Before and After, Editing for Success

This article is about photo editing and the process I went through to create my favourite photo from a trip to Dubai in late in 2017.

[*Updated 14/03/18*]

Last night at our 2nd PDI (projected digital image) competition of the season, The Dubai Mall, Waiting for the Spectacle got a score of 9.5 out of 10 from Dr Ed Hyde LRPS

The three days I was in Dubai for work were jam packed with meetings so I didn’t have a chance to get out and see any sites in the daytime, but I did get out in the evenings. I took a number of photos in the evenings of that trip but it was the last night where I got the best images.

On the last night, we went to the Dubai Mall to see the nightly firework show and ascend the heights of the Burj Khalifa mega sky scrapper and believe it or not, it rained!

The Candidates

The Burj Khalifa is an amazing sight, it is 163 floors and 828 meters tall.

Burj Khalifa – hand held at 24mm, 0.4s, f/4.5 and ISO 640

At the base of the sky scrapper is a man made lake where every night there is an impressive fountain, light, music and fireworks display.

Dubai Mall Fountain Show – hand held at 24mm, 0.4s, f/5.0 and ISO 100

The lake is surrounded my living accommodation and a shopping center, called the Dubai Mall. In the photography people are standing outside to watch the display.

The Dubai Mall – 24mm, 1/30s, f/5.6 and ISO 1250

There are lots of steps and elevators before you even get to the lifts. I went up on my own so I could take a few photos.

Burj Khalifa Escalator – 24mm, 1/30s, f/5.6 and ISO 1250

The view from the top was incredible. With a bit of imagination I was able to drop the shutter speed and support myself against the window to get this shot of the traffic below.

Dubia E11 from Above – hand held at 0.6s, 73mm, f/4.0 and ISO 1250

The Winning Shot

Looking through my photographs, the one of people standing outside the Dubai Mall to watch the display was the one that really appealed to me. The silhouettes, geometry and lighting all vi for attention but the image needed work because there was too much distraction.

Whist I liked the coloured reflections from the shops under the people, it takes the eye away from the trees and silhouettes. Since the photograph was taken at a wide angle 24mm and the Mall is quite tall, the verticals start to diverge and cause the image to appear like it is leaning.

After a bit of cropping, some vertical alignment using Lightroom’s Guided Upright Perspective Correction and careful adjustment of the Exposure (+0.56), Highlights (-75), Shadows (-37) and Blacks (-10), I created this image.

The Dubia Mall, Waiting for the Spectacle

Conclusion

I think the final image is much more powerful. There is a limited colour palette and less of the mall to distract the eye. The verticals are now straight and the much closer crop now highlights the geometric shapes and interesting lighting of the trees.

I’ll find out what Molesey Photography Club think of it as I’ve entered it into the second PDI competition of the 2017/18 season. The judge will score it out of 10. I’d give it 10. What do you think?

 Kit Bag

    • Camera: Canon 5D MkIV
    • General Purpose: Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM

Surrey Steampunk Convival

The Surrey Steampunk Convival

In early November, I joined Lisa and Geoff from the Molesey Photographic Club for an outing to meet the Surrey Steampunk Convival.

Lisa had heard that the Convival were meeting for a two day event in New Malden. The plan was to meet up on the Sunday and hopefully get some good costume and people photographs.

Helen, Stuart and Lady Jane from the Gosport Steampunk Society
Helen, Stuart and Lady Jane from the Gosport Steampunk Society

Steampunk

What is Steampunk you may ask? Well it’s an alternative reality where Victorian technology never goes away. The costumes combine Victorian fashion with mechanical accessories. Based on my experience at this event, it seems that goggles and gloves are prominent!

If you are interested, you can find plenty more information on the wikipedia entry.

Vijay Johnson welcomes us to the Steampunk Convival New Malden
Vijay Johnson welcomes us to the Steampunk Convival New Malden

Tony Mobbs and Kirsty Matthews feat Boris Steamrat
Tony Mobbs and Kirsty Matthews feat Boris Steamrat

Vijay Johnson wearing a bright red hat and corset, welcomed us to the event and we got to work quickly. It was immediately clear that I would enjoy myself with this plethora of colour and accessory!

My experience

To say the lighting was challenging is an understatement. Luckily I had my monopod to help me keep the camera steady so even with a slower shutter speed, I would get a higher rate of sharp images.

Steve Jones Steampunk DJ
Steve Jones Steampunk DJ

R D Handcrank Vertonium
R D Handcrank Vertonium

It was relatively dim in the room despite bright light coming in through the windows and plenty of spotlights.

To keep the highlights in check, I wanted the less exposure than the camera’s metering system wanted. When focusing on subjects in dim light, this is a good way to avoid any pure white patches in bright areas like windows!

Steampunk Diver Battle
Steampunk Diver Battle with Hilary Insall

Slithery Companion
Miss Catherine Paver with her slithery companion Ratchet, the rescued Royal Python

Knowing that I needed to consistently under expose, I found it easier to use the manual mode for the majority of the time. I set my camera to F4 with the auto ISO limited to 3200 to maximise the amount of light to the sensor.

Restricting the ISO was the best way of ensuring the best image quality in the conditions. The resultant shutter speed was whatever I needed to get acceptable exposure but on the whole, I tried to keep it close to the focal length.

How my lens choice helped

It was rather fortuitous that I had packed my macro lens. Jane Darnbrough from Reptile Events had brought various reptiles including two snakes.

The macro’s big aperture of F2.8 and close focus ability meant that I could get some really nice photos of the two snakes.

Reptile Events Star of the Show
Ratchet, the rescued Royal Python from Reptile Events

Reptile Events Snake Closeup
Another of Jane Darnbrough’s snakes from Reptile Events

Another lens I took was my ultra wide. The event was indoors and I wouldn’t be able to get much distance between myself and my subjects. With my normal zoom lens it was unlikely that I would get everyone in group shots.

The ultra wide angle lens was helpful here and as an added bonus, the wider shots meant that shutter speeds could be lower, thereby improving image quality. Of course, that’s only helpful if people don’t move!

Surrey Steampunk Convival Group Shot
Surrey Steampunk Convival Group Shot

The results

Of the many hundreds of photographs I took, to get thirty odd images I was happy with is a good result in my book. Unfortunately, the necessity to crank up the ISO meant I needed a lot of noise reduction in post production resulting in some loss of detail.

The images look great when they viewed on the screen but they don’t look too good at full size. I did find however that in a few cases conversion to black and white really can help as the noise looks more natural!

The low light handling on my seven year old camera is nowhere near as good as today’s class leading cameras. This event was a prime example of the challenges we often face. At least the creative options you get with a DSLR can really help you get good results.

Perhaps a newer camera with better high ISO handling and maybe even a larger sensor could produce even better image quality? Let’s see what 2017 has in store!

 Kit Bag

  • Camera: Canon 7D
  • General Purpose: Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM
  • Macro Lens: Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro
  • Ultra Wide: Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5

Leaves in October and November

October and November, 2016

Autumn or Fall as our US cousins call it, is one of my favourite times of the year for nature and landscape photography. This is when the days start getting shorter and a lot cooler and nature produces some stunning colours.

For a photographer, the later starts and earlier finishes make it that much easier to catch those magic hours! If you can brave the cold, Autumn can be a special time outdoors.

Deciduous trees know they need to start conserving energy and as they prepare for the winter we see incredible displays as the foliage turns from lush green through yellows to orange then red before finally falling to the ground.

The October and November photographs in my calendar tell this story.

October

October’s picture was taken at Winkworth Arboretum in 2014, it’s a fabulous place any time of year but this image shows the incredible natural colour we get this time of year, no doubt helped by the blue sky! At the time I identified the leaves as Oak but I suspect they are Sycamore leaves!

2016 Calendar October - Falling Oak Leaves
Falling Oak Leaves

I looked straight up into the canopy for this shot. As the distance to your subject decreases, so too does the depth of field – the amount of stuff in focus. For this image, I used an aperture of f/9 and although the background is out of focus, there is enough detail to understand the scene.

November

The November image shows a collection of leaves, twigs and other natural detritus on the ground in one of the many wooded sections at Wisley. This shot was taken in October 2015.

2016 Calendar November - Leaf Litter
Leaf Litter

Rather than up, this time I looked straight down. It wasn’t just the colour that attracted me but the mixture of light and shade and the different shapes and textures – that’s a lot of positive aspects!

Critically, perhaps the left side of the image is a bit bright as that’s where the sunshine was. It distracts a little as the eye tends to wander to settle on the brighter part of the image. That said, I think overall, the image works really well and helps tell the story of Autumn.

Kit Bag

  • Camera: Canon 7D
  • Standard Zoom Lens: Canon EF 24-105m f/4L IS USM

Horses for September

September, 2016

This is a funny time of year. It’s no longer officially summer but in England, we can get some of our best summer weather. The evenings are getting shorter but it can still be really warm.

Of course, its often raining but this was one of those typical days you find yourself enjoying on an afternoon walk in the English countryside in September. Cloudy but warm.

2016 Calendar September - Horses in a Field
Horses in a Field

In fact, this particular photograph was taken on a walk in June 2015 with a group of friends around Cowden near the Kent/Surrey border but it reminds me of late summer and that’s why I chose it for September in my Calendar.

This is one of those perfect timing moments. The horse just happened to turn it’s head to face us as I took the photograph.

I like the way there is a line going from the horses up to the top of the tree. You can easily divide the image into sections: the nice floral foreground; the horses standing against the hills a long way in the distance; the tree and the sky.

The final image is a crop about two thirds of the original, with a boost in shadows and reduction of highlights and a tweak reduce the distant haze of the hills.

This is not a full back to front in focus image. That’s because I used an aperture of F7.1, see how the flowers are out of focus. The important thing is that the subject, horses in this case, are nice and sharp – the focal plane is quite obvious here.

The relatively wide aperture and a shutter speed of 1/200th meant I had enough exposure for a low ISO to give me maximum image quality.

I really like this image. It’s calming and evokes memories of countryside walks and I think the yellow rape seed flowers in the foreground really lift the image.

 Kit Bag

  • Camera: Canon 7D
  • Standard Zoom Lens: Canon EF 24-105m f/4L IS USM

August Hills

August, 2016

Hills might not be as exciting as mountains, but I love the gentle undulation you get from typical English countryside scenes like this.

This particular hillside view was photographed at the National Trust Winkworth Arboretum, taken from one of the view points.

2016 Calendar August - Hillside
August – Hillside

There are many things I like about this shot. The trees at the bottom frame the image and they lead the eye through to the horizon where you see the three birds in flight.

When your eye settles again you notice how the light changes across the hills – we can see this due to the compression that you get with the telephoto nature of the shot.

 Kit Bag

  • Camera: Canon 7D
  • Standard Zoom Lens: Canon EF 24-105m f/4L IS USM

Bee July

July, 2016

The bold and warm yellow colours in this photograph convey the feeling of summer. It’s unfortunate then, that this summer, we are having such dreadful weather.

It seems incredible to think that we might ever have had a nice summer in but I can assure you, we have!

2016 Calendar July - Echinacea Bee
July – Echinacea Bee

This particular shot was taken at RHS Wisley in September last year in one of their lovely deep borders. There are literally thousands of Bees buzzing around doing their thing so there are plenty of opportunities to get that “bee on flower” shot.

This is a typical telephoto (105mm) wide aperture (f/4.5) shot to create a nicely blurred background. The shutter speed was 1/250, so even without image stabilisation, the image would have been sharp enough. The focus might be in front of the bee by a hairs breath, but the subject is clear enough.

A critic might suggest the flash of pink colour at the bottom of the image is distracting, but as its not too far from the bee, it doesn’t lead the eye to far away. As always, its very important to watch the background when taking shots like this – it’s just too easy to be distracted by the subject!

 Kit Bag

  • Camera: Canon 7D
  • Standard Zoom Lens: Canon EF 24-105m f/4L IS USM

MPC 29th Annual Exhibition

The 29th annual exhibition

For a week in June, the Molesey Photographic Club is holding it’s 29th annual exhibition at the East Molesey Methodist Church in Molesy.

Molesey Photographic Club 29th Annual Exhibition

I will have ten prints and fifteen digital projected (DPI) images on display of which one print and one DPI have won the Best Club Class award! Even more incredible, another three images in each category have also been received highly commended awards!

If you are in the area, please pop by and take a look as there will be some amazing images there, not just mine. The club has some really fantastic photographers!

I will be stewarding on Saturday 11th June between 1pm and 4pm,

Dahlia June

June, 2016

The image I chose for the June page of my 2015 calendar was this photograph of a single flower in amongst a mass of pink Dahlia flowers at the RHS trial fields at Wisley.

2016 Calendar June - Pink Dahlia Star
June – Pink Dahlia Star

Every year Wisley trial lots of new flower and plant varieties. This interesting flower was just one of those. What’s nice from a photography point of view is that the trial beds are a good size and offer lots of plants.

A large number of plants means the photographer can really pick the perfect flower and as I have done here, frame it with a background of similar colours and shapes.

A nice shallow depth of field really allows the single flower to stand out. If it wasn’t such a nicely formed flower, the effect might not be so successful. A slight vignette added to the image in post production helps to focus the eye on the central subject.

However, a central subject composition doesn’t always make an interesting photograph. In this case though, I feel that the star shape formed by the flower is a nice strong compositional element in it’s own right.

 Kit Bag

  • Camera: Canon 7D
  • Standard Zoom Lens: Canon EF 24-105m f/4L IS USM

Bluebells in the Undergrowth

May, 2016

With my time spent on club related work, I’m a little late posting my photograph of Bluebells in the undergrowth, my May Calendar photograph.

The photograph titled “Bluebell Log” was taken at the beginning of May in 2015 in the wooded area at the National Trust Hatchlands Park in Surrey.

2016 Calendar May - Bluebell Log
May – Bluebell Log

It’s a very clichéd but I believe, Bluebells really do capture the essence of late spring. The spot I took this photograph was very popular and my goal was to get a Bluebell image that might be a bit different from the norm.

Rather than just a sea of Bluebells, I found this old log and got down low to capture the flowers from an alternative view point. The log actually intersects the image creating two sections.

The lower part of the image forms the first section which shows some Bluebells in detail. The log has some nice detail and texture very different from the green and purple.

The upper part of the image shows that clichéd sea of Bluebells but as it’s out of focus, it just provides a nice area of strong colour.

Critically, I think there is two much distraction from the various twigs, sticks and other tree trunks. It would of also been nice to have had some sunlight and dappled shade but hey, you can’t have everything unless you are prepared to wait!

 Kit Bag

  • Camera: Canon 7D
  • Standard Zoom Lens: Canon EF 24-105m f/4L IS USM

MPC Members Third PDI Competition

MPC Club Third PDI Competition, 2016

For the Molesey Photographic club members third PDI competition in April 2016, I submitted three very different images. The judge was Martin Faiers of the Old Coulsdon Camera Club

Where’s Gaudi?

Where's Gaudi? MPC 2016 Third PDI Competition, 10 out of 10
Where’s Gaudi? MPC 2016 Third PDI Competition, 10 out of 10

The inspiration for the title of this colourful image taken at the Gaudi Park in Barcelona, came from the Where’s Wally series. This is one of those amazingly popular tourist spots in Barcelona. I was there for a short break and took many photographs during my visit. See my Barcelona 2013 Flickr album for more pictures.

As you can probably tell by the judge’s maximum score, Martin was pretty impressed by this image. He didn’t think much of it on first inspection, but the more he looked at it, the more it grew on him.

He particularly liked the people at the top of the image and the way the two at the bottom hold your attention then how the others just going about their business lead your eye through the image.

I agree and personally love the variety of colour and the way the textures, shapes and people all interact to make an arresting image.

about the Photograph

Shot on my Canon 7D with my old EF28-80mm f/3.5-5.6 USM lens, this image was taken fully wide with a focal length of 28mm to capture as much of the scene as possible.

I don’t have many photographs with this lens at it’s a really cheap one I bought on Ebay to go on my Canon EOS 620 35mm film camera. The weekend before this trip to Barcelona, I exclusively used this combination on a mate’s stag do in Valencia.

The shutter speed was 1/320 sec as it was very bright, the aperture was f/7.1 to get as much depth as possible and the ISO 100 for maximum image quality. Look close and you can see how the corners are a little soft. The depth of field starts just after the first row of people and reaches all the way to the back!

Image processing was limited to an increase in exposure, lifting the shadows to bring out more detail and a bit of cropping.

Bench Corner

Bench Corner, MPC 2016 Third PDI Competition, 8 out of 10
Bench Corner, MPC 2016 Third PDI Competition, 8 out of 10

These amazing benches can be found at RHS Wisley, close to the rose gardens. I have a thing about photographing benches in landscape scenes and this image is even stronger with the different shapes and textures.

Scoring 8 out of 10, Martin commented on the nice shapes, different textures and the softness of the tall grass behind the benches. He felt that the image was a little empty and wasn’t keen on the foreground as he said it lacks interest.

I tend to agree with the judge’s comments although I would add that I have actually left the lower part of the image uncluttered as I wanted to lead the viewer’s eye from the bottom left corner up to the benches and grass.

ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPH

This is another image shot on the Canon 7D, my primary camera since April 2013. This photograph was taken in September in 2014 with my favourite lens, the EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM.

The normal focal length of 50mm and image stabilisation allowed me to hand hold the camera and use a 1/80th shutter speed and ISO 125. An aperture of f/9.0 meant I could get everything in focus and I crouched down to fill the frame with the tall grass.

I used Lightroom to convert this image to monochrome because I felt that whilst colour added nothing to the image, in black and white it’s much easier to see the shapes and texture. The lack of colour also adds to the simplicity of the image, something I’m always trying to achieve with my compositions!

How to Enjoy the Canal in Summertime

How to Enjoy the Canal in Summertime, MPC 2016 Third PDI Competition, 8 out of 10
How to Enjoy the Canal in Summertime, MPC 2016 Third PDI Competition, 8 out of 10

This was taken in June, 2013 on my 40th birthday to The Dundas Arms in Kintbury. We were staying at this lovely location and went for a long afternoon walk along the Kennet and Avon canal.

Scoring another 8 out of 10, Martin liked the contrast in colour between the dog walker and the rest of the scene. He liked the way the boat and the walker are in roughly the same plane of focus and the dappled lighting.

Whilst the judge’s comments were mostly positive, he wasn’t so keen on the soft focus foreground and found it quite off putting. I agree with the judge’s comments to a point, although I personally feel the soft foreground helps lead the eye from the bottom left of the image in to the picture down the path.

ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPH

The shallow depth of field provided by f/4.0 is quite apparent in this image and is probably the photograph’s main weakness.

The effect is compounded by the maximum zoom to a focal length of 105mm that the EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens provides. This focal length compresses the foreground and background bringing the subjects closer to the viewer.

Depth of field is one the things I’ve struggled with the most. It is partly out of a fear of reducing image quality through camera shake. Maximum image quality can be achieved by choosing a wide aperture (small f number). This allows a faster shutter speed whilst keeping the ISO low.

Another worry I used to have was the potential effects of Diffraction Limited Aperture where smaller apertures (higher f numbers) on digital cameras can affect sharpness. Bryan has a great article on The Digital Picture that explains it in more detail.

Now I don’t worry about things like that as I’ve learnt that softness from out of focus elements in the image can have a more detrimental affect on image composition than the reduced image quality from a higher ISO and that pixel level sharpness only really matters with massive prints.

In landscape photography you want as much detail and depth of field as you can get. The effect of sensor noise from a higher ISO can be reduced in post production. You cant put back detail that isn’t there!