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- Updated August 2017
I've practised landscape, nature and abstract photography using digital cameras since 1999. Over the years, I've trialled different approaches, equipment and software, and I've constantly strived to improve my routines and creative ability embracing the full potential of digital workflow. Interestingly, some aspects of my photography have evolved to be a little different from the industry fuelled stereotype:
I don't carry lots of heavy equipment, I don't use filters and I don't use photoshop.
I previsualise and capture images in the available light and context; I never recce a potential image and return at 4 am to shoot in "the golden hour".
I always shoot RAW, optimise each exposure for maximum data quality and individually post process every image using Adobe Lightroom.
And I mostly value content over ultra-fine detail.
In the past, I've enthusiastically lugged a heavy tripod, camera, and lots of lenses around the countryside, blindly following convention. In a eureka moment, I realised all this ever-increasing gear was slowing me down and hampering my creativity; so I switched to a small, lightweight camera, and the quantity and quality of my photos improved vastly.
I now use Sony APS-C format compact system camera gear.
First, I shot with a Sony NEX-5N with the 18-55mm kit zoom and 16mm prime. Later, when it was released, I got the 16-50mm retracting compact lens (to save continually swapping lenses for 16mm). Later, I updated the body to the a6000, upgraded to the Zeiss 16-70mm f/4 and added the 55-210mm telephoto lens - the latter used mainly for portraiture. In early 2017 however, the Zeiss failed and was deemed unrepairable. At this point, I decided to go ultra-wide with the 10-18mm f/4 and returned to using the kit 16-50mm for medium focal lengths.
The heavy tripod was replaced by a lighter one during the progression, but it mostly stays in my car now for the following reasons:
Carrying and using less gear allows me to "see" and capture better images - particularly without the restriction of a tripod. Also, the articulating screen of my camera allows easy low down and above head composition options.
And the live view of a compact system camera allows me to see the final image and optimise its exposure before I actually take the shot.
From the countryside footpaths, lakesides, towns and villages, I instinctively observe and seek potential images. Once I see something of interest, I walk around and frame the scene from different angles and heights to arrange the compositional elements at their best. Having framed up the shot at my chosen focal length (usually close and wide), I check the depth of field requirements for the proposed image and select the appropriate aperture; I then set shutter speed (by adjusting exposure compensation in aperture priority) using the live histogram and zebra highlight warnings to obtain optimal RAW file data quality. I finally set focus and take the shot.
Sometimes I'll take a few differently composed shots. Sometimes I just take one and quickly move on to seek out more images.
Later, I open the day's photographic harvest in Lightroom and choose the best images to post process. With the first image open in the Develop module, I apply my default preset of adjustments and lens profiling corrections. Next, observing the histogram, I work in zones to balance the exposure, contrast and colour of the image using gradient, radial and brush selections. I then make further detailed adjustments, both globally and locally, to bring out the full potential of the optimally exposed RAW file and present the image at its best. If I'm really happy with it, I then export a web-optimised JPEG and publish it at my website.
My preference is for a slight impressionist balance with lots of light, local contrast and subtle colour. Yes, slightly HDR looking in purely photographic terms, but quite realistic in the context of perceived human vision.
I like an image to look as I visualised it - not for it to be restricted by the linearity of the medium's dynamic range. We certainly don't see blown skies and plunged shadows. Nor do we see soft, "cotton wool" water or blurry clouds from long exposures.
I'm not just trying to replicate the complexities of human vision: My remit is to be inspired to art by what I see.
For me, it's not about cameras and gear; equipment is just a means to photography.
It's about seeing and creativity.
I am an independent digital photography tutor and writer from Irlam, Manchester, England. I offer one-to-one photography training in Greater Manchester, Cheshire and other north-west areas. Click "Tuition" on the main menu to read more.
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