Sunday, July 16, 2017

5 Lessons from the UK

We just returned from a month of travel, first giving 2 seminars in the UK (England and Scotland), and then vacationing in Southern Ireland (EU, not UK).  The light was poor to average; it rained a lot, and I did the best I could with the six total minutes of good light I had. :-)  

Lots of pictures to share and lessons regarding those pictures.  I'll be as brief as I can.

1. Overcoming Lightroom's Small Slider Range

Do Jewish Scotsmen get a Kilty conscience?
An overcast sky can provide nice soft light for portraiture (as long as the sky isn't in the shot), but pretty awful conditions for landscapes.  Here shooting RAW is essential for its expanded dynamic range compared to jpg.  BUT, programs like Lightroom may not allow you to slide the controls enough to do all the correcting you need.  

The "Highlights" slider in both Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw (part of Photoshop) can be used to recover some of the nearly-blown-out highlights in the sky.  But as you can see, it doesn't slide to the left far enough.

Fortunately, Photoshop has a feature that lets you apply the same controls multiple times until you get what you need.  Just go to FILTER --> CAMERA RAW FILTER... and voila!  The same set of import controls pop up again, allowing you (in this case) to slide the "highlights" slider to the left for even more correction.  I had to reduce the highlights 3 times in order to get the sky dark enough in the Scotsman looking through Binoculars shot (see right example, two images earlier).  

This technique was also used in the image below, photographing an amazingly huge public artwork sculpture called "The Kelpies" in Scotland:

I really hate overcast skies, for it can sometimes lead to blah (and therefore unlicensable) images.  Shooting RAW can often allow you to recover the highlights that get blown out in the .jpg.

2. B&W Can Often Save RBL 

The Forth bridge (on the left)  might be an engineering marvel for its day - the longest cantilever bridge span in the world – a title it held for 27 years.  But it's hard to be impressed with bad light.

That's a bit better.

RBL stands for Really Bad Light.  (The bane of all photographers.)  Another trick I have up my sleeve for dealing with it is to convert the image to high-contrast black-and-white, using Photoshop's IMAGE --> ADJUSTMENTS --> B&W Control.  Unlike simply desaturating the colors, the B&W control allows you to specify a shade of grey for each color that you have.  Do you want the blue sky to come out dramatically dark?  Slide the blue control to the left.  Light vegetation?  Slide the green control to the right.  Then use the curves tool to place your whites and blacks (for maximum "punch") and you've gone from hopelessly boring to "Wow!  That's a great picture!  What kind of camera do you have?".

3. Lush Landscapes Require Underexposure

This one's not intuitive. Most shots you take in the forest, of mountainscapes, and of vegetation in general will come out overexposed, no matter what brand of camera you shoot with.  Why?  Because your camera's built-in exposure meter is assuming that your subject is reflecting back 18% of the light that hits it.  (Your average subject has 18% reflectivity.  It thinks you're shooting something average.  And by definition, most of the time, you are.)     
The dark rocks and moss reflect back MUCH less than 18% of the light that hits it. Your camera's meter says, "I need to let in more light in order for the average brightness to look like an average scene!"  And so it looks washed out.
Setting your Exposure Compensation to -1 will usually make it look the same way it looked to your eye.
Anyway, forests, mountains, and landscapes in general (discounting the sky) tend to reflect back much less, and so your camera says "OMG!  I have to let in more light to make this look average!" and so it does.  This is why I set my exposure compensation to -1 when I’m out in the field like this – it corrects for it in the camera.  Many of you might look at the 2nd image and say "That's a little dark for my taste"; however it was an overcast and dark day and these pictures accurately depict how it looked to my eye.

Another example.
Underexpose by one stop.  That's how it looked to me.
4. Forcing the Blue Hour using White Balance

I'm a big fan of twilight shots take at "the blue hour", like the two examples below:

The Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur.  Wait for the sky to darken and the subject to lighten, and when the two are close, that's the best time to shoot.
The Sydney Opera House image from 2015.
 These are the kinds of shots I had envisioned when we returned to the Kelpies to shoot the sculptures at night.  But sometimes the sky doesn't turn blue after sunset, instead turning a yuckky grey-blue to which nobody will say "Wow!":

It's OK; but not what I had pre-visualized.  So I decided to try changing the camera's White Balance to "Tungsten", which applies an overall bluish tint to the entire image.  It worked!

Normally this is a dangerous technique, since it also casts a blue cast over your subject as well.  But the illumination at this particular moment was an incandescent yellow, which I knew would cancel the blue cast, making the subject appear white.  There were about a dozen other photographers out there that night; I'm pretty confident none of them got a shot that looked like this.

5. Always have a camera with you! 

At 10:00 PM after a good day of driving we checked into the hotel and went downstairs to have dinner.  When I saw this rainbow outside shortly thereafter there was no time to run back to the room and grab my camera (which was charging at the time); so I whipped out my trusty RX-100 V and got two pretty awesome establishing shots.  This is why God created the RX-100.  :-)  

More images after a few announcements.

Cameracraft Update

Cameracraft magazine has received a lot of accolades over the past 5 years of its existence.  Most recently it's excellence in content and production has been recognized by the Guild of Photographers, whose members will now start receiving copies as part of their membership.  It's nice to have hard work recognized like that.  
Discover what other subscribers already know - how we combine the best production in the business (along with gear insights you simply won't find anywhere else).  Subscribe today!


The last Friedman Archives High-Impact Photography Seminar for the year will take place in Tacoma, Washington, the last weekend in August.  Come join us!  (And if you can't, there's always the streaming version...)

Taking suggestions on where to hold seminars in 2017.  Let me know if your photo club would like to host!  My seminar can bring all members to the same level and challenge the common misconceptions that the older folks still hold dear.  Your club will be abuzz for months.

[BTW, I can't help but share this email I received from one of the Manchester attendees shortly after the event!]

New Releases

There was a huge rush to release titles before the trip began; a whopping 7 titles, including the Fujifilm X-100F, X-T20, X-T2 epub format, and Sony A99 II, A6500 epub format, RX-100 V in French, and A6300 in Spanish and in French.  

This month there are two new updates to the Fujifilm X-Pro2 and and X-T2 ebooks by Tony Phillips, covering new features introduced with the most recent firmware updates.  

Also, YES, I'll be working on a book for the Sony A9 in the next couple of months, and Tony Phillips is working on the Olympus E-M1 II ebook at the same time.  Send me an email (Gary at Friedman Archives dot com) if you'd like to be added to the notification list for either of these titles!

More Images

Not a "Wow!" shot, but still licensable.

A couple relaxing to the view of the Falls of Clyde.  No model releases needed.

The UK was hit by radioactive rain after the Chernobyl meltdown back in 1986; producing contaminated grass that the sheep grazed upon. I am told that the sheep simply will not graze anywhere else, and it is estimated to take about 30 years for the radioactivity to dissipate. In the meantime, the sheep are being bred and systematically killed until such time as they can once again be used for food.  More info here.

The fantasy of running your own Bed and Breakfast...

... and the reality.

This is how big the Kelpies sculptures are.  Carol is standing at the base, wearing a pink jacket.

David Kilpatrick (Cameracraft editor and publisher) and his wife Shirley in front of their "castle" in Scotland.  Carol and I slept in the west wing. :-)  He used to run his publishing empire from the office spaces on the top floor; but thanks to modern technology a laptop is all you need to produce award-winning magazines nowadays.

British humour?

Some of the Seminar attendees having fun.  The Scotland seminar was held in a 1400's-era castle.
Shipwrecks on the Isle of Mull
On the uninhabited island of Staffa, in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, reside hundreds of Puffins.  Here are just two shots.

A snapshot showing just how many puffins there were on this island!

The Kelso Abbey, founded in the 12th century.

It's a myth that the Scottish tartan pattern represented a particular clan; it actually varied depending upon the region in which they were made (which determined what colors of dyes were available).  David Kilpatrick adds: "Only a myth before the banning of the tartan after 1745. George IV broke the ban by visiting Edinburgh and asking the clan chiefs to wear their clan tartans, his own very large figure dressed in full Highland array. It was a publicity coup for Sir Walter Scott, who orchestrated the clan display, ceremonies, dances, dinners. Tartan was permitted, suddenly all the vague connections and historic uses became a goldmine. Tartans linked to names and clans were sold all over the world. A whole mythology of Scotland was created and Queen Victoria embraced it in a big way. But the clan/name connections are all perfectly genuine, as are 'original', 'ancient' and modern researched tartans created on the basis of fragments surviving from hundreds of years ago. I use the 'ancient' version of my tartan (softer colours, more natural) and some of the 'natural dye' very faded re-creations are popular (my ancient really isn't ancient at all)."

The countryside is beautiful, but it's frustrating to drive. The 2-way roads are barely wide enough for 1.1 vehicles, and if you see a beautiful landscape, there's rarely a place to pull over.  A lorry (large truck) and several busses came at me while going down these roads.

It happened a lot.

A Highland Cow.  Even the females have horns.  At birth.

St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin
So I went to the Guinness plant in Dublin and said, "I'm in the Guinness Book of World Records - I created the world's smallest phone when I was in college. I'd like a free pint for that achievement!". They really didn't care. So I had a pint at a local pub in Kinsale instead.
There was no cure for the plague in Ireland, but that didn't stop these ineffective Tudor Plague Doctors (with their really interesting outfits) from charging cities to come in and "treat" the inflicted, usually by either bleeding (cutting a vein or leeches) or sometimes by diet. It was believed the leather outfit would protect the doctor, but no...

Grey subject on a grey day?  Find some color and compose accordingly.

A little bit of good light.

There were about 200 cows overtaking the road.
Happy cows come from Ireland.
Generic Irish landscape.

Mizen Head - The Southern tip of Ireland.

Cliffs of Moher on a miserable day.  Tried to save the shot by including some color in the foreground.  10 minutes after I took this picture, it started pouring for the rest of the day.
A friend of mine I haven't seen since 1985 was in Ireland competing in an Irish Dance competition the same time we were. How could we not re-arrange our trip to see her? Here she is, winning an award. 

Subtle Irish sunset.

Final Thought 

I'm experimenting with a new home page that's cleaner and runs on Javascript (yeah, I know...)  Feedback on this experimental page is welcome.  The original one is still untouched for comparison.

Until next time,
Yours Truly, Gary Friedman

My most memorable evening in Scotland - enjoying real folk music made by a circle of friends (not some tourist performance). I promised a compilation of the music, and here it is -- shot in 4K no less with my trusty RX-100.  David Kilpatrick sings and plays at the end.


  1. Lovely shots. Just a couple of ideas. LR allows you to overlay a mask as many times as you like, so in effect you can do what you are suggesting in PS and repeat the slider effect. I think this is actually preferable as you dont want to be doing it on the whole shot anyway. Targeting just the sky with the radial or local correction filter works well.
    Also, have you tried using dehaze on the sky? That works amazingly well, and also seems to bring back some colour.

    1. Dehaze on the sky? That never would have occurred to me. Thank you for these tips!

  2. Hi Gary
    I always enjoy your articles and always learn something but this time I think perhaps I can return the favour. Regarding the limitations on the Lightroom Highlights slider, I stay in Lr and just pull down a gradient and move the highlights slider to the left as far as needed. If the effect is still insufficient duplicate the gradient and fine tune.
    Cheers! Robert

    1. Hi, Robert! True enough, but that only works on compositions with a relatively straight horizon. In the two examples I showed, using a gradient wouldn't have worked.

    2. The gradient will if you then use the 'erase brush' on the gradient to delete the parts you don't want it to work on.

  3. Why does the a99mk2 go into manual focus only when using the 70/400 telephoto g lens?

    1. Errhhh... it doesn't. But if contacts are dirty, not fully mating etc it can. Similarly with A7x/La-EA3 adapter.

    2. My first thought is "is the af/mf switch IV the side of the lens set to 'mf'? That would override the camera's settings. 2nd thought is dirty contacts.

    3. Mine doesn't behave that way? Do you have version II or the 1st version?

  4. Please add me to your Olympus E-M 1 II mailing list

  5. Laughed when I read this. I was in Scotland and Lake District for 2 weeks in June and it was wet with bad light. I used your book on the RX-100 III to learn how to use the camera. Its great, and taught me how to get much better pictures. My default for bad light is to shoot 5 frames bracketing exposures in 0.3 stops; often one pops out as much better than the rest. What I have not figured out is how to remove vignettes when rain drops get on the lens cover!

  6. Mark, funny how we didn't see each other even though we were both there in June. :-)

  7. Another excellent blog. Nice to see the Kelpies featured here, a local landmark for me. Fortunately when I visited them with my camera I had a lovely sunny day with blue skies.

  8. I laughed out loud when I read "Do Jewish Scotsmen get a Kilty conscience?" I always enjoy your blog. Thank you.

  9. Gary, have had a77 since day1. Just had it refurbed at Precision Camera. It's like new. Problem, I many moons ago downloaded your manual, and paid, well worth it. New computer and I've lost the manual, would like to redownload, have original Code, how do I do it.

  10. Going in 2 months
    Thanks for the tips
    Tom O.

  11. Nice pics as usual. Thanks for sharing. I have subscribed to CameraCraft/F2 for since its inception here in the states and it is truly deserving of the accolades. I especially enjoy your contributions. Now, I have a couple questions/comments. First lesson 1, does the file have to be saved (exported) after the first adjustment and after each subsequent adjustment in adobe raw to allow for the cumulative effects of moving the slider to left? Lesson 3, I have noticed the same effect when shooting indoors with ambient daylight that is not direct sun but sort of like would be on an overcast day outdoors. I ├žan use live view to adjust the indoor scene to appear exactly as I see it typically adding 1 stop extra light to get what my eyes see. Sorry I don't have examples to share but I'm sure you've noticed the same.

  12. Lesson 1: No, the file doesn't have to be saved and then re-opened in order to use Photoshop's Camera Raw Filter multiple times. Lesson 3: Yeah, that's one of the nice things about an electronic viewfinder. :-)

  13. I switched from LR to Capture One Pro when I switched from Canon to Sony. Although there's a learning curve, it's a lot more flexible than LR. Highlight/Shadow sliders are a lot more flexible.

  14. Hi Bazz, I too have been using Capture One Pro along side LR and am slowly beginning the transfer. I believe some time ago I asked Gary if he had tried C1Pro and if memory serves he had not. C1Pro has a superior raw processing engine especially for Sony and allows organization by sessions, great for studio work, and in Libraries (catalogs in LR). Also C1 Is a standalone product so they're not forcing you to subscribe and holding back updates if your subscription lapses. Downside is I don't think they've developed a mobile platform yet but I don't need to edit my images on a phone or tablet. I'd like to know if anyone else is using the pro or free version and what you might think. Oh, one other drawback is I've yet to find a way to bulk rename images using yymmdd_##### format.

  15. Gary, anyway I can reload your Sony a77 manual. PC probs and data loss mean it's gone. I still have the release code from when I last bought it. I'll buy it again if I have to!