Pierre Steenberg: Blog https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog en-us Copyright (C) - 2023 Pierre Steenberg [email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) Tue, 11 Jul 2023 15:21:00 GMT Tue, 11 Jul 2023 15:21:00 GMT https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/img/s/v-12/u278476582-o145401220-50.jpg Pierre Steenberg: Blog https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog 111 120 Patience with birds https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/10/patience-with-birds My brother and I went to photograph a beach. The sky was cloudless and the beach did not seem to hold promise for great photos during sunset. As we were walking to the beach we saw these black birds being very active in an area between where we parked and the beach. So we decided to stay where the action was, with the birds.

          We often think that birds are constantly on the go and they move fast, therefore we need to be fast too. But this shoot taught me the opposite. Yes, my camera needs to be fast (fast aperture, fast shutter speed, fast autofocus). But I need to be slow, very slow. Moving in closer to the birds scares them off. We were most successful when we stood still, letting the birds get used to us. These little creatures are small, so we have to get close to them to get acceptable resolution (so that we don't have to crop in so deeply, throwing away resolution in the process). You will be surprised how close you need to get to them to have them a decent size in the viewfinder; even with a 600mm lens. So how do we successfully get closer to them without spooking them?

As mentioned already, we need to move slowly. We found that moving a little bit and then standing still for a good amount of time before taking the next step closer worked pretty well. This requires a lot of patience. Next, I also tested the old adage to approach the birds walking slowly in a zigzag pattern rather than directly towards the birds. I felt that this worked good too. We would not move when the bird was on a perch. We waited and allowed the birds to dictate our movements. Once they naturally flew off, we would get a bit closer and wait again.

          These scrubs were at or below waist height. I also found that the birds were much more at ease when I crouched down and sat waiting lower down. We needed to do this anyway to get to the eye level of the birds. Yet, birds are birds. They come and go. It just requires a lot a patience waiting for them to come sit on the bush where we were at.

          Watching the birds very closely also paid off. We learned that they would use certain perches more than others. We positioned ourselves near the perches that had the most action. It is so tempting to have the camera pointing at one particular perch and then to only watch that perch. Yet when doing so, we don't notice that a bird is posing nicely on a different perch nearby. We need to stay alert and scan all the perches around us. Besides, a hundred images of birds on the same perch gets boring.

Next week we will look at a sequence of images of a bird flying off.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) bird movement photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/10/patience-with-birds Sun, 01 Oct 2023 11:00:00 GMT
Get unique and different perspectives, even of animals https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/9/get-unique-and-different-perspectives-even-of-animals As photographers we analyze a scene. We don't want to photograph an iconic scene, that has been photographed a million times before, in the same way as everybody else did. We seek a different angle, a different perspective, different conditions. We want our image to stand out, to be impactful. Often, we achieve this by shooting the scene from a different angle. Is that possible with animal photography too?

          Yes! But just like in landscape photography it is not easy. We have to find the different vantage point. We have to get there and make things works. In the last two blogs I photographed a Prairie Dog colony. I am already shooting from flat on the ground. What other, more unique perspective can I possibly find? I can't go below ground, can I?

Perhaps not. But we can create the illusion that we are shooting from below ground. I noticed that the area in which the colony was, was generally flat. There was a gentle slope, but it was flat-ish. Yet, where they dug their tunnels were little mounds from the excavated sand and mud.  That little elevation helped me to create the illusion that I am shooting from below ground. I lay flat on the ground and watched an active mound. Since the mound was higher than what I was, I am shooting slightly upward here. Because I am shooting with a long lens it appears as if I am shooting from within one of their tunnels, or at least from the entrance of a tunnel. I am further away than it appears but telephoto lenses compress things and make it look as if I am right there. By implication, the viewer of this image experiences this images from that same vantage point and therefore also feels as if he or she is right there looking at the Prairie Dog from below.

          We have to think creatively and work to get a different more unique perspective. We have too make our images stand out. They have to be different, better different. So ask yourself, how can I achieve that?

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) angle different perspective photography Pierre Steenberg stand out https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/9/get-unique-and-different-perspectives-even-of-animals Sun, 24 Sep 2023 11:00:00 GMT
Animal behavior and interaction https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/9/animal-behavior-and-interaction There are some great images of animals posing. But often, the best images display their behavior and the interaction between animals. Which image do you prefer, an Eagle sitting on a stick or of the Eagle catching a fish? Which would be better, a photograph of a bird on a stick or of that bird in flight? The images that show their behavior and interaction is more lively, more interesting, and more captivating.

          I photographed the Prairie Dogs in any and all positions just to get the shots. I was so excited because this was the first time I ever saw them. But once I had the standard images I was happy with, I began to change position. I waited and observed. I tried to capture better images than them being static. I looked for interaction and behavior that shows off their lives.

Barking. Not a fantastic image, but like a bird chirping with its open beak, it is better than having the bird just sit there.

Getting up as high as it can to scout.

A youngster hugging mom.

A mom preening Junior.

Mom tickling the toddler.

Family interaction.

          The point is that static images can be good but generally speaking, it is always better to display animal behavior and interaction. These images are just more engaging than static ones. They are cute. They make us smile. They evoke emotion. These things make such images connect with us more. We enjoy them more. They give us an experience rather than just looking at them.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) animal behavior interaction photography Pierre Steenberg Prairie Dogs https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/9/animal-behavior-and-interaction Sun, 17 Sep 2023 11:00:00 GMT
Get eye level with animals and birds https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/9/get-eye-level-with-animals-and-bird You have heard me say this over and over again. This is literally the best advise I can give you with regards to photographing birds and animals. Being at eye level with them creates opportunities to actually make eye contact with them. It connects the viewer with the animal. Somehow it places you there with the animal. It helps you to experience what the animal is experiencing better. It helps you to get a better background, which is super important. Yes, I have said all of these things before, but today, I am going to prove it!

          My wife and I were traveling in South Dakota when I spotted a colony (if that is what it is called) of Prairie Dogs. This was the first time in my life that I saw them. They are so cute. We stopped for a photography session with these little creatures. So here is a picture taken by my wife of a Prairie Dog. The image is taken from her eye level, standing as normal.

Look at the background, pleasing? Do you feel like you are part of it's environment? Are you sharing it's experience? Are you connecting with this animal? Rather than standing to take this image from my eye level, this is how I photographed them.

Yes, I got dirty. The ground was soft from previous rain. I had mud and sand on me. But I wanted to get at their eye level for all of the reasons that I mentioned in the introduction of this blog. Did it pay off? Was it worth the discomfort, the sand and the mud? Does it really make that much of a difference? Look at the next images and decide for yourself.

Because the background is now way in the distance, rather than right behind the dog, shooting down from our height, we can blur it easily. This makes the animal stand out from the background. It makes the animal "pop." You can also use foliage right in front of your lens to blur the foreground. Thus both the foreground and the background is blurred. By the way, my wife is a good photographer. I asked her to take the image from her eye level to illustrate this point.

Now we are on the same level as the animal. We are seeing and experiencing the world from his perspective. Besides, most people are not going to lay flat on their tummies to look at these little guys. So when they look at your images they are seeing a fresh angle, a perspective they would never see otherwise. This makes your images unique.

I hope that you are persuaded to get down low and to photograph them from their eye level. As always, put safety first. Make sure you are not putting yourself in danger. I would never go lie down in front of a poisonous snake for example, or an alligator. Also remember that you are now invading their private space. Make sure that they are comfortable. Do not distress them or interfere with their normal life and behavior. While I was there, a lady came with a dog on a leach. The dog went straight for the Prairie Dogs making them scatter. There were baby Prairie Dogs that panicked. When my wife asked her not to bring the dog into the area she was upset at my wife because there was no sign that said "no dogs allowed." I sometimes wonder how people's minds work. Is it okay to rob a bank because there was no sign at the bank that says "no bank robbing?" Can people not think logically for themselves? Do they really need everything to be told to them? Is it not obvious that you don't take a predator (that is what these Prairie Dogs think of this lady's dog) to the homes of their pray? Why scare them? Why disrupt them? Why chase all of them away? So please, get down low, get into their world, BUT only in as much as they are comfortable with.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) animal bird eye level photography Pierre Steenberg Prairie dogs https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/9/get-eye-level-with-animals-and-bird Sun, 10 Sep 2023 11:00:00 GMT
Searching for Birds https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/9/searching-for-birds The other day I visited the Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center near Lincoln, Nebraska. I picked the day because it was going to be overcast. There was no particular plan in place. No prior research was done. No specific target bird was chosen. I just basically walked around trying to find some birds to photograph. It was not easy. For some reason there were not that many birds out that day. I have visited the place on a few occasions before and kind of knew where I could find birds to photograph, but this time, those same spots yielded no birds. The entire time I was there (about half a day), only gave me four bird images, and they are not the best. So photographically speaking, I was a bit disappointed. But what can we learn from the experience?

Light changes fast

While it was overcast I got this image:

Just a few minutes later it started to rain. It was not pouring rain but more than a drizzle. This weather change changed the lighting, the mood of the image, and resulted in a totally different picture:

Notice that the atmosphere of this image is just darker, a bit more gloomy. Yet, the rain drops in the air adds to the image. The rain just lasted for a few minutes and the light changed again:

So when the conditions change quickly we need to be ready and work fast. My camera was out, even in the rain (check first to see if it is safe for your equipment, as some gear is more weather sealed than others). I kept walking, searching for images. While these images are not the best, I still had a good time and I like the images.

Perches matter

Look at the perch of the first and the third images. It is interesting. It does not distract from the bird. There are no twigs in front or behind the bird. This is a pleasing perch. Compare this to the perch of the second image which just is not that clean. You have a twig seemingly poking the bird from behind. Then there is the twig at the back of the bird that does not add to the image. Now with image editing tools those twigs can be removed. And sometimes I do remove distracting little twigs from my images. But if you can help it, pick perches that are photogenic.

          Now in nature we cannot control where the bird is going to sit but we can choose which shots we shoot. We can linger around an area that provides good perches rather than waste our time being in an area where the perches are too cluttered, too high (which leads to shooting the birds from below and having the sky as a background), or that does not offer a good background. Good backgrounds are further away from the bird. The further away from the bird the better so that the background can be blurred better.

Stay where the action is

I walked all over the property searching for birds in vain. It seemed as though, at least for the time that I was there, the bird activity were confined to a few areas. It would have been better for me to stay there rather than walk all over to find nothing. As long as there are birds in the area, stay there. Stay where the action is.

Just be alert

These little guys often do not stay long. They come and go. Be alert. Watch them. Be ready. We don't want to miss shots because we only saw the bird just as it flew off. Constantly look around, in all directions.



[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) birds photography Pierre Steenberg search https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/9/searching-for-birds Sun, 03 Sep 2023 11:00:00 GMT
Frogs https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/8/frogs Tree frogs are exotic, cute and colorful. Of course no one would turn their attention to common frogs. No one in their right mind would lie in the mud, photographing such boring creatures. Well, I do! I will let you decide if I am in my right mind or not. I picked an overcast day deliberately. Soft light was needed for the frogs. I wanted to photograph some bird but they were not around and the frogs kept on calling me. It drizzled a bit and we had lots of rain a few days before.

          I fixed my Gimbal head to my ground-pod. I laid flat on my stomach to try to get as close to eye level with the frogs as possible. They were skittish and did not allow me to get close to them. So I just lay there waiting for them to get used to me. Soon they did and I was in business.

While they were still a bit further away all I could do is shoot a more minimalistic image. There were these green floaties on the water that gave this image a greenish tint. Soon, however, they came a bit closer.

This time, there were plants in the image. I was disappointed that my polarizer was not with me. This image would have been better with some polarization. It would have removed some of the brighter water glare.

Here I changed my angle a bit by slowing crawling more to one side. I wanted to eliminate some of the clutter of the plants and see if I could also minimize the glare on the water with a different vantage point. It worked. I like this image a lot more.

And here is another angle.  These are just common frogs, yet look how colorful they are. Just look at those eyes. You may not have exotic animals in your part of the neighborhood. You may not be close to majestic mountains, strong rivers, or vast lakes. But there is always something to photograph. For these fellows, get as low as you possibly can. Yes in the mud. Move slowly. Stay still. And just enjoy watching and photographing them. There is a totally new world of photography waiting if you are willing to go for the smaller and more common animals. And they are beautiful too.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) Frog photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/8/frogs Sun, 27 Aug 2023 11:00:00 GMT
Show nature https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/8/show-nature We often seek nice and clean backgrounds for our subjects. I advocate this too. It makes your subject stand out and "pop." It looks so professional, it really does. From time to time, however, I am tempted to not take the "perfect image" and rather to show my subject in nature, where and as they live. Perhaps it tells more of a story. Perhaps it gives us more insight into their world and how they experience it.

So how do we make such an image work? Is there not too much clutter and chaos in the scene? How do we make the subject stand out from its environment? Here are a few things that may be helpful:

  • Even though there is chaos with branches, stems, leaves, and even another insect we still have to create some separation between all of that and the subject. So choose an aperture that shows some of the environment but still blurs it enough so that the viewer will focus on the sharp subject rather than the other stuff.

  • Use brightness to draw attention to where your want the viewer to look. As you can see, some of the greenery in the background was very bright. But in post processing I darkened them down some in order for the subject to stand out more. Then I brightened the butterfly as it was in shade. By darkening the background and brightening the butterfly it turns the viewer's attention to the butterfly without turning the environment totally off (by making it to blurred or too dark).

  • Use color. Tone down the background colors a bit and bring out the color of the butterfly. The butterfly's color was very muted as it was in the shade. By bringing out the colors of the butterfly it becomes more prominent in the image.

  • Use size. The butterfly's size helps place our attention on it. For this kind of scene to work photographically, we have to move in closer to make sure that the butterfly takes up a good size of the image. If this is not possible, then crop into the image to create the same effect.

While this image will not win any awards I still enjoy it. It shows the butterfly's life. It shows where it lives, disorder and all. But it stands out enough to clearly be the subject of the image, and that is what makes it work. So remember the four things you can use to make such images better.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) butterfly nature photography Pierre Steenberg tips tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/8/show-nature Sun, 20 Aug 2023 11:00:00 GMT
Sun-stars for balance https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/8/sun-stars-for-balance I was having a hard time creating a composition on the beach which was balanced. It seems no matter how I composed the scene, the one side was always heavier than the other. Object have visual weight. If all the objects are on one side of the image that side will weigh more and the image will not be balanced. There are a few things we can do to create balance:

  • Place another object closer to you on the opposite side of the other objects. Such objects do not have to be the same size as the other objects on the other side of the image to create balance. Objects closer to you visually weigh more than more distant objects. So even a small object close to you can bring balance to larger object on the opposite side of your image.

  • You can use a person, such as a jogger to bring balance. Yes, a bird in the right position can do it too. You can use just about anything to bring about the balance you seek. Fellow photographers are often willing to be used in your images in this way to bring about balance.

  • If you don't have access to anyone or anything to place on the empty side of you image and the bird do not obey your commands, you can always use light to try to create balance.

  • You can always create sun-stars as your bright section of the image to bring about some balance.

The dark rocks on the left of the image are visually very heavy. Since no joggers came along and no bird cooperated with me, I attempted to draw attention to the opposite side of the image by placing a sun-star there. Here is another example of the same scene.

So how do you create a sun-star? You simply position yourself so that the sun is halfway behind a hard surface like a horizon, a tree, a person, or like in this case, the rock. Then you use a small aperture, and voila, you have a sun-star. Most people wait for the sun to reach the horizon before they take their shot. They think that they need the horizon to make the sun-star. But the problem with that is that you only have a few moments as the sun dips below the horizon and the opportunity is gone. Why take that change? What if a group of people walking into your shot just as the sun reaches the horizon? So remember, that any sharp surface will work to create sun-stars. Vertical surfaces works the same.

          In this scene, you can use the entire height of that rock to create your sun-star with. Thus you have ten or so minutes available to you, as the sun makes it way down the rock, rather than just a few fleeting moments once the sun hits the horizon.

          So remember to thing about the balance of the objects in your image. Create balance by positioning objects to cancel each other's weight out or if that does not work, use something that is brighter.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) Balance create make photography Pierre Steenberg sun star sun stars sunstar sun-star sunstars sun-stars https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/8/sun-stars-for-balance Sun, 13 Aug 2023 11:00:00 GMT
Waterfalls in harsh light https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/8/waterfalls-in-harsh-light McArthur-Burney Falls excited me. From the images that I saw of the falls, I could not wait to photography them. By the way, why do we refer to "falls," plural, when there is just one of them, singular? Either way, we got there and I discovered that the falls were as impressive as I had hoped they would be. You can even walk down to where the water fall hits the earth below. There was just one problem, a rather major one. The light was harsh. Parts of the falls were in very bright, harsh light. Other sections were in shade. The dynamic range (the difference between the brightest part of a scene and the darkest part of it) was too much for any camera to deal with.

          This is not the kind of scene where HDR (taking multiple exposures at different levels of brightness and then merging them into one balanced image) would work well. We had to drive on the our next location and could not spend more time here. Even if we had more time, it would have taken a long time for the weather to change or for the sun to get low enough. Yes, we were there on the wrong time of day. However, we did not have a choice because of where our accommodations were for the night.

          So what do you do? How do you get a half decent image in impossible light?

The only viable option we had was to forget about the large water fall and focus instead only on the parts that were in shade. Go for more intimate, smaller scenes. Put the wide angle lens away and fit a longer lens. Find small areas of interest that are in shade and shoot them. Does any area have nice color? How about nice patterns, or texture? Does anything stand out? Is anything different? If nothing catches your attention just zoom in a bit and start panning (moving the camera from one side to the next) the scene slowly. Soon enough you should see something that perks your interest. Here is an example:

Here are a few tips to photograph waterfalls:

  • Determine which shutter speed renders the water flow as you want it. Do you want milky smooth water, water movement but with some definition, or water drops frozen in mid-air? You can do all of that with your shutter speed. Slow shutter speeds show movement by blurring it while fast shutter speeds freeze movement.

  • If you want to show water movement you will have to use a slow shutter speed. Slow shutter speeds will require you to use a tripod to get that which is not moving (the rock face and moss) sharply in focus.

  • Use a polarizing filter. When things like rocks are wet they are shiny. Shiny stuff can be too bright and distracting. A polarizing filter can cut that shine out, giving you nice and dark rocks and colorful moss. You want to create that contract between the water and the rock.

  • Continually wipe the front of your lens clean and dry, especially right before you fire. Drops on your lens will ruin your image. Mist on your lens will render your photo dull and slightly out of focus. So keep wiping your lens to keep it dry.

  • If you are in sunlight make sure to shield your lens from the sun. Failure to do so may result in flare or an image with diminished contrast. You can use your lens-hood. If I need to constantly wipe my lens dry I prefer not to have a longer lens-hood on because I struggle to see in there and to get in there to thoroughly dry the lens. I just place my hand between the sun and my lens to cover my lens with my hand's shadow, then I shoot. If a wider lens is in use it will have a smaller lens-hood, in which case I will go ahead and use its lens-hood.

Even in harsh light, you can still get okay images if you just shoot that which is in the shade and go for smaller sections of the falls.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) Harsh light photography Pierre Steenberg tips tricks water falls https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/8/waterfalls-in-harsh-light Sun, 06 Aug 2023 11:00:00 GMT
Weather conditions do change https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/7/weather-conditions-do-change A visit to Mt. Shasta was planned. Everything was researched. The best possible locations were found. An itinerary was drawn up. Then we got there and conditions did not play along. First, we drove up Mt. Shasta were there was supposed to be a meadow with spring flowers for the foreground (and Mt. Shasta in the background). It was still full of snow and ice. In fact, there were over-night skiers getting ready for an adventure. There was no way to get a decent shot. Besides, the mountain hid behind threatening clouds and it drizzled.

          No problem, I thought. We will just head out into the opposite direction towards location number two. After a drive up the mountain on the other side, the weather was still no good for photography. On to location number three ... bad photography weather. By the way, bad weather is often good photography weather and good tourist weather is mostly bad photography weather. This weather was just drab, overcast with almost no definition in the clouds. With the sun gone to rest, we too turned in with no success.

          The next morning we headed up the mountain again (the opposite one to Mt. Shasta). The lake we went to was also still in winter. It was socked in with fog. We waited and waited ... Well, all I could come up with was this:

With no end to the fog we drove down the mountain again. Another location was in our sights. The weather was still no good, but the weather seemed to be changing. There was a huge difference between the foggy weather at higher altitude and that of the valley below. It was still cloudy but they were on the move. Soon enough the weather did change, not completely but enough.

When the weather does not play ball change locations, wait, and wait some more. It is on the fringes of bad photography weather that good weather sometimes shows itself. When weather moves in or out you will find great opportunity for dramatic images. Weather do change. You just need to wait for it. As a result, this was my last image of Mt. Shasta.

I enjoyed the Mt. Shasta area. There is good potential for great shots. When the weather is dead for photography, use the time to scout and wait. Weather conditions do change.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) Mt. Shasta photography Pierre Steenberg weather https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/7/weather-conditions-do-change Sun, 30 Jul 2023 11:00:00 GMT
Focus Stacking a landscape https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/7/focus-stacking-a-landscape I have written before about using a wide-angle lens, not to get more into the image, but to change perspective. Our position can change the position and perspective of things in relation to each other in the image. For example, by going really close to something with a wide-angle lens we magnify that object's size in relation to what is in the background. Here is an example:

The flowers are given prominence. Their size are larger than the main mountain peaks in the image. The closer we get to the flowers the larger they will appear in relation to the mountains. As is often the case, solving one problem creates another. By going in close to the flowers we solve the composition problem and we create a beautiful image. BUT, the closer we get to the flowers the more we shrink the depth of field. If we get the flowers in focus then the mountains are out of focus. If we get the mountains in focus then the flowers are blurred. How do we solve this problem?

          This is where focus stacking comes in. We photograph the same scene multiple times with the same settings, but we change the focus distance for each shot. So we focus on the flowers and take an image. Then we focus a little further into the scene and take another shot. So we continue to take more images, each focused a litter further into the image, until we reach infinity focus. Many modern cameras will calculate how many images you need from your closest point to infinity, and shoot them for you, changing focus automatically between exposures. This is great, because then you don't have to touch the camera to change focus, thereby accidentally moving the camera slightly. The wider your lens, the fewer images you will need. The longer your lens, the more images will be required. For this scene I took four images all focused on different spots.

          Now you have a series of images. When you process them, please make sure that your White Balance and Tint are set the same for each image, as you are going to blend them together and don't want different color casts. The idea is to take the in-focus parts of each image and stitch them together, to make a blended image that is sharp, front to back. To blend the images together, you are going to need software to do it for you, OR, if you are skilled, you can do it manually with layers and masks in Photoshop. Photoshop can do it automatically but I am not impressed with their results (for focus stacking). There are other alternatives to use. Helicon Focus is a good one. More recently, Luminar Neo released a focus stacking extension too.

          In Luminar Neo you just grab your series of image and drag them into the focus stacking extension and click on stack. It is literally that simple. In my testing, I compared Photoshop's auto focus stacking feature against the images stacked by Helicon Focus and Luminar. Photoshop came dead last. Helicon Focus and Luminar Neo came out on top, with a very, very similar result.

          Why don't you give focus stacking a try? It is easy and it solves a major focusing problem. If you click on Affiliate Links you can get Luminar Neo and the extensions for a discount.

          Disclaimer: I am an affiliate of Luminar and get a small commission if you buy software with my link. My commission comes at no cost to you, in fact, you get a discount. I will never sell you something I do not personally use and believe in.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) Focus landscape Luminar Neo photography Pierre Steenberg stacking https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/7/focus-stacking-a-landscape Sun, 23 Jul 2023 11:00:00 GMT
Making sense of forest scenes https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/7/making-sense-of-forest-scenes Forests can be chaos, photographically speaking. There seems to be too much. Too many trees. Too many bushes. Too many branches. Too many everything to create a good composition with. It appears as if there are no patterns. Nothing stands out because all the trees look too similar. How do you find something different? How do you make something stand out? How do we make sense of forest scenes? You have heard me say this over and over again, so here I go again ... Artists start with a blank canvas and add things by painting what they want into the scene, while photographers start with too much, so we create our scenes by eliminating things. So how do we make sense of forest scenes by eliminate that which creates chaos?

Start by looking and searching for something that is different. Perhaps a tree is larger than the others, or we find a small tree amongst the large trees. If this fails, forget about grand landscapes in the forest, just for a moment. Is there just one tree, one fern, one something that is interesting that could make a great image by itself. We can eliminate the forest and get an image of just that one tree or one fern or that one something. Walk around until you find it. If you see nothing that strikes you as interesting, go even smaller, yes - eliminate even more. Does one fern leave curl nicely? Does a piece of hanging moss catch the light nicely? Can you shoot just one smaller thing?

          You will be amazed how aiming for the smaller things gets your creativity going. Before long, you will start seeing the larger things to photograph. Oh' and while you walk around be observant. Remember that you are on the hunt for things to photograph. Listen for and watch for birds, snails, mushrooms, and the likes. Stand still and just watch the birds. My brother and I were standing at this spot watching a Robin. We followed it's flights here and there, until we discovered something interesting.

Which brings me to my second point. Please do not limit your options by just bringing your "forest lens" along. Here I needed my 200-600mm, but the point is that I had it with me. We wanted to shoot forest scenes but found the nest in the forest. Keep an open mind. We can be too focused on getting a preconceived image that we don't see another opportunity.

          Back to the forest. Look for a place which are a bit more open. In forests, this is often where interesting scenes present themselves because with an opening in the forest things are less cluttered, less chaotic. It becomes easier to make sense of things, easier to eliminate things, to make a beautiful composition. Openings in forests also typically have more light which can be used creatively. Streams are one such opening that can present opportunities.

          Lighting in forests can be difficult to handle. There are both deep dark shadows and harsh light from the sun poking through. Your best bet is to go to forests when it is overcast (but still being bright to have enough light). If there are clouds rather than it being overcast you will have to wait. Use the time when the sun is out to scout and to decide on your composition. Then wait for a cloud to shield the sun before you take your image.

          Tripods can be essential in forest, especially on overcast days. It can be darkish in forests which will result in longer shutter speeds; too long to hand hold, hence the tripod. However, watch out for wind. If there is wind the foliage will move. Moving foliage combined with long shutter speeds produce out of focus images. These days I am no longer as scared as I was years ago for noise. So, I don't hesitate to up my ISO to get to a faster shutter speed if the wind calls for it. The software noise removal is fantastic now a days.

Have fun photographing the forest, but remember that great images have to make sense of the chaos.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition forest photography Pierre Steenberg tips https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/7/making-sense-of-forest-scenes Sun, 16 Jul 2023 11:00:00 GMT
New Luminar Extension https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/7/new-luminar-extension As you know I use Luminar Neo extensively in my image editing workflow. Neo is an image editing platform. The platform itself offers easy, fun, and great tools for your editing needs. It also offers multiple "extensions" which you buy separately to run on the platform. For example, there are extensions that can supersize your images, smart AI sharpening, HDR merge, focus stacking, Noise reduction, and so forth. Both the program platform and the extensions pride themselves on being easy to work, no Ph.D. in software engineering needed.

          Today the embargo lifted on my Non-Disclosure Agreement with Luminar on a new extension. This extension has me very excited. Let me introduce you to Pano Stitching. Now you may ask why we need yet another pano stitching program? We need this one because it is unique and offers complex features that are easily done. You can stitch both RAW and JPEG files. Here are the new stuff I am smiling about:

  • HDR Panorama. Yes, it can do HDR and Pano in one go! Previously, I used to first have to do the HDR processing for each file in my sequence and save them. Then I could use the HDR'ed files to make my Pano. No more, it is now one single step for both tasks.

  • Perspective Adjustment. There is a unique and easy way to change the perspective (both horizontal and vertical) to get rid of distortion. It is fun to use.

  • Pano from Video. You can create a Panorama image from a video file. The program will extract the frames from the video to create a Pano image.

  • Object/Subject Composition Panorama. You can select a person, animal (subject) or object in the video to place in the Pano.

The extension will launch on July 20, 2023.

Here is the link to the software: Click Here. (Please note that I am an affiliate of Luminar and get a small commission if you purchase the software with my link. The commission comes a no cost to you). Then click on Extension packs.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) Extension Packs HDR Luminar Neo Pano Panorama Photography Pierre Skylum Steenberg Stitching Video https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/7/new-luminar-extension Wed, 12 Jul 2023 17:00:00 GMT
Good landscape photography technique https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/7/good-landscape-photography-technique This is part II of the two-part series about an image taken at Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe in California. Today I am going to run you through the technique used to shoot that image. To refresh your memory, here is that image. Oh' and you may want to read last week's blog about this image taken with a cell phone versus my Sony Ar7 IV.

I arrived in the area the night before. It is never a good idea to scout for the perfect spot early in the morning while it is still dark, especially when dealing with wet and slippery conditions. No image is worth your life and safety should always come first. So my brother and I went to this area right away, while we still had day light, to scout the location and look at the conditions. This was my first time to this magical spot. The scouting did not take long as this spot is right next to the road (basically).

          Researching your photography location before you go can also be vitally important. Reading up on this area, I was warned that if conditions were right for getting color in the clouds you need to be on location an hour and a half to one hour before sunrise. Due to the elevation, the clouds (if there are any) light up much earlier than it would at lower elevation and without the mountain range on the other side of the lake. Now, in this case it did not matter, as we never got the much wished for red clouds. But you have to ready for it, in case it happens. You don't want to get there hearing other photographers talk about how great that was after it is over.

          Okay, so you have your composition all sorted out. What techniques are best for this image? Which questions should a photographer in this situation be asking himself or herself to get the best results?

  1. Start asking your questions and determine exactly what you are going to do and have it ready before the sun shows itself. Once the sun pops out you have a very short window of time before your sun star opportunities vanish. Even if you don't want to create a sun star, in some places the light turns harsh really quickly. The nice light only remains nice for so long. You don't want to be using "go time" to figure things out. Go time, is go time.

  2. We have flowing water in the scene. So we need to ask ourselves if we want to show that water movement or if we want to freeze it. In this case, I decided to show the water flowing. The next question, related to this topic, is how much do I want the water to move in the shot. In other words, do I want milky smooth water (a more dreamy effect) or barely moving water, or anything in between? I wanted to show a good amount of water movement but still retain sharpness and texture.

  3. Wanting to show movement but retain sharpness and texture in the water, (or whatever you want show related to the water movement) we now need to ask what shutter speed we need to use to get the effect we want. There are a few things to consider here that impact the correct shutter speed for the desired effect. The speed of the water movement itself impacts the correct shutter speed. So does your distance from the water. The closer you are to the water the more movement you will see for a given shutter speed. Lastly, your focal length (your lens) also effects the correct shutter speed. Wider lenses show less water movement over the frame than longer lenses. Taking these three elements into account we guesstimate the correct shutter speed. Once it is go time, we quickly shoot a few images using different shutter speeds at and around the speed we guesstimated. We do that just to make sure that we nailed it as guesstimating is only so good, right? For this image, I used 0.4 of a second. Typically, I would have used a slightly faster shutter speed than this but this image was taken with a 16mm lens which shows the water moving slower than longer lenses hence a longer shutter speed to compensate. Either way, as long as you took a few exposures at different shutter speeds you can choose the best one later.

  4. The next question concerns depth of field. How much of this image do I want in focus, front to back? Since it is a landscape image, I like everything sharp. That means a small aperture needs to be used. How small? The focal length of the lens AND how far you are from the closest thing in the image impact that. The wider the lens the more depth of field you naturally have at a given aperture as compared to a longer lens. The closer you are to what is included in the frame the smaller aperture you need. At 16mm and at the distance I was from what is included in this image, you can get away with F11. For safety's sake I used f16. Now many will cry hearing that I sometimes use F16 because it creates diffraction which makes the image less sharp. However, I was very close to the water, and since I wanted the water movement with sharp texture I did what I needed to do.

  5. Now we need to look at our ISO. Do we have a reasonable ISO given our preferred shutter speed and aperture? Or is the scene too bright for our settings? If the image is too bright, use a neutral density filter to darken it. If the scene is too dark then increase the ISO. With today's noise reduction software I no longer fear ISO noise upto ISO 3200. This will be different from sensor to sensor and is therefore camera dependent.

  6. At such low shutter speeds you will be better served using a sturdy tripod to prevent camera shake. I use a tripod regardless of shutter speed because, for me, it helps with composition. I also use a remote release to fire the camera so that the camera is not touched (it causes vibrations which negatively impacts sharpness, especially if you print at large sizes).

  7. I focused a little ways into the image.

Now we are ready. All of this is done before the sun peaks out. Obviously the light levels are going to change the second the sun shows itself. But our setting are close-ish. If you shoot in manual you will make the final adjustment as the sun comes out and take your image. Personally, I love aperture priority. Once the sun shows itself I simply use my exposure compensation dial (Sony has a dedicated dial for this which I use for almost all my images) to fine tune the exposure (in conjunction with neutral density filters - for this scene since getting the water movement as I wanted it was important to me).

          There you go. With experience, your mind will automatically run through the process that works for you. Develop a workflow that you use for all your shooting. But always ask the right questions and set things up before go time.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) depth of field landscape motion photography Pierre Steenberg show water movement https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/7/good-landscape-photography-technique Sun, 09 Jul 2023 11:00:00 GMT
From tourist (cell phone) to serious photography (pro gear and technique) https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/7/from-tourist-cell-phone-to-serious-photography-pro-gear-and-technique It is said that cell phones take well over 90% of all photos taken in recent times. I have also heard people say that cell phone cameras are so good now that they don't need a good camera and lens. In the last two blogs I showcased some cell phone photography. But how far can you go with cell phone photography and is good gear worth it? Does using good gear and good technique really make a difference, and if so, how much of a difference? Is the difference meaningfully better or just nitpicking better?

          I visited the photographically famous Emerald Bay at Lake Tahoe in California recently. So I decided to do a test. I took a picture of the same scene in basically (a few minutes difference) the same light using my cell phone (version 12 from a fruit company) and using my Sony A7R IV. Now before the experienced photographers get upset at me, let me just agree with them that better gear will not make you a better photography per se. You are still the photographer and the gear does not change you. Furthermore, good technique and great light are even more important than gear. That being said, let's look at the two images. I will not identify the images at first. Can you pick which one is the cell phone image and which one is my Sony's image?

What do you think, which camera took this image? Here is the next one.

So what do you think? Is there a difference and is that difference significant enough to justify spending a lot of money on expensive gear? The first image is from my Sony A7R IV. Now there are apps to better control the camera on the cell phone and I certainly could have gotten a slightly better image. But as you can see, it just does not compare to what can be done with good gear and good technique. I will talk about this image again next week and run down what technique I used to get it.

          Yes, cell phones can take great images. For many people it may be all they need. They don't shoot right into the sun. They don't go out when there are deep dark shadows AND a bright sun in the same shot. They don't care about blurring the water. And they don't want to spend time editing images in complicated software later. I say this in all sincerity without a hint of belittling such photographers. It all depends on what you photograph, when you shoot, and the conditions you shoot in.

          The difference between these two images show one area in which cell phone sensors cannot match those of full frame cameras and that is dynamic range. The large sensor of the full frame camera can handle a bigger difference between the lightest and the darkest areas of your images without losing detail in the extremes than can a cell phone camera sensor. Please note that the image from my Sony is not an HDR, that image comes from one raw file (without using pseudo-HDR - developing the same file twice). In a different scenario in which I am not shooting into the sun, the cell phone would have fared much better.

          As for me, I will continue to use my cell phone camera for some photography BUT for serious work in difficult light I love my Sony gear.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) camera Cell difference dynamic frame full phone photography Pierre Steenberg range Sony versus https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/7/from-tourist-cell-phone-to-serious-photography-pro-gear-and-technique Sun, 02 Jul 2023 11:00:00 GMT
Grand Tetons National Park as a tourist https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/6/grand-tetons-national-park-as-a-tourist I have been very unlucky weather wise at Grand Tetons National Park. Numerous visits have not paid off as I wished for. This time round I managed to get a few satisfying images but nothing that wow's me. At times, I did not bother taking out my gear. But the photographer in me just cannot be suppressed, so out came my cell phone. Regardless of the photographic gear we use, we can still intentionally photograph to get the best possible images given the situation we face. So here goes:

Jenny lake. To not have the water fill 90% of the image you can shoot from a low perspective. The lower you go the more the water will shrink in size. The higher you shoot from the more you will expand the water in the image. Knowing this can be really helpful to minimize boring sections of the image. Besides, foreground interest creates depth.

Not a great shot, so how can we improve on it? We know that the mountain is not going anywhere, so why don't we forget about the mountain for now and look for a better foreground, or something that will go with the mountain? After searching and driving around a bit we improve on this image by getting closer to the flowers at a different spot. Look how it improves the image.

The flowers play a more important role in this image. I am closer to them, making them bigger in relation to the mountain. But what if we go even closer, change the angle, and chose a better location?

You see, moving a few steps this way or that way, getting closer or further, higher or lower hugely impact our images. So don't just get out of the car, pull out your phone or camera and start shooting. Take your time and look around. Let's not take images but rather make images. We are intentional about what we frame in our shot and the image we want. Regardless of the conditions or equipment we can still do our best to get a better image. All of these images were taken with my cell phone.

          Here is another scene from Oxbow Bend. Again, the light is not good as it is the wrong time of day. I looked around and did not find anything better to photograph the mountain with, but some flowers. Going close to them to maximize them in the shot relative to the mountain, I got this image.

Even when we are not photographers and only tourists shooting with our cell phones in conditions and times not suited to yield great photographs we can still be intentional, work the scene, and do our best to get at least a better image that we would have had, had we just snapped away without thinking.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) cell Grand National park phone Photography Pierre Steenberg Tetons Tips Tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/6/grand-tetons-national-park-as-a-tourist Sun, 25 Jun 2023 11:00:00 GMT
Today I am a tourist https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/6/today-i-am-a-tourist My wife and I visited Yellowstone National Park last week. Due to being up too early too many mornings the days before, we were exhausted. So we did not get up for any sunrise shoots. I became a typical tourist for the day. That means that I arrived on the scene just as the photographers left. The sun was harsh and the light was bad. The place had too many people present to do any kind of serious photography anyway. I decided to just enjoy the day as a tourist would. My camera bag was not even taken out once that day. However, can I be a photographer tourist? My cell phone was put to use. There is a time and place for just enjoying a day, for considering your body and your family.

But we are still photographers. Even when we are not doing any serious photography we can still be creative. Here I shot from an angle so that there was no glare on the water (I did not have a polarizer filter with me).

In this image I tried to use the lines to lead the viewer into the image.

Yes, I know, these are not great images. They are just cell phone shots taken at the wrong time of day. However, as photographers we are always mindful of the light. Most of the time the light was horribly bright. So what do you do to solve the harsh light issue. Well, as you can see, there were many clouds. So rather than just shooting shots left and right without paying attention to the light I waited until one of the clouds moved in front of the sun. While the scene was in shadow for a few moments I snapped the shot. These are little things we can do to help us get better images, even when just taking the day off.

          Always be checking your angles. Should you shoot from low down? Is the image balanced compositionally? Can I create depth? Watch people's shadows to make sure they are not intruding into the image. Make sure that your spouse shields the lens from direct sunlight since the cell phone does not have a lens hood. Oh' and please wipe your lens with a microfiber cloth regularly as dirt and fingerprints can make your images soft. Learn the basics of how the phone's camera works (tap to focus, tap and hold then slide up or down to adjust the exposure, etc.)

          So the point is to still pay attention to photography basics even when you are just having a good time. And by the way, cell phones are capable of taking some decent images.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) cell phone photography photography Pierre Steenberg tips tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/6/today-i-am-a-tourist Sun, 18 Jun 2023 11:00:00 GMT
Go for action or something unique https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/6/go-for-action-or-something-unique Which of these two images do you find the most interesting?:


I like the color of the first image more. It was taken closer to sunrise on a different day. The second image was taken later in the morning on a different day with different light, so the colors are not that pleasing. But look at the subject matter only. The single bird is okay but to me the interaction and action of the second image are much more engaging. While more static images are okay, they are not often great (there is always exceptions).

          Try to get action images when photographing wildlife, or try to get something different, unique. To do this it is helpful to get to know the subject's behavior so that you can anticipate when the action is going to happen. In this case, this was the first time in my life that I saw these birds in real life. However, I prepared by watching videos on them. Furthermore, they start their action just before sunrise. I took about 20 minutes to have enough light to start shooting. That 20 minutes was valuable because I intently watched them to learn how they behave. The more you know about your subject the better photographer it will make you. It will increase your chances of getting action or something unique because you will be ready.

          The action happens far to fast to be able to get the unique shot or that perfect action shot by waiting for that right moment. Rather, we shoot in short bursts when things happen. We use the highest frame rate the camera will allow. We take hundreds of images in that one shoot. Then when we get home we select the winners and discard the rest. Another reason to shoot at a high frame rate is not just linked to getting that look, the action, or that unique moment but focus. The best image becomes a bad image if it is not sharp. Sometimes a camera can take a fraction of a second to acquire focus. The images taken before nailing focus are useless. Shooting at a high frame rate highly increases the chance that you will get a sharp image as the auto focus system catches up to the action.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) action bird nature photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/6/go-for-action-or-something-unique Sun, 11 Jun 2023 11:00:00 GMT
Prairie Chicken Photography Equipment https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/6/prairie-chicken-photography-equipment The fighting season starts in early Spring (the beginning of March). The Mid-west can be cold with howling wind. To make matters worse you have to be out there long before sunrise. So before talking about photography gear let's talk about gear for you. One of the blinds faced the wind, meaning that I had wind on me all the time. Did I mention that it was cold? My gloves just did not cut it, my fingers froze. When we are uncomfortable we can't enjoy our photography, we get miserable, and we want to leave. In this case, you can't leave as you may only leave after the birds leave. Thicker gloves are not the answer as they make controlling the camera near impossible. My next purchase will be thinner but battery powered heated gloves. I will also get heated socks. The lesson I learnt was that being comfortable is important for my photography. I was dressed well and my body was fine but my fingers and toes were toooooo cold.

The semi-permanent blinds were probably not designed with photographers in mind. They were too narrow. The fixed (unmoveable) bench did not leave enough room for a tripod between it and the window. With some maneuvering and allowing the back tripod leg to be at less of an angle worked. That meant that the long lens protruded out of the blind. Animals react to movement. With the lens moving from side to side as I shoot it could scare the birds off (hence my first suggestion below). Canon and Sony's long lenses are white and flashy!

Equipment suggestion #1

          Use a lens hood. Sometimes they can make a huge difference in picture quality. They help to prevent flare and a loss of contrast. They also help to protect the lens.

Equipment suggestion #2

          Use a gimbal head. Now I know that a bean bag on the window sill works for some people. This way there is no need to carry a tripod and head, and it also solves the space issue inside of the blind. But sometimes the action happens really quickly. There is no way you can move the camera as fast on the bean bag as you can on a gimbal head. Nor can you point the camera up (when the birds jump and or fly) as quickly from a bean bag as you can with a gimbal. Moving heavy gear constantly for two to three hours can be hard to do if you are not a weight lifting champion. Moving the gear quickly and tracking the action with a gimbal is effortless without tiring you out.

Equipment suggestion #3

          Use fast lenses. I use the Sony 200-600 F6.3. If I had the money I would get the 600 F4. To freeze the action requires a fast shutter speed which shoots up the ISO which results in noise (grainy color dots). The faster the lens the lower the ISO which leaves you with less noise. I see people shooting with F7.1 or even F11 lenses and wonder how their images come out. Use the fastest lens you can afford. By the way, I love the Sony 200-600!

Software suggestion #4

          DXO PureRaw 3. This software is great at dealing with the noise. If you regularly shoot at high ISO this program is worth every penny.

Settings suggestion #5

          Shoot the lens wide open (for blurred backgrounds and to allow for a lower ISO). Use a high shutter speed to freeze the action. Use auto ISO. So I set my aperture as open as the lens can go (in my case 6.3), and the shutter speed at around 1600 or higher (depending on the light levels), and then with auto ISO I let the camera worry about the ISO and exposure. I have my "Zebras" enabled (to show when whites clip). If any Zebras show up I use exposure compensation to banish them.

Shooting suggestion #6

          Be relentless and follow the action all the time but shoot at the highest frame rate in short bursts when something interesting happens. Stop pixel peeping or reviewing your images (unless nothing is happening). You don't want to miss shots because you were not ready. Things can heat up quickly and you may only have one chance. Focus on shooting now and look at the results when you get home. Having said this, there is also the danger that some setting is off and it may ruin the entire shoot. So by all means review the odd image here and there but do so quickly without wasting much time on it.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) bird equipment nature photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/6/prairie-chicken-photography-equipment Sun, 04 Jun 2023 11:00:00 GMT
My Prairie Chicken journey https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/5/my-prairie-chicken-journey A year or so ago I saw a gorgeous image of two male Prairie Chickens fighting. That image inspired me to embark on my own Prairie Chicken photography journey. First, I started to research these birds. They fight during early Spring to gain mating rights with the females. The fighting takes place on a "lek," a mound with low grass on it. They return to the same mound every year. This was good news. Next I looked into where some of these known leks are and if any of them have blinds (hides) already set up. I was in luck.

But it was not this easy as I experienced a failure before getting this image. The journey took me on a four hour drive to get to where the lek is. I booked the blind and was set. You have to be in the blind and quiet with lights out at least an hour to an hour and a half before sunrise. The blind had plexiglass to look through. You can understand why. This is early Spring in Nebraska, so you have to keep the freezing wind out. However, we cannot photograph through a scratched and dirty plexiglass window and get good images.

          I received permission to erect my own blind, which I set up right next to the place's blind. Often in life, solving one problem creates another. On the morning of the shoot it was 16 degrees Fahrenheit with a healthy freezing wind to boot, making it feel like 6 degrees with the wind chill. I waited for about three hours and not a single bird showed up. I did not even hear them. When present, they make what is described as a booming sound but now I was "booming" from the cold. Getting up very early to drive from the hotel to the lek and freezing for hours without success was a little disheartening. So we had to drive the four hours back without even seeing a Prairie Chicken.

          Back to the research! I was not going to drive all that way for nothing again (even though this lek had the Chickens there on both mornings before I was there). This time I found a lek much closer to my home. I visited the place twice and got lucky both times. This is what my Prairie Chicken journey taught me:

  1. Do thorough research and planning to maximize your chances of getting good images

  2. Keep on trying until you are successful

  3. Endure the cold (or whatever)(as long as it is safe) because you have to be out there to get the image

  4. Be patient as these images took just less than nine hours of being out there to get

          In the next blog I will talk a little about what equipment was used to get these images.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) photographing photography Pierre Steenberg Prairie Chickens https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/5/my-prairie-chicken-journey Sun, 28 May 2023 11:00:00 GMT
Cropping https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/5/cropping Cropping images to our linking can be subjective. There is the famous rule of thirds that many people follow. But even following a well established guide does not always tell you how tight or wide to crop. First let's talk about cropping tools that you may find helpful. Adobe Photoshop, like all other image editing software, offers a cropping tool. But did you know that while you are in this tool you can ask Photoshop to overlay further cropping tool aids? Press "o" (the letter, not the number) while in the cropping tool and the cropping overlay appears. Press "o" again and it changes to another overlay. Keep pressing "o" to cycle through various options. It has a grid, the rule of thirds, and many more. Here are three examples:

The last two examples clearly pays no attention to the overlay guides as I just wanted you to see some of the overlay options. Look at the first example again. What if your subject is in the top right corner instead of the bottom left corner. Cycle through the options by pressing the "o" key until you find the overlay that you desire. Now press Shift and "o" to rotate the overlay. Once again, you can repeatedly press Shift and "o" to cycle through all the rotation options. With the overlay in place you can now crop as usual.

          But how tightly or loosely should we crop? In this image I am as close as the bird will allow my without flying off. My lens is maxed out at 600mm. But the bird is still too small in the frame. This image needs to be cropped. Let's start with the uncropped image and experiment with various crop options. We will stay with horizontal crops at first.

So this is the full frame. We want to crop the image because of multiple reasons. The out of focus tree in the bottom right bothers me, so I want to eliminate it. The bright windows of my neighbor's home in the top right of the image also needs to go. Lastly, the size of the bird in the frame needs to increase. Let's crop in a bit and see how it looks:

It looks a bit better. Some of the distracting out of focus tree in the foreground in the bottom right has been removed and the bright window in the top right corner is also gone. But this crop is lousy as we still have part of the out of focus tree on the bottom right as well as the window on the top. Let's crop even more to see if that resolved the issue:

All objectionable parts of the image have now been pruned. But is this the best crop we can get from this image? Let's zoom in a bit more to see how that looks:

Although the eye contact the bird is making with the viewer is now nicely visible and we can see the beautiful detail of the feathers the crop seems a bit too tight. The bird seems cramped and has no room to breathe or to live. How is this poor bird ever going to open it's wings? Personally, I like to see a bit more room. I am not a big fan of animal portraits (unless something special is going on or the image is really tight on the face). There is something to be said to see the surroundings, how and where the bird lives.

          Some images also lend themselves to vertical crops. Let's start, once again, with the tight crop and move out. Which of the following images do you find more pleasing as you consider how they are cropped?

What does your selection teach you about cropping? How can cropping be used from a composition stand point? Yes, we should always crop in camera. That is the best way to photograph and it gives you the highest resolution in a single shot. In landscape photography we typically do. But life does not always agree to let us work with what is ideal. Sometimes we just cannot get into the right position to crop the way we would like to. Cliffs may prevent us from moving forward. Thorn bushes may poke us. Slippery rocks may threaten us. And in the case of wildlife photography, cropping is just part of life. I just don't have a longer than 600mm lens. I don't own a 1.4 or 2x converter (and there are downsides to them). Even if we can get closer, sometimes we should not as that can disturb breeding animals or it may be dangerous. The only option is to crop.

          Cropping does offer compositional advantages too. It is not possible to hand hold a long lens, to focus on the bird, AND watch and control the foliage on the edges of the frame. Even small camera movements make a huge difference as to what is included or excluded in the image. Having space around the bird allows us to place our crop strategically and carefully to include or exclude things on the edges of our frame. This may sound trivial, but it makes a difference. Look, for example, at the last three images. Look at the foliage in the top right corner. Does that top right corner not look the best, neat and clean in the last image compared to the other images? You cannot shoot this precisely with a long lens, hand held. But cropping helps and it certainly improved the composition in the last crop's case.

          Even though the bird is smaller in the last image, to me, I like this crop the best. The bird still stands out while it has a bit of room to breathe and live. Review all these images in today's blog to see what a massive difference cropping makes to an image. What is your style when it comes to cropping? Do you crop tightly or do you also, like me, prefer to see a bit more space around wildlife?

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) cropping cropping examples cropping overlays Photography Photoshop Pierre Steenberg rotate cropping overlays tips tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/5/cropping Sun, 21 May 2023 11:00:00 GMT
Creating separation between the subject and the background https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/5/creating-separation-between-the-subject-and-the-background Sometimes the subject of the image stands out beautifully from the background. Such images are often striking and beautiful. The subject just pops out. Here is an example.

Many times we are not this lucky. Perhaps the background in not blurred as nicely and the bird blends in with the background more. At other times, even with a very nicely blurred background, the colors of the background and that of the bird are so similar that the bird does not stand out as we would like it to. The following image was such an image. Now please bear in mind that the version shown here has already gone through some editing to create separation between the bird and the background. My raw files are taken through DXO PhotoLabs 6 or DXO PureRaw 3, so by the time I take the new "raw" file into Photoshop it is already much improved. Yet, even with this improvement the bird still does not pop out of the background as I would like it to.

So how can we separate the subject from the background more? How can we give it pop? We cannot use luminosity (brightness) values because the bird shares the same brightness as the background (especially in the original raw file). We cannot use color selection because, once again, the bird is the same color as the background. Let's take the image into Adobe Camera Raw (in Photoshop) and show you how I process the image to separate the subject from the background.

If you click on masking (top right red arrow) and then on the blue "+" to add a mask a new dialogue box will appear with a few options. I clicked on "select background." The red area in the image shows what has now been selected. If the selection is not accurate then you can paint it in or out or fix it with color selection. Now you can make adjustments to only the background. I like to darken it just a bit and bring down highlights. Then I repeat the process but this time I select the subject.

I like to brighten my subject a bit. Since this is a bird I may also add a bit of texture to bring out the feather detail. Yet detail is something I do NOT want to add to the whole image as I want to maintain a smooth blurred background. By making edits to the background separately from what I do to the subject allows me make the subject stand out better.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) Adobe Camera Raw masking photography Pierre Steenberg raw processing https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/5/creating-separation-between-the-subject-and-the-background Sun, 14 May 2023 11:00:00 GMT
Luminar Neo SALE https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/5/luminar-neo-sale

Breaking News! Luminar Neo is having a mother's day sale. Luminar Neo is image editing software that is easy to use and can yield great results fast.


Here are the details:

Luminar Neo Explore Plan now costs $79 instead of $99 + Collection for free.

The Pro plan now costs $99 versus $119 + Collection for free

The Lifetime License (no subscription) is $119 rather than $149 + Collection for free

This special is valid from May 12, 2023 through May 16, 2023.

You can also get the Clouds in Paradise Skies Pack by Team for $29 versus $58 > Click HERE

To get the offers mentioned above click HERE


See what this software can do:

Remove backgrounds

Enlarge images

Remove noise

Combine images into HDR

Make lights sparkle

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/5/luminar-neo-sale Fri, 12 May 2023 23:33:44 GMT
Creating extra space in Photoshop https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/5/creating-extra-space-in-photoshop As promised last week, today we are going to magically create extra space. I use this technique from time to time to fix framing. Perhaps I need to crop out another bird in the background that is distracting but in so doing it leaves me with too little room around the edge of the image. Perhaps the bird was too fast for me and by the time I pressed the shutter the bird is just too close to the edge. At other times, my lens is not quite wide enough leaving me with too little room above a mountain peak. These are all fixable. You can magically create more space. Here is how.

So here is my original image. As you can see, the image just does not work because the bird is flying out of the image, there is not enough space for the bird to fly into. Rather than trash the image we are going to fix it. Click on the crop tool on the left. Make sure that you place a check mark in "content aware." Now change the "original ratio" setting to just "ratio." Click and hold the right middle crop mark and drag it too the right.

Click the "okay" check mark in the middle top of the screen and watch the magic happen.

We can repeat the process and get the following result.

In the area where the red circle is was a repetitive pattern that did not seem as though it would occur in nature. This can easily been cleaned up using the clone tool. We can then crop the image to get a final picture.

What do you think? Look at all the space we created in front of the bird; magical. This is really easy and only take few seconds. Most people think that the cropping tool in Photoshop is just for cropping in but it can also be used to crop out, for stretching the edge and creating space that once did not exist. This is a powerful tool that can improve many images and even save some that would otherwise have been trashed.

          I hope that you found this tip useful. Try it.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) crop edge fix photography Photoshop Pierre Steenberg post processing tip tool trick https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/5/creating-extra-space-in-photoshop Sun, 07 May 2023 11:00:00 GMT
Birds in flight https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/4/birds-in-flight Photographing birds in flight can be some of the most difficult photography to undertake. They can fly very fast and erratic making tracking them in the viewfinder very hard. Once you are able to track them in flight the question becomes if your camera's auto focus can lock on and track them. If you are starting out learning this craft I suggest you start with slower, larger birds as that will help you to practice, learn your technique, and get some results. The bonus is that they also tend to be a bit less skittish allowing you closer.

One you have your skills honed try birds that may be more exciting (and difficult to photograph). A common mistake people make when taking images of flying birds, as I mentioned recently in a previous blog, is under-estimating the wing span. We zoom in too close then when the wings open they get clipped because they are wider than we anticipate. So shoot a bit wider, we can always crop a bit later, but there is no fixing a clipped wing.

          Obviously, using a camera with good fast auto focus is what is needed here. You will also need a long lens. The wider aperture the lens has the better because you are going to need to use fast shutter speeds to freeze the birds and to get them sharp. However, please note that we do not have to get the entire bird sharp in order to have pleasing images. Look at this image above. The bird is sharp. Most importantly, the eye is sharp. But notice the wing tips, they are out of focus. This is totally okay because it conveys movement. So focus on the eye. Most modern cameras have eye tracking for this purpose. Shoot at the fastest frame rate your camera offers. Then pick the best ones to keep later. You will be surprise what a difference this can make to getting that right moment.

As usual, good light and composition are important. Typically, you will want to shoot with the sun behind you or behind you at an angle. The birds need space to fly into, so more space in front of the bird than behind it is necessary.

Now I will be honest with you. At times, I am too slow and then I get an image where the bird is too close to the edge. Perhaps a wingtip is too close to the edge or the bird does not have enough space to fly into. As long as you have a reasonably blurred background which is not too busy, it is very easy to "create" more space. Join me for next week's blog where I teach you how.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) bird Birds in flight photography Pierre Steenberg techniques tips tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/4/birds-in-flight Sun, 23 Apr 2023 11:00:00 GMT
Common birds https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/4/tiny-common-birds Everybody wants great Eagle images. Yet the tiny common birds also have much to offer. I was laying on the sand watching and photographing these little fellows:

They are amazing. They can run incredibly fast. They run so fast that you can hardly see their little legs. This makes them hard to photograph since most cameras' autofocus systems are just too slow to catch up with these little guys. You have to pan (move the camera with the bird as it runs) so fast to get them in frame. Doing so with a long lens can also be difficult. Because these are common little birds does not mean that they are not challenging to photograph.

          Once again, try to catch them doing something. Here I got it with both feet off of the ground, as also the one below:

Catch them with something in the beak.

Here is another bird trying to eat a feast too big for its mouth. And here it is when it is struggling to get the meal down:

These are just common birds but they are still interesting. We often think that we need to travel here or there to be able to get good images but you can get images like these wherever you are. Even common Gulls will do:

Just keep watching them with your finger on the shutter release.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) birds common Photographing photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/4/tiny-common-birds Sun, 16 Apr 2023 11:00:00 GMT
Birds in action https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/4/birds-in-action Action always makes photographs more interesting. I am a novice when it comes to birds, their identity, and their behavior. However, to increase our changes of getting good images we have to learn the birds' behavior so that we can better predict when action will happen. Hence I spend time just watching the birds, getting to know them. Then I start shooting by just following them with my camera constantly. When action happens I shoot using a high frame rate.

          Birds have a larger wingspan than we think. We often compose our images too tightly. Then when the wings start flapping or when they jump or fight we are disappointed because a wing or beak or something is clipped. Frame them a bit looser in the image so that when action happens there is enough space in the frame for it to happen in without amputating some part of the bird. Here are a few action or action-ish images of birds:

Action can be anything the birds do such as preening, shaking off water, etc. It does not have to be much. Any movement or action is better than a bird just sitting on a stick (which is also beautiful, just not as interesting). Use fast shutter speeds to freeze the action. Action does not happen every second, so we just need to be patient but ready.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) action Bird photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/4/birds-in-action Sun, 09 Apr 2023 11:00:00 GMT
Low Light Bird Photography https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/4/low-light-bird-photography Low light bird photography is problematic since birds move, sometimes very quickly. So a fast shutter speed is required to freeze the action, but with low light availability that is not possible lest the evils of high ISO noise ruin the image. Secondly, long lenses tend to be slower, F4 if you are rich and F6.3 if you are poor-ish and even up to F11 if you are a Canon RF shooter. With all due respect to Canon and its customers, I just don't get people buying their slooooow long lenses (for shutter speed and background blur reasons). Thirdly, following the movement of the birds with your camera with a long lens attached also requires a fast shutter speed to cancel out motion blur. So, how do you shoot a fast moving subject with a long slow lens in low light? Back to this question a bit later.

Scenes such as this can be tricky as much of the image is brighter than the bird. If the bird is small in the frame one can let the bird become a silhouette. If the bird is larger in the frame it is usually advisable to see some detail on the bird. The camera will typically want to darken to bird too much due to the brighter other parts of the image. Don't let it, shoot in manual or use exposure compensation to control the camera.

Here are some tricks to help you get low light bird images.

  • Larger birds are easier to shoot in low light (usually). They tend to move slower.

  • Pick the moment you depress the shutter carefully to coincide with the bird being even slower (eating, burrowing, etc.)

  • Shoot in bursts at a high frame rate. Even if some of the burst is out of focus, a few may be in focus.

  • Getting a sharp image is more important than avoiding noise; so use whatever ISO you need to use.

  • DXO PhotoLab or DXO PureRaw is fantastic at hunting down and banishing noise without sacrificing detail (to the extent that that is possible).

  • Try to stabilize the camera as much as possible (see my next blog about achieving this).

  • As we have said before, if the bird is larger in the frame, make sure that you can see some detail in the bird.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) bird low light photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/4/low-light-bird-photography Sun, 02 Apr 2023 11:00:00 GMT
Bird photography equipment worth every penny https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/3/bird-photography-equipment-worth-every-penny First, let me start by saying that most of the time the best bird images are taken from the bird's eye level. It makes for intimate images. It enables you to blur the background better as the background in farther in the distance than when shooting down at a bird catching the background right behind the bird. It gives you a perspective that most people don't see.

This means that I am mostly lying on the ground shooting, or should I say in the water and or mud or dirt. Equipment will NOT make you a better photographer yet it helps you to get better images as it makes photography easier and you more comfortable. Here are a few of my favorite non-camera or lens gear for bird photography:

  • A ground-pod. A tripod can often not get low enough on the ground and even if it can, how do you move it inconspicuously while you crawl on the ground? How do you prevent the spread out legs from getting stuck in the ground, or on plants? Movement chase the birds away. I like to be able to just slide the ground-pod on the ground. They are fantastic. You can even make one yourself from a used cheap pan. The model I use was bought from Huga Nature in Poland. (I am not affiliated with them or get any benefit from promoting them)

  • Wimberley Gimbal. Ball heads don't work well for bird photography as you constantly have to keep the gear up. Some will say that you can just increase the friction setting on a ball head to prevent having to constantly keep up the camera and lens but that comes at a cost of free and easy movement. Birds move fast so we need to be able to also move our gear fast, uninhibited. A Wimberley Gimbal carries the weight of the gear, it keeps it in the right position even when untouched. It re-balances the camera and lens automatically if correctly installed to prevent the front of the lens to drop into the sand when you let the camera go. You can move freely and they just work perfectly. I highly recommend this. There are many brands that sell these gimbals heads. I prefer the Wimberley brand. The one I use is the WH-200 Wimberley Head Version II (which I bought used). The ProMediaGear Katana Pro also consistently gets good reviews. (I am not affiliated with Wimberley or ProMediaGear)

  • Blind. Blinds helps the birds to not see you allowing you closer. It also puts them at ease so that they slow down and act naturally. Besides, blinds make for good sunscreen. I use a blind that drapes over me so that I can crawl and move. Mine is from LensCoat. LensCoat also sells lens covers that are highly rated. (I am not affiliated with LensCoat)

  • Lens cover. With an expensive lens crawling along the ground in and near brush, sand, and mud, necessitates me to protect my gear. Lens covers also cover the white lens so that it is not so flashy to disturb the birds or alert thieves. The one I use is from Huga Nature in Poland but LensCoat is also an esteemed brand for lens covers.

  • The right clothing. Photographers often overlook the importance of what you are wearing. Being too cold or too warm will send you packing and end your photography. The other day I was sitting out in 16 degree F or -8.88 degree C weather for three hours to photograph Prairie Chickens (which never showed up). You will freeze without the right clothing. View clothing as you do your photography gear.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) accessories bird gear photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/3/bird-photography-equipment-worth-every-penny Sun, 26 Mar 2023 11:00:00 GMT
Forest Streams https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/3/forest-streams Forest streams are still all about light and composition. In December I walked to a spot I have visited many times before. That spot has yielded some very nice images for me before. When I got their I was quite disappointed because the scene was ruined by a storm that moved rubble in to the scene. So I started to explore other options near by. I walked and scouted for some time until I came to this scene:

You may be tempted to think that I just walked up to the scene and took this image. I wish this was what happened but it was not. The entire scene was explored. Sometimes images just don't jump out at me. I have to work the scene. I walk this way, that way, and this way again. I look at the foreground. I tried this and tried that and sometimes nothing seems to work. Luckily it was overcast and I had the time to explore without loosing the light, in fact, I am glad that it took me time to get to this composition since the light changed and warmed up the scene.

          Forest streams often make the best photographs when it is overcast, when the sun is trying to break through. Fog also goes well with forest streams. In this scene I tried to create a lead-in line with the flowing water. A slow shutter speed was used to emphasize the water flow. A 16-35 mm lens was used and the camera is close to the water. The goal was to get the viewer drawn into the image, front to back.

          I like this image a lot which teaches me to be patient and not to give up. My son was with me on this occasion and I remember telling him how frustrated I was that I just could not get the composition right and that I was struggling to "see" the image. Just be out photographing when the light works with what you are trying to shoot and keep on working the scene until the composition clicks.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) forest photography Pierre Steenberg streams https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2023/3/forest-streams Thu, 16 Mar 2023 18:22:38 GMT
It does not always take much https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/9/it-does-not-always-take-much It does not always take much to make a pleasing image. We may want to give up on photography because we do not have access to famous iconic locations. What if you don't live near majestic landscapes? We often think that the place makes the difference. Yes, the location and scenery does help but you are not stuck without it.

My wife and I visited the lake but due to the vegetation we had no access to the shoreline. Literally the only two places where I could get to the water was of the image with the fishing pier and this location. But even this location did not offer much of a view. Instead of not getting an image this is the time to get creative.

          First, look at what you have to work with. Can you zoom in and isolate something? Can you do something with the sun? How about a sun-star? (see previous blogs on how to create a sun-star. Does going low down offer a more interesting view? Play around with your options. I find a cell phone helpful for this process. I use my phone's camera to look at all the angles and possibilities before making a decision and photographing it with my "good" camera. It is just easier to walk around and try things out this way since my camera is on the tripod, and moving the whole rig around requires more motivation.

          This image will certainly not win any awards but it is a pleasing image given that I had almost nothing to work with. You will be surprised what you can get if you start playing around with what you have in front of you.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) creative landscape photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/9/it-does-not-always-take-much Sun, 25 Sep 2022 11:00:00 GMT
Dawn https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/9/dawn Shooting before sunrise can be tricky but rewarding. The tricky part is that such images may look a bit lifeless without sunlight. At times they may look flat. These images may also appear cold. This is why the time before sunrise is called the blue hour. If we photograph scenes that should look warm and vibrant this time of day is probably not best. However, the blue hour may also be rewarding to shoot if paired with the right scene.

The majority of this image looks cold, but that suits the scene with a lake and clouds. The cold look is taken advantage of rather than being a problem. Yet, I wanted to create some color tension which I introduced by waiting until the sky (or part of it) showed some warmth. During post processing I also brightened and warmed up the walkway and deck in the distance. It is important not to overdo it to remain looking natural.

          There are a few things to look out for when taken images such as this.

  • Make sure that structures and water are level.

  • Make sure that there is good separation between objects. In this case, it is easy not to pay attention to the right railing of the deck. If that railing makes contact with the reflection of the tree in the distance they will look merged. This ruins any depth that you may have in the image. So make sure that you leave gaps between objects to separate them and to create depth.

  • Smooth out the water to better suit the scene. In this case there was no wind leaving the water like a mirror. If, however, there was some wind causing ripples you can smooth that out beautifully by using neutral density filters to get a shutter speed between 10 and 30 seconds. There is no need to have your shutter speed longer than this for the purpose of smoothing the water. This creates a bit of an ethereal look but pleasingly so.

As I have said before. Different weather or kinds of light does not rule out photographing as long as you carefully chose what to shoot that suits the weather conditions or the kind of light. Even harsh, middle of the day, light can be used effectively to show heat and drought if pairs with the right scene that calls for that kind of light. So don't put the camera away, find what works with the conditions or light.

Go out and photograph.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) blue hour photography Pierre Steenberg smooth water https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/9/dawn Wed, 14 Sep 2022 22:58:37 GMT
Botswana Workshop https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/8/botswana-workshop If you want to enjoy a river cruise while photographing wildlife, this workshop is for you.

Each participant has a swivel chair that can turn 360 degrees. There is no one in front of you or behind you when you shoot because the boat is always positioned in such a way that you have a clear, unobstructed view of the wildlife. We are on the boat for three hours at sunrise and again for another three hours before sunset. During the rest of the day we teach wildlife photography, image editing, and hold image reviews.

If wildlife is your photographic passion and you seek to learn this craft, please join us. We offer a six to one, participant to instructor ratio. Send me an email to discuss this workshop scheduled for June or July 2023.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) boat Botswana photography Pierre Steenberg tour wildlife workshop https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/8/botswana-workshop Sun, 28 Aug 2022 11:00:00 GMT
Namibia Photography Workshop https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/8/namibia-photography-workshop Namibia is a fascinating country. It is one of the least populated countries in the world, per square mile. It has the some of the highest sand dunes in the world. Its quiver trees look as if they belong to some ancient time. The country offers very diverse photographic opportunities. There is good reason why this is one of the top photographic location.


During our workshops we visit a "game park" for wildlife photography. There is something very special about photographing wildlife in the wild.


This unique place offers photogenic scenes around every corner, including the famous arch.

Sossusvlei and Deadvlei

This place offers some of the highest sand dunes in the world.

This is an amazing place. To get here you have to walk on sand and cross over a small sand dune. But once you get here, you get to photograph some iconic images.


This is where a diamond town battled the desert and lost. This ghost-town offers great images.

Quiver Tree Forest

I am planning another Namibia workshop featuring both wildlife and landscape locations. The workshop will be in June or July 2023. If you are interested in joining me, please send me an email. We offer a six to one ratio of participants to instructors, with a maximum of twelve participants. Both my fellow instructor and I have photographed Namibia a number of times and we have hosted workshops here before.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) Namibia photographic Pierre Steenberg tour workshop https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/8/namibia-photography-workshop Sun, 21 Aug 2022 11:00:00 GMT
HDR https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/8/hdr When people started tinkering with HDR long ago I hated it. Just about all the HDR images had a similar look. The sky/clouds were gray-ish. Yes, back in the day you could spot an HDR from a mile away. Since then things have improved radically. Today, I too use HDR and love it. The results look natural and colors are vivid.

          My go-to app for processing HDR was Aurora HDR from Skylum. Before I continue, it needs to be disclosed that I am an affiliate of Skylum software. You can interpret that in two ways:

  1. Since I make a few sents when someone buys Skylum software from my link, I must be biased. Hence, for self gain, I promote this software and showcase it as being better than what it really is. Therefore, what I have to say about it must be taken with a bag full of salt.

  2. Since I have access to lots of software from different companies and still choose to use this software from Skylum it must be pretty good. You can get a discount for buying the software from the link in this blog or on the affiliate links page of my website.

By the way, some weeks ago I wrote about other software (DXO PureRaw 2) from which I gain nothing. In all seriousness, I write these blogs simply to share my passion for photography, hoping that it helps someone. Skylum has been in the HDR software space for a long time. Their HDR technology is very mature and very good. In my opinion, their HDR process produces images much nicer than PhotoShop does.

          In the past, you had to use one of Skylum's image editing software offerings for general editing purposes AND buy Eurora HDR for you HDR work. Now, the HDR function is built right into their Luminar Neo product. Two software packages in one! All my HDR work is done using the Skylum software. Here is an example, provided by Skylum:

Here is the link to earn yourself a discount or to learn more about the product:

Discount Link

This software is really top notch and I use it for every image I process (HDR for my HDR work but Luminar Neo for non-HDR images). Please take advantage of the discount.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) editing Eurora HDR image Luminar Neo Pierre Steenberg Skylum software https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/8/hdr Sun, 14 Aug 2022 11:00:00 GMT
Dragonflies https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/8/dragonflies Other than on one previous occasion I have never really made an effort to photograph dragonflies. But in the absence of what I normally shoot ... Yet, I have thoroughly enjoyed spending time with these guys and plan to do so more often. I have challenged myself to try to catch these guys in flight. But for now I am learning to know them better.

You will find them where there is water. Before becoming dragonflies they actually live and hunt underwater. Dragonflies can sit still for long periods of time and are generally really forgiving of your presence. You can get quite close to them. This makes them easy to photograph. They also prefer the same perches. So if they fly away, just wait patiently as they will return shortly and sit on the same (or very close to it) perch.

Overcast conditions work best but you will still need a good amount of light, especially if you want to photograph them in flight, which I am still working on. Certain species hover which will make photographing them in flight easier. These guys did not cooperate with my request. For in flight images you will obviously need a really fast shutter speed. Regardless of posed of in flight images use the largest aperture (smallest number on the lens). We want to blur the background. Speaking of backgrounds, they make a big difference. Since these guys sit still, more around and change your angle to line them up with water lilies or better backgrounds. A polarizer is also advisable to remove sheen from the background.

          I shot these at 600mm. That creates two challenges. Firstly, the depth of field (that which is in focus) is small. This is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, this makes for nicely blurred backgrounds. On the other hand, we don't want the dragonfly, or part of it, out of focus. The second challenge, at least with my Sony 200-600mm, is the minimum focusing distance. This actually left me quite frustrated. These guys allowed me much closer to them as I was photographing from but I could not focus any closer. Now with the Sony A7Riv this was not a big problem as I could crop and still have between 24 and 32 mega pixels left. However, if I could focus from a closer distance I could have had much more resolution. To solve this issue there are a few solutions.

          Firstly, some lenses can focus from a closer distance than others can. Perhaps the 100-400mm is a better choice here for that reason. I don't have that lens so it is not an option for me. I do not regret my choice as when photographing wildlife you always wish for more reach. So for most applications I would take the 600mm reach over the 400mm close focusing any day of the week. The second solution is a 1.4 extender or teleconverter. This makes the dragonfly (or what you are photographing) larger in the frame while basically maintaining the same minimum focusing distance. The tradeoff is that it steals light and it is quite expensive. Do NOT buy cheap ones as that will degrade your image quality. The last solution is to get an extension tube. They are cheap/er and greatly decrease your minimum focusing distance. Their tradeoff is that you will lose the ability to focus at infinity or close to it. But for this kind of photography that is not an issue. Since this is a hollow tube, image quality is not effected.

          I plan to spend much more time with these beauties. I want to try photographing them with back-lighting, in flight, and different compositions. Why don't you go try photograph some of them?

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) dragonflies dragonfly extension tube photography Pierre Steenberg teleconverter tips tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/8/dragonflies Sun, 07 Aug 2022 11:00:00 GMT
Bees https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/7/bees They say, if there nothing to shoot, shrink your world. Shoot that which is small. This is a valuable tip that has helped me many times in the past. Sometimes a scene just does not speak to me and I simply don't "see" the shots. Nothing stands out and I struggle to find any good compositions. Perhaps this is similar to writer's block. When that happens, put the wide angle lens away and pull out the telephoto. Start looking and zooming. Before long you will start seeing images again. Just plug along with the telephoto and shrink the area that is in your shot. Once your mojo is back you can go back to the wider views again.

          In the absence of mountains and rivers and storms this is what I have done. I started looking for the small world. The small world is always present. You just need to look for it but once you start focusing on the small world you will start seeing how many options there are. I went to the garden and started following bees around. Before you do this, please stay safe. If you are allergic to bees stay away and find something else to photography.

This image was taken at 105mm. Set the aperture wide open to blur the background. Go to a bed a flowers where there is a lot of bee activity. This takes patience. Just try to get images, over and over. Follow the bees around. Overcast weather is the best for this kind of photography as we want diffused light. However, it should not be dreary. We still need a good amount of light because these guys are always on the move. To get sharp images we have to use a fast-ish shutter speed. A polarizer is generally a good idea to remove reflections and sheen from leaves. Try to shoot at 90 degrees from the sun which is where a polarizer works best.

          Try different angles. Shoot from different heights. Just play around.

We often think that the insect has to fill the frame to make a good image. This just is not true. We are not doing macro here. It is perfectly fine to leave some room for the insect to move around in. In fact, frame the image a bit looser. Show the habitat, the habits, and tell a story.

Have some fun. Hydrate and wear a hat. Just because it is overcast does not mean that the sun cannot burn you. We can get so involved taking these kinds of images that we lose sight of time, heat, and hydration. So take of yourself.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) bee bees garden insect insects photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/7/bees Sun, 31 Jul 2022 11:00:00 GMT
Watch the western horizon https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/7/watch-the-western-horizon My wife and I were out sitting on a ridge, about an hour or so before sunset. I was ready to go home. My son was visiting from California and I felt bad that he was home alone. After taking a shot or two we pack up and got into the car.

There was quite a bit of cloud cover, so I did not expect a great sunset. My conscience wanted to go home to be with my son. Yet, as a photographer, I always keep my eyes out on the western horizon. I am looking to see if the clouds make contact with that horizon or if there is a gap with no clouds. This is imperative to make a prediction as to what is going to happen at sunset. If the clouds are think there and low down I go home as nothing is probably going to happen. The time passed by as I fought with the wish to go home. This is what the horizon line was telling me.

There was indeed a gap in the clouds. That is what a photographer prays for. When the sun drops into and below that gap as it sets it is likely to light up the clouds in the sky. I unpacked my gear and set up for a good sunset, or so I hoped. Well, you can decide.

This is what it was like after sunset.

So if it is cloudy and you decide to go, always scan the western horizon first. Look to see if there is a gap for the sun to shine through. If so, don't go! You may very well be in luck. Only leave if there is no gap in the clouds or if there is a cloud bank right on the horizon. When it is cloudy that western horizon is your friend. It can send you home early or promise a fiery sky. Always watch that western horizon before you make a decision to go or to stay.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) clouds cloudy landscape photography Pierre Steenberg sky sunset https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/7/watch-the-western-horizon Sun, 24 Jul 2022 11:00:00 GMT
Framing the scene for lightning composition https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/7/framing-the-scene-for-lightning-composition How do you compose an image for lightning when you don't know where the lightning is going to strike? If lightning is going off left and right, and all over the place it is not much of a problem because sooner or later you will get it in the right place. But what if that is not the case? What if you only have a strike every now and again? Is there something we can do to place the lightning in the right spot compositionally? How do you set up your framing to maximize your chances of getting the bolt in the right-ish place?

Yes, lightning is unpredictable, but not fully so. We do know where most of the strikes are going to hit for a scene such as this. Lightning tends to strike mostly in or near where the rain "band" is. When you see the rain "band," frame your image close to it, knowing that that is most probably where the strike is going to be.

          Look at this image. The rain band is clearly visible just to the right of center. The rain band stops just to the left of the lowest dark clouds on the right. Now we can frame the image loosely based on where that band is. Keep in mind that that band of rain will constantly move. So keep reframing your composition to adjust to this band's movement.

          Many people aim the camera too high. Most of the strikes are going to come from the approximate same height as the cell the rain band is from. So there is no need to frame too high. What is said here only applies to storms moving in or moving out. If you are in the thick of things it could strike anywhere. But for these kind of scenarios pictured above your best chance for success is to aim around the rain band, placing the top of your image just above where the rain band starts.

          Always follow governmental guidelines for your safety.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/7/framing-the-scene-for-lightning-composition Sun, 17 Jul 2022 11:00:00 GMT
Know your surroundings https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/7/know-your-surroundings It is strange how, here in Nebraska, the storms (lightning storms) only tend to come an hour or so before sunrise. I am out to photography before that as I want to photograph the storm rolling in. Once the storms gets close, I go home for safety's sake. Being new in the area, I spend time getting to know my surroundings. Most of the images that I like a lot are images that were taken after going back to the same places over and over again until mother nature sings her song. This image was taken after having been out photographing in this area numerous time.

I started to notice that as the storms start to roll in they tend to generally come from the same direction. I also noticed that God-rays also appeared frequently. I never captured them because I was not in the right place to shoot them (too much going on in the foregrounds facing that direction). But this is the advantage of getting to know your surroundings. You start to notice patterns such as weather patterns, which direction the God-rays appear, and where suitable foregrounds are for different kinds of scenarios.

          For this image, I was photographing a mile or so east, at first. I noted that the cloud buildup was suitable for God-rays. So, I forgot about lighting and moved to this location for the God-rays. This image would never have been captured if I did not know my surroundings.

          So here is the challenge for each of us. Explore your surrounding area well. Make notes as to which locations are best for which scenarios. Get to know the weather patterns. Armed with this information, you can quickly make better decisions about where to be for which kind of scene. If things change you will be ready because you would know where to go for that. I am now ready and know where all the open fields are (those without homes, power poles and cables, etc.).

          It was the famous South African golfer, Gary Player, who once sunk the ball from an almost impossible position in the sand. A reporter called him "lucky." Little did the reporter know that Gary spent hours and days practicing those very shorts from those very positions. Gary responded to the reported by saying, "the more I practice the luckier I get."

          Create your luck with preparation. Get to know your surroundings. It will increase the odds of getting the shots you want.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) landscape photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/7/know-your-surroundings Sun, 10 Jul 2022 11:00:00 GMT
Bird Photography: Show a bit more https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/7/bird-photography-show-a-bit-more We always tend to want to fill the frame with the bird. It is exciting to see the fine detail of the feathers. We use long lenses and then we still crop the image in post-processing to get it even larger. However, I want to encourage you to show a bit more. Show the habitat. Show their behavior. Show the perch. Give them room to live within. So what if the bird is a bit smaller in the image?

I love the way the perch is shown here. It adds to the image. This images shows more than just a portrait of a bird. Yes, the bird is smaller in the image, but the perch is now part of the image. I could have cropped the image more but then I would have lost some of the perch.

Show more than just the bird in flight. Now we know where the bird comes from. The perch acts as a barrier to prevent the viewer's eyes from leaving the image on the right. Make sure to leave enough space for the bird to fly into. Once again, the bird is smaller in the frame but it tells more of a story than it would have if it was cropped to only show the bird.

          So don't be afraid of zooming out a bit, or cropping less deeply, or shooting from further away. Show a bit more.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) bird composition photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/7/bird-photography-show-a-bit-more Sun, 03 Jul 2022 11:00:00 GMT
Patience with Birds https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/6/patience-with-birds If you read last week's blog you will know that I scout the area where I plan to be when I can photograph clouds and lightning. I need to find locations without power lines or water towers, buildings, or other distracting things. We can get so caught up with what we are looking for that we don't see other possibilities. While driving, I notices some Red Wing Black birds. I stopped and watched them. A big part of becoming successful at getting bird images is to get to know their behavior.

I watched them at two different locations and realized that they seem habitual. They frequent certain perches. I watched them for a long time and identified where I want to attempt to take up my position. I moved slowly and cautiously and then waited, and waited, and waited some more. The birds got used to me and started their previous routines. It was a wonderful experience being out in nature and photographing these birds. Here are a few suggestions to get your started:

  • Be patient. It just takes time and practice.

  • Start with stationary birds.

  • Get to know your camera well. Specifically, learn to control and set your focus modes and preferences.

  • Auto ISO is your friend, use it. Set your shutter speed and aperture as you want them and trust your camera to set the exposure right using the ISO.

  • Use a shutter speed of at least double your focal length. Use your largest aperture. If you are using a very long lens such as 600mm or longer you may need to stop down just a bit to get enough depth of field if you are really close to the birds.

  • Find a location where the background if far away from where your birds are. This will help to adequately blur the background.

  • Watch your background to make sure it is pleasing. Moving to the left or right a little can make a big difference.

  • Once you are more experienced, try some bird in flight images

If you use a fast enough shutter speed, turn off image stabilization. For birds in flight you need to increase your shutter speed even higher. Did I mention the need of lots of patience before? Just keep on trying.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) bird photography Pierre settings Steenberg tips https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/6/patience-with-birds Sun, 26 Jun 2022 11:00:00 GMT
Lightning and Storm Safety https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/6/lightning-and-storm-safety Since living in the Mid-west now, severe weather becomes part of life. Thus we get to photograph storms, lightning, and possibly (I hope not), tornadoes. I do not plan on becoming a storm chaser, in fact, I am much more on the cautious side of the fear and respect spectrum for severe weather. So how do I take advantage of the photographic opportunities afforded by these weather events while staying safe?

First of all, I become acquainted with all the safety and survival information provided by governmental agencies and I obey their guidelines. Secondly, I listen to and closely follow weather reports, warnings and alerts. In addition to this I also practice the following tips:

  • I only photograph on the edges of storms. That means that I shoot as the storm moves in, but before it becomes severe. I make sure that I am home before the severity of the storm picks up. Similarly, I shoot when the storm is just about over and clearing out.

  • I use numerous weather cell phone apps that provide life radar data. It is important to know where the storm is, and how it is moving.

  • I listen in on my ham radio (I am licensed) by tuning in to the repeater frequency. In our area we have active weather spotters during weather events. By listening in on their reporting I know what is happening where. I change my position based on this live information.

  • I stay a safe distance away (consult your governmental guidelines). As an extra precaution, I stay in the car with the windows rolled up (for lightning). My camera is set up on a tripod with a lightning trigger outside and does not need me to supervise.

  • I thoroughly scout the area where I plan to shoot weather from long in advance. I need to know alternate routes. I check that all the roads are open before the weather comes by leaving on the shoot early and running routes.

  • I chose locations situated on or very near to cross-roads. I want to be able to drive off in any of four directions in the unlikely event of a distant tornado. Once again, I greatly minimize the likelihood of such encounters by not being out in the midst of storms and only shooting during the edges of storms before they are strong or severe.

  • I make sure that my cell phone is signed up to receive weather alerts and take immediate action on receiving them.

Safety should always be our first priority, NOT the image. No image is worth your life. I share only my experience and what I do with this blog. I am NOT telling you to do what I do. Do what the governmental agencies say.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) Photography Pierre precautions safety Steenberg weather https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/6/lightning-and-storm-safety Sun, 19 Jun 2022 11:00:00 GMT
Photography Gear: Part IV https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/6/photography-gear-part-iv In the digital age we also use digital tools to help us. Section one of this blog will cover iPhone apps which I have found to be very helpful:

  1. MotionX-GPS. This is not a free app, but how much is your life worth to you. This app tracks your every step so that you can find your way back to the car. Now you may say that you have never gotten lost, but what will you do once it happens? It only takes once to possibily kill you. Have you ever wondered in sand dunes, they can all look the same. It is just safe to have a GPS guide to get you to your car. The app works even without cell phone reception.
  2. LeeProGlass. This is a free app that helps you to calculate the proper exposure when using a neutral density filter. It is super easy and simple to operate and it work well.
  3. Tides Near Me. This is useful to plan seascape shoots.
  4. Star Walk 2. This app tells you were the milky way and other constellations are for night photography.
  5. Weather apps with weather radar. This is perhaps the most important app of all. It shows you how the rain is moving so that you can plan accordingly.
  6. Lightning detector.
  7. Focalware. This app shows you where the sun or moon is going to be at a given time. It also tells you the sunrise and sunset times and moonrise and moonset times.

Let's get talking about image editing software. Please note that everybody have their own preferences and these are just mine. I am not saying that my choices are the best, their are what is working for me and what I know best. I use four different image editing programs:

  1. PureRaw 2 or PhotoLab 5 from DXO. I realize that these programs are expensive but their "Deep Prime" noise reduction is wonderful. They also fix lens distortion very well (in my opinion, much better than Adobe Camera Raw). Sometimes I also like "Clearview" to remove haze and mist. I run my images through DXO's offering before I go to the next program. This software exports a DNG file which Adobe Camera Raw will treat as a raw file. My only two complaints about the software are the cost and the output file size.
  2. Photoshop and Adobe Camera Raw. Yes, yes, I know that most photographers love Lightroom. Most people love Lightroom for their image catalogue feature. I have HATED that feature from day one and have never gone back. I know that it is now more refined and all the initial issues have been solved but I just know and love Photoshop. After running my files through DXO I bring them into Photoshop.
  3. Luminar*. After processing my file in Adobe Camera Raw I quickly do a few small things in Photoshop and then I call up Luminar (from Skylum)(as a plug-in). Luminar does a few things quickly and well. The software is easy to learn and makes quite a different. Once this is done I go back into Adobe Camera Raw to reset the image's black and white points and make a few other local adjustments.
  4. Eurora*. When I do HDR work, my go to program is Eurora (from Skylum). My workflow changes here. I still start with DXO and follow that up with Adobe Camera Raw. Here I make sure that the white balance for the sequence of image are all the same. Now I export the files as Tiff files. These are the files that I take into Eurora. Once done with Eurora, I go to Photoshop and then Luminar.

Photo editing is very important and can make a huge difference.

* Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Skylum. Click on affiliate links to get a discount code if you choose to buy the software. I get a small commission without costing you anything extra (in fact, you get a discount). I use Skylum's software on every single one of my images.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) apps discount code editing Eurora Luminar photo photograph Pierre Skylum software Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/6/photography-gear-part-iv Sun, 12 Jun 2022 11:00:00 GMT
Photography Gear: Part III https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/6/photography-gear-part-iii So what else is in my bag? Speaking of camera bags, what should one consider when buying a bag? The kind of bag you get will depend on what you shoot and how much gear you have. In may case, I have to walk to the landscape locations, so I opt for a backpack. I use six criteria when looking to buy a camera backpack:

  1. Comfort when fully loaded. Some packs just do not have the support needed to haul a heavy load. The shoulder straps need to be well padded and the same goes for the waist belt. I don't even look at backpacks that do not have a waist belt. A good waist belt will take much of the weight off of my shoulders and better distribute the weight. Part of that comfort equation is a ventilated back. Air needs to be able to flow between your back and the backpack or you will get warm and sweat. When you put the backpack down it is not fun to have a wet back on a breezy afternoon.
  2. Water resistant/proof. Landscape photographers do much of their photography in inclimate weather and often encounter rain. I can't risk my equipment getting wet. Not only should be bag be able to withstand some rain but so do the zippers. They need to be able to seal.
  3. Durability. I belief in buying once if possible. My bag needs to last. It is going to endure weather. It is going to be placed on snow and mud and rocks. I can't have a bag break on a trip.
  4. Back opening. The part of the backpack that touches my back is the part that needs to open. My current bag opens from the side that is away from my back. But that means that when I lay the bag down in snow or mud that part that is getting wet and dirty is going to go against my back when I leave. That is a big no-no. My next bag will open on the other side. Now having said that, the reason why I have not replaced my bag yet is because, well I bought it to last and it is still lasting. Another reason is that I really want a bag that can open from the front and back, and I just can't find one. Too often I lean over and ask my wife or a fellow photographer to open my bag and get something, saving me from having to offload the pack, get what I need and put it back on. I want a bag that still affords me this possibility AND open on the other side when I do put the bag down.
  5. Size. The backpack needs to be large enough to fit my gear, and perhaps an item I still need to get. This is typically not a problem because most manufacturers have different sized bags. Just make sure that your gear will fit in.
  6. Weight. My gear is heavy enough to carry, I don't still want to add a heavy bag to the mix. However, durability and light weight have never been married. For a bag to do its job of keeping your gear safe and protected it has to have padding. Its outer walls have to be strong enough to last AND offer said protection. But that comes at the cost of extra weight. So find a bag that offers a balance between protection and weight.

Here is what else I carry in my bag:

  1. Allen wrenches. I cannot tell you how often I have helped people with tripod or L-bracket issues.
  2. Lens cleaning cloths, a number of them. When shooting in the rain, you have to keep the front of your lens element dry or your images are ruined. Filters fall, waves splash, and a number of things happen which necessitates having a microfiber cleaning cloth.
  3. Cleaning brush to brush away dust from my lenses or filters.
  4. Hand warmers. I hate being cold which makes me want to stop doing my photography.
  5. A whistle and pepper/bear spray. A whistle is handy if you ever get lost. Pepper spray is handy for when criminals find you with your expensive gear. Bear spray because my gear prevents me from running fast enough.
  6. Toilet paper and a few emergency supplies because falls happen. I also carry mole-skin for blisters. They have saved me and a few whom I were able to help. Being far from your car with major blisters is no joke.
  7. Head flashlight. We oftentimes walk in the dark to go shoot a sunrise or to come back after a sunset.
  8. A Rocket blower. To clean my camera sensor.
  9. Two remote triggers to fire my camera. I don't want to touch my camera when I shoot to prevent camera shake. I carry two with me because I have had them break on me. My current two have actually lasted a long time. One is wired (more reliable) and one is wireless. Both are genuine Sony triggers.
  10. Lightning trigger. Please see one of my previous blogs on shooting lightning where I provide details on the model I use. My friends Don Smith and Gary Hart have been teaching lightning workshops for many years and have seen just about every lightning trigger on the market. All of the photographers shoot under the exact same conditions with different triggers. Yet my friends have found, comparing the results from all the photographers that some of them are just better than others. The model I use is what they recommend and I have been very happy with it.
  11. A waterproof and floatable memory card holder. You cannot be risking all your precious images.
  12. Extra memory cards and camera batteries.
  13. Water bottle.

When I am going on a long hike I may leave some of my gear behind in my car to save on weight. That is what is in my bag.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) Accessories backpack gear Photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/6/photography-gear-part-iii Sun, 05 Jun 2022 11:00:00 GMT
Photography Gear: Part II https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/5/photography-gear-part-ii Tripods seem to be going out of vogue with many photographers of late. Reasons for this are:

  1. Camera sensors are becoming so good at high ISO that photographers are not scared to use higher ISO to get shutter speeds high enough to shoot handheld.

  2. Noise reduction software have also become so good that we can can boost ISO even higher.

  3. Photographers don't like the hassle of carrying and dealing with tripods. Oh' and did I mention the weight of tripods?

  4. Some photographers feel more creative and free without being kept back and or slowed down by a tripod.

However, I still use a tripod faithfully. Here is why:

  1. No matter how good camera sensor performance is at high ISO they will always be better at lower ISO.

  2. The same argument goes for noise reduction software. Image quality is everything to me.

  3. Having a camera mounted allows me to scan the boarders of my image to prevent nicking things. It help to compose more precisely.

  4. It slows me down, enabling me to concentrate better. I get my freedom to roam, and play with possible composition without dealing with a tripod by using my cell phone. Once I find what I want then I get serious with my real camera and my tripod.

  5. I don't want to touch my camera when it fires because even the slightest camera shake becomes an issue when you print large. And I print large - 40X60. More about triggering the camera in the next blog.

  6. Many times I have my camera setup and then need to wait for the sun to reach the horizon or for that wave to come in. You just cannot do that handheld.

  7. Please don't laugh at me but my tripod is also very hand when I try to walk from rock to rock in a river. I spread its legs, plonk it down, make sure it is stable and then use it as a crutch to get to the next rock. I cannot tell you how many times it has saved me from falling into the water. My tripod is my friend.

So which tripods are better? There is no doubt that carbon fiber tripods are the best. They are also light. Another benefit is that they do not conduct the cold like aluminum tripods do. Believe me, you will thank me when you deal with your tripod in the cold. Personally I use a Really Right Stuff tripod - a beefy one. I know that they are expensive but they last. I have had mine for many years now and it just keeps working perfectly. Your selection of which tripod head to use will depend on what you shoot. For heavy and long lenses that need to track moving subjects a Gimbal head is the way to go. Since I shoot more landscapes I prefer a ball head. The one I use is an Arca Swiss Z1 Monoball. Like the tripod it has lasted me for many years and it is still as rock solid as the day I bought it. Please buy good support equipment. unstable support is worse than shooting handheld. Things need to be locked down tightly to get pin sharp images, especially as higher and higher mega pixel cameras come to market. Your tripod and tripod head are items that can last you a lifetime if you buy right.

          The only issue I have with my tripod head is the knob to open and close the clamp. Don't get me wrong, it still works perfectly. I have just come to detest using the knob, especially when it is cold and I have gloves on. I much prefer a lever system to the knob system. So recently I got one of these:

This image is from Adorama.com

          The bottom of this panning clamp fits to my normal Arca Swiss dove tail on my tripod head. Now I no longer have to deal with the knob on my tripod head and use this lever instead. As an added bonus I can level my camera using the ball head. This can be done in seconds. Trying to level your tripod using the tripod's legs is a nightmare. Then I can use this gadget to pan for panoramic images. I bought mine used for half price. Once again, Really Right Stuff's gear is some of the very best there is. If I were to start over I would get a ball head with this kind of panning base and lever clamp built in from the get go. This will save on cost and weight. Both Really Right Stuff and Arca Swiss have them now. By the way, the reasons why I went with the Arca Swiss rather than the Really Right Stuff ball head was because of price and maximum load weight allowance (which convinced me of its stability). After many years of use I have not regretted my choice.

          Another thing that will greatly enhance the stability and sturdiness of your tripod is to fit it with spikes. I press my tripod into the ground with the spikes. It makes the tripod as solid as a rock. It may help prevent your tripod from being blown over by strong wind. This really does make a difference to the sharpness of you images.

This image is from Amazon.com

          These are cheap and I highly recommend them. Just don't use them indoors as they can damage your flooring. I realize that a good tripod and head are expensive, but remember, in all likelihood, if you buy right, you only have to buy once and never again (baring some unforeseen circumstance). A tripod and good head are indispensable for my style of shooting. That may not be true for you, depending on what and where you shoot and how far you have to walk to get there.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) advice Arca Swiss ball Gimbal head photography Pierre Steenberg Really Right Stuff spikes tripod Z1 Monoball https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/5/photography-gear-part-ii Sun, 29 May 2022 11:00:00 GMT
Photography Gear: Part I https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/5/photography-gear-part-i Welcome to a mini-series on photography gear. I do not talk about gear much on this blog. In fact, you have probably heard me say that novices talk about cameras. A novice with a bit more experience rather talks about lenses. A more experienced photographer prefers to talk about tripods. A good photographer talks about technique. A better photographer talks about composition. The best landscape photographers talk about light. However, I feel that perhaps once every five or ten years it may be good to just take stock of the gear as technology is always changing.

          In part I we will talk about cameras, lenses, and filters. In part II I will talk about tripods and tripod heads. Part III will talk about other accessories. Part IV will cover photo editing software.

          All the top camera manufacturers have excellent gear. So I will not go into which brand is this or that. One thing that seems quite clear is that mirrorless cameras are the future while DSLRs are dying out, fast. Choose the model that fits what you shoot. Certain models are better for sports/action/wildlife while others are better for landscape/portraits and so forth. If you can afford them, some manufacturers have a model that is great at everything, but be prepared to cash out your pension fund. Before you buy a camera look into which lenses are available. You are not just buying a camera, you are buying into a system and the system as a whole is important.

          For landscape photography I primarily use a 16-35mm, a 24-105mm, and a 70-200mm. Some purists may scoff at me because I use zoom lenses rather than primes. My rebuttal is simple:

  1. The top zoom lenses today are extremely good. Yes, I know that people have been saying this for a long time, but this time it is really true. There are manufacturing techniques that can produce extreme aspherical lenses from high quality glass that was just not possible before. Just look at MFT charts and you will see that the top zooms are so close to primes that one is spitting hairs to determine the difference.

  2. Zooming with your feet (moving closer or further away) is not the answer. Changing positions are simply not always possible, lest you want to fall off a cliff, for example. Secondly, changing positions alters the composition. Moving always seems to introduce an unwanted element into the image. Something always seems to be in the way.

  3. I don't want to be changing lenses all the time. During safaris there is always dust that gets onto your sensor. Near water spray the risk is the same. Landscape photographers shoot when the weather is not playing nice with your gear. Zooms promise me more versatility and and less lens changes.

          For wildlife photography I use two bodies. One is fitted with the 70-200mm while the other has the 200-600mm on. Personally I shoot with Sony and I just love my 200-600mm.

          Please do not use UV or other so called protective filters. Use your lens cap for protection, it works better. There is also no need for graduated neutral density filters. Just bracket and blend in your editing software. So which filters do I use? I only use two kinds of filters, a polarizer and neutral density filters (which I use rarely).

          That is it. That is all I use as far as cameras, lenses, and filters are concerned.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) gear photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/5/photography-gear-part-i Sun, 22 May 2022 11:00:00 GMT
Lightning https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/5/lightning Before we even touch the topic of lightning photography we need to talk about safety first. Please follow all safety directions given by your national weather services, and NO, rubber-soled shoes offer NO protection. In this blog we are not going to talk about night-time lightning photography for that is a simple task. Just open your shutter for a longish time while lightning strikes and you have your shot. That however, does not work well for day-time lightning photography. Yes, I am well aware that you can use Neutral Density Filters to slow your shutter speed down during the day. However, that will leave you with lightning bolts that are very faint with little contrast.

          If you are serious about day-time lightning photography, get yourself a lightning trigger. The one that I believe to be the best is the one from Stepping Stones (https://lightningtrigger.com/). I am not sponsored or affiliated with them in any way, in fact, they don't even know who I am (other than buying mine from them). Let's get into the best camera settings:

          Pre-focus and then set your camera/lens on manual focus. Shoot in manual mode with a shutter speed at between 1/4 and 1/20th of a second. Keep your ISO as low as possible. Pick an aperture to balance your exposure. Feel welcome to play with either your ISO or your aperture to get the right exposure because your shutter speed is the most important setting. If you are at the lowest ISO and a small aperture and your image is still over exposed then use a mild Neutral Density Filter (as mild as possible to get the exposure right).

A photo of lightning in the sky will rarely be as interesting as one with something in the foreground. A foreground will add scale and interest.

This image was taken around sunset or just thereafter. Is this not a much better image than one with just a bolt in the clouds? Make sure the know the weather patterns of your location. You need to know where the storms come from and how they move. Then go scouting long before the storms come. Find location that will work. The best locations are often the one with an open view to lots of sky.

          Place your camera and trigger on a sturdy tripod. Anchor it into the ground so that the wind cannot blow it over. Protect your camera and trigger from the rain. Get everything ready and started before the storm is close or dangerous. Then go and wait in a safe place and retrieve your gear later. Be ready to be amazed with possible nice images.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) camera lightning photography Pierre Steenberg settings https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/5/lightning Sun, 15 May 2022 11:00:00 GMT
Noise removal software https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/5/noise-removal-software Shooting with a long telephoto lens can be tricky. If you are shooting wildlife the animals are moving. So we need to move our camera to follow the movement of the animals (so that they will be in the frame). With both the subject and the camera moving, coupled with the long lens we need to use a high shutter speed to prevent motion blur. The shutter speed needs to be fast enough to freeze the movement of the animals and fast enough to not show the movement of the camera.

As you can see, the light levels are very low. My Sony 200-600mm lens is already set to F.6.3; the largest aperture at 600mm which allows the most possible light to enter the camera (for this lens). Image stabilization helps to prevent camera shake but does nothing regarding the moving birds. A high shutter speed with low light and lens already wide open only leaves the photographer with one last option. Jack the ISO high. If you don't do this your image will be too dark.

          High ISO leads to noise. Oh' I hate noise! But what can we do about it? Firstly, rather get the shot with noise than bringing down the ISO as that will bring down your shutter speed which in turn will lead to out of focus images. Noise will always be preferred above out of focus images. Lucky, there has been great progress made by image editing software using AI technology to get rid of noise. Of late I tried out the offering from DXO called "Deep Prime." The program was very impressive at dealing with noise.

          In the past, I have hated the result gained by noise reduction software almost as much as the noise itself. They used to wipe out all detail (okay, almost all) and leave you with a mushy, paintery mess devoid of the detail that should be there. Deep Prime still leaves detail where detail should be. I am definitely adding this software to my toolkit. There are other options too, such as the offerings from Topaz Labs and On1. Now we can be less afraid of high ISO images and focus on getting the images we want to get. This is a good day.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) Deep Prime DXO ISO noise photography Pierre Steenberg removal software https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/5/noise-removal-software Sun, 08 May 2022 11:00:00 GMT
Composition https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/5/composition Let's start with an image:

The light is not good and hence this image is not that great. Nevertheless, what lessons can we learn about composition? When we get to this scene the first thing that drew my attention was the mountain peak and the color of the trees beneath it. So that is our starting point. We now start walking around looking for something in the foreground to put with it, to create interest, depth, and balance. The Virgin river is obviously a strong candidate to be my foreground interest but it could also be something else.

          So I went with the river. Now that we have our foreground we walk around a bit more to place the objects where we want them. By walk around we can change the placement of objects in relation to each other. The mountain peak is placed where the top third line and left third line intersect because this is a strong compositional place. If you don't know what these third lines refer to, please search my blogs for the "rule of thirds."

          I now walk, watching how the river in relation to the mountain peak changes position until the curve in the river points to the mountain peak. We also move further away or closer to the river so that everything harmoniously work together. Notice the curved line in the bottom right corner as it too curves towards the mountain peak. This creates balance. The river is a lead-in line that creates depth and interest.

          Make sure that everything in your images work together to create interest, depth, and balance.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition landscape photography Pierre Steenberg Zion https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/5/composition Sun, 01 May 2022 11:00:00 GMT
Polarize with ultra-wide lenses https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/4/polarize-with-ultra-wide-lenses You have heard me say that we never want to use a polarizer filter on a wide or ultra-wide lens when the sky is included. I am not going to go into the reasoning here since you can search and find the blogs I wrote about that on this site. Even though this is true, that does not mean that we never use a polarizer on a wide or ultra-wide lens. In fact, I always use one even on these lenses when the sky is not included, the only exception being when shooting directly into the sun or directly opposite the sun.

Here we have a wet rock-race. The reflection from the sky killed this image. In addition to the rock-face we also have water reflecting the sky. So you might say, well the water looks really good and the rock-face is not that bad. Well, that is because I used a polarizer. Without a polarizer you would have thrown this image away. The polarizer did a fantastic job at minimizing the reflections.

          Polarizers also help to minimize the sheen on leaves. Thus in turn helps to saturate the color of the leaves. Polarizers work wonders in forests and in scenes like this. Just remember not to include the sky in the image if you are combing a polarizer with a wide or ultra-wide angle lens.

          Please do yourself a favor and buy a very good polarizer. It makes no sense to use an expensive lens with a cheap filter in front. Your lens can never be any better than the filter you attach to it as that filter determines the quality of light that your lens sees. Personally I prefer Scotts Glass filters in brass rings. Please do yourself an even bigger favor and never buy any screw-on filter of any kind that is not in a brass ring. Other rings will stick to your lenses and they can be a nightmare to get off. This is true especially of polarizer filters as the front element rotates thereby minimizing the grip you can get on it to remove it from your lens. You just don't have this problem with brass filters. Struggling out in the field to get a filter off of the lens when wearing gloves is a recipe to drop a lens.

          Be out in nature more and enjoy your photography.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) advice filter photography Pierre Steenberg polarizer remove reflections tips tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/4/polarize-with-ultra-wide-lenses Sun, 24 Apr 2022 11:00:00 GMT
Sand Hill Cranes with the Moon https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/4/sand-hill-cranes-with-the-moon Many people these days will photograph one subject here, another there, and merge the two images. They may even use virtual object to place behind their subjects. These birds with the moon comes from a single exposure with the bird and moon in the very same frame; no cheating. They were taken with my Sony 200-600mm lens.

My camera was mounted to a tripod. I waited for the birds to get close to where I wanted them in the frame and then fired away. The camera was set on high frame rate shooting (in my case 10 frames per second). You take a burst of images and then wait for the next flurry of birds to come flying by. With some luck and many repeated tries I got this bird nicely positioned within the moon's outline.

          Since my camera is stationary I have the optical stabilization turned off. The shutter speed is above 1/1000th of a second to get sharp, in-focus birds. As with all movement, leave more space in front of the birds than behind them. They need space to fly into or else they will make the viewer's eyes want to exit the photo with the first bird.

          Light levels were already low, but I like the atmosphere created by the last rays of the sun on the birds, as weak as it is. The low light levels did cause me problems as I was perched on a viewing deck. There were many people out coming to see these birds. Much foot-traffic on a viewing deck is a nightmare for photographers. The viewing deck vibrates as people move around. To eliminate camera blur with a 600mm lens attached requires a fast shutter speed. Low light levels combined with fast shutter speeds only means one thing, high ISO. As a photographer you need to do what you need to do to get the shot, even if you have to deal with noise afterwards.

          Go out there and enjoy nature while you take a few images.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) bird Moon photography Pierre Steenberg Sand Hill Cranes settings https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/4/sand-hill-cranes-with-the-moon Sun, 17 Apr 2022 11:00:00 GMT
Sand Hill Cranes https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/4/sand-hill-cranes You may wonder why I have not posted new blogs during the last few months. I recently moved to Nebraska and well, moving does not happen in one day. So what is there to photograph in Nebraska? You will be surprised to learn that Nebraska is home to the second largest animal migration on the planet. 80% of the world's population of Sand Hill Cranes land in Nebraska during April.

It was a wonderful experience spending two days with these birds. The noise is something to experience when they all come in to land or when they get ready to take off. During the day they spend their time feeding in the fields around the Platt river. At sunset they come land in the shallow river to overnight there. At sunrise they take off again.

          They are tricky to photograph as they don't allow you close and it is illegal to approach them. The weather did not cooperate either. There just was not enough light. A long lens is your friend here. That means using a fast shutter speed to prevent motion blur caused by camera movement. You also want to turn on your image stabilization. Choose mode 2, the mode that cancels out movement other than panning; you want to be able to pan with the birds for some images. To get enough light in, you will want to use your largest aperture. This image was taken from my tripod.

          I did not have much time to prepare for this shoot (with my move and all). In preparation for next year I am now tasked with learning the behavior patterns of these birds. The better you know your subject the better you are able to anticipate their next move which will make you a better photographer. With approximately 600,000 birds clustered together there is chaos. Isolating birds are near impossible. I plan to book space in a blind for next year.

          Good photography usually is a result of good planning and preparation.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) Cranes Nebraska photography Pierre Steenberg Sand Hill Crane silhouette https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2022/4/sand-hill-cranes Mon, 11 Apr 2022 00:00:00 GMT
Hiking the Narrows https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/12/hiking-the-narrows I have wanted to hike the Narrows for a long time. The Narrows refer to the Virgin river flowing in a very narrow canyon in Zion National Park. The hike itself presents a few challenges:

In winter and spring the water is very cold. In the summer the water level can be higher and the current stronger. In the fall the river is the friendliest, but the number of people is still high for photography. The river plays an important role as much of the time you are hiking in the river.

The second challenge is presented by the round, lose river rocks you walk on. Where there are little rapids in the water you can't see the river bed. So walking in water and stepping on lose, round river rocks makes one prone to fall. Falling into the water with expensive photography gear is no laughing matter. I almost fell while my camera was out and unprotected. My wife did fall.

The third problem is that it can be windy and cold. Walking upstream can be a workout but then there are sections were you are out of the water. Then you get cold and then you get too hot. Dealing with layers is not so easy given the gear you wear. As with any hike you need to hydrate yourself. But that presents another problem. Were do you relieve yourself? Did I mention that there are people all over the place?

Wearing the right gear is important so as not to be miserable. The right shoes give you grip and keep your warm. The right dry suite pants keeps you dry and warm. A waterproof backpack protects your gear. Walking sticks prevent you from falling (hopefully). Always check the weather as flash floods can come out of nowhere and kill you. Be safe.

Enjoy your hike.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) Hiking Narrows National Park photography Pierre Steenberg the Zion https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/12/hiking-the-narrows Sun, 19 Dec 2021 14:00:00 GMT
Editing https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/11/editing Some photographers over edit their images. Most amateurs only make global adjustments. Today we are going to look at a raw file and the finished product. Here we go with the raw file:

Please note that we have already roughly set the black point and white point of this image in Adobe Camera Raw (Raw developer software). Here is what I want you to notice about this image, the cliff face on the far left is brighter than the center of the image. The viewer's eyes will always be pulled to this brighter part. The cliff face at the center of the image is darkish compared to the rest of the image. The viewer's eyes will not naturally want to spend much time there. This can typically not be fixed with global adjustments. Now let's look at the finished file:

The lighter part of the far left cliff face has been darkened down. The center of the image has been lightened. Quickly alternate looking at the raw file then the finished file a few times. You should notice that the raw files has you looking at the edges of the image while the finished file has your view pulled into the center. So how do we edit an image to darken one part while lightening another part?

          Once I have completed my global adjustments I go back into the raw developer (Adobe Camera Raw). I select the brush tool. Now simply set your exposure lower, pull back your highlights and set your shadows a bit darker. Paint over the left part of the bright cliff face. Also paint over the right side. Now create a new brush with the exposure and shadows up. Also add some contrast. When you increase exposure it comes at the cost of contrast, so we need to restore that loss by adding more contrast. Paint over the center parts. This is the secret source that directs the viewer to where you want them to look. All we are doing is changing the exposure and dodging and burning the highlights and shadows. This is exactly what would have happened in a darkroom in the age of film. No funny stuff. Even the purist should approve. Lastly, set your black point and white point again because those values have changed with your adjustments.

          What do you think?

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) adjustment editing local photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/11/editing Sun, 28 Nov 2021 14:00:00 GMT
People, People https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/11/people-people I planned a trip to hike the Narrows in Zion National Park during the best time to catch fall color (first or second week of November). Since the trip was for photography, I deliberately scheduled the actual hike for a weekday to minimize the number of people I will have to contend with. I was wrong! There were people and more people and more people. A group of foreign photographer tourists clearly broke the law by teaching a workshop in the Narrows with a group larger than 8. This did not bother me. What bothered me was the fact that they would hog a spot for 30-45 minutes. When you see so many people why not get your shot in 3 to 5 minutes and give others a chance?

          Either way, this is not my topic today. Rather, I want to address the topic of how to get people-free images when the landscape is littered with people everywhere. What are we as photographers to do? Getting upset and feeling frustrated are normal responses but when we think about it, what makes us so special to want the place to ourselves? Why would these people not have the same right to enjoy the views? With that settled, let's get back to how to get people-free images.

Firstly, I simply asked people behind me to please kindly wait for 20 seconds while I am exposing the image. This worked very well and all the people complied with my request. However effective this may be it does not solve the problem of people further away, those already out there in the image. This image had no less than seven people in the image. Just to the left of this frame was the group that would stay in place for 30+ minutes. At times we may have to reframe our composition if there is no other way to eliminate the people from the scene. If people are ruining an image and just staying there, there is nothing much we can do other than recomposing and kissing that wonderful composition good buy. Waiting for them to leave is not always an option as, by the time they move the sun has set, the light is gone, the cloud has moved, etc. If people are on the move there is a great technique that works wonderfully to eliminate people from the scene.

          Take two images 10 to 20 seconds after each other. Make sure that your expose values are kept the same between the two images (shoot in manual). Now bring the two images into your editing software as two layers, one image on top of the other one. Highlight both layers, click on edit, then on auto-align (I am using photoshop here, other software may be different). Now simply add a layer mask and paint over any person on the top layer. Voila, your image is perfect, without people.

          The reason why this works so great and is so quick to edit is that the people in the scene are moving. In the second image shot 10 or 20 seconds later the person has walked to a different position. So when we paint over the person we are simply seeing the first image from the layer below. When that image was taken the person being erased was at a different place, hence the real imagery from the layer below replaces the person.

          This is a fantastic method and takes but a few seconds to edit. Using the healing brush to get rid of people in our image works great when they are small in the image, but does not work well when the people consume a larger part of your image. This technique works regardless of the size of the person in our image as long as he or she is moving between the two images. If you want to be really safe consider taking three images to guarantee that one of the three images will be person-free at the spot where you need it to be.

          So don't sweat about moving people, just use this method to solve the problem.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) landscape people photography Pierre Steenberg removing https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/11/people-people Sun, 21 Nov 2021 14:00:00 GMT
Foreground, middle-ground, background https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/11/foreground-middle-ground-background There is a trusted formula for successful landscape photography. The formula does not suit all scenes but a good number of them. To have great depth and interest to pull the viewer into the image the formula says photograph an image with a good foreground, middle-ground, and background. Ask yourself if you have a clear foreground, a clear middle-ground, and an interesting background. The viewer's eyes will go from the foreground to the middle-ground, and on to the background. This is what we want. We always want our viewers to look into the image rather than from side to side.

At ground level, the middle-ground boulders pierced into the sky making them the background. They would mesh with the mountain in the back and the mountain would lose any prominence. The sky did not have anything to offer the image so there was no point shooting up into it. So I decided to gain some elevation. I climbed up onto the boulders behind this image. The additional height created a scene with a clear foreground, middle-ground, and left the mountains with enough prominence to be the background.

          Having a foreground, middle-ground, and background that is clearly distinct from each other helps to separate them from each other and creates depth. These elements almost act like stepping stones poking out of the water. They invite you to step into the scene. Without them, the water prevents the viewer from crossing it. So a foreground, middle-ground, and background act like stepping stones for our eyes, inviting us to step (visually) from one to the next and into the scene.

          Yes, the light is not great which means that the image is not great. But it is not a terrible image either. What made it possible to get an "okay" image in poor light? The trusted formula did its work.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) background depth foreground landscape middle-ground photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/11/foreground-middle-ground-background Sun, 14 Nov 2021 14:00:00 GMT
You don't always win https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/11/you-dont-always-win Doing landscape photography is much like having a fishing license and going fishing. The license does not give you the fish only the right to fish. You may catch something but then again you may not. Sometimes, you catch a little fish only worthy of being released or if I may use the proper photographic term "only worthy of being deleted." You are guaranteed that you will never catch a big one every time you fish. In fact, catching the big one is a rare occasion. And of course, just like fishermen/women, every photographer also has his or her fair share of stories of the big one that got away. Perhaps the battery died at just the wrong moment or the memory card was full or he/she forgot to check focus or the histogram only to find out later that the fish escaped. At times photographers also fall into the water, or a big wage may engulf us. For both photographers and fishermen/women alike the truth remains, we typically only catch the big one by being out there regularly and staying out there for long hours. The big one is only caught by being out there during the storms, the rain, the cold, the hot, and the uncomfortable. Many a time we don't always win. We go fishing and come back empty-handed. Mother nature does not always cooperate.

I got up just after 4 am and drove an hour to get here. The plan was to catch a sunrise and photograph backlit Chollas. A cloud bank decided that today was not going to be the day of the big one. Luckily for me, I was coming back here a week later so another opportunity was on offer. This is the nature of landscape photography. You don't always win. By the time the sun finally showed itself the light was harsh.

          When fisher-people go out to fish unsuccessfully they may sit there and get no bites at all, not even a nibble (fish biting or nibbling). At other times, the fish mess with the fisher-folk by biting excitingly and nibbling often but without offering a catch. Nature messed with me on this day too. The sky offered something but I just was not able to catch a fish large enough to be proud of. The land part of the image just does not have enough in it to feed the family. Well, I would rather be teased by the sky than getting nothing at all.

          You cannot stop going fishing just because you caught nothing this time as the promise of the big one lures you back. You cannot possibly expect to win every time. Just keep going back, being out there. One day may just be your lucky day but you will never see that lucky day if you are not out there when it happens. Don't give up, don't lose heart. Just keep trying, learning, and improving on the way.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) Cholla garden landscape photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/11/you-dont-always-win Sun, 07 Nov 2021 14:00:00 GMT
Dreamy landscapes https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/10/dreamy-landscapes I love my landscape images to be pin-sharp front to back. But then again there is space in the creative world for a dreamy landscape. Who says that landscape images always need to be pin-sharp from the foreground all the way to the background? Some may wonder if a landscape image is still a landscape image if the middle-ground and background are out of focus? Well, you tell me.

Perhaps this image is not a good example as the middle-ground and background are not fully blurred. They are just softly out of focus. And so the line between genres becomes blurred (pun intended). I hope that you agree with me that this is still a landscape image. So why did I chose to focus it the way I did? Would you have wanted the middle-ground and background sharply focussed or does this work for you?

          This is an ironic image in the sense I chose an image with sharp thorns to be soft (from the middle towards the back of the image). Yet, because of the sharp focus of the foreground, there is no doubt that these thorns are sharp. By the way, these Cholla thorns stick to everything. I left the middle to the background soft to create a more dreamy scene. I wanted the focus of the viewer to kind of stay with the thorns in the foreground yet I did not want to leave then stuck there. I still wanted to show the expanse and the number of Chollas. I still wanted the viewer to be drawn to the sun and the mountain in the background to a lesser degree. This tension creates a dreamy effect where the viewer's eyes move backwards and forwards all the time. I felt that the sun and the sky suited this kind of image.

          So how do you create this effect? You can use a larger aperture but that would render the sun without the sun star. The best way to get this effect is to use a longer lens and to move closer to the foreground. Wide lenses by default have a deeper depth of field at the same aperture as what longer lenses have. Adjusting the distance between the foreground and the camera would change the depth of field. The closer we are to the foreground the more blurred the background would be and vice versa.

          Therefore, use this to your advantage to create just the right amount of blur to suit the scene. I wanted to create a more dreamy image but I still wanted it to show the landscape. Hence the amount of blur in the image.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) blur depth of field focus landscape photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/10/dreamy-landscapes Sun, 31 Oct 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Explore https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/10/explore We are back at the Cholla garden today. You can find this "garden" in Joshua Tree National Park. The garden can be difficult to photograph if you seek to do landscape photography due to the large number of Chollas. The best advice I can give you, as mentioned in a recent blog about this cacti garden, is to explore. Just walk around until you find your image. In following my own advice I found this spot where the density of the Cholla cacti decreased. This provided a bit more space between the cacti to try to create a photograph with. Luckily for me, this spot was also the way the "river" would flow when it rained. The "river bed" forged like a little path if you have enough of an imagination to see it.

          The vegetation and direction of the little path worked together perfectly for the sun to more brightly illuminate the path which helped to really make it stand out. This path formed a very nice lead-in line in this otherwise chaotic scene.

My goal was to have the path take the viewer to the sun. I balanced the sun with the Cholla in the right foreground. You will notice that all my Cholla images were taken shooting straight into the sun. For a topic such as Chollas, this is important because backlighting suits these thorny friends very well and produces rim lights around them. This rim light is not only interesting but makes these plants pop out from the background. They just come to life in low angled backlight.

          Once again, watch the edge of the frame to exclude any bright objects which can be difficult in a garden like this one. I liked the harsh-ish sun too as it helps to convey what a tough landscape this is, hot and dry. Our photographs tell stories. The better that story is portrayed the better the photograph, most of the time.

          I would never have gotten this image if I did not explore the area. Part of landscape photography should be to walk around. Explore the landscape. Search for something different, something colorful, some pattern, some line, some interesting thing. I say this all the time, the difference between a good landscape image and a great one of the same location, in the same light, and taken at around the same time is what was gained by exploring. Exploration helps you to adds that something special. It helps you to nail the composition. Never be satisfied with what you have. Get your shot then explore the area for a better one, and repeat the process. Just explore.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) Cholla garden composition Joshua Tree National Park landscape photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/10/explore Sun, 24 Oct 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Shooting from elevated positions https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/10/shooting-from-elevated-positions I like shooting from elevated positions. The higher your elevation the longer or deeper the foreground - it stretches the foreground out. This translates into more depth. It provides a bird's eye view. It just makes the image more interesting as we don't usually see things from higher up. Who does not want to see things from above the trees?

A higher elevation also helps to minimize a boring sky. The lower down we shoot from the more sky is included unless cut off by high rising mountains. Images taken from a high elevation shooting downwards minimizes the importance of the sky. Such images enable the viewer to see far into the distance. It shows the vast scale of the landscape.

          Many times such images do not require a strong foreground (that which is close, almost in reach). In fact, they often don't have what would traditionally be considered a foreground. People like such views so much that they are willing to hike up mountains just to see the view. A house built high up always makes visitors stare at the view. The same is true of images taken from a high elevation.

          The image above was not taken from a high elevation, I was just elevated above tree level. However, it still has that elevated look that many like to stare at. So let's talk about what I tried to create here.

          Even though I had the option to move to the rocks in front of me thus having no foreground, I opted to stay back to include them. I like for such images to have a base. A base provides a foreground which in turn provides even more depth. Foregrounds help to give a sense of scale. It looks more like a photographer's image than a drone-captured image. I also used the foreground rocks on the right to balance the sun, visually.

          Regardless of having a foreground or not, I highly recommend shooting from higher elevations. Go out there and climb a few rocks and please stay safe. Remember, if you are carrying heavy gear on your back it changes your center point of gravity and can throw you off balance when you lean forwards or to the side.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition elevation landscape photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/10/shooting-from-elevated-positions Sun, 17 Oct 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Exposing for a post sunset sky https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/10/exposing-for-a-post-sunset-sky When the sun goes to sleep it can light up the clouds. The exposure value difference between the sky and the land increases dramatically and quickly. What I mean is that the sky can still be bright but the land turns dark. This often necessitates a longer shutter speed to get enough light to get detail visible on land. On the flip side of things, this overexposes the clouds in such scenes. This is a problem not only from an exposure point of view but also saps saturation/color. In fact, it just ruins the sky.

          So we face a trade-off. Either we have a nice sky with a dark land or the reverse. Graduated neutral density filters are not always the answer unless the horizon is reasonably flat. The brightest part of the sky in this image is rather low down and close to the rocky mount. There is no way a filter can darken that part of the sky without also darkening the mount, which never looks natural or pleasing.

The best solution is to shoot two images and blend them later. It is really important to expose the sky properly. But what is a proper exposure for a sky such as this? I prefer to under-expose such scenes a bit, yes deliberately. It boosts the color and when I set the white point it pumps the contrast making the clouds pop and stand out from the background.

          Even with a nice sky, still, pay attention to the composition of the land. I am using the footpath to lead to the brightest part of the sky. One is always tempted to boost the darks when blending multiple exposures. Don't fall into that trap. The sun is gone, so the foreground should stay darkish. For an image like this two exposures is typically enough. Now, you might look at this image and say, "the dynamic range in this image is not a problem for one image to handle, why blend two exposures." When someone says that your blending is believable. You have done a good job. The idea is never to create something that looks impossible (at least not for my style of landscape photography). If you are new to photography (welcome), please bear in mind that this scene in reality did not look like this to the camera (the human eye sees this scene as it is shown here but not the camera). Given how the sky looks in this image, reality would have had the foreground much darker. Or looking at the foreground, reality would have had the sky much brighter. It is the blending that makes it look as if it is one exposure. That is what we want to achieve.

          The next time you face a scene such as this. Try shooting two exposures and leave the sky's exposure just a little under-exposed.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) blending exposure HDR photography Pierre Steenberg sky https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/10/exposing-for-a-post-sunset-sky Sun, 10 Oct 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Dealing with too many of something https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/10/dealing-with-too-much The art of photography is to create some form of order, flow, and balance. We do so by choosing carefully what to include in, and what to eliminate from the frame. We spend a lot of time composing the image. We move around to change the relative perspective and position between elements in the scene. But what do you do when you arrive at a scene and there is just too much? Sometimes eliminating things become challenging because of the sheer number of objects. Creating order, flow, and balance seems impossible.

There are just too many of these Chollas in this Cholla garden to play with. They extend for some distance in any direction. How do we deal with a scene such as this when there are just too many Chollas? This is really a problem and it is not easy to deal with the chaos of a sea full of plants. It took a long time to nail my compositions down. Here is how I approached the scene:

  1. I spent quite some time just walking around (pre-dawn). I looked for places where the density of the plants is less. I tried to find natural paths that can be used as a lead-in line or even plants that can form a chain leading to the sun.

  2. I gravitated towards taller Chollas to either photograph the sun through one of them or as in the picture above I tried to find two taller ones that can act as a frame on either end of the frame.

  3. Placing two anchor points on either end of the frame acts as a border and helps the viewer not to stray further to the left or right.

  4. I deliberately framed the image in such a way as to do my best not to have a brightly lit Cholla cut on the edge of the frame.

  5. I did manage to find some sort of "path" due to the shadows and sun-lit parts on the ground.

  6. I arrived early, quite sometime before sunrise because finding a composition at a scene where there is just too much of something takes time.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/10/dealing-with-too-much Sun, 03 Oct 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Foreground https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/9/foreground In many cases, strong lead-in lines start at the bottom edge of the frame and also act as the foreground element. Such lead-in lines are powerful as they lead you into the image. Ideally, we want the lead-in line to be the lead actor, the star of the show. We want to grab the viewer's attention and invite him or her to journey into the image. So introducing a second actor will usually be a distraction, sapping away some of the power of the lead-in line. What about going even further and making the other foreground element the main star and having the lead-in line play the second fiddle? Most photographers may advise against this because it goes against the grain, against expectation, and seems to break the rules.

          Part of advancing our photography skills is to go against the grain, against expectation, and to break the rules. BUT please only break the rules like a pro! Rules are there because they work. Don't go breaking something that works, unless breaking the rule works even better. Learn when to break the rules and when not to. Break them with a purpose and deliberately. We can almost look at this topic from the perspective of nicking something on the edge of the frame versus cutting it deliberately and more purposefully lower down.

Here is an example. Most photographers would have stepped to the right and gone with the footpath as the main actor. After all, the footpath is strong compositionally and leads beautifully into the image. It also makes some turns which is more dynamic than a straight line. However, I chose to break the rules. I introduced the plants as the main foreground element and downgraded the footpath to the second fiddle.

          What do you think? Are the plants a distraction or do they enhance the composition? To me, the image is much better taken this way than going only with the footpath. Here is why?

  1. The plants create even more depth by showcasing the distance between the plants and the background.

  2. They hold the viewer's attention for longer. The viewer looks at the plants and then later follows the footpath into the image. Without the plants, the viewer would have taken off into the picture straight away.

  3. The plants create balance with the sun.

  4. Moving to the right to eliminate the plants also changes the perspective of the footpath in relation to the sun. The path would then lead to the left of the sun even more, possibly even away from the sun.

So here is another picture take a little while later. I included the plants yet again rather than stepping a few steps forward to eliminate them.

This image still works well, but the strong sun is no longer there. The direction in which the footpath points is no longer that critical. Even so, without the plants on the left, this image will have a huge section on the bottom left as negative space. The plants play a vital role to eliminate the negative space. They add some visual weight to balance the image. One could argue that the photographer could have stepped to the right even more and had the footpath start on the left side of the image. However, in so doing we further separate where the path is leading from the brighter section of where the sun was, which still pulls the viewer.

          Depending on the scene and if it makes sense after some analysis, go ahead, break the rules.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition depth foreground lead-in lines photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/9/foreground Sun, 26 Sep 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Composing with a strong sky https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/9/composing-with-a-strong-sky So the sky is where all the action is. But what if clouds beyond the brightest part of the sky are not as beautiful as in the other direction? In other words, you cannot place the bright nice section of the sky more in the middle of the image, horizontally speaking because if you do one side will have great clouds while the other not so much. This leaves your image unbalanced. On the other hand, if the bright, nice section of the sky is at one end of the frame the other end of the frame will be unbalanced anyway. So how do we handle situations like this? We need the balance the sky by using the foreground.

Let's hypothetically say that the brighter and nicer sky is found on the left side. The clouds to the right are nice but not as bright so the viewers' eyes will be drawn to the left continuously. What if I could not include more on the left of the image because the clouds on that side kind of stopped? I tried to bring some balance into the image by placing the tree on the right where it is. I shot from a low angle into the sky to include more of it but also to make the tree reach higher into the sky. That tree visually balances the brighter part of the sky.

          We must always think about composition and balance. I can get so excited about the scene in front of me that I get too invested in a certain composition even if it is not the greatest composition because I have spent so much time on it. So I ask my wife what she thinks about the image and I change accordingly. If you are alone, just close your eyes, clear your mind and then look at the image in your viewfinder/screen. Does it still move you? Is it balanced? If not fix it or move on to another composition.

          A strong sky that is one-sided has to be balanced with something at the other end of the frame. Since you cannot control what is where in the sky you will have to do it with the foreground. To give that foreground element more prominence and to make it stand out more, make it reach up onto the sky. Shoot from a low angle so as to stretch or enlarge it compared to the background.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) balance composition photography Pierre Steenberg sky strong https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/9/composing-with-a-strong-sky Sun, 19 Sep 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Vignettes https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/9/vignettes Perhaps the title of today's blog gives it away. You just looked at the title again, didn't you? Well, try your best to forget what topic this blog is about, just for a minute. Close your eyes for a bit, clear your mind and just look at the image below, making a mental note of your eye movement through the image.

So, which path did your eyes take when looking at this image? Were your eyes tempted to move to the total left or total right edge of the frame? Did your eyes circle back anywhere in the image? When I look at this image the sun draws my eyes since it is the brightest object to look at. Then my eyes stay between the highest peak on the left to the highest peak on the right, horizontally speaking. My eyes are not tempted to move to the left or the right beyond those two points. But why not?

          Many landscape photographers use vignetting to move the viewers' eyes to the middle of the image and away from the edges of the frame. A vignette is where a photographer darkens the outside edge around the image thereby leaving the center of the image brighter. Our eyes always go to where it is brighter away from where it is darker. Just about all image editing software offers this feather. I never ever use it, never. Why not, you may ask?

          Firstly, a round or oval vignette is a dead giveaway. Secondly, many photographers overdo it. If someone can see that you used a vignette, it is probably overdone. Thirdly, I believe that just slapping on a darker edge is not the best way of achieving the same effect. Lastly, I don't want to apply the effect equally everywhere around the edge. What if you already have a section on the edge with dark shadows? Making that section even darker can leave you with no detail. So here is what I do and advocate you do.

          When we "developed" the raw image we set the black and white point (if you don't know what this is, just search my blog posts as I did write about that in the past). But then when we edit the image using our editing software and plugins these editing changes impact and move the black and white points. So before I am done with any image I take it back into the raw developer to reset the black and white points. While in the raw developer I select the brush tool. Rather than just lowering the exposure and painting in my vignette I deliberately fine-tune the brush settings to create a vignette that I believe is better than one simply created by lowering the exposure.

          Yes, I do lower the exposure just a bit, but really just a bit. What I lower more are the highlight and white point sliders. We don't just want to darken everything, we want to lower primarily the lighter colors. Then with the brush set, I only paint the section that I want darker. I do not follow a round or oval pattern. I darken where the most brights are on the edge. Where it is already darker I leave untouched. Using this technique gives you more control and leaves your image with a more polished, natural effect.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) editing photography Pierre Steenberg vignette vignettes vignetting https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/9/vignettes Sun, 12 Sep 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Shoot while waiting https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/9/shoot-while-waiting So last week we looked at positioning the sun at an exact point in time. That image started about two hours before sunset as I arrived at the location and started scouting for a sunset composition. But now that a suitable composition has been found and we still have one to two hours to burn before sunset, what do we do? I always use this time for three things:

1. Look for secondary compositions. I always try to find two or three additional compositions. When the sun dips below the horizon there is still enough light to shoot for some time. That light fades fast, which does not leave enough time to find new compositions. With two or three more compositions already lined up (during the waiting time), I can move quickly and take those images thus converting a one image shoot into three or four images.

2. Look for future images. I spend some time looking long into the future. What if I could get the sun at this or that angle, months later? What if I could place the moon here or there. I start working on future possibilities because you have heard me say (often) that I go back to the same location over and over. Once I get home, I will open the Photographer's Ephemeris and work out when the sun and the moon will be where I need them to be in the scene (if at all).

3. I shoot. Yes, even in not-so-good light. Why? A number of years ago most cameras could only "see" 8 or 9 stops of dynamic range. But today's cameras can see 14 to 15 stops of dynamic range. Furthermore, today's HDR software is great. What this means is that we can get images that were just not possible (or nice) in the past. You can sometimes even shoot directly into the sun and include the sun in the frame in less than good light.

This is not a great image but it is not terribly bad either. I would much rather have this image than sit in the car and wait, doing nothing. You will be surprised to find out which images sell and which do not. I have given up predicting image sales. I have sold images like this and I have also not sold images that I thought were great and would sell well. Therefore, I don't want to lose any shooting opportunity by idly sitting waiting for time to go by and the light to change.

          Now, this does not mean that I am willing to shoot horrible images due to mid-day harsh light. What I am referring to here is shooting starting perhaps an hour before that perfect moment. The light is already beginning to turn. The sun is already less harsh. The shadows are no longer pitch black. Just shoot and see what you get. I have found that in the process of so doing the creative juices start to flow. I start getting into my shooting mode. I start to see more images. On quite a few occasions I discovered better compositions that I had originally decided to use for "the" sunset image, thus changing my final grand attempt for the better.

          In short, I very seldom just sit and wait. Get out there and practice our art.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) harsh landscape light photography Pierre Steenberg tips tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/9/shoot-while-waiting Sun, 05 Sep 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Positioning the sun https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/8/positioning-the-sun I a recent trip to Joshua Tree National Park I decided to stop at a particular location to wait for sunset. As I always do I explored the area looking for the right composition. This usually means looking for a good foreground or lead-in lines, and so forth. This bowing Joshua tree caught my attention and I got the idea to position the sun at its tip just as the sun was about to sink below the horizon:

This seems rather simple because a few steps to the left move the tree to the right in relation to the sun and a few steps to the right move the tree to the left. By changing my position I could literally move the sun exactly where I wanted it to be in relation to the tree, or should I say that I can move the tree in relation to the sun?

          The problem is that we do this sort of scouting and planning when the sun is still higher in the sky. We line the tree up to where the sun is at that point in time (still higher in the sky). We draw a straight imaginary line down from the sun to the bottom of the bowing tree and set up our tripods at the right spot and we are set. Now all we need to do is to wait for the sun to set and we will get our shot, right? Wrong!

          It is important to note that the sun does not drop down in a straight line, it drops in the shape of an arch instead. In the northern hemisphere that arch curves to the right when looking at the sun. In other words, the sun will end up to the right of its current position at sunset and not straight down from where it currently sits. The higher up the sun is the more to the right it is still going to travel before sunset. "Not a problem," you say, "I can obviously see where the sun is going and I can adjust my position during the last few seconds just before I take the shot."

          First, please do not look straight into the sun with your naked, unprotected eyes. Looking at the sun through your DSLR is no better. You will damage your eyes. If you are using a mirrorless camera you can look into the viewfinder since it is a small TV screen and not reflected light from the sun. Either way, second, the sun will be blown out, the entire area surrounding the sun will be too bright to see any definition in or to pinpoint the sun's position in relation to the tree. So we close the aperture to darken the sun, but in so doing, everything else becomes so dark that you cannot see other things properly making composition difficult. The solution is to bracket. Shoot multiple images at different exposure levels. Then review them and pick one with the best balance between bright and dark areas. Then use that image as a reference to change your position. You might ask, "why take the shot, just look at the image in the viewfinder after you get the best balance between brightness and darkness?" I take the shot each time because if I first spend time to look if the sun is in the right place, realize that it is in the right place, and then decide to take the shot, the sun has already moved to a new place. I capture the shots because then I have them. If the sun was in the right position I have it. If not, I move the tripod and repeat. You will be surprised how much of a difference it makes to an image such as this if the sun is just a little to the left or to the right - it ruins the image. The second reason why I take the shots is that I am going to need a sequence of bracketed shots (most of the time when we are shooting directly into the sun). That "balanced" exposure still has clipped areas. If you need to change exposure to expose for the sun it is too late.

          Here is how I bracket for sunsets. I always start my bracketing sequence exposed dark so that the sun is exposed right. Then I shoot the lighter ones. The reason I do it in this sequence is that the sun is moving and its position is critical to the composition. Therefore, my first shot is for the sun. Once I have that exposure I have a bit more time to get the lighter exposures because the trees and mountains are not moving and the lighter exposures are for the trees and mountains.

          You will have to work quickly because you will be surprised by how fast the sun moves both to the right and down. You will also be surprised how much of a difference moving your tripod just a small bit will make to the relative position of the tree and the sun. This process needs to be repeated until you have nailed the composition at the right time and taken your images.

          The moral of the story is that it is not that easy to predict the final position of the sun as it sets. Be ready and work quickly. Change your tripod position very slightly every time and repeat the process over and over until you get it right, hopefully at the right moment. May I challenge you to go and try positioning the sun at an exact point in your composition? You may just get a nice image out of it to boot.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition landscape photography Pierre Steenberg placing position sun https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/8/positioning-the-sun Sun, 29 Aug 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Shoot a series https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/8/shoot-a-series We often think of photography as a single image capturing one moment in time. But then again, video is simply a bunch of still images stacked together and played fast enough to show smooth motion. Why not try to shoot in a series. Perhaps tell a story by using multiple images. One could also show progression with a series of images. A person could also return to the same spot multiple times and capture the same thing. One could develop a theme using a series of images. There is perhaps no more famous series of images than the series that show all four seasons taken from the same spot.

          I went back to the same spot multiple times to photograph a tree. The idea was not to duplicate the same image during different conditions or seasons but rather to just capture different images of the same tree. All of the images were taken around sunset. By and large, the only object tying this series of images together is the lone tree.

Oak tree silhouette with red skyOak tree silhouette with red sky Why not try a fun project like this?

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) photographs photography Pierre Steenberg series https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/8/shoot-a-series Sun, 22 Aug 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Seascapes https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/8/seascapes Seascapes offer great photographic opportunities. Those opportunities include nice beaches, rocks, wave action (splashing against rocks or flowing back to the ocean), logs or other items on the beach, sea life, tidal pools, and the list goes on. The ocean also offers an unobstructed view of the sky which means nice sunsets or sunrises. Here is an image I took in Australia.

Ocean Arch, Great Ocean Road, Australia Here are a few tips to help you make the best of these opportunities:

  • Timing can be everything. Wait for that big splash moment or for the water to start running back into the ocean. In this scene, I waited for a wave to run over the rock floor on the left.

  • Shutter speed is important. Watch your shutter speed as this is what you use to freeze the water splash in mid-air (fast shutter speed) or show the motion of the water running back (slow shutter speed). Play with your shutter speed until you get the effect you like. When you want water streaks you want a shutter speed that is slow enough to show the streaking but fast enough so that the water does not turn into silky milk without any definition.

  • Other than beach images or images that include more sky, the foreground is important. Make sure you find something of interest to place in the foreground.

  • If there are rocks that are exposed when the waves pull back but covered when the waves come in you can shoot with a very long shutter speed to create a cloudy, mysterious image, like this one below.

Do be careful of higher than usual waves. Watch your equipment. Constantly dry the front element of the lens. Put a filter on to protect your lens as it does not like saltwater.

Visit the ocean more and take some great images.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) ocean photography Pierre seascapes Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/8/seascapes Sun, 15 Aug 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Printing https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/8/printing It has been years since I printed an image. During the Black Friday sale after the USA's Thanksgiving, I indulged and bought discounted credits for a print. I was given one year to upload and print my image. Back in the day when I used to print it was an expensive ordeal. The print was on paper and this part was cheap, but then it had to be mounted on a backing board and I used two matting boards as well. Then I had to buy a frame. All of this was costly, a hassle, and time-consuming. The biggest thing that bothered me was the size. I used to print at 20x30 (inches) and mount to a 24x36. This size, for me, was just too small.

          There is just something magical about a LARGE print. They tend to draw people in. They have impact and punch. They command attention. As such I have always enjoyed large prints but never printed them myself due to the cost. However, this time around I decided to print a 30X45 (without a frame). When people saw this print they were very impressed. Multiple people wanted to buy it, without me even offering it for sale. This size print works very well above a couch in my office. I was in love with this print. This love did not last long because I decided to print a 40x60 and now anything smaller seems too small. Wow!

(Please forgive me, these images were quickly snapped with my cell phone.) Everybody who comes to my house stands in front of this print and just stares at it. This print gives me so much joy.

          After I fell out of love with printing on paper, mounting, matting, and framing it, I just did not print for years. Then metal prints came out. The colors popped and they looked fabulous. However, they suffer from major reflection issues, so much so that it ruined the viewing experience. Their pricing is also expensive once you print large. I just printed four metal prints and quit printing. I never liked canvas prints because of the grain of the fabric. Their colors just seemed a bit muted to me. So on what is this print printed and what is it?

          This print is from Xpozer. I am in love with printing! Here is why I love their technology and why I highly recommend these prints:

  • Print quality - This image looks great, even close up. There is no visible grain. The colors are true.

  • Zero reflections - Even when I tried to see reflections there are none to be found. I deliberately held it up to lights and large windows, yet there are no reflections. It is as if it is not a print and you are really standing in front of an open window looking at this scene.

  • Viewing angle - The print a viewable from almost 180 degrees with just about no degradation.

  • Shipping and transportation - This print comes in a triangular box. Gone are the days of expensive, heavy, and costly shipping crates. When I need to transport this print to my office or to an exhibition, it just rolls up in seconds.

  • Innovative frame - The framing system (behind the print) is ingenious. You assemble this print from unpacking it to ready to hang in one minute. Disassembly for transportation is just as quick and easy.

  • Service - One print had a few spots on it. Xpozer replaced it, done. When I ordered this large print my file size was too large. I emailed them and they sent me an upload link. I dealt with real people.

  • Lightweight - The printing material (it is thin, kind of a hybrid between paper and fabric without grain) and the framing system behind it are super light. You can hang it on just about anything.

If you want great-looking prints that are easy to deal with Xpozer is your answer. I highly recommend them.

P.S. This post is not sponsored in any way. I paid for my prints and receive no reward for posting this blog.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) large photography Pierre Steenberg printing prints Xpozer https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/8/printing Sun, 08 Aug 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Black and white https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/8/black-and-white Black and white images are still appealing, and why not, they can be striking.

So how do we decide to go black and white? What makes for a good black and white image? The biggest lesson I can share with you is that black and white images only work well if you photograph what the name (black and white) suggests. In other words, there needs to be a lot of contrast that will make deep blacks and bright whites. Having just a gray image in the black and white medium is as dull as having a color image with no real color.

Castle Window, Ghana Post-processing is very important in black and white photography. We want to stretch the histogram so that both the bright side (right) and the dark side (left) are near the edges of the histogram. In fact, I have just a little of the black as true black. However, I leave no true white on any image. Rather, I pull pure white back a little so that there is detail in the white. This will make for nice prints.

Castle Stairs, Ghana

So look out for contrasty scenes. I still shoot these scenes in full color. I prefer to convert the image to black and white in post-processing. Remember that composition is driven by contrast in black and white images. It takes a bit of practice but the photographer needs to start seeing the image in black and white. The visualization is important, for you need it in order to decide on your composition.

          Oftentimes, high ISO images work well in black and white. For some reason, grain is not so offensive in black and white images as it is in color images. In color images, high ISO introduces noise which impacts color and introduces color artifacts. To me, noise is ugly (it may enhance certain kinds of images, but they are rare for me personally). When noisy color images are converted to black and white the color in the noise disappears and leave leaves only grain rather than color noise.

          Take the challenge and experiment with some black and white images.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) and black photography Pierre Steenberg white https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/8/black-and-white Sun, 01 Aug 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Editing Software https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/7/editing-software I have been using Luminar since almost their beginning. This software is impressive. The learning curve is minuscule compared to Photoshop. Even though I shoot mainly landscapes and wildlife, I also photograph high school seniors for a school. Working with high schoolers, editing-wise is no joke. Their hormones wreck their faces with pimples. It can take hours to fix this. These students also want images with their friends. When you have multiple people in the same image it doubles or triples the amount of editing work. Having good editing software can make a huge difference. For years I have been using PortraitPro as I never viewed Luminar as a portrait editing choice. I still prefer Photoshop's healing brush to get rid of pimples but for everything else I now only use Luminar.

          Luminar started including portrait editing features in their software. The good news is that Luminar just released for sale their latest update - update 4. This update includes Bokeh AI, which instantly (almost) makes a 3d depth map, masks the person (automatically), and gives you the ability to change the bokeh in the background. The background can also be darkened or lightened. I have been on a webinar with Luminar where this was demonstrated, and it looks really good.

          Combining all the portrait features now make for a compelling suite of tools. Luminar is also celebrating this new release with the best discount they have ever offered. With 40% off you can now get Luminar AI for just $47 (until August 4, 2021). Aurora HDR is also down to $59. In addition, you will get two bonus packs included for free.

          To get these deals click here: Luminar You can buy the update 3 version now and get the update 4 update within the next few weeks.

P.S. I am an affiliate member of Luminar and get a small commission from sales. I personally use this software for every image I edit.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) 4 editing Luminar photo photography Pierre Steenberg software update https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/7/editing-software Wed, 21 Jul 2021 17:48:20 GMT
Tree-lined roads https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/7/tree-lined-roads Tree-lined roads make for a nice photographic subject. They frame the road. The road leads the viewer's eyes into the image. The trees on either side of the road prevent the viewer's eyes from leaving the image as they push the viewer's gaze back to the road.

These images work well in good light, in soft light, or in fog.

Patched rural road into fogPatched rural road into fogPatched rural road into fog

Here are a few tips to help get the most from these scenes:

  • Use a longer lens. The first image's trees are not right next to each other. There are large gaps between them. Stepping back and using a longer lens gets rid of these gaps and makes the trees appear right next to each other.

  • Go back and reshoot the scene in different types of light. Look at the difference in mood between these two images.

  • Try to have the furthest part of the road as the brightest part of the road. This will help pull the viewer into the image.

  • Use a small aperture so that everything is in focus.

  • Watch out for wind and set the shutter speed to freeze the leaves and branches.

Enjoy tree-lined roads.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) photography Pierre road Steenberg trees https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/7/tree-lined-roads Sun, 18 Jul 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Night photograhy https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/7/night-photograhy I have written about night photography before. In those blogs, I wrote about composition and focus and so forth. Today I am going to talk about shutter speeds. How do you calculate what shutter speed you should use? Of course, I cannot talk about what shutter speed to use before talking about how you want the image to look. Let me start by showing you two images from the same spot taken on the same night.

Which image do you prefer? One image was taken with a long shutter speed while the other was taken with a short-ish shutter speed. Because of the rotation of the earth, a long shutter speed shows the motion, hence the star trails of the first image. The short-ish shutter speeds leave the stars sharply in focus. So let's start there.

          The wider field of view your lens has the faster shutter speed is needed to get the stars sharp. I am talking about getting your shot in one image rather than using stacking techniques. Try to keep your shutter speed at 30 seconds or below. Use your lens' fastest aperture. Jack up your ISO to get your exposure right.

          For the long exposure (star trails) you can leave your shutter open for a long time. I mean a really long time, like half an hour or longer. If I recall correctly, this image was exposed for 50 minutes. But there is a problem. The camera's light meter does not work beyond 30 seconds. So how do you know that this image needed 50 minutes versus 20 minutes, for example?

          Set the camera's shutter on 30 seconds. Now play with your ISO until you have the correct exposure. Since it is dark your ISO will be very high. Once you know what the correct exposure is we can now change how we get that exposure. Half your ISO but double your shutter speed. Keep doing that until you have a low ISO. You will have to double the shutter speed in your head because your camera does not have a measured setting beyond 30 seconds. Place your shutter speed in bulb mode. Use a remote shutter release so that you can lock it in the depressed position. Now use your watch or your phone's countdown to measure out the calculated time. See that was easy.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) calculate night photography Pierre Steenberg shutter speeds https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/7/night-photograhy Sun, 11 Jul 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Light and plants https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/7/light-and-plants Generally speaking, a photographer wants overcast light when photographing flowers and plants. The cloud cover acts as a giant diffuser, softening the light. This means that you don't have to deal with harsh shadows. It also means that you can push the contract in post-processing which makes the flower pop. Fine details can be brought out when a flower is shot in soft light.

Red Cactus FlowerRed Cactus FlowerRed Cactus Flower


This image was taken outside in natural light during overcast conditions. I just held a black blanket behind the flower since the background was distracting. Even though we like to photograph flowers in this kind of light that does not mean that we can't shoot flowers and plant in other kinds of light. What about shooting when the sun is not diffused?

Leaf with Dew DropsLeaf with Dew Dropsleave with dew drops This image was taken just after sunrise. Once again, this image was taken outside with only natural light. When the sun is out make sure you shoot while the light is still good before it gets harsh. The low angle of the sun helps to make the leaves 3D rather than flat. Side lighting is always better to shoot in for this kind of image than frontal light. But what about shooting when the sun is already harsh?

Banana LeafBanana Leafback lit banana leaf

This image was taken in the brutally harsh sun. However, rather than allowing the sun to wash out the fine details, this image was taken from underneath with the sun on the other side of the leave. I am shooting right into the sun - through the leaf. This brings out the veins and color. So the point of today's blog is that you can get reasonable images in almost any light. Just think about how to best use the light. Change your angle or position. Be creative.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) flower leaf light photography Pierre Steenberg plant https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/7/light-and-plants Sun, 04 Jul 2021 18:10:19 GMT
Nothing to photograph? https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/6/nothing-to-photograph Before moving to the current city I live in, I lived in a picturesque area. Within ten to fifteen minutes' drive from my house in any direction were photogenic spots. If I saw the sunset was going to be beautiful I could just hop in my car minutes before go time and I would be on location and ready to shoot in no time. Since I knew all these spots so well I did not have to arrive long before sunset.

          The city where I live now is in a flat valley. There is nothing to photograph (for a landscape photographer). Many nights I look at the brilliantly lit sky in frustration because there is nothing in the foreground to photograph with it. So the question begs, what do you shoot when there is nothing to shoot? You will remember from previous blogs that I advocate shrinking your world when you find yourself in such situations. Photograph smaller things.

Locked Chain, Hollister, California Stuff like this is everywhere. Go to antique stores or stores that have old things on display. Shoot only parts of what you see. When you isolate things the background area is much smaller so you can hold a blanket or something behind what you are photographing. Drive through the neighborhood and look for beautiful gardens. Remember to ask for permission before you photograph.

Cactus FlowerCactus Flower

Visit the cemetary.

Dying Roses in cemeteryDying Roses in cemeteryFading Life It does not matter where you live, find small things to photograph. Develop a list of go-to places so that you are ready. Note which places need what kind of light. For example, gardens photograph best on overcast days, especially just after rain. You may not be the world's best landscape photographer if you only shoot at a photographically boring city, but you can get great imagery no matter where you live. You could even photograph still life images indoors. Just be creative.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) ideas photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/6/nothing-to-photograph Sun, 27 Jun 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Be out there https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/6/be-out-there For some, photography is just about getting that award-winning image. For others, it is all about the experience. Neither is possible if you are not out there. You are not going to get an award-winning image every time you are out there. Similarly, you are not going to have the greatest of experiences every time you are out there. At times these two objectives are even at odds with each other. Getting that special image might be a horrible experience filled with miserable weather, long hikes, getting cold or too hot, and the list goes on. When conditions are perfect for a great experience they are less than ideal for great photography. Still, to get the image or the experience you have to be out there.

With being out there I mean regularly and going to the same places, over and over again. I have been on this beach more times than I can remember. The reason I go there is not because of the beach. As you can see, it is just a beach. There is normally nothing about this beach that would get a photographer excited. There are no rock formations or logs, or anything of interest. In fact, of all the times I have visited this beach, this was the only time it was like you see it here. But that is the point. Other than this time I have never seen water on this beach. Going over and over resulted in this image and this experience.

          So you might ask me why I frequent this beach when it has nothing to offer the photographer? I go purely because of the experience, to visit friends who live here. But, my camera is always with me.

          The point of all of this is to show you that even the most ordinary beach (any place) can serve up something different and beautiful once in a blue moon when conditions work out. Now, of course, don't waste your time going back forever if the place has nothing to offer unless it is for other reasons like visiting friends. Go back to places that have something to offer. Just put yourself out there. Go when conditions are predicted to produce something special. If conditions can turn a totally boring beach into this then imagine what it can do at a more promising destination.

          Do more photography and have more experiences.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) beach Photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/6/be-out-there Sun, 20 Jun 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Light and Darkness https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/6/light-and-darkness The slot canyons around Page, Arizona is a mesmerizing place to visit. These slot canyons abound in photographic potential. Unfortunately, experiencing the slot canyons for serious photography is an opportunity lost. The crowds remind the visitor of a cattle stampede. Even when I paid extra for the so-called "photographic tour" we were still hurried along and permission to linger was refused. It seems, in my opinion, that the tribes in control don't understand that originally it was our images that brought the cash cow cattle stampede about in the first place. Since the crowds now flock to this green pasture, I suppose, great photographs are no longer needed.

Since I have written a previous blog on the slot canyons I am not going to talk about managing the experience and the photography here. When the crowds overwhelm the area it seems as though the only safe direction to shoot into is straight up. Try to avoid including the sky as the dynamic range will most certainly exceed what your camera can handle. You will either blow out the sky or have black sandstone formations.

This is a place to capture shapes, texture, and color. When shooting up into layers of rock it is difficult to create depth. The layers seem to be right on top of each other. We don't want our viewers wondering what on earth they are looking at. Another issue is not having any central focus of attention. We don't want the viewer's gaze to have to keep on searching unsuccessfully for an anchor point to come to rest at. So how do we create a bit of depth? How do we find a central focus point when it is just all rock? How do we capture the best shapes and textures?

          We use light and darkness. You will remember from previous blogs that our eyes always go to lighter parts of the image and do not spend much time in the dark areas of the image. We can use that to lead the viewer. What we need is contrast, lots of it. We need dark areas and light areas. Ideally, we want the dark areas around the edges and bottom of the image and the lighter areas in the middle areas of the image. This draws the viewer into the image (depth). This keeps the viewer from wandering to the edges and out of the frame.

          Also, understand that texture disappears with diffused light and lessens with light shining directly head-on. The best light for texture is light from a low angle or sidelight. Shapes also pop out nicely with directional light and diminish with diffusion and direct head-on light. Therefore, pick the angle you shoot at carefully to maximize texture and shapes.

          Combining light and darkness with directional sidelight we can now pick out our compositions to create images that keep the viewer looking into the image for as long as possible.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) Canyons composition darkness light photography Pierre Steenberg Slot tips https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/6/light-and-darkness Sun, 13 Jun 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Balancing the foreground and the background https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/6/balancing-the-foreground-and-the-background Having a well-balanced image is a vital part of good compositions. When thinking about balance we often think only of balancing laterally (horizontally), left versus right. Good balance though also looks at the balance of the image front versus back. It is one thing to have an object on the right balance out an object on the left. But your image will still not be balanced if your foreground or background weighs considerably more than the other.

In this Yosemite scene, El Capitan has a lot of visual weight. To bring balance to this image we need to have something strong in the foreground. I deliberately walked around looking at options and ultimately decided on the river grasses. In this case, the mountain is mostly in the center of the image from left to right. So I place the tufts of river grasses there too. The rule of thirds (vertical lines) is ignored. I just want to balance the scene.

          Here are a few tips to help you deal with foreground-background balance:

  • You can regulate the visual weight of the foreground object by moving closer to it or further away from it. The closer you are to the foreground element the more it weighs.

  • You can also regulate the visual weight of the foreground object by using brightness to give more or to lessen its prominence. In this case, the foreground was in deep shade which rendered the tufts of river grasses very dark which lessened their prominence which lessens their visual weight. I brightened them considerably in post-processing. Yet, they need to look natural; people should generally not be able to notice what we did in post-processing without seeing the file we started out with.

  • Ultra-wide-angle lenses distort objects. The closer an ultra-wide-angle lens is to something the more it distorts the object by enlarging it in relation to the background. By using an ultra-wide-angle lens and going really close to foreground objects you can make small objects look big in relation to the background. You can use this technique to "enlarge" your foreground object in relation to the background and thereby balancing the foreground with the background at will.

  • Arrive well before go time. It is too late to search for and find foreground interest when the light is at its most beautiful and disappearing in a minute or two. Use your early arrival to scout for foreground elements to use. Plan and get a few compositions ready so that when go time comes you are ready.

          As photographers, we can get overwhelmed by the beautiful scene and light in front of us that we just want to capture it quickly. Stop and think about your composition and the balance of the image.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) balance photography Pierre Steenberg technique tips tricks Yosemite https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/6/balancing-the-foreground-and-the-background Sun, 06 Jun 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Dealing with Haze https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/5/dealing-with-haze Photographers often hate haze. Photoshop and other editing software have dehaze filters to help photographers with this problem. The reason why we often dislike haze is that it washes out our images and just kills contrast. However, you may have read in one of my previous blogs that haze is not always to be disliked. At times we need to use haze to our advantage, even embrace it. It can add mood and mystique.

The sun was getting ready to set. The light was still strong and lighting up the haze. In this particular image, I worked on the haze a bit. Firstly, I removed the haze from the bottom front section of the image. I want contrast and clarity there. Secondly, I added even a bit more haze to the top back section to enhance the haze already there. Creating areas of no haze and combining it with another area of haze can be very pleasing. Forget about all or nothing approaches. Part clear and part hazy images work well.

          When conditions do not look favorable don't give up. Start by asking yourself, what can be made of this image in post? Is the haze stronger in some areas and weaker in others? Can I weaken or totally remove the weaker haze while strengthening the stronger haze?

          Here are some tips for working with haze in post-processing:

  • Remember that the dehaze slider can also go the other way to add haze.

  • Play with the color temperature of the haze section only. If the sun is warm, then make the added haze warm. You may even want to warm up all the haze (natural occurring and added haze). When a colder mood is called for by the image then cool the haze down.

  • Haze typically gets stronger further away from us. So, remove the haze closer to you.

  • Give the haze a bit of a glow.

  • If the light is strong behind the haze you may want to add a bit of Orton effect (see one of my previous blogs).

          Now, don't allow haze to scare you off. Work with it and see if you can use it to create a nice image.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) dealing with haze haze photography Pierre Steenberg tricks trips Yosemite https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/5/dealing-with-haze Sun, 30 May 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Facing Crowds https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/5/facing-crowds California was on fire. The area surrounding North Lake, Bishop was closed off to the public. Smoke filled the air to such an extent that the air quality was dangerous. The pandemic made travel difficult and photographers anxious to get out and shoot. Then one day we had a break. The smoke blew the other way and the passage to North Lake opened up. So to North Lake, I went, but so did all the other photographers. I have no idea how many people showed up but the shoreline was lined with photographers.

          This was my first ever visit to North Lake which was made famous by the desktop image on Apple computers. What was I to do? How was I going to get an image without all the other photographers in them? How do you get rid of people in your view? After all, I literally had people's tripod legs intertwined with mine. Even though I got there early to reserve my spot, what are you going to do when another photographer comes and asks nicely for a spot?

Here are a few tips to deal with photographic crowds:

  • Arrive early, before everyone else. Arrive early even if you have to stand in the cold and dark for an hour or two waiting for the sun to appear.

  • Pick your spot carefully, anticipating crowds. Make sure others cannot get into your view, if possible. You can see in the images above that I positioned myself at the farthest point possible. The reeds to the left prevent others from getting into my field of view.

  • The best spot in crowded situations may not always be the best spot for the best composition. You may have to compromise here. The best spot is the one that gives you a chance to get an image without the crowds. What would you chose, the best-composed image with forty other photographers in it or the fourth-best composition free of other people? If you want the best composition without the people ... (read the third point down)

  • Stay at your spot. They say possession is nine-tenths of the law. Don't wander off as someone else will be sure to take your spot or encroach too much into your space.

  • You may have to use a longer lens to narrow your field of view down to eliminate people from your view.

  • If there are just too many people and the landscape does not make it possible to place yourself in the right spot you may want to consider going back when the weather is harsh or cold. That usually rules out the most photographers leaving you with more manageable crowds, if any.

  • You may want to consider avoiding the iconic shots. Oftentimes, there are great images to be had just a hundred yards this way or that way. Spend the harsh light hours of the day scouting around to find other compositions.

  • Be alert. Watch out for people walking into your image while you are making an exposure. Most people don't mind being asked to wait for 20 seconds, but you have to stop them before they walk into your image because once they reach their spot it becomes much more difficult to get them to move.

Dealing with these crowds not only poses photographic problems but relational ones too. There will always be the jerk who does not care about anybody else and ruins other people's shots and experience. Expect them. At times you have to mix a bit of firmness with your kindness. Most photographers though are nice people. Work together. Take turns. Remember, all of you have the same goal; to get that winning image. Use that common goal to negotiate the situation. Be nice and respectful. Share nature.

          Enjoy your photography.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) crowds deal how iconic images photography Pierre Steenberg to https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/5/facing-crowds Sun, 23 May 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Breaking the rules https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/5/breaking-the-rules Sometimes rules are meant to be broken. The rule of thirds, in photography, is a powerful rule and has been proven over time to be effective. However, sometimes you stumble across a situation where the rules just beg to be broken. I know that you may find it hard to believe but I actually photographed a tree just about in the middle of my image.

It just works this way. Placing it elsewhere would have created an imbalance. I could not have moved to the left for fear of falling to death down a cliff. There was no point in moving to the right as the cloud action in the background dictated my framing. Yet, I am not advocating that we break the rules simply because we had no other viable choice. The image still needs to stand strong on its own merit. Nobody is going to pay attention to a poor image simply because an attached note says, "sorry, I had no other options but to shoot it from here."

          So what makes this image work in the face of breaking the rules? The clouds dictate this image. That is where the action is in terms of both color and light. I placed the top of the tree trunk right in the middle of the break in the clouds. This is a case where the sum of the parts is more than the parts alone. It just works when used together like this.

          Don't be afraid of breaking the rules. Sometimes these can be striking images.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) break of photography Pierre rule rules Steenberg thirds https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/5/breaking-the-rules Sun, 16 May 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Draw the viewer in with light https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/5/draw-the-viewer-in-with-light If you follow my blog you will know that I often state that the viewer's eyes are not just controlled by composition but also by focus, color, and light. The human eye will always go to the lighter part/s of an image. Therefore, lighter parts of the image attract more attention than darker parts of the image. You will also remember from all my writing on composition that we don't want the viewer's eyes to be led to the edges of the photograph because they will leave the photograph and start looking elsewhere. We want to keep the viewer looking at an image for as long as we can. So don't give the viewer any excuse to stop watching the image by placing light objects right on the edges.

Okay, please stop looking at this image. Yes, I am asking you to do what I just told you we never want to do. Close your eyes. Now before opening your eyes please pay attention to where your eyes go when you look at this image. Ready? Okay, open your eyes, paying attention to where your eyes go.

          If you are normal you will find that this image draws your eyes deep into the image. Your eyes hardly looked at the sides of the image. If you glanced at the darker areas of the image your eyes did not stay there for long and quickly returned to the lighter parts of the image. This is what I am talking about. Light can be used to draw the eyes into the image.

          Photographers have for years slightly darkened the edges around the image to create the phenomenon of drawing the viewer into the image. Be careful not to overdo it. If someone can quickly tell that you used a vignette (darker edges) it is too strong. In this image above, the light was naturally this way due to a clearing in the forest beyond the image.

          Control the light and you control the viewer's eyes. Use that power to draw your viewers into your images.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) light photography Pierre Steenberg vignette https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/5/draw-the-viewer-in-with-light Sun, 09 May 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Focus stacking https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/5/focus-stacking Focus stacking is like exposure bracketing. You take multiple images of the same scene. The only setting you change though is the focus. Sometimes we want to place the camera right close to something in the foreground. But when the lens is so close to an object the background cannot be rendered sharp enough. Even using a small aperture does not suffice. Focus stacking is the solution.

          Focus on the closest thing to the lens and take an image. Then focus just a bit further into the image and take another image. Repeat the process a few times. But how many times should you repeat the process? Macro photography may require a large number of images as the depth of field can be razor-thin in this genre of photography. For landscape photography, the number of images needed to produce a pin-sharp image from back to front depends on the focal length of the lens in use. Wide-angle lenses naturally have more depth of field at the same aperture than a telephoto lens. Therefore, wide-angle lenses require less images than telephoto images. With my 16mm to 35mm lens, used at the short end, I find that three or four images are enough. Just remember that you will need more images with longer lenses.

          Shoot in manual and in raw. We want to shoot in manual mode so that the exposure does not change between the images. We shoot in raw so that we can make the ISO uniform during post-processing. In post, we will want to ensure that chromatic aberrations are removed and that lens profiles are applied. Now just merge the images. There are many tutorials out on how to do this so I will not cover that here. Once merged I take the image back into Camera Raw to start working on it.

You can see that my lens is right up against these rocks. Yet, they are sharp, so is the background. I used three or four focus stacked images to produce this final image. It is the only way to make sure that everything in the image is in focus.

          Watch out for moving objects, especially close to the lens. Blending images where movement took place is a nightmare. If there is moving such as water flowing, make sure, if possible, that all the movement is sharp in one shot to make blending easier. With a wide-angle lens movement in the scene beyond a certain distance is not a problem provided your shutter speed is fast enough to freeze the action. Focus stacking with wide-angle lenses really only concerns itself with the first third of the distance into the image. The rest can easily be captured sharply with one exposure if a small aperture is used.

          Use a tripod. Merging images where the camera moved in between shots is a problem you don't want to face. I also take the images in manual focus mode. The less fiddling you need to do in between images to adjust the focus the better. Happy focus stacking. Get those images sharp front to back.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) Focus photography Pierre stacking Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/5/focus-stacking Sun, 02 May 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Painting with light https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/4/painting-with-light Photography is after all painting with light. It is more about the light than about the scene. Combining great light with a great scene results in a great image. Light does not always fall uniformly. Clouds in front of the sun may cause shadows in some parts of the image while there is light in other parts of the image. Mountain peaks can block the sun in some parts of the image while not in other parts of the image. Have a look at the image below.

Some parts of this image are in shadow while light falls on other parts of the image. At times the photographer just needs to wait for the sun or the clouds to move so that the right parts of the image are in shadow or lit up. Patience is your friend. Sometimes, as the time when I took this image, nature plays along but not fully. The light fell naturally where there is light and the shadows were darker than where there is light. However, the light value difference or dynamic range between the lit-up areas and the darker areas was not as much as you can see in this final image.

          Typically, when we have an image with lit-up areas and shadow areas we rejoice because then we have a dynamic image. They are interesting. In the case of this image, I did a bit of work in post-editing to increase the dynamic range. In Adobe Camera Raw I used a brush to paint in more light here and darken parts there. I did not create anything fake as the image was naturally that way. I simply lightened the already lit-up parts more and darkened the already darker parts more.

          Amateurs mostly do global adjustments to their images (adjustments that affect the entire image). Pros do local adjustments to affect different areas differently in addition to some global adjustments (such as setting the black point and white point). This livens up the image and directs the viewer's eyes to where the photographer wants the viewer to go.

          As we saw a few weeks ago, balance is important. I tried to create some balance in this image by off-setting the mountains on the left with the three tall trees on the right. Putting it all together gives us a nice image.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) adjustments Adobe brush camera light local painting photography Pierre raw Steenberg with https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/4/painting-with-light Sun, 25 Apr 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Clearance space https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/4/clearance-space Humans have two eyes. That gives us the ability to see and to measure depth and distance. We can see when something is closer to us than something else even though they are visually touching. When we look at a 2-D scene such as a computer screen or a print we kind of lose that ability because the image has been capture with one "eye" (lens and sensor) rather than two. So when two things touch one another they either get lost in the other or our sense of distance is lessened.

The log on the right is pointing out into the image. Close to the end of the log, there is a branch that goes up. If that branch meets or goes into the treeline on the other side of the lake it will be difficult to judge distance or to see where that branch belongs on the other side. It is very important to always watch that two separate items don't merge. Images with such mergers seem busy and confusing.

          Leaving a bit of distance between such elements in the scene creates space, separation, and distance. You can see that I also left a gap between the tall tree on the left and its shadow which gets close to the rock on the left of the line of rocks. These are small things but they make a big difference. They make an image look clean and neat.

          So how do we control these gaps? We can't move the log or change the size of the lake. You may remember from last week that I mentioned that we can control the relative position between elements in the scene by changing our position. These gaps are controlled by moving up or down. The lower angle we shoot from the smaller the distance between the line of rocks and the waterline at the base of the mountain. The higher we go the more we increase this distance/space. By moving up or down we can fully control whether these elements touch each other or not.

          Before you trigger your shutter have another look to make sure that each element meant to be separate is in fact separate and not touching.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition control distance photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/4/clearance-space Sun, 18 Apr 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Atmosphere https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/4/atmosphere At times nature just does not play along. Instead of getting upset rather ask what kind of image suits the prevailing conditions. Then shoot that. It might not be what you have in mind but it could yield nice images. Having images in mind, preconceived ideas, prior to going out to a location is a double-edged sword. With great planning and multiple returns, preconceived ideas can reward you richly with some of your best images ever taken. On the other hand, preconceived ideas can also rob you of great images since you only see and look for what you came for. Thus you don't see what nature is presenting you.

The conditions were horrible. This image was taken amidst some of the worst wildfires in California's history. The air quality reached dangerous levels. Smoke filled the air. Rather than giving up and deeming the conditions not suitable for photography we simply look for opportunities to use the smoke to add atmosphere.

          Atmosphere adds mood to an image. In landscape photography photographers often use the "dehaze" slider to get rid of haze. In this image, I actually moved that slider in the opposite direction and painted the effect to emphasize the atmosphere. Use it sparingly. The mountains in the distance now have just a bit of mystery and atmosphere. I think it adds to the image.

          Composition will always stay important. Look for lead in lines or strong foreground elements. Thank about where you place what and remember that you can move things in relation to other things in your images simply by changing your position. The next time conditions do not meet your facny don't give up, work with what you have.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) atmosphere landscape mood photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/4/atmosphere Sun, 11 Apr 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Balancing elements https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/4/balancing-elements Balance is important in composing nice photographs. Having too many elements on one side of the photograph without something on the other side of the photograph to bring balance can make the one side feel too heavy. Visual weight is determined by size and distance. Closer elements weigh more visually than objects far in the distance. Hence a small object nearby can bring balance to a larger object in the distance. Balance in photography can be a strange thing to describe for non-photographers. They often find it hard to put their finger on it but they know that there is something wrong with the image.

That lone tree on the left is very important to the balance of this image. The flying birds also help. Without them, this image is not balanced as too much weight is on the right of the image. Not only does size and distance impact the visual weight of an element in our images but so does darkness and brightness. Black weighs more visually than white. Therefore smaller dark areas can bring balance to larger white areas. Similarly, bright colors weigh more than dull colors.

          Keeping all of this in mind we can place elements in our photographs to bring about a balanced scene. At times we need to move objects to the right position to create the needed balance. No, I am not talking about moving objects around in Photoshop. The photographer can move his or her position which in turn rearranges the elements in the scene. When we move around, closer elements' position change much more relative to elements far away. Do an experiment right now. Look at your computer screen and notice the position of an object on the other side of the room, such as a light switch or a door, or a piece of furniture. Now, move your head left and then right while noticing how much your computer screen's position move in relation to the other object you are also keeping an eye on.

          By walking to the left or the to the right the photographer can literally move the position of that tree in the foreground relative to the mountain. So don't just plonk down your tripod and shoot right where you are at. Think where in the image you would like that tree to be to bring balance to the image. Then move the tree by taking up a position that has the tree where you want it to be. The closer you are to the tree the more it will move relative to your walking around. We don't only have the ability to move the tree to the left or to the right but we can also change the perspective of the tree vertically. The closer we are to the tree the more it will reach up into the sky or background. The further away we are from the tree the more its height will shrink relative to its background.

          So don't just accept what nature gives you where you are at. Think about how the image will look the best. Then change your position to get that perspective. Always be safe. Cliffs, water, animals, and such may not make it safe to position ourselves where we would ideally want to be.  No image is worth your life. Move around to get the image you want only if it is safe to do so.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition perspective photography Pierre Steenberg weight https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/4/balancing-elements Sun, 04 Apr 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Grab any opportunity https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/3/grab-any-opportunity As photographers, we want to be out shooting whenever something special is happening. That applies equally to events we might be interested in shooting and special weather. Recently, we faced the devastation of the massive California fires. These fires billowed smoke into the air which changed the appearance of the sky. Why not take that opportunity to get rather unique images?

My wife and I drove to the eastern side of the Sierras. That night the cloud of smoke moved over the mountains like a blanket. Here are a few more images:

These opportunities do not happen every day (for which we are thankful). Be on the lookout for such events. Perhaps unusual dust helps to create special atmospheric conditions for a great sunset or a storm or other event brings about extraordinary circumstances. Be out there (if safe) and grab these opportunities to not only record the events but to get something different and special.

          Remember not to only spend all your energy on that which is brought about by the special event. We still need to capture a compelling photograph. So spend time on composition, finding a great foreground element, and making a great image. When people view our image a year or two later they don't remember the fire or the storm. The hype caused by the media coverage is long gone. Our images do not capture the sound, the smell, and other things that may tie us emotionally to the image. The image needs to be a strong image without any of these additional things that make it special for you. Whatever is special is just the cherry on top of the cake.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) California fires photography Pierre Steenberg smoke https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/3/grab-any-opportunity Sun, 28 Mar 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Show a bit more https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/3/show-a-bit-more My wife and I were driving around in an area we had not yet explored. I love doing this to find possible locations to come back to and photograph. As usual, I was on the hunt for landscape locations. It was an overcast day with dreary skies. We were driving slowly up a windy mountain road when this woodpecker sat on the log.

The woodpecker and log were right next to the road, so distance was not an issue. I had both my 70-200mm and my 200-600mm lenses with me. The bird seemed quite happy and not bothered with our presence. I believe it would have allowed me to get even closer if I needed to. Yet I opted to not fall into the trap of taking a portrait or cropping very tightly. I wanted to show a bit more. The log was littered with holes. The woodpecker had clearly worked the log. I wanted to show some of the holes. These holes tell a story. They show the bird in its environment. It shows what the bird does.

          Too often we crop tightly thereby foregoing showing a bit more. Not every image of a bird needs to be a solo performance. In this image, the bird is still very prominent due to its placement in the image and its striking color. However, there is more to the image than just the bird. The viewer can start looking around at the texture of the log and the holes.

          Don't be afraid to show a bit more.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) bird photography Pierre Steenberg woodpecker https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/3/show-a-bit-more Sun, 21 Mar 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Dead space in the sky https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/3/dead-space-in-the-sky Clouds do not often listen to our pleading to move this way or that way. In fact, skies can be challenging in photography. Quite often the most interesting part of the land that I want to photograph is best shot shooting in this direction but the most interesting part of the sky is found facing in that direction. So we are left with a choice of either having a great foreground with a boring sky or having a great sky with a boring foreground. At other times, one part of the sky in my image has nice clouds and nice color but the rest of the sky is blank.

This is not always a bad thing, especially if you are shooting stock images. Clients needing stock images most often need space in the image to place text in. For fine art photography, a blank portion of the sky can create imbalance. We cannot magically move clouds into the blank area. These days photographers use sky replacement offered by many image editing software such as Lunimar (click on affiliate links to get a discount). Software such as Luminar not only offers a sky replacement feature but also the ability to insert clouds into your existing sky. Other photographers don't want to replace skies. So what are they to do with a blank portion of the sky?

          May I suggest having a person stand in the image? Get your spouse to take up a position in the image. Position your spouse in the right spot to bring balance and to add interest to that part of the image.  Of course, you can use a fellow photographer if your spouse is not with you. I suggest that you never go out to photograph alone. You never know if you are going to fall and need help. Being there for each other brings peace of mind and provides someone to make your images more interesting. So don't be afraid to include people in your images if the sky does not cooperate with you.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) blank landscape Luminar photography Pierre Steenberg replace sky sky replacement software https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/3/dead-space-in-the-sky Sun, 14 Mar 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Shrink your world https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/3/shrink-your-world A friend invited me to go on a business trip with him. To sweeten the deal he told me that a friend of his informed him that the location we were going to offered world-class photography with great mountains and water. So off we went. As often happens when non-photographers recommend a location, I was disappointed photography speaking. The mountains were there and they were impressive but they don't often make for great photography when shot from within a neighborhood full of homes in the foreground. The water was there and was very nice, but water doesn't typically make for great photographic material with a neighborhood as the backdrop.

          As you might expect from any respectable photographer, I arrived early to catch the good light. So what do you do when faced with a scene as described above? When the grand scene does not work out for you just shrink your world. Think small. Go for images of small sections of the scene. Eliminate that which does not work. So I forgot about the mountains and also eliminated wide shots of the water because, due to my personal taste, I am not a fan of a neighborhood in my landscape images.

Shrinking our world means that we go for a more intimate subject. Narrow the field of view. Rather than shooting the whole large expansive view, look for images within the expanse. This is what macro photographers do. They find an interesting subject which is really small. As landscape photographers, we can do the same thing just on a larger scale (but still much smaller than the grand view), like this little water feature. This water feature is not large but by isolating it I was able to get a reasonably nice image.

          As discussed last week, we experiment with different shutter speeds to get what we think is the right shutter speed to show the water movement. I did not want a milky smooth water motion. So I opted for a shutter speed that left enough definition in the water while clearly still showing off the motion.

          When the large expanse just does not work for an image, look for different images within the larger scene and focus on them. In fact, if you struggle to see expansive images, shrink your world. Go for this kind of small feature and before long your vision will expand. This helps photographers to get out of vision block (similar to when writers have writer's block).

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) landscape motion photography Pierre shutter speed Steenberg water https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/3/shrink-your-world Sun, 07 Mar 2021 14:00:00 GMT
Wave action part II https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/2/wave-action-part-ii Last week we talked about capturing splashing wave action and freezing the action in mid-air. If you read my blogs regularly you will know that I am never satisfied with getting just one image from a scene. So today we look at capturing the same scene totally differently. Instead of freezing the action mid-air, we let the water run and we show the motion. I am still at the same place on the same day (as the image I wrote about last week). The sun has just set. With much less light available it allows me to use a longer shutter speed which is exactly what we need to capture this type of image.

This image was taken just as the splash is over and the water is now running down the rock. To show the motion of the water running a longer shutter speed is used. To get the best results you will have to experiment a little to get the most pleasing shutter speed. The longer the shutter speed the more motion blur you will get but at the price of definition. Choose a shutter speed that does not turn all motion completely smooth. We want to see lines of water not just a mushy, definitionless, blurry sheet of milky water.

          The photographer's vantage point is important and should be chosen carefully. Leave clear gaps between the rocks to separate them. If I was positioned a bit to the left the main rock with the water running off of it would have touched the rock a bit further into the photograph. When that happens the two rocks look connected and become one rock in the image. Thus we lose depth. If I stood a little to the right the bottom middle rock would have merged with the main rock with the water running off of it. Pay attention to different elements in the image touching each other.

          The way this image is composed creates depth. The viewer's eyes jump from rock to rock deeper and deeper into the image. This is what we want. The rocks form stepping stones for your eyes to walk into the image. If we can help it we want to keep every element in the image separate. Lastly, this image is well balanced. The main rock is balanced by the darker clouds. When moving around the scene to finalize the composition think about all the things.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) action landscape photography Pierre seascape Steenberg wave https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/2/wave-action-part-ii Sun, 28 Feb 2021 14:00:00 GMT
Wave Action https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/2/wave-action Don't you just love waves crashing into rocks and causing a big splash? There is something about the power, the sound, and the action. But how do we best capture that in a photograph? After all, the photograph does have any sound.

Here are some best practices that you may find helpful:

  1. Timing is everything. Treat wave action like you would fast-moving animals. Use a fast frame rate and fire away. This way you can choose the best frame. The best frame is often the one with the biggest splash caught at the point where it is at its biggest.

  2. Use a fast shutter speed. The idea is to freeze the action in mid-air. We want to catch the dops hanging in the air. Smaller splashes can work with a slow shutter speed to show the motion but are not advised for large splashes unless you want to create an abstract image.

  3. Strong backlighting or side-lighting works best. The lower the angle of the sun the better.

  4. Leave some room in the composition for the wave to move into.

  5. Use tide charts to maximize your chances of getting good wave action.

  6. Be safe. Every so other larger waves can appear and sweep you into the ocean or crush you on the rocks. Make sure that your elevation is safe. Keep an eye on the waves coming in. Always keep alert and watch out.

          Waves come in waves. Be patient. Good wave action will stop for some time and is then followed by many large waves. This cycle repeats itself. Watch for ocean spray. Saltwater or salty spray is not your friend. In fact, saltwater is hard and damaging to your equipment. So watch for the wind direction. Days on which the wind blows into the ocean are best and can add drama to the images. Have a soft cloth ready to wipe the front element of your lens and check it regularly. A drop of water on your front lens element will ruin your image.

          Go out there and enjoy the experience.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) action best photography Pierre practices Steenberg tips tricks wave https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/2/wave-action Sun, 21 Feb 2021 14:00:00 GMT
The joys of weather https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/2/the-joys-of-weather You may recall that I love to go back to the same locations over and over again. This is important because great images are not just about the location but about the light, and light changes all the time. It may take multiple visits to get nice light. Some locations require drama in the clouds and that is not something one can order. The only way to get dramatic clouds is to watch the weather report and to go over and over until it works out.

This image just does not work with a blank blue sky. I have been to this location many times. At last, things came together. This image was only possible to get within a few short minutes since the sun only came out briefly prior to disappearing below the horizon.

          Even with great weather reports, one cannot predict which clouds will be exactly where when you need them to be in a certain place. That is the joys of weather. The only real solution is to be out there often when the weather predicts a good outcome. Had the clouds not left the little gap for the sun this visit would have been a waste and I would have had to go again. With the sun and the clouds in the right place, the only other variable is the waves. I waited for some wave action to liven up the bottom of the image.

          Being out in exciting weather is very exciting photographically speaking but less exciting experientially. The wind can pester a person. It can be cold, rainy, misty, wet, you name it. On the other hand, getting an image like this is worth enduring the joys of the weather to me.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) Big clouds dramatic ocean photography Pierre Steenberg sunset Sur weather https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/2/the-joys-of-weather Sun, 14 Feb 2021 14:00:00 GMT
Drinking action https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/1/drinking-action Giraffes have a difficult time drinking. They have special valves in their heads to prevent blood drainage when they suddenly pull up their heads so as not to pass out. Drinking also places them in a vulnerable position. So they drink cautiously. They lift their heads up for almost any disturbance. While at Savuti in Botswana we had Giraffes drink regularly. Here are some of the action:

It was interesting to watch the Oxpeckers interact with the Giraffe. I love how the water drain from their mouths.

          Once again I am shooting at a fast shutter speed. I want to freeze the fast-moving head of the Giraffe and the falling water. The background is not distracting so there was nothing to worry about there. Its spread out legs was used to frame the image.

          Be on the lookout for any opportunity to showcase animal behavior as such images are typically interesting. This would make a nice large print.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) action drinking Giraffe photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/1/drinking-action Sun, 31 Jan 2021 14:00:00 GMT
Birds in flight https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/1/birds-in-flight Birds in flight can be some of the most difficult wildlife photography to do. These little birds move fast and can fly in erratic ways. To succeed you will need the following gear:

  • A camera with a high frame rate - the higher the better.

  • A camera with great fast autofocus that can track subjects well and stick on them.

  • A longer lens (unless you use a blind/hide or feed the birds). Ideally, if you can afford one, this lens should be a fast lens (large aperture).

While on a workshop in Botswana I was shooting with a Sony A6400. I chose this camera for the wildlife part of the workshop because it has great autofocus and can shoot at 11 images per second. The attached lens was the Sony 200-600mm. The combination worked well:

The best settings are also very important. Cameras are not set up to perform the best for bird-in-flight photography by default. Here are some helpful settings to remember:

  • Chose a fast shutter speed. The bird is flying fast and the wings flap even faster. You are moving the camera to track the bird which will cause blur if your shutter speed is too slow. Ideally, you will want a shutter speed of around 1600/second or better. I prefer 2000 or above.

  • Use the largest aperture. This helps to give you the most possible light to enable that fast shutter speed. It also blurs the background, which is what we typically want with bird/wildlife images.

  • Use auto-iso. Let the camera pick the iso because your shutter speed is not negotiable and your aperture should stay on the largest one available.

  • Each camera is different so find out how to tune your autofocus to best suit bird-in-flight photography. I prefer a sticky autofocus for birds that grabs focus quickly.

  • Use a silent shutter, if your camera has one. We don't want to scare the bird away. Smaller birds are typically more skittish.

I highly recommend the mentioned Sony lens. The zoom ring moves the lens from 200 to 600mm with a very short turn. This is important, especially as you begin learning the craft. At 600mm it can be really difficult to locate your bird in the frame. With this lens, you simply look for the bird with the lens set at 200mm. Once you located the bird and placed it in your frame it only takes a short turn to zoom in quickly. Longer turns mean that you are not zoomed in enough to shoot fast enough. By the time you zoomed another lens with a longer turn the bird is out of sight, behind a bush, or no longer in an ideal position.

Be patient. Practice a lot. This is not easy.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) 200-600mm A6400 bird flight in photography Pierre Steenberg Sony https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/1/birds-in-flight Sun, 24 Jan 2021 14:00:00 GMT
Animal Portraits https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/1/animal-portraits Animals also make nice portrait images. But what can we do to give them a bit of life?

We can wait for the growl, yawn, or aggression.

We can play with contrast and mood.

We can feature the tongue.

We can show age. This male looks fairly tired.

          The point of these examples is that we should not be satisfied with a portrait or close-up of an animal simply to have a portrait. There are so many ways to make a portrait just a bit more interesting, more impactful, more story-telling, funnier, etc. Don't settle for the ordinary when you can get an image that is better. Be patient. Wait. Shoot much, but get something just a bit more interesting than a straight-faced frontal headshot that is boring. The only time where that kind of image really works well is when the face itself has something different to say, like this tired lion.


[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) animal photography Pierre Steenberg portrait wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/1/animal-portraits Sun, 17 Jan 2021 14:00:00 GMT
Frame-rate and wildlife photography https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/1/frame-rate-and-wildlife-photography Which of these two images do you prefer?

I and the people I show my images to tend to prefer the last image. But why? What is the difference between them? They were taken, literally, within a second of each other. Can one second or a fraction of a second make a large enough difference to make one image better than another? The mud being sprayed by the elephant is nicer in the first image. In the second image, the mud spray is less and already visible to the right of the elephant. The background and the grasses are just about the same.

          There are two major differences between the two images:

  1. There is a bird in the second image. It even looks as though there is some interaction between the elephant and the bird. This bird, its placement, and the direction of the elephant's look add interest to the image.

  2. In image one, there is another elephant laying in the mud right in front of the mudslinging elephant. In this image, the second elephant happened to be raised up a bit higher whereas it is laying down totally in the second image. In image one, this second elephant is distracting whereas it does not really feature in the second image. Now, in reality, this second elephant was much brighter (in both images) in real life but I darkened it in post-processing in an attempt to lessen the distraction.

Small things like this can make or break an image. But how do we as photographers chose the right moment to press the shutter and make the shot? Yes, knowing the animal's behavior patterns helps since things then become more predictable. In reality, as far as these little small things are concerned, they are just not predictable. I wish I can tell you that I timed this image just right, but I can't. This is good news for you because it means that you too would have had this image if you follow my advice.

          So how then do we chose when to press the shutter? We don't. To maximize our chances of getting that perfect moment we simply set the camera's frame-rate (drive mode) to the fasted speed the camera is capable of and just keep shooting. Discard the unwanted images and keep the great ones. Things like this just happen too fast for us to react with individual shots. You will be surprised how much of a difference a split second can make with the shape or position of the flying mud, a flying bird's wings (open or closed), etc. Use a fast frame-rate to your advantage to capture the right moment.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) frame frame-rate photography Pierre Steenberg rate tips tricks wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/1/frame-rate-and-wildlife-photography Sun, 10 Jan 2021 14:00:00 GMT
Look-room & choosing a position to shoot from https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/1/look-room In the video industry, they often refer to "look-room." Look-room speaks of leaving enough room for the subject to look into. Photographers would say, "leave more room in front of the subject than behind it." This not only applies to moving subjects or subjects intending to or created to move (such as a car or bike) but to people and animals. We need to pay attention to where the subject is looking. The subject then needs to be placed compositionally in the image to leave room in the direction of the look.

          The natural human response to someone looking in a certain direction is to also want to look at what he or she is looking at. This means that if a subject is placed near the edge of the frame while looking towards the same edge of the frame, the viewer's eyes will want to leave our image and look towards that edge and off of the print. There are rare circumstances where that might work compositionally like where an animal is being chased and needs to escape out of the scene to survive. Mostly though, we don't want the viewer's gaze to leave the image. Our goal is to have someone look at the image for as long as possible.

          Therefore, if the animal or person is looking towards our left, we place them on the right side of the image and vice versa. We want the viewer to look into the image not out of it.

Think about composition and look-room. Be willing to swing the camera this way or that way depending on how the person or animal moves his or her head. Look-room is important.

          These images were taken early one morning in Botswana. When getting to such a scene, there are a few things to look out for in choosing where to position yourself:

  • The direction of the sun. Remember that sunlight from behind creates a rim-light. Sidelight is usually dynamic with nice shadows. Frontlight, if early morning or late afternoon light, is warm and beautiful but can result in a flat image. Note that shooting into the sun can be challenging in terms of dealing with dynamic range.

  • The background. For animal photography, we want a distraction-free background. The more uniform the better. The more blur-able the better (the further away from the background the better). Avoid bright colors and detail in the background.

  • Reflections. If there is water in the scene, try to shoot from an angle where you can see the reflection nicely.

Always be thinking when shooting. Remember, amateurs take images, pros make images.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) background composition lion photography Pierre Steenberg wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2021/1/look-room Sun, 03 Jan 2021 22:00:00 GMT
Wildlife photography: the myth of always needing to fill the frame https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/12/wildlife-photography-the-myth-of-always-needing-to-fill-the-frame Generally speaking, we want to fill the frame with the animal. But doing that can be boring and can miss telling the story. We should not always just fill the frame. We should always ask a few questions:

  • Is there action begging to be captured?

  • Is the animal acting out some animal behavior that should be shown?

  • Is the surrounding landscape interesting?

  • Does the light scream for attention?

This image would just not have worked tightly cropped. We want to look to where the animal is looking. The light draws us into the image. The light would have drawn us out of the image had this been cropped tightly.

The larger view shows the animal working to get a meal. It is shown with its natural surroundings. Once again the light works with this composition whereas a tight crop would have had the brighter lit sand on the edge of the image. Don't be afraid to step back and show a larger view. These images are often just as interesting or more so than tightly cropped wildlife images. There is a time for tightly shot images and a time for wider framed images. Before you shoot, try to ask some questions to help you decide whether to zoom in tightly or not.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition crop photography wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/12/wildlife-photography-the-myth-of-always-needing-to-fill-the-frame Sun, 27 Dec 2020 14:00:00 GMT
Depth of Field (wildlife photography) https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/12/depth-of-field-wildlife-photography When photographing wildlife we all want that creamy out-of-focus backgrounds that we always see in award-winning images. A pro would say, "that is easy to achieve, just use f4 on your 600mm lens." Besides, pros will add, "that also gives you a faster shutter speed which is just what you need." Many of you will now want to go out and photograph wildlife by using these settings only to find that your 600mm does not have f4. "No problem," you say, "it is time for an upgrade, let me go buy a 600mm that has f4." Let me save you the embarrassment of going to your nearest camera dealer attempting to buy such a lens. These lenses cost between $12,000 and $16,000. Yes, each!

          Although I make money with my photography I don't photograph wildlife enough to justify such an expense. Most of us use much cheaper lenses. My lens of choice is the Sony 200-600mm. It is a fantastic lens but at 600mm it is an f6.3 lens. So what can we do with more budget-friendly lenses (which are f6.3 at 600mm or worse) to get a creamer out-of-focus background? How does depth of field really work? What determines how much of the image is in focus?

There are four factors that determine the depth of field:

  1. The f-stop of the lens. Use the widest aperture that your lens has.

  2. The focal length of the lens. The longer the lens the shorter the depth of field. So shooting at the furthest end of your telephoto zoom lens helps to make your background more blurry.

  3. The distance between your camera and the subject. The closer you are to the animal the more out of focus your background will be. So get as close to your subjects as you can. Use a boat or a blind (hide) to get close.

  4. The distance between your subject and the background. The further your background is from your subject the creamier your background will be. Pick your spot to increase this distance. 

It also helps to get down low. By shooting upward we can often exclude grasses and brush which are lower down. In the case of this image, the Plover was on a little mound. That helps to separate it from what would have been right behind it.

          Remember that smaller f.stops have a bigger depth of field. If you cannot afford large aperture long lenses use these four factors that influence depth of field to your advantage to create that creamy background.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) depth field of photography pro tips tricks wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/12/depth-of-field-wildlife-photography Sun, 20 Dec 2020 14:00:00 GMT
Mixing the abstract with wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/12/mixing-the-abstract-with-wildlife Abstract photography is usually reserved for a different genre of photography than wildlife photography. But why not combine them. Doves were drinking water at the river's edge. There were small crocodiles nearby and we were told that they often catch these doves. So I backed off on my framing hoping to be ready for some action. That action never came that day. I framed the dove to the left so that I will capture the crocodile well as it would have pounced on the dove. I also placed the dove on the bottom so that I will still catch the action if it takes off trying to escape. Even without the crocodile action I still like the image.

This image mixes the abstract with wildlife. I love the abstract part of the image; the ripples, the color, the out of focus sections. It is almost as if the bird is out of place. But that is exactly what immediately draws the viewer's eyes to the dove. it stands out. This mixture of the abstract with wildlife creates discomfort, contrast, and mystery (is it real?).

          The light was flat. There is not much variety of color. There is not much difference as far as light and dark are concerned. It is the focus that calls your attention to the bird. It is the focus that creates the abstract side of things. Had this image been shot with a smaller aperture resulting in more of the image being in focus this image would not have worked.

          There are five things photographers can use compositionally:

  1. The obvious one here is the elements in the photograph and their placement;

  2. Brightness versus darkness. The human eye will always go to that which is bright rather than the darker parts of the image. Photographers can use brightness to guide the viewer's eyes to where he or she wants them to go;

  3. Color. Colors that stand out from the rest of the scene draws attention. We can use color to make our viewer's look where we want them to look;

  4. Focus. The eyes will always go to that which is in focus and avoid that which is out of focus. By selectively focusing on our subject and blurring the rest of the image we direct our viewers.

  5. The different. Whenever something is different from everything else that is where we will look. Our attention follows that which stands out. Take ten pens all lines up. They are all in focus. They are all the same color. However, one of them is significantly smaller than the others, or larger. This is what our attention will focus on.

In this image, the dove is placed in a strong compositional position and we used focus compositionally. Due to the circumstances, it turned out to be a mixture of abstract and wildlife. I think it came out nicely; a different kind of shot.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) abstract composition dove photography Pierre Steenberg tips wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/12/mixing-the-abstract-with-wildlife Sun, 13 Dec 2020 14:00:00 GMT
Animal interaction https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/12/animal-interaction This bird (oxpecker) had a free-range. The buffalo allowed it to go wherever it wanted to go unhindered. But why? Why would you allow a pesky bird to trample even on your eyelid? The poor buffalo had to close its eye in order to avoid injury. These animals have a symbiotic relationship. The buffalo needs to have ticks and bugs removed for its health and comfort while the bird needs food. One helps the other and vice versa.

          Knowing the relationship between these animals comes in handy for photography. We know that this is not a chance encounter and that the bird will stay on the buffalo. If you have the time and patience to watch them you may be rewarded. I chose this moment for the photograph because of the closed eye. It tells the story. It may be comical. It evokes questions. Showing interaction between animals is usually more interesting than just having one animal in an image.

          Be patient and wait for something special. Look for interaction between animals, especially interspecies interaction.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) buffalo oxpecker photography Pierre Steenberg tips wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/12/animal-interaction Sun, 06 Dec 2020 14:00:00 GMT
Zoom out a bit https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/11/zoom-out-a-bit With wildlife photography, we always want to zoom in close. It is tempting and for good reason as such images are striking. Sometimes, however, there are situations that just beg for a bit of space. Animal images showing them in their surroundings can also be great. Such images are good at telling a story. At other times the scene and what is in it dictates a wider view. Don't be afraid of taking wider angled images even for wildlife photography if the scene calls for it.

Why would you want to take this image more zoomed in? Framing it the way you see it here works well. Tell the story. Show their lives not just the animal by itself. Allow the atmosphere of the image to come through. Include nature.

          I treated this scene just as I would any landscape scene. I waited patiently tracking everything that happened through my viewfinder, ready to click at any moment. I felt the moment was right when these two elephants faced each other. Having them look this way prevents the viewer's eyes from leaving the image. Pay attention to such details as they can make or break your image. For images of wildlife shot with a wider field of view, the composition is very important. That is why I view the composition the same way I would for landscape images.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) dust elephants landscape photography Pierre Steenberg sunset tips wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/11/zoom-out-a-bit Sun, 29 Nov 2020 14:00:00 GMT
Difficult focusing https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/11/difficult-focusing Certain images are just easier for your camera to get in focus than others. In wildlife photography acquiring focus is not nearly as important as the camera's ability to track the focus (keeping your moving subject in focus). Once again, this can be a lot more difficult for certain situations than others. When animals have a clear blurred background your camera will smile. When animals move in behind other objects that obscure the camera's view of the animal your camera will cry. When the animal blends in with its surroundings and has similar looking or colored things very close to it, between it and the camera and right behind it in the background, your camera may throw a tantrum. The poor camera and lens will have to hunt for focus. It racks the focus forward and backward and most of the time everything looks out of focus, all the while, while your animal walks away. This is so frustrating both for you and your camera. Here is an image of just such a situation.

How can we make life easier for ourselves and our cameras in situations like this? The setup of your autofocus system has a lot to do with your success. Your camera (if "pro" enough) will have different autofocus settings. For great wildlife photography set the stickiness of the autofocus system fairly high. This way branches or grass will not let your camera lose focus.

          Secondly, when it is difficult to spot your subject, I prefer to take the camera out of the zone focus mode and I pick a specific focus spot. This tells your camera what you want in focus. You just hold the focus spot right on your target and then focus. Once focused your camera can lock onto your animal and the stickiness of the system will prevent it from being distracted by other things.

          Know the different focus settings of your camera and set it up for each situation. This is easier said than done. Cameras are computers that happen to be able to take images. They have hundreds of different settings and combinations of settings and menu choices. How are we supposed to remember the right settings for each scene, let alone how to actually set it that way and where to find the right settings in the menus?

          May I suggest a few helpful tips?

  • Use the "my menu" option in your menu settings. Store the most used settings there so that you don't have to search for items in the menus. Animals tend to move, they don't wait for you to change your camera's focus settings. Getting to the right settings instantly speeds things up dramatically.
  • An even better option is to set up and use the custom setting located on your mode dial. My camera has three custom settings there. I have one option programmed for landscape photography, another for wildlife (slower moving), and another for fast action. Once set up correctly, one turn of the dial has my camera set up perfectly for the situation at hand, and I don't have to remember or fiddle with any menu settings.
  • A third option is to use a custom button anywhere on your camera. My normal back focus button is set up one way while another button is set up for another focus mode. Focusing becomes really simple, press this button for zone focus and that for spot focus, for example.
  • If you don't shoot regularly, make sure you know which button or dial function does what before you go out photographing.

Having said all of that please know that not all autofocus systems are created equally. Some manufacturers shine at autofocus while others are slower and less sticky. Within each brand each tier of camera (consumer, prosumer, pro) will have different autofocus capabilities. Choose the right camera for what you want to shoot.

          All the best.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) autofocus camera photography Pierre Steenberg settings tips https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/11/difficult-focusing Sun, 22 Nov 2020 14:00:00 GMT
Learn body language https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/11/learn-body-language This Leopard walked around looking for something. It was evident in its body language. It seemed as if it had given up on whatever it was that it was looking for, for it just sat there and posed for us. It got up again and started to "walk." This walk was different from just walking. It was more focused. Its "look" was laser-locked. It was a fast-ish walk.

In a split second, everything changed. The Leopard darted to a log on the ground like lightning. I did not get a shot of that because another very selfish vehicle drove in right in front of us. When that vehicle was passed this is what we saw.

The Leopard grabbed this African Wild Cat from the log. Dust enveloped them. Things happened quickly, very quickly.

It was over. The Leopard got up and left with its lunch. The sad part is that a few photographers did not get the action right away. It happened too fast. There was no warning, or was there? The body language foretold what might be coming. Knowing how to read animal behavior can be really helpful. It can be the difference between getting the shot or getting the aftershow.

          Do a bit of reading prior to going on safari. Luckily for me, I grew up in Africa and have many years of experience in photographing wild-life. Just be prepared and being prepared speaks not just to your gear and travel arrangements but also of getting to know animal behavior and body language.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) Leopard Photography Pierre Steenberg wild-life https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/11/learn-body-language Sun, 15 Nov 2020 14:00:00 GMT
Get the shot https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/11/get-the-shot It was close to sunset. We were driving near Savuti in Botswana. A Leopard was spotted some distance away and we were in a race against time to get there before the sunset. As you can see from the image, we did get there BUT there was no sun and the light was failing quickly. We had to work fast to prevent too high ISO images. Most of our workshop participants had long lenses on which had to be changed because we got reasonably close to the leopard. On trips like this, I carry two bodies. One camera stays married to my 200-600mm while the other stays married to my 70-200mm. This gives me the flexibility to be ready for things far away and close by. Moments like this often don't last long. Not only was the available light getting pretty dim but we had to get back to camp before a certain time.

          The Leopard was exhausted and panting. It had just killed an Impala. There were no tall trees around to carry its catch into for safety. It had to rest up quickly and eat before other preditors arrived. After a few minutes, it got up and started working on its dinner. I did manage to get a few usable images of that too, but that was it. We had to leave and the light was no longer any good.

When we see something we don't often see and get to photograph it is important to work quickly. Just get the shot. Never mind a high ISO. Would you rather have a grainy or out of focus image because that is the only choice you have in situations like this? The noise cleaned up pretty well. What would you have done with your out-of-focus image? Shoot with whatever lens you have on. First, get the shot even if it is a portrait. Once you have an image or three it may be time to slap on a more appropriate lens.

          This is when it is important to know your kit and bag well. You need to be able to find the lens you want with one touch. You need to be able to work as quietly as possible. This is not the time to drop things. It is a good practice to practice quickly and quietly exchanging gear.

          We ended up getting our images that night. But being ready and able to quickly change lenses and settings is vital as you will see next week. The next day we met up with another Leopard and witnessed a kill. It happened in seconds, it took its catch and disappeared in the brush on its way to a hill. Many missed that opportunity because of missing these lessons.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) leopard photography Pierre Steenberg tips Wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/11/get-the-shot Sun, 08 Nov 2020 14:00:00 GMT
Animal Portraiture Composition https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/10/animal-portraiture-composition Animal portraits can be as interesting as that of humans. As with human portraits, there are a few guidelines that when followed typically lead to a nice image. Study this image for a while and ask yourself what makes this image pleasing to look at.

  1. The eyes or an eye needs to be sharp. Animals may have much longer faces than humans. To get the whole face sharply in focus wait a bit for a side profile. See point number 5. Sometimes our depth of field is shallow. A shallower depth of field requires a side profile to get everything sharp.

  2. The face needs to be fairly large in the frame. The face is the image in portraiture, therefore show the face large.

  3. There needs to be space for the animal to look into. In other words, there must be more space in front of the face than behind the head.

  4. Wait for the right moment, the right expression, the right look.

  5. Blur the background to prevent distractions. You do this by using a large aperture (a smaller number is a bigger aperture).

  6. Overcast light is a very good light for portraits. This light is soft and often flattering.

Follow these guidelines to improve your portraitures. 


[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) Animal photography Pierre Steenberg portraits https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/10/animal-portraiture-composition Sun, 25 Oct 2020 13:00:00 GMT
Follow the Action https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/10/follow-the-action The rule of thumb with almost all photography is to follow the action. In landscape photography that may be where the color is, or where the drama is. In most sports photography it is where the ball, puck, etc. is. In wildlife photography that may be in behavior, or the teeth. Follow the action to get more dynamic and more interesting images.

          The baboons came to drink. There may have been 40 or more of them. Which one do your photograph? In which scene do you invest to yield the best images. The rule of thumb suggests following the action.

I decided to focus on the two fellows who were fighting. The little guy tried to get away. The bigger one went on the pursuit and caught up to the little guy. He grabbed him to pull him back down. He is already looking down to orchestrate their fall. The little guy is not happy. He is hurting as he is being pulled. His face tells the story. This image is alive with the story. Would an image of these two same fellows just sitting next to each other have been this interesting?

          Following the action paid off. Always ask yourself, what is the most interesting thing I can see right now? Photograph that. It may not always be the easiest thing to shoot. In this case, it was very difficult. The two are moving really quickly. Keeping up with them with a long lens is not easy. Keeping them fully in the frame is not easy. Keeping focus can be a struggle as they run behind obscuring objects. To make matters worse, most of the time there is an annoying stick, leave, branch, or whatever, in the wrong place to ruin the image.

          Just persist. Keep on going. Follow the action. The moment will come when you get that shot with the story. It is because these images are difficult to get that make them so scarce (the good ones). That is the very thing that makes your images stand out.


[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) baboons fighting photography Pierre Steenberg wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/10/follow-the-action Sun, 18 Oct 2020 13:00:00 GMT
Get Creative with Animals https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/10/get-creative-with-animals Okay, so you already have 21 images of the elephant bathing in the mud or drinking water. Do you shoot 40 more or drive off in search of your next target? Wait, what about a third option? Zoom in really tight and take closeups or abstracts of the animal. What about trying your hand at more creative images?

Taking images like this can be difficult and frustrating. They require a lot of patience and trial and error. Most of your images will probably end up in the trash bin. But then again, you may end up with one or two creative images like the one of this elephant throwing mud on itself. Because we are zoomed in so tightly many images will have cut off the trunk. Or the nice mud pattern will be too high and out of shot.

          Here are a few tips to help you play the creative game:

  • Zoom in tight on where the action is or what you want a shot of.

  • Set a very fast shutter speed and high frame rate. This is needed to catch that moment just right. A split second can make all the difference.

  • Shoot and shoot and shoot.

  • Quickly review what you got and make adjustments accordingly.

  • Shoot and shoot and shoot again.

This is a numbers game that just requires you to keep on going for some time. The moment will come when you get that perfect image. These kinds of images are very cool. People can just stare at them for a long time. They evoke smiles. They sometimes evoke questions. You are presenting something that few people have seen that way or even noticed before. You get images that are different, that stand out. These are images that are not only a recording of the sight everyone saw, but art. This is creative.


[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) animals creative photography Pierre Steenberg wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/10/get-creative-with-animals Sun, 11 Oct 2020 13:00:00 GMT
Bee-Eaters https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/10/bee-eaters Bee-Eaters are colorful and make for great images. We were on a photography boat on the Chobe river in Botswana during one of our (with my photography partners Don Smith and Henning de Beer) workshops. We saw this bee-eater and parked the board on the riverbank. The bird flew here and there and did not stay on one perch for long. It seemed too quick to allow for enough time to make a good image. So, how then do we capture nice photographs of this bird in this situation?

The best way to photograph these birds, when they seem to zip around without lingering anywhere long enough to acquire the bird in the viewfinder to photograph, is to put the camera down. Yes, put the camera down, stop photographing. The thing to know about these birds and many other species is that they are habitual. They have certain favorite perches and will always go back to the same ones. Spend some time to just watch them, take note of where they land, and sit. Once you find out their routine, where they always go, choose the perch that the bird actually uses that suits you best. Think about the distance between you and perch and how long your lens is. How does the background look? Are you at the best angle? What angle is the light coming from? You have time. Think about all these things and pick the best perch that will yield the best image.

          Now, set up your view for only that one spot, and just wait. The bird will come back (if you picked one of the bird's favorite perches). The next time the bird comes to that perch you will be ready. Even if the bird only stays there momentarily you will be ready because your viewfinder is fixed on the perches and you have already acquired proper focus before the bird even showed up (or reasonably close to it). So be patient, watch the bird, learn its habits, and then prepare to photograph it accordingly.

          An added benefit to this course of action is that it minimized your movement. Some birds can be very skittish. The slightest movement from you can spook them. Having picked one perched and being pre-setup means that you are not moving around. You are just sitting still waiting. This makes the bird more comfortable to stay there a bit longer.

          Getting the know these birds can be the difference between getting the image or not. So spend some time watching them prior to photographing them if they don't sit still for long.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) African Bee-eater bird photography Pierre Steenberg tips tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/10/bee-eaters Sun, 04 Oct 2020 13:00:00 GMT
Focus and Motion https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/9/focus-and-motion Should all images always be totally in focus? We all know that blurred backgrounds are very nice when shooting flowers, animals, and portraits. However, should the main element in the photograph be fully in focus? Many would say "yes." I would say, "not always." If you photograph a helicopter or a prop-driven airplane it just does not look right if the rotors or props are frozen in mid-air. We need to show them moving. So the helicopter or plane needs to be sharp but the rotors and props need to be blurred. What about animals? Should every part of the animal be in focus?

Here you can see that the face and eyes are sharp but the wingtips are not. This is due not to a focusing issue but the used shutter speed. The wings are moving faster than the shutter speed is able to freeze. Is this a problem? Does it detract from the image? I would argue that it artistically adds to the image. We sometimes do this on purpose to show movement, to create the feeling that the eagle is coming.

          We do this by choosing a shutter speed fast enough to freeze the bird, helicopter, plane, etc. but slow enough to blur the faster moving objects (wingtips, rotors, props, etc.). We do the same with moving cars, bicycles, and so forth because their wheels need to show motion. Yet, the car or bicycle needs to be sharp.

          Experiment with your shutter speed the next time you shoot moving objects. Try to get that balance that renders that which needs to be in focus, sharp while leaving blurred that which moves faster. Whatever you do, if there are a face and eyes they need to be sharp.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) blur focus motion photography Pierre shutter speed Steenberg wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/9/focus-and-motion Sun, 13 Sep 2020 13:00:00 GMT
The Crossroads of Image Editing https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/9/the-crossroads-of-image-editing It is said that there are two groups of image editors. There are those who enjoy the process of image editing as much or more than actually taking images. These people are good at image editing. They know their software very well. They typically use Lightroom or PhotoShop. Many of them use other software as well, perhaps On1, Topaz, and Luminar, to mention a few. They know hundreds of steps and create beautiful images. They spend a lot of time editing but they don't mind it as they like doing it.

          Then there are those who enjoy photography (making images in the field) more than image editing. This group is not as well versed with editing software as the previous group. They are often frustrated because they see (in their imagination) what they want to do with the image in editing but they often don't know how to get the image there, in post-processing. They find post-processing overwhelming and limiting (by their limited skills).

          I personally find myself somewhere in between these two groups. I love being out there making images but I also enjoy the editing part. I know my software reasonably well but have also been very frustrated that I just can't achieve in post-processing what I want to. I am just not good enough in PhotoShop. Let me put it this way. If I had to do a self-assessment I would rate my photography knowledge and skills much higher than my editing skills. I am a very quick learner but my schedule is beyond busy and I just don't have the time to get more proficient at PhotoShop. I heard someone say that many photographers have spent an average of sixteen years learning PhotoShop. I too have used PhotoShop for many years, but due to all the things I am involved in, I have not spent as much time as needed on it.

          How will the first group of photographers get more time to be in the field as they are consumed with computer work (even if they love computer work)? How will the second group of photographers get their final image better when they either don't know how to get it better or don't have the time to properly learn all the software necessary for the job?

          Artificial intelligence (AI) has matured to such a level that image editing software is at a crossroads. This is a crossroad I am very, very happy to stand in front of. One fork of the crossroad is using AI to make their software better and more precise. The processes and steps used are still similar or even the same but will yield much better results. AI is working behind the scenes. The other fork of the crossroad is using AI to make their software different and better. AI is not working behind the scenes on this road but is front and center. AI does for you what you don't know how to do yourself in the software. Now I remember people saying, in the mid-1980s, as autofocus was introduced that "the day I can no longer focus my own images is the day I quit photography." People might now feel the same way, if I don't process my own images it is not my image. I don't feel the same way. I have a vision of what I want the image to look like. As long as the final image reflects that vision I don't care how I get there - doing it myself (which I have already admitted I am not as proficient in as I should be) or letting AI do it for me. To me, it is all about the final image, not how I get there. I am an image person, not a process person.

          This is why this second fork is what I am so excited about. Imagine loading an image into your software and the software's AI will analyze your image, measure depth, know what is in your image and recognize elements, then suggest just about perfect results to you. You pick from a few suggestions and with two clicks your image is transformed and you are basically done. Imagine if this software still allows you full control, should you want it, to refine their suggestions to closer align with your vision for that image.

          We are reaching that fork in the road this holiday season. Skylum, the creators of Luminar 4, is coming out with a brand new product called Luminar AI. What you have just imagined is coming true. AI is here not just working behind the scenes but upfront. Have you ever looked at an image in your editing software and not known where to begin with the post-processing process? Now AI will take the lead and show you what it thinks. Soon you will have a vision of how you want that image to look like if you did not have one from the start. Two clicks and your image is transformed. Yet, you retain control so that you can change things so that it will be your image with your look.

To get a sneak peek at what is coming, have a look here:

Luminar AI

Disclaimer: I am an affiliate of Skylum and have been on webinars about this software. I have been able to ask questions directly to Skylum. When you buy software from this link you save and I get a "coffee." I personally use Luminar software on 100% of my images and love it.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) artificial intelligence edit editing Luminar 4 Luminar AI photo post-processing software https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/9/the-crossroads-of-image-editing Sun, 06 Sep 2020 13:00:00 GMT
Intimate Wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/6/intimate-wildlife From time to time we have the good fortune to get really close to wildlife. Firstly, always stay safe. Wild animals are wild and can injure or kill you. Secondly, don't go close to wild animals. It is one thing if they know you are there and see you and come to you but don't go to them. Thirdly, don't let predators come close to you.

          When we have close encounters we should try to get intimate images. This Bushbuck came close to us. It helps make the animal feel safer if you avoid eye contact. Look to the side and keep them in your peripheral vision. Move slowly and keep quiet. This fellow and her mate cautiously came towards me. Here are the two images I took:

The first one was taken just before sunrise. There is something special to look right into her eyes. Lift your camera to your eye while still looking to the side then slowly rotate to face the animal. This is an intimate image. The viewer is connecting with the animal. We almost want to touch it. We are staring at each other. This is special.

          The second image was taken a few minutes later as the sun came up. Try to get that warm light fall on the animal. Photographing animals like this with a short to shortish lens from close up is an experience. Try to give your viewer that same experience. The surroundings should not be totally blurred as that is what long lenses do and the experience of meeting the animal in the environment where they live is lost.

          I know that this experience was probably more special to me that it will ever be to the viewer because of my encounter but I try to show that encounter to the viewer. I attempt to catch the intimacy.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) photography Pierre Steenberg tips tricks wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/6/intimate-wildlife Sun, 14 Jun 2020 07:06:00 GMT
Do wildlife photography from a low angle https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/6/do-wildlife-photography-from-a-low-angle Drone photography has really taken off and for good reason. Some drone taken images are just wonderful. If you look at really good wildlife images though you will notice they are often taken from eye-level or lower. There is just something about being at the animal's level; seeing things from their perspective. It makes it appear as if you are with them. Photographing wildlife from a low angle also creates a bit of wonder. It makes people ask, "how did he/she shoot that?"

Get down low. Lay down if you need to (as long as it is safe to do so). Such images have a unique perspective. Viewers love to be shown things in a way they have not seen before. Most viewers will never see a guinea fowl from this angle which makes the image more special. This perspective also makes the animal seem larger and taller than what it really is.

          When shooting upwards make sure that your sky is not distracting or just plain definitionless gray. If the sky is not pleasing then don't include it. In an attempt to create a special connection with the animal it helps to shoot from eye-level or lower. It almost makes the viewer feel part of the scene instead of looking down on the animal. As photographers, it is our job to find intriguing and interesting angles to shoot from. For animals try shooting from low down.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) animal photography Pierre Steenberg wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/6/do-wildlife-photography-from-a-low-angle Sun, 07 Jun 2020 13:00:00 GMT
Quick takes https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/5/quick-takes Sometimes the unexpected happens, even in landscape photography. So we were on Safari, which means that we are all looking for wildlife to photograph. Our whole focus is looking under the bushes trying to search for lions or other wildlife. No one is looking for landscape images. We drove out into a clearing and this is what I see:

This is not your typical landscape image. We don't have lead-in lines or much depth. Yet, I find this image appealing. I love the rays of light shooting out. I had the drive reposition us to allow me to get the sun star. The tree itself is full of character as Boabab trees usually are. The backlit foliage in the foreground is nicely lit and has a nice color to them. The sky is pleasing too with warm tones. It kind of all comes together.

          I just want to remind us all not to be so focussed on the purpose of being out (in this case, wildlife photography) that we lose sight of other photographic opportunities. This image was just a quick take, but don't forget about the quick takes. Always be on the lookout of any and all opportunities. However brief, take the opportunity.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) landscape photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/5/quick-takes Sun, 31 May 2020 13:00:00 GMT
The landscape as backdrop https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/5/the-landscape-as-backdrop Usually, the landscape is our image but have you thought of using the landscape as the background? By now we have our wide shots (see the post from two weeks ago) and we also have our more intimate closeup images (see last week's post) but why stop there? How about finding something in the foreground that is interesting and using the landscape as the background? The foreground now becomes the image and the landscape, however majestic, just adds to it.

We are still at Victoria Falls but we are trying to get more and different images from the same shoot. So we lower our angle and move in closer. The ferns and flowers are what make the image but the rainbow and the falls behind it all adds so much to the image. As always, remember to focus on your composition. I moved around here to find this composition with the leaves at the bottom leading the viewer's eye into the image. Pay attention to small details.

          Most of all, be on the lookout for images like this. The waterfall can be so dramatic that it demands our undivided attention but this is a trap, don't fall for it. Once you have the image of the main attraction start looking at what is closer to you. Start finding things to photograph while still using the falls and the rainbow as a background. Our goal is not just to enjoy the waterfall but to be detectives looking for every possible image we can find (assuming we are talking about good images).

          So, in conclusion of the last three weeks, get the main attraction then get more intimate with longer lenses, and then use the dramatic landscape as a background to get even more images from the shoot. Concentrate on "seeing." Seeing the images to shoot is 80% of photography or more. Learn to get into the mode of seeing ALL the possibilities not just the obvious ones.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) backdrop background backgrounds landscape photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/5/the-landscape-as-backdrop Sun, 24 May 2020 13:00:00 GMT
The intimate landscape https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/5/the-intimate-landscape Many experts will tell you that the best views for landscape photography are wide views, therefore we should use wide-angle lenses for landscape photography. There is truth to their view but we should not limit ourselves to only one look. Once we have our wide shot (see last week's post on the Victoria Falls), why not slap on a longer lens and try some more intimate landscape images. So here we go ...

This image is still of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe but I zoomed right in and took a more intimate image. We still need to pay attention to good composition. There still needs to be something prominent for the eye to go back to. I have chosen a shutter speed that shows the water flowing (by using blur) yet still leaving some definition so that the water is not just a blur. Just take a few exposures using different shutter speeds so that you can pick the best one. I cannot tell you to use a shutter of .... (insert value) because there are too many variables at play to determine that for every situation. These variables are the speed at which the water is falling and the focal length of your lens. The longer the lens the more blur there is (because your field of view is closer).

We can even go a bit more abstract. Just don't be afraid of shooting landscapes with longer lenses. Get a variety of images from the same shoot. I have chosen a faster shutter speed here because I wanted to freeze the water a bit more. I needed to do so, so that it is not just a blur. In the previous image, the rocks provide sharp focus but here I don't really have that.

          Be creative. Get as many different images of a shoot as you can. Push yourself.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) close images intimate landscape lens Pierre Steenberg telephoto up https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/5/the-intimate-landscape Sun, 17 May 2020 13:00:00 GMT
Atmosphere and mood https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/5/atmosphere The atmosphere and mood of an image can play an important part in photography. Some of the best atmospheric and moody images are taken when there is mist or fog. Let's look at an image of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.


The mist is really important here as it adds to the mood of the image. It also helps the sun to give color to the image. Timing in these situations is important. Too much mist and you lose the detail of what is behind the mist. When taking a moody image of a swan for example you want lots of mist or fog because it gets rid of the background but in a landscape image like this too much mist ruins the shot (and your gear). With not enough mist the mood and atmosphere of the image are lost. The mist typically comes and goes with lulls in the wind. So just time it right and you have your shot.

This image helps us to compare the atmosphere and mood between the two images. Can you see that this second image just does not have the same atmosphere and mood as the first image? So go out and try to capture more mood and atmosphere in your images. Many sleep in when there is fog. Many put their cameras away when there is mist. Great images are often made when we don't do what non-photographers do. We should be out photographing when non-photographers are at home. We should probably be home when others are out. The reason for this is that others go out for the experience and the experience needs to be pleasant for them. Photographers go out to take great images and are very willing to have terrible experiences (wet, cold, early, etc.) as long as they get great images. Sometimes we get both a great experience and good images but most of the time you need to decide between the experience and the great image.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) atmosphere landscape mood photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/5/atmosphere Sun, 10 May 2020 13:00:00 GMT
Animal Portraits https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/5/animal-portraits We take portraits of people so why can't we also take portraits of animals? I guess we can. What can we learn from taking portraits of people that can be applied to animal portraits? So what works for making good portrait images of people?

  • Great composition

  • Emotion

  • Much of the success of awesome people's portraits are in the eyes

  • Finding a great face with character

  • Good lighting

          The composition of animal portraits is just as important as in portraits of people. However, some animals' faces are not as flat as ours. In fact, some of them can have very long faces which creates focus issues, especially when taken with a long lens (as you cannot get close to them). Long lenses have a shallower depth of field.

          Emotion in animal portraits can be just as strong and important. Their eyes can also communicate a lot but they don't listen to your instructions so getting that moment is more difficult and requires more patience. The best lighting for good outdoor portraits is when the sky is overcast. I am not talking about gloomy skies. There should still be a good amount of light, the light just has to be diffused and soft.

Because of the crocodile's long face, it is probably best to take the image from the side to retain focus. You can see that the light is nice and soft. The focus has to be sharp on the eye. If the eye is not in focus the image is trash. What do that eye and face tell you? Do you trust this fellow?

Don't be afraid of going in really closely especially if the portrait is telling a story. The story here is the interaction between the bird and the buffalo. So that needs to be shown and it is best shown by getting in close.

This fellow is tired, tired of life. Once again, I am really in closely. Let your animal portraits say something, communicate emotion, and get close.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) animal photography Pierre portrait Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/5/animal-portraits Sun, 03 May 2020 13:00:00 GMT
Show life https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/4/show-life In wildlife photography it is important to showcase life, show life living, doing what wildlife does. This means that we need to show the animal doing something. I have said this before, images of animals just looking at you are generally boring. Watch the animals, observe their behavior. Show what they do.

This image is so much more interesting than one where the baboon just stared at the viewer with an expressionless face. So how do you capture images like this? It just takes patience. You have to watch the animal through the viewfinder, finger on the shutter. It may take a long time to get an image showing action but that is the price you are asked to pay to get an image worthy of the animal it portrays.

          Make sure to pick a large aperture because we want the background blurred. We want the animal to stand out, distraction-free. Most people have probably never seen a baboon's teeth. So when they see them in your image it makes them stop and look. It creates a central point of interest. As usual, frame the image right with more space in front of the animal than behind the animal.

          So show life. Capture animals living. Show their behavior. Show their interaction with one another or with nature.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) animal photography Pierre Steenberg wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/4/show-life Sun, 26 Apr 2020 13:00:00 GMT
Animal interaction https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/4/animal-interaction Animals also have emotions. Dogs, for example, are happy to see you when you come home. They like interacting with you. Wildlife is no different. Elephants are said to mourn at the death of a family member. Gannets rejoice when their partner gets back to the nest. Animals interact with each other. They play. They cuddle. They fight. That is what we should be capturing to get more interesting images.

Here is a little one nibbling on Mom's nose. Would you prefer a shot of both of them just standing there looking at you instead? I doubt it. Animal interaction is interesting. It calls forth emotions within the viewer, perhaps a chuckle. Animal interactions make them more relatable to the viewer. It personifies them. The viewer's eyes are always going to go straight to where the action is which can be used compositionally. Here that interaction is placed where the rule of thirds lines insect, which is a very strong compositional position. Both the foreground and the background are blurred so nothings else competes for your attention.

          Spend time with animals. Get to know their behavior. Capture their behavior and show them interact with each other. It just adds a bit of sparkle to wildlife images.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) animal interaction photography Pierre Steenberg wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/4/animal-interaction Sun, 19 Apr 2020 13:00:00 GMT
Size and Proportions https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/4/size-and-proportions When different sizes and proportions are juxtaposed it creates contrast. This is when we see how large something really is and conversely, how small something really is. We only see this when something large is placed next to something small. One gives a sense of scale to the other and vice-versa. Such juxtapositions often leave the viewer with awe at best and wonder wat worst, both of which are wonderful.

When a photographer sees something large and something small he or she would be well advised to try to place them both in one image. This is the time to practice patience. Wait for that moment. When one of the two objects interact or intersect with the other things can get very interesting. In this case, the baby is in a precarious position. Is Mom accidentally going to step on the baby?

          I was camped in Mana Pools, Zimbabwe once. My only protection was a little two-man tent. An elephant visited my "residence." I stood watching from a distance. Not once did the elephant even touch one of the anchor ropes. This baby is safe! Still, the image makes one wonder, perhaps even hold one's breath.

          In this image, we have a comparison of size and proportion, power and vulnerability, strength and fragility. This image brings emotion forth from the viewer. It is an image a person can connect with. It tells a story. It speaks of being tired. Mom's foot is in the air which adds to the suspense and questions. Where is that foot going to land?

          Look for size and proportion comparisons. Use them to show scale. Better yet, attempt to let them create a bit of drama.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) elephant photography Pierre Steenberg wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/4/size-and-proportions Sun, 12 Apr 2020 13:00:00 GMT
Life and Death https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/4/life-and-death Nature is nature, a place where life and death battle each other every day. Capture it. Chronicle life. At times these scenes evoke questions such as what do you do when you catch more than you can chew? How is this bird going to swallow the catch? Let's look at an image.

So how do we capture scenes like these? Today I am not going to talk about settings and autofocus and frame rates, and such. Rather I would like to share about being ready. This bird surfaced for just a few seconds and disappeared under the water, fish and all, as fast as it appeared. This is not the time to start asking which settings to use or worse yet, how to set the camera in the first place.

          It amazes me how many people will spend a lot of money to come on a workshop with us without knowing their equipment. We really need to be better prepared. Before going on an important shoot make sure you know how to set the camera (not which settings but how to actually set it). Read the manual through again. Make sure you know which buttons do what and where they are. Make sure you know the menu system. As an instructor, I can give you the settings but it is really hard for me to help you set your camera because every camera system is different. Even if I happen to know your particular brand's settings well, by the time you have handed me your camera and received it back the bird is long gone.

          The best advice I can give you is to practice. Go shoot regularly. Play with your camera. Preparation is the key to being ready to capture scenes when they present themselves.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) bird fish Nature photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/4/life-and-death Sun, 05 Apr 2020 13:00:00 GMT
Capturing birds in flight https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/3/capturing-birds-in-flight Getting good pictures of birds in flight can be some of the most difficult types of photography you can do. The smaller the bird the more difficult to capture. They move very fast and can change direction quickly. Your autofocus has to be even faster to get these images sharp. It can take years of practice to perfect your technique. I suggest starting with the bigger birds. One problem that the beginner has to overcome is the underestimation of the bird's wingspan. The bird sits there. You zoom in loosely because you need to leave room for the expanded wings in the frame. You are ready. The bird takes off. You review your images (shot in burst mode) only to find clipped wings. You will be surprised at the wingspan of birds but people often only notice this once they start to attempt to get birds in flight images.

Here are a few things I find helpful:

  • Get to know your bird's behavior. They often signal before they take off by lowering their necks.

  • Please leave enough room for large wingspans.

  • Having lots of megapixels are advantageous because you can afford to leave enough room and crop later while still retaining enough resolution to be useful.

  • Good light is still essential.

  • Use the fastest possible shutter speed to freeze the wings' movement. Remember the wings move much faster than the bird. At times one can get creative images of sharp birds in flight with blurred wings. Those images can also work.

  • The eye has to be sharp, period.

  • It takes a lot of practice and patience, don't give up.

Getting great images of birds in flight can be very rewarding. Even if you don't succeed, trying will make you appreciate good birds in flight photographs even more.


[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) birds flight in photography Pierre Steenberg wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/3/capturing-birds-in-flight Sun, 29 Mar 2020 13:00:00 GMT
Intimacy in wildlife photography https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/3/intimacy-in-wildlife-photography We often show animals in their environment and take landscape images of animals in the landscape. These images can be wonderful and I advocate composing images in this way. Then we zoom in a bit and show the animal in a way that has the animal fill the image. Zooming in, even more, we may take an animal portrait. But why stop there?

          There are many nice images to be had by zooming in even more. Photograph just a part of the animal. These images can be very intimate and interesting. At times they ask, "what is that?" At other times they have people say, "wow, I never realized that elephants have hair!" Or people comment about the texture of its skin. For many people, your photograph may be the closest look they have ever had of the animal in question. These images make us see things we have never seen before. They amaze us.

So please don't stop zooming in. Find something interesting by zooming right in, get something intimate and close. For the most part, I like these images to still be recognizable, but that is just my personal preference. I also prefer that there is still something specific that draws attention for compositional reasons.

          Challenge yourself. Shoot using different focal lengths. Go for the intimate. Give people something that they probably have never seen before. Zoom in. Remember not to get too close to wild animals, for their comfort and your safety. Use that long lens instead.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) closeup photography Pierre Steenberg wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/3/intimacy-in-wildlife-photography Sun, 22 Mar 2020 13:00:00 GMT
Focus creates interest https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/3/focus-creates-interest Firstly, I am not talking about focus, as in focusing the lens, here. I am talking about when animals focus in a special way. Animals just live their lives. They go about their business. Then there are times of special focus. Their behavior changes. All the attention is zoomed in on one thing, they have a clear and solitary focus. If you can capture that you often have an image where even people who don't know animal behavior can pick up the tension and realize that suspense. Perhaps the preditor is just laying around then gets up because it sees its dinner. The way it looks at the dinner is very different from just looking around a few moments ago. They are laser-focused, distraction-free. You can see it in their posture and their gaze. On the other hand, the prey also focusses on the situation and is very alert. You can see their behavior change.

          During our recent African Safari Photography Workshop, we were in special photography boats on the river bank. Baboons were horsing around and playing with each other. There was no special focus. Then one of them got thirsty. However, every time they take a drink they are taking their lives into their own hands as crocodiles lurk beneath the waters. The only way to increase their chances of surviving drinking from the river is to be laser-focussed when they drink. They lean back to stay as far away from the water as they can. All attention is on the water looking for any sign of movement. Their muscles are ready to jump backward should a crocodile attempt to strike.

          This fellow is right-handed as both right hand and right leg are closer to the water, ready to propel him backward at any time. He is ready for action.

Just look at those eyes. You can see that this is serious business. He is not looking at the water right in front of him where he is drinking but further ahead. There is danger and he needs to be on the lookout. As wildlife photographers, we want to capture such focus because it tells a story and creates interest. We want to know what happened. Did he survive? (he did)

          When you see animals really focussing pay attention. Be ready for something may happen. Even if nothing special happens you still end up with a shot that shows the focus and tells the story.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) baboon drinking photography Pierre Steenberg wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/3/focus-creates-interest Sun, 15 Mar 2020 13:00:00 GMT
Life is harsh, show it https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/3/life-is-harsh-show-it Life is harsh. Life happens and it is not always kind. In the animal world, it is often eat or be eaten. When you witness a kill I always hear people rooting for the hunted and expressing their sadness at what just happened. Yet, the hunter also has to eat and feed it's young. When the hunted gets aways I rarely hear people empathize with the hungry hunter. I am not taking sides here, rather I am just pointing out the reality of life in the wild; a harsh reality.

          My wife looked at a few of my African images and exclaimed in horror, "oh no, don't show that ..." The reason for her plea is quite understandable as these images evoke emotions and reactions that are not pleasant. Yet, images that moved the world and stood the test of time are often images that showcase the harsh reality of life. I choose to show it, yet acknowledge that these images are not for everyone.

This Egret found a baby bird to eat. After a struggle to get it eaten it finally succeeded. This is that harsh life. This image makes me ask questions:

  • Did the baby die before the Egret found it?

  • Did the Egret kill it?

  • Where is the mother of the baby?

These questions keep me looking at the image as my mind thinks about them. The longer an image keeps the viewer's attention the better. Harsh or not, we just record life and show it.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) harsh life photography Pierre Steenberg Wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/3/life-is-harsh-show-it Sun, 08 Mar 2020 13:00:00 GMT
Wildlife Moments 2 https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/3/wildlife-moment-2 Continuing on with last week's topic, always try to add something special to wildlife photography. Capture special little moments. Ideas about what helps to provide special moments are:

  • Capturing action, such as animals fighting

  • Animal interaction, like a mother looking at her baby or birds intertwining their necks

  • Typical animal behavior that shows their character

  • Running, jumping, diving, etc.

I say it again but the best advice I have for wildlife photographers is to keep following your subject through the viewfinder always being ready. Even slowish moments can happen too quickly for you to react if you are not ready. Be on the lookout for behavior that is repeated because that will tell you what to expect and warn you to be ready when it happens again.

          Many elephants crossed the river to graze on islands because the grass there has not been eaten by other animals (they can't cross the river in fear of crocodiles). An elephant started to kick/push the ground with his foot to loosen the grass. He did it quite a few times which got me this image:

Would this image have been a capture of a special little moment if the elephant just stood there? These images are all about capturing the right moment. The right moment is when something special is happening. The right moment captures a slice of time that is more interesting than other times, a slice of time that asks questions, create wonder, that draws attention, and that makes the viewer want to look at your image.

          Sure, I have many images of animals just standing there, but they are not that good and people don't get excited looking at them. To make your images stand out something in the image has to be outstanding, different, special, say something, evoke emotion, and generate curiosity. Capturing the right moment does that.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) photography Pierre Steenberg wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/3/wildlife-moment-2 Sun, 01 Mar 2020 14:00:00 GMT
Wildlife Moments https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/2/wildlife-moments Photography is all about capturing a moment in time that can have someone look at it for a long time. Wildlife photography is no different, in fact, wildlife photography is even more about capturing that right moment. What makes great wildlife photographs great is often determined by whether a special moment was captured or not. In wildlife photography, these moments happen in a split second. As you will remember from last week's blog, this is why patience is required. Nothing can happen all day long and then all of a sudden the special moment is there. These special moments disappear as fast as they come.

Here we have all the pieces of a good image. The late afternoon sun is nice and warm. The elephant is walking into the image, there is more space in front of it than behind it. There is nice color in the image. Yet, even so, this would have been just another elephant shot had it not been for the water splash. This is what I mean by saying we should try to capture special little moments. When these moments are added to your images they are much more interesting. They often evoke questions. They often freeze something different from what the next guy has.

          So, how do you get images of wildlife showing special little moments? Here are a few tips that may help:

  • Learn to know animal behavior. The better you know the animals you photograph the better you will be able to predict when something is going to happen. I will write more about this in the coming months relaying how I got the image when I witnessed a Leopard kill.

  • Be ready. Yes, this can be boring but you have to be ready for when it happens it is too late to lift up your camera and shoot. Track the animal, expecting something, even if it is for a long time.

  • Set your camera to expect fast action. This means a fast shutter speed and focus tracking.

  • Position yourself in the best possible place. For wildlife, that means you need to be at eye-level or below. Be ahead, where the action is coming to.

Do your best to include something different, something special in your wildlife images. Make them stand out.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) action moment photography Pierre Steenberg tips tricks wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/2/wildlife-moments Sun, 23 Feb 2020 14:00:00 GMT
Wildlife and patience https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/2/wildlife-and-composition Wildlife photography is really difficult! Yes, anybody can take a nice-looking image of a static animal just looking at you. To get a great wildlife image is what is really hard. It takes boatloads full of patience, not the sit and wait kind of patience where you can relax and look around while you wait for the sun to get to a certain position. No, this kind of wait is taxing because you have the keep tracking the animal through your camera's viewfinder while you wait for that right moment, the right expression, or the right composition. Doing this with a long lens for long periods of time wears on you. It can get frustrating as you follow that monkey who does nothing while the others are displaying great action. Not a problem you think, just track the horsing around monkeys and photograph them. So you do, and as Murphy would have it, just then your original monkey does something awesome and you missed it. Or just at the right moment of action your animal walk in behind a tree and you miss it.

          Don't get discouraged. Just bring two boatloads full of patience and keep doing what you are doing. The key to great wildlife photography is to capture the right moment, that right expression, or that right composition. On our recent African Safari workshop, we were on photographic boats which make the task of tracking the animals with your heavy lens easy because the boat had professional gimbal supports built-in. Sometime before sunset we would search for elephants and position ourselves so that we are shooting into the setting sun. Here is that capture:

I really like this image. What makes it what it is, is also the composition. When do you take the shot? The elephant is constantly moving. You don't want the elephant to look to the right because then the viewer's gaze would also move to the right and leave the image. If I was lying I would tell you that I had to watch the elephant's movement closely and snap the image with him looking slightly to the left so that he and the sun complement each other. But that is not how you successfully get great wildlife images. So how do you get that right moment or right composition when photographing animals? Truth be told, things happen much too fast for you to snap at the right moment. So you shoot at the camera's fastest frame rate and pick the right image later. You shoot thousands of images and end up with just a few good ones. So the trick is not as much when you shoot, although you still do your best to frame it right, the trick is to select the right image out of the sequence. Pay attention to the composition and pick the image that works best as a whole. This requires even more patience because you are looking at sequences of 20 or 40 images of the same scene. Look at each one carefully because expressions, action, and composition can change with each image. Pick the best one.

          Gather all the patience you can find and go out and find some wildlife to photograph. By the way, if you would like to join us on our next African Safari workshop in 2021 please contact me.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition patience photography Pierre Steenberg wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/2/wildlife-and-composition Sun, 16 Feb 2020 14:00:00 GMT
Wait https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/2/wait Everyone left. Why would they stay? After all the sky is dreary. It is cold. Whatever poor light there was is gone and it is not coming back, right? Most of the time that is right, but when you are wrong you might miss something nice. For when special light appears in a dreary scene it makes for great photography. Let's look at an example:

The "special" light just hits El Capitan. Nothing else in this scene gets good light. However, the light on El Capital is orange because the sun is really low behind us shining through an opening in the clouds. It draws the viewer to El Capitan. That small area of orange light is enough to add punch, something special to this image. Unfortunately, only two photographers saw this as everyone else left. What a pity.

          Stay longer. Linger. Just wait a bit. Most of the time nothing will develop but from time to time something does and then it was very worth it to wait.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) landscape light photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/2/wait Sun, 09 Feb 2020 14:00:00 GMT
Featuring iconic elements as secondary interest https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/2/featuring-iconic-elements-as-secondary-interest We have all seen great photography featuring iconic elements. The iconic elements are often the main subject of the image. When we go to Yosemite National Park, for example, we prominently feature El Capital or Half Dome as the main subject. They are so iconic and photogenic that it is hard to withstand the temptation to shoot them in any other way. Once you have your iconic image however why not challenge yourself to get images containing the icon but featured as a secondary interest rather than the main thing?

Half Dome is certainly not hidden. It is an important element in this scene. However, Half Dome is not where your eyes go immediately upon viewing this image. The sun star pulls the eyes first. The backlit foliage and trees are strong compositionally. Half Dome takes a back seat here. Everybody seeing this image will know where it is taken but the image is a bit different. This is not your standard iconic shot of the icon. These images are more difficult to get. They are also yours rather than taking an image that everyone else has also taken.

          Think differently. Get more unique images. feature the icons but as a secondary interest.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition Dome Half photography Pierre Steenberg Yosemite https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/2/featuring-iconic-elements-as-secondary-interest Sun, 02 Feb 2020 14:00:00 GMT
Telephoto Lens Landscapes https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/1/telephoto-lens-landscapes Whenever people think of landscape photography they almost always tend to think about using wide to super wide-angle lenses. The most common question we get asked multiple times during each of our workshops is: "what lens should I bring?" As Don Smith would answer: "the real question you are probably asking is which lens/es you can leave." We don't want to carry heavy gear unnecessarily. There are certain circumstances where lenses can be left behind but most of the time I find that I need the very lens left behind.

          Rather than think according to the conventional wisdom that wide-angle lenses are better at landscape photography than telephone lenses take some telephoto lens landscape images. I really want to challenge you. Go out and shoot landscape images with a telephoto lens. Telephone lenses can be great tools to teach us photography. They help us to find the compositions, to think and see compositionally. They force you to look at large scenes in smaller chucks. They help us to spot great compositions easier. So practice with these long lenses.

This image was taken from a distance using a telephoto lens. I think it was taken at 600mm. Not all landscape images need to be of big, wide-open spaces. We do not always need to see in the distance. Try to get some more intimate images. Change things up, build a portfolio that spans a wide variety of images. The more we use long lenses for landscapes the better we will become at composition.

          Do you accept the challenge?

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition landscape lens photography Pierre Steenberg telephoto https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/1/telephoto-lens-landscapes Sun, 26 Jan 2020 14:00:00 GMT
Mirror elements https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/1/mirror-elements Nature seems rather random in terms of where what grows, flows, or is placed from a compositional perspective. So when we find a scene that seems to look a bit more orderly we are amazed and we just want to photograph it. Sometimes we need to create that order. Order can be created by lining things up, by duplicating elements, by bringing out the similarity. Let's look at an example.

The grasses in the foreground are on both sides with a gap in the middle which mirrors the mountains in the background. The two gaps are lined up deliberately to create the mirroring effect. You will be surprised at what a big difference a step to the left or to the right makes in terms of lining things up. Work the scene to make sure the elements are lined up and mirroring each other.

          We need to think compositionally. It is our job to try to create balance, order, and to get the elements in a scene to work together (unless the purpose of the image is to show chaos). Here is the same scene composed differently:

The same idea applies. We just stepped back a bit and added some height. The effect of what we did here is that the viewer's eyes move through the gap to the gap in the mountains in the background. This is what we want. We want the viewer to be invited to look into the scene, to move from front to back.

          Try to look for this kind of thing. Mirror elements. Arrange things in such a way to beckon the viewer into the image.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition landscape photography Pierre Steenberg Yosemite https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/1/mirror-elements Sun, 19 Jan 2020 14:00:00 GMT
Pay attention to detail https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/1/pay-attention-to-detail Nature does not place rocks or plant trees where we want them. One challenging thing about photography is that there is always some problem. You can't quite get to where you need to stand because of a cliff or something else preventing you. That bright clouds is just in the wrong spot, whatever. While we cannot move the objects in our compositions we can move (if nature permits us where we need to go) and by our movement we can arrange things or line up things or "move" them apart or closer together. Our movement can make a huge difference on where things find themselves in our image. We tend to automatically place our tripods where we spot what we want to photograph. This is where I want to urge you to fight that habit. Just linger a bit longer. Pay attention to the details of where object are in your scene. Move around a bit and see if you can improve your composition. Try to line things up. Try to create balance. Try to bring chaos to order. Try to simplify the scene.

This was a difficult composition to spot. I had to work the scene to get this image. The far right of the image did not have much action as the sun monopolizes our attention on the left. I could not turn the camera to the left because the hill was in deep dark shadow - there was nothing there. At first glance upon arriving on the scene the rocks' positions seem random and uncooperative. However, by changing my position and going down much lower I was able to mobilize the rocks to greatly enhance my composition. They bring interest to the right side of the image. They lead to the sun. They have warm light on them.

          Pay attention to detail. Move so that the rocks work together to make a nice image. Pay attention to the placement of elements in the scene. A few steps this way or that way can be powerful to turn and ordinary image into a better image. Look at everything in your scene. This is why every image I shoot is taken on a tripod. It allows me to pay attention to the detail, to examine the edges, and to precisely "place" objects where I want them by moving around.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition detail landscape photography placement tripod https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/1/pay-attention-to-detail Sun, 12 Jan 2020 14:00:00 GMT
Natural Frames https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/1/natural-frames Yes, I have written about using frames compositionally before. Today I am going to be looking at a large frame (not just around the edges). Natural frames are things like trees, arches, cliffs, and the like that are used to frame what is beyond them. They help to make an image look polished, rounded off. They steer the viewer's attention into the image be preventing their eyes from leaving the image (they block you from exiting on the edge and send you back to the middle of the image).

Here is our example. You can see that I am not talking about a thin branch on the edge of the frame. Much of the image is taken up by the foliage. This frame keeps the viewer looking at the hill. The pathway helps to give the viewer directions to the mountain (lead-in line). To get the frame to be the size you want in contrast to the scene behind the frame simply move closer or further away. In this case the frame is the inverse of the hill so they compliment each other well.

          Be on the lookout for good frames. Move around, higher up, lower down, to the left or right, closer or further to frame your scene the way you want to. Without the frame this image would not have been that interesting. Don't be afraid to use larger frames, as in this case.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition frame landscape photography Pierre Steenberg tips tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2020/1/natural-frames Sun, 05 Jan 2020 14:00:00 GMT
Neutral Density Filters https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/12/neutral-density-filters I have heard many digital photographers say that they do not use filter because they do everything in post processing. Even though I am simply not good enough to do in Photoshop what these photographers claim they can do I am open to the idea that much can be accomplished in post processing. To me it comes down to who I am. Am I a photographer that also know Photoshop reasonably well or am I a Photoshop expert that can also take reasonable images? If you struggle to answer that question for yourself perhaps ask whether you enjoy taking images more or working on the computer more? For me, there is no contest; I am a photographer. That means I do as much as I can when I shoot to minimize my work back home. So yes, I certainly use filters. I use polarizing filters and neutral density filters. If the scene is right I may even use a graduated neutral density filter, although I use these less and less these days.

This is a scene where I just felt that I wanted to create a peaceful landscape. I did not want crashing waves. I wanted to smooth out the water. I wanted to create a dreamy scene. To do that I needed to use a long shutter speed. However the sun is still up, in fact, I am shooting right into the bright sun. So how am I to get a long shutter speed?

          Here is where the neutral density filter comes in. They are basically sunglasses for your lens. They do not alter the color of your scene, they simply allow less light through allowing you to use long shutter speeds even when the light is bright. You can also stack them to make it even darker should you need to. I have a three stop and a six stop filter. Together they give me nine stops of shade. The filter is placed in a holder in front of your lens. Your camera should notice the lower light levels and adjust automatically. However, your camera's light meter does not go beyond 30 seconds. I use an app on my smartphone (LEE ProGlass, it is free) that calculates the exposure easily and quickly.

          If you are using a really long shutter speed you do not want to be holding the filter in front of your lens, rather use a GOOD filter holder because light will leak in and ruin your image.

          So what do you think? It takes me all of a few seconds to screw the filter holder onto the lens and one second to drop the filter in. Had this image been taken with a short shutter speed and crashing waves were visible how long would it have taken to get that image to look like this one using Photoshop? Call me old fashioned if you please but I still use neutral density filters and I love them.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) density filter landscape neutral photography Pierre Steenberg tips tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/12/neutral-density-filters Sun, 29 Dec 2019 14:00:00 GMT
Lead-in lines https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/12/lead-in-lines If you have followed my blogs and photographs you will know that I like to use lead-in lines because they powerfully nudge the viewers' eyes into the image. They create depth. They tie the foreground and the background together. They help transport the viewer into the image rather than just having them look at our images laterally, from left to right. They make us want to step right into the scene.

What does this "line" in the grass make you do? You see, it happens automatically, our eyes just follow lines. Here is another one from the same shoot.

Lead-in lines can be formed by almost anything that lineup and go into your scene. I want to encourage you to look for and utilize lead-in lines. Most people walk up to this scene, plant themselves at the very place where they meet the scene and shoot. If this is done most people would have had an image of the green pasture and the trees and mountains but they would have missed creating a stronger composition by just walking around a bit because that would have lead the photographer to this lead-in line.

          Search for lead-in lines and use them to enhance the compositions you find.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition Lead-in line lines photography Pierre Steenberg vision https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/12/lead-in-lines Sun, 22 Dec 2019 14:00:00 GMT
Reflections on water https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/12/reflections-in-water Reflections on water can make for great imagery. They can captivate the viewers' attention and make them look at an image for a long time. It is often very difficult to capture great reflections without having the split between the reflection and the actual elements in the center of the image. We can think of this split as the horizon. Now you will remember from the compositional rule of thirds that horizons typically look better on either the top third or bottom third line. Beginners are taught not to place horizons in the middle of the image and for good reason as central horizons tend to just divide an image in two. Instead of having a cohesive image where each part works together to create a great composition one is often left with the mind thinking of an image with a central horizon as two separate images. As photographers grow in the art we learn when to break these rules without harming the composition.

          Reflection in water is one such case where it is perfectly okay to place the horizon in the center of the image. These images still work well compositionally even though we do have and are looking at two images; one of the elements and another of the reflection. Why then does this work with reflections and typically not well with other kinds of imagery? Well because the reflection is a mirror of the non-reflected part of the image which ties the "two" images together. The theme, the colors, the objects in the image, everything is similar so the viewer cannot help but see the "two images" as connected.

Does this image work compositionally? Yes, because the viewer's eyes keep on comparing the two halves of the image. This forces the brain to see the image as one image. Without the reflection, this does not work in the same way and we are usually left seeing two separate images. So don't be afraid of breaking the rules when you encounter a scene where breaking the rules still works. Reflections on water present an easy topic to start experimenting with. Give it a try.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition photography Pierre Steenberg reflection reflections vision water https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/12/reflections-in-water Sun, 15 Dec 2019 14:00:00 GMT
Juxtaposition weight https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/12/juxtaposition-weight I have written about visual weight before and am doing so again today because it is important to composition and balance. Visual weight is the weight our brains attach to elements in a scene. Too much weight on one side of the image and the image loses its balance. The size and material an object is made of determine its visual weight. Its color also determines the object's weight. Darker objects weigh heavier than lighter objects visually. Distance can also be used to determine the weight and to offset weight. A smaller item close by can offset the weight of a larger item in the distance. Let's look at an example:

Half Dome, (the granite rock just to the left of the sun) adds visual weight to the upper left of the image. If nothing is placed on the right side to offset that weight this image will not be balanced. Our minds will think that the image wants to tilt to the left and down because there is more weight there than to the right. Half Dome is also darkish which makes it weigh more visually. So how do we create balance? We need to juxtapose an object on the right that will bring about balance.

          That is exactly what I have done. The bolder at the front right adds weight there because it is well sized. It also adds interest because of the green letchin on it. The juxtaposition of Half Dome with the bolder in the foreground makes the image look well balanced. It makes for a pleasing composition.

          Think about visual weight in your composition and use the juxtaposition of weight to create balance.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition photography Pierre Steenberg vision visual weight https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/12/juxtaposition-weight Sun, 08 Dec 2019 14:00:00 GMT
Order from chaos https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/12/order-from-chaos The way nature arranges itself can seem chaotic to us. Trees don't naturally grow in straight lines. Rocks don't tend to line themselves up with where we want them to. So when you get to a place such as Yosemite National Park we find trees and rocks everywhere. They can make it difficult to get a good image. One always seems to be in the way. Others don't seem balanced. What then are we to do to attempt to find a composition that creates order from the chaos? I found that the best way to deal with situations like this is to walk around. Be patient and just walk around. Look at things from different angles, perspectives, and distances.

          I arrived in Yosemite early, way before sunrise. But as usual, there were just too many trees in the way. I walked around, this way, that way, further down, higher up, and all over the place. I knew what I wanted but found it frustratingly difficult to find. Photography is not as easy as it seems. We often look at a nice image and mistakenly think that the photographer just walked up to the scene and clicked it. It usually does not work this way. On this morning I almost missed the sunrise because I just could not find what I knew I wanted. Be patient. Keep searching. Hurry if you must (remain safe). Eventually, I found the composition.

I found a clear shot of Half Dome with the sun peeking out next to it. Yet, I did not just want an image of Half Dome and the sun with no foreground. I wanted a foreground and I needed it to provide some much-needed color. This image combines both the foreground and the clear shot of Half Dome and the rising sun.

          We have a tree that frames the left side and a tree that frames the right side of the image. The trees on the right form a line that leads the viewer to the sun. The image seems orderly. We don't just have trees everywhere without rhyme or reason. Everything in the image works together. We avoided chaos.

          The next time you visit a scene like this keep looking and changing position and or lenses till you find what you are looking for. Try to get past the random chaotic placement of nature. Try to find order (unless your main purpose or subject is chaos). To illustrate how difficult this can be I need to tell you that I visited this same general area for five mornings running. I was getting out of bed at 4 am every morning. Hours were spent walking this way and that way. Eventually, I found what I was looking for and I really like the image. Hopefully, our efforts will pay off. We go the extra mile to get the extra smile.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) chaos composition National nature order Park photography Pierre Steenberg Photography Yosemite https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/12/order-from-chaos Sun, 01 Dec 2019 14:00:00 GMT
Balanced Composition https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/11/balanced-composition The best landscape images often have balance. The elements within the scene are in harmony. Visual elements and color carry weight. Large elements weigh more. Darker colors weigh more than lighter colors. Balance means that visual weight is well balanced.

The lit rocks in the top right of the image carry a lot of weight. If we have nothing on the bottom left to balance that visual weight out the image will just not be pleasing. The plants on the bottom left does a great job here of providing that sought after balance. They add color too. The viewers eyes go back and forth between the plants and the top lit rocks. This creates what we call flow. Great flow is where the flow leads into the image. Bad flow is when the flow leads the viewer out of the image.

          Visual weight and flow work together to bring about harmony and to lead from one element to another or to lead your eye from one place to another. Think of an image as being on a judge's scale. The middle center of the image is pinned to the scale. If one side of the image drops down the image is not balanced.  Obviously the lit rocks are much larger and physically heavier than the plants in the foreground. Visual weight does not care about physical weight. We use distance to cancel out the imbalance. Closer object visually weight more. That is why the plants can balance out the heavier rocks. The rocks are in the distance and therefore visually weight less.

          Place your objects strategically to create balance. Look for things in the foreground that would balance heavy objects in the background. A balanced composition is pleasing to look at.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) balance composition photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/11/balanced-composition Sun, 24 Nov 2019 14:00:00 GMT
Different images - Same subject https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/11/different-images---same-subject I want more than one image from a site. I want to get as many good images as I can from each visit to a place. Often the main compositional element is the same in multiple shots yet the images need to be different enough. Compare these two images with each other:


The background standout rocks are the same but the foreground is different. We discussed the first image last week so let's turn to the second image today. It also has loads of depth. It has dynamic lines. We also used a shape; the J shape. The bottom corners of the image have lines pointing into the image. Our eyes follow the J shape to the main standout rocks in the distance.

          The foregrounds make these two images different. Yet, I am standing literally only a few steps to the left compared to where the first image was taken. I positioned the camera lower down towards the ground. I am shooting the same basic scene but I end up with two different images. I shoot stock. Having more images from the same shoot helps my business. Even if you don't shoot stock you still end up with two images rather than one. Hopefully they are both good, if not, at least you can choose the better one to use. Had you only taken the first image you would not have had a choice.

          I also place these two images here to help you see what a huge difference just a few steps can make to an image. So walk around. Explore. Try things out. This is how we learn. This is how our compositional vision develops.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition foreground lines photography Pierre Steenberg shapes https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/11/different-images---same-subject Sun, 17 Nov 2019 14:00:00 GMT
Depth formula refined https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/11/depth-formula-refined Last week's blog revealed an easy formula that creates depth. This formula is to have a strong foreground, a middle-ground, and a background. As skill levels develop we start seeing variations to formulas that help to disguise them so that our images do not all look the same. What can we do to make the image even stronger, with even more depth? How about using shapes as well as our depth formula?

We once again have a foreground, a middle-ground, and a background. This time we have added a shape to the image. The foreground forms a triangle that points to the background. This helps to tie the foreground and background together. The rock shelf also forms a kind of triangle also pointing to the standout rocks in the distance.

          Adding shapes to our compositions make our images more dynamic. Triangles that point to our backgrounds are powerful. S shapes and curves are even more powerful compositionally. The foreground captures our attention but then these shapes point us and move us into the image. This is what depth is. We always want our viewers to look into the image. It creates the feeling that we are there and can just step forward into the scene.

          The art of photography is the ability to start seeing compositionally. We start seeing these formulas and shapes. We actively look for them and use them when we shoot. Really pay attention to your foregrounds when shooting landscape images that need depth. Moving just a little this way or that way makes a huge difference. When I arrived on this scene I knew that my main compositional element is the rocks in the distance. Now that I know that I start walking around looking for a foreground to match. I start looking for shapes, lines, and curves. When I find a scene that puts it all together I have my shot.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition curves landscape photography Pierre Steenberg shapes triangle https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/11/depth-formula-refined Sun, 10 Nov 2019 14:00:00 GMT
Easy depth formula https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/11/easy-depth-formula I often want someone to give me a quick formula that just works when I am doing something I don't have much knowledge of. Most of the time that just does not happen because it is almost never that simple. There is a reason why we have experts in various fields. After all, as photographers we want to become masters in our field. If we don't, our work will not stand out and everybody's images will be of similar nature and quality. So having more knowledge and skills than the next guy give us an advantage. This is why (I hope) you are reading my blogs; you want to become a better photographer.

          This means that the field of photography also is not as simple as applying a formula that just works all the time. Just last week I wrote about breaking the "formula" of thirds when it works. Having said that, let's talk about an easy formula that creates depth. Like all formulas outside of the sciences this formula does not always work, but it works well most of the time. Look at this image and tell me if you feel that there is depth to the photograph.

So, does this image have depth? Does it pull your attention into the image versus making you look at it from side to side? Do you look at this image from the bottom going up into the image? Now ask yourself why? Why does this image have depth? If you where there with me when I took this image you will know that this is a small space, it is not a vast expanse and we do not have that much room to work with. So how did we create the depth that really was not there?

  1. We used a wide angle lens. Wide angle lenses stretches things out. It creates distance between objects creating the illusion of distance and depth. But they don't do this automatically ...

  2. I was close to the foreground plant. This exaggerates the size and importance of the first plant. It makes the viewer start here when looking at the image.

  3. There is a middle-ground. Your eyes go from the first plant to the second and third plants. I lightened the middle tuffs of grass to make them stand out a bit.

  4. The rocks in the background stand out. They form a strong and certain background element.

          The easy formula for depth is to have a foreground, a middle-ground, and a background. When this formula is in place our eyes tend to move from the foreground to the middle-ground and on to the background. This makes us look into the image. This creates depth. Be warned, we do not want our images to all look the same, so the formula should not always be used. However, this formula does tend to work rather well.

         P.S. This image also has lines to help create depth.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition depth formula photography Pierre Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/11/easy-depth-formula Sun, 03 Nov 2019 14:00:00 GMT
Break the rules https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/10/break-the-rules The rule of thirds is a photographic rule for a good reason; it just works. As new photographers start out it is best to learn these rules and to stick with them. As skills develop the time will come when we learn when and why to break the rules. The rules can only be broken if the image is still strong when the rules are violated. For example, we are quickly taught that we do not place strong compositional elements in the middle of the shot. Well ...

Does this image work for you? Does it have depth? I like this image and took it this way very deliberately. First of all, the plant growing on solid rock is amazing and it tells a story or asks questions. It is very different from the surrounding and therefore it stands out making it a strong compositional element. Yet, it is placed right in the middle of the image, laterally speaking. So why does this work compositionally?

  1. The plant is balanced with the brighter rock standing out in the distance.

  2. There is a line that connects the plant with those rocks. This line creates depth.

  3. This line kind of goes at an angle making the image more dynamic.

  4. I brightened this line somewhat in post processing to emphasize the connection.

  5. The juxtaposition of the plant with those rocks also create depth.

So don't be afraid to break the rules but only do so if it works. We need strong compositions for compelling images. Don't break the rules just to break the rules. I often call my wife to my office when I process images and ask her if the image does something for her. I want to make sure that it is not my emotional attachment to the image that makes it work for me. It is easy to be emotionally attached to an image, after all I may have hikes miles to get there. The image needs to work well even for someone who has never been there. If it is pleasing to an outsider then you may have a strong image. We need to test our images in this way especially when we break the rules just to make sure that it still makes sense and is still a strong image.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) breaking composition of photography Pierre Steenberg rule rules thirds https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/10/break-the-rules Sun, 27 Oct 2019 13:00:00 GMT
Foreground shapes https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/10/foreground-shapes You have heard me say that an interesting foreground is good for landscape images. This adds interest and depth to the image. What can be even better compositionally than a strong foreground? How about finding a strong foreground that leads into the image? How about a strong foreground that points to the main compositional element of the image? How about having a foreground shape that adds value to the image:

Here we have a foreground whose shape forms a triangle which points to the main compositional element in the image, namely, the standout rocks. The foreground is interesting and adds color not found elsewhere in the image. The triangular shape leads the viewer's eyes into the image and to where we want them to look.

          Don't just plonk down your tripod and shoot. Really look at all the foregrounds that are available to you. Move around and look at them from various perspectives. Find a foreground that really works well with the rest of the image. Move closer or father away to create the shapes you need to benefit the image. Foregrounds are often very important. Take your time to look around and to examine your foreground closely. Move into a position that makes the best use of the foreground.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition foreground landscape photography Pierre Steenberg shapes https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/10/foreground-shapes Sun, 20 Oct 2019 13:00:00 GMT
Using light and dark areas compositionally https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/10/using-light-and-dark-areas-compositionally We have already mentioned in previous blogs that various things can be used compositionally.

  1. Elements - the placement of elements shape composition

  2. Color - certain colors draw the viewer's eyes more so than other colors so where we place these colors impacts composition

  3. Differences - anything different will stand out which turns whatever is different into a strong compositional element

  4. Patterns - patterns and shapes lead the eyes compositionally

  5. Light and dark areas - our eyes tend to go to lighter areas more so than darker areas. Even when we explore the darker areas our eyes will always return to the brighter areas. So we can place these lighter areas in our images to draw the viewer's attention to these areas.

Slot canyons make for great photographic material. Yet, they can be difficult to deal with compositionally because you don't really have different elements, the color is similar, and not much is different. You do have patterns and shapes to play with. The strongest compositional tool we have with slot canyons, in my opinion, is light and dark areas. Let's look at some examples:

Close you eyes. Now open your eyes and look at this image. Make a mental note where your eyes go and how they travel through the image. You will notice that your eyes go to the brightest part of the image.

          Since we know that our attention is attracted by the lightest part of the image we can place the lightest parts of the image in strong compositional positions to create a strong image.

          Let's look at another example:

          The lightest parts pull the viewer up into the image. Think in terms of light and dark when you compose your images. Place the brightest parts of the image in good places for compositional value.

          Try this, your images may improve.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition dark Light photography Pierre Steenberg slot canyons https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/10/using-light-and-dark-areas-compositionally Sun, 13 Oct 2019 13:00:00 GMT
Correcting Distortion https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/10/correcting-distortion Landscape photographers often like to use very wide angle lenses. Most of the time we do so to exaggerate something in the foreground. From time to time we do so because it is necessary due to the size of what we are shooting.

This is Horseshoe Bend near Page, Arizona. This scene cannot be photographed from the ground without using a really wide angle lens (yes, I know about panoramic photography - I am just talking about with one shot here). It may seem as if you have a lot of distance to play with but you don't, it is only the wide angle lens that makes it look that way. While wide angle lenses do make it possible to include the whole scene they also create other problems. Yes, we spoke about photography being all about tradeoffs last week. Well, here is another tradeoff. The wider the lens the more perspective distortion we get. Horizons bend. Trees lean and buildings are falling over backwards. So how do we fix those issues?

          Raw image developers (software) will know what lens was used and make corrections accordingly. However, it is just not possible for those auto corrections to restore everything. In this image I had issues with my horizon. I am going to share a quick and easy fix with you.

          Open the image in Photoshop. Make the images a bit smaller because you need space around the image. Well, don't make the image physically smaller just view it smaller (Control or Command and -). Select the whole image (Control or Command and A). Click on edit, transform, distort. Now place your mouse on one of the corners, click and hold. Now drag up. Use this technique to easily and quickly fix bending horizons. You can move your corners to the side as well to correct buildings falling over backwards too. This is a wonderful little trick. Oh, by the way. You have to do each side independently (not all at once).

          There you go, try it.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) angle correcting distortion photography photoshop wide https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/10/correcting-distortion Sun, 06 Oct 2019 13:00:00 GMT
Dealing with noise selectively (locally) https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/9/dealing-with-noise-selectively-locally I have said it before, amateurs work more with global adjustments in post processing while professionals use more selective localized adjustments. There are good reasons for so doing, especially when dealing with noise. There are mostly no silver bullets. Everything we do have tradeoffs. Photography by its very nature is all about tradeoffs. Software can totally eliminate noise - I mean 100%. It does not matter how noisy your image is software can fully and totally remove the noise. Yes, even if you shot at ISO 1,000,000 if that is possible? What's the catch? The tradeoff is the catch. The tradeoff of removing noise is the loss of sharpness. Taken to extremes the tradeoff is even mushiness, total loss of detail. So while we can remove all the noise we then also remove all the detail until all we have is a blurred mush. This is why noise is a serious problem and why applying generous global helpings of software noise removal is not the answer. I want my images to be noise free AND sharp. I don't want to choose between having noise OR having the image sharp.

          The best way to avoid noise is to shoot at low (native) ISO and to properly expose - give enough light. However, noise is often unavoidable because of the situations we face. Let me show you:

While this image may look bright enough it certainly did not start off looking this way. There where parts of the lower sky that was rather bright compared to the dark water below (especially in the dark areas). I exposed for the brightest spots in the sky but that left many parts of this image very dark. Those dark sections naturally contain more noise. When you brighter those dark areas the noise also gets amplified, to such an extent that the image can be ruined. This is one reason why I left Canon for Sony. Sony's sensors are just better at dealing with noise when we push our darks brighter. Now Canon people (I was one for years) mock us and the tests we do to show how noise is brought out when we increase the exposure of dark spots by claiming that nobody shoots like that and that we should rather expose better to begin with rather than to underexpose. Well, simply put, you do not always have that option.

          Photography is all about tradeoffs. If I gave this image more light, sure my dark spots would have looked much better but then again the bright spots in the sky would have been blown. You have to pick one or the other (either brights or darks) to correctly expose, it is not possible with one image to expose both the bright areas and the dark areas at the same time (if the dynamic range exceeds certain boundaries). By the way, this image is not a good example of extreme dynamic range as it still has some latitude.

          Either way, I now have an image where the dark areas are too dark. To fix this I just make those sections brighter, but wait, there is a tradeoff as doing so elevates the noise levels. The image is now much better looking, the bright parts are not too bright and the dark parts are now brighter and pleasing BUT I have noise in the darker areas which I don't want. How can we best deal with the noise selectively (locally)? I follow a two step process.

          Firstly, I kill the noise using a duplicate layer. Every image editing software offers this ability. Don't over do it because remember the tradeoff is loss of sharpness and detail. Move the noise removal slider only far enough to just, just get rid of the noise and no further. Adobe Camera Raw also let's you automatically mask only the darker sections so that the loss of sharpness and detail is minimized elsewhere. However, I want more control. I now create a layer mask and simply paint the effect in only where needed (or you can paint it out where not wanted).

          Secondly, I now sharpen the image. Once again, certain software give you the ability to mask in the sharpening so that it only effects areas where you have detail. I still want more control. I create a layer mask again and either paint the effect in or out to where I want or don't want the effect. The trick is to selectively and locally apply the noise reduction only to the areas needing it and sharpening only the areas requiring sharpening. Why? Because sharpening also comes with its tradeoffs. Sharpening makes the noise look worse.

          So let's look at the image of today. The water received noise reduction but no sharpening. The other sections received sharpening but no noise reduction. The secret is to apply what you need to apply ONLY to the areas needing whatever you are doing. Smooth water and soft clouds (with no detail) don't need sharpening so don't apply it there.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) image editing locally noise removal noise remove photography remove noise selectively sharpening software https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/9/dealing-with-noise-selectively-locally Sun, 29 Sep 2019 13:00:00 GMT
Sunstars and flare https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/9/sunstars-and-flare Yes, I know that some people really like flare in their shots. No, I don't know why they like it either. Flare certainly has its place if you are trying to portray a harsh, hot, and dry environment but those are the exceptions to me. I have written in previous blogs how to deal with flare when you shoot. There are techniques that will help you eliminate it mostly. Today I am going to deal more with the post processing side of getting rid of this pest. First look at this image. To begin with it had numerous flare spots. Yay, they are gone now. How did I do it? I had written a few other blogs on how to create a sunstar - please look at those blogs if you are interested in learning how to make sunstars.

Before I tell you how I remove flare in Photoshop let me first tell you what the two problems are that we are dealing with when we confront flare. Flare chances both the color AND the brightness of what is behind it. That is a two pronged problem that requires to different solutions. Depending on the nature of where the flare is I always try Photoshop's healing brush first (on a new duplicate layer). Sometimes that fixes it and I rejoice. At other times it just does not do a good job. I am not hesitant to do it over and over again. Sometimes that works. It is also possible to manually clone it out but this does not always work well. If both of these tools do not help I do the following:


          Open the image in Photoshop. Create a blank new layer on top of your image.

          Color pick a color with the color picker that is just outside of the flare - pick the color that resembles what the spot's color would have been had it not been for the flare. Take the paint brush and paint the picked color over the flare. If the flare is large and has multiple different colored objects just pick the right color for each object and pain over that object in that color. You can use multiple strokes using multiple colors in this way. Change the layer's blending mode to "color." There, the color of the flare is now gone. However, you are not going to like the result because the flare also increased the brightness of that spot. So now that spot is way to bright and still equally visible, distracting, and annoying. Can you tell that I don't like flare generally speaking?

          All you need to do now is to change the brightness to match the surroundings. The are many ways to do so:

          Dodge and burn

          Adjustment layers

          Curve layers

          And on and on and on

          I typically merge the "color" layer and the duplicate layer and take them into Adobe Camera Raw where I use the radiant brush to fix the brightness. With this brush I can set exposure, contrast, and all sorts of things. This is my preferred method rather than the ones mentioned in this list.

          Lastly, I do final touchups with the healing brush or cloning which is now easier to do and typically involve smaller areas.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) flare photography photoshop post processing remove flare https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/9/sunstars-and-flare Sun, 22 Sep 2019 13:00:00 GMT
Dealing with crowds at iconic locations https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/9/dealing-with-crowds-at-iconic-locations Have you ever been to Mesa Arch in Canyonlands (other than in winter)? What about Oxbow Bend in Grand Tetons National Park? How about Yosemite, Zion National Park, or the slot canyons in Page, Arizona? If you have you will understand the challenges faced in dealing with the crowds of people hindering a clear shot. If you have not attempted to photograph these icons when a lot of tourists are around, don't worry, let me just show you what it is like ...

This is what I encountered while doing my best to get decent images of Horseshoe Bend near Page, Arizona. Good luck with doing serious photography. Now before we lose hope let's think about things first. In my experience, I have found the general tourist to be a different breed than serious photographers. Serious photographers can be really hard to deal with because they want that shot! I can tell you horror stories of photographers blindly ignoring their fellow photographers and willfully and deliberately just walk into the scene in front of everyone else or take up a position in such a place that everyone else's opportunity is ruined. When dealing with them start talking to them early on. Build friendships, talk shop. Create camaraderie with them. This makes things easier if you have to ask them later to also give you an opportunity.

          Then there is the general tourist. I would like to break this group up into two groups. There are those who would gladly cooperate with you and move out of the way. They may even be willing to move even after being there first. Just ask them nicely to help you and they typically comply. Be nice to them. Work quickly and move on so that they can have their spot back. Thank them. The second group of general tourists typically arrive by bus and originate from countries where private space is minimal. They do not seem to have concern for others in terms of space and who stands where. When I see these people I just leave, I get out of their way. The good thing is that their bus leaves after a few minutes so I come back in a few minutes. However, when the light is good pausing my work is not a good option. In this case, I wander off to one side and shoot from there. They cannot follow me because they do not have the time; their bus will be leaving shortly. If I photograph a spot where many such buses frequent I will set up apart, to the one side just far enough that they are out of my shot. It also makes it easier to clone people out if I cannot eliminate them totally from my shot. Since I am further along they become smaller in the image.

          I also set up where most people are not willing to go (effort quickly persuades people to give up). I choose nooks and crannies where there is only space for me. I don't get upset, they help me find vantage points or a different look that may not be that obvious had I stayed where everyone stays. Here is the result:


You can see that I am in a spot where no one else can join me. I climbed down into a little tight space. I am shooting in the opposite direction of where the people are and I got the shot, at least I think so.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) Horseshoe Bend icons photographing iconic locations photography Pierre Steenberg tips tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/9/dealing-with-crowds-at-iconic-locations Sun, 15 Sep 2019 13:00:00 GMT
Destination Wedding Photography https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/9/destination-wedding-photography You are asked to photograph a destination wedding. How is destination wedding photography different from "normal" wedding photography? How can you be a successful destination wedding photographer or just a good one if this is not your business? Your family and friends know that you do photography, sooner or later you will be asked to shoot a wedding. What do you need to know to have a happy couple rather than one which just canceled their friendship with you? First of all, let's make some assumptions to steer us in the right direction:

  1. The couple chose this destination because it is meaningful to them. They either find it beautiful or they have had great memories there. Perhaps this place has special significance to them. Either way, there is a specific reason why they chose this place for their destination wedding.

  2. Destination weddings, for this reason, are not just about the wedding, they are also about the place. They love this place.

  3. The couple seeks to memorialize and combine their love for each other with their love for the destination.

If this is all true then how will it shape your photography of the wedding? Let me give you a clue. Why is a landscape and wildlife photographer writing about wedding photography? By the way, I have shot many, many weddings. Given our assumptions above and given that I am a landscape photographer (I will not mention wildlife photography again just in case that would provoke a bride to through her shoe at me), here are the conclusions I reach:

  1. The couple wants the images to show the destination

  2. The couple wants the images to showcase them in and as part of the destination

Therefore, shoot the normal wedding images (rings, kiss, etc.) but:

  1. Treat the shoot as a landscape shoot, just place them in the scene

  2. Capture the essence of the place with them in it

  3. Show what makes this place special to them (including them) and your images will be special to them

  4. Don't be afraid to go wide angle - this is landscape photography with people in

Here are two examples:


[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) destination wedding destination wedding photography landscape photography tips tricks wedding https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/9/destination-wedding-photography Sun, 08 Sep 2019 13:00:00 GMT
Wildlife photography https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/9/wildlife-photography The best wildlife photographs are often those that show either action or animal interaction. Wait for them to have dinner or to chat with each other or to lick each other or do something. I am not going to say much today, here are some examples:

Wait for them to look at you.

Wait for the trunk to be in the mouth, or grabbing something. Fill the frame.

Wait for animal interaction. Show their social behavior. Create a connection.

Show them doing something.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) animal behavior photographing https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/9/wildlife-photography Sun, 01 Sep 2019 13:00:00 GMT
Shooting the action https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/8/shooting-the-action Wildlife photography requires patience and persistence. You might drive for an hour or so without even seeing any animals. When you see them they may be too far, or they are not doing anything. Things can get boring waiting for the animals to interact or do something worth photographing. However, things can happen without notice and they often don't last for long. A group of Lions may just lay in the shade. You watch them for hours to no avail. Yet, a yawn can take place quickly and be gone as quickly. There is no time to lift up your gear, find the animal in the viewfinder and shoot before the best moment of the yawn is over. So what stands the photographer to do? You are not going to like my answer but first here is an image:

Did I mention that wildlife photography also requires persistence? Here is my advice. I do not look at the animal without looking at them through the viewfinder. I follow them through the viewfinder and will wait no matter what. Yes, get comfortable ... I am constantly looking at them through the viewfinder. I am ready at any moment, fleeting as that moment may be.

Just be ready. A camera on your lap is not being ready. Ready means eye to the viewfinder. You never know what may happen. Patience and persistence may pay off. At times they don't pay off because nothing happens but you have to be ready for when something does happen.

Which image would you prefer to be looking at, one of a Zebra just standing there or one of these? Have your camera up to your eye, watch and be ready.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) photography tips tricks wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/8/shooting-the-action Sun, 25 Aug 2019 13:00:00 GMT
Composing wildlife images https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/8/composing-wildlife-images We typically have two options when it comes to the composition of wildlife.  Either we photograph the animal showing it in its environment as part of the landscape or we photograph the animal filling the frame. In the first case, the animal can be relatively small in the image. Compose the image as you would a landscape image. The animal needs to be placed in a strong position. The rule of thirds is a good place to start. Make sure that the animal has space to walk or look into. This means that there should be more space behind the animal than in front of the animal.

          In the second case, the animal is the main thing. We fill the frame with the animal. We can even go closer and photograph only parts of the animal. The secret here is that the frame needs to be filled. Once again, have space for the animal to move or look into. Try to establish eye contact with the animal. Get action if possible. Shoot from eye level (the animal's eye level) if possible.

          Either shoot option one or option two as in between options don't tend to work for wildlife photographs.


[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition photography wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/8/composing-wildlife-images Sun, 18 Aug 2019 13:00:00 GMT
Setting gear up for wildlife photography https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/8/setting-gear-up-for-wildlife-photography Pre-setup

          Before actual photography should take place, watch a few videos to setup your autofocus system for wildlife. There are all sorts of trade-offs. Setting this up usually involves menu-systems which you do not want to be reading as the Lion focused on its prey. Have your camera setup, before the shoot. Set your focus tracking, its stickiness, and so forth.


          I just leave the camera's settings on the lens' largest aperture and a fixed shutter speed of around 1,600th of a second. I set my ISO on auto. This way, I am guaranteed to use the largest aperture AND fast shutter speed. I want to freeze the action in front of the camera, and I also want to minimize the effects of camera shake. Choose a frame rate as high as possible. Use a silent shutter so as not to scare off the animals. Set the autofocus to "tracking."


          Make sure the stabilization system is on and set to panning horizontally. This setting will allow you to pan with the animals as they move. I set the longest lens' focus limiter to 3m and beyond. This makes autofocus faster as the lens does not have to search the entire focus range but only from 3m out. My second rig's focus limiter is set to focus a near as possible. Remember from last week, I use one camera and lens for reach and another for closer animals. The autofocus is turned on.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) camera lens photography setup wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/8/setting-gear-up-for-wildlife-photography Sun, 11 Aug 2019 13:00:00 GMT
Wildlife photography tips https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/8/wildlife-photography-tips During August I will be co-teaching a wildlife safari workshop in Zimbabwe and Botswana. Having grown up in South Africa I love to photograph wildlife. My wife and I owned time-share inside a game park and spent many wonderful weeks there, year in and year out. During the next few weeks, I will talk about photographing wildlife. Today we will focus on the gear needed.


          There are two main characteristics we look for when selecting a camera for wildlife photography. Firstly, the autofocus speed is very important. Some cameras focus slowly and they do not have the ability to lock onto and follow fast moving subjects. Get a camera with a reputation of being able to autofocus really quickly. Secondly, look at the camera's frame rate; how many images per second can the camera take. The higher the better. With wildlife things can happen very quickly. To get the right moment one has to take pictures as fast as you can.

          As a bonus, many wildlife photographers use APS-C cameras; crop sensored cameras. This gives you a narrower field of view. Since animals typically remain far away from us we need to be able to "reach" them to fill the frame with the animal. The narrower field of view gives lenses extra reach. A 400mm lens effectively becomes a 600mm lens on a crop camera. A recommendation for Sony shooters is the A6400. It is not stabilized but the long lenses have stabilization.


          One can never have too much reach for wildlife. On the other hand, large animals can come right up to you. Zooms can therefore be nice to have. Personally, I use two cameras when photographing wildlife. On one of them, I cover from 200-600mm, on the other one I cover 70-200mm. This way I am covered almost for anything. Placing the 200-600mm on an APS-C (crop camera) gives me the coverage of 300-900mm. Unfortunately, that leaves me with a gap between 200mm and 300mm which I just have to live with. Long lenses are expensive. The bigger the aperture the more expensive the lens (the heavier too). These large aperture lenses give you the ability to use faster shutter speeds. If you have lots of money and take photography seriously you may want to invest in a 500mm or 600mm f. 4 or f. 4.5. These large apertures blur your backgrounds much nicer to make the animal or bird stand out from a silky smooth background. For the budget conscious, a 150-600mm zoom or thereabouts does the job. Sigma and Tamron have well-priced models out in this range. If the rumors are correct Sony may have a 200-600mm f. 5.6-6.3 out or announced by the time you read this.

Memory cards and batteries

          Take many memory cards. When shooting at 10 or so frames per second your memory cards will fill up quickly. A Lion or a kill can happen at any moment. Check how much space you have left from time to time. If you don't have 200 or more shot available before your card is full swap it out. The last thing you want is to run out of space just as the Lion grabs its prey. Also, check battery levels from time to time. Swap out your battery before it gets too low for the same reason as mentioned above.

We will talk about camera and lens settings next week.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) advise equipment photography wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/8/wildlife-photography-tips Sun, 04 Aug 2019 13:00:00 GMT
Color gradation https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/7/color-gradation Smooth color gradation is one of the most tricky tasks for your camera's sensor. This is one area that can be used to determine the quality of your camera's sensor. Check out the technical specifications of your sensor. The higher the bit rate the better for color gradations. The number of possible color combinations impact color gradation. The higher the possible color combinations the better.

          How can we maximize the smoothness of color gradations? How does image editing affect the quality of color gradation?

Here are some tips to help you to get the most out of your color gradations:

  • Shoot raw. Raw files are taken at a higher bit depth than JPG which are only 8 bit files.

  • Covert your raw files to 16 bit tiff files. We do not want to be saving to JGP files to the very end.

  • Do all your editing work with the tiff files. Only save to JPG once you are done will all editing. I save both tiff and JPG files.

  • Give your exposure enough light (at least in the area where color gradation is). Color gradations become grainy when the exposure does not have enough light.

Feature color gradations as such images are often very pleasing and calm. Include a large portion of the sky. Make sure there are lots of color. Boost the vibrance of the image a bit to enhance the color.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) color gradation photography tips tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/7/color-gradation Sun, 28 Jul 2019 13:00:00 GMT
Know when to stay after sunset https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/7/know-when-to-stay-after-sunset How can we know when to stay after sunset? Is it possible to know some time before sunset that the period after sunset is going to be really nice? When we are shooting close to our cars this is often not a worry but if you have to hike back it is important to know the answer to this question. If the post sunset period is not going to be nice I would much rather start hiking back right after the sun sets so that I can hike back while there is still some light. I hate waiting for nice light only to never show up and then have to hike back in the dark; this is especially true when I am by myself and I am not familiar with the place.

This is the kind of image I am talking about. This kind of light and color is what I am willing to wait for; willing to walk back in the dark for. You can see that it is already darish (bear in mind that this is a longer exposure which makes it look lighter than what it really is; by now the foreground is getting quite dark). This is not a place friendly to night walking as there are rocks everywhere and often no clear path is visible. If I am not going to get nice light I would much rather head back right as the sun disappears. Here are a few things to look out for that persuade me to stay longer.

  • The presence of high cirrius clouds (not thick socked in clouds)

  • These clouds are fairly thin (sometimes thick cloud banks can also produce nice color but I prefer clouds like in this image)

  • No low clouds where the sun is going down (this is really important)

  • I like clouds that are between me and the sun (not behind me)

  • Clouds behind me can often light up nicely as well but they may lack the vibrancy found in clouds between me and the sun

Don't be afraid to stay longer if there is any promise of something special.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) Clouds forest landscape Namibia photography Quiver tips tree tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/7/know-when-to-stay-after-sunset Sun, 21 Jul 2019 13:00:00 GMT
Summarize the scene https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/7/summarize-the-scene With macro photography we go very close to show what we don't often see or look at. When we struggle to see great compositions, think going closer. Shrink your world. As you begin to see images slowly go wider, go further away, until you begin to see image again. The last month or so I have been talking about making things stand out, isolating elements, and so forth. However, we will be boring photographers if all our images follow the same recipe. So today I am challenging you to also find the shot to captures the grand idea of the place. Search for the image that will summarize the scene.

         Can you find the image that tells the story of the place? If someone wants to get a broad view of the place, know what to expect there ... can you make an image that conveys that? Yet, we don't want to end up with a travel log image. We are landscapers, fine art photographers. We want to capture an image that is still art. Is it possible to combine capturing an image that summarizes a place with one that is still art? Is such an image still able to capture and show mood, mystery, and beauty? Can such an image be taken on the fringes of the day when most people looking for such an image will not even be up to see?

To me this image is such an image. It captures what you will find at the Quiver tree forest. It summarizes the place. Lots of rocks and Quiver trees and nothing else. Yet the image is artsy, has some mood, and is still strong compositionally. Sometimes an image can be so artsy that it becomes abstract. People can look at an image and have no idea where the image was taken or which place it represents. An image that summarizes a scene is unmistaken of the scene. When it is seen by people who have been there they should smile and call out the name of the place. Yet, as stated before, it should still be a quality landscape image.

          Such an image shows what is mostly there. It shows how the place looks. It usually shows a large section of the place, the terrain. They give you an overview of the place. This is the image that you will use to introduce a place with.

          Try to also get artsy images that summarize a place.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition forest landscape Namibia photography Quiver sunrise tree https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/7/summarize-the-scene Sun, 14 Jul 2019 13:00:00 GMT
Something has to stand out https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/7/something-has-to-stand-out Something has to stand out. We cannot have a see of objects all looking similar and end up with a great image. Something just has to be different. Something has to add interest, breaking the monotany. We were in the Quiver tree forest of Namibia. These trees are everywhere. The challenge is to find something that will stand out. A few weeks ago I wrote about isolating elements to make them stand out. This was needed here. I wondered around searching for tree on its own, a tree that I could isolate. I needed a tree to stand out, to be the center point of interest. One tree had to be away from the others.

If you remember from last week, I had no tripod. So I am shooting from a low angle once again. My camera is on a rock for stabilization. Let's talk composition. You can see that there are many of these trees in the distance. When there are too many of any element in the scene we have to find something different as something has to stand out. This tree called me over because It was by itself. It became the main element in the foreground. I created balance with it by placing the sun (or the brightest clouds just after the sun went down) on the far right. The color in the sky adds drama and beauty.

          Every landscape image needs to have something stand out. Sometimes that means we need to go closer. At other times it means we need to move further away. Either way, make something stand out.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition forest Namibia photography Quiver tree https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/7/something-has-to-stand-out Sun, 07 Jul 2019 13:00:00 GMT
Lower your angle https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/6/lower-your-angle Shoot from below! Most photographers plonk their tripods down and shoot at eye level. Tripods are one of very few tools that will really help to make you a better photographer. They slow you down which is just what we often need. They give you the chance to go around the edges of the screen to fine tune our compositions. They keep the camera steady to eliminate camera shake. They are so valuable that I almost shoot 100% of my landscape images using my tripod. However, one of their biggest draw backs is that they can make us lazy. They tend to pursuade us to shoot mostly from eye level.

          During our 2018 Namibian workshop we started shooting at the Quiver tree forest. I noticed that one of our clients did not look too happy. Here we are standing in front of an amazing scene and the clouds seem to want to work with us and he looked sad. I asked him what was wrong, "I forgot my tripod on the vehicle which has left to go refuel," he replied. Without much thinking I removed my camera from my tripod and handed it to him to use for the sunset shoot. We had a happy client.

          I however had a problem. We had a wonderful sunset that night. The clouds lit up and it was beautiful. I was experiening this gorgeous sunset in the Quiver tree forest of Namibia without a tripod. The light levels were low when the best color showed up. This required slow shutter speeds which in turn required the use of a tripod which I did not have. How was I going to shoot and get good images?

          I had to shoot from a low angle. I started to look for rocks I can press my camera down on for stabilization. Rocks became my tripod that night. It made me look for and see different kind of images that I probably would not have been looking for had I had my tripod. This was a great learning experience for me. You should try it. Take only one lens or force certain limits on yourself to force yourself to look, see, and operate differently, out of your comfort zone. You might just grow and learn too.

Here is an early example, before the clouds got color. I am very low down shooting looking up. Try shooting from a low angle. Go right down, very low. Look at the world from down there and see what you get. Get into the habit of exploring all angles.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) angle down forest low Namibia photography Quiver tips tree tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/6/lower-your-angle Sun, 30 Jun 2019 13:00:00 GMT
Depth from above https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/6/depth-from-above Photographers use many elements and techniques to create depth in an image such as:

  • Paths or roads

  • Tracks

  • Placement of elements where one leads to the other

Mostly though the depth that photographers create comes from below. The elements are part of the bottom of the image, they are on land or water. However, depth can also be achieved from clouds above. anytime we see any sort of lines in a scene we should use them to create depth. They are powerful to pull the viewer into the image.

The clouds help to take the viewer deep into the image. They point into the image. They lead to the back, center of the image. Shooting through the rocks on the near left and right also creates a "path" through the middle to where the clouds are going. We really need to think before we shoot. We need to forget about the scene in front of us and think visually. We should learn to see photographically. We need to look for and find what creates depths, bearing in mind that depth can also come from above.

          When depth comes from above (due to cloud formations) we need to do everything in our power to make them stand out. The best tool is often a polarizing filter. Rotate is to make the clouds stand out and pop but do not over do it as we don't want the sky to be too dark (if we are not shooting a storm or a scene where a dark sky adds to the mood). We need to think about how best to combine everthing to create depth, harmony, balance, and a pleasant scene.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) clouds composition depth filter forest photography polarizing Quiver sky tips tree tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/6/depth-from-above Sun, 23 Jun 2019 13:00:00 GMT
Balance and depth https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/6/balance-and-depth Good images seem to have a sense of balance to them. They stay level when placed on a fulcrum point. Far objects balance closer objects. Something on one side cancels out the visual weight of something on the other side. It takes intentionality to compose images this way. Just one or two steps this way or that way can make all the difference.

Here you can clearly see what I am talking about. The tree and the sun on the right are heavy visually. In order to achieve balance something has to be on the left, preferably in the distance. To give the plant on the left more prominence I went for a low shooting position which makes the plant look taller. The two trees are now more balanced.

          You often hear me say the many good landscape images have depth. They pull the viewer into the image rather than looking at it from one side to the other. In this image we have what looks like a path going into the image. It is a patch of ground that does not have any growth on it and not many rocks either. This path is also bathed in warm light. To help ephasize this path I lightened it in post processing. The goal is to lead the viewer into the image. The viewer needs to want to stand there or walk into the image.

          Where we have balance and depth we typically have a nice image.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) balance depth forest Namibia photography quiver tree https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/6/balance-and-depth Sun, 16 Jun 2019 13:00:00 GMT
The sun https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/6/the-sun The sun plays a major role in just about all landscape images (except for night photography). It is the primary source of light. The position of the sun is of the utmost importance. This controls the direction of shadows. This creates backlighting, side lighting, and all sorts of other effects. This sun is not just important as a light source but can often be included in the composition of the image to become the center point of interest. Because the sun is bright (never look into the sun) it will always play a major part in any image it is included in. The brightest part of an image is where the eyes go to first. This makes the sun in an image very strong compositionally.

The sun does not always have to be on the horizon to be included in an image. Place the sun on the edge of a branch or a building or any hard edge, stop down (use a small aperture) and you have a sun star. Be on the lookout to use the sun in your images. Pay close attention to the placement of the sun. Since it is so strong compositionally the sun needs to be placed in a good position. Here the sun was placed where the right thirds line and the top thirds line intersect which is a very strong position.

          The rest of the image also needs to be well thought out. Watch the boundary of the image to make sure that it is clean, try not to nick anything. Notice that I do not have another tree touching the boundary. In this image, the trees on the far left bring balance to the weight of the tree with the sun. When the sun is included in the image, especially a low sun, we usually find nice warm light. You might want to warm up your white balance just a bit.

          Pay attention to where the sun is and how it impacts your image. Consider placing the sun in your image.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) landscape photography star sun tips tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/6/the-sun Sun, 09 Jun 2019 13:00:00 GMT
Isolate, Isolate https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/6/isolate-isolate Sometimes there is just too much in the scene to include it all. You have heard me say that painters start with nothing and add (paint in) elements to their canvas to make art whereas photographers start with too many elements, so we eliminate and isolate elements to make our art. The Quiver Tree Forest in Namibia is a good example of this problem. These trees are on a hill, they are everywhere. To make art we have to eliminate some of them. We have to isolate something in order to have a central point of interest; something specific to draw the eye and to arrest the viewer's attention.

          You have also heard me say that we need to look for that which is different, that which stands out and focus on that. In this scene, I opted not to make the Quiver trees my central point of interest. Rather, I focused on this plant:

It is clear what the central point of interest is. To make it clear these plants are prominently placed. I have created a sun star to draw the eye there. This is where the action is. Yet, you can also see the environment around the plant. The rocks and other trees build the scene. Now there is a second reason why I came to this particular spot to photograph instead of shooting closer to the Quiver trees; people. I was getting people walking into my image. I had to separate myself from the crowd in order to get a clear shot.

          Isolating a clear center point of interest often defines a good image. Isolating ourselves from others often makes that possible. The exception is when you want to include people in the image. In my case, I don't often do that even though that makes great images (without model releases I cannot use these images). Another good reason to isolate yourself from the crowd is to get different images from what everybody else has.

          The next time you get to a place where there are lots of people isolate yourself; get away. It may just yield images others don't have. Always remember to also isolate something in the image to make it stand out. People should not wonder what to look at when they see our images. Something specific should draw the eye.


P.S. I did other opportunities to shoot the Quiver trees and will talk about them in the next few weeks.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) forest isolate Namibia photography quiver tips tree tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/6/isolate-isolate Sun, 02 Jun 2019 13:00:00 GMT
Mystery https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/5/mystery Ghost towns are often filled with mystery. It is our job to find the most mysterious scene and make it even more mysterious. Often this is done by using light creatively. When we combine mysterious light with other elements it creates a scene that evoke emotion. This image is an emotional image to me. It seems inviting but also generates a bit of fear. What is causing the light? What is on the other side of the door? Should you go in or run away?

What also draws me to this image is the color. These walls and the door were painted nicely years ago but they still make the scene colorful. By far, though, the bright light on the sand does it for me. I increased that light's intensity in post. The white balance was warmed too, especially where the brighter light is.

          In post processing it is often localized adjustments that separates the pro from the amateur. Clearly, we don't want to warm up the blueish wall on the left. We want that wall cold because it helps to create the mood and contrast with the brighter light of the sand. So we warm up the brighter light, and the door frame and the door and even the rest of the sand to varying degrees but we leave the blueish objects cold. This requires localized adjustments which are painted in using masks.

          Much of the mystery of this image was exentuated in post processing. Play around with your images and see if you can add mood and mystery to those that lend themselves there to.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) mood mystery photography Pierre Steenberg tips tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/5/mystery Sun, 26 May 2019 13:00:00 GMT
Contrasting Objects https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/5/contrasting-objects From time to time you come across contrasting object that just evoke questions. At other times this juxtaposition can be humorous. When I look at this image I can see an add for skin lotion. What goes through your mind as you look at this image?

On the one hand we have this dry harsh desert scene which is visible through the window. The sun is threatening a warning. There is a sea of sand everywhere. The building has already surcomed. On the other hand there is the bath, perhaps a reminder of water, of life and sustenance. This is a scene filled with contrasting objects.

          It is an interesting scene filled also with triangles. The ceiling forms a triangle and so does the sand. There is an implied triangle between the front of the image and the two walls forming two sides of this triangle. Lastly, the door, the sun and the bath also form a triagle. This is another scene where I deliberately used a sunstar to help drive the concept home.

          When you find constracting objects start looking for ways to exploit them to create an image that tells a story or asks questions.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) constrast desert photography Pierre sand Steenberg sunstar tips tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/5/contrasting-objects Sun, 19 May 2019 13:00:00 GMT
The Orton Effect https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/5/the-orton-effect The Orton effect introduces blur and glow. It can add some mystery and even mood. It can soften the scene. While I am not a great fan of this effect for too many images it has its place. The reason why I don't generally like the effect is because I take mostly landscape images and I want these images to be sharp - why would I deliberately hurt the sharpness of my image?

          Once in a while I look at a scene which just begs for some softness, some mystery and mood. This image called out to me asking me to apply the Orton effect:

This image has a lot of broken glass. Broken glass should be sharp; there is no way I am going to blur that. I also did not want to blur the floor, the ceiling, or the sand. However, the light entering the windows is where I felt I wanted mood, mystery, and softness. This is where I applied the Orton effect. In Luminar (software) they have a filter that does it for you. However, it will add the effect over the entire image, which clearly I did not want. Luckily, Luminar has the ability to paint it on just where you want it (masking).

          What do you think? Does it add something to this image?

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) effect Kolmanskop Orton photography Pierre Steenberg tips tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/5/the-orton-effect Sun, 12 May 2019 13:00:00 GMT
Indoor Sunstars https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/5/indoor-sunstars I entered a room at Kolmanskop and liked the scene, but something was mission. I need to add some drama, some color, some action, anything of interest. I looked around but could not find anything. Then the thought came to me to create a sunstar. For those of you who are new, a sunstar is created when the sun is behind a hard edge and you use a small aperture. This is the image I made:

This image was created by simply moving around until the sun was behind a hard edge. However, as you can see only a few windows are clear (or clean). My options were limited. I chose this window because to me what makes this image is the other clear window through which you can see the desert landscape outside. Photography requires that we are always aware of even small details. This is one reason I always use a tripod. It slows me down and since the camera is not moving it affords me the opportunity to really study the image before taking it.

          Always move around. Check out different perspectives, different heights, closer or further away - just explore. Sunstars can be created indoors very successfully. You can use any hard edge and buildings offer many hard edges such as doors and windows. Be creative.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) indoors photography Pierre Steenberg Sunstar tips tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/5/indoor-sunstars Sun, 05 May 2019 13:00:00 GMT
Indoor direct light https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/4/indoor-direct-light Mixing direct sunlight with indoor shadows can be difficult. The direct sunlight can be very bright while the shadows can be very dark. How do we balance the light so as not to clip either the highlights or the shadows? Let's look at an images to get us going:

There are a few ways to deal with images such as this one. Firstly, use a modern camera with a newer sensor as their dynamic range are superb. I use a Sony A7R II and love the dynamic range I get. Just two days ago I was photographing next to another photographer and comparing the historams on our two cameras. She has an APS-C camera (crop sensor). Her histogram was showing clippings on both the dark and light sides, in other words the scene was too contrastly for her camera to handle. Mean while my camera still had some space on both ends of the historam for even more contrast. Secondly, learn how much data can be recovered while processing raw files specific to your camera. By knowing this you will have an idea what is still shootable and what is not when things get blown a bit. Lastly, you can always use HDR (taking a few images at different exposures and blending them in post). Remember, light is not as bright on the fringes of the day, so you might what to shoot then if the contrast is too much during the rest of the day.

          What is crucial is that your final images cannot clip whites or blacks. There has to be detail at both ends of the spectrum. How about another example?

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) and contrast direct photography Pierre shadows Steenberg sunlight tips tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/4/indoor-direct-light Sun, 28 Apr 2019 13:00:00 GMT
Repeating patterns https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/4/repeating-patterns Repeating patterns can make for interesting photographic material. We are still at the ghost town of Kolmanskop today. Be on the look out for repeating patterns, especially if those patterns draw you into the scene.

Here we have multiple door frames creating the repeating pattern. To get them to draw the viewer into the image strongly we use light. Light is coming into this scene through a window on the left in the last room in the distance. That room is out of sight but the light it spills into the scene is just what we need.

          This light was not as strong as it appears in the image. I lightened that light to draw the viewer into the scene. The combination of the repeating pattern with the brighter light in the distance seems irresistable to the viewer. This is what we want, pulling the viewer right into the scene. The repeating pattern is what gives this scene interest.

          So always look for and use repeating patterns. You can also find them in nature.

          Here is another example:

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition patterns photography Pierre repeating Steenberg https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/4/repeating-patterns Sun, 21 Apr 2019 13:00:00 GMT
Kolmanskop, Namibia https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/4/kolmanskop-namibia Ghost towns can be very interesting to photograph and to explore. Kolmanskop is a ghost town near Luderitz in Namibia. When you arrive it does not look interesting at all. The magic is certainly not outside. However, once inside these buildings things come to life. The walls are colorful, there is sand everywhere, and the light can just make the image. This is a place where you can shoot all day, the quality of the light does not matter since you shoot inside. Here is an example:

Just look at the light coming into the room on the other side of the doorway. This place is ful of great textures everywhere. Many walls have multiple layers of paint on or wall paper.

          As usual, let's talk composition. The bright light in the other room through the doorway is visually very strong, it pulls the viewer's eyes into the scene. However, we want to balance that with something on the right. The door and window frame in the sand does the trick. Notice that the light section is mostly higher up in the image while the door and window frame is in the lower section of the image. This composition creates balance and flow without being in competition with each other.

          I have not included direct sunlight in this image as that makes things difficult to control. We will look at other images in the coming weeks that contain very strong direct sunlight, but more about that later. Make sure to use a smallish aperture as everything needs to be sharp. Always be careful when exploring sites like this, there may be splinters, broken glass, and other objects waiting to injure you. Wear good shoes as you do not know what is lurking under the sand. Clean your equipment every day out here since deserts and wind are friends and where there are sand and wind there is a lot of dust. Dust is no friend of your equipment.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition Kolmanskop Luderitz Namibia photography Pierre Steenberg tips tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/4/kolmanskop-namibia Sun, 14 Apr 2019 13:00:00 GMT
Get close https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/4/get-close I am a big fan of getting close to things to enlarge them and to give them importance in the scene. The object you get close to does not have to be large and it does not always take much to make a decent image using this technique. When on a scene I often just walk around looking for interesting objects to use. In this particular case I found a sea plant. I shot into the sun so that the sea plant will be back lit which brings out its color.

Also pay attention to the composition. The sea plant is compositionally stong. The bright sunlight on the top left is also strong. Both of these objects were frames in such a way to offset each others and to create balance. The sea plant introduces some color on the bottom section of the image. Speaking of color, I love images where there are warm colors and cold colors in the same image. This sky really creates a nice mood in my mind.

          In Luminar (software) you can boost both warm and cold cold colors at the same time. Don't be afraid to make your warms a bit warmer and your colds a bit colder. With modern camera sensors you can often shoot into the sun without clipping the image (never look into the sun).

          So go ahead, don't just shoot, first walk around and see what you can find to add interest. Once found think about your composition. Most of all, go right up to it. Put a wide angle lens on. Shooting in this way makes your foreground object look bigger compared to the background. It gives the image interest and adds prominence to the foreground.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) angle composition landscape photography Piere Steenberg tips tricks wide https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/4/get-close Sun, 07 Apr 2019 13:00:00 GMT
Foreground Lines https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/3/foreground-lines I have said this many times but it remains important. Foregrounds can often make landscape photographs. An interesting foreground in a landscape image can make the difference between a good image and a great image. Such foreground elements may be flowers, reflections in water, rocks, anything different, anything that stands out. At times these foreground elements are not just small little rocks or flowers or tufts of grass but larger.

This foreground gives the image depth. The two rocks form lines that leads the viewer's eyes to the sun. They tie everything together. I would have wanted to move to the right just a bit so as to make the point where the rocks meet to be right under the sun.  However, I could not because I was one of the instructors and had to consider other photographers. We always give our clients the best spots and would not hesitate to move if one of them wanted a certain position.

          Always think composition! Use elements in the scene to connect, to lead to each other, to point in a direction, to form lines. Be on the lookout for lines, for anything that can direct the viewer's eyes where you want them to go. Moving to the left or to the right, even for some distance, is not going to change the background too much. So once you have your background forget about it and go looking for a matching foreground. It is often the foreground that provides the balance, the lines, more interest, and ties things together.

          Do the scouting before the light gets nice. When the sun is about to set is not the time to be looking for a foreground. Line up a number of good foregrounds when the light is still harsh and then use them all when the light gets nice.

          So why do lines work so well in landscape photography? In nature we look at the scene in a three dimentional evironment. We see depth. When we look at an image of the same scene we are looking at a flat two dimentional image. We do not see the depth that was in the scene. In order to dupe the viewer to see the depth (that does not exist on a two dimentional medium) we have to create the illusion of depth. One of the best ways to do that is to make use of lines. The human brain sees the lines and interprets them as depth.

          When you see lines, jump all over them and include them in your shots.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition depth landscape lines photography tips tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/3/foreground-lines Sun, 31 Mar 2019 13:00:00 GMT
Photographing Arches https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/3/photographing-arches Rock arches almost always seem to be candidates for good imagery. They almost represent victory, they stood standing. They are interesting. They evoke questions. I for one love to photograph arches.


The little space I am in is very small. I am right at the end of the arch. My tripod legs are totally flat and my camera is only a few inches above the rock. I am shooting at 16mm on a full frame Sony A7R II. Most people shoot through arches, so do I. Once you have that image why not try something more creative?

          As you can see from the composition I choose, I did not allign the camera with the center of the arch (right underneath the center). I wanted the arch to form the anchor on the right side. I liked the way the light is still hitting the arch higher up. The arch takes the viewer into the scene. Various other less important lines help move the viewer into the scene. Firstly, we have the line in the rock about a third from the right edge. Secondly, we have another less prominent line moving into the image starting just above the left bottom corner of the image. This composition just works well for me. It is different, more creative. Even with this composition the arch is still used as a frame for the image.

          Do your best to find different perspectives rather than just shooting through arches.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) arch creative landscape photography rock tips tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/3/photographing-arches Sun, 17 Mar 2019 13:00:00 GMT
Balance and weight https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/3/balance-and-weight Visual object carry weight. The darker the they are the more visual weight the represent. The larger they are the heavier they seem. Closer objects carry more weight than distant objects. So a smaller object close by can balance out a larger object in the distance. Our images are more appealing when the are visually balanced both by the position of objects in the scene and by the weight they carry.

This is not my favorate image but it will serve us well to teach us about balance and weight. The mountain peak in die distance on the right is obviously much larger and heavier than the rock in the front left of the image. Yet because of their distance to us the rocks on the left balance out the peak on the right. This image is balanced both by objects and the weight they carry.

          Had the rocks on the left not been there this image would have been a failure. It would have been unbalanced. Too much weight would have been on the right hand side. Similarly, had the rocks on the left been there without a peak on the right the image would have been too heavy on the left. I used the rocks on the left to bring about balance and to distribute the weight.

          Be on the lookout for balance. Place something in the foreground to balance something in the distance. Think about visual weight and go for balance.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) balance composition landscape photography tips tricks visual weight https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/3/balance-and-weight Sun, 10 Mar 2019 13:00:00 GMT
Reset the Sun https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/3/reset-the-sun At our Namibian photography workshop (2018) we were shooting a sunset. I got some very nice images. However, all good things come to an end. Before long the sun set. The opportunity to include the sun in my images was over for the day, or so everyone thought. No, the sun was not about to reverse and come back up where it had just gone down. In the past I mentioned a few times that we can reset the sun. Here is the proof:

Yes, the sun was really down. All the photographers were shooting from a vantage point on the ground (where the lighter colored soil is)(they are just out of the image on the right). I did not want to loose the sun. So I grabbed my gear and started running up the rock. It does not look it but I have gained quite a bit of elevation here. The trees in the image are not very tall trees but they are certainly taller than people. That will give you a bit of perspective as to how high I walked up on the rock.

          By gaining decent altitude I changed my angle to the sun, or more importantly, to the horizon. This enabled me to see the sun again and I could continue to shoot. No other photographer got this shot. Before the sun is low and light gets nice look around. Are there any safe ways around to gain altitude? If so, plan your shoot so that when the sun sets you elevate your position in order to make the sun reappear again. I may just give you another few minutes of light.

          I think the image was well worth the effort. The night before I did the same thing on another rock formation. I run up the steep rockface with my heavy gear. When I reached the top I was exhausted and panted heavily. I moved quickly to setup and shoot. There were a number of French tourists sitting around on the same rock admiring the setting sun. Apparently my heavy breathing was disturbing their tranquil moment for they complainted to each other bitterly about my intrusion and panting. Well, I am sorry that I ruined their moment but perhaps the image will make a few other people's moments when it appears in a travel magazine, a bill board, or brochure.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) landscape photography reset sun tips tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/3/reset-the-sun Sun, 03 Mar 2019 14:00:00 GMT
Lines and Texture https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/2/lines-and-texture Look at this image for a little while:

Typically I want to go with the color and where the action is. In this image the action and color is in the top third of the image. Why then would I devote more than half of the image to the bottom part of the image? Before we explore the answer to that question, does the image work for you as it is? I actually like the image a lot, for me it works rather well. Why do I think so?

          Had the rock in the foreground been just one rock with no lines or interesting shapes or textures this image would have been a total failure. What makes this image work for me and the reason why I was drawn to compose the image as it is are the lines and the texture. Curved lines are dymanic and interesting. The horizontal line curves up pointing to the sun. The line coming in from the right also stops underneath the sun. The lines work together with the sun. The lines break up the vast rock section. They add interest.

          The second reason I was drawn to this composition is the texture. The rock in the foreground has lots of course texture. It creates an interesting base for the image. The viewer's eyes are lured back to the foreground to explore the texture and the patterns in the rock. The sun pulls the eyes back up to itself, and so the viewer's eyes go back and forth. This is what we want to create. We don't want the viewer to leave the image. We don't want the viewer to only look at the image from side to side (flat image). We want them to look into the image, to be drawn into the scene. This is exactly what this image does. The foreground and the background pull the viewer's attention back and forth.

          As landscape photographers we should play with lines, shapes, and texture more often.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) landscape lines Namibia photography shapes Spitzkoppe texture textures https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/2/lines-and-texture Sun, 24 Feb 2019 14:00:00 GMT
Movement and life https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/2/movement-and-life Movement and life add a lot of interest to landscape imagery. While in the desert in Namibia photographing I took this image:

Other than the tree on the right there does not appear to be much life around in this place. The tree on the left has already given up the fight to survive in this harsh environment. Having both trees in the scene tell a story and speak of life and death. But what if there is no visible life in the scene to capture? How do we then show life?

          Movement shows life. Movement speaks of change. Movement brings the dune to life because the dune is walking. Slowly the dune is marching along from left to right. Movement adds action, drama and life. The very conditions that make it unpleasent for us to be there and witness this change is what makes for better photographs. Sure the wind was howling. Yes we got sand blasted. Oh, did I mention sand in our eyes and in our gear? The wind is cold. Events such as this can be outright miserable.

          But this is the very time to be there, to photograph. This is when we get to see moving dunes rather than dune statues posing as dead objects just sitting there. Brave the elements because it is then when our images show movement and life (always be safe and place safety first). Even when shooting dead sand try to show movement because movement shows life.

  • Perhaps show some tracks on the sand

  • Photograph a tuft of grass sticking out of the sand

  • Work with the ripples in the sand

  • Rejoice when the wind comes up and capture movement

  • Go during windy times, stormy times (as long as it is safe to do so)

Movement and life lights up most dead scenes. Look for it and show it.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) landscape landscapes life movement photography tips tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/2/movement-and-life Sun, 17 Feb 2019 14:00:00 GMT
The human element in landscapes https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/2/the-human-element-in-landscape I shoot for a major photo stock agency. My agency will not sell an image with a person in it without me having and supplying a signed model release from that person (unless it is used for editorial use only). Well it is just not always possible to get these model releases taken care of. At times I am using a telephone lens and there is just no way I can get to the "model." It is also a big hassle. Now I have to carry a model release and a pen in my pack. Then I have to make notes as to which model goes with which image. Then I have to scan it in and submit it to the agency. As you can probably gather from my tone, as a result of all of this, I just almost never photography people in my images.

          This is a great pitty because people add so much to an image.

  • People help to provide a sense of scale

  • People can add emotion and mood

  • People can communicate so many things (triump, not giving up, being challenged, perserverance, joy, peace, etc.)

  • People in the scene can help you to imagine the experience and in a vicarious way to be there and wonder about being there

Would this image be anything without the person in it? It is the person that makes the image. He helps talk about the wind, the blowing sand, and the struggle of scaling a sand dune. He speaks of human endeavour. He tells us how high this dune is.

          In an image like this his placement in the image is important compositionally. Here are a few suggestions on placing people in your images:

  • It is usually better to have them move into the image rather than moving out of it (direction of movement)

  • It is better to have people look into the image rather than out of the image

  • Follow regular compositional guidelines (I have placed him on the rule of thirds)

  • Know when to break compositional guidelines and when it will work (if he or she is running away from danger it is perfectly fine to have the model running out of the image; we will all pray that he or she makes it)

  • Try to capture action, emotion, or drama, or a sense of imense scale. In other words, just having a person in the image for the sake of having one in the image may not add much to the image photographically. The person's presence needs to add value and interest to the image.

  • Try to tell a story

  • If there are multiple people in the image do your best to include an odd number of people (unless there are many people in the image)

So let me talk to myself - photograph more people in landscape images!

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition landscape people photography tips tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/2/the-human-element-in-landscape Sun, 10 Feb 2019 14:00:00 GMT
Curved lines https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/2/curved-lines Some images are static while others are dynamic. Great compositional tools to help us make more dynamic images are curved lines. Our eyes always follow lines. So we can use lines to make our viewers track through an image. Straight lines help to create depth and they will take the viewer's attention into the image but they are not so dynamic as curved lines. Straight lines simply take the viewer from point A to point B. Curved lines take the viewer on a journey along the way. They are just more mysterious and interesting.

          Here is an image that I have used before in another blog on another topic. For today, though, look at the curved line the river makes. Note how your eyes follow the river to meander through the scene. How much more interesting is this image because the line is curved versus if it would have been a straight line?



























In this scene the river is a major component of that which makes this image what it is. The river is indeed a major component of the scene. But what if these curves are not so obvious?

          On a recent workshop in Namibia we were on the famous Deadvlei pan. This place is famous for the dunes and the Camel Thorn trees. There is no river or other obvious curved lines in the foreground going into the image. The point of this blog is to remind us to always be looking down, not just up and around. Always be aware of the foreground, of anything different. As I was looking down, searching for something in the foreground to add interest I found this curved line:

Most people who come here for photography just do not look for these foreground elements. We are often absorbed by the grandeur, the major elements of the scene, and what the scene is famous for that we forget to look down; to scour the foreground for interest. When you look at this image you clearly see the curved line which makes this image more dynamic and interesting but if you were there with me you would probably not have seen it or noticed it. It did not stand out quite this much. The curved line's brightness was just a tad darker than the rest of the foreground. I lightened the whiter crust and darkened the darker crust to emphasize the curve, to bring it out.

          Whenever you see any curved lines in the scene try to work with them in your images as they add a lot to most images. Use post processing to make them more visible.

          P.S. Consider joing us on a workshop. You may just learn a lot, take your photography to the next level, visit a wonderful place and come away with awesome images. Click on workshops on the menu bar for more information. I work with the famed photography Don Smith in these workshops.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) curved curves dynamic landscape landscapes lines photography tips tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/2/curved-lines Sun, 03 Feb 2019 14:00:00 GMT
Shutter Speeds and Landscapes https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/1/shutter-speeds-and-landscapes For a lot of landscape photography the shutter speed plays second fiddle because depth of field tends to be more important. There are times when the shutter speed is crucial to get the look you want. For example, if you want to show water drops frozen in the air you will need a fast shutter speed and when we want to smooth out water we use long shutter speeds. Perhaps the wind is blowing and we need to freeze the flowers in our foreground to get them sharp. In this case, we will also want to use a faster shutter speed. These uses of shutter speeds are obvious. However, sometimes the use of shutter speed for creative effect is not so obvious and requires experience and pre-visualization. Here are a few such cases:

  • The scene is dark because of omonous storm clouds. The sun is shining on a patch of cloud because of a hole in the cloud cover. That patch of lit cloud is blown and the dymanic range of that spot and the rest of the scene is too much for the camera to handle. The clouds are moving reasonably fast as this is a storm. In cases like this I have successfully used a long shutter speed to solve the problem. A long shutter speed allows that patch to move during the exposure so that the bright spot's exposure is lowered (it moves so the bright spot's position changes so that the same position in the frame is not bright throughout the whole exposure time).

  • A thin layer of nicely colored cirrius clouds are starting to rise above the mountain I am photographing. This is the perfect case for using a neutral density filter to get a long shutter speed. As the clouds move up into the frame during the expore they create streaks of clouds pointing right to the mountain. This needs to be pre-visiualized and created with a very long shutter speed.

  • A small stream is gushing over some rocks or a waterfall creates a bit of mist. We want to axagerate the flowing water or the mist. So we use a long shutter speed to allow more time for the camera to capture the flow or the moving mist. The longer the shutter speed the more exagerated the effect will be.

  • Sand is faintly blowing and you want to show the effect and exagerate it. A long shutter speed does the trick.

Here is an example. The wind is blowing the sand. The sun is coming up and shining through between two sand dunes and lighting the blown sand up. The longer I leave the shutter open the more blown sand the camera will capture - thereby exagerating the effect. Nothing else in the image is moving so a long shutter speed is not going to effect anything else in the image.

          Think more about the shutter speed and using it creatively in your landscape imagery.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) creative landscape long photography shutter speed speeds tips tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/1/shutter-speeds-and-landscapes Sun, 27 Jan 2019 14:00:00 GMT
Capturing the essence of a place https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/1/capturing-the-essence-of-a-place The late Ron Levy, a great photographer and friend, always said that he does his best work after just being in a place, observing it, feeling it, until he realizes the essence of the place. It is only then, he often said, that he felt really inspired. It is then that images seem to just jump out at him. It is then that his creativity peeked.

          How do you get an image of a place that captures the essence of that place? How do we make images that scream out the place it is from? These are images that are typical of the place, of its character. Yet, as photographers, we need to be creative. We do not want to display and image that has been shot to death, the same old thing. We want to capture the essence of the place while yet being fresh and new. We also need to capture images that scream out our own personal style. Just like someone should be able to look at any picture that captured the essense of a place and know where the image is from our images should also be recognizalbe simply because of our own developed style. A winner is an image that captures the essense of a place creatively and also places our style on display.

Here are a few tips to capture the essence of a place:

  • Look around and observe the place

  • Ask yourself what the place is famous for

  • Ask yourself what about the scene screams out the answer to the previous question

  • Find a composition that captures or amplified the answer to the previous question

What is the essence of a desert? Sand, dry, hot, parched, lifeless or struggling life ... Now find a composition that showcases that ...

To me, this image just screams everything we just discussed. Yet it is not the typical image of Deadvlei, Namibia. It is unique and different. It conveys what the desert is all about.

          The essence of a place is that which summarizes it in one image. Grab that.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) Deadvlei essence landscape Namibia photography tips https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/1/capturing-the-essence-of-a-place Sun, 20 Jan 2019 14:00:00 GMT
Using Shadows https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/1/using-shadows I am still writing about the desert this week. This is a harsh place and I attempt my best to capture and show that feeling. To do so, I once again shoot into the sun. I also emphasize the dry and cracked crust. I wanted to add something to this image, and for that I played with shadows.

My camera is at a low position again to show of the crust and the cracks. I position myself in such a way that I can take advantage of the tree's shadow. The shadow is what gives this image its dark and hopeless mood. It leads to the tree and the sun. It starts spread out at the base of the image but then aims straight for the tree.

          I want to encourage you to look for shadows, to play with them, and to use them creatively. Even look for faint shadows. The shadows in this image were not this dark. I darkened them in post processing to make them stand out. I wanted a constrasty image. Darkening the shadows did the trick. We often look at the features in the landscape to determine our composition but have you considered to use shadows?

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) desert dry landscape Namibia photography shadows Sossusvlei tips tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/1/using-shadows Sun, 13 Jan 2019 14:00:00 GMT
Flare https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/1/flare I generally hate flare. To remove flare (which content aware cannot fix) you can create a new layer and set the blend mode to color. Use the color picker to pic a color right next to the flare and then paint over the flare. You may need to brighter or darken the spot when finished. Needless to say, I almost always remove flare. Flare is caused by the lens not the camera. Some lenses are better at avoiding flare than others. Nevertheless, do your best to shield the lens from the sun so that the front element of the lens is in the shade (I just use my hand or my hat). Shielding your lens in this way also increases the contrast of your image. With really wide angle lenses this is very difficult because I don't want my hand or my hat in the image. When shooting into the sun we just do not have a choice, sometimes we will get flare.

          As much as I hate flare, flare has it's place in some images and may actually add to the image. I find, for me, such images are desert and dry images. The flare empahizes the heat and the harshness of the landscape. The flare almost makes you see the sun burn down. For these scenes I want to create flare deliberately. To do so I use a wide angle lens and place the sun to one side so that it angles across the scene. Here is an example:

I like the color spots the flare makes with the other beams of light. It adds drama and the other elements already mentioned. Compositionally, I used the tree's shadow as a lead-in line that goes right to the sun. The other trees and clouds offer interest to look at in the rest of the image. To create the feeling of harsh, dry, hot, and almost lifelessness I placed my camera at a low angle to exaggerate the dry and cracked up desert crust. I wanted to feature the crust as it helps tell the story.

          Read your scene and think about what look and mood you want to achieve. You may just need to remove flare when it does not suit the scene but you may want to include it when it adds to the scene. You decide ...

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) flare landscape photography tips tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2019/1/flare Sun, 06 Jan 2019 14:00:00 GMT
The sun as the image https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/12/the-sun-as-the-image When I was still growing up the adults always used to tell me that you shoot with the sun behind your back. Everytime the family or other groups of people wanted a photo taken they would tell the "photographer" to stand with the sun behind him or her. I don't know for how long I followed their advice but I do know that I no longer do. In fact, I just love shooting into the sun, even when I photograph people.

          Have you thought about featuring the sun? No, I am not talking about the classic image of a huge red sun at sunset taken with a long telephoto lens. How about featuring the sun in landscape photography using landscape lenses rather than very long telephotos. Yes, yes, I know people shoot a lot of landscape photography using those very long lenses; I do as well. Here is our image of today:

What do you think? The sun is a main feature of this image. Because it is a large sun star it impacts a large part of the image. You may notice that even though the sun is featured I still applied last week's recipe of obtaining depth. You have a strong foreground, a middle-ground, and the dunes and the sun in the background.

          Last week I mentioned how to control the size of the middle-ground by moving your camera up or down (height). In this image, there is a lot of space between the log and the background. If I moved the camera lower that space would have been less. I chose this height to shoot from for two reasons. First, if I lowered the camera to cut down on the middle-ground space the branch on the log which points up would have gone into the background and even into the sky. That is something we want to avoid. Second, the rays of the sun star really work well with this empty space. The space is not really empty, the rays fill the space. Everything in this image complement each other.

          I have written a lot about sun stars lately but for those of you who are new, I will just say shortly that a sun star is created when the sun is behind a hard edge (halfway behind it) and you shoot using a small F.Stop.

          Don't be afraid to make the sun the main attraction of the image. Keep safety in mind. Never look into the sun, not even through a DSLR's viewfinder. Doing so will damage your eyes. Mirrorless cameras have no such issues because you are looking at a screen.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition landscape photography star sun tips https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/12/the-sun-as-the-image Sun, 30 Dec 2018 14:00:00 GMT
Foreground as the image https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/12/foreground-as-the-image You often hear me say that depth is what makes good landscape images. To create good depth we need a strong foreground, a middle-ground, and a background that pulls the viewer into the image. Here is my example?

The foreground in this image is very strong. The log has a lot of character. It is also large in size. In fact, it takes up about 50% of the image (bottom to top). It is worth it because it is so interesting. Next, we have additional trees forming the middle-ground. Lastly, there are the dunes and the moon. The sky is also a nice color.

          What we want to achieve is for the viewer's eyes to start at the bottom and work their way up the image to the moon and back. Ideally, we want the viewer to repeat this pattern over and over. The longer we can keep the viewer cycling through the image in this way to better the image. If a viewer just looks at the image in one glance and is done, the image is poor. Amateurs mostly take images that are lateral, the viewer looks at it from one side to the other and they are done. Professionals make images that draw the viewer into the image from the bottom to the top.

          Not all landscape images follow this recipe and such images can still be great. However, this is a simple recipe that works like clockwork. It is simple and just works. So how do we make such images?

  • Find a nice location

  • Search the foreground for something different, something that stands out

  • Walk around it from a distance so that you do not put any footprints in any potential image. We walk around it to see which angle will work the best.

  • Pick an angle of attack and move in closer

  • With a wide angle lens get right up to the foreground element

  • Move the height of the camera up and down looking at how that impacts the middle-ground. Lower angles minimized the middle-ground while more height maximizes it. Please your camera at a height that works well with what is in your middle-ground.

  • Make sure that your background balances well with your foreground

  • Watch your edges to make sure they are clean. We do not want bright things on the edges if we can help it

Follow this recipe and your landscape images will probably improve.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) background composition depth foreground landscape photography recipe tips https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/12/foreground-as-the-image Sun, 23 Dec 2018 14:00:00 GMT
Simplicity with wonder https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/12/simplicity-with-wonder Sossusvlei is one of the most photographed landscape hotspots in Southern Africa. This place is the home of some of the best desert landscape images around. On the one hand, this is a good thing because you expect to get good images when you go there and you will not be disappointed. On the other hand, does it make you a good photographer if your awesome images are the same as thousands of others from the same place? If our images do not stand out we are not any better than all the other photographers. So, how do we put things of a famous place together to end up with an image that is still clearly true to the character of the place but different from all the iconic images? In other words, I want to create an image that when people look at it they instantly know that it is a Sossusvlei image without feeling let down that the image is "just another Sossusvlei copy."

          This is difficult to do because it is a fairly small area and you only have to work with what is there. It is not as if you can walk this way or that way and dramatically change your vantage point. It is not as if you can find wildflowers or something strong in the foreground to create something different. This foreground does not change. Others have already shot the little differences in the crust of the ground. Let us look at an image:

This image classically represents Sossusvlei. Yet, there is something about this image that I have not seen in many other images from Sossusvlei. This image has a distinctive mood that creates a sense of wonder. The image is very simplistic. So, what makes this image different and what is it about the simplicity that gives it some wonder?

  • Firstly, this image was taken in August, the windy month. This adds to the mood. Just look at the sand being blown around in the background. Many people do not go to Sossusvlei in August for photography but I like the effects the blown sand makes. Being sandblasted is not a pleasant experience but it is worth it for the images you can get.

  • Secondly, the timing of the shot is really important. The wind blows in gusts. You want to time the taking of the image so that there is a strong gust in the background but prior to the gust getting to you. You want to take the image right as the gust begins in the distance. If you wait too long the sand just saps all the contrast out of the image. It looks like a dirty rag was in front of the lens. So, you want the action of the sand in the air in the background but you also want your foreground to be clear.

  • Thirdly, and as usual, go early. This image was taken before sunrise. The faint clouds in the sky make this image. It adds to the mood. It adds color.

  • Lastly, place something strong in the foreground.

When you get to the place you want to photograph look around. Spend some time just studying the place. Look where the action is (wind, color, interesting objects and elements). Shoot the action, even in landscape imagery.

          Go for simplicity but create some sense of wonder.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) landscape mood Namibia photography simplicity Sossusvlei tips tricks wonder https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/12/simplicity-with-wonder Sun, 16 Dec 2018 18:52:43 GMT
Slot Canyons https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/12/slot-canyons Slot canyons make wonderful photographs. Those near Page, Arizona, particularly Upper and Lower canyons, are almost useless to photographers are there are just too many people in the way. Even if you pay extra for the "photographic tour" they still herd you through in a hurry. This time I opted for the lesser known Canyon X. I was hoping for fewer people, paid the extra money for the photographic tour, and crossed my fingers. It was a very enjoyable experience.

          Towards the end of the tour, the guide took out his scoop to throw some sand into the air. Yes, that is how those light shaft images are made. A beam of light shines but it can be fairly faint so sand is thrown into the beam of light which makes the beam a lot more dramatic. He was so excited about the beam of light. The other photographers also enjoyed photographing it as much as the guide did enhancing it with the sand. My eyes went up higher to see if I can spot where the beam of light was coming from. I changed positions a few time until I could see the sun peak through a crack. There you have it, the sun on a hard edge. That is the recipe for a sun star. Yes, lately I am shooting a lot of sun stars. However, you do not ofter see slot canyon images with sun stars, so I just could not resist the opportunity.

          The guide and the other photographers could not understand why I was not shooting the beam of light and why my camera was pointed as it was. Once I showed them my image on the back of my camera they were amazed. The guide remarked that he had never seen an image of a slot canyon with a sun star. Well, here it is:



























The canyon itself is not so great here but the sun star came out very nicely. I was going for something different, a little unique. Everybody shoots the shapes, the shades of color, and of course the famous light beams. Why not try to get something different? Be creative, play around, have fun, try something new. You never know if it will work or not till you try it.

          This is not my favorite image but I still like it.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) Antelope Arizona canyon canyons lower Page photography slot star sun tips tricks upper https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/12/slot-canyons Sun, 09 Dec 2018 14:00:00 GMT
Putting it all together https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/12/putting-it-all-together I visited Page, Arizona recently and as you can expect I did a lot of photography. There were masses of people. I counted well over 300 cars at Horseshoe Bend. Trying to photograph when there are well more than 300 people in your way can be a challenge. People just don't care about us photographers. They will stand right in front of your camera as if you do not exist. How do you get a decent shot when dealing with a situation like this?

          First order of business is to walk to the edge of the crowd where there are fewer people. It does not help to walk too far away because then you also walk away from the scene that you want to photography, the very scene that the crowds have come to see. Next, I look around in search of a way to get a clear shot without people in my image. I look for height, a little mound, anything that will enable me to shoot over the people. When that does not work I look to go where others are not willing to go or where just one person fits in. I found this spot and jumped down a little cliff where I knew no one could join me.

          I set up my tripod and gear. Hoards of people were constantly walking by behind me. A keen person stopped to look at what I was shooting. He waited and waited for me to take the shot, but I just stood there. About 8 or so minutes went by until he eventually asked, "is there a right time to take the shot?" He could not understand why I was waiting. The light was nice, the scene was great, what was I waiting for? I explained that I was waiting for the sun to touch to the horizon so that it will make a sun star (just use a small F.Stop).

          That moment eventually came but now there were what seemed like millions of bugs flying around. With the sun right behind the bugs, they lit up and were going to ruin my shot. To make matters worse I was struggling to get rid of flare. A lady took a position in, just a few feet from me. She was just sitting there and watching the sunset. She must have sensed my frustration. Perhaps I was mumbling to myself about all the challenges. She looked at me and asked, "it is a beautiful scene, what is the matter?" I was frantically at work trying to putt it all together for I had but a few moments before the sun would disappear. I told her briefly about the annoying bugs and the flare. She smiled, took a deep breath and with a lot of satisfaction said, "some scenes are just not meant to be photographed, they are just meant to be enjoyed." That is not what a photographer wants to hear, at least not this one. Here is what I putt together:



























As you can see, I am taking this image from a place where no one will join me. The sun is rather bright, so I bracketed to blend images in post-processing. I had to spend a lot of time getting rid of bugs in post-processing too. In the end, I feel that it was worth the work; I like the image a lot.

          So what makes this image a nice image? How do you put together a complete image that seems to have it all?

  • Try to get away from crowds of people. Including a person or two in your image may be a good thing. Having loads of people in a landscape image just does not go over to well; unless the people are part of your story.

  • This image has a strong foreground that helps to give depth.

  • The V-shape of the foreground is exactly what the river and the scene needs; they complement each other.

  • The river forms an S-shape which is always very dynamic in photographs. The viewer's eyes will follow it through the image.

  • The sun star is placed in a good place in the frame compositionally and is aided the space the bend in the river makes there.

  • There are a few clouds in the sky so that it is not a boring sky.

  • The image has some drama with the high cliffs.

There is a lot of thinking that goes into putting an image together. It took me over an hour of walking around to find this spot. I had to find a spot that would not only shield me from having people in the image but that would also work well compositionally. I waited for the sun to be at the right spot to create the sun star. Lastly, it took a lot of photoshop work to exterminate the bugs and to get rid of the flare.

          Sometimes it just takes a lot of hard work to putt it all together. Was it worth it? I think so, what do you think?

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) Arizona Bend Horseshoe Page photography star sun sunstar tips tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/12/putting-it-all-together Sun, 02 Dec 2018 14:00:00 GMT
Vertical panorama photography https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/11/vertical-panorama-photography Most panorama landscape photographs are horizontal panoramas. We typically turn the camera vertically and then shoot a sequence of images while we pan horizontally. We do this to increase not just the width of the image but also the height. It gives us more resolution which means we can print larger. Sometimes the whole point of a panorama is to be able to print large because they just look stunning when printed large. There is just something about a large print.

          When I shoot this kind of panorama I do not bother to use any special panoramic equipment. I just get the tripod as level as I can without spending too much time on doing so. The software these days do such a good job at stitching the sequence together that I do not want to carry the extra weight of panorama equipment. I will state that I do pay a bit of a price sometimes for my lack of using special pano equipment in that I need to crop the image a bit because that is what happens what the camera is not really level. I have thought of buying a panning clamp because that way I can use my ball head to make my camera level in a few seconds and then use the panning clamp for panning. In this way, my panoramas will always be taken from a level platform. The reason why I have not bought one, and probably won't is because I typically want to point my camera up or down when taking landscapes. The minute you want your camera pointing up or down when shooting panos you need much more than just a panning base and a rail ... I am just not going to go there for the few occasions that I actually take panos.

          So far my panoramas have turned out just fine. However, recently while at Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona I needed to take a vertical panorama. I quickly learned that that is really difficult using a ball head. When I turned my camera vertical I still could not get in what I wanted to get it. I was on the edge of the cliff and had to frame the shot from all the way down in the canyon to high up into the sky because the sky had something to offer. My 16mm lens on a full frame camera still was not wide enough. I had no choice but to shoot a vertical panorama.

With the ball head you have no way of panning vertically but to loosen it, recompose facing the camera more upwards, tighten it and shoot. This needs to be repeated a number of times.

          The problem is that when you loosen the ball head it is impossible to match your previous shot in the area that you are overlapping. The camera's level does help but your camera is moving horizontally too.

          I got home with three images that I wanted to stitch together but PhotoShop was not up to the task. No matter what I tried I just could not get it right. As you can see from the image I found a way to combine the images that worked. Let me share with you what I did because you may need this technique some day.

         All three layers were brought into PhotoShop and placed on a blank image that I created to be large enough. Since the land area could not be matched for stitching I deleted all of that area from the second and third image. Therefore, the second and third image contained only the sky. The base layer contained just enough sky to work with for matching with the other images. I turned the opacity of the top layers down enough to where I could see all three layers. I then moved the top layers around to manually align them as best I could visually. Once the three layers were lined up as best as I could their opacity was restored to 100% and then I selected all three layers, clicked on "edit" and then on "auto align layers." While all three layers were still selected I clicked on "edit" again, and this time followed up by clicking on "auto blend layers." That did it. There were a few spots where it did not do a great job but those were easy to fix using either the healing brush or the clone tool.

          The layers were flattened and the image was then processed as usual. As usual, the image was taken back into camera raw when done to set the white and black points. There you have it. Don't be afraid to do it manually if you have to. Do not give up on a shot that you really want.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) Arizona bend horseshoe manual Page panorama photography stitching technique tips tricks vertical https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/11/vertical-panorama-photography Sun, 25 Nov 2018 14:00:00 GMT
A special day https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/11/a-special-day A wedding is a special day! As a photographer, I have had many wedding shoots over the years. Many of these days were very special indeed:

  • I have had cameras break just at the wrong moment (if there is a right moment when you are the wedding photographer)

  • I have run out of film at the wrong time and had to load the next film in a flash (yes, I know, I have done photography for a long time)

  • Speaking of a flash, I have had those go out on wedding shoots too

  • A wedding party partied too long and arrived at the photo shoot location after dark (even after my pleading that we should go hours before)

  • I have had mothers fight ("you told me your dress was going to be this color ...") - ready, smile ...

  • I have had mothers come more than an hour late (I will not even mention brides)

  • I have seen the flowers arrive more than an hour late

  • I have seen the father of the bride drop his camera and if this was not enough his lens rolled off of a table and smashed into pieces on the floor

  • I have seen many just faint and a groom fall over backward like a log

  • There is probably not much I have not seen at weddings

Because of my love of landscape photography I gave up doing wedding photography some years back. There is just a very slight difference in stress level between the two genres. Recently I was at a wedding of wonderful friends of mine and an awesome family I have known for many years. The wedding was at the famous Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona. When everything was over and everybody was loaded up and ready to roll out I saw the photographer finishing up her last few shots. Only she and the couple were still out there. The light was almost gone. Then it hit me and I just could not stop myself. I hopped out of the vehicle, pulled my cell phone out, rushed over to where they were shooting and took a few images.

          Yes, for the first time in my life I was that guy who wedding photographers love to hate. She probably rolled her eyes and thought something like, "what is this idiot doing shooting 'my shoot' and that with a cell phone no less; how insulting." I really enjoyed taking a few images. Since I was not the wedding photographer I had no stress. I was not shooting a wedding, I was shooting landscapes with a wedding party in the scene. I could really get into this way of shooting.

          Most of you reading this blog are probably landscape photographers like myself because that is what I write about. That means that you will probably not need any tips on wedding photography. I could certainly share a few tips on wedding photography as I was very successful as a wedding photographer, but I am not going to do that today. Please allow me to just share one point that perhaps you can apply the next time you attend a wedding as a guest. To get you interested let me share one of the images I took at this past wedding.

When we think of traditional wedding photography we tend to think more of the couple than of the scene. We shoot tighter because it is all about them. Since you are attending as a guest forget about the couple and look at the scene. Shoot the scene, go for the landscape but just place the couple in the shot. Follow standard landscape photography compositional rules. Show where it is at. Capture a feeling, the sense of the place. If your friends are getting married at some special place show that place, that is why they are there.

         Yes, the couple wants some closer images but I am sure they would also love a few images of scenes like this. At least this couple did. When they saw this image they really wanted it, and I gave it to them.

         The moral of the story is, don't forget about the landscape even if you are photographing people.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) landscape photography wedding https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/11/a-special-day Sun, 18 Nov 2018 14:00:00 GMT
Photographing the Icons https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/11/photographing-the-icons I have written about iconic locations and those trophy images that we all want before. The message has consistently been to get the iconic image but to also do your best to get something different. How do you get something different from images that have been shot to death? Here are a few tips:

  • Shoot the icon but from a different vantage point

  • Use a wide angle lens (really wide) and place something different in the foreground

  • Frame the icon with branches, cliffs, rocks, whatever you can find

  • Shoot from really low down

  • Explore the area

Here is an image of the famous Horseshoe Bend:


If you know anything about photographing the American Southwest you will know about Horseshoe Bend. It truly has been shot to death but let me ask you, have you seen an image of this place framed this way? This image is just a bit different because of the framing. There is the cliff on the right and the ledge on the left that bends with the river. How did I get this image?

          I simply applied the tips mentioned above. I got into this position away from the crowds (thanks to a wedding at this place) which is why you don't see many images of this place with this composition. I explored the area and played with a few different possible compositions till I found this one. A wide angle lens was used which exaggerates the size of the ledge on the left. The framing of the horseshoe complements the image well.

          Arrive long before the light gets nice. Use the time to walk around and to look for something different. Scout during this daylight time for positions that can be taken up tomorrow morning. Scouting does not work well when it is dark.

          Obviously, this image is still about the horseshoe but the foreground is different. People who know this place with instantly recognize the image but then wonder where it was taken from because of the foreground. Foregrounds can make a huge difference in the composition of your images. Always remember to be safe.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) Arizona Bend composition Horseshoe icon iconic image Page photography tips https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/11/photographing-the-icons Sun, 11 Nov 2018 14:00:00 GMT
Post-Processing https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/11/post-processing Let's face it if you want to be a good photographer you have to be a good post-processor. This does not mean that you have to master PhotoShop. There are other tools available, but you have to choose your tools and use them well. Serious photographers shoot raw. JPGs are 8-bit files and they show terribly once you start pushing too far in post-processing. Raw files become 16-bit files which hold up much better when they are pushed. You may ask, "why push your files?"

          The best images, for landscapes anyway, are to be had in low light conditions. They are taken in difficult to shoot light. Your camera does its best but the image always looks disappointing when you open them up on the computer. All raw images need post-processing to look good. They need to be sharpened and tweaked. What makes matters worse is that we often shoot straight into the sun. Your camera's sensor has a difficult time to handle that - yet it does a beautiful job if you know your post-processing.

          Enough said ... let's look at an image to explain what I am talking about:


The left dark side of the image is how my camera's sensor saw this image. If you do not know your post-processing you may be tempted to through this image away. You may even want to scold your camera and think about dropping photography because what you saw was something similar to the right side of the image. Why then does your camera capture what is on the left if it looked like the right? Well, you are shooting right into the sun, which is very bright. So your camera thinks that it is too bright and darkens the image like on the left. Now you will tell me that as the photographer I should be shooting in manual and that I should take control and set the camera to take the image to look like on the right. Let me call your bluff! I challenge you to go and take this or a similar image to look like the right with just one image (no HDR or blending). It is not possible.

          I was in control of my camera and I deliberately shot the image to come out like on the left. Why? Because the sun is too bright; if you give the image more light you will blow the sun. Sure the left side will look nice but where the sun is will simply be a white blob of nothing. In situations like this, you deliberately expose for the sun so as not to blow/clip it. However, that will leave your image looking like on the left. You just don't have any other choice if you want to capture this image in just one exposure.

          If the image then has to look like the left how on earth did you get it to look like on the right? I am glad you asked. What if I told you that I post-processed this image in less than one minute taking it from how it looked on the left to how it looks on the right? You may not believe me but here is what I did:

  1. Open image in PhotoShop (as a raw file)

  2. Place a check mark on remove chromatic aberrations (lens icon)

  3. Set your white and black points (alt and slide white till you see coloration and pull it back just till it disappears, repeat with black slider)

  4. Open image (to take it to PhotoShop)

  5. Open Luminar plugin

  6. Move Accent AI (artificial intelligence) to taste

  7. Move AI Sky Enhancer to taste (BRAND NEW FEATURE)

  8. Use Mild Image Enhancer preset and move slider to taste

  9. Apply

  10. Open in Camera Raw again

  11. Adjust highlights, shadows and recheck white and black points

Done! Since you are working with sliders it is all very quick. You don't need to learn fancy techniques and complicated steps. Your image is ready. I do one more thing in Camera Raw before number 11. I use a brush to dodge and burn (make lighter and brighter locally - only certain spots) but this is also a quick and easy few seconds.

          I have to say, I really like the Luminar software. The new AI Sky Enhancer does a really good job. It picks up the sky through the quiver tree's branches automatically. My post-processing time has been cut dramatically by using this software and I love the results. Give the software a try.

          You can get a discount if you buy the software through this link: https://macphun.evyy.net/c/404711/320119/3255

          Full Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Skylum Software, the makers of the Lunimar Software. I get a small kickback if you buy the software through my link. However, I personally use the software on every image and love it. I am not telling you about the software to make a penny. This is my software of choice.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) AI Enhancer example Luminar photography post-processing Sky Skylum software tips tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/11/post-processing Sun, 04 Nov 2018 14:00:00 GMT
Aurora HDR 2019 https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/10/aurora-2019 As you know I am using Luminar software as my photo editing app. Skylum is the company behind Luminar. I really like Luminar. Skylum has now also updated Aurora HDR (high dynamic range - blending bracketed images of different exposures together to retain the best exposure in the bright and dark parts of each image thereby stretching your dynamic range) to the 2019 version. Let it be said that up until now I did not like HDR software. I used luminosity masks to blend my images and with Sony's wonderful dynamic range I find that I really do not even need to blend many images. The reason for my dislike of HDR software is primarily the gray look often present in the clouds in HDRed images. I just did not like the look of HDR, period.

          Since I am an affiliate of Skylum I decided to give the Aurora HDR 2019 software a test drive. First of all, I like how the program is so similar to Luminar. If you know the one you can basically work the other one. I like the simplicity that Skylum software is known for. I also really like the results. Let's talk about an image:

This is a difficult image to shoot in terms of exposure. The rocks (hills) in the background have parts that were in deep shade - black). But then you are also shooting right into the sun. Typically, the difference between the black shadows and the bright sun is too much for the camera to deal with so you either have to settle for a nice sun but black shadows or nice shadows with a blown sun. I bracketed three images to make sure that the sun is not blown and the shadows are not pitch black.

          I then developed just one exposure as I usually would. Believe it or not, one exposure was all I needed. Yes, the sun was blown a bit and the shadows were black. In post-processing, I was able to correct both and nothing was clipped any more. However, the sky was just whiteish. Then I took all three exposures and processed them with Aurora HDR 2019. I did not change any settings. Once done I processed the file as usual with Luminar. The image was a lot better than the single exposure. Judge for yourself.

          Now, if I may complain! I checked "remove chromatic aberration" but it just did not do a good job at all. This image had rather terrible chromatic aberration. This added a lot of work. I had to open the images in PhotoShop to remove the chromatic aberration there, save each file as a tiff and then open them in Aurora. I wish they would work on this aspect of the program a bit. However, I really like how the program dealt with the HDR side of things. The price is also right. So overall I can recommend the program.

          You can get a discount by buying the software from my link (click on "affiliate links" on the menu bar). As I have mentioned, I am an affiliate which means that I also get a small incentive.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) 2019 Aurora editing example HDR photo review Skylum Software test https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/10/aurora-2019 Sun, 28 Oct 2018 13:00:00 GMT
Composing at night https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/10/composing-at-night Night photography can be tricky. It presents various challenges. The most obvious of which is that it is dark. How do you focus in the dark? How do you compose your image if you can't see? How do you cope with noise (since you are probably shooting at high ISO)? I am not going to address of these issues today as you can read a previous blog on night photography. The main question of this blog is how do you compose in the dark. Some photographers' answer to that question is simple; they don't! They compose when there is still enough light and then sit and wait. Perhaps patience is a virtue that I need to work on harder but that solution just does not work for me. When there is enough light to see I want to be shooting other images.

          Another obvious solution is to take a flash light. Illuminate the scene, compose, turn off the light and shoot. I do not particularly like that solution because the light closes down your eyes' pupils so that when you turn the light off you can't see well. In fact, it may take your eyes upto twenty minutes to readjust. To circumvent this problem many photographer use a green or red tinted light which do not seem to affect the eyes that much. This may work for you. In my case it often does not work well because when I am in a workshop there are multiple photographers present which means that you cannot turn your light on when you want to (others are shooting).

          Take a loot at this image and see what little trick I use that works for me:



























Do you see what I do? Most people will look at this images and say, "no, I don't get it." Remember we are talking about composition so look at the position of the camera ... My little trick is to shoot from low down. There are various reasons why I prefer to shoot night images from down there:

  • 1. By pointing the camera up and shooting from low down the silhouettes of whatever is in the foreground becomes more visible which helps me to compose better. It helps you to see the shapes which you will not see if not in front of the brighter sky.

  • 2. I don't do that much night photography so I do not own a lense wider than 16mm. By placing my camera really low down I get to include more of the sky. In this case I get to include more of the milkyway, which is really the point of night photography - it is all about the sky. The foreground simply gives you scale, interest, and perspective. The foreground is supposed to be fairly small in the image. You really maximize the sky by going down low and pointing upwards.

The next time you are out shooting at night. Go low down as it helps you to compose and it may just give you a better image.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition how to night photography trick https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/10/composing-at-night Sun, 21 Oct 2018 13:00:00 GMT
Be ready! https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/10/be-ready During our recent photographic workshop in Namibia, I was reminded how important it is to be ready. Many people miss once in a lifetime images because they were not ready when it occurred. We went into this Cheetah enclosure which has two male Cheetahs. It is a very large enclosure in which the animals run wild. We walked well into the enclosure without seeing the Cheetahs. The owner called and called them but they did not come, at least not at first. We were all standing there looking around to spot the Cheetahs. All of a sudden they came running towards us. You know how fast Cheetahs are, well, we had to react in a split second to get the shot ... (and he is braking to slow down by now)

This is not the time to be fiddling with settings. This is not the time to wonder if your autofocus is set on single point or whether your drive is set on single shot. Oh wait, you are only getting 1/15 of a second shutter speed with your 600mm lens? Now, where do I bump up my ISO again? Look, if you want the shot you have to be ready. Imagine taking the first two images (which are still out of focus as your camera is getting the focus down) only to find out that your memory card is full.

          Here are a few tips to help you to be ready. Please implement these tips prior to the shoot:

  • Make sure you have a fresh battery installed

  • Make sure your memory card has much more storage space available than you plan to need, or better yet, insert an empty one

  • Anticipate what you are going to be shooting and set your camera accordingly before the shoot (AF mode, Drive mode, Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO)

  • Put the right lens on for what you are about to encounter

  • Set your lens up right (stabilization, panning mode, etc)

  • Clean your sensor

  • Once you get on the scene, prior to the action starting, evaluate what the best position is and get there quickly

  • Pay attention to your background and move if you need to eliminate something

  • Have your camera out and ready

  • Be aware of what is going on around you, focus your mind and get into your shooting zone

  • Focus your lens on a spot at a distance where you anticipate the action to take place

  • Take a light reading and make sure that you are satisfied with your settings

Now you have fewer things to worry about and you can calmly shoot the scene without panic or drama. You want to focus on your shooting not all of these things right now.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) be photography prepare preparing ready tips wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/10/be-ready Sun, 14 Oct 2018 13:00:00 GMT
Character and composition https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/10/character-and-composition When you visit a scene that is a photographic icon you don't want to just get the image that everybody gets. Hopefully, you want to get something different. You are a creative photographer and as such you don't just want to copy what has been done before. You want your composition to stand out. You want to include some character. Here is an image of the famous mitten of Monument Valley.

As you can see, the valley (and higher up were most people photograph this place from) has no vegetation other then low shrubbs. After all, this is a desert. So you can include a moon to add a little something. Everyone and their uncle has this image. Now how about looking around. Try to find something different. Find anything that stands out.

          I started walking a bit (to the left). I found something that would really help the composition, add something different and break away from the typical death valley images. What is more, is that it introduces some character into the image. So, here we go:

As you can see the sun in now very low. This dead tree trunk adds so much to this image. As usual, we are not satisfied with just one image. Walk around, attempt another angle, refine the composition, and shoot, shoot, shoot. Shoot difference images:

Never be satisfied with what you see. Always be looking for something different, something that stands out. Do your best to get an image of an iconic place that is as powerful as the iconic images, but that nobody else has.

          Look around, explore.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) character composition monument moon photography tips tricks valley https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/10/character-and-composition Sun, 07 Oct 2018 13:00:00 GMT
Major Photography Gear Changes https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/9/major-photography-gear-changes This blog typically covers the art of photography. Most of the time we discuss and image to see what we can learn about composition, editing, vision, and so forth. Even when we cover the topic of editing we do not often go deep into software and the technical topics associated with editing. I almost never write just about photographic gear. Today I am going to buck the trend and talk gear. Why? Because major changes to photographic gear is upon us.

          I used to shoot canon for years. How many years? Since 1987! When the Sony A7R II was anounced I switched to Sony. I switched for a two reasons. Firstly, their sensors are great, including their dynamic range. Secondly, mirrorless cameras offer a number of advantages which I will talk about a bit later. Sony was the only player (I am not even going to credit Canon's initial mirrorless offering) in the full frame mirrorless camera market. Canon and Nikon, it seems, did not believe in mirrorless. However, just in the last month there has been a major shift.

          Nikon released a full frame mirrorless camera, complete with a new mount. The camera seems like a well balanced, all round offering. Canon then also released their full frame mirrorless camera (about a month later). Canon seems to have focused on the autofocus system as that appears to be their standout feature. It also appears as though Canon is taking the value option. The surprise thought was that last week Panasonic anounced the development of their full frame mirrorless camera (two of them). Two months ago we basically only has Sony full frame mirrorless cameras. Now there are four major players. Panasonic's entry into the mirrorless market is rather interesting as their current four thirds mirrorless (small sensors) cameras are really good with video. More so, they have partnered with Leica and Sigma on the same mount. That means that you will be able to use Leica, Panasonic and Sigma lenses natively. It also means that together they can build out the lens system for their mount much quicker.

          What this means is that we now have a war on our hands between these companies. This is good because it will push the cameras to new heights. Prices may come down. Why did all these other companies jump into the full frame mirrorless market? Well, Sony just anounces last week that they are the number one seller of full frame mirrorless cameras in the world. They have taken sales from Canon and Nikon. This is rather remarkable since Sony almost came from nowhere in this market just a few years ago.

          Here is what I personally glean from these anouncements:

  • Canon may choose the value option which may help drive prices of the competitors down. Yay!

  • Nikon may keep on offering good balanced cameras, but they may not necessarily be on the front lines of innovation.

  • Panasonic, from the looks of things, may get new lenses out quicker, push good weather sealing and may opt for a value position too.

  • The megapixel race may start up again, soon. Sony's, Nikon's and Panasonic's cameras' sensors are all in the 40+ megapixel range. I just cannot see similar future cameras offering less than that (except for niche cameras like Sony's A7S)

          Why the change to mirrorless?

  • Mirrorless does not need any micro focus adjustments to the lenses

  • You see the effects of your camera settings right through the viewfinder

  • There is focus peaking and focus magnification

  • You can see zebra lines on bright or dark clipped sections of your image right in the viewfinder before shooting

  • You can display your live histogram in the viewfinder and see it prior to taking the image

  • You can review your images right through the viewfinder

  • New features like eye AF is a game changer

  • It seems as if at least Sony has solved the poor battery life issue

  • These cameras weigh less

          Now you may say that many or most of these features are on DSLRs' live view. Yes, but try shooting sports/wild life using your live view and changing settings at the same time. Try seeing what is going on, on the back screen of your camera when the lighting conditions cause glare.

          I predict a photographic gear revolution is coming in the next five to ten years. These are exciting times for photographers.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) canon gear news nikon panasonic photographic photography sony https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/9/major-photography-gear-changes Sun, 30 Sep 2018 13:00:00 GMT
Sun Star Position https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/9/sun-star-position So who does not like a nice sun star image? Sun star images are popular for a reason; they are stunning. The quality of the sun star has to do with the lens. Getting a sun star is easy as I have written in previous blogs. You simply need the following ingredients:

  • The sun on a hard edge (clouds can work)

  • A small F.Stop (large number)

Since I have written about sun stars before I will not talk about them again here, rather I want to share a simple thought that people often do not think of when they are in the field shooting. Most people use the horizon as the hard edge to get the sun star. You can move your tripod lower and get it again as the sun rises. You can do this a few times. However, once the sun is up a ways people stop shooting sun stars. But, why?

          Most people will answer, "well, because the sun is no longer cut by a hard edge. The sun is too high off the horizon." This is the mental block that some photographers struggle with. The simple thought is that the horizon is not the only hard edge you can use. How about a tree?

You can use any hard edge. How about a vertical cliff or rock formation?

Yes, there are many hard edges, we are not stuck with only the horizon. The sun can be as high in the sky as you want, you can still achieve a sun star using any hard edge with your small F.Stop. The next time the sun is above the horizon start thinking about using other hard edged to get your sun star.

          Get out there and try it.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) photography star Sun tricks trips https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/9/sun-star-position Sun, 23 Sep 2018 13:00:00 GMT
Post Processing for Balance https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/9/post-processing-for-balance A few weeks ago I wrote about contrast and balance. Today I want to talk about post-processing for balance. When I am out in the field shooting I do not just shoot seeing what is in front of me, I also visualize what I can do in post-processing. My compositions are made with what I can do in post in mind. I do what Black and White photographers of yesteryear did. I think in bright and dark zones (not in terms of color but light value). I "see" what can be achieved in post by dodging and burning (lighening and darkening). Lighter areas draw attention. Darker areas tend to be visually heavier. Making certain elements lighter can bring better balance with other areas that are darker or way brighter. Enough talk, let's look:

The brighter light and more vivid color in this image is all on the right. Because the canyon in the valley was dark (much darker than what you see here) this image lacked balance. The viewer's eyes kept on going to the bright and colorful right of the image. Viewers would ignore the left of the image after just a quick glance.

          The edge of the canyon has this white crust but it was much darker. When I took this image I knew that I was going to lighten the white crust to give the left side of the image more visual weight which would bring balance between the left and the right. Every image-editing software has a dodge and burn feature. Perhaps the technique I use is old fasioned but it works for me. Once I am basically done editing my images I take the image back into Adobe Camera Raw. I use the adjustment brush in ACR for dodging and burning. I do not like other dodge and burn features because they just dodge and burn. Dodging tends to lower the contrast which makes the area look washed out. With ACR's brush I can adjust multiple things at the same time. I increase exposure and contrast. In this case I also increase highlights and whites a bit. Then I just paint away. Once again, I do not paint in what is not there, I am simply making what is there brighter.

          The last thing I do before leaving ACR is to recheck my white and black points as any post-processing adjustments may have changed these values. Without dodging the canyon's edge this image was visually heavy on the right with little interest on the left; out of balance. Post-processing brought the left back into play and brought balance to the image.

          Think post-processing when you actually shoot and compose for what you can do. 

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) balance burn dodge editing image photography post processing https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/9/post-processing-for-balance Sun, 16 Sep 2018 13:00:00 GMT
Foregrounds can be very important https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/9/foregrounds-can-be-very-important Some images do not need much foreground interest. A beach scene with a beautiful lit dramatic sky typically does not rely on a foreground to make the image. Other images just have to have a strong foreground or they break down. A strong foreground gives you depth. It anchors the viewer's eyes. Hopefully, the background will then draw the viewer into the image. However, without a strong foreground element the viewer eyes will move into your image (if there is something interesting there) once and then move on to the next image. I want viewers to look at my images for as long as possible. A strong foreground element also serves the purpose of pulling the viewer's eyes back from the background to the starting position of the foreground element. Thus the viewer will repeat this back and forth movement and stay looking at the image for much longer.

Cover up the foreground elements of this image and look at it. Now uncover the foreground elements. Does it make a huge difference to you? Follow your eyes' movement with the foreground covered and uncovered. Do you notice what I am talking about?

          The foreground elements add color and lost of interest. It pulls your eyes back and the looking process starts over. This helps to arrest the viewer's attention for longer.

          The foreground element also helps to create a lot of depth for this image. The plant and the brightly lit rock cliff create a lead-in line which just transports your eyes into the image.

          In this case, the strong foreground is not just based on interest but brightness and color. Find some colorful flowers, a little bush, or where the sun lights up. Compose your image with these elements in the foreground and your images will improve.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition depth foreground photography https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/9/foregrounds-can-be-very-important Sun, 09 Sep 2018 13:00:00 GMT
Get really close https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/9/get-really-close One of the best things you can do to improve your landscape photography is to use a wide-angle lens and then get really close to a foreground element. Doing so emphasizes the foreground element. It makes it look much bigger than what it is in relation to the rest of the image. It brings out details that most people rarely see because we don't typically look at foreground elements from closeup. We mostly look from eye level's height versus from low down and really close. The following scene did not really offer much as this was a secondary shoot so the light was already harsh.



The harsh light was softened by using a neutral density filter (which does not change the color). This image is taken from low, low down. I have the wide-angle lense on. I am really close to these foreground rocks. Shooting with a wide-angle lense from this angle and distance makes the space between these two rocks look much larger in the image. The green color of the letchin comes to life. The space between the two rocks creates a lead-in line. This is just a different perspective that adds drama, punch, and a little x-factor.

          Depth of field becomes an issue in landscape photography when you are really close to your foreground element. Luckily, wide-angle lenses give you more depth of field to compensate. You still need to use a small f.stop to get depth of field but as you can see, it works well. I say this often but it is important. Look around for an interesting foreground element. Slap on a wide-angle lens. Get really close to the element and viola.

          Try it ...

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) close composition depth field lens of photography tip trick wide-angle https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/9/get-really-close Sun, 02 Sep 2018 13:00:00 GMT
Using texture to draw attention https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/8/using-texture-to-draw-attention Texture can be used powerfully in photography. The texture of bark, sand, skin, hair, and so forth can be used as a focal point. In landscape photography texture can often be found when things are dry. Texture is brought out with very low light creating longer shadows that contrast with streaks of light. This is what gives ripples in sand dunes their texture. Sometimes we do not have much texture in an image when we want more texture. Here is an image that is similar to last week's image:

This image was obviously taken at about the same place as last week's image but this is a different tree. The light is also very different. We can start to see some glow but full sunlight is not out yet. This made the tree trunk dark. Since the background does not have the punch that last week's image has I wanted to focus more on the tree. I remind you that it is best that the tree does not touch the river.

          So how do I place more emphasis on the tree, especially since the tree was darkish? My whole foreground was darkish. I decided to really highlight the tree in post processing. The two weapons of choice were light and texture. I brightened the tree and foreground considerably. I wanted to draw attention to the tree and the trunk. Next I used texture. Luminar is my photo-editing software of choice, yes, I still use PhotoShop for certain things but most of my work is done in Luminar. There are a few sliders that really bring out the texture of images in Luminar.

          The first one is called "Detail Enhancer." Please do not over do any post processing. We want to let things look natural. We do not seek to place in an image what is not there. We just want to highlight what is there by making it more visible. The next slider is "Structure." The last one I use is "Micro-Structure." I just play around with these sliders to see which one does a better job specifically on the area I want effected. The nice thing about Luminar is that you have layers. So then you just paint the effect in on the tree trunk and branches. The character of the tree just comes to life.

          To me this image is all about that tree (the green) and the texture of the trunk. Learning better processing skills is necessary in today's world if you want to compete. Give Luminar a try. The software is cheap and amazing. Click on Affiliate Discounts (top right of screen) for a discount (and I also get cup of coffee - not that I drink coffee).

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition detail editing Luminar photo photo-editing photography software texture https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/8/using-texture-to-draw-attention Sun, 26 Aug 2018 13:00:00 GMT
Contrast and balance https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/8/contrast-and-balance When photographers speak of contrast they typically refer to light and dark values. However, at times we like to contrast things such as a plant in the desert where we contrast life and death. We may want to use the contrast of color like when you place one red apple amongst a box of green apples. These contrasts can be powerful in your images. We can use them compositionally too. What do you think of this contrast?

The little tree stands in contrast to the rock landscape behind it. The background seems void of trees. The color of the tree does not appear in the background. Both the background and the tree is catching some nice light. You almost get the feeling that the tree stands against the mountains. This is a really strong composition. The tree is powerful in the foreground, yet the background is also strong; pulling the viewer in.

          I placed the tree in such a way that it stands in contrast to the background mountains while at the same time providing balance. The tree is visually strong and balanced with the rock cliffs on the right. I also made sure that the tree is not intervering with the river down below. The trick with this kind of image is to place objects in such a way that you create contrast without also creating imbalance. We strive to have contrasting elements that balance each other.

          When you are out photographing look for contrasting elements then walk around, examine the available angles and place things to maintain balance. Juxtapositioning elements often works well.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) balance composition contrast photography tips trick tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/8/contrast-and-balance Sun, 19 Aug 2018 13:00:00 GMT
Get Close, Shoot From Lower Down https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/8/got-close-shoot-from-lower-down We often plonk our tripods down fully extended and shoot from eye level because it is comfortable to do so. What do you think of this image?

Just to the right of this image is a ledge. All the other photographers where shooting from that ledge. All of them were photographing from eye level. I decided to climb down from the ledge to this position. I lowered my tripod and shot from low down. Why? This is where the color is. I wanted to show the bank of Iceplant. The colorful Iceplant gives some wow to the image. By getting close to the Iceplant they become magnified compared to other objects in the image. This adds importance to them.

          This foreground is interesting and beautiful. Always be looking to get a better foreground, it will really improve your photography. When you lower your position it lengthens your foreground and shortens your middle-ground. Compared to the middle-ground this foreground is much more interesting so why not stretch it by lowering your position? I find that I shoot from lower down more often than shooting at eye level. Try it.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) Big composition low photography Sur tips https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/8/got-close-shoot-from-lower-down Sun, 12 Aug 2018 13:00:00 GMT
Photograph After Sunset https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/8/photograph-after-sunset Many photographers pack up and leave when the sun sets. I have found that I often get my best shots after the sun has gone to bed. The sky is regularly at its nicest just before sunrise or just after sunset. As long as your subject matter can deal with longer shutter speeds, stay out and shoot longer. To your eyes things may look dark and unattractive. But the camera does not know it is dark once you use a long shutter speed. This is why we have tripods. They allow us to shoor prior to sunrise and after sunset.

As you can see, this image was taken well after sunset. It is actually the longer shutter speed that makes this image. That longer shutter speed is what makes the streaks of water pulling back. Those lines just beg your eyes to follow them and thereby to go into the image. They create depth. It is this time of day when the sky turns warm. The sky has nice color but it is not that bright to claim all the attention thereby pulling the viewer away from what we are trying to create on the beach too quickly. The movement of the water on the beach makes this image dynamic.

     I like the way the rocks on the left is balanced by the foreground foilage on the right. Together they balance with the shoreline. The rock stacks are separated just a bit which strengthen their compositional value. What do you think, was this image worth waiting another twenty minutes for? Stay a bit longer and shoot after sunset. Arrive a little earlier in the morning and shoot just prior to sunrise.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) after before Big photograph photography prior sunrise sunset Sur tips https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/8/photograph-after-sunset Sun, 05 Aug 2018 13:00:00 GMT
Directing the Viewer's Eyes https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/7/directing-the-viewers-eyes One of the goals we have as photographers is to direct the viewer's eyes. We want to pull their eye's into the image. We want to keep them looking at our photograph for as long as possible. The longer we can get viewers to look at an image the better the image is (except if they are trying to figure out what on earth they are looking at). We want them to wish they were there. We want them to want to step into the scene. We want to evoke emotion. Here is the image we will be discussing today:

The foreground is slim but enough. The green foilage creates a base from which to start looking at this image. The brighter rocks to the right start pulling the viewer's eyes further into the image. The little river takes over and pulls the viewer even further into the image. The rock stacks pull the eyes further into the image yet. Lastly, the orange cloud begs for the viewer's attention. We clearly have a foreground, middle-ground, and background. They all work together to direct the viewer's eyes into the image. They invite the viewer to move into the scene.

          In this case, I really liked the reflection where the little river meets the ocean. I deliberately waited for the wave to be completely back before shooting to maximize the size of the reflection. I have said this many times in previous blogs but it is important enough to repeat. When I post process my images I regularly close my eyes and then open them again to consciously make a mental note as to where my eyes go and how they move through the image. I then use dodging and burning to darken and lighten certain place to make sure the viewer's eyes will go where I want them to go. Remember that the human eye goes to light and colorful places first.

          Now, have you thought of doing exactly that when you are out in the field? Take the shot. Close your eyes and then open them again looking at the image consciously being aware of where your eyes go. Do your eyes go where you want them to go? Is there anything you can change about the composition that would make a positive difference?

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) Big composition direct eyes photography Sur tips https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/7/directing-the-viewers-eyes Sun, 29 Jul 2018 13:00:00 GMT
Think About Your Composition https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/7/think-about-your-composition Photography is half science/technical and half art/vision. When you get to a scene what do you do in terms of your vision? I just take the scene in. I look at the major features before me. I look at the weather, the sky. I decide what I want to do with the major features in the scene. Then I walk around. I look at how the position of the major features change as I move around. I am looking for balance. I want these features to work together, to compliment each other. I am always asking myself: "Where will the viewer's eyes go in the scene?". Once I am satisfied with my position and where the major features of the scene are I start looking around at the foreground. I almost always seek to find something of interest in the foreground. Once I find it, that is where I setup and shoot. Sometimes you do not have a foreground close to you and sometimes you do not need one.

          Let's look at this scene:

The major features are the little river, the rock stacks, and the cliffs (shoreline). A little ways to the right is a bridge that connect the cliff I am on with the cliffs on the other side (in the scene). So, I could move to the other side and along that cliff. I could also move to my left and right. Given that I could position myself almost anywhere in this scene, why did I chose this particular spot to photograph from?

          What makes this photograph compelling to me (compositionally speaking) is the balance, the flow, the complementing features, and the harmony. Let's start with the foreground. The little river takes the viewer's eyes and let's them move toward the rock stacks. The ocean and the cliffs take the viewer along the shoreline, into the image. The cliffs and the rock stacks balance with the little river.

          I wished I could move slightly to my right to get the rock stacks to separate from each other just a bit as that would have made them a bit stronger in the composition. As you can expect I tried that but the shape of the cliff I was standing on interfered with the image there.

          I used a long shutter speed to get the spooky look in the ocean water. Get yourself into the habit of thinking before you shoot. Really look at the scene. Walk around. Plan your composition. Think vision.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) Big composition photography shutter speed Sur tips vision https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/7/think-about-your-composition Sun, 22 Jul 2018 13:00:00 GMT
Light https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/7/light If you have read my blogs from the beginning you may remember that the word "photography" means drawing or writing with light. That aught to tell us that photography is all about light. Yes, the scene is important but light is more important than the scene. I was photographing at Big Sur's McVay falls this year. Within an hour we had seen the weather change multiple times. When I just got there it was overcast with flat light. By the way, if you want to be a good photographer learn to read the light, and being able to read the weather also helps. Flat light is not typically a problem. In fact, I like shooting in flat light. You can adjust your contrast in post processing and give life to flat images. I could see that rain was coming. Sure enough, within twenty minutes it rained. About twenty minutes later the rain moved on and the sun came out. With the sun came a major change in the light. The sun did not last for long. A few minutes later the sun moved in behind some clouds. Another few minutes later the sun set.

          Please do not leave when it rains if you can see that the rain is from a cell or two. If the whole area is socked in with thick cloud cover you may consider leaving. Staying paid off because I got to photograph in different kinds of light. Look at the next three images. They were all taken within a half an hour or so from each other. They are all from the same scene. The only real difference is the light. I want you to see the difference light makes:

Here is the first image. You can see that the light is flat (actually, the light was flat. I added a lot of contrast to get the image to where it is). As you will remember from last week's blog, I used a slow shutter speed to show the wave pulling back. Now the clouds move away and the sun comes out:

Just look at the difference in the light. This image is much more alive. The light is warm. I still used a slowish shutter speed and still shot as the wave pulled away but you can see that the "lines" the water makes pulling back does not show as much motion. Because the sun is out my shutter speed is faster thus not showing as much motion. Here is the last image taken just before sunset:

Since the sun is almost set and behind thick clouds this image is colder. The beach's light is colder. The warmth is gone and the rocks that form this little bay are darker (even though I lightened them in post processing). Light can change the entire mood of an image. Always focus on the light. Shoot in different kinds of light.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) Big Falls light McVay photography Sur https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/7/light Sun, 15 Jul 2018 13:00:00 GMT
Shutter Speeds https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/7/light-and-shutterspeed Before I take any picture I always ask myself: "Is there movement in scene?" If the answer is "no" then I really do not care too much about my shutter speed (I always use a tripod so sloooooow shutter speeds are not a problem and fast shutter speeds work just fine as well). Now we do need to be carefull to answer "no" to quickly because wind can cause leaves and flowers to blow around. Without paying close attention you may not notice the subtle movement. If the answer is "yes" then we need to ask another question: "Do I want to show the movement (by blurring it) or do I want to freeze it?" We blur moving objects by using a slow shutter speed and we freeze movement with fast shutter speeds.

          Please consider the image below. Look at movement and think about the shutter speed in use:


If there is wind then we need to consider any movement caused in the foreground vegetation. In the case of this landscape image I want the foreground to be sharp. So if there was wind I will use a fast enough shutter speed to free the motion. Then we also need to consider the clouds in the background. Are they moving and if so how fast are they moving? Typically, their movement is not going to be much of a problem because they are far away. The distance of objects from the camera impacts how obvious movement is in the images. The closer objects are the stiller they need to be to be sharp.

          Lastly, the waves are moving. So I ask myself: "Do I want to show their movement or not?" I decided that I wanted to show the movement to draw more attention to the small waterfall. I needed something strong on the left to balance with the strong bright sky on the right. Since there was not much wind I chose a slow shutter speed. I waited for the wave to start pulling back and then took the image.

          Now if there was wind I would have taken two images, one with a fast shutter speed to freeze the foilage in the foreground and one to show the motion of the wave. It is really easy to blend the two exposures together with an image like this because no foilage is in front of the moving wave. The next time you are out to shoot, think about movement and shutter speeds. Why not show some movement more often? Everthing does not always need to be sharp.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) landscape motion movement photography shutter speed tips https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/7/light-and-shutterspeed Sun, 08 Jul 2018 13:00:00 GMT
Light, mood and white balance https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/7/light-mood-and-white-balance On a recent workshop at Big Sur, California we visited the same location on two different days. We encountered very different conditions on each day. I made basically the same image composition wise. However, because of the conditions the light and mood of the two images are very different. Here is the first image from the first day we visited this location:

It was rainy and threatening. The white balance is fairly warm. The ocean's color looks very nice. Obviously the next image's sky will change rather dramatically. What I would like you to notice however is the color shift in the coastline and the plants/grass on the right. Compare these two images:

Yes, the color of the ocean is very different too, but that is simply due to the time of day and the direction of the light. In the first image light is shining on the water revealing its color. In the second image the sun is long gone, so there is no direct light on the ocean. The white balance on the coastline and the plants/grass on the right is much cooler in the second image.

          Now compare the mood between the two images. Take a minute, I will wait for you ...

          Even though the composition is very similar we have two very different images due to light and mood. The mood between these two image are radically different. This is an illustration that the same scene, even the same composition can yield very different images. This is why it is a good idea to go back to the same scene when conditions change. Do not be tempted to say, "oh, I have already been there." This comparison also shows you the big difference white balance settings can make. Play with your white balance to tweak the image.

          Sometimes I use dual white balance settings. In the second image I warmed up the sky to bring out the orange glow, but because the sun was down the water was colder (color temperature). I did not want to warm up the water. It would just not look right in this image. Therefore, I actually cooled down everything below the horizon as bit. This image thus makes use of two different white balance settings.

          There are many ways of achieving this effect. I will only mention two here. When I "develop" my raw file I do not touch white balance at first. Once the file is open in PhotoShop I duplicate the layer. You can now take each layer back into the raw developer and change their white balances; one layer for the sky and another for everything else. Once back in PhotoShop you simply place a layer mask on your top layer and paint out where you want to see the background layer's white balance. This is easy to do but a bit more work than I care to do, not that I am lazy, I just have too much to do to waste time if there are more efficient ways of doing things.

          The method I prefer to use is a split filter in Skylum's Luminar (click on affiliate links for a discount). With this filter you simply slide two sliders; one to change the warmth of warm tones and one to change the warmth of cold tones. This effect is like stretching your warmth dynamic range (if you understand what I mean). You can make your warms warmer and your cools cooler with no masking or duplicate processes. You simply slide two sliders and you are done. I love what that filter does to my images. Of course it works best with an image that has both warm and cold tones.

          Light and white balance can dramatically impact the mood of your images. Many photographers these days seem to have forgotten to play with white balance because the newer cameras do such a good job with auto white balance. Do not fall into that trap. Take control of the mood of your images.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) balance light luminar mood photography skylum white https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/7/light-mood-and-white-balance Sun, 01 Jul 2018 13:00:00 GMT
God-rays https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/6/god-rays God-rays can come and go fast. Other times they may linger a bit longer. When you are lucky enough to be able to include them in your imagery they just add so much warmth and wonder to these images.

This image was taken at Big Sur, California. The God-rays just draw you to the background. Yet, it helps to have a strong foreground. The ice plant in the foreground adds color and interest. There are rock in the middle ground. When we have a strong foreground, middle ground, and background you typically have depth in your image.

          God-Rays can be very difficult to photograph. The are typically very bright compared to the rest of the image. This makes getting the best exposure tricky. Make sure your camera is set to display blinkies when either the dark or brights are blown. Use your histogram. Remember that the right side of the histogram represent your brights while the left side represents your darks. Set your exposure such that the histogram is just, just not touching the right side. This may mean that your darks may be too dark. Your photo may not look nice at all. As long as your blacks are not touching the left edge of the histogram wall you are fine.

          In post processing just bring your darks back to life by sliding your dark slider to the right. It may also be beneficial to get to know your camera's sensor. I sometimes shoot even though my blinkies blink on my highlights. I have learned how much I can recover in post. Now I never do this if I don't need to. How do you know when you need to? You need to if your blacks are clipping. Another way is to bracket and blend. Personally, I will always do my best to get the image in one shot if possible.

          Do your best to work fast as you may loose the God-rays at any moment. This is way it is important to know your gear. This is not the time to figure out histograms or settings. You need to be able to control your gear without thinking so that you can be fast and so that you can concentrate of composition.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/6/god-rays Sun, 24 Jun 2018 13:00:00 GMT
The human element in landscape photography https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/6/the-human-element-in-landscape-photography When I learnt photography a few purists attempted their best to instill in me the principle of not every including any man-made object in the image. If you did, they would not classify the image as a landscape image. I still know some photographers that will not photograph any scene which includes any man-made object. To each his or her own; after all, it is a free country. To some extent these purists did succeed to get me to mostly make images of landscapes that do not include man-made objects. From time to time though, I deliberately include man-made objects in my landscape photographs because that object adds interests or suits the composition well or simply because it provides scale or the human element. Since it is my photography I still call it a landscape photograph even though others may refuse to see it as a landscape image.

Would this image have the same feel, the same impact without the lighthouse? Does the lighthouse not add a human element that is interesting? Does the lighthouse not help to make the viewer raise questions such as; how does a person get up there? To me the lighthouse, though be it man-made is a valuable part of this image.

          So what did I think through when photographing this image? Firstly, the cloud above the lighthouse moved reasonably fast. Secondly, the cloud bank in the background also moved, just slower. I waited for the clouds to move into such a position as to aid the composition. When clouds move wait for them to end up where you want them (if they are moving in the right direction). Sure, make your image before the clouds get to the ideal location just so that you have the image in case the clouds do not cooperate.

          I included enough of a base in the foreground to anchor the image and not to have anything distracting on the bottom edge of the image. You will also notice that bright light is hitting the ocean. When clouds move the intensity of that bright light will change. If it is too bright just wait a bit as the clouds may get in front of the sun a bit to take off some of the brightness. However, we are now watching the movement of three things: the cloud above the lighthouse, the background cloud bank and the bright light on the water. Nature very seldom does exactly what you want it to do and the chances of that happening when there are three variables is rather slim. So you may need to compromise with one or two of the elements. Just do the best you can. Take a few images because you never know when the bright light will totally disappear.

          The point is to really watch your scene and to pay attention as to what is taking place. Anticipate what is going to happen and wait for it while you take the odd image here and there just for in case things do not work out.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition landscape man-made objects ocean photography seascape tips https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/6/the-human-element-in-landscape-photography Sun, 17 Jun 2018 13:00:00 GMT
Flower Photography https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/6/flower-photography As you know I am a landscape and nature (including wild life) photographer. So, when I talk about flower photography I am not talking about doing anything in a studio or using artificial light. That does not mean that I dislike studio or artificially lit flower images, they can be gorgeous. That however, is just a different kind of photography that I am not into. My style of photography would include flowers in the landscape or I would photograph them in nature; where and as they are.

This Cala Lilly was shot at Big Sur, California. When I am out photographing landscape images I often find wild flowers. When conditions are right I include them in my landscapes. Conditions are right when I do not have a lot a wind as to render the flower out of focus (after I acquired as fast a shutter speed as I can by utilizing a high ISO). The light must also be right.

          On this particular day the sky was just drab and gray. Since this is at the ocean there was no way to photograph the landscape without getting a lot of sky in. We had also had some rain. Now when you combine drab gray skies with flowers after rain you get conditions that really suit outdoor flower photography. I forgot about the landscape for a bit and focussed on the flower. Flowers just love soft defused light (the clouds acts as a huge defuser). Rain drops add a lot of interest.

Here are a few tips on shooting flowers in nature:

  • Wait for drab gray skies

  • If it did not rain, spray the flowers and leaves with fine mist till you get nice drops

  • Fill your image with the flower and or leaves

  • Pay attention to any lines the leaves make and use them to lead into the image

  • Since the light is flat add good contrast in post processing

  • Use a small f-stop to increase your depth of field if you cannot isolate the flower from the background

  • Use a large f-stop to blur the background if you can isolate the flower from the background

  • Pay attention to your composition as you would with a landscape image

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) calla flower lillies lilly outdoor photography tips https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/6/flower-photography Sun, 10 Jun 2018 13:00:00 GMT
Foreground, middle ground and background https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/6/foreground-middle-ground-and-background One way to get depth in your images is to have a strong foreground, a strong middle ground and a good background. Having three distinct "grounds" help the viewer to move from one to the next thereby leading them into the image. Here is an image that demonstrate each "ground."

Let's talk about composition for a minute. We have a strong rock foreground. There are other rocks that make the middle ground. The sun and clouds make up the background. Pointing the camera right at the sun can create some challenges (never look into the sun without wearing suitable protective gear). Firstly, it is very bright which makes exposure values an issue. Either the sun blows out (no detail just white), or the dark rocks turn solid black (no detail), or both. This is why I changed from Canon to Sony. This image consists of just one exposure. I used no bracketing, no HDR, no dual processing of the same file. The dynamic range of the Sony sensors are just wonderful (Nikons are also that good, even a hair better).

          Secondly, when shooting into the sun, dark solid objects will turn very dark. In post processing they need to be brightened just enough to reveal detail. In post processing I also pay attention to the water. Certain sections of water are a bit brighter than other sections. I make the lighter sections even lighter as long as they lead into the image. There is also a faint light streak caused by the sun which I brighten a bit because it too draws you to the background.

          Lastly, when shooting into the sun I love to get sunstars. They just add to the image. You get sunstars by waiting for the sun to pass behind a hard edge (in this case the horizon) and by using a small f-stop.

          Having the sun shine on the foreground brings attention to it which helps to grab the viewer's attention right from the start. 

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) background foreground ground middel photography sun https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/6/foreground-middle-ground-and-background Sun, 03 Jun 2018 13:00:00 GMT
Neutral Density Filters https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/5/neutral-density-filters On a recent workshop I co-instructed with famed photographer Don Smith. I was trying out a new system for handling neutral density filters. Midway through the workshop quite a few participants asked about this system and why I was using it. I had to explain to them what I was doing and why. For you I can just show the result:

I can show you the images I took of this scene without the filter but I am just going to explain it. A neutral density filter does not change the color of the image (if it is a good one, cheap ones tend to have color casts). It simply let's less light through to the lens. This allows you to use slower shutter speeds. In this case my ISO was already low and my f-stop was already at sixteen, yet my shutter speed was too fast to show the motion I wanted. A neutral density filter allows me to get lower shutter speeds. The shutter speed in this case created some movement. The water is flowing into the scene which makes the viewer's eyes do the same. It also creates the dreamy, mystical, cloudy effect you see. This image is just so much better than the images taken without the filter. It is more artistic.

          Here are a few things to consider when you buy such a filter system and of course the filters themselves:

  • Buy good quality filters. Color casts are nasty. The longer the exposure the worse they get. Yes, I know about post processing, but I believe the better the image is to start off with the better the end result will be and I do not have time to waste on problems that could have been prevented.

  • Buy good quality filters. It is just a matter of time before your filters will fall. Trust me. It is when they fall and when something wants to scratch them that you will be glad you have good quality filters. In fact, when I gave the demonstration to the group of my system a filter fell. It hit the side of the table, fell down and hit the leg of a chair and then on to the ground. It made a loud noise and everybody thought that the filter was toast, but no, not a scratch, not a mark. Just in that moment they were worth every penny I paid for them.

  • Buy good quality filters. Forget the resin plastic ones; I have had those ... Get good Scott's glass. Resin can warp, they do not always stay perfectly flat, glass stays perfectly flat.

  • Make sure the filter cannot fall out of the holder system. They should not be able to just slide right through. Over time they start sliding through easier and easier until they fall.

  • Light leak is a really big problem when you get to really long exposures. Believe me, that is not something you want to deal with in post processing. Make sure your system does not allow any light leakage.

  • Rear reflections on the filter is just as bad. Once again, make sure that your system does not allow stray light or reflections into your lens.

  • Special coatings on the filter are very important. We shoot in bad weather. There are coatings that make water just slide right off. There are coatings that make it very easy to clean. When shooting in rain, always make sure you wipe the filter before you take the image because a rain drop on the filter ruins your image.

          You may want to know which filters I suggest. Firstly, let me state that I am not affiliated with nor do I profit in any way from making these recommendations. I make these recommendations purely based on my experience. In my opinion the best filter holder system comes from Wine Country Camera. Be warned, I almost needed heart medication when I looked at the price. However, this system is built like a tank and well thought through. I also highly recommend their filters. Another company whose filters I really like and use is Break Through Photography (out of San Francisco). I use some of their filters on my Wine Country Camera system.

          I used to use screw in neutral density filters, but I will never use them again. Sure they have no light leak issues or outside rear reflection issues. But they are a pain to use. I often also use a polarizing filter with my neutral density filters. The screw in filters make it too dark to compose, focus and tune the polarizing filter. Now you can compose before screwing the neutral density filter on, but I have found that when I do I tend to touch the focus ring and my polarizing filter also gets rotated as the neutral density filters rotate in. Then I want to recompose for another image but cannot because I cannot see well - it is too dark. Now you have to remove the neutral density filter, start over and put it back on when ready. The Wine Country Camera System just does not work that way. You just slide them in and out in one second. I truly love this system. They could make it lighter as it is heavy. The price has much room for improvement. In my opinion it is still the best system out there. The glass filters from these two companies are just awesome.

          Although I am not going to talk about these filters in the upcoming posts, many of the images that you will see where taken with these filters on. I plan to briefly explain the benefits with each image.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) break through photography buying tips exposures filter filters long neutral density system wine country camera https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/5/neutral-density-filters Sun, 27 May 2018 13:00:00 GMT
Seascapes https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/5/seascapes Seascapes can be beautiful. The ocean typically offers three different possibilities for great images. Firstly, the main compositional element can be waves or a wave. Secondly, we can focus more on the sky due to nice clouds or the sun. Lastly, there may be interesting foregrounds such as water movement, rocks, etc. The vast body of water by it self is mostly boring. To get nice images of the ocean we typically focus on one of the aforementioned suggestions. The bottom line is that you usually need to add something to it. At times that may be something in the distance like clouds or a boat or a sun. Other times we focus on the foreground.

          As mentioned in another blog, I go back to the same scene often because things change. Recently, I went to a beach where I reasonably often visit. I found conditions that I had never seen there before. Instead of the usual sandy beach there were streams of water in various places. Let's look at a few examples:

This is a very simple image. It is more of a skyscape than a seascape. It is the color and the reflection of the color that make the shot. Make sure to place your horizon well off center. Here is another one from the same night:

A theme that I often repeat is to work the scene. I want to get a few different compositions from the same scene. Shooting the same composition over and over to then pick the best one works well if you are satisfied with getting only one image from your shoot. That is just not me, I want to maximize conditions and get as many different images as I can. Therefore I move around quite fast. I am always looking for different foregrounds to place in my scene. I composed this image so that the foreground water points to the sun. We seek to have the viewer look into the image which is what this composition does. That makes this a strong composition. Even though the foreground is strong, I still gave more space to the sky. As you can see, the vast body of water is boring, so I minimized it. By getting down low the distance or space taken up by the body of water shrinks. Here is the last one from that scene:

I moved around again which changes the foreground completely. We love lines going into the image because the viewer's eyes will follow them into the image. Lastly, look at the scene and plan how you are going to walk before you start walking. Remember, in sand and snow you leave footprints. You don't want to walk in a following composition and ruin the next shot (unless you want to use footprints compositionally, but even then they need to lead somewhere, you do not want random prints all over the place). To summarize:

  • Visit the same scene multiple times when the conditions are right

  • Work the scene by moving around quickly to get multiple images

  • Always think composition and color

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) ocean photography seascape skyscape tips https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/5/seascapes Sun, 20 May 2018 13:00:00 GMT
Juxtapose life and death https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/5/juxtapose-life-and-death Drama tends to be exciting, in life and in photography. Drama seems to ask questions, questions that make you look at an image longer because those images just beg for your attention. Let's look at this image:

Yes, the image has nice color and good light. There is drama between the light part of the dune and the shadow side. The real drama is the interaction between the tree and the harsh desert. The desert speaks of death. There is no water. Yet, the tree seems to survive. This kind of drama poses questions such as:

  • How does that tree survive?

  • Where is the tree getting water from?

  • How long is it going to survive?

  • What made this tree survive when two others have already died?

  • How did the tree came to be planted there?

The image is simple, yet thought provoking. It is the drama that makes the image what it is. Drama is always in play when life and death are juxtaposed. When you see death everywhere, start looking for life to juxtapose with it. When you see an abundance of life, look for death to juxtapose with it. These two contrasts often make for great images.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) death drama dunes life namibia photography sand https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/5/juxtapose-life-and-death Sun, 13 May 2018 13:00:00 GMT
Show scale https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/5/show-scale Crime scenes are always shot with something to give scale. I nature that is sometimes also required to allow the viewer to get a full sense of the size of something. The sand dunes of Namibia can look quite small in photographs when all you see are the dunes. It is only when you add something to provide scale that the real magnitude of these giant sand dunes are portrayed justly.

It is the proportions of the dune in comparison to the trees that makes you realize the true height of the dune. Do something to show the scale when shooting something large. Place a person or something in the scene that people know the size of so that one can compare the difference.

          Also play with lines. They are always great for composition when used correctly (you don't want lines to lead out of your image). Curved lines are always better than straight lights as they just tend to be more dynamic.

          Play with light and shadows. Lastly, the tip of the sand dune also catches some sun light. That light helps to draw the eye up there adding to the sense of scale and height.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) dunes namibia photography sand scale size https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/5/show-scale Sun, 06 May 2018 13:00:00 GMT
Nap time can be cute https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/4/nap-time-can-be-cute Who does not adore an image of a baby sleeping? Nap time can be so cute. Animals also nap and their nap time images can also be cute. Cuteness by itself does not cut it in photography. You still need good light. Good light will always improve your images, no matter the subject you shoot. Poor light will always be less flattering. We still need to combine good light with the cuteness of nap time. Here is a napping Rock Hyrax, commonly known as a Dassie:

Go in close (with your lens, lest you wake the creature). Fill your image. Do your best to isolate your cute sleeper from the background to minimize distractions. Show off the animals features such as whiskers. Just keep moving around slowly and softly until you find the right angle where it all comes together. Here is another example:

This Rock Hyrax is also enjoying a good late afternoon nap. I applied the same tips shared above to make this image (no distractions in the background, good light, showing off the animals features, etc.). The cuteness factor is a bit higher in this image because of the paws. It looks out stretched. Is it not cute? When photographing animals try to get something different than an animal just standing there looking at you.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) animal dassie hyrax napping photography sleeping tips https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/4/nap-time-can-be-cute Sun, 29 Apr 2018 13:00:00 GMT
Add interest to wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/4/add-interest-to-wildlife Animals can make great imagery. Just like in landscape images you also require good light. The good news is that wild animals are out when the light is good. In poor light the animals typically hide in the shade. The bad news is that good light is often low light and low light requires longer shutter speeds. Longer shutter speeds and moving animals are not great for getting sharp images. To make matters worse long lenses most often required to get good wildlife images need faster shutter speeds to prevent camera movement which once again ruins focus. To get better wildlife images please consider the following:

  • Stabilize your camera by resting the camera of something (on safari this means on the car door or window)

  • Use a bean bag or something that helps to absorb vibrations

  • Turn the car's engine off to minimize vibrations

  • Plead with  your fellow travers not to move when you shoot

  • Use high ISO to get a faster shutter speed (auto ISO works well here)

Even when using all the right techniques animal images can still be boring. To jazz things up one has to add some interest. Look for animal movement. Show animal behavior. Find animal interaction (especially between different species).  Time your shots to capture something extra. In the image below I noticed that the flamingo constantly put it's head under water to forage. When the head came up again water drops would fall from it's beak. Just those droplets help to add interest:

Shooting animals or birds require patience. Learn to anticipate their behavior. Wait for movement or interaction or something that adds a bit of interest. Here is another image of the same flamingo. This time it's mate is also in the image. Once again, having two flamingoes in the same image does not necessarily make it a better image. One has to add interest by showing their interaction. It just gives life to the image:

Don't they just look in love?

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) animal birds flamingo photography tips tricks wildlife https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/4/add-interest-to-wildlife Sun, 22 Apr 2018 13:00:00 GMT
Capture Mood https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/4/capture-mood Sometimes we just think of the beautiful.  We see that wonderful sunset, the vibrant colors. When we are in this frame of mind we can miss any opportunities that the dreary may have to offer. At times a somber mood can make for a nice image. Mood can give an image character. On a recent trip to Namibia we found ourselves in Sossusvlei one afternoon. The conditions were less than ideas, to state it kindly. The dust and haze posed a significant problem. We did not give up. I slapped a long lens on and started to look for mood.

          When photographing people, mood most often comes from the subject's facial expression or the situation he or she finds himself or herself in. Landscape photography is a bit different. Mood is most often created by atmospheric conditions such as fog, haze, dust, rays, mist, etc. Just like people images the landscape subject itself can help to provide some mood. The trick is to match the mood that the subject provides with that of the atmospheric conditions. In other words, when you see moody conditions start looking for matching subject matter. Great moody subject matter are things like a hanging willow tree, a fence in poor condition, a tree with no leaves on, and so forth. Telephoto lenses are often helpful to create great mood. Here is an example:


You can see that the tree on the left is pretty dreary. The atmosphere clearly helps. Everything is covered in dust. The mood speaks of hardship. The composition of this image is balanced. The tree on the left is balanced by the sun on the right. The layers formed by the sand dunes in the background helps to transition the viewer's eyes up and down in the image. We almost always prefer vertical eye movement than horizontal eye movement of our viewers. We want them to look into our images (depth) rather then from side to side (flat view).

          When conditions do not match your desire for beauty go for mood. Look for it. Isolate it. Capture it.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) atmospheric conditions mood photography tips tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/4/capture-mood Sun, 15 Apr 2018 13:00:00 GMT
Add life to the dead https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/4/add-life-to-the-dead Kolmanskop in Namibia is a fascinating place. In fact, Namibia is a fascinating country. If you would like to take a photographic workshop from me in these very places click on the workshops menu item located at the top of the site. This ghost town is situated in the desert. When I say desert I mean sand and nothing else. The place looks dead, lifeless. When an entire scene looks a certain way try to find something that suggests the opposite. It creates a healthy tension in the picture. It makes the viewer ask questions. So when things look dead and lifeless search for signs of life. Juxtapose the life in contrast to the dead. Here is an example:

The plant introduces life into a scene that seems to suggest that life has left. It brings interest, questions, and mystery. In this scene it bring color to the colorless background.

          The same idea can be used on many other fronts. When everything is frozen find something that is not. When everything is flowing find something that is not. Show contrasts. Try to find that which seem impossibly opposite.

          Here is another scene that would suggest death except for the contrasting evidence of life. The life makes the image dynamic. It raises questions: what made the tracks? Did the animal belonging to the one set of tracks go after the other? Did it survive? How does it survive in this place? Am I safe standing here?

          When we add life to the dead we end up with dynamic imagery, imagery that is evocative. Always be looking for contrasting opposites and attempt to capture them.

[email protected] (Pierre Steenberg) composition contrast death kolmanskop life namibia opposites photography tips tricks https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/4/add-life-to-the-dead Sun, 08 Apr 2018 13:00:00 GMT
Using light to invite https://www.pierresteenbergphotography.com/blog/2018/4/u