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 – How to use Select Color Range

Trailing Again

This photo ‘Trailing Again’ is shot in London.

This post is The Weekend Post – sign up on the website, and get it on email. Last week’s post was my hThree most important tips for photographers. If you missed it, you can read it here.

This Weekend post is a ‘The Making of…’ post. Something that I will regularly be doing in my Weekend Posts. I show how I made the image ‘Trailing again’, on a request from Steve Evans, who wanted to know how I made it.

This photo (and the title indicates it) is actually version 2 of a photo.

Normally, I don’t go back and make changes to an already published photo, but sometimes I do, and the reason usually is, that there is something nagging me, about the image.

In this case, there was, but I didn’t find the solution until I got some feedback from my mentor Robin Griggs Woods, and she was spot on my pain. She showed me an easy way to solve the problem, using the Select Color Range and Colorize. I will get back to that later.

While I was at it and had the patient cut open, I enhanced the futuristic look of this photo further.

Trailing

The originally posted ‘Trailing’.

This particular evening in London gave very smog orange looking photos, and I did not like that. This is the original shot:

Trailing Original

The photo is 5 shot HDR series ranging from -2 to +2, which I processed as I typically would treat an HDR.

I put the five original photos into Photomatix Pro, and create first one tone mapped image, and then a second tone mapped image (see this article How to make double tone mapped images the details).

I know that Photomatix has a lot of bad publicity among photographers, but I believe that it is one of the strongest High Dynamic Range tools on the market, but it is a bit like a Ferrari, you have to learn how to drive it. How do you get the good stuff? And how you avoid the bad stuff? If you learn to control Photomatix, you can get awesome results using it.

Trailing - the making of step 1

I blend the layers to a coherent image, with a mood, look and feel that I like.

What I like about Photomatix, is that it is very flexible, and I can often create the mood that I like. I don’t always use Photomatix, but I almost always give it a try.

The double tone mapped image has a very strong effect, and applying it globally on the picture, would look terrible, but using it locally on the stairs and the tiled pathway works well. This choice turns out to be an important factor in creating this futuristic style.

I don’t know what a photo should look like before I start, at least not when it’s an extreme one like this one. I feel little bit like Alice tumbling down the Rabbit hole when I make a photo. I see what I get from Photomatix, get an idea and move from there to the next idea. Other tools will give me more ideas along the way, and this way, a photo develops.

Problems that arise, I solve as they show themselves.

Typically I try various effects and presets to get ideas, but what is important in my workflow, is that ‘I never use a full press-a-button-effect‘. I always apply effects locally, and often only in much less than a 100%. This takes a little longer, but it is worth the while.

Sometimes I end up with using less than 10-20% of the tone mapped image from Photomatix. Typically I use probably somewhere between 40-60% of the tone mapped image.

You could ask, why I include it in the first place if I don’t use more than that? My answer would be that it is an important part of the magic, and you can tell, if it is not there. It does make a difference.

The first step was to blend the seven photos to get an overall working photo (two from Photomatix and five original shots). The second phase was to optimize the sky and the railing.

The railing I made more gray, but the sky proved to be a real problem. I tried to find a proper color balance for, that would match the rest of the image.

After trying for a long time, I ended up with this version, and I was not 100% happy with the sky. It nagged me.

Trailing - the making of step 2

This is how I ended up, with the first version of the image. The sky had an magenta sort of hue to it.

The problem with this image is that the sky doesn’t play too well with the colors in the rest of the picture. I tried many things, including making it go completely gray, but that didn’t work either.

How to change color in the sky using Select Color Range

Later I learned, during a critique that was given to me by my mentor Robin Griggs Woods, what the solution to the sky was. There’s a lot bluish and cyan colors in vast areas of the image. If the sky contained some blue or cyan instead of magenta, it would play along in a much better way. And she showed an easier way to change the colors of the sky than I had been using earlier.

I took the first version into a new Photoshop file and worked from there.

Step 1 – Create a Hue/Saturation Adjustment layer

The first step is to create the layer, which will modify the colors in the sky. I use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer for that.

Trailing - the making of step 3 - Color adjustment layer

Step 2 – Use the Select Color Range tool

I only want to apply the color changes to the sky, and there are many ways to select the sky, but one of the faster and easier ways for this case is to use Select Color Range tool in Photoshop. This tool will let allow you to select areas having a particular color range, applied with some fuzzy algorithm. It does a fantastic job of it.

Trailing - the making of step 4 - Find the Select Color range

The tool itself shows a mask, and when I click in the sky, I can see that some of the masks will turn white. What is white, is what my Hue/Saturation adjustment layer, will target.

The task is to use this tool, to select to all of the sky, and by pressing SHIFT and keep pressing SHIFT, I can click more places and the selection increases. I collect samples this way.

The two sliders ‘Fuzziness’ and ‘Range’ I can slide from left to right, and if I do that, Photoshop changes how it calculates what to select, based on the samples I have made.

Trailing - the making of step 5 - Select Color range

There is no precise way of doing this, and it’s a triangle of the sampled areas, fuzziness, and range. Try moving them around, and find the best selection you can. In the case of this sky, it was fairly simple. When you are happy, click OK, and the mask will be put on the Adjustment Layer.

Step 3 – Changing the color of the sky

The next step is to change the color of the sky.

The mistake I had made when I made the first version was that I tried to change the individual colors in the Hue/Saturation panel, and it quickly got complicated to get something that looked nice.

Double click the small “Hue/Saturation” icon on the layer and I open the panel.

I then click the checkbox “Colorize”, which will make the layer monochrome, but with with a color overlay. And because we made the mask for the sky, only that area will be affected.

Just by clicking it, the default color is switched on, and I get a purple sky.

Trailing - the making of step 6 - Change the color

There are three sliders:

Hue: Changes the hue and by dragging it back and forth you can see the colors change. I want to search for something in the bluish section.

Saturation: This changes the saturation. I don’t wish to have a highly saturated sky so that I will look at the lower end of the scale.

Lightness: This controls the how bright or dark the layer should be. Again, it is late at night, and I will be searching in the dark area.

Trailing - the making of step 7 - My color of choice

After searching for a short while, I found the right balance of blue, saturation and lightness. I made smaller changes to the mask along edges, primarily around the lambs, to make the new color work seamlessly with the photo. I used the brush for that.

At this point, I now had a photo, similar to my version 1, but with a sky that worked together with the rest of the image, but I still wanted to try one more thing.

Step 4 – Adding the Orton Effect

The Orton Effect can add a dreamy blurry and yet still sharp effect to the photo (you might want to read my tutorial on the Orton Effect). The Orton Effect can sometimes add a magic touch, and in this case, it did in the same areas as I used the double tone mapped image (the tiled pathway and the stairs). You can see the change here:

Trailing - the making of step 8 - Orton effect

To create the Orton Effect I need two extra duplicated layers.

The first layer must be a merged version of all the layers. I don’t want to delete the layers, and there is a secret key combination for doing this. I haven’t found it in the menus, but it is one of the features I use the most in Photoshop.

I make sure that I am on the top layer, and then I use the secret key combination SHIFT + CTRL + ALT + E (on Mac SHIFT + CMD + ALT + E).

I get a merged layer, but without deleting the original layers.

The second copy I get just by pressing CTRL + J (on Mac CMD + J).

Trailing - the making of step 8 - Orton effect creating it

I then change the Blend mode to Overlay on the new top layer, and I use Gaussian Blur to blur the layer just below the top layer. The amount of blur I choose changes what the Orton Effect looks like, and I search for something that looks good.

I then place the two layers in a group, and add a black layer (CTRL + I / CMD + I will invert a white mask to a black mask) mask to that group, and then I paint in the Orton Effect where I want it, to the extent I want it.

If you look at the layer called “Orton Effect” you can see, the black areas and they will get no Orton Effect. That is the rail that doesn’t get any while the tiles and stairs get almost a full dose of Orton.

And that is the story of how I tumbled down the rabbit hole to the final result.

I needed some feedback to get the final idea.

It is always good to find someone you can ask for feedback. That could be a community or someone you know. I often ask my wife or my son for feedback, and they often give valuable feedback, that I can use.

–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

The Weekend Post: How to create two images from one image

The Dungeon

“The Dungeon” created from the cloister at Chester Cathedral.

This post is the first in my new series of posts, which is called ‘The Weekend Post’. It is a post, that contains something good about post-processing or photography in general. It is more, than just “Hey, this is my latest photo”. If you don’t want to miss this series of posts, sign up on the website, and get it directly to your mailbox. If you have any particular topic, you want to cover, do not hesitate to ask me.

I am no good at painting and drawing, but I always liked to do it. For years, I haven’t painted or drawn anything, but my photography, or rather my post-processing, stimulates the same part of my brain (and heart for that matter). I always strive to get something out of my images, something that wasn’t there, when I shot it. Something that I create during the post-process. I see my RAW files as my oil and canvas, and I work from there.

Some photos have a lot of potentials, others don’t. The photos I get a kick out of processing, are the ones, that come out quite different, than what they looked like, and still look good. You can knock yourself over on the wrong side of the road if you just go crazy. I try not go crazy, but I do experiment a lot. My aim is to add some etherealness, something otherworldly, something surreal and perhaps even painterly to my photos in my photos. That is what gives me a kick.

Not two photos are alike, and they deserve individual post-processing. I am not in the ‘click on a button’ processing business because it is the post-processing that I love most. It is the post-processing that sparkles my creativity, it is the post-processing that resembles painting the most. And I did love to paint.

I have a chest full of tricks, tools, ideas and methods that I apply to my photos. I use the problem-solving part of my brain for creating images. I see all photos as problems, that needs to be solved, because, I am pretty good at solving problems.

Let’s walk through the photo from this post. What I started out with, was this photo:
The Dungeon Unprocessed

The unprocessed 0-exposure. Not a very interesting light, and yet it had potential.

The shot is a 3-shot HDR photo shot with my Sony A6000 in Chester Cathedral. The Cathedral is HUGE and in connection to the Cathedral itself, there is built a cloister like you find in monasteries, around a garth. However, that cloister had Christmas trees, and other objects, that I didn’t want in my photo. However, there wasn’t any way I could exclude them from my photo. I shot it anyway, even if I felt lacked something for the scene. But, better safe than sorry.

A few months later, I came past the photo in Lightroom and thought I would give it try in the post-processing. I often to do that, with photos that I am not sure if they will work out. Sometimes, I get an idea and get something great out of it, and when if I succeed, these are often the photos I love the most.

Some photos are bound to be successful, because the light is gorgeous or the composition so striking, and and light good enough. But a photo like this one from Chester Cathedral, was not a given success.

What I did, was that I started out on my HDR processing workflow. I mostly use Photomatix Pro for creating my more artistic HDR photos. The new HDR feature in Lightroom I also use, but only for less artistic HDR photos.

I liked the mood that Photomatix generated, even if for some of the disturbing objects:

The Dungeon Photomatix

This is what I like about Photomatix. It manages to extract a lot of mood and warmth. You can’t use it straight out of Photomatix Pro, but there is a good start.

At this time, the problem-solving part of my brain kicks in, solving the problem ‘How to create harmony?’ And it didn’t take long, before it came up with the idea to mirror the image. It was the straight line in the roof, that brought the idea into play, combined with one other fact. The Chester Cathedral is only almost symmetrical in every way. NOTHING in Chester Cathedral is symmetric, even when you expect it would be. So my mind had been thinking about symmetry, in connection to the photos I shot there.

My initial intuition, was to remove the window part and the Christmas trees, and that gave me The Dungeon. I instantly fell in love with that, and wanted to finish that. But I got the idea to, try out the opposite and to my surprise that worked out as well. And in the end, I ended up having two different photos, made from one photo.

The mirrored cloister in Chester Cathedral

The mirrored cloister in Chester Cathedral.

This post is a first post in the series “The Weekly Post”. It will be published every Friday. If you want to be sure not to miss it, follow my website, and you will get the post on a mail every time it is posted.

Have a nice weekend.

–Jacob Surland

My fight against copyright infringement and how I found Pixsy.com

Nyhavn in the Morning

This photo of Nyhavn early in the morning is one of the most shared photos I have. And of course it has been misused too.

A year ago a fellow photographer, whom I did not know, contacted me to let me know, that a company was using my photo illegally. I did a little research, and he was right. It really upset me.

This incident became the start on tracking down misuse of my photos, and I had no idea how complicated things got.

I used Google reversed image search, and at first, it seemed amazingly simple, and I was completely blown with what it could find. But that’s what Google does best, it finds stuff. However, I soon found out; it doesn’t scale. There’s a lot of work involved in tracking down just one single photo. If you have hundreds or even thousands of photos, you can not sit and track each single photo. It takes far too long time.

Nevertheless, what I did was to start out with what I thought to be the most likely to have been misused. I quickly found some usages of my photos, but now things got complicated.

I am a photographer, not an attorney, and I have no in-depth understanding of the law and copyrights. So I started investigating. What does the law say? What is Copyright, and how does it work? What are the differences in EU and US? What pressure tools do I have to get paid? What price should I claim? And how to convince them to pay for it? Should I claim one price, if they mentioned my name, and another if they didn’t?

It seemed that more questions, than answers, popped up in my head.

Regent Street with Busses

This photo from Regent Street in London was misused by the window company in UK.

I share my photos as Creative Commons, non-commercial. I thought I had a clear idea of what this meant. Any commercial company can not use my pictures. But apparently not. There’s a big gray area in the middle, allowing some commercial companies to use my photos if it is just not for a particular commercial purpose. This area got too complicated for me to handle alone.

One particular case stuck out. A Window company in the UK had used one of my photos in an article they featured on their website. They had it under a section called News and Blog on their website. I wrote them a variation of a standard mail. Some consultant from their web agency got back to me, and said, it was a blog, and, therefore, covered the Creative Commons part of my license. What nonsense I thought, this is clearly a commercial company, no matter what they call a section on their website.

I decided to try out this case, and carry the discussion all the way. At some point, I felt like the John Cleese in the Monty Python sketch with the dead parrot. He comes into a pet shop and says: “This is a dead parrot” and the parrot is beyond doubt stone dead, and the shop keeper just keeps saying “no it’s not” in a hundred different ways, and John Cleese gets more and more frustrated. That was exactly how I felt.

The article had a ‘download brochure’ and a ‘get in contact’ included in the same article, yet the consultant kept insisting that the page was under the blog section, and therefore not a commercial use.

At some point he offered a 1/10th of what I wanted, in other words, a tiny amount, to show, as he said ‘good faith.’ I refused, because, I had decided, on principle, to carry this to the end, and get what I thought was fair. It even turned out, that the guy himself was a photographer too, besides being an IT consultant, yet he did not bend.

In the end, after a very frustrating email correspondence, there was radio silence, and they removed my photo from the post, and, in the end, I got nothing.

I ended up with a feeling of not having the arguments nor the authority to handle this. Too much I didn’t know. Only ‘me’, a simple photographer. No power, no nothing. And it had taken me forever, and my blood pressure had been very high. It was a tough road to travel.

Brewer Pub London

This photo from just off Regent Street, is the most stolen photo I have. I made the mistake of uploading it in full quality.

But how do you argue with someone, who responds “no it’s not” every time you say something? It’s not easy if you do not have the authority.

I mentioned this to a photo community I am a part of. And one of the others mentioned Pixsy.com, and I went at looked at their website, and immediately applied and got accepted.

As a simple photographer, what do I get, that is different from I can do on my own?

First of all scalability and authority.

Pixsy.com continuously tracks the usage of your images and presents you with new matches when they occur. All you have to do is go through the list and report all usages that are illegal. It’s so much easier than using Google’s reverse image search. When you have reported a case, Pixsy.com will take it from there. Pixsy.com have the authority, and they have the legislation knowledge to work their way through with an infringement.

Apart from their knowledge, represented by the in-house team of licensing experts, Pixsy.com also have a global network of law firms. Based on the severity of the claim and the scale of the company, they refer the case to one of their legal partners, who will then also go into the negotiation with the infringer to get the photographer the best possible compensation.

Second, I do get a lot more money, than I had been claiming myself. A case like the one with the window company would likely have given me 25 times more than the consultant offered me.

Third of all, it’s healthier for me. I don’t get personally involved.

Fourth I save huge amounts of time because it is so much easier. There’s still work to do, now but it scales.

So, if you publish your photos, I can highly recommend to use Pixsy.com to track down misusages of you photos.

–Jacob Surland

About composition – Sometimes centering works

Rubjergknude light house

Rubjerg Knude Fyr in Denmark.

I have approximately 20 different compositions from this day. It was a bright summer day just after midday. The light was pretty hard, but just a little bit of summer haze defused the light a tiny bit. But not enough to make great light. Of the 20 compositions, this one, is the one that works best, and it works really well, even if I broke the rule “do not center your primary object”. I did that, and it yet it still works, but why is that?

I have been thinking about the ‘why’. Let me start by showing you the original unprocessed shot:

Rubjerg knude hard light original

Unprocessed shot of Rubjerg Knude Fyr.

The unprocessed photo is flat, and the light is pretty hard. The sky is uninteresting, and yet you can see the potential. There some leading lines and a couple of other important details.

The tower is shot at close to an exact 45-degree angle. Dead on angles usually work well. as for the dead center. This is no different than shooting a building straight from the front, like this shot:

Pantheon in Rome at night

The Pantheon in Rome shot dead on from the front. A strong composition.

Symmetry is pleasing to the eye, a square building, like the lighthouse, gives symmetry when shot at a 45-degree angle. This is the first important factor. When you work with symmetry, it often works well, to have the object the center, in particular if you can support it with leading lines.

The leading lines in the shot from Pantheon are easy to spot. Man made lines, and they all (if extended) point to the door. This draws the eyes of the viewer to the center of the image, to the door, and the door itself is also a focus point because it is so bright.

But how about the leading lines in the lighthouse photo? There are plenty! Let’s have a look:

Rubjerg knude hard light leading lines

Leading lines. Some are more subtle than others.

As you can see, there are many leading lines. Some are more subtle than others. The one going from the left-hand lower corner is very subtle, but there are lines going through the sand dune. And the curved orange line going through the sand is very powerful, and probably the most important one. And then you have the sand dune horizon that also work as leading lines from left and right.

During the post-processing, I also enhanced some lines, and I created some new ones. The sky I had, in the original photo, didn’t work well. I replaced that, with another sky, shot just before sunset. A sky that had the soft light, that we like so much. I made a mask, and dumped the new sky. The sky was shot at higher resolution, and it allowed me to move the sky around until I found the strongest position for it.

The new sky also adds some leading lines. There is the brighter cloud wiggling like an s-curve from the right to the center of the image, and you also have it coming down from the top. And from the left, you have clear blue sky moving in. Everything pointing to the lighthouse.

There is one more thing the new sky added, and that is a repeated shape. The cloud where it says #1 repeats the shape (more or less) of the lighthouse, this is also a well working a compositional trick.

The dark and bright lines coming in, from the right-hand corner I enhanced by using some simple dodge and burn (making things brighter and darker in local areas). This enhanced existing lines.

A centered composition can be a strong composition

So, what at a first glance looks like a simple composition, turns out to be quite complex. All of these lines makes it a very powerful composition, and if you compare it to the photo of Pantheon, it is a very similar composition. All lines point to the center of the image, where you find the brightest part (the bright door and the bright lighthouse).

The straight on composition used on the Pantheon photo, is a strong composition, even if it seems simple. The interesting composition, are the ones, that order things in a pleasing way, no matter how complex that may be. And usually in a way, that you don’t normally see with your human eye.

The head-on shot of some building or whatever, is unusual for the human eye. How often to you stand at the exact center and watch a building or similar? Hardly ever! And that is why it is unusual to the human eye and is a strong composition, and it is pleasing because it is symmetric.

The hard part is to know when to use the centered composition, and especially when NOT to use it. One of the important factors is, can you get a perfect symmetry? Then it’s probably ok. If it is supported by leading lines, then go ahead for sure!

The processing details

As for the rest of the processing. The photo still had a bit of hard light to it, and I began to add some textures. I find that textures can be used to add that missing element, that softness in the colors, take off the edge of the hard light.

When I was done, I could see, that the texture was too much, and I had second thoughts on the textures. I made a new copy of the image, without the texture part. That’s one of the great things about working with layers in Photoshop. You can just hide some. Now I had these two images:

Now I had these two images:

Rubjerg knude hard light mixing

 Too strong textures and no texture version.

I found that neither worked to my satisfaction. One had too strong textures, but the other one missed something.

In the end, I decided to do a compromise. I loaded both images as layers into Photoshop and changed the global opacity for the top layer, which happened to be the one without textures. And moved the slider back and forth, until I had the right amount of textures, to my taste, and that was at 45% opacity.

Rubjerg knude texture mixing

And my final step, was to do a clean up in the photo. Removing irregularities, stones, rubble etc. that did no good thing to the image.

–Jacob Surland

Mixing HDR and Textures

Trees by the road to the woods

Trees by the road to the woods.

Every Thursday my son plays keyboard at a school of music, and I get to spend an hour waiting while he plays. When the weather is suitable, I drive and shoot some photos. This picture is from one of those drives. It’s right next to a horse farm.

This photo is an HDR photo. In the beginning, I tried to get something more funky HDR like out of it. I tried to push it, but I didn’t get something that I liked.

Other versions of Road trees

In the end, I opted for a more neutral processing and then used some textures to get a sort of vintage look. Sometimes, the look comes easy, at other times, I have to try a long time, to get something that I like.

–Jacob Surland

Same photo – different images

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Pantheon in Rome at night

Wide version of photo of Pantheon.

We didn’t have any breakfast when we left the hotel early to photograph the Spanish Stairs. We figured that was ok; the hotel was quite nearby the Spanish Stairs. When we got the Spanish Stairs, they were sealed off for restoration. There was no way; we could not get any photos worth the while.

We decided to go for the Pantheon instead, but we were under pressure now. To reach the Pantheon long enough before sunrise required a forced walk. Empty stomachs and a forced walk was not the best cocktail. Half way to Pantheon we were saved by an open coffee and pastry shop. Among police officers we bought a croissant, and we were fueled, and made it to the Pantheon just in time.

About the processing of this photo

You can always process photos in different ways. Some even make a colored and a black and white of every single photo they make. I rarely do more than one version, of each photo. Sometimes I go back to fix something, that I find too displeasing in a photo.

But this one of Pantheon I have done two versions of. They share the same image processing, more or less. It is not the same file anymore, but they originate from the same HDR photo, and their path separated very late in the process.

A part of my workflow is to rumble through photos in Lightroom mobile whenever I have a few minutes. I do some preliminary processing, to find candidates for processing. Often I get an idea of what the final result could be. One of the limitations in Lightroom mobile, is that you can’t fix perspective. So I played around with cropping instead on this image, and I ended up having this very wide version of the image, that I got to like very much.

Stars above Pantheon in Rome

Tall version of the photo of Panteon, showing the stars more clearly.

Later when I was finalizing the processing I tried to do a perspective correction, and I liked that too. At first I stuck to the one with the perspective correction, but later I decided both qualify for final images. So here the are.

–Jacob Surland

Speicherstadt in Hamburg is a gem

Wasserschloss in Hamburg

The Wasserschloss restaurant in Speicherstadt in Hamburg.

Speicherstadt in Hamburg is an absolutely gorgeous piece of architecture. It’s like a ghost trade harbor. A hundred years ago, this was an extremely busy area. Nowadays it’s a mixture of offices and living quarters. But late at night, it’s a quiet area. The houses are built on wooden pillars, just like they are in Venice. In 2015, it was included as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

I arrived at Hamburg on my way home from an exhibition in Carousel du Louvre just as the sun was setting. I was tired, after the long drive alone. I had used the app from Hotels.com to book a hotel in the Speicherstadt neighborhood, and I just picked the first one, I found because I thought the price was reasonable. It seemed like a maritime hotel, from the quick look that I got in the app.

When I arrived at the hotel, it was really funky. I had to figure out if I liked it. But when I opened the door to my room, I was convinced that I had got a bargain for the night. The hotel was the 25 hours City Hafen hotel in Hamburg. Absolutely worth staying at. Just after arriving, I went out shooting photos.

–Jacob Surland

The Millenium Bridge and Sct Pauls

Millenium Bridge and Sct Pauls

The Millenium Bridge and Sct. Pauls Cathedral in London.

The first time I tried to get to the Millenium Bridge, while I was in London, and get a shot of Sct. Pauls Cathedral, I completely underestimated how long time it would take to walk there, from London Tower Bridge. I had to give up, because it was getting very late, and I was tired, and my feet hurt. I had to get a Taxi back to the Hotel because the Underground had stopped for the night.

A few months later, I got back to London, and this time, my starting point was once more London Tower Bridge. However, I did not hang around too long in this neighbourhood, but started moving down the Thames, and when I felt it was time, I got the Underground and quickly got here.

The bridge is actually quite wobbly, and I had to wait until no people walked the bridge, and shot my 9 shots. The dynamic range of this scene is incredibly high, from the darkest areas down around the Thames, and to the highly lit Sct. Pauls Cathedral. But 9 shots did it.

–Jacob Surland