Roskilde Cathedral by Night – Change your vantage point

Roskilde Cathedral by Night Roskilde Cathedral is almost a thousand years old. The Church is on the list of UNESCO's world inheritage and is absolutely worth a visit, if you ever come by Roskilde or Denmark. The Church is fairly big (not in the Sct. Peters Cathedral in the Vatican, but it's no small cathedral. Infact I needed a 14mm full frame lens to be able to capture all of it, from the square in front of the church.

 Nikon D800, Nikkor 14-24mm, ISO 200, 23mm, f/4.5, 1.6 sec (zero exposure)

Roskilde Cathedral is almost a thousand years old. The Church is on the list of UNESCO’s world inheritage and is absolutely worth a visit, if you ever come by Roskilde or Denmark. The Church is fairly big (not in the Sct. Peters Cathedral in the Vatican size, but it’s no small cathedral).

Shooting the photo

I had a lot of trouble getting a close shot of the church, if I wanted all of the church included. The square infront of the church is fairly big, but not compared the the size of the church. In the end I needed a 14mm full frame lens to be able to capture all of it. The first time I tried with a 17mm, and was able to include all of it, but I had to tip the camera so much, that I couldn’t get a propper good looking church out of it. The problem with wide angle lenses is, that when ever you tilt your camera, the lines start to scew, and the more you tip, the more you scew the image. And if it gets too scewed you can’t fix anymore, without ruining the photo.

But with this photo I used a different approach. I couldn’t include all of the church easily, so I chose to focus on a part of the church, like the door. As I said the square is fairly big, and I wanted to use the lines in the cobble stones, as lead in lines, but  didn’t want terrible much rather boring ground in the lower part of the photo, so I placed the camera very close to the ground, as you can see. By doing this, I can emphasize the lines going through the cobble stones, just as well as I get more room for the church it self in the image.

Taking a low vantage point, some times work really great and emphasize lines, but don’t go low too often. It might spoil the element of surprise, in your photos…

A note on the post processing

The photo a mix of three images.

  1. A 5 shot HDR photo that I tone mapped in Photomatix Pro
  2. A double tone mapped image made in Photomatix Pro.
  3. An image created in Light room

The double tone mapped image, is only mixed in on the bricks and the cobble stones, which makes it even more moody, almost computer game graphics.

Gullfoss in Iceland

Gullfoss in IcelandTravelling in Iceland brings you around to see the some of the most amazing wonders that Earth has to offer. If you are staying in the capital Reykjavik, you can go on a trip by car or arranged, that covers the Golden Circle, which brings you to Geysir, Gullfoss and Thingvellir. The Great Geysir rarely erupts now a days, but Strokkur which is right next to The Great Geysir, will erupt every few minuts. It will go as high as 35 m. In the photo you see the great waterfall Gullfoss (the Golden Falls). It's an amazingly big water fall that falls in two large falls as you can see and it looks like the water just plunges into Earth. The last stop of the Golden Circle (or first depending on which way you drive) is the old historical and cultural center Thingvellir. This vikings used to use the area for it's parliamentary discussions. However, Thingvellir is also interesting from a geological point of view, because it is lies at crest of the mid-atlantic ridge. There's a great cliff ridge that marks the edge.

Travelling in Iceland brings you around to see the some of the most amazing wonders that Earth has to offer.

If you are staying in the capital Reykjavik, you can go on a one day trip by car or get an arranged tour that covers the Golden Circle, which brings you to Geysir, Gullfoss and Thingvellir.

The Great Geysir rarely erupts now a days, but Strokkur which is right next to The Great Geysir, will erupt every few minuts. It will go as high as 35 m.

In the photo you see the great waterfall Gullfoss (the Golden Falls). It’s an amazingly big water fall that falls in two large falls as you can see and it looks like the water just plunges into Earth.

The last stop of the Golden Circle (or first depending on which way you drive) is the old historical and cultural center Thingvellir. The vikings used to use the area for it’s parliamentary discussions. However, Thingvellir is also interesting from a geological point of view, because it is lies at crest of the mid-atlantic ridge. There’s a great cliff ridge that marks the edge.

How did I shoot and post-process this photo?

I shot this photo in rainy conditions using my Nikon D600 with my Nikkor 24-70mm lens. Because it was raining I had to wipe the lens all of the time. To wipe the lens you should use a fiber cloth, to avoid getting any scratches.

What I really wanted when I took the photo, was not to freeze the waterfall, so that I could count every drop, I wanted this silky long exposure waterfall. I started using my Lee Big Stopper filter, which is a 10 stop ND filter (Neutral Density filter), but I thought it was too much and switched to a Lee 2-stop ND filter instead. But what is an ND filter (Neutral Density filter) anyway? A 2 stop ND filter will block the light just so much that I have to double my exposure time twice, which means if the shutter speed was going to be 1/400 sec it would be 2*2*1/400, which is 1/100 of a second. It’s like putting a pair of sunglasses on your lens.

In broad daylight a 2 stop ND filter is not quite enough, so I also made the lens as slow as possible, by stopping it down to f/22. Which is the lowest value my lens will go to, and then I shot at ISO 100.

I shot this photo as a 3 shot exposure bracketed shot (AEB), which gives me three photos. One exposure which is 2 steps too dark, one normal and one 2 exposure steps too bright. Like this:

Gullfoss minus 2

 Minus -2 exposure: EXIF: ISO 100, 28mm, f/22, 1/15 sec

Gullfoss 0

0-exposure: EXIF: ISO 100, 28mm, f/22, 1/4 sec

Gullfoss plus 2

  +2 Exposure: EXIF: ISO 100, 28mm, f/22, 1.0 sec

As you can see in the darkest -2 exposure, the water is somewhat frozen, and that was not what I wanted. But from the middle exposure the water looks like silke long hair falling over the edge, just like I wanted it. And the same goes for the +2 exposure.

So what I did in the post processing, was to do an image using Photomatix Pro. I did a fused/natural image and then I did a version in Adobe Light room. The version from Lightroom only had to make the water fall look great, because I was going to use the image from Photomatix for the rest.

The two images I loaded into Photoshop as layers and placed the Photomatix image on top, and by adding a layer mask (here you can see how to do that), I punched a hole through my top layer to get the water fall from the layer underneath. This way I was able to have my Photomatix and my Lightroom version form the final image as a blended image.

Why didn’t I just use the waterfall from the Photomatix version? Well, I do like the looks a waterfall that has the silky look. I had taken my time to use an ND filter to get longer exposure times to get that exact effect and Photomatix just ruins that, because it blends three images that are “ghosted” (not identical) in the water fall. At other times, when I take photos of the sea, with waves, I might like the water to be ghosted, because it adds and effect.

And why did I use HDR in the first place? Well in this case it is strictly not necessary, because there is not a lot of dynamic light, but you can also use Photomatix, to get an “effect” or mood into your photo. This I do a lot and I did it in this. But no, it wasn’t necessary.

Blue Hour Water – using a ND filter

Blue Hour Water - using a ND filterThis could look like ice, but it isn't, it is a long exposure of water on a fairly windy day. It's in a narrow bay, the waves don't get big, but they had a little white foam on top. I took this photo using a tripod and because it was very windy, I dug the leggs into the sand on the beach. Otherwise the camera wasn't steady enough for a long exposure.But how to get a long exposure of 20 seconds around sunset? I did three things:1) First of all I turned the ISO down to 100. If I had shot it at ISO 200, the exposure time would have been cut in half to 10 seconds, and at ISO 400 only 5 seconds. So to maximize the exposure time I set it to the lowest ISO I could, which was ISO 100. 2) Then I also set the f-stop low (remember that low f-stops are high values) - I had it at f/16. Had I shot it at f/4, which is the highest f-stop the lens will go to, I would also have cut the shutter speed in half a few times. That's why you call a lens that has a very high f-stop like f/2.8 or maybe even f/1.4 a fast lens, because it gives shorter shutter times.3) The last and equally important step was that I attached a Neutral Density Filter (ND filter) to the lens. A ND-filter is like a pair of sunglasses that blocks the light. ND-filters comes in different flavors that are more or less dark. In this case I attached a ND density filter that stopped down the light two full Exposure Value Steps. Or in plain english it doubled the shutter speed twice, which brought the shutter speed from 5 seconds to 20 seconds.And that is how I made the water look this way. It came as surprise to myself, that it looked like ice, I had anticipated a smokey look on the water. But I guess it comes from the fact, that it is shot in the blue hour, which adds a blue color to the water. By Jacob Surland, www.caughtinpixels.com.
This could look like ice, but it isn’t, it is a long exposure of water on a fairly windy day. It’s in a narrow bay, the waves don’t get big, but they had a little white foam on top. I took this photo using a tripod and because it was very windy, I dug the legs into the sand on the beach, to keep the camera wasn’t steady enough for a long exposure.

But how to get a long exposure of 20 seconds around sunset? I did three things:

  1. First of all I turned the ISO down to 100. If I had shot it at ISO 200, the exposure time would have been cut in half to 10 seconds, and at ISO 400 only 5 seconds. So to maximize the exposure time I set it to the lowest ISO I could, which was ISO 100.
  2. Then I also set the f-stop low (remember that low f-stops are high values) – I had it at f/16. Had I shot it at f/4, which is the highest f-stop the lens will go to, I would also have cut the shutter speed in half a few times. That’s why you call a lens that has a very high f-stop like f/2.8 or maybe even f/1.4 a fast lens, because it gives shorter shutter times.
  3. The last and equally important step was that I attached a Neutral Density Filter (ND filter) to the lens. A ND-filter is like a pair of sunglasses that blocks the light. ND-filters comes in different flavors that are more or less dark. In this case I attached a ND density filter that stopped down the light two full Exposure Value Steps. Or in plain english it doubled the shutter speed twice, which brought the shutter speed from 5 seconds to 20 seconds.

And that is how I made the water look this way. It came as surprise to myself, that it looked like ice, I had anticipated a smokey look on the water. But I guess it comes from the fact, that it is shot in the blue hour, which adds a blue color to the water.

About the processing

I shot this photo as an HDR, but in the end I only used a single shot, because it ended up being perfectly exposed. I tried putting it through Photomatix, but it didn’t anything of interest. So in the end I just straightened it up using a crop tool and I added at bit of post-crop vignetting in Lightroom.

So the photo is pretty much straight out of camera.

New York Grand Central in Golden Light

New York Grand Central In Golden Light

Grand Central in New York – a must for photographers coming to New York. I didn’t have much time in New York, but I’m glad that I got the opportunity to see the Grand Central. It’s totally awesome.

About the processing

It’s a 9 shot HDR ranging from -5 to +3 with 1 EV step between each shot. My problem was, that the window in the middle has very strong sunlight coming in. So strong, that it spills over the walls and really ruins the photo. Even though I manage to capture all of the darkest and brigtest parts. In the processing in Photomatix, it turned out to be a gray and very ugly wall around the window in the middle, ruined by the sunlight. Even if the window it self is perfect. Finally I got the idea to use a ‘sunlight’ filter in one of my Photoshop plugins, to turn white grayish light golden and also reflect the golden color on the floor. That worked!

Tip: Crop dead areas away

Misty Orange Sunrise

Sunrises and sunsets keeps amazing me. You still can be surprised and see new wonderful variations. This photo is hardly processed. In Lightroom I have increased the contrast a bit, lowered the clarity a little and then raised the vibrance slightly. Not a lot compared to what I do to some of my other photos.

Tip: Crop dead areas away photo
In the beginning I didn’t want to cut away pixels. The more pixels, the better. I’m still struggling with this, but I have learned that some photos really get a much stronger composition by cropping them.

This particular photo doesn’t have much of an interesting foregrund and the sky continues upwards as orange. It becomes dead areas with nothing interesting. By cutting that away, I cut away dead zones and is left with the good stuff and that makes a stronger composition.

When, what and where to take photos?

I have a normal job and work at regular business hours and I do not work as a photographer. I work in an IT consultancy company called Pentia. I also have a family. So when do I get time to take photos? Well, when the opportunity is there – I’m prepared so to speak. This is what my bag looks like at any given time:

What's in my photo bag

And I always carry my bag around. Sometimes I take out the D600, to get a lighter bag. What you find in here is:

  • Nikon D600, with a standard Zoom lens (24-70mm)
  • Nikon D800, with a wide angle Zoom lens (16-35 or 14-24)
  • Sometimes I also have a 28-300mm along.
  • Promote control (for taking HDR photos)
  • Mouse – for my laptop.
  • Fishing glowes, that can have individual fingers uncovered
  • Full size tripod.
  • Polarizer
  • Extra memory card
  • Extra battery
  • Cloth to wipe things clean
  • Sometimes I take out the tripod and carry that in my hand to allow room for my Lee filters set.

By carrying this bag always – and I mean always, I’m always prepared. What I have come to learn over the last 3 or 4 months, is that, if the light is not good, don’t take the shot. It’s a waste of time. The only reason to take a shot is to practice composition.

Going to work and leaving work during the winter time, matches sunrise and sunset, which allows many photo opportunities. And I do spend 15-20 minutes if the light is right, to walk that extra mile, to get something.

I’m also getting better at stopping the car, and taking the shots, when I see something pretty, while I’m driving.

This is the way I can make it work for me, as an amateur photographer, with a fulltime job and a family. I do get to travel a little bit, as a part of my job, and we travel some privatly, and I do bring my camera, but it is far from every time, that I get photo opportunities.

Sometimes I go for a specific location at sunrise or sunset to shoot. Every time I do that, I get awesome photos. That is really what it takes. Be there or be square… It’s a lesson that I’m still learning and is still trying to make fit into my life, but it is not easy.

My spare time I use for processing the photos. I have far too little time to do this and only a few of my photos reach the public. I try to post at least one successful photo from each of my “shoots”. But from a scene I might have somewhere between 5 and 30 photos, that I could process and get great looking photos, but I only process one or two. First of all I would like to share photos with a variety, second I keep some in store, for a time, when I might not have as much to take photos, and still want to process photos.

Some of the photos I bring home, might lack something in the composition, some may be more difficult to process. I usually process those I instantly like the most, and save the rest for later. Some shoots may have been in a different light, that what I have tried before, and I have to figure out how to get great photos in the processing.

When I have been on a vacation and shot a fairly large amount of photos I spend a long time sorting and processing. The problem with travelling is, that far too often you come across wonderful things and places, but at the wrong time of the day, with hard light. If you can get a good photo out of it, you have to spend a long time trying to save the photo in Lightroom and/or in Photoshop.

Tip: Pseudo HDR

Pantheon Reflecting the Sun Setting

Pantheon Reflecting the Sun Setting

Pantheon is one of the most beautiful buildings I have seen and I was even rewarded with the most beautiful sunset.

The photo is an old one, shot with my ancient Canon 400D. How to salvage an old photo? I took this photo as a single RAW on my old Canon 400D using a Sigma 10-20mm lens. I didn’t have a tripod, but the light was so gorgeous I just had to shoot the scene. What I did was to stand as still as I could and just fire away 20 shots hoping one would be sharp enough. The ISO I had turned up to 400, which is the highest acceptable ISO on that camera, and I the raised the f-stop to the highest value the lens allowed (lowest number). That gave me a shutter speed of 1/13 seconds, which requires a very steady hand. But I managed.

Tip: Try making Pseudo HDR photos from single exposure RAWs
In the processing had to major issues. I had to get a better balance between light and shadows and to increase the sharpness. To get better balance between the shadows and the light areas, I made a Pseudo HDR photo. To do that I made in Lightroom two artificial exposures by making virtual copies. One I made a -2 and the other I made +2. These to exposures I gave some strong noise reduction, and then I exported all three to Photomatix and tone mapped them. The result was awesome. Not as good as if I had shot three proper bracketed shots, but good enough.

The sharpness I achieved by duplicating the layer in Photoshop and then applying a fairly strong Unsharp Mask (really a bad name for a sharpening rool). That did some really good things to the roof of the Pantheon. I blended in the good parts of the sharpened image – the rest I didn’t use.

Tip: How to mix long exposure with rocking boats?

I got a question about this photo. How did I make the boats sharp, surely they must have been rocking slightly? They did. Long exposure photography can be used to smooth out water, and give some really good effects, with reflections or get ‘smokey’ water. In this photo the water is part of the atmosphere and I did fairly long exposures (it’s an HDR of 5 shots).

Harbour Bridge Roskilde

There were small ripples on the water and they disappeared in the long exposure, and the boats did rock a little bit. To freeze the boats I shot another set of HDR photos with ISO 3200, which resulted in much faster shutter speeds. I then blended the boats from the high ISO shot, with my HDR photo of the water and surroundings. This made the boats sharp and the water flat. I had to do some noise reduction, because a 3200 ISO photo does have some noise.

To get the most of this tip, you have to figure out, what the ISO limits are for your DSLR. If you are shooting with a APS-C sensor it is must probably ISO 800, while if you shoot full frame, it will be ISO 1600 or ISO 3200, depending on your particular camera’s low light performance.