens, you can support me by using this link and buying it at BHphoto.

Overall remarks

The Voigtländer SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm III for Sony FE mount is a prime full frame format lens. It also fits on APS-C cameras, like Sony A6000 and A6300, only it will be like a 22.5mm lens. Being prime means that it only has one focal length, in this case 15mm.

Continue reading “Review of Voigtländer SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm III for Sony FE mount”

Fascination of Panorama Photos

Roskilde Cathedral Square. A 169 megapixel image stitched from 28 downscaled images.

There is something about panorama photos or stitched photos that fascinate me. It’s a bit like a fisheye lens, that shows the world in a way you can’t see with the naked eye.

A panorama photo serves multiple purposes seen from my perspective. The obvious reason is to include more of a scene in one photo, in a panoramic way.

Another reason is to compensate, for a missing lens. If you haven’t got that really wide angle lens in the bag, shoot two less wide angled images, and stitch them when you get home.

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Hidden Drama in Rome

Colorful Shop

I found this Colorful Shop in Rome.

While we were in Rome we passed this little mini restaurant, street kitchen, kiosk, souvenir shop many times, and at night, it was full of lights.

Just behind this little street shop, there are stairs leading down the Tiber, which is the river winding its way slowly through Rome.

We went down there during the day, to shoot the Castel Sant’Angelo from below. We had the feeling, that it was probably not the safest place in Rome after dark. And yet, we had seen many night shots from down there.

We decided to take the Blue Hour up around the Vatican, and then work our way down here to Castel Sant’Angelo, and take the late blue hour or the first of the night. And then we would make a judgment of the situation. Would it be safe to go down to the Tiber or not.

By the time we got down to this kitchen on wheels, at was a bit darker than we had planned. A few people hung around in the area, and I started the descent of the stairs, looking carefully around.

I didn’t get more than 10 steps down, and the stairs were splashed in what looked exactly like fresh blood, and I turned around. Even if I wanted a photo from down there, I didn’t want it that bad.

Instead, I have been playing around with one of the daytime photos I shot. I don’t like daytime photos that much, and I don’t a lot of them. But what I have come to like, is to put textures on them.

Angels Fortress in Rome

Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome is fascinating. I wouldn’t go as far as claiming that the building is beautiful, but spectacular it is.

The textures take the daylight away, in particular in this one, where I have gone berserk. I have begun to use AuroraHDR. Another neat feature in AuroraHDR is, that it support Textures too. However, my poor old MacBook Air from 2011, didn’t like 5 layers of textures on top of a 36 megapixel HDR.

Fair enough, it adds up in the memory, and my Mac only has 4 Gb, which is far too little to be doing heavy image processing. 8 Gb would have been much better.

When you make textured images, it is important to use several layers of different textures. A single layer will be too dominant and too easy to see ‘what is’.

Textures are typically images of a wall, ground, iron, paper, anything flat, and by using several textures, you get a complex mix, not only of structure but also of colors. And if you can find something, that works nicely together

The trick is to find some textures, that work nicely together, both in colors, and structure. And depending on the image you use, the blending changes, and you find that you have to apply textures that work well with your photo.And if you can find something, that works nicely together

I never apply a texture evenly on an image. I always add a mask and paint in and out the bits I like and don’t like. My primary objects, like the Castel Sant’Angelo in this image, I give a less texture, to enhance it.

If you find my articles interesting and consider getting AuroraHDR, please use the link on my web page and support me that way. I only recommend software and tools that I use.

I am not ‘bought’ to say nice things with sugar on top. I say what I think and feel about products. I get nothing for writing these articles, but I do get a kickback if you use my link to buy AuroraHDR, as well as if you use my 15% discount coupon code “caughtinpixels” for buying Buy Photomatix Pro. Thanks.

If you like my work, why not follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. I post photos daily.

–Jacob Surland

The Weekend Post – AuroraHDR test drive

Little Cottage on the Harbor

The ‘Skerpi’ is a house made of sticks, and put on wheels. The gourmet restaurant ‘Koks’ from the Faroe Islands has this as a pop-restaurant in Copenhagen these days.

For the past week, I have been playing around with AuroraHDR by Trey Ratcliff and Macphun. It’s one of the latest products for creating HDR photos, and I have been pretty excited about getting to know it.

This article covers my first initial impression of AuroraHDR. My overall impression is positive. There are lot’s of good stuff, but there are also a couple of bad bits.

Let’s start with one of the bad bits. It’s Mac… Only… However, Macphun is working on a Windows version, but there is no official date for this yet. Maybe they will brand it under ‘Winphun’? Probably not!

Anyway, I am or was a Windows user, but I do have a MacBook Air 13″ from mid-2011, equipped with an i7 1.8 GHz and 4Gb ram. It was the most powerful MacBook air back then. And this Mac has been my test drive computer.

I think that has been a good exercise and I can give a couple of additional input because I used this older computer.

First run of AuroraHDR

I picked a series of bracketed photos from my latest photoshoot. I exported seven exposures from Lightroom as DNG (Adobe’s device independent RAW format) files, as I always do, and dragged them into AuroraHDR.

Continue reading “The Weekend Post – AuroraHDR test drive”

The Kings Library in Koldinghus

Library in Kings Castle

The Kings Library in Koldinghus.

Sometimes history just is amazing, and one ‘old’ is turned into another ‘old’. Hans Christian Andersen (the author ‘The ugly Duckling” etc) was one of the first, to suggest to preserve the old Koldinghus Castle . In my perception preservation is something you do ‘now’, but of course ‘now’ is ever changing. Hans Christian Andersen suggested this around 1830.

In my World, Hans Christian Andersen is from ancient times, before cars, tv, iPhones and skyscrapers. He suggested preservation around the time when Sydney in Australia was founded. I saw excavations in Sydney uncovering the beginning of the 20th century!

The old castle had it’s time of pride, and one of the most famous kings in Denmark Christian IV spend a large part of his childhood here, that was in the 16th century. However, a terrible fire in 1808 burned half the castle almost to the ground. The castle wasn’t restored until the 1970s.

This magnificient library survived the terrible fire.

–Jacob Surland

Alley Canal in Bruges

Alley canal in Bruges

“Alley Canal in Bruges” made it to 99.6 on 500px.com

A couple of years ago I went to Bruges in Belgium. We were driving to France, and we made a point of going to Bruges to see it.

After a classic Belgium dinner, I went shooting some photos. We stayed in the city centre and I could walk.

There was a change in the weather. All day had been extremely hot and humid, the evening was no better. But while I was out, a light drizzle came and went again.

Bruges is famous, not only for it’s medieval town centre and canals but also for its chocolate. They call it the Chocolate Capital. And if there is something that I like, it is chocolate.

In the morning, the weather had finished changing, and it was a cold morning and the weather stayed cold for the most of the vacation. But I got myself some great photos.

These are couple of other favorites from the same evening.

 

Lamp post

The Famous Bell tower in Bruges. You can see it poking up from many places in the city.

The Little Venice Corner in Bruges

The Little Venice Corner in Bruges.

–Jacob Surland

The Weekend Post: The Three Most Important Tips for Photographers

The old main building of the University of Copenhagen.

This post is The Weekend Post – sign up on the website, to get it on email. Last week I showed how to get two great and yet somewhat different photos, out of one photo. If you missed it, you can find it here.

This week I will dive into three things, that I find very important to improve if you want to improve as a photographer. I will put this into three solid tips, that will improve your photography. It’s not the usual tips, but it’s three things that make a big a difference.

We all know the phrases ‘Composition is everything’, ‘Timing is everything’ and ‘ Light is everything’, and somehow they seem both to work together, and yet still, if they are not contradictory, at they are least not the same thing. So which is right? Well, sort of all three at the same time.

If you have a poor composition, your photo will, no matter what you do to it in the post-processing, not be very successful. I once read that a bad composition is a turd, and no matter what you do in the post-processing, it will still be a turd. I tend to agree, and yet I have some reservations. I believe it’s a balance of several things, the composition being one of them. A weaker  composition, can to some extent be compensated by great light, timing and post-processing, and you will still end up with a successful photo.

Tip #1 Learn to post-process and learn it fast

If you can make everything peak, you will have a stunning photo. If you can get the perfect composition, in the perfect light, with the perfect timing, you will have a perfect photo … IF you know how to process the photo perfectly too. If you do not know how to post-process the ‘perfect photo’, it will never be a winner.

One of the reasons, why I got into photography, and the very essence of “Caught in Pixels” is the realization, that an SOOC (Straight Out Of Camera) photo usually is not interesting. It is the post-processing, that brings a photo to life. No matter how good your composition, light and timing is, if the photo has a poor processing, everything falls apart. The post-processing is the glue that ties everything together. And the better post-processing, the stronger is the glue.

Far too many people, think that extreme processing makes a good photography, but it doesn’t. If you want to have success with your photography, you need to have control of post-processing and have it on a (tight) leash. Have a look at this photo, in a badly processed version, and afterwards in a good processing.

Bad processing 2

An example of a poorly processed photo. This is a 30 second processing process. It almost hurt my eyes to look at this, and they keep floating around searching for focus points.

And now the exactly same photo, just processed competently.

The same photo processed in a good way. This is a 2-3 hour processing process. This one is much more peaceful, and the eyes wander straight to the pulpit.

In the first version of the photo, is a classically badly processed HDR. And it is that kind of processing, that has given HDR photos a bad reputation. It is too much of everything, and the depth is completely gone, because everything seems equally important. If everything is enhanced, nothing is enhanced.

You might be able to see, that a strong photo and composition is behind the bad processing, but a poor processing takes the away the quality of the photo. In the first version, the first thing that comes into my mind, is ‘too much, too much of everything’. In the second version, there is a much stronger balance in the photo, and this is the difference.

I have often received the comment “Normally I don’t like HDR photos, but I like this one you have made'”. Of course, this makes me happy, but it also makes me think. I have received that kind of comment, where I think I have knocked myself out in HDR, and gone quite extreme, like in this one from Copenhagen Central station:

A heavyly processed HDR photo, with the award “I dont’ like HDR, but I like this one”.

Why that comment is given to the photo of Central station in Copenhagen, does make me wonder. HDR apparently divides people into two groups, those who like it, and those who hate it. And yet, some of the people, who are dedicated haters of HDR, still likes photos like mine. Even if I have done an extreme HDR processing. Why? I think it is because I have kept a foot in the real world, and I don’t have a lot of classical processing mistakes.

There hundreds of ways I could have processed it, and another person could have processed the photo in yet another hundred ways, and anyway would have made it to a successful photo. The way I did it, I just made it mine. I keep depth in the photo, by controlling highlights and shadows. I play with them, and enhance some, and flatten others, but I don’t enhance everything, and that is an important part.

If I had released the photo from Copenhagen central station, in a crazy psychedelic HDR processing, like the one from the cathedral above, this would never have received any appraisal from an HDR hater. It would have been categorized as ‘a typically HDR’. HDR is not a synonym for bad post-processing, but unfortunately, there are tons of badly processed HDR photos out there.

A large part of my game is HDR, but it is generally applicable. You need to learn to do proper post-processing, to make quality photos.

It requires more than pressing a button or perhaps even investing 30 seconds on processing images, to create something, that is pleasing to more people, even people who are declared ‘haters of HDR photography’. That is because the quality of the HDR photos increases, by doing proper post-processing.

Learn post-processing and learn it fast. It’s one of the most important factors. Do not rely on ‘press a button’ processing. In these Instagram and Snapseed days, everyone can do that. Don’t be everyone else. Be yourself!

Learn to post-processing, and learn it fast. Be yourself… No, you will not make nearly as many photos in the same time, but wouldn’t you rather make high-quality photos? I know I would.

Quality is everything!

I believe that is the truth. It is a much more complex matter, than ‘light is everything’ or ‘composition is everything’. It is about the quality of the photo, and light and composition are factors in this equation, but they can not stand alone. Quality is to an extent a subjective matter, but there are also many objective elements. One of them being, bad processing doesn’t fly.

Tip #2 Learn to listen to that little voice inside your head

What you have to do, when making a photo is to strive to get as high a quality as possible. This begins, when you grab your camera, to go out shooting, and goes through many different steps, until you finally stop post-processing, because it is finished.

As time passes by, and your overall skills improve, something else happens. A small voice in the back of your head appears. It says, ‘is that good enough?‘. It happens when you are post-processing your photos, but also when you are shooting photos. No matter where you hear it, you should pay attention to it.

The first time I was seriously aware of that little voice was when I did this shot. First I did the one on the left, and the little voice said ‘You are almost there, you are on the right track, just move the camera a bit‘. I heard that little voice, and three shots later, I had the composition working my way.

Listen to that little voice

Moving the camera a bit to the left, and a bit down, as my little voice suggested to me, makes the difference between a nice shot and a killer shot. It was the last but one shot, I shot that morning, because the Sun came out too strong only a few minutes later and had I not listened to the voice, I would not have gotten this photo.

The same goes when you post-process you photos. Learn to listen to that voice saying ‘ahh, is that contrast just over the top?‘ or ‘something is missing in that area!‘ It takes some practice to be able to hear this little voice, but it is usually right. It is about finding a balance, that works well with a photo, no matter if you are aiming at something natural looking or you are aiming, at something more surreal. It has to be balanced nicely.

A classic mistake made by novice photographers, diving into post-processing, is to be too drastic in the post-processing. Too much HDR effect, too much Contrast, too much Clarity or too much saturation. We have all been novices, and have made all the same mistakes. And it is by listening to that little voice, in the back of our heads, that we improve.

There is nothing wrong, by going a little bit crazy, and wild. You just need to balance it in the photo. The sunrise photo, has a crazy wild processing too, but it is only applied locally. And it is a very strong element in the equation, that gives the image a high quality.

In most cases, global adjustments (saturation, contrast etc) to a photo is not enough, to make a photo reach its full potential. I am tempted to say that the whole difference, between a successfully processed photo and a less successfully processed photo, is the ability of the photographer to apply changes locally, accordingly to what is necessary.

This might be a little bit abstract, but in the photo above, I did a lot of standard processing, but what knocks this photo into being something special, is the heavy enhancement of the jetty.

Local processing

The jetty is heavily processed. The exposure has been increased, and a 100% clarity pen and some detail enhancement from a Topaz Adjust filter have been applied to the jetty. Had I applied those effects globally to my photo, it would have been ruined the balance, due to over processing, but applied to just the jetty is amazing. And it is the little voice in the back of my head that suggests that, and I listen to it.

The little voice in the back of your head will eventually begin to say ‘that does not look too interesting, can we either enhance or hide it?‘ or ‘this is the important element, it needs to be popped!‘. What is important is that you, listen to that little voice, when it speaks. The little voice is your intuition, and the intuition is MUCH stronger than the rest of your conscious brain.

Learn to listen to that little voice saying ‘ahh is that composition or processing good enough?’ Usually, that little voice is right, it’s you sub-conscience, and it is much more powerful than the rest of your brain. Learn to listen to it, and act on it, to improve your photography. You learn from making mistakes, but only if you notice you make them!

Learn from your mistakes. Your little voice points out your mistakes, listen to it! And learn from it.

Tip #3 Learn to separate the good photos from the bad photos

I have more than 100.000 photos in my library. Even if some are series of 3, 5, 7 or 9 HDR photos, it is still a lot of different photos. I don’t have time enough, to process all of them, not yet anyway, but not all are worth processing either. If I was to try to process them all, I would not have enough time at all.

Since I don’t have the time, to process all photos, I should only focus on the ones resulting in quality photos. Not all can be killer shots, but certainly above my personal minimum level of quality.

One of the pitfalls I regularly fall into is that I try to process a photo, that is clearly never going to turn out any good. This is something, I have seen other photographers do too. For some reason these photos attract us, I know I am attracted to them because I see them as problems that need to be solved and I love to solve problems. But some problems are just unsolvable or extremely time-consuming to solve, and I end up wasting valuable time, with mediocre results.

A photo might not be worth processing for many different reasons. It could be the clouds that are boring, the wrong time of the day, or even wrong time of the year or simply, that the composition has failed. Some of these things are fixable, and some are not.

Train yourself in identifying the photos worth processing. I use a star system in Lightroom.  When I imporort new photos, into my catalog I rate them 3 stars.

0 stars: Not in the evaluation process

1 star: I will not look at this photo again.

2 stars: Maybe on a rainy day, but probably never.

3 stars: Unevaluated.

4 stars: Has potential

5 stars: Ready to process.

Often I have a lot of different, and yet similar compositions, and picking the strongest ones, takes a bit practice, but it is worth spending that time. You learn a lot from evaluating your own photos.

Sometimes, when you have evaluated your photos, you can see, that if you had moved the camera, or it had been shot at a different time of the day or year, it would have been a better photo. And sometimes, you have the option to actually go back and reshoot. Put the photos in a folder for reshooting, not to forget.

Don’t work too long on ‘not good enough’ photos, you just waste valuable time. If you have the option, go back and reshoot, and that way you will learn from your mistakes. Or move on to other photos, just being able to stop yourself, is learning too.

There is a lot of satisfaction, as well as a lot of learned lessons, gained from going back and reshooting a location, and doing everything right. The right timing and the right composition, and going back home to do the right processing.

This last example shows an example of, how I deliberately went back to shoot a specific scene. When I was there in May and everything was green and just too green. Grass, fields, trees, everything was just green and then more green. Instead, I returned not long before the harvest, when the fields had turned yellow and I reshot. The Sun was in a different location at sunset, and I had to move into the field, to get the Sun behind the trees in the far background. This allowed me to use the tracks in the field as leading lines.

 

Going back and reshoot

The photo on the right couldn’t have been shot in May, even if the sunset was nice in May, and it was nice. This I could do, because this is pretty close to where I live, and I can just go there.

If you are travelling, you might not have the option to go back, and yet you still might have. I often travel to cities, and as it turns out, you often pass the different locations more than once. Often during the day as well as night. What I have begun to do, is to shoot daytime photos, and review them, and then go back and reshoot early in the morning or in the evening. This way, I get some ‘practising’ time.

Doing this, saves me time later, because the sorting processes will be easier, simply because I have less photos, trying to find the best composition.

Summary

These three tips require something of you, but photography does! You can not improve your photography, if you do not put some kind of work into it. There is no silver bullet, only sweat. Some of the things, might come easier to some of you, while others have to work harder. But eventually, if you work hard enough, you can succeed.

These three tips, will make you a better photographer, and remember a photographer is not only, about being in the field. It is also about bringing a photo to life in the post-processing. And because, it is only you, who does things the exact same way, as you do, you will get your own style, in time.

–Jacob Surland