FINE ART ATELIER: 17 | Mestia, Georgia

Press the play button above to view the movie.

Looking through the MasterClass, we don't have a lot of urban images, but urban landscapes are every bit as valid as the natural scenes we love as well. This photograph was taken from our hotel in Mestia, Georgia. The towers are a feature of this region and it seems that at some stage in history, the landowners would try to out-do each other with taller and grander structures. They make great punctuation points, not just in urban scenes like this one, but all over the countryside.

As you expect by now, this movie outlines the creative decisions made during post-production and while it shows the steps and adjustment layers involved, for a full understanding of how to use layers, check out the Reference tab for our series on the basics of using layers in Photoshop.


FINE ART ATELIER: 17 | Ishak Pasha Palace, Turkey

Press the play button above to view the movie.

I'm not exactly sure why I stitched this image together as I could capture most of it with an ultra wide-angle lens. However, there was something about the location and the light that made me think I'd like to print it up really big one day. Maybe I should do it tomorrow for my studio? This is a classic case of visiting an exotic destination - Ishak Pasha Palace in Eastern Turkey, only to be more inspired by something nearby!  

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: 17 | Composition - Part V

The centre of interest is clearly the fisherman. Not all photos have such an obvious centre of interest, but those that do usually have a little more compositional strength than those that don't. And the colour? Horrible, isn't it! 

Most photographs have a centre of interest. A centre of interest is just that, a part of the photograph that is of particular interest. Sometimes it is our subject and the reason we are taking the photo, but it could also just be a small part of a larger scene.

Compositionally it should be the most important element within the frame.

For instance, it could be a single tree in a forest of trees, a tall mountain towering above a range of lesser peaks, or a waterfall cascading over a precipice. Generally centres of interest are only a small part of the frame and are used to balance the surrounding area. There can be more than one centre of interest in a photograph.

So why are centres of interest important? Compositionally, this is where our viewers' eyes go. They look around a photograph and generally settle on a centre of interest. As photographers, it's our job to ensure our viewers look at what we consider is the centre of interest.

For instance, there might be an interesting tree in a landscape. One way to ensure the viewers only look at this tree is to eliminate everything else from the photograph. This is where framing and viewpoint are so important because they can help you isolate your subject.


Unfortunately, this isn't always possible. For instance, because of the tree's location or possibly our viewpoint, we could be forced to include other 'compositional elements' such as more trees, shrubs or rocks. These other elements can fight for attention with the tree, so if we can't eliminate them from the scene (or we don't want to), we might have to use other techniques such as lighting, focus or post-production processing. We can also use the position of our subject within the frame.

Composition revolves around the centre of interest and where we place it within the frame can influence what our viewers think about it. When our subject is positioned in the centre of the frame, it is considered to be very strong, but also static and a little boring. If you position the centre of interest to the side, it is more dynamic and can suggest movement.

Think about where you usually place your centre of interest. Most photographers place it in the middle and this is quite logical because generally we also focus on the centre of interest. Since autofocus cameras have the focusing points in the middle of the viewfinder, guess where most photographers leave their centre of interest after focusing?

Sometimes, the middle of the frame is exactly the right position, but not always. If you're putting your subject in the middle of the frame simply because it's easy to do so, you're putting it there for the wrong reason. Another position might make a much stronger, more interesting photograph.


Balance is another compositional tool which often works in tandem with the centre of interest.

When we talk about balance, we often think of two objects the same size. For instance, two trees the same size and shape, sitting on either side of the frame, would be considered balanced. Balanced and probably a bit boring!

However, a ton of metal will balance a ton of feathers, but in terms of size and area the ton of feathers will be much larger. In the same way, a small compositional element within a frame can balance a much larger element elsewhere. A small rock can balance a large rock, a single red leaf in a tree can balance one hundred surrounding green leaves.

The small people somehow 'balance' the huge expanse of water.

Compositional balance can also be implied. A lone tree in a large open expanse can appear balanced –  the small tree balances the huge space surrounding it. It is considered balanced because the importance of the tree is so much greater than the empty space.

The next question is not so easy to answer: how much space or how much bigger can one compositional element be than another and still end up with a balanced composition? There are no hard and fast rules and it depends on the subject matter, lighting and a host of other issues.

Balance is a tricky concept to explain, but with a basic understanding you can start to look at photographs in a new light. One of the main reasons particular photos work so well is that they are compositionally balanced.


POST PRODUCTION: 17 | Big Black & White

Press the play button above to view the movie.

We've looked a black and white conversions in an earlier MasterClass, focusing on the many ways you can convert a colour image to black and white. However, how do you take a black and white landscape a step further? How do you turn it into a BIG black and white with rich blacks, luminous whites and a wonderful range of grey tones? In this video, we look at a couple of images and show you how to transform your colour files into wonderful black and whites that even Ansel Adams would be pleased with!



LOCATION SURVEY: 17 | Scotland & The Isle of Skye

Elgol, Isle of Skye. This photo was taken using a 10x neutral density filter which blurred the water. We almost missed this photo due to roadworks, but after a cup of tea and some scones, the road was cleared and access granted!

Let me begin by confessing I know very little about Scotland. I have made one short visit there, a visit that is way too short to do it justice, yet what I saw in just a few days was enough to ensure I go back one day soon!

Such is the life of a landscape photographer, taking advantage of opportunities as they arise. I had a calendar assignment that covered Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the UK, so after giving a series of workshops in Birmingham, England, I travelled with David Oliver and his daughter Louise up to the Isle of Skye. A day drive there, three or four days shooting, and a day drive back. Not enough. Yet when I look at the photographs I took, I am really pleased with them. Several of them ended up in the calendar and, interestingly, it was a disproportionate number compared to the amount of time I spent there.

Isle of Rum from the Isle of Skye. Don't you just love the names! And the light was great as well.

As an Australian, I hear a lot about the ‘poor’ weather found in the United Kingdom, yet as someone coming from the land of blue skies (which all Australians know isn’t really true), the changeable weather was really appealing. In landscape photography – in fact, in all aspects of photography – we enjoy shooting things that are different to what we are familiar with. UK readers of this MasterClass will possibly wonder what I’ve been drinking, but I know that many other Australian and American photographers will be nodding their heads in enthusiastic agreement when I write that Scotland has some simply wonderful landscapes.

Loch Nah Achlaise, just off the highway north of Glasgow. We had a spot of winter sunlight and took full advantage of it.

We headed up the M6, across the Scottish border, through Glasgow and into the Scottish Highlands. Not far in we drove along the edge of Loch Lomond and as it narrowed, we found lots of great tarns and waterways to shoot. In terms of car window photographer, everything was only a few steps away from the road. Even the light was incredibly changeable and we knew that no matter what the weather was like, we were going capture some really moody landscapes.

By the time we reached Donan Eilean, perhaps Scotland’s most famous and picturesque castle, it was after sunset. We took a few frames at incredibly long shutter speeds, but realised we’d have to return in the morning to shoot it properly.

Across the bridge on the Isle of Skye, we found food and lodgings at Saucy Mary’s Lodge, and despite the name, both were incredibly good value. This was our base for the few days we had available.

Rainy morning on the road to Elgol, Isle of Skye. I have always had a vision in my mind of reeds like these - I'm not sure if I have successfully recreated it yet, but I did love the colour and texture in this photo.

And those days were spent fulsomely. Up at dawn (which isn’t too early in the middle of January), back at dusk (which is in plenty of time for an evening drink before dinner). Winter has its advantages in terms of sleep, but the downside is the cool air!

David and I spent most of our time at the bottom of the Isle of Skye and on the mainland, searching and fossicking for locations to shoot. The narrow roads are easy on the rental car and there’s always something around the next corner. The weather was pretty dismal and we’d often have to wait an hour or so for the light to improve, so the fact I didn’t get to some of the Isle of Skye’s highlights is blamed on the weather!

I ran an article by Lorellie Bow and Glen Campbell in an issue of Better Photography magazine and the two of them had some great photos. And for someone who is time poor, it makes sense to hook up with someone like Glen who takes photo tours. Even if you don’t need the photographic tuition (at which Glen is very good), the advantage is you have a local taking you to all the best shots. Take a look at Glenn’s website at Light Stalkers (

Fantastic light, rustic old buildings, dinghies on muddy beaches a low tide, white washed walls… and did I mention fantastic light?

Mark me down for another trip to Scotland!

The Isle of Sky from Applecross on the Scottish mainland - a beam of sunlight just at the right time.


PHOTO ADVICE: 17 | 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: 17 | Which Software?

Karijini. This image was processed in Capture One, finessed in Photoshop, output to Lightroom where it was re-processed and uploaded to my website automatically. Hmmm, do I have some issues about technology?

Photoshop, Lightroom or Capture One?

By now you have probably settled on your software of choice and most readers will be using Photoshop because it has certainly featured in the Landscape Photography MasterClass.

However, what is the best software for landscape photography? Is there just one program you can use and all your troubles are cared for?

The answer is no.

As a landscape photographer, we have three processes to work through.

1. We need to collate and archive our photographs so they are easy to sort through and choose from. We need software with a ‘database’ component.

2. We need to do a basic edit of a large number of images, quickly and efficiently. Not every photograph is a masterpiece, nor will we want to spend hours on each image to refine it, so we need a program that will allow us to quickly get our images to a state of ‘acceptable readiness’.

3. For the hero photographs, we need to take complete control, using masks and layers. This is where we make selective adjustments in a more sophisticated way.

Options: One Program Only

If you had to choose just one program, and one program only, I’d choose Photoshop Lightroom or Capture One. Lightroom has the advantage of accepting plug-ins (such as those from Nik Software) which greatly extends it editing capabilities, but personally, I probably prefer the way Capture One processes my files. Nevertheless, I use and enjoy them both.

With both these programs, you can import your files directly from your memory cards and archive them into working and back-up folders. From here, the catalog (which can be created when you import the images) gives you access to your files quickly and easily. You can sort, rate and organise to your heart’s content, and you can also apply pre-set changes to all your images with no extra clicks of a mouse!

If you do want to take a few photographs a little further in terms of post-production, the editing features are very comprehensive, giving you all the control of a raw processor plus many of the editing tools found in Photoshop. 

So, if you could only have one program, it would be Lightroom or Capture One.

Options: Two Programs

If you have the budget to afford two programs, then there are more choices. Lightroom with Photoshop would be the ultimate and is very easy to purchase as a subscription from Adobe. Now you have the ability to work quickly on all your files, but pull out the heroes and work on them more closely in Photoshop.

Options: Capture One and Photoshop

So why do I use Capture One? Well, I use Capture One mainly because I use Phase One cameras and Capture One is made by Phase One. I also like the way it processes my files. However, these days I find I'm using Lightroom for my Fujifilm files and Capture One for my medium format work, but that's just to keep abreast of what's happening.

In the past, I worked with Phase One, producing videos for Capture One and their camera systems, so I have a good relationship there. 

On the other hand, I part-owned a magazine called Better Photoshop Techniques and I was involved with Mikkel Aaland and his Photoshop Lightroom 2 book. And since then I have worked closely with Adobe, producing tutorials for Lightroom. So, I think I could be accused of having a bias for either program. (I’m not sure where that leaves my old association with Nik Software – as they also make great plugins!)

More Options

Software costs money and for a magazine editor, it can be written off as a cost of business, so I enjoy buying plug-ins and playing around. However, if you have a budget and you’re choosing between a new lens, a computer monitor or more software, then it’s important to spend your money wisely.

If you’re at the beginning of your journey in photography, then I’d spend my money on good lenses and a good quality computer monitor. Grab a subscription to Photoshop and Lightroom and you're set.

As you progress with your passion and you accumulate more lenses and a good computer monitor, then maybe it’s time to experiment a little more. Just as different papers can produce subtle but important differences in your finished print, so can the software you use. I don’t think you can go wrong with Photoshop, Lightroom, Capture One and a bunch of plug-ins.

Plugins? The ones I enjoy using are Nik’s Silver EFEX and Sharpener Pro, PTGui for stitching, Helicon Focus for focus stacking and Alien Skin’s Exposure for grain (although Silver EFEX can also work well here). However, plugins is another story!