Monday, 27 April 2015

Topaz B&W Effects 2

Travel Photography is about creating an emotion with the viewer. Most of the time you can do this with a well edited colour image but other times you can present certain images as a Black & White and it will give it a far greater emotional feel. For example, the image below titled "Nun in Naples" is nice in colour but the B&W version to us has a greater emotional appeal and was quite successful when released on social media platforms.

We use Topaz B&W Effect 2 as one of three B&W conversion tools depending on the look we want to give our B&W images. The other two are Nik Silver Efex Pro and OnOne Perfect Effects 8 or 9 (Free). B&W Effects 2 adds great control to your B&W conversions and has an awesome range of presets which are a great starting point to get your image looking the way you want it. Generally this is the way we always start with an image. 

Keep in mind also that if you have Lightroom you will be able to access this plug-in without leaving Lightroom. Ensure that you make any changes such as Lens Correction & Straightening in Lightroom first. Once you have made the changes in the plug-in it will automatically re-import the image back into your Lightroom Catalogue as a separate file stacked with your original file where you can make additional changes before exporting. Note: If using a Mac you will need Fusion Express 2 (Free) to access most of the Topaz plug-ins. You can download Fusion Express 2 here (Note: It is listed on the right side of the page and not with all the plug-in downloads)

As with most software these days we would suggest you download the trial of this plug-in and try before you buy. Here are a few key features of the software that we use the most -

  1. Firstly, when opening always click on the Reset button at the bottom right of the screen. This will clear your previous settings from the last image you processed.
  2. Always use the sliders in very small increments to get the effect you want.
  3. Topaz Labs plug-ins never opens up in the host application (e.g. Photoshop) as a separate layer, therefore before using the plug-in always duplicate your layer and open the plug-in with this layer highlighted. Alternatively, convert the duplicated layer to a Smart Object (right click on layer - Convert to Smart Object) and open the plug-in through this layer. This way you will be able to re-edit the image while keeping all your settings you previously made in the plug-in.
  4. Although your image will be converted to B&W on default once the plug-in opens you actually can paint the original colour of your image back into the image by using the Local Adjustments tab on the right hand side of the interface. Select Color under the Adjustment Type and take the opacity slider all the way to 1.0 if you want your original image colour and then paint over the image. You can adjust how much colour you want back in your image by painting with lower opacity.
  5. If you create an image from scratch by adjusting the settings in the right hand side panels then make sure you save it as a Custom Preset so that you can use on other images. This is especially useful if you have a series of images and want the same look for each of them. To do this simply click on the + underneath the Presets heading on the left side of the interface. A Save Preset box will appear. Give the Preset a unique name of your own and make sure that Save in My Collection is ticked and fill in any of the other fields if required. Click OK. The Preset will now sit in the folder "My Collection" under the Effects tab on the left hand side of the interface. 
  6. Another great feature when using the Presets is the grid view. If you click on the Traditional Collection for example you will be able to hover over the list of Presets to give you a preview of how each one will look. But even better is clicking on the the small grid button to the right of each of the Effects. This will open all the Presets in that Collection in a new panel showing the effects of each Preset. This will save you heaps of time looking for that perfect starting point for your image.
  7. If there are Presets that you tend to use quite often then make sure you add them to your Favorites by using the Star symbol, This will add them to your Favorites folder in the Effects panel. 
These are just some of the great features of the plug-in. For the price of the plug-in we highly recommend this as a tool for creating awesome B&W images. If you would like to purchase this plug-in then click here. We also suggest that you watch the "Quick Intro to Topaz B&W Effects" video below which will explain some more of the features in the plug-in.

If you have any question about the plug-in or about our workflow using it, please feel free to leave us a comment or if you just want to let us know your favourite feature then we would love to hear from you.

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Monday, 20 April 2015

Review - 3 Axis Camera Spirit Level

People always ask us why we use these when most cameras now have great tools for keeping the camera level. We have been using them for many years attached to our hotshoe and although initially we used them only when the camera was mounted on a tripod we have found them to be very useful in other situations. There are many different models and can be found on eBay, Amazon or at your local camera shop.
Here are a couple of reasons why this cheap little gadget should be in your camera bag -
  1. They are very handy when using the camera low to the ground. They will make it a lot easier to level the camera without "standing on your head".
  2. They are extremely accurate. They also have multiple bubbles for confirming accuracy.
  3. Designed for horizontal & vertical shooting.  
  4. If your camera doesn't have built in spirit level and you do a lot of tripod work.
However, where this gadget is absolutely invaluable is that it gives you the ability to shoot at waist/stomach level. This is crucial at times in Travel Photography. During your travels you will visit places that don’t allow photography, in these instances if you really want to take a shot then this gadget can help, here are some steps to consider before taking the shot;
  1. Make sure that your flash is turned off before entering a place where flash photography is not allowed. 
  2. Turn off the AF assist illuminator function in your camera, (the red or white beam which assists your camera to focus in low light) as this light is a real giveaway that you’re taking a photograph.
  3. Attach the Spirit Level to your hotshoe. 
  4. Increase your ISO so that you can handhold the camera as tripods will obviously not be allowed either. Even though you will be taking photos from stomach/waist level still try to attain a shutter speed as though you were handholding the camera.
  5. If your camera has a Quiet Mode available then use it.  
  6. Be discreet and don't get caught :-)
Unfortunately we live in a photography world where the majority of people don't know how to turn off the flash on their camera. So many places like historic churches, museums, galleries etc will not let you take photos simply to protect their artwork from thousands of camera flashes every day.  This is particularly the case in many cities in Europe where there are many churches and galleries with valuable art. 

Now some may say that it is still being disrespectful by taking interior shots this way but we can assure you that the rules have been applied due to the overuse of camera flashes and the rule has been made to apply to everyone.

When not to use this method? Well you really shouldn't use this method if -
  1. If you plan to use the images commercially. 
  2. When the location you are shooting has a contract with a photographer. 
  3. During religious ceremonies where it would be disrespectful.
  4. After being caught by an attendant it would be fairly rude to keep doing it. 
  5. Near military installations, government buildings, and other sensitive areas. Always research and be aware of the photography restrictions and regulations of the countries that you are visiting. Being thrown in prison is a sure way of ruining a holiday or a photography assignment.
Feel free to leave us a comment and let us know where this item has been useful for you when shooting.

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Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Review - Joby UltraFit Sling Strap

As Travel Photographers we spend a lot of time on our feet and it is not unusual for us to walk up to 20kms a day and sometimes this can be every day for a couple of weeks. We used to use the conventional neck straps but this was causing a lot of neck strain. Sure, we could always wear the strap over our shoulder however this was not practical and quite awkward when wanting to take a shot. There was also the option of the Joby UltraFit Hand Strap however we find these impractical in Travel Photography as it is always good to have both hands free at all times.

As a result we started using the Joby UltraFit Sling Strap (see the demo video below - No Sound) a few years ago and wow, it really does make a huge difference. The camera now goes over the shoulder and hangs securely to the side of your body. It has a small locking clip that will allow you to depress which will keep the camera tight against your body instead of swinging around. When wanting to take a shot just lift the locking clip and the camera seamlessly slides up to eye level and your ready to go. For those of you who are a little paranoid about the connection at the bottom of the camera, we suggest you purchase the Pro version which includes a Camera Tether connecting the camera to the strap for that extra piece of mind.

There are quite a few brands on the market however we have found the Joby brand to be quite cheap yet well made. The more expensive brands seem to have more padding around the shoulder areas which would possibly be a little more comfortable however we're sure you could probably modify the Joby strap should this be required. There's also offers a model for Males & Females. We strongly recommend this product as it will take the strain off your neck over long periods of time and certainly save you a visit to the Physio or Chiro with neck problems.

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HDR Software - Photomatix Pro

We have been using Photomatix Pro software by HDRSoft for quite a few years and although these days we now manually blend our bracketed images in Photoshop we still use this software quite often. For those of you interested in HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography then this software is a must for you. For those of you who are unfamiliar with HDR photography it is simply capturing several images to cover the dynamic light range of a scene. It is usually best to shoot these when you are confronted with a high contrast scene for example a scene with a bright sky and foreground shadows.  We shoot practically all our HDR's at -2,0,+2 (underexposed by 2stops, Normal, overexposed by 2stops). Check out the video below titled "Photomatix Pro - An Introduction". It only runs just over 4min and will give you a general outline of how the software works. HDRSoft offer a 30 day trial of the software for you try out although any saved images will have a Photomatix watermark across the image. If you are interested in purchasing then visit HDRSoft and use the code "widescenes" to receive a 15% discount. The normal price is USD$99.00.

If you have any questions about this software please drop us a comment.

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Monday, 13 April 2015

How to photograph Fireworks

MSC Orchestra in Sydney, Australia. The first visit to Australia by a ship operated by MSC Cruises (Italian). We were fortunate enough to be invited onboard the ship during the day for an inspection and lunch which was spectacularly good. We've been on several of their cruises in the the Mediterranean when shooting for our 4 Cruising the Mediterranean books.This vessel is now on its way to the Mediterranean for a cruise to Gallipoli in Turkey for the 100 year anniversary of the ANZACs on the 25th April. 

Later that evening we took the shot below. This is a composite which was shot on the Sony A7r with a FE 24-70 F4 Zeiss lens. The benefits of using a camera like the Sony A7r is that you have 36mp of information to play which makes the final result still large enough to produce a really large print.

How did we shoot this? Here are the steps for capturing the image.

  1. Using a tripod we composed the image and set the focus in Manual Mode. 
  2. We first took some images without the fireworks that were underexposed for the bright lights in the images such as the front of the ship and also some overexposed images for the Opera House and darker areas in the image. 
  3. Once the fireworks started we just kept taking shots continuously with our remote cable release. Each images was about 10 sec with an aperture of F11. 
  4. Once we had the images in Photoshop it was just a matter of blending the layers together to lighten the shadows and darken the highlights and paint through the best fireworks from each layer.

Any questions just drop us a comment.

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Fireworks over Sydney Harbour in Sydney Australia to celebrate MSC Orchestra's first visit to Australia

2016 Travel Photography Tours

We've put together our 2016 Photographic Tours to quite a few exotic destinations and some repeat tours to the Pacific Islands. These tours will be open to all levels of Photography and will be a great way to improve your photography while travelling with other like-minded people. Naturally we will be on all the trips to guide you on your creative journey. We are asking for Expressions of Interest, so make sure you let us know if any of the tours are of interest to you (no commitment!). Click here to visit the page or click on the banner.

Topaz Labs - RAW to Ready - A Photo Editing Workflow

We have been using Topaz Labs software for a few years now and they have some fabulous plug-ins that will really allow you to be creative with your images. Check out the video below titled "From RAW to Ready - A Photo Editing Workflow". It runs for just over 55min so it's pretty detailed but will outline several of the plug-ins including Adjust, Clarity, ReStyle and Glow and how they can transform your images. Enjoy!

Friday, 10 April 2015

Sony A7r - First impressions

We have been shooting with Nikon cameras for over 20 years and must say they are awesome cameras that have provided us with some great shots over the years. We will more than likely stay with Nikon for the years to come as we have invested a lot of money in great lenses.

Since 1992 we have also photographed in the 6cm x 17cm panoramic format using a Fuji G617 Panoramic camera that produces pin-sharp images. Unfortunately with the age of digital, the cost of film/processing/scanning in combination with the increasing difficulty in transporting the film through international airports has diminished our use of the camera.

Although the G617 has produced images that have enlarged to banners as big as 25m long, the amount of times that we have needed an image that prints any larger than 2m in length is minimal and therefore we have been looking for a replacement that will produce high quality large prints without the weight and expense.

A couple of years ago Nikon introduced the D800 and D800E which both produced 36 megapixel images however they were expensive and as travel photographers - too heavy for our liking.

Sony A7r - Front View
Sony A7r - front
And then came along Sony - who have been producing mirrorless cameras for a few years now - with the Sony A7, A7r, A7s, A7II and the more recent A7r ii. Although the first 2 have been out for a while now, we are not usually impulse buyers when it comes to equipment and will only purchase equipment that is practical for our output. The A7r model has a 36mp sensor and the new A7r ii has a 42mp sensor.
Sony A7r - Rear View
Sony A7r - Back

After Christmas 2014 and after considerable research we decided to purchase the A7r. With the exception of a few negatives the camera is really living up to the hype. Here's some views of the camera  above and right. We purchased the Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Zeiss lens with the camera which is the one in the illustration below.

                                Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Zeiss lens
                               Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Zeiss lens
The layout of the menus takes a little getting used to but after a while it is a breeze. Unlike our Nikons with "image stabilisation" you have to turn the feature off within the menus rather than on the lens body. This is a little more time consuming but really a very minor thing. As we only turn the stabilisation off when using the tripod it is just another step when setting up. The biggest downside to these cameras is the battery life. These small batteries only last about 300-400 shots as opposed to the Nikon batteries which last about 1200+ shots. Once again, we do not find this is a problem as we always carry around 3 or 4 spare batteries anyway. The only other downside to these cameras, until recently, has been the lack of Full Frame lenses. With the recent release of 4 new lenses (FE 24-240mm F3.5-6.3 OSS, FE 90mm F2.8 Macro G OSS, FE 28mm F2, Zeiss Distagon T* FW35mm F1.4 ZA), users now have a greater choice. Unfortunately in our line of work none of these are useful for us other than maybe the Macro lens for the occasional use. For our purposes we use the 24-70 lens and down the track the 16-35 lens for the majority of our shots. We also use our Nikkor 20mm 2.8D & Nikkor 80-200 2.8D lenses with the Metabones Adaptor for shots although they can only be used in Manual Mode. 

This is also the first camera we have owned with a tilting LCD screen at the back and must say that Paul had his doubts about this feature. He has always associated this feature with lower quality point-and-shoot type cameras and vowed that he would never own a camera with the feature. Well that certainly was unfounded. The tilting LCD screen on the A7 cameras is an awesome feature and certainly great for those low to ground shots.

Near Quirindi, NSW, Australia - Sony A7r with a FE 24-70 F4 Zeiss lens

Near Quirindi, NSW, Australia - Sony A7r with a FE 24-70 F4 Zeiss lens
The one thing we have really noticed about the files that the A7r produces is that very little processing is needed. We have found that the dynamic range captured by the 36mp sensor is so good that very little time has been spent in both Lightroom and Photoshop preparing the file for output. 

We hope that this quick review of the Sony A7r has been useful and hope to hear any comments and experiences that you have had with the camera. We would especially love to hear comments from anyone that has bought any of the 4 new lenses mentioned above.

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