My first trip to the world famous Calanais Standing Stones on the beautiful Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. I’ve been wanting to make the trip for a couple of years now and finally I made it.
The stones are arranged in a cruciform pattern with a central stone circle for ritual activity dated back to the Bronze age and actually older than Stonehenge in England.
On arrival approx 6pm the light was bouncing all over the place, it had been one of those typical Scottish days where you get all four seasons in one day, this can prove to be very successful for landscape photography as it seems to bring the purest of light, what I call magic light. However this can bring difficulties with light management …You need to be in control of the light, not the light controlling the image with dark shadows and/ or crazy blown out highlights. To do this I firstly used a Haida M10 CPL which is my go to filter to control highlights and lift some beautiful saturation. This still wasn’t quite right so I upped the game by using my Haida Red Diamond Medium 0.9 ( 3stops) … I was almost there but not 110% happy. I decided to expose for the foreground, stones, sunstar, skyline and clouds in separate manual exposures, knowing I could easily blend in post processing when back at my computer. Doing it this way also meant I could nail the focus better resulting in sharpness from front to back, I prefer this method rather than just going for one at say F16 or F22.
The sky didn’t pop as much as I hoped due to the time of year and day time temperatures. I stayed till dusk quietly watching the sun dip below the horizon, all very peaceful.
I hope you enjoyed my thought process and final image named “Ritual”.
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Thought I’d share this one with you all. Ryan DeFreece-Dyar one of my biggest inspirations in Landscape Photography posted about “a piece that represents best what they constantly strive to make… a defining moment in their own history when everything comes together and falls into harmonious place.”
My image “Elysian” instantly came to mind. I’d like to share with you the story behind it.
After a morning of heavy rain and patiently waiting in my car with a flask of peppermint tea I really thought I’d have to turn around and go home. You know when the kid in you wants to stamp your feet and have a tantrum? Thankfully only thirty minutes from home but my heart was sinking. Then suddenly, something switched inside me, almost determination saying feck it to the world, it’s only rain I won’t shrink! I gathered my waterproofs, rucksack and went for it.
Sat at the top of a peak with all my gear set up under a large golf umbrella and generally feeling rather sorry for myself, black mascara running down my face to complete the look! Then suddenly out of nowhere the clouds opened like they were saying hello and welcoming me.
The beautiful sunlight peeped out, I was scrambling for the remote and Haida Filters in a real fluster with wet hands. Finally pressed the remote, let the camera/filters do their job whilst I sat back & let the light flood in.
Such a beautiful moment, it seemed to last forever but in actual fact only 152 seconds exposure.
I drove home in more rain with the biggest smile ever on my face. Scottish weather isn’t the most predictable, but it sure gives great mood.
I chose this image to share with you as literally there is part of my heart within. I do hope you like my story/image and can relate somewhat. Would love to hear your stories too?
Equipment/ settings used …Canon 5d mark iv, 16-35mm @16mm. ISO 100, F11, 152 secs. Haida Filter N.D 3.6 (12 stop).
The moral of this story is don’t be defeated by the weather!
Best wishes to you all from a cold and windy North of Scotland in the middle of August, how rude!!
Buachaille Etive Mor known locally as “The Buachaille” is a Scottish Munro at the head of Glen Etive. Driving up the A82 from the south your suddenly in awe of this majestic peak. I remember 20 yrs ago a climber had a horrible accident ..I was heading back to the car after a hike over Rannoch Moor when a guy approached me asking for help, one of his climbers were suspended on a ledge almost at the top of the Buachaille & could I drive him to the Hotel ( not many people had mobile phones back then & even if they did they wouldn’t have a signal). I’ve never driven so fast in all my life, we finally got there & phoned for Mountain Rescue. It seemed to go on forever waiting for the Helicopter to arrive, I think about 2 hrs plus it was going dark. The Climber was rescued & taken to Fort William Hospital, his knee caps were all smashed, they said he would never walk again. The following summer I heard he was back on the same mountain climbing again … Such an inspiration, never give up!! This area is in my heart and soul .. I truly love it, my happy place.
Here is the Raw file we will be working with. Taken with a Canon 5d Mark iv, Canon 16-35mm USM Lens @34mm, ISO 100, F11, 131 seconds. With a Haida ND 3.6 (12 stop) Filter. On the beautiful banks of Loch Assynt, Sutherland, Scotland.
To begin with we are going to make sure we’ve removed any unwanted objects. With this particular image I decided to remove the reeds in the foreground as I felt they looked messy and uninteresting. I will leave the small foreground rock as an anchor point to draw the eye into the scene. We are going to do this with the help of Content Aware technology in Photoshop.
1: Start by duplicating your background layer by holding Ctrl+J, or CMD+J on a Mac.
2: With Layer 1 selected ( highlighted in white) > Go to your Tools panel > Select the Lasso Tool and roughly draw round any unwanted objects (as seen in the image below).
3: Go to Edit > Fill. This will provide you with a pop up box. At the top of the box you’ll find a drop down menu > select Content – Aware. Check the Color Adaptation checkbox, sometimes this can give a smoother color transition. Copy my settings from the image below.
4: Just like magic! Photoshop did a great job in removing the reeds, see the results below.You now need to deactivate your selection by holding Ctrl+D, or CMD+D on a Mac. Flatten your image by going to Layer> Flatten Layer, which will collapse your Layer stack into one. You can do this sequence several times to improve results if needed.
5: The image is looking too blue for my taste. I’m going to lower the blues in Adobe Camera Raw ( ACR).
6: Open up ACR > You do this by going to > Filter > Camera Raw Filter > which brings up a new screen. >Go to the eighth tab along in the Basic Panel (right hand side) named Camera Calibration > Go to the bottom set of sliders named Blue Primary. Set the Hue slider to minus 14 or thereabouts, and the Saturation slider to minus 100. See my settings in the image below.
7: Flatten your Layer stack by going to Layer> Flatten Layer, which will collapse your Layer stack into one.
8: Again, duplicate your background layer by holding Ctrl+J, or CMD+J on a Mac.
9: Go back into ACR, this is where we are going to control the light. The light is coming from the left side of the image. Start by grabbing your Gradient filter which is the second tool from the right on the top left row. I use a bright Pink colour ( see my image below) as my Mask colour seen in the lower half of the screen, as its a colour not commonly used in nature, making it stand out to enable me to see where the actual Gradient will be rather than the Overlay option checkbox which gives you a lined area. Simply drag down the Gradient Filter with your mouse to where you think is best and click OK, which takes you back into Photoshop. Flatten your Layer stack by going to Layer> Flatten Layer, which will collapse your Layer stack into one.
10: You can see in the image below the effect its given from the settings I used.
11: Duplicate your background layer by holding Ctrl+J, or CMD+J on a Mac
12: Back into ACR, using the Gradient filter again I lowered the exposure of the water. All the time my aim is to draw the eye to the trees.The lighting is now looking more directional. See my image below of the work so far. Click OK & back into Photoshop. Flatten your Layer stack by going to Layer> Flatten Layer, which will collapse your Layer stack into one.
13: Duplicate your background layer by holding Ctrl+J, or CMD+J on a Mac.
14: Back into ACR > Take the fifth tool from the top left set of Tools named Target Adjustment Tool ( I call it the Tat Tool ). It will provide you with a movable cross shape icon > zip across to the Basic Panel (right hand side) to the fourth icon named HSL/ Grayscale. You’ll see three titles named Hue, Saturation & Luminance.> Click on Luminance, place your cursor over the area you want to work on. In my case I’m starting on the trees. > Now drag your cursor/mouse upwards, this will lift the Luminance values. You can see how my settings in the image below has lifted the shadows on the trees and made them stand out more. Also have a play around with the Saturation & Hue sliders with the same technique. Be careful as it’s a very powerful tool and has a tendency to show weird colour transitions if pushed too far. Once you’ve finished click OK. This will take you back into Photoshop and you’ll need to flatten your Layer stack.
15:Duplicate your background layer by holding Ctrl+J, or CMD+J on a Mac.
16: We need to take this a further step as the trees aren’t popping off the screen as much as I’d hoped. So…head back to ACR and follow my settings similar to the image below. Again, once you’ve finished in ACR click OK which will take you back to Photoshop. Do not flatten your Layer stack this time.
17: The image is still looking flat and boring with no depth. So lets mask off the brighter areas which are not needed. You can also see in the histogram that some highlights are blown out which isn’t great. We need to control this, hopefully once masked off it should bring them back. If you have never used masks please don’t worry, we will work through it together in baby steps. Once you get the hang of them it will open up a whole new world for you.
18: With Layer 1 selected, go to Layer > Layer Mask > Hide all. This provides you with a black mask hiding your top layer (layer 1). Make sure your foreground and background colours are set to the default of white and black. You can do this by pressing “D” on your keyboard. Set your Brush Opacity to around 20- 30 %, its best to build up slowly to give a more natural feathered effect. Now take a large soft brush (1100px approx) using your white foreground colour (this will reveal your hidden layer) and carefully paint in the light you want to show. You can alter the size of your brush by using your bracket keys. Adjust your Opacity in the Layers panel if needed. Flatten your image by going to Layer> Flatten Layer, which will collapse your Layer stack into one.
19: Duplicate your background layer by holding Ctrl+J, or CMD+J on a Mac.
20: Go back into ACR and grab your TAT tool (Target Adjustment Tool). Im now aiming for the brighter areas of the sky around the trees. With your Cursor drag down the highlights in the area, this will help the trees stand out and blend better.
21: Whilst in ACR go to the Basic Panel> Selecting the seventh icon along named Effects> Select the Dehaze Slider and increase by around 17. This gives more definition and contrast. Press OK which takes you back to Photoshop. Flatten your image by going to Layer> Flatten Layer, which will collapse your Layer stack into one.
22: Duplicate your Background layer by holding Ctrl+J, or CMD+J on a Mac.
23: Still working on giving extra light to the trees. Select Layer one > Blend mode Linear Dodge ( Add) > Set your Opacity to around 75% and Fill to 25%. This really gives great highlights. Again you’ll need to mask off certain areas that aren’t required, (same as in step 18 above to reveal some eye popping light effects). See the results in the image below.
24: Back into ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) to the White Balance tool. This can help with not only colours but also Luminosity too. Top left you’ll see an eye dropper Tool, third icon from the left. Place your cursor over it and drag to a neutral part in your image and click. Try different areas for different effects. Click OK which takes you back to Photoshop. See the results in the image below. Not a massive difference but each little step really does help.> Flatten your Layer stack.
25: Duplicate your Background layer by holding Ctrl+J, or CMD+J on a Mac.
26: Back into ACR > Go to the Basic panel> Seventh icon named Effects> Post crop Vignetting> Add some Dehaze. Click OK and back into Photoshop. Adjust your opacity slider to what you think looks best in the Layers panel. Flatten your image. Follow my settings from the image below.
27: Back again to ACR > HSL panel> Saturation section> Take your TAT tool and drag down those brashy blues to help the trees stand out better. Click OK which takes you back to Photoshop and flatten your Layers in the Layer stack.
28: Duplicate your Background layer by holding Ctrl+J, or CMD+J on a Mac.
29: To me the Vignette is looking a wee bit too heavy, so go back into ACR and the HSL Panel. > Luminance section and lift those dark shadows. For me it actually lifted more around the trees which was great as it gave more contrast. Click OK and back to Photoshop. Flatten your layers.
30: Duplicate your Background layer by holding Ctrl+J, or CMD+J on a Mac.
31: Go to > Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask>. Copy my settings from the image below. Click OK.
32: Go to >Edit > Fade unsharp mask> this brings up a pop up box > Click OK >. In your Layers panel go to > Blend Mode Luminosity. That’s your sharpening all done but do we really want sharp clouds? I think not, so…..lets mask off the parts we don’t want sharp.
33: With Layer 1 selected, go to > Layer > Layer Mask > Hide all. This provides you with a black mask hiding your top layer. Make sure your foreground and background colours are set to the default of white and black. You can do this by pressing “D” on your keyboard. Set your Brush Opacity to around 30- 40 %, its best to build up slowly. Now take a large soft brush using your white foreground colour to paint in the sharp areas you want to show. You can alter the size of your brush by using your bracket keys. Adjust your Opacity in the Layers panel if needed. Flatten your image.
34: To save for the web, go to > Image> Image size>. Follow my settings below and click OK..
35: Go to > File > Save as >. This will bring up your personal PC Library >. Now save and name to whatever folder you wish. Remember to select in the drop down menu that you want it saved as a Jpeg.
Final image below.
Tips:You can also save as you go along which is something I’ve learned the hard way with my crazy connections here in the wilds of Scotland. My internet can oftentimes drop or slow down, and for some reason it closes Photoshop losing all my work. So if you save as you go it saves any heartache that may happen. Some people like to work in large Layer stacks which is fine, we’re all different and have different circumstances.
I do all my sharpening at the end of the process as Contrast, Clarity and Dehaze to name a few can add to the effect, so if you do it at the end you know the correct amount to add. It also depends on where the image will be shown, in this case it will be posted on social media platforms.
Try not to focus on the sliders. Place your cursor on the control and move it without looking at it. Look only at your image and how the slider is affecting it. This way it’s easier to see when something will look right.
I truly hope you enjoyed this tutorial & found it easy to understand. If you have any questions you may like to ask please feel free to give me a shout on Facebook Messenger and I’ll be happy to help. Most of all have fun and enjoy your Photography, it’s all about you, not what others may think.
On the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond …There’s a song in there somewhere, will probably drive you mad all day singing it in your head.
Woke up to a gorgeous frosty morning at Duck Bay the light was so soft and perfect looking to me. Loch Lomond, Scotland’s first National Park, “The Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park”, located off the A82, approximately two miles north of Balloch.
I felt like I was still in my bed dreaming. There was no time for breakfast, couldn’t bare the thought of losing the soft light shining on the Ben (Ben Lomond Mountain), producing an epic reflection on the Loch. I’m not normally a morning person but when you see such beauty it gives me a big kick up the ass and I can’t wait to get out there shooting. It’s a bit like the feeling you had as a kid on a Christmas morning, you never know what to expect but excited at the same time.
Light moves fast and so do you if you want “that shot”. Sometimes I panic so much that I forget things, it’s quite the adrenalin rush. Questions racing through your mind, should I place the Tripod here or there? What Focal length should I use? How should I angle my lens? Which filters if any? So many others as they flash through your thoughts, all happening in nanoseconds.
Canon 5d mark iv, Canon 70- 200mm USM Lens, Gitzo Systematic 5 series Tripod, Gitzo series 5 Off Centre Ball Head, Haida ND 3.6 ( ND 12 stop) Filter, Remote timer.
Adobe Photoshop CC.
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