FINE ART ATELIER: 04 | Lake Oberon

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Some locations are famous for just one angle, so it can be a challenge to come up with something that's a bit new - and that doesn't get you into trouble! This photograph of Lake Oberon in the Western Arthurs has a few points of difference that are fine for art photographers, but not for documentary workers. Peter explains the issues - and how the changes were achieved.

If you're not familiar with how Photoshop works with its layers, we have a Reference section here in the Landscape Photography MasterClass (the last item on the menu) where you can learn all about layers and how to use them. It is introductory in nature, so if you're unsure about some of the techniques or processes used in this movie, all will be revealed when you view the three movies on layers in the reference section.


FINE ART ATELIER: 04 | Cappella di Vitaleta

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In the Journey section of this MasterClass, I reminisce wistfully about my trips to Tuscany and Umbria in Italy a few years ago when I first started playing seriously with digital photography. The Canon EOS 1Ds had been released and its 11-megapixel sensor was the best thing since sliced toast! One of my favourite images from this trip is of Cappella di Vitaleta, a small chapel perched amongst undulating hills - or is it! Have a look to see how I re-worked this Italian landscape.

What you are seeing in this movie is a series of steps from the basic capture to the final rendering. The steps are not necessarily the quickest way to create the image, rather they follow the thought process of discovering the image through colour, contrast and exposure. Two quite separate processes are involved: that of pre-visualising the image, and that of rendering it in Photoshop.


KNOWLEDGE: 04 | Camera Support For Maximum Clarity

I use a lightweight carbon fibre tripod - a bit too light for some, but better for travelling with.

Platform Stability

Once you have your camera lined up, the process of actually making the exposure should be simple enough, yet there are a few issues landscape photographers need to be aware of if they are to make the most of the lens and sensor quality they have available. Most of this is probably revision for MasterClass readers, but just to make sure, let's cover the basics.

With sensors being able to record extremely fine detail, they are also susceptible to recording small movements in the camera. Camera shake can quickly turn your professional quality lens into a 'plastic fantastic' with little resolution. In fact, it really is amazing how quickly image quality can be degraded if you don't exercise good camera skills.

When you enlarge your processed image on your computer monitor to 100 percent, the image should be as sharply resolved as your lens enables. If it isn't, don't first assume it's a problem with your lens, rather test your lens under 'laboratory' conditions and double check. More often than not the lack of image quality is due to overlooking the most basic part of the process.

At its simplest, we need to ensure the camera is perfectly still during the exposure. This generally means using a tripod, but on a bright sunny day we can probably shoot hand-held with a shutter speed of 1/250 second (for a wide-ange lens) and end up with a perfectly sharp image. There will be situations when you either shoot hand-held or you miss the photo, so don’t think twice about it, take the photo!


But if you do shoot handheld, make sure you're as still as possible when you press the shutter release button. Hold the camera securely, perhaps dig your elbows into your sides, take a breath and steady yourself. You need to consciously slow yourself down just enough to make the most of the opportunity. Squeeze the shutter release button gently, don't stab at it. Remain conscious of keeping the camera as still as possible until after the shutter closes.

Of course, often you can find a fence, a bench, a stump, a rock or a rubbish bin on which you can either rest your camera, or rest your elbows. Even leaning against a wall or a tree can improve your stability when you take the photo.

Tripod or Monopod

A monopod is great for shooting wildlife and sport and is especially useful for steadying a long telephoto lens. However, for landscape photography a tripod is really the best solution.

Many landscape images are exposed with medium to small apertures, and at low ISO settings, which in turn means that shutter speeds are moderate to long. We're often shooting at 1/30 or 1/15 second and when light levels are low, it's not uncommon for our exposures to last several seconds. There is no alternative but to use a tripod.

So what sort of tripod should you buy? A tripod needs to be sturdy enough to support the weight of your camera and lens. Too light a tripod and the camera can be left gently swaying in a slight breeze or can over-balance, but too heavy and your back won’t be able to lift it!

The larger, heavy duty tripods are designed to hold medium and large format cameras, so they are over-built for a DSLR or mirrorless camera unless it is mounted with a monster telephoto lens. However, these designs also have the longest legs and hence the tallest extension. If you want to get your camera up high above your subject (say two metres or more), the larger, heavier tripods are the only way to go.

However, most tripod photographs are taken at eye level or lower. If you don’t need the height you can buy a much lighter tripod that’s still sturdy enough for your camera and heaviest lens.

Don’t only look for a tripod’s maximum height because you’ll often want to position your camera just a few inches above the ground. Not all tripod designs will let you do this. Some tripods will spread their legs without restriction, allowing the camera to be lowered to the height of the tripod head. If your tripod won’t drop this far, you may be able to reverse the centre column so the head is upside-down and between the tripod’s legs. This feature allows you to position your camera practically on the ground and work with your camera upside-down.

Tripod Head

A most useful feature is the quick-release plate. Rather than having a screw mounted in the tripod head, a plate is screwed onto the base of the camera (it can stay there permanently if you like). The plate is then slotted onto the tripod head and locked into place with a catch. It’s much, much quicker and highly recommended.

Really Right Stuff makes some excellent L-shaped camera brackets. 

Take a look at the range of camera plates and accessories at They have a number of 'L' shaped brackets which let you attach your camera to the tripod either horizontally or vertically and I find this a really useful accessory. However, Really Right Stuff gear is not cheap and a lot of photographers have found cheaper alternatives that work very well. 

Tripod heads come in two basic configurations: pan-tilt and ball. A pan-tilt head has a two or three-way action. Two (or three) arms allow you to turn the tripod head up and down or from side to side, but only in one plane at a time. Of course, if you release both together, you get unrestricted movement.

Really Right Stuff BH-40 with PCL-1 panning clamp

The ball (or ball and socket) design has a single release (and usually no arm) which allows the camera to be freely orientated. When the camera is in position, you simply lock the head.

Both designs have their uses, but perhaps the ball design has the edge because it seems to be quicker to position than a pan tilt head. And while a spirit level on the head was useful, these days many cameras include a horizon levelling indicator and so life is pretty easy!

I currently use a large Really Right Stuff carbon fibre tripod with an Arca-Swiss cube head. They are both expensive, but seem a good combination of rigidity and weight. Certainly with air travel these days it's a matter of reducing weight, so I don't want to carry lots of heavy gear around (although many people would say that I already do). 

Mirror Slap

Even with your camera locked off on a tripod, problems can arise when your shutter speed is between 1/30 and 2 seconds. This assumes you're using a DSLR or medium format SLR camera. When the mirror flips up out of the way to expose the sensor, it hits the camera body and sets up vibrations. (Obviously this doesn't apply to mirrorless cameras!)

At very fast shutter speeds, the vibration doesn't affect image quality; at really long exposures, say four seconds and longer, the vibration is gone and affects such a small proportion of the exposure that it's not relevant.

However, between 1/30 and two seconds (this varies depending on the camera), mirror slap can produce image degrading vibrations that can be the equivalent of pressing the Blur filter in Photoshop one, two or even three times! And the larger your image sensor (the more pixels you have), the more obvious mirror slap becomes.

The only foolproof solution for mirror slap is to lock the mirror up before making the exposure, wait for six to ten seconds, and then make the exposure. Most of the more advanced DSLR cameras feature a mirror lock-up control, although sometimes it is hidden in a menu which can only be accessed via the camera's LCD screen. (Refer to your camera manual if necessary.) And of course, if you shoot in live view mode, then the mirror is automatically locked up out of the way and this is another way of avoiding mirror slap.

Shutter Release

The act of physically depressing the shutter, even with the camera on a tripod, can introduce unwanted camera shake, so a cable or electronic release is used to fire the shutter.

A release should be considered essential equipment, but if you get caught without one, don't forget that you can use your camera's self-timer instead. And while it might be tempting to set your self-timer to two-seconds instead of ten (less time to wait), consider the effect of mirror slap first because you may find with your camera that you're better off using the 10-second setting to allow the shutter vibrations to clear away before releasing the shutter. This assumes you can set the mirror to lock up at the beginning of the self-timer process - not all cameras allow this.


POST PRODUCTION: 04 | Luminosity Masking

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Can you see the carefully placed highlights along the edges of the mangrove tree roots? Can you imagine the time spent carefully painting them in? Or is there an easier way? Certainly there is and it's called luminosity masking. Luminosity masking can be used for all types of work where a mask or a selection is needed to control where you're making your adjustments.




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If you liked the idea of luminosity masking in the previous movie, but thought the approach in Photoshop a little challenging, then you're going to love this luminosity masking panel. It makes the process of creating and then customising your masks so much easier and quicker - it's almost an essential purchase for the serious landscape photographer.




Tuscany & Umbria


La Gataia Farmhouse, near Volterra

There's much to love about Italy. I think first and foremost is the food. Or is it the wine? The coffee? The atmosphere? The zest for life? The sense of history?

As an Australian whose country dates back just a little over two centuries, visiting countries in Europe whose towns and buildings go back thousands of years is an extraordinary thrill. The landscape cannot hide the marks of civilisation and I really enjoy including 'the mark of man' in my compositions. In some ways the landscape becomes an 'urban landscape', so the classical landscape composition with a mountain and sky is complimented by a building or a road.

It is interesting how we as 21st century people gravitate to the past, whether photographers or just tourists. We want to see the old, the authentic, but we still want the modern conveniences. Italy gives you this, as do other countries in Europe, but only as the Italians can.


I've travelled through Italy by train and by car, but for photography I think car is the only way (or perhaps a guided photography tour as long as you're guaranteed an understanding driver). There are so many small country roads that weave in and out of valleys, farms and hill towns that you risk missing out on most of the best destinations if you rely on the trains.

The vineyards around San Gimignano are a delight in the early morning mist.

There are plenty of hotels to stay in and this is probably the most sensible approach for a quick tour of Tuscany or Umbria. However, in summer you would be prudent to map out your trip before you leave and book the accommodation in advance. Out of season it's a different matter, assuming the hotels remain open (many close for winter).

The downside of tripping from one hotel to the next without a booking is that you can be looking for a bed when you should be out looking for the light. And because everything is so close, I find it good to stay in a hotel or apartment for several days and use it as a base. As long the area I want to shoot isn't more than an hour away, I find this easier than picking up stumps every morning. And if you’re there in winter, then sunrise and sunset are at very civilised hours. After all, many Italian restaurants don't get going until 10 pm at night, so there's plenty of time for driving back for dinner.

Sometimes there's only one or two power points in the room (they can be old hotels, after all), so a power board can be useful if you have a laptop and a battery charger to use.


North of Orvieto, south of Florence, east to Perugia, west to Pisa. Tuscany and Umbria are probably the most popular parts of Italy for photography, although not the only areas of course.

Twin farm houses near Villamagna, an hour's drive from San Gimignano.

I spent three weeks in San Gimignano, a walled hill-town with some serious towers which from which they poured boiling oil onto their attackers. While this is undoubtedly true, the town had dozens of these towers and it seemed to be more a matter of 'keeping up with the Joneses' with each family outdoing the last with a taller tower. Today fewer than a dozen towers remain but they give San Gimignano a distinctive character.

Immediately around San Gimignano are lots of narrow roads winding through vineyards and the town itself makes a great feature for landscapes. Early autumn mornings can be misty, late afternoon sunlight is wonderful.

Further afield small towns like Volterra punctuate the horizon, while further afield still you'll find Lucca, Sienna and Florence. Larger and not as quaint as San Gimignano, they are great for a visit but a challenge to include in the landscape. I find the roads to and from these places more interesting, where smaller towns, trees or even crypts make more interesting composition. Of course, when you visit Italy you'll probably photograph subjects other than landscapes as well.

South of San Gimignano towards Rome is Orvieto. If you're looking for a tax deductible reason to go to Italy, there's an annual photography convention held in a wonderful old palace. Add in lots of exhibitions and seminars for a great few days, and the town and surrounds are yet another sensational destination.

Early morning light on a trip to somewhere else. Val de Este.

I think part of my attraction to Orvieto and its surrounds is the architecture and many of my images were taken inside the walls as well as out.

On one trip to Italy, there were two photos that had really caught my attention. One was of a small shrine on a hillside, the other of a group of trees.

Cappella di Vitaleta

I found the shrine at Cappella di Vitaleta. I'd worked this much out from a guide book, so it was just a matter of driving around looking for it. Funnily enough I found the shrine before I realised it, tucked away on a little back road. The angle that I settled on was from a major highway that passed the shrine on the other side.

I returned to this shrine three times. It took me about an hour and a quarter driving each way to reach it, plus extra time because invariably I found something else to shoot along the way as well. Unfortunately, on all three occasions the light was atrocious. To create the photo you see here, I was sitting in the back seat of the car with the window half down, my lens pointing towards the shrine. The wind was so strong it was hard enough to stand up straight, let alone set up a tripod. I sat in the car and when the wind relented a tad, fired the shutter and hoped for the best. Later a little Photoshop helped resurrect the wonderful colours that were there when the sun shone, if only it did!

The other photo was of a group of trees. This photo was everywhere in airports and tourist shops, on billboards and in calendars. The trees were surrounded by some wonderfully undulating hills, with nothing else behind. Simple and elegant, yet no one I asked really knew where the trees were.

I continued asking around and after about three weeks I found someone who gave me a clue. It took me half a day to drive there and when I did, I found the trees on one side of a four lane highway cutting through the undulating hills and the photography vantage point on the other side. I was so disappointed I didn't even take a photo – to have done so wouldn’t have been re-interpreting something, rather just copying the only angle that was really there.

The funny thing is that ever since chasing these trees, I have been on the lookout for a similar clump wherever I travel in the world – from Australia and New Zealand to America and Europe. I'm still looking.

One of the trees I did like on the way to Cappella di Vitaleta. Nothing like the clump of trees I was searching for, however.

I guess I have had a lot of fun in Italy, especially Tuscany and Umbria. And now I've been looking through my files, I must talk a bit more about the north of Italy – but that will have to wait for another MasterClass.

A popular landscape image. It could almost be anywhere in Tuscany - San Gimignano afternoon. 


PHOTO ADVICE: 04 | Critique Session

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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: 04 | Publishing A Book

Is A Landscape Photography Book Possible?

Cascada Paine, Patagonia (on the Chilean side).

Publishing your own book of landscape photographs is a dream for many – and one that can come true with the right idea, a little money, or both!

Keen photographers don't take too long to gravitate towards the photography section on Amazon or in their local bookshop. While the pickings are sometimes a little lean, the better stores will include a number of monographs by famous photographers. It seems that having a book of your photographs published is the way to riches and stardom!

In many cases, these photographers have already reached stardom, but whether they or their publisher reap the riches is another matter. However, publishing your own book may not be completely out of the question.

There is a part of publishing called 'vanity press'. It basically refers to people who self-publish their own books because they are unable to find someone else to publish their book for them. In other words, if you really want to publish your own book, all it takes is money! However, with one-off printers around (such as Blurb and Momento), you can also print a single copy of your book at a much smaller total cost!

Sometimes a publisher can be difficult to find because your idea doesn't have universal appeal, because there isn't a large enough market to make large enough profit, or because there are simply better ideas around. However, sometimes publishers are wrong – there are many stories of writers and photographers being rejected by half a dozen publishers, only to have the final publisher make a huge profit where others were unable to see the book's potential.

When you 'publish' something, you take a big financial risk. You risk that you will sell enough copies of the book to cover the cost of the printing, design, writing and photography. There's a 'break-even' point. For instance if 2000 copies are printed, you might need to sell 1100 copies to break-even. If you sell fewer than 1100 copies, you or the publisher would suffer a loss, but if you sell more, you will make a profit.

While 1100 copies mightn't sound much, many large Australian publishers have print runs of only 3000 for many of their titles, so a print run of 2000 is not to be sneezed at. In comparison, a photographer I know who was picked up by an American publisher couldn't believe how many were to be printed 'as a test': 100,000! I wish!

Because of this risk factor, publishers are not always seen to be generous. They often pay the photographer and writer just ten percent of the income generated by the book – but the percentage and the way this percentage is worked out can vary markedly from agreement to agreement. In comparison, if you self-publish, all the profits are yours – and you don't have to grovel in front of a publisher, pleading for him or her to take on your book!

Of course, if you do self-publish, you want to be pretty sure your book will sell enough copies to break-even. A book of your best photographs is unlikely to do well, even if your photos are exceptional. What you need is an idea or concept that people can relate to. If you're looking for something to publish, you need a theme – a place, a type of landscape, or a group of subjects. Whatever theme you select, it also needs to be of interest to a large number of people, some of whom you hope will be interested enough to buy your book.

Putting The Book Together

Publishing a book requires a number of different skills which are normally managed by the publisher, but with modern computers and direct-to-press technology, there's nothing a computer-literate reader can't do.

Assuming you're publishing a book that features your photography, you'll need to take the photographs. Sometimes a book emerges from a body of photographs, in other cases you'll come up with the idea for the book first and shoot the images afterwards. In most cases, it seems to take from three months to several years to produce the photographs.

If words are going to accompany your images, you'll probably need to find someone to write them. A local journalist or editor may be able to help, but unless you’re good with words, don't lower quality of your photographs with sub-standard 'copy'.

With words and photographs prepared, production can begin. Reproduction quality files must be produced for traditional presses and you should discuss what CMYK profile the printer requires. I like to do the CMYK conversions myself because when the RGB file doesn't convert properly, I am the one who works out where the compromises must be, rather then letting a computer program sort it all out generically. If you're printing one or two books on demand, you can usually provide RGB files and you don't need to do any conversions.

You also need to decide what your book is going to look like. How big will it be, how many pages, colour or mono, glossy paper or matt, hard cover or soft. There are lots of questions to ask so you should visit a couple of printers and ask for their suggestions – and quotes.

A four colour, hard-cover book will cost a lot more to print than a one-colour, soft cover magazine. You will probably find some of your best ideas are out of reach financially and that selecting the format for your book is a matter of compromise. However, any compromises may also have an effect on the marketability of your book. You'll soon find that deciding what to print can be quite a harrowing experience – and you may even change your mind about self-publishing and decide to hawk your work around to publishers, hoping they will take on the final stages of production for you. However, if you do this, you may lose control over what the book looks like and how it is presented. This can be very frustrating, especially if the publisher has a completely different idea to what is required.

Assuming you're still prepared to publish yourself, you'll need a page layout program such as Adobe InDesign. However, having a page layout program is a bit like having an automatic camera. Unless you know what you're doing, you're not going to produce a brilliant looking layout. Once again, look around for friends or locals who can help you design the book in an attractive, marketable format. A good graphic designer can make your book look fantastic; a bad design job can mean total failure.

Apart from the layout of the printed pages, a graphic designer will also be able to suggest ideas for the book: size, paper stock, colour or mono, hard cover or soft, and so on. Most printers will provide dummies, plain-paper books that are the exact size and stock of the final product. These can be very useful when imagining what the book will look like.

The book should also be proofread to ensure no embarrassing typographical errors find their way into 2000 copies. Generally the proofing is done before making final printer proofs – you just print out the pages onto plain paper and ensure someone experienced reads through the pages, looking for typographical errors and checking that the pages are in order.

Adobe InDesign can produce the final, high resolution Acrobat files needed for proofing. I use an Epson printer for proofing the PDF files (printing them out), but I make sure I have made printer profiles for the paper I'm using. Although inkjet prints don't give you a perfect proof, they are close enough to let you know everything will work out well (assuming the offset printer does a good job). Choose a proofing paper that is similar to the paper stock you plan to use for your book.