An insight into my photography

Shipwreck Beach, Kauai

Recently one of the readers wrote and asked a few questions about photography, and how I have been able to achieve the blue skies and vibrant colours in my photos. In hindsight, I thought this may be information that everyone would be able to use. Keep in mind, I’m no pro, but I AM a die hard hobbyist. If you enjoy photography as well, please chime in and share some of your work. I’m always interested in meeting like-minded people.

So without further ado, here’s the email that I received and a bit of an insight into my workflow.

“Here are my questions.  I’m very sorry if they’re a bit plenty but at the moment I am imersing myself with all things photography. I’ve also attached some of the pictures I’ve taken in the last 2 months since I bought my DSLR camera. Still very very amateurish (and I can see now what I did wrong with some of them) but I’m proud of them as a complete novice. Hopefully I can get some comments from you on how to improve some of them.”

1. What camera do you use and what’s your lens for landscape photography?

I am currently using the Canon 30D, an ~8mp camera that’s long outdated but still takes nice pictures. The resolution is great assuming I’m not printing out large format photos. Megapixels is thrown around a lot to determine the quality of the camera. It comes down to the sensor quality more than anything. Just because a camera has more ‘megapixels’ doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better.

I use a variety of lenses, but my favourite for landscape is my Sigma 10-20mm. It gives a great wide angle view, and on a crop sensor body (ie. Canon 30d, 40d, 50d, 7d, 400d, 500d, etc) it provides a 16-32mm field of view. Only when you jump up to a full frame camera (ie. 5D MkII) will the focal length match 1:1.

2. How did you start in photography? How long before you started taking “nice” pictures?

I like to think I really started taking an interest in photography when I got my DSLR. That said, I think one of my best photos I’ve taken was with a 4 megapixel “point and shoot” on my first trip to Australia. Sometimes it’s not the camera (though it probably increases the number of keepers) that makes you take good photos. It’s back to talking about composition, exposure, framing, and just flat out finding interesting subjects. Have a look at this photo. The resolution and sharpness may not be on par with the best cameras out there, but it’s one of my favourites because of the subject matter and the composition of the photo.

3. What are the composition rules you often adhere to? I usually use the rule of thirds but tend to forget others.

I use the rule of thirds as well. If your subject is straight on and centred in the picture, it’s likely to be boring. It won’t automatically be a bad photo, but it’s likely to not have that ‘artsy’ feel that makes a snapshot a photograph.

4. Sky – is your sky always blue because you layer two or more exposures – one correct exposure for the sky and one for the subject? Or do you just use AEB to get the different exposures then layer them? Or are the colors vivid because of filters and polarizers? Skies are my frustration – mine are always blown out!

My skies are generally blue because of a CPL (Circular Polarizer) or because it’s a HDR image. A circular polarizer helps with getting rid of the glare and ‘taming’ the bright sky on a sunny day. I tend to bracket most of my shots, regardless of whether they’re converted to a HDR image or not. That way, if I’m in a hurry, I can check which of the three may have been exposed correctly for highights and shadows, then edit in that image inpost.

5. Green grass – how to do produce them?

I love my green grass. Green is one of two colours that the human eye is very sensitive to (red being the other), so I pay special attention to it. Blue actually comes in a distant third (hence RGB). I find that adjusting this channel independently of the others (RGB) tends to give me a nice green tone that doesn’t under or over power the others. Often, I will decrease the green spectrum in darker colours because it can otherwise overpower an image.

6. Generally, I love your colors – they are not dull like mine. What’s your secret? =)

Again, it goes back to using a polarizer to cut glare and provide rich colours, and post processing. If you’re shooting in RAW, it gives you much more flexibility to adjust colours and contrast – both which contributes to vibrant photos. I try to capture as much as I can in camera, but a good editing job in Lightroom can compensate for my shortcomings.

7. Do you sharpen your photos further or is it sharp because of the lens? What technique do you use to sharpen your images?

I have a Photoshop action that I run all my photos through that sharpens photos. It’s the best I’ve found thus far. Essentially this allows me to sharpen as little or as much as I like, using separate layers and changing the opacity of the ‘sharpen’ layer.

8. How much post-processing do you do in you SCR photos, for example? I tried taking some photos there but they all look dull.

I use two programs. Lightroom and Photoshop. I use Lightroom to do most of the adjustments to the photos including croping/levelling, contrast, white balance, saturation and vibrance, and lens distortion correction. In Photoshop, I use noise reduction (if necessary), resize and sharpen, and add my signature to the bottom. All in all, it probably takes around 3-4 minutes per photo.

9. Do you use HDR?

I do, but not always. Really I only use it for those ‘special shots’. That said, I do tend to bracket all my shots just in case, and generally just choose the best exposed shot of the three.

10. Hmmm… what else… any other useful tips for a beginner? =)

Practise! It’s digital, so take as many photos as you can. Junk the ones that are crap, but as you progress, I think you’ll find the number of keepers starts to rise pretty quickly. If you’re not shooting in RAW already, I suggest you do. Working with RAW files adds flexibility to any photo, but does require that each photo has a bit of post processing involved.

Work on post processing as well – don’t be afraid to process each photo a few times. One of the nice things about Lightroom is that it is non-destructive, meaning any changes you make to a photo are kept in a separate file, so the original photo is not altered. It allows you to make “Clones” of a photo to start fresh and try a different approach to the post processing.

About Stefan
Stefan is the regular writer for Megan & Stefan, and hails originally from San Diego, California. A resident of Australia since 2007, he write about his experiences living abroad, his love of photography, and documenting the process of building a house here in this sunburnt country he calls home. Feel free to drop him a line - he's always up for a chat.


  1. Inquirer says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Stefan! ;-)

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