FINE ART ATELIER: 10 | Budir Church, Iceland

Press the play button above to view the movie.

If you visit Iceland, there's a very good chance you'll be taken to the little black church at Budir out in the west. It has become very popular with photographers and the challenge in more recent years is capturing a good shot without other photographers in the frame. Thank heavens for content-aware fill!
This photo was taken very early in the morning before the tourist buses arrive. It also used a ten-stop neutral density filter to lengthen the exposure and allow the clouds to blur just sufficiently to create a visual difference - a point of departure from reality. 
And as always, this movie is all about explaining the ideas behind the editing, not the editing steps themselves. To understand how I use layers in Photoshop, visit the reference section in the Landscape Photography MasterClass and review the videos on layers - layers will transform the way you edit your work.


FINE ART ATELIER: 10 | Oxer Lookout, Karijini

Press the play button above to view the movie.

I first saw Oxer Lookout in a photograph taken by Christian Fletcher. Christian, Tony Hewitt and I hosted a photography workshop in Karijini for many years and the advert used to promote the first workshop featured a view from a little further behind where I'm standing here. Karijini is in North Western Australia in the Pilbara region and it's a photographer's paradise, but capturing the red rocks and earths and keeping it looking 'natural' is a challenge in Photoshop. In this movie I discuss two themes - how I darkened and lightened the image to better manage the tonal distribution; and how I used the Lobster 'plug-in' to convert the file for better colour control in Photoshop.

The Lobster plug-in is no longer available, but there are other options outside Photoshop, such as using Affinity Photo (because it makes it easier to use LAB adjustments in an RGB workflow) or 3DLUT Creator (see LMC 3 for a lesson on this software). Nevertheless, the process of lightening and darkening the image selectively to produce the creative outcome remains valid and so this movie has been retained in the MasterClass.


KNOWLEDGE: 10 | How To Stitch Panoramas

NB There is now a movie lesson on stitching in the Capture Section (Chapter 19) as well, if you prefer a movie presentation.

Creating a stitched panorama is a lot of fun and the results can produce high quality digital files with perspectives that can't be captured with a normal camera.
Although it's easy to do, there are quite a few things to consider when stitching panoramas. You can do it quickly or you can do it precisely. For small files for the internet or email, you probably won't be able to tell the difference in terms of quality, but if you're wanting to create a work of art that will stand close scrutiny, it's best to do everything properly to ensure you get the best result.


A stitched panorama is a photograph made up of two or more frames of adjoining parts of the same scene. These frames are then joined together to create a single, seamless image.
So why would you create a stitched panorama? Why not just use a wide-angle lens? Sometimes it isn't possible to 'fit everything in' with the camera you're using because the lens doesn't have a sufficiently wide angle-of-view. You could be in a location that requires you to turn 180º to incorporate the important elements of a scene, and this simply isn't possible even with wide-angle lenses, or if it is, you have too much distortion at the edges.
If you can use a wide-angle lens, the subject may be too small within the frame or you have to crop too much of the image to end up with the composition you want. In other words, the resulting file size is too small for your requirements.
Stitching for larger file sizes is certainly one way to approximate medium format image resolution. By using a narrower focal length (a more telephoto angle-of-view), four, six, eight or more frames can be stitched together to create a file with a far greater number of pixels. This in turn allows you to make bigger prints, but unless you want large prints at their ultimate resolution, there may be no point.
A DSLR might have a resolution of around 6000x4000 pixels. To make a print at 200 dpi, where every pixel is represented by a dot or point, you could make a 30-inch (75 cm) print. For most people, this is more than enough, so stitching for larger file sizes has become less of an issue.


Stitching Limitations 

Successful stitching relies on an invisible join between the individual frames. With good camera technique, software can do this easily, assuming your subject hasn't moved!
Stitching software looks for pixels in one frame that perfectly match pixels in the next frame. It then aligns these pixels and, everything being equal, the image is seamlessly joined together.
Problems can arise when the subject moves between frames. Clouds in the sky, waves on the ocean, leaves on trees and animals or vehicles in a scene can all cause problems. The stitching software will still join the images, but you will see telltale 'errors' in your image where one exposure doesn't match the next perfectly.
Generally these small errors can be fixed with retouching after the image has been stitched, or by manually adjusting a layered stitched file.
A less obvious issue arises due to lens distortion. Think of a lens with distortions towards the edges of the frame. If you're trying to join pixels in from the edge of the first frame with pixels that are in the centre of the second frame, the lens may have distorted the pixels so that they don't make a perfect match. Again, stitching software deals with these issues, but it may leave the result less than perfect.
Some experts suggest stitching only with high quality, prime (non-zoom) lenses to avoid problems with lens distortion. Similarly, avoiding wide-angle lenses can be a good idea, although this can be more easily solved by increasing the amount of overlap between frames.

Basic Camera Settings

To create a seamless stitch, each exposure needs to be as similar to the next exposure as possible. This means using manual controls on your camera.
First, your camera's exposure mode should be set to manual. Determine the most important part of your scene and check the histogram with some test exposures. This is the setting you will use for every exposure in the stitch series.
One of the problems with wide panorama views is that the exposure can vary dramatically from one side to the other, especially if part of the image includes the sun. You may need to exposure bracket your frames – this is quite a common technique and software like Photoshop and PTGui are set up to handle both stitched and exposure bracketed images.
Second, set your lens to manual focus. Again with your camera aimed at the most important part of your scene, focus the camera carefully and then set the lens to manual focus. You can usually check that the lens is still in focus through the viewfinder – the AF indicator will light up when you touch the shutter release button - or use the LCD screen for live view and one of the focus-assist overlays.
If the focus changes from one frame to the next, not only will the stitching software find it difficult to match pixels, the resulting image may have unwanted blurred areas as well.
Third, ensure you are capturing raw files. This will allow you to standardise your colour balance when processing the raw files in your computer, because you don't want the colour changing from one frame to the next. (If you are shooting with JPEGs, then take the white balance off Auto and set it manually to something like Daylight or Shade etc.)
Fourth, when joining one frame to the next, make sure the frames overlap. Some experts recommend at least 20 percent, others up to 50 percent. With normal and telephoto lenses, you can probably get away with 20 percent, but with wide-angles you will probably get better results with a 50 percent overlap.
Fifth, use a tripod and a panorama head to take the stitching frames. Although this step isn't essential and stitching software will successfully join frames together even if they are tilted and angled differently, there will be fewer errors and artifacts if you keep each frame as similar to the next as possible. So, rather than hand-holding your camera, use a tripod.
Really Right Stuff has some great stitch and panorama accessories.

Tripods and Special Mounts

You'd think using a tripod would help the stitching process, and it does if you also use the right tripod head. Getting a tripod perfectly level is easy indoors on a flat floor, but problematical out in the field. It can seem impossible to level the three legs, especially when the light is changing and you're in a hurry.
There are many solutions, the easiest being a ball head with a panorama plate on top. Assuming the ball head has a spirit level, it can be easily levelled without needing to precisely lengthen the tripod legs. Then, with the panorama plate on top of the levelled ball head, you can now swing the camera around to stitch your images together.
This system works well assuming you want your camera to be horizontally mounted and the horizon in the middle of the frame. To mount your camera vertically (because sometimes it's better to stitch vertically, especially with wide-angle lenses) you will need a way to turn your camera 90º (probably a special camera bracket).
And if you want the horizon somewhere other than the middle of the frame, then the ball head and panorama plate won't give you a level horizon as you turn the camera to make the stitch. The solution is another special bracket.
Do you need all this equipment? No, you can go back to hand-holding your camera, but if you find stitching is something you want to do seriously, then you'll find yourself shelling out for the brackets. Really Right Stuff makes some great brackets, although they are not cheap.
The Really Right Stuff panorama accesories make positioning the nodal point over the pivot point very easy.

Arrays and Nodal Points

Stitching isn't just moving the camera from one side to the other with a single row. It can also comprise two, three or more rows of images and if you're hand-holding the camera, the process becomes more difficult. It is almost impossible if you are also bracketing your exposures to obtain the dynamic range needed to retain detail throughout the stitched panorama.
One solution is the Gigapan, a motorised camera support that will automatically move the camera from side to side, row by row in a precise fashion. The resulting frames allow its software to easily stitch them together. However, the Gigapan is not a small device and so may not be suitable for landscape photographers walking long distances to their destination.
There's also one other little issue that confounds many photographers, that of the nodal point. The nodal point, simplistically speaking, is where the light rays intersect at a point within the lens before continuing on to the sensor. To ensure perfect alignment when stitching images together, the camera should rotate around this nodal point.
For landscape photography without prominent features in the foreground and middle ground, it's not essential to determine where the nodal point is. However, if there are trees or large rocks in the foreground, you may find it difficult to perfect your stitches if the camera is mounted on the tripod using the tripod bush underneath the camera body. This is because the camera is rotating around the sensor (or near to it), not the nodal point. To rotate around the nodal point, an extension bracket can be used which will slide backwards and forwards, allowing you to position the camera in various positions depending on the nodal point of the lens in use.
If this sound complicated, it isn't. Once you've determined the nodal point for your lenses, it's just a matter of sliding the camera into the correct position.
Approximating the nodal point as being basically in the middle of your lens will often produce a very acceptable result. However, if you want to work out precisely where your nodal point is, then check out the Stitching movie in Chapter 19 of this Landscape Photography MasterClass.

Stitching Software

Once you have your two or more images, how do you stitch them together? It can be done manually in Photoshop, but Photoshop itself has a Photomerge feature which comfortably produces perfect stitches in 95 percent of situations.
For more complicated or difficult stitches, or for photographers who are looking for more control over how their images are stitched together, take a look at PTGui. This oddly named program is generally considered the best stitching software around and it is certainly a very sophisticated piece of programming. It can produce simple and complicated stitches and even allows you to include HDR exposure adjustments at the same time.
For more information, visit www.ptgui.com. The software is moderately priced, so start with Photomerge in Photoshop or Lightroom until you're sure stitching is a technique you intend to use more often.


POST PRODUCTION: 10 | Do You Need PTGui Pro?

Press the play button above to view the movie.

There are many software packages designed to stitch or merge photographs together, but Photoshop itself has a pretty good system which will do everything you want it to, most of the time. Lightroom also allows you to create panoramas, directly from your raw files. So why would you need another piece of software like PTGui Pro to create your panoramas? Sometimes you want more control, sometimes (albeit rarely), Photoshop or Lightroom struggle to create a good stitch, whereas PTGui seems to have every eventuality covered - although there is a lot of learning required to take advantage of its in-depth features.



LOCATION SURVEY: 10 | Hamilton Island


Hamilton Island has one of the most amazing landscapes in the world: Hill Inlet. Strictly speaking, Hill Inlet is on Whitsunday Island which sits to the north of Hamilton Island, but because Whitsunday Island is a national park, the closest place you can stay is on Hamilton Island.
I've been to Hamilton Island many times now. David Oliver, Bruce Pottinger and I presented a photography workshop there each year for many years, combining very comfortable lodgings, great food and a generally wonderful climate with some stunning scenery.

Hamilton Island itself is a resort and, while great to stay in, is not itself a landscape photographer's haven. However, looking out from Hamilton Island to Whitsunday Island from the Reef View hotel block is an amazing view and one I never tire of. Being there for a week at a time, you can watch the light dance on the water, especially as the weather changes. This is where I took my first Gigapan photograph while sipping on a drink. Ahh, the rigours of landscape photography!
Each year we would take an early morning walk up to Passage Peak which has an expansive outlook over a chain of small islands, including Pentecost. We get up well before dawn and it takes about an hour to get to the top, but the trail is well marked and easy going, even with a tripod and heavy camera bag. If you're staying in the Reef View, the trail begins behind the hotel. Don't forget to take a torch.
Once at the top of the Peak, you have a choice of views, from a wide angle panorama to some tighter compositions taken with a telephoto lens. The islands are backlit by the morning sky and their outlines make wonderful shapes in the pre-dawn light. Then, as the sun rises, it's easy to spend the morning playing with different compositions. The only thing that draws you away is a desire for a relaxed breakfast on the beach back at the hotel.
However, Whitsunday Island and the famous Hill Inlet is my favourite. I have seen so many award winning photographs from here taken by my friends. David Oliver's panorama in green, Tony Hewitt's ethereal overviews with small specks that are people when you look closer, and both Bruce Pottinger and Kevin Cooper's aerial photos that make Hill Inlet look amazing.
Whitehaven Beach is said to have some of the whitest sand in the world (hence its name, I guess) and it squeaks when you walk on it.
There are three ways to shoot Hill Inlet. Take a ferry from Hamilton Island and it will deliver you to White Haven. White Haven is a long beach, so they often have two drop offs and it will be the second one that gives you access to the Inlet. While interesting depending on the tide, you'll soon want to get up a little higher to put the location into perspective.
Fortunately, there's a lookout just above the beach and it's a 10 minute walk. It's not particularly high, but it gives you sufficient elevation for a wonderful stitch panorama looking back down White Haven beach and into Hill Inlet.
The third option is the most expensive and the most amazing. A helicopter flight from Hamilton Island out to Hill Inlet and back is simply sensational. See if the pilot will let you take the doors off the helicopter so you have an unrestricted view, but keep your camera and lens inside so you're not buffeted by the wind.
The 'record' shots from up high are great, but a little boring on a bluebird sunny day. You're probably better off hoping for some weather and stormy clouds providing more drama. However, once you've feasted on the wide angles, put on a short telephoto and look directly down into Hill Inlet. Here you'll see what I love the most: the sand patterns produced where the water stream from inland Whitsunday Island meets the ebb and flow of the ocean tides.
The sand patterns are remarkable and if you don't mind adding a little contrast into your files using Photoshop, it doesn't really matter what the light is like. It's all about creating patterns with textures.
On my second flight over Hill Inlet, I used an 80mm lens on the Phase One 645 AF with a P65+ back (the equivalent of a 50mm lens on a DSLR), and was surprised by all the little black dots on the sand. When I enlarged the files, I could see the dots were lots of stingrays foraging for food on the bottom.
The water is so shallow and clear, the ripples of sand so amazing, that you can't help but get some fantastic photographs.


PHOTO ADVICE: 10 | Critique Session

Press the play button above to view the movie.

During the production of the Landscape Photography MasterClass, some of our early subscribers kindly provided some images for critique and review. This has turned into a very popular part of each MasterClass and we have received many complimentary comments about how useful the Critique Session is.

Of course, there are no absolutes in photography and so what you view in this movie is really just one photographer's opinion about another photographer's work. However, hopefully the advice and observations can be helpful in improving your own photography.


BUSINESS ACUMEN: 10 | Limited Edition Prints

Over the past three decades, the ‘fine art photography’ market has grown and matured, more so in America and Europe than in Australia and New Zealand. And it’s true that older prints, often taken by photographers who are deceased, generally fetch more generous prices than prints sold by contemporary photographers.
Perhaps the most important issue in selling photography as art is scarcity. When you buy an original painting, there is only one in the world. An artist might paint a series of similar works, perhaps following a theme, but the fact remains that each painting is one of a kind.
In comparison, a photograph by its very nature can be reproduced many times. Unlike a painting, there is no practical limit to the number of copies that can be produced and this attribute has been a stumbling block in the art world. Some people find it hard to place as high a value on a photograph as they do on a painting.
This doesn’t mean people don’t buy photography. They certainly do and it’s a growing market.
There are two main 'markets', the 'landscape' or 'destination' market, and the fine art 'world'.
Around Australia you will find scores of photographers selling their 'landscape' work from small, often regional galleries and most would acknowledge Ken Duncan as a pioneer in selling photography this way.
In addition, there is growing interest in photography within the art world, but these are two separate markets, and both rely on the concept of limited editions.

Limited Edition

There is no law or ethical reason that art photographers should sell limited edition prints. However, if you do put a limit on your prints, then you need to communicate clearly how that limit works and what a ‘limited edition’ means.
Ken Duncan says he began with editions of 20, but this ‘killed’ some great shots because he sold out too quickly. He moved to editions of 50, then 100 and today his editions are generally 300.
Said Ken several years ago, “I think in an international market, an edition of 300 is a reasonable number. You don’t want to set the number too low because you’re usually measuring things from where you are today, not where you want to be in the future.” If you make a name in photography, then your earlier work could take on added value and it would be good to have a few prints still available for sale.
This approach works well for Ken's market, for people who are buying landscape prints to decorate their homes and offices, but the art market is generally looking for a print that is more exclusive. Editions of three to 15 seem to be more appropriate here.
So what should readers of the MasterClass do? All photographers, whether landscape or fine art practitioners, have to start somewhere, so it probably doesn't matter what numbers you put on your first few exhibitions. If in doubt, why not start with an edition of 100?
More important than the number is how you deal with the edition.
The concept of ‘limited edition prints’ relies on the integrity of not only the photographer, but the photography art market in general. It only takes a minority of photographers to abuse the concept of ‘limited editions’ and the whole industry can be affected.

Selling Out

So what happens when an edition sells out. Can a photographer simply re-shoot the scene? Continued Ken, “If you do this, then the new photograph has to be different, otherwise I could just go through my transparencies and pull out rejects. It all comes down to integrity."
Limited editions can create an urgency for buying a print, so as an edition progresses, there are levels where the price increases. Ken’s pricing model works in steps. After 50 prints in an edition have been sold, the price increases. At 100 prints, it might increase again, and so on until the final prints are selling at a premium. And as the print reaches the end of its edition, the price increments become larger.
Continued Ken, “When people visit our gallery and are thinking about buying a print, we explain that if they wait for a few months, the print could very well be twice the price. People love to look, go home, measure up their wall, think about it and come back six months later when they’ve made a decision, but by that stage if the print has been selling well, it could be considerably more expensive.
“Of course, people who have purchased early in the edition see this as a good thing because the value of their print has already gone up.
“In America, they also have different ways of extending an edition, such as an ‘artist proof’ collection, or editions of different sizes, but this is just milking the system. If there’s a limited edition of 300 prints, then that’s the maximum number of prints you can sell no matter what size they are. The limited edition requires integrity for it to work.
“Think of an image as a pie. You can have 300 slices or 100 slices, but once all the slices are sold, that’s it. In my case, there will be 300 people who have the right to hang an image on their wall, so if an edition is sold out, the only way someone else can acquire it is to buy a slice from someone who already has one.”
Basically, Ken is saying that you can’t slide a print out to a friend by signing it and not giving it a number. “Much as you might like to do this for a friend, you can’t. If I give a print to a friend, I have to check that there’s one available and then it becomes one of the edition.
“All prints in an edition should be registered. We keep a print register of every photograph – who it was sold to (where possible), what size it was, whether framed and if so how. Over time information about the owners may change, but with email we try to keep in touch regularly.”
So what happens if the National Gallery asks for one of Ken’s prints which is out of edition? “Well, they can’t have one. An edition is an edition.
“I can’t imagine a gallery asking for a copy of a van Gogh.”
However, people who buy a 30-inch print can come back and have it reprinted in a smaller or larger size. This isn’t something that happens a lot, but it is a reason for keeping the negative or digital file. Some people ask if Ken destroys the negatives or files when the edition is sold out, but he certainly doesn’t. In many ways, this is an ‘old technology’ question as prints are produced on digital printers. Digital files are backed-up and archived at multiple sites.

Edition Types

Many photographers produce an edition with a limited number of prints no matter what size. However, some photographers might offer an edition of 100 prints in a small size and 100 in a large size. There's nothing wrong with this approach, as long as you explain it clearly up front.
What you can't do is start with an edition of, say, 100 prints 20x25 cm in size and then, when this sells out, run another edition of 100 at 25x30 cm. This isn't fair on the people who bought in at the beginning.
Finally, there are many photographers who don't use limited editions at all, or very rarely. They sell their prints to those who want to buy them, but they are not numbered, or if they are numbered, it isn't limited. There's nothing wrong with this approach – it's not illegal or immoral, it's just different.
Limited edition printing is predominantly a marketing exercise designed to assure people who buy your prints that the market won't be flooded with images exactly the same. Your clients are looking for something that few other people have.

Limited Edition Prints

  1. The number in an edition is the total number of copies that will be made available to the market. You can have different editions for different size prints, but this must be stated up front and not changed part way through an edition.
  2. Different size prints from the initial release and/or prints on different surfaces etc are included in the edition number and do not create a new edition.
  3. Artist proofs and unsigned copies of the print must not be provided to the market (unless declared up front when the edition is first made available).
  4. Provide a certificate with each print, detailing the number of the print, the number in the edition, the name of the print, and details about the nature of the limited edition.
  5. Keep a register of prints sold. This register will allow you to manage the editions. It can be as simple as an accounts book or as sophisticated as a computer database.