Hold your finger on the shutter button of a modern camera for 10 seconds and you can take dozens of photographs. Go into the landscape for a day and you could quite easily take hundreds of photographs with no sort of special effort. Whilst this is of course a key advantage of digital photography, it can also be a downfall. Your landscape photography will be judged by the strength of your portfolio. Therefore, it is important to self-edit and keep the standard of your work high....Read More
People often ask me if the colours in my landscape photography have been enhanced in some way. My answer is always the same - I tell people that if they stop the next time they are outside at sunrise or sunset and take the time to stop and watch the landscape, they will see amazing colours too....Read More
As summer slowly ends and we move towards autumn the sun is setting further to the south. Due to the shape of Northern Ireland's coastline, at this time of year you will need to go west if you want to keep a very low sun in your composition. With that in mind, my friend and I went to Benone Strand last week. At this time of the year (early September), the sun sets along the length of the beach and this allows for some really beautiful telephoto landscape photographs in which you can include both the sun and the beach in the frame.
(I have been told that the location I took these photographs from might actually be Downhill Beach, rather than Benone Strand, but a little research shows that the boundary is in dispute! The most common theory is that the Umbra Burn, shown in the landscape photograph above, divides the two.)
The Umbra Burn, which is a minor river, flows from the nearby cliffs and hills, exiting onto the sand and creating an ever changing landscape. If you can prevent yourself getting distracted by the beauty around you, the river is extremley interesting. Take a moment to study all of the different textures in my photograph. I also love the lines in the image which all draw the eye towards the overcast yet beautiful sky. The sand 'cliffs' at the edge of the water were quite literally changing before our eyes. On several occasions in a short space of time I heard loud splashes and watched huge slabs of sand fall into the water. I reckon that a timelapse of these changes over a period of a few hours would be really interesting to watch (if a bit boring to make!).
When I saw this big black rock sticking out of the sand I knew that it would make a great focal point in a landscape photograph if I could find a composition to compliment it. Using the lines to lead the eye diagonally out to the sea seemed like a way to visually balance the photograph and I'm very happy with the result.
As the sun dipped closer to the horizon the colours in the sky became more and more dramatic, both in terms of their strength and their beauty. This is a very shallow beach so I was able to, despite the fact I was only wearing a pair of Merrell Moab GTX outdoor shoes, walk through the surf without getting wet. However, during this exposure which was the first of a 3 shot sequence, a huge wave came rushing in, catching me unaware and absolutely soaking my lower legs. Not exactly life threatening, but a clear reminder of just how dangerous and random waves can be.
It was worth getting wet though, I'm really pleased with this landscape photograph, especially the little highlights of intense colour in the waves at the bottom of the photograph.
This will definitely me a beach I return to again over the autumn and winter months in the search of more great light!
It has been 5 weeks since I last had my camera out. I have been working and travelling almost non-stop since then and although I have enjoyed viewing the landscape photography of others in that time, making the effort to capture images myself has been far from my mind. However, mid-week I decided that 'if the weather was good' (an excuse I have used many times to avoid getting up at 5am!), I would take photographs on Sunday morning.
In the earlier months of the year, during which the sun rises further to the south, landscape photographers in Northern Ireland should consider the eastern coast for great light and beautiful landscapes. My favourite place is Murlough Bay near Ballycastle, another favourite being Murlough Bay in County Down! There must be something in the name because both beaches are absolutely stunning. The latter is a vast sandy beach, the former a rocky cove as shown in the landscape photograph below which I captured in 2008. This is one of my favourite landscape photographs that I have taken, so much so that I have not expended much effort returning to the same location to try and improve upon it.
One of the first things I do before any landscape photography shoot is use the Photographer's Ephemeris. It allows you to see where the sun will rise and set in relation to a given location and also provides other useful information such as the times of dawn, sunrise, sunset and dusk. As I looked at the direction of sunrise for Murlough Bay on this particular morning I noticed it was very similar to the location of the sunrise in the photograph above. I decided that of all the locations on the east coast of Northern Ireland I could go to, the rocky shore of Murlough would give me the chance to photograph an old favourite again.
On Saturday evening I went through my other regular pre-shoot checks, namely the tides and the weather. I used the 'Tides Near Me' app on my phone to check the tides at Ballycastle Bay, the closest recording station to Murlough Bay. This indicated that at sunrise, 7:38am, the tide would be on its way out and that it would be most easily described as a 'mid tide,' by which I mean it was the middle of the time between high tide and low tide. Different locations suit different tidal conditions but for the most part, photographing the coast at high tide yields the most interesting results, based on my own experience. High tide tends to hide clutter on the sea-bed and simplifies compositions, as well as the fact that the water seems to have a bit more energy at high tide.
Whilst tidal conditions seemed good, the weather was looking far from perfect. The forecast was for a very thick layer of cloud to be passing through the area at sunrise and in fact it was due to be overcast for most of the morning. The only saving grace was there was absolutely no chance of rain forecast. Even in overcast conditions a landscape photographer can try and capture a beautiful image, but any rain really makes things very difficult. (That said, on days when a mixed weather front is passing through, the light between rain showers can be some of the most beautiful, having a very clear and crisp quality to it. Sometimes landscape photographers refer to this as 'storm lighting.')
Arriving at Murlough Bay with my friend who is also a landscape photographer, we walked along the coastal path heading north. I couldn't remember the exact spot I had photographed from before, but that didn't matter, I wanted to include the beautiful coastal rocks in my photograph rather than try and replicate an old composition. My friend decided to shoot from the pathway whilst I started the short scramble to the edge of these rocks. As the tide was on its way out the rocks were wet and offered no grip whatsoever. I spent a lot of money on my walking shoes and boots, but no matter how good they claim to be, nothing offers even basic levels of traction in places like this. Using my extended tripod for support, I edged my way slowly over the rocks, wedging my feet into gaps between the rocks before slowly moving forward. It took me at least 10 minutes to reachthe point from which I took the photograph below, but yet it lies only 10 metres from the path. This will give you some indication of just how treacherous it was. A further 10 minutes was spent getting both myself and my tripod into a stable position from which I could safely photograph this beautiful sunrise.
To begin with there were some hints of colour in the sky, but the closer we got to sunrise the warmer the sky became, eventually reaching its peak which I captured in this landscape photograph. Murlough Bay is shaped like an amphitheatre and the light was so warm that it almost felt tangible, like a mist hanging in the morning air, transforming the landscape which curved around me. I can say, with certainty, that this was the most magical light I have ever photographed in. My old photograph shows the suns orb rising, which I would have loved to have captured in this shot instead of the very cloudy sky. However, upon reflection I realised that the cloud had acted like a sponge, soaking up all that colour and allowing me to show you, the viewer, just how beautiful and special a morning it was. My favourite thing about this landscape photograph is the reflection of the light off the wet rocks. It gives them an ethereal look and really visually ties the sky and foreground of this photograph together. In order to demonstrate just how quickly the light, including its colour, changes at this time of the morning I have included a second shot taken about 5 minutes after the first one. The colour of the light has changed considerably and altered the whole feeling of the scene. This shows just how important it is to be early for a sunrise, setting up whilst it is still quite dark so that you can capture every colour and mood that the morning throws at you. Had I not been to this location before, or at least spent time researching it, I think it would have been impossible to capture this image as finding a good composition in low light isn't easy!
As much as I love these two landscape photographs, I decided that a panorama was needed to really show how beautiful this stretch of coastline was. I was shooting at 16mm (in 35mm terms) which would be considered as 'ultra-wide' in photography circles, but I still couldn't show everything in the composition that I wanted to. This is not the first time that I wished I had a wider lens, but I can certainly count on one hand the number of times I have. That tells me it isn't worth buying one and that I should focus on improving my panoramic photography skills instead. I have not really researched the proper panoramic technique before but, after discovering how difficult it was to stitch 3 photographs together which had been taken at an ultra wide angle, in quickly changing light using long exposures. It took considerable effort, and my subsequent research has shown me that specialised equipment is needed in order to create landscape photography panoramics which are easy to work with. However, for now I am very pleased with the result!
White Rocks Beach in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, is full of potential for landscape photography. One particular challenge, however, is finding a simple foreground amongst the varied rock structures and types scattered along the beach. My strategy on this cloudy evening was to find something interesting amongst the rocks which would be able to become a focal point of a landscape photograph.
The little rock pool ringed with seaweed was a suitable candidate and I spent a considerable amount of time trying to simply the scene within which it lay. By positioning a wide angle lens close the ground I was able to capture the rock pool and the line of the rocks and cliffs leading into the distance.
Urris is a seascape photographer's dream...Read More
The latest blunder at the Dark Hedges...Read More
My landscape photography goals for 2016.Read More
2015 has been a reasonably good year for my landscape photography. I have broadened my horizons with several trips to Cyprus, reformed old landscape photography friendships and enjoyed the beautiful scenery around me as much as ever.Read More
'The Bowl' - a unique rock formation found on Whiterocks Beach, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.Read More
I visited Roe Valley Park near Limavady to capture some autumn colours. I was not left disappointed and I hope you enjoy reading about my short adventure in this beautiful gorge.Read More
A landscape photographer's guide to Dunluce Castle, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.Read More
Dunseverick, County Antrim - Northern Ireland Landscape Photography by Stephen Dickey
One of the most important stages of converting your RAW landscape photograph in software such as Lightroom is determining your white balance. The white balance you choose determines the colours in your image. Think of it as the foundation of all your colour work that follows - saturation, hue etc.
My own experience as a landscape photographer has taught me that, during the golden hour and onwards into dusk, the camera's automatic white balance struggles to find a useable white balance. It often leaves the image with a very strong colour cast, typically cool in tone.
In the slideshow above you can see a landscape photograph I captured at Dunsererick Harbour, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. I have converted the RAW file several times, altering only the white balance. The best way to show the difference in white balance is to show you visually.
You can see that the 'as shot' white balance, which is what the camera automatically determined, contains a lot of magenta and doesn't feel like the sunset I was fortunate enough to enjoy.
Next is the 'auto' setting. Note that this is the automatic setting in Lightroom, not the 'as shot' value which was determined automatically by the camera. This makes the situation even worse and moves the colours further away from what I remember the scene looking like.
One might assume that by choosing a white balance setting which matched the weather conditions prevalent in the photograph, the correct result would be obtained. Whilst the 'cloudy' setting is closer to reality is still isn't quite warm enough.
I have found that in most circumstances, taking a custom white balance from a white breaking wave produces a very good result. I use this technique in many of my landscape photographs. If that fails then taking a reading from a grey cloud also works well. However, in this case I feel the best result was obtained from the wave.
In conclusion, don't feel tied down to choosing a white balance preset for your landscape photographs. Take the time to experiment and build that strong colour foundation that your work deserves!
On a recent trip to Ballintoy the sky was a landscape photographer's dream - full of colour and interesting clouds. I was really pleased with a number of colour photographs I captured and I talk about them a bit below.
However, as I looked through my photographs in Adobe Lightroom this composition caught my eye. I really loved the movement in the waves and the patterns in the clouds. I don't often consider producing black and white landscape photographs as the colour of sunset and sunrise are so spectacular and visually appealing. There was something about this image, perhaps the simple shapes and dark rocks, that made me think it suited the style very well.
I post to several landscape photography internet forums and groups. The feedback I received on this landscape photograph was good, but there was quite a bit of debate about the white pebble lying on the beach! I purposely composed the landscape photograph to include the pebble - I feel it filled up the negative space and anchored the image. Many people, approximately 2/3, felt that the pebble distracted from the rest of the image. Feel free to contact me with your own opinion!
Here are some of my colour landscape photographs from that evening:
A landscape photographer's guide to photographing the Skerries, off the coast of Portrush, Northern Ireland.Read More
A guide to landscape photography at Ballintoy, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.Read More
Portglenone Forest in County Antrim is famous amongst Northern Ireland landscape photographers for its annual bluebell displays. Northern Ireland has very little ancient woodland so people flock from all over to this spot! The displays vary in quality from year to year and the window within which to photograph them is very narrow indeed.
This year I visited a little too late - many of the blueballs had been trampled on which was very frustrating. The overall quality of the display wasn't as good as in previous years.
I did however, capture the landscape photograph above which I was very happy with. I used my Canon 70-300mm L lens at its maximum focal length to isolate the bluebells growing around this ancient tree trunk. The wind was rustling through the trees, moving the leaves and branches gently during this long exposure.
I hope to return to the same place next year and witness a better bluebell display. Where do all you other landscape photographers out there photograph them?
Developing a consistent Photoshop workflow is an important part of improving your landscape photography. I normally use Lightroom to convert from RAW, and then use several layers in Photoshop to create my final landscape photograph.
Download this free Photoshop action by clicking the link above. Run it in Photoshop and you will see that the following layers have been created:
1) Shadow/Highlight layer: Run the shadow/highlight tool on this layer to balance your exposure.
2) Curves: Drag the curve on this layer into a shallow S-curve to add a little contrast to your image.
3) Levels: Use this tool to adjust the brightness, white point and black point in your image. I recommend adjusting this layer last.
4) Hue/Saturation: Adjust the saturation of individual colour channels to taste.
5) Selective Colour: The most useful colour tool in Photoshop and the least well known. Experiment!
I use this action when processing most of my Northern Ireland landscape photographs. I hope you find it useful!
Alex Nail, a very talented landscape photographer from England, recently posted an interesting article about landscape photography manipulation. His article was prompted by an article he had read on 500px.com. Essentially, Alex feels that image manipulation including brightness, saturation and contrast adjustments are acceptable, but when one physically alters the landscape by, for example, adding a different sky to an image, one has gone too far. Ignacio Palacios, the landscape photographer to whom Alex refers, is much more accepting of physical alterations to the landscape, including creating composites, changing the shapes of mountains in Photoshop and so on.
My own take on this debate is that changes to brightness, contrast and saturation are wholly acceptable. In fact, a camera can't capture an image as the human eye sees it. Some photographers proudly declare "I don't edit my images." However, taking this approach is somewhat of a false economy as, even when you shoot in digital RAW format, some other entity such as Adobe or Canon chooses how to display the pixels your camera sensor captured on screen. By taking control of brightness, saturation and contrast, you as the landscape photographer are choosing how that sensor data is displayed.
When one starts adding other skies to a landscape photograph, adding trees, stretching mountains to make them taller, I feel that the transition from landscape photographer to digital artist has taken place. Several images of average quality could be combined by a skilled digital artist into an interesting landscape image. However, in my opinion this requires far less skill than the pure landscape photographer who takes the time to compose the image carefully, wait for the amazing light and so on. I class myself as a landscape photographer, not a digital artist and I am against compositing and making physical changes. My own limit would be removing a bird that had flown into frame or removing a piece of rubbish that had been left in the landscape (assuming I couldn't remove it in the field). If you look at the example below you will see a before and after of my typical landscape photography post-processing. I'm sure you will agree that I did all the hard work with the camera, not the computer.
The viewpoint at Magheracross, which lies between Portrush and Bushmills, affords the landscape photographer with one of the best views of the Northern Ireland. I drive past this viewpoint several times a week and never see the same scene twice. However, there are two constants, namely the strong wind (which is to be expected when standing at this altitude on the rugged Atlantic coast), and the powerful waves pounding those interesting rock structures into existence.
These little pink flowers grow along the top of the cliffs and must be very hardy indeed. I intentionally included them in my composition as I don't feel that an image entirely dominated by greens and blues quite works. I'm not an expert on colour theory but I must have listened accidently for a few minutes in school art class and know that on the colour wheel, opposite colours tend to compliment each other. As you can see below, green and pink work particularly well.
I am often asked by non-photographers, and less experienced photographers, 'did you Photoshop that?' The truth is that the best landscape photographs require little post-processing work. In this case I burnt the corner of the landscape photograph to push the viewers eye towards the drama in the center of the frame. The most important thing any landscape photographer can do is obtain a balanced, sharp, well composed image in the camera. For this landscape photograph I used a Lee 1.2 soft-edge graduated neutral density filter to control the brightness of the sky, and an exposure of just over a second to try and show how windy it was.
I hope you enjoy this and all my other Northern Ireland landscape photography.