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Just uploaded a collection of my photos of the Jervis Bay bio-luminiscence over at Flickr. Have a look if you've got a minute :)

Post-Processing Processes

Journal Entry: Fri Sep 7, 2012, 7:23 PM
So I thought I'd write a little about what I do to my photos once I'm back home. But before I explain that, it needs pointing out that I shoot in RAW because I want to make all the processing decisions instead of my camera. If you're unfamiliar with the format, RAW files are basically unembellished sensor data. When you shoot in JPEG your camera will make all sorts of decisions about saturation and light and they may or many not look satisfactory to you. So I, like many photographers with RAW-enabled cameras, take the camera's opinions out of the equation.

Hidden Spaces by andyhutchinson
Only basic saturation boost to show off the sunlight.

In order to help me remember what a scene was like I fire off a couple of shots with my iPhone and I use these as a non-definitive reference for colour and lighting levels - it's just to jog my memory if you like. You could accomplish the same thing by just taking some JPEGs with your DSLR, but I like to leave those settings alone once I'm out and about.

The first time you import a series of RAW images, it can be a scary and/or surprising moment. The images are often washed out, flat looking and almost inevitably not much like the scene you photographed. This is because you now have to apply your own baseline settings.

So I used Lightroom 4 to process my images and Photoshop CS6 if they need further work. I import them directly through Lightroom and it applies a baseline preset I made, which applies automatic lens correction based on the EXIF data and bumps clarity and saturation up 50 and 10 points respectively. Then I scan through my photos and immediately reject the shitty, out of focus and otherwise terrible images. Then I do a second run-through and delete all the ones I was hesitant about deleting, because the truth is that I'm only interested in the good ones and there's no point hanging on to an image that not even you are sure about.

Now at this point I think it's worth mentioning my camera setup. I shoot pretty much all the time with a circular polariser on my camera and often a warming ND grad filter too. I love colourful images with plenty of saturation, but I don't want to go as far as the neon colours you get in many HDR images. I try and get as close as I can in the camera to my 'vision' but often than is not possible.

Days End by andyhutchinson
Color Efex Pro Polariser and Sunlight.

So every photo's different, but the first thing I ask myself is what the main problem with the photo is and I'll fix that first and then tweak everything else. For instance is the colour balance off or is it over-exposed? In Lightroom the Highlights slider is incredibly useful because it enables you to pull back the bright parts of your image by a couple of stops. Since I shoot almost exclusively at dawn and dusk that means I'm dealing with an incredible amount of contrast in an image, from the brightness of the sun to the unlit landscape. So pretty often I'll dial the highlights down about 50 or 60 points.

If you look at the histogram in Lightroom it shows you if there's some clipping going on at either end of the light spectrum. To sort those I use the White and Black sliders to dial up or down as required - this is the same as using a levels adjustment layer in Photoshop.  Some people like soft images, some prefer sharp. I like crisp personally so I set clarity to 50 or 60.

Now it's time for colour. I always use vibrance first because it is a more subtle effect - I dial the slider up to the point where it looks right. If vibrance doesn't get close to the way the scene was originally coloured then I take vibrance back to zero and slowly turn up saturation. The saturation slider is a much more blunt tool than vibrance and it's very easy to over-do it. I hardly ever stray past 15 points of saturation.

So that's pretty much it from the Lightroom end of things. However some photos need a bit of work in Photoshop too. I shoot all of my landscape images with a super-wide 10-22mm lens and when that's at its widest there are large vignettes at each corner. There are two ways to fix them - firstly you can just crop in slightly - this is something I don't like to do because it negates the whole point of shooting at 10mm in the first place. So the second option is to repair those corners in Photoshop.

Photoshop's content-aware fill is a dream come true for this sort of blemish on an image. I drag a rough selection around all four corners covering the darkened areas and then I do a content-aware fill. 95% of the time no further work is required, but occasionally Photoshop will use a really obvious source for its fill and you'll get a clear repetition in the image. In that case I do it 'manually' with the patch tool.

So having done all that my image is usually looking great and that's when I'm done with it, but occasionally I'll want to do more work on it and that's when I call on the services of Color Efex Pro. I was put onto this by Atomic Zen an Australian photographer who takes gorgeous photos. The part of Color Efex Pro I use most is Tonal Contrast. This is an incredible way of sharpening an image without adding noise. Typically speaking I set it to 10,15,10,15 for the highlights, midtones, shadows and saturation sliders. I may also warm the image up using the Sunlight filter and darken the blue skies with the polariser.

So that's my workflow. About 50% of what I mention above is completely automated within Lightroom and then I tailor each image accordingly. Everyone has their own ways of getting the most out of their images.

Sunset from the Aumar lake by MaximeCourty
Maxine's image is a split exposure montage.

For instance, I've noticed that more and more photographers are taking split exposure images and combining them in Photoshop. So they take a shot for the land and then a separate one for the sky and then mask one over the other in Photoshop. For instance the image above by MaximeCourty is actually two photographs - one for the land and one for the sky. I like this technique and I think it's infinitely preferable to HDRs which are very unsubtle. For me, 99% of my photos came from one RAW file.

There is definitely a line between a truthful image and a fantasy. For me I definitely like to stay on the side of truth because I see myself as a photographer and not a digital artist. My images are often very colourful, but that it is usually down to two things - the polarising filter on the camera and the fact that I live on the coast in Australia and sunsets here do tend to be pretty fucking colourful.

If you have any questions, just ask.

Give the shutter button a rest!

Journal Entry: Fri Aug 17, 2012, 6:40 PM
If I'm guilty of any of the usual crimes against photography, it's probably overshooting. If you get back from a location and you've nearly filled a 32Gb card with images then you're probably guilty of it too. I think there's a danger in this digital era, that we come to rely on chance supplying us with the right conditions to meet the settings we've dialled in to our cameras. And to compensate for that we repeatedly press the shutter button in the hope that one of our exposures will be correct.

So in an effort to stop myself from doing this, I ask myself some questions when I'm hunched over that viewfinder:

1) Has the light changed substantially since I last pressed the shutter button?
2) Have I moved to a significantly different location since I last pressed the shutter button?
3) Have I oriented the camera on a significantly different axis since I last pressed the shutter button?
4) Have I significantly changed the exposure, aperture or ISO settings since I last pressed the shutter button?
5) Am I already working out in my head how to 'fix' this image in Photoshop?

If the answer to some or all of these is a big 'no' then I take my finger off the shutter button and re-evaulate the scene.

Like all the rules of photography mine can and should be broken on occasion, but I think they're handy to keep in mind.

One of my favourite photographers here on DA is Dee-T - he produces some awesome landscape imagery. What I particularly like is that he keeps it very much on the realistic side rather than cranking the saturation up to 11 like a lot of photographers seem to be doing these days. Anyway - he's just back from a trip to New Zealand and created an epic YouTube video of the photos he took:

The Global Photography Club

Journal Entry: Fri Aug 10, 2012, 5:00 AM
I was talking to a good friend of mine that other day. She's a professional photographer (20 years in the business) and a published author and we were talking about the influences that surround us. It occurred to me then, more than it ever has before, that circumstances have changed drastically for photographers due to the Internet.

When I first started taking photos in my teenage years (the 1980s) the benchmark that I used to measure myself against was the local photography club. Sure there were books of photographs by famous photographers but they lived in the rarified stratosphere. So the pool of talent that I judged my efforts against were the 30-odd members of a club. Fast forward 20 years and the Internet has changed all that.

These days we judge ourselves and our photos against a global pool of photographers. We strive to do better by improving on the work of others we've seen online on sites like DeviantArt and 500px. The quality of photography on sites like 500px is pretty incredible and it can affect you in two ways - you can either decide you'll never be able to do any better and give up, or you strive to do better.

It's not just global competition of course, but also training and inspiration that we can now draw on from all across the globe. Astrophotography, macros and surf photography are three specialised areas that have received a lot of attention lately partly, I feel, because we get to see excellent examples of these kinds of photography on a daily basis being uploaded to sites like this. Whereas before we'd read books and get help from local photographers, now we can get help from online blogs, tutorials or shared information.

Combine all the above with the myriad advantages of digital photography over film photography and it means that photographic training gets condensed down into a much shorter space of time. Skills that might take years to perfect can now be honed in a much shorter time frame. These are exciting times.


In other news, one of my photos placed second in Phoozl's Art of Nature competition…. It was judged by Daniel Cox, a great professional photographer with two Nat Geo covers to his name. The photo in question was Sunset on Fire, of which Daniel had this to say.

"For the second place winner, the pelican and setting sun is also a very natural looking image. The intensity of the sky is stunning by itself, but that wouldn't be enough to win. It was the beautifully composed pelican that made all the elements of this image come together. Without that pelican it was just another gorgeous sunset. And, without an eye for composition, this image would not have gone as far as it did. It's just stunning from foreground to background with great elements of interest: the pelican, the colorful sky, and a background of additional roosting birds."

I am of course delighted to have placed so well in the competition and would like to thank Harald over at Phoozl and Dan Cox for judging.

Maximising Colour in Landscape Photos

Journal Entry: Thu Aug 2, 2012, 4:58 AM
I'm pretty lucky to live where I do - on the Pacific eastern seaboard of Australia in the south of New South Wales. It's a largely unspoilt area with some amazing landscape and due to the low levels of pollution and built-up areas, the light can be amazing. In particular the sunsets in this part of the world are amazing - certainly for someone who was born in the UK and spent the first 40 years of their life under low cloud cover and drizzle.

But even with the great light here, there are ways to maximise the colour in your photograph, without turning them into over-saturated Fisher Price monstrosities. There's a line that some photographers have crossed that takes your photo from the realms of realism into a fantasy land of neon colours that just don't exist in nature. As colourful as some of the sunsets in my photos are - they are a pretty accurate depiction of what I witnessed when taking the photo.

Sunset on Fire by andyhutchinson Blue Sky Sunset by andyhutchinson And then the storm by andyhutchinson

So if you like capturing natural light in landscape photos the first thing you should buy is a circular polarising filter. Now you can pick these up on eBay for $50, but you'll be wasting your time. Why spend good money on expensive lenses only to shove some cheap piece of crap filter in front of it? It doesn't make sense. And while photography equipment does generally cost a lot of money it strikes me that you usually get what you pay for. In short, save up for a good polarising filter - Lee or Singh-Ray are best, B&W and Hoya HD next. Don't waste your money on Tiffen or Cokin or you'll end up with aberrations and colour cast on your photos. Polarising filters work best when they're at 90 degrees to the sun, but I usually simply rotate the filter until I get the effect I want. Sometimes I'll want to cut through the glare on some water to see the rocks underneath and sometimes I'll want the reflection to show.

Now that you have a good circular polariser, the next step is to shoot at the best times of the day which is of course, an hour or so after sunrise and an hour or so before sunset - the golden hour as photographers call it. During the golden hour the light is heavily diffused and, assuming there's not heavy cloud, lit up by the sun's golden rays too. There's nothing stopping you photographing at midday, but the sun will be overhead and shadows will be harsh.

When it comes to setting up your camera, it's highly advisable to shoot in RAW mode because you can work on the image in Lightroom or Photoshop to a far greater degree than you can with a JPEG file. For all the flexibility of RAW the main reason I prefer it is that I can create a custom white balance for every photo. The white balance determines the warmth or coolness of an image and while the built in settings (daylight, cloudy etc) are good, they're not always want your want. To get great clarity in your images, it's alway useful to shoot with a tripod because even at relatively speedy shutter speed in broad daylight, it's possible to get camera movement in an image.

When you import your photo into Lightroom or Photoshop, remember not to go crazy with the saturation and vibrance sliders. Try and think back to the scene as you experienced and use the RAW file settings to balance the image as accurately as possible. Of course all photographers allow themselves a bit of artistic licence and add some extra saturation to their images, but there is a point where it goes from natural to plastic. Personally speaking I don't take any super-saturated image seriously because I don't see the point of them. If you're going to over-saturate your image to the point where the pixels in your LCD display are screaming for mercy, then why not just put the camera away and use a 3D Render to create a scene instead?

So have fun. Experiment with different lenses and settings and enjoy photography, one of the best excuses to get outdoors.

New name same bloke

Journal Entry: Mon Jul 9, 2012, 7:14 PM
So as you can see, I've changed my name on this site. Only a couple of months ago I made a journal entry talking about this and saying I had decided not to change it, but I had a change of heart. I'm Andy Hutchinson everywhere else and it just didn't make sense to continue using my old gaming tag as my identity on this site. So Dokt's gone - all hail andyhutchinson.

The death of subtlety

Journal Entry: Fri Jun 29, 2012, 8:28 AM
I've been using Photoshop since version 2.5. To give you some idea of how long ago that was, Adobe hadn't implemented layers yet (they were two years away). When I look at that version of Photoshop with CS6, it's like comparing a go-kart with an Aston Martin. I dread to think what it would be like to learn your way around that application from scratch rather than upgrade-by-upgrade. I love Photoshop, I love the tools in it, I love the possibilites it opens up. However there's a downside to Photoshop and other photo editing apps.

Now I realise journal posts like this always sound like a whinge, no matter how you phrase it, but it isn't - it's just an observation. The problem is that Photoshop, Photomatix and the add-ons such as Nik and onOne have lead to the proliferation of Fisher Price styled photos. Take a stroll through the most popular photographs in the Animals, Plants and Nature section and you'll quickly see that, if the photo's not of a cat, then it's of a neon-coloured landscape.

There are, of course, some incredibly colourful sunset and sunrise photos here that haven't been touched with Photoshop. In fact I've some sunset shots in my gallery that I actually turned the saturation down on, because I didn't think anyone would believe a sunset could be that colourful. However there's also many examples of images so heavily edited that they have almost ceased to be photographs. There's a couple of photographers on this site who release Fisher Price image after Fisher Price image and for some reason get shitloads of views in the process. Fair play to them I guess, I wish them well, but I'm not that desparate for pageviews.

I want to know whatever happened to subtlety? What happened to photographs that don't fly out of your monitor like a tracksuit-wearing ninja and whack you repeatedly in the eyeballs with a lump hammer? Can't a photo be striking and beautiful without being like some acid nightmare of shocking day-glo colours? I think it can. There are still plenty of photographers on this site who refuse to turn the saturation knob up to 11 and I wish them well. Viva subtlety.

You can't polish a turd

Journal Entry: Sat Jun 23, 2012, 4:15 PM
The kind of photography I'm into (landscape) is a problematic one. The obvious issue with it is that we are, of course, at the mercy of the weather and (assuming we're not taking star trails) we can only shoot during the hours of daylight. And even then, we only get the best light at the start and end of the day when the sun is at such an angle as to soften the edges of a scene and cast golden hues on it. Moreover we often have to travel a bloody long way to get to a particular location and we inevitably get up in the dark and return in the dark.

All of this makes it even more painful for us when we get home, put the SD card in the laptop, import everything into Lightroom and discover that the photos we took were, for whatever reason, shite.

Now there are a couple of responses to this scenario. Firstly, we can sigh heavily, format the SD card, put it back in the camera and hope to do better next time. Secondly, we can place our faith in Photoshop or Photomatix or the hidden data nestling within a RAW file and try and coerce a few images into being good at gun point. The latter option is one I've certainly tried myself on a few occasions and I'm here to tell you that it is pointless.

The enormous power of an application like Photoshop has made us believe that we can resurrect shitty images with some clever use of curves adjustment layers, the ever-faithful saturation slider and the clone tool. Never mind that what we inevitably end up with bears absolutely no resemblance to the original scene. We got up at 5am, walked for five miles, endured a thunderstorm, trod in cow shit (twice), caught our jacket on a barbed wire fence, fell down a slope, broke our favourite filter and came dangerously close to walking right off a cliff - nothing is going to stop us getting at least one photo out of that saga. I feel your pain, I really do, but forget it. Really.

The bottom line is that a bad photo is always going to be a bad photo. No amount of surgery will make the pixels you captured when you pressed that shutter button transform magically into a wondrous image. And yet every day on this site and other photography sites such as Flickr and 500px that's what I see - people polishing turds.

It doesn't help that two current trends are great for obscuring bad photography. I'm talking about over-saturated images and HDR photos - or both. I guess its human instinct to prefer the gaudily colourful over the naturally shaded, but the photos that continue to rise to the top on this site are the (rare) ones that were just naturally colourful or (far more common) have been nudged in that direction by turning the saturation slider up to full. I find it hard to believe that anyone could believe these acid-saturated neon-nightmares were real, but then you look at the comments and see people praising the scene and its colours and complimenting the photographer, when in reality they should be thanking Adobe.

I'm not one of those people that think you shouldn't use any photo editing software. Far from it - in fact I can state that I have used Lightroom or Photoshop on every one of my images in some way. And while I have definitely been guilty of turd polishing in the past, as I have learnt more I've come to accept my failings too. I have learnt that I would rather wait for the really good images than spend hours pissing around with vibrance and saturation and curves and levels. You can't polish a turd - you can only put a bow on it.

Why I'll never take a picture of a cat

Journal Entry: Mon Jun 11, 2012, 8:55 PM
My wife is a 100% certified cat lover. At present we have two cats - a black cat called Mukka and a black and white one called Simon. They are not unattractive cats, if that's your thing, but I will never ever photograph either of them with the intention of publishing the results because doing so would instantly cheapen everything else I've ever achieved (even if that's not much).

Taking a picture of your cat and uploading it to sites like this is like holding up a fucking huge white surrender flag. "I'm desperate for some attention and have noticed cats are insanely popular, so here's Mrs Muggins my three year old tabby." I'm sorry, but I'm never going to take anything else you do seriously because you gave in and pandered to the populist crowd where creativity is absent. You played the popularity card, you abandoned your art, you surrendered to the herd.

I understand the recognition is important and that it can be soul-destroying uploading image after image to this site and getting no responses, positive or otherwise. But that does not mean that you should abandon your dignity and take snapshots of your kitten. Such uploads here are just cynical page-view devices. And don't even get me started on photographs of a handwritten motto on a piece of paper.

Super Wide Super Great

Journal Entry: Fri Jun 8, 2012, 6:42 PM
Well, I have placed my order for my Canon 10-22mm super-wide lens. I did a fair bit of research before opting for this lens, including taking comparable Sigma and Tokina lenses for a test drive. However the Canon perfectly suits the cropped sensor DSLR I use (an EOS550D) and in the end it was a no-brainer. If you're interested, there's a great review of the lens here… .

Living in Australia also presented a few issues in purchasing the lens. Principle amongst these is that retailers here think they can rip off Australian consumers by charging well over the odds for identical goods. For instance (and believe me this is just one tiny example) the Adobe Master Collection CS6 costs US$2599 in the United States, but Australians will pay $1350 more, at $3949! So like all sensible Australians, whenever possible, I simply purchase my products abroad and get them shipped here. Many retailers even do free shipping all the way to Australia so the only inconvenience is a short time delay on arrival of the products.

So I had a good look around at where I could buy my 10-22 and as always, Google came up with a good list of retailers that claimed to sell the product. Cheapest on the list were four companies with plausible sounding names, but a bit of Googling revealed that they were Hong Kong based 'grey' importers. Nothing wrong with that of course, if they're trustworthy, but another search revealed that people had had very mixed experiences with all of them. Some had got their goods quickly and as advertised, others had seen thousands of dollars disappear into China with no recourse available to them. Well as far as I'm concerned, that's just not worth the risk. Next up was the Australian retailers - the big electronics chain here in Oz is called Dick Smiths and they were charging an eye-watering $1368 for it. One of the smaller independent camera stores in the Sydney CBD had it listed for $1049, which is still very expensive and besides, they didn't even have it in stock. Another Sydney CBD camera store were selling it for $50 more, but did at least have it in stock.

Then I was advised to go and look at B&H Photo & Video - a famous and well established camera store based in New York - probably a familiar name to folks in the US, but a new one to me. Now the interesting thing about this is that, thanks to the strength of the Australian economy, almost on its own in the world economy, the Australian dollar recently reached parity with the US dollar. This is great news for Aussies wishing to buy American products, but not such good news for our tourist industry because it obviously makes Australia a much more expensive place to visit. Anyway -  a quick look on the B&H site revealed the lens I wanted for $719! Cheaper than the Chinese grey importers!  Even with $40 delivery with UPS five day, it was cheaper than the grey importers. So of course B&H was who I went with - bought a lens hood and UV filter at the same time - total cost, delivered to my door - $827. So screw you, Australian retailers and your ludicrous pricing and thank-you New York.

Incidentally, if you're curious about cameras and lenses and the different possibilities they open up, then be sure to check out Pixel Peeper which is a site that lets you filter Flickr photos by camera or by lens. It's very useful for getting an impression of what different bits of equipment are capable of.


Journal Entry: Thu Jun 7, 2012, 8:09 AM
So a photographer friend of mine pointed me in the direction of a website devoted to photographic competitions. I headed over there and followed some links and uploaded a few of my images, but didn't think much more about it. Since then my photo The Charge (below) was picked as a finalist in Popular Photography's 'Your Best Shot' competition, my photo Blue Angel Creek (below) was picked as runner up in the 'Your Shot' competition in Australian Traveller magazine and my photos (below) have been chosen for a local magazine's regional mast-heads. All of which is great and hopefully I can improve and win some main prizes in the future.

Going to be ordering a new lens tomorrow - a Canon 10-22mm super wide-angle - which I cannot wait to get my hands on. While the kit lens that came with my 550D has served me well, I find the images suffer quite badly from a soft look to them. I get very jealous of photos with amazing clarity and I know that the 10-22 will bring that. Going to be ordering from B&H Photo in New York. Amazingly they actually work out cheaper than the Hong Kong based grey importers and that includes a $40 delivery charge for UPS five-day to Australia. Of course the strength of the aussie dollar certainly helps - they're at near parity again at the moment, so I'm getting the lens, with hood and delivery for $789. Sweet.

the charge ... by andyhutchinson Blue Angel Creek by andyhutchinson The essence of living by andyhutchinson

Photographing coastal sunrise and sunset

Journal Entry: Tue May 22, 2012, 6:58 PM
I know that everyone has different ways of photographing, but I just thought I'd share my techniques for shooting coastal landscapes. I'm going to concentrate on sunrise and sunset, because it's far and away the most interesting time(s) of the day and almost always produces the most dramatic looking photos.

So firstly - get there early. If you're sat there in your house, looking out of the window and the sky's starting to turn a dark gold and red colour - then you've missed it. By the time you get anywhere half decent to photograph, the light will have either diminished or gone. This means that there will be occasions when you're standing there in some otherwise lovely spot, with your camera all ready to go, and fuck all happens. We've all been there, in fact it happens regularly, but there's no escaping it. Just chalk it up to experience and hope that tomorrow's sunrise/sunset is slightly more interesting. For the day will come when you're stood there, equipment set-up, camera checked and operating, and an amazing view will reveal itself before your very eyes. And a happy smile will creep across your face and you'll take some awesome photographs.

The essence of living by andyhutchinson
Every now and then you get lucky with Mother Nature.

Bearing in mind that amazing views can reveal themselves at the most unexpected moments in time - always keep your camera equipment ready to go. I realise it's not practical for most people to have it with them at all times (although I do) but at least make sure that your batteries are charged up, the memory card's empty and in the camera and that all your lenses and filters are clean and ready to rock. Oh and, pro tip here, always keep a spare memory card in your car's ash tray (assuming you don't smoke!) - there will come a day when you thank the stars for it. I keep my camera in the car at all times and no harm has ever befallen it - it means that when I'm driving along and see that amazing view, I'm ready to capture it.

Thought and Memory by andyhutchinson
I was driving past this location on my way to do some shopping when I saw this view and quickly pulled over to take some photos.

There are a few bits of kit that help to make good landscape photographs and principle amongst these is a tripod. There's always a trade-off with a tripod and that is weight versus stability. I have a great little Manfroto tripod that's light as anything, but that portability also means that in strong wind, it moves, which means I have to either wait for a lull in the wind or find somewhere out of the wind. I like the fact that it's light and so often I'll weight the tripod down through the centre column with my backpack or, if the wind's very strong, rocks in a bag.

It's always useful to scout out locations before you photograph them. It's not such an issue for sunset shots, but certainly for sunrise you'll be arriving in the dark and therefore need to know that a) the view's worth it and b) exactly where you should stand. Take a few moments to look properly at the view - what's in the background and what can you frame in the foreground to make the shot more interesting? Now you've had a look, have a proper look. Notice those electricity wires on the right of the frame, that house that spoils an otherwise awesome vista, the litter, the security light, the lights from the traffic on the road, that ugly tree? Sure you can remove most of those in Photoshop, but it's always better to start with a good photo in the camera.

If you've got access to a wide angle lens for your camera, then great. I'm hoping to get a nice super wide any day now, but most of the photos in my collection were taken with the 18-55mm kit lens that came with my Canon. To shoot panoramic photos I put the camera in portrait orientation and shoot five over-lapping shots pieced together in PT Gui Pro. I also use my 50mm lens a fair bit for five or six shoot panoramics.

This is a six shot panoramic I took down at my local river.

Right, so we're on location, everything's set up and a glorious sunset is revealing itself in front of us. Depending upon the time of the day and the amount of available light I'll often shoot in Aperture Priority mode. Photographers tend to get very anal about the semi-automated modes on DSLRs, but as far as I'm concerned they're just convenient. Aperture Priority mode is great if you're moving around a fair bit because the exposure will always adapt to the changed lighting in the scene. If you shoot in manual and move around a lot you'll be forever twiddling knobs on the back of the camera rather than actually, you know, taking photographs. For most of my photos I'll set an Aperture of between f9 and f11 because they're the sweet spots on my lens - just Google your lens to find the best apertures for you lens. If I want a softer look then I'll open the aperture up to f5.6 or f6.1 and manually focus about a third of the way into the scene. If it's really bright then I might dial the aperture down to f16 - I don't like to go much further because it compromises the image quality.

In terms of metering, for many of my landscape shots I use evaluative metering mode. Evaluative mode is ideal for high contrast scenes like sunrise and sunset because there's such a big different between the light and the shadows. Evaluative metering is also a great 'emergency' mode since it will arrive at a good overall exposure quickly. Center-weighted average is also great, particularly for well lit objects and I regularly use this for the more colourful sunrise and sunset shots. Finally, there's spot metering mode which I only use when some wildlife presents itself. If you're shooting animals during a sunrise or sunset and leave metering to evaluative or center-weighted then the animals will undoubtedly appear as silhouettes. Spot metering ensures that the animal is correctly exposed - the surrounds if they are over or under-exposed can be easily fixed in post. With my ISO I tend to leave it on 100 all the time - occasionally I'll bump it up to 200 or 400 if I need to capture some wildlife in challenging lighting conditions because this enables me to keep the exposure fast enough to freeze the critter.

Sunset on Fire by andyhutchinson
In this photo the pelican was actually slightly underexposed, so I used a levels adjustment layer in Photoshop with a mask to bring just the bird's exposure levels back up.

If you're going to shoot long exposures of any sort then you will of course have to use manual mode. Manual mode is always a balancing act and the exposure time you choose will be reflecteded in the aperture setting you select. So for instance, if I want a partially blurred wave breaking over a rock then I'll select an exposure of about 1/6th of a second and the alter the aperture until such as point as the scene is correctly exposed. If you can't find a suitable aperture then you'll need to either crank up the ISO a bit or increase the exposure. During sunrise and sunset the light levels are constantly changing so you'll be spending a lot of time tweaking exposure and aperture and checking metering. You can use a histogram for this, but I usually rely on the camera's light meter and my own common sense.

When you start doing long exposures you will of course have to use a tripod. If you haven't got a remote trigger then set the camera to a two second self-timer so that there's no wobble when the photo's exposed. There's a bit of an art to timing photos with a two second self-timer because you need to anticipate what's going to happen. Of course if you invest in a remote (they're usually under $100) then you just point and click when required.

Boat Harbour by andyhutchinson
1/6th of a second at f11 and ISO100 - perfect settings for my camera and lens to capture some movement in the water on this sunrise shot.

The danger when shooting with a tripod is that you plant your feet in one spot and never move. This will lead to a very dull selection of photos when you get home and import them, so remember to change your location regularly. Often you don't have to physically move, but raise or lower the height on your tripod to get a different point of view. That said, I have a 20 shot rule for my photos, where I shoot 20 shots in one location and then move elsewhere. If you're brave, get close up to the action. When I'm shooting at the beach or rock shelf I always wear Crocs and surf shorts so I can get up close and personal with the waves. No harm has befallen my kit so far but I have had a wave come up to waist height before, which was a bit dodgy. If you're lucky enough to have a waterproof housing, then make the most of it, extreme close-ups of waves are great.

Finally, I always always always shoot in RAW mode. Memory cards are very cheap these days so it's simply not a space issue. While RAW files require a bit of work on your part when you get home, the advantages are enormous. I once shot an entire card full of landscape photos with the white balance set to tungsten, but because I shot in RAW, all I had to do was set the white balance to daylight in Lightroom and all the photos were good to go. RAW also enables you to overcome challenging lighting conditions without having to resort to HDR because you can simply use adjustment layers in Photoshop or graduated filters in Lightroom. Also, as software like Photoshop continually improves, you'll be able to revisit old RAW files and work some magic on them years from now.

Names have been changed to protect the innocent

Journal Entry: Thu May 17, 2012, 5:39 AM
So I came close to changing my DeviantArt name today, but at the last moment I decided not to. This is despite the fact that I'm not overly fond of the username 'dokt' and have accounts everywhere else under my actual name. The name originally came from my Team Fortress clan name - Dokta Dee - which itself was short for Doctor Dildo - a name I chose deliberately to flick a virtual middle finger at all those people with pseudo-violent names taking themselves far too seriously.

However this is the only account with the username dokt that I still actively use. The reason that I changed my mind at the last minute was because I've had this account for so long that it felt a bit churlish to chuck it away. I've been 'dokt' on DeviantArt since early 2001. At the time my (now 10 year old) son hadn't been born and I lived in the Cotswolds in England and not NSW in Australia. To put it simply there's too much baggage attached to 'dokt' to chuck him on the scrapheap, so for better or worse it's what I'll stick to - for the next decade at least.

Devious Journal Entry

Journal Entry: Fri Mar 9, 2012, 6:09 AM
Well, I'm pretty happy at the moment because I have done well in a local photographic competition. My photo of Blue Angel Creek got a joint award of third place (judged) and a special award of people's choice. Which is nice. Haven't ever entered any of my photos to a competition, so it's great to place in my first one. I won some local wine and a day at a health spa, both of which I have donated to my wife.

Blue Angel Creek by andyhutchinson

Whatever the weather

Journal Entry: Thu Feb 2, 2012, 5:07 AM
It's been a La Nina summer here in Australia. Damper and colder than an El Nino year. For someone who likes taking nice-weather photos, it's hampered me a little bit. Also my DSLR (a Canon 550D) is not waterproof and so I have to be careful when using it during downpours. That said I've enjoyed taking some images further afield than usual.

The Art of the Panorma

Journal Entry: Mon Jan 23, 2012, 4:16 AM
I like panoramas. I mainly like them because I do not own a wide angle lens and I'm not likely to own one in the near future. Panoramas enable me to capture far more of a scene than I would ordinarily. However I've found that my panoramas compare badly with those I see elsewhere and until the other day I didn't really understand why.

So the problem with my panoramas before was that they simply lacked any sort of depth. I shot them, for the most part, with the 18-55 kit lens that came with my 550D. As it transpired, it wasn't the technical side of the photographs that was letting me down, it was the composition. I shot in manual to maintain exposure and aperture, still no good.

Then I read a really great tip and I, having tested it myself, I have to tell you that it's right on the money. Firstly, shoot with your prime lens if you can because they're always sharper than equivalent variable ratio lenses. In my case that means using the awesome little Canon 1.8 50mm prime that  cost me under $100. The second part of the tip is to shoot your panorama segments in portrait and not landscape mode. This is the clincher for me and it seems so obvious to me now. When you shoot portrait you get a lot more foreground in the shot, which makes for a massively more interesting photo.

The mechanics of assembling the photo are pretty simple these days. You can either use Photoshop's merge automated script to do it for you, or instead use something like PTGui Pro which gives you loads of control over the final result. So there you go - use a prime lens if you can and always shoot in portrait. Have fun with it - some standout panoramas below:

Seeblick panorama by DimensionSeven :thumb134480121: Oulujoki panorama by jjuuhhaa Jamnig - Panorama by AndreasResch Portland Bill Panorama by Neutron2K Dachstein Panorama - 01 by AndreasResch :thumb125703150: Balos Gramvousa Panorama by ArtSpawnGr Nang Yuan Panorama 1 by myINQI

Oh and before I go - if you're into landscape photography - check out the gallery of SebastianKraus - some truly amazing photos in there.

Best of the best

Journal Entry: Sun Dec 25, 2011, 8:20 PM
It always interests me what stuff becomes popular on DeviantArt. In a way it answers the question as to 'what art is' because the millions of users of this site vote every day with our fav's and downloads and the popular stuff trickles to the top and the unpopular stuff languishes in the archives. So if we assume that this community is a democracy (and we all know it's not, but bear with me) then by the democratic votes vested in us, the most popular deviations are what art is. The consensus of opinion on this website is that a frying pan of eggs with humourous faces drawn on them is the most artistic item on this entire website.

Of course, that's not the case. There's a shit-load of band-wagon jumping on this site and people tend to click on what's put in front of their eyes. In a way the ability to view any category on this site by popularity its its biggest flaw. People view categories by popularity by default and thus only ever see the stuff that other people have determined is worthy of a fav or a download. Unless they step outside their comfort zones and view the unfiltered fresh uploads, all they'll ever get to see is other people's choices. I'm pretty sure a clever mathematician could even devise a formula that plotted the point at which an upload's popularity became self-sustaining because it appeared in the 'popular' views and received enough mouse-clicks to never move downwards.

Meanwhile of course there are shit-loads of great uploads that very few people ever get to see. As I have pointed out in the past, DeviantArt is a popularity contest first and foremost. If you are not willing to play the game, to pimp your stuff, to add it to all those groups, to comment on other people's stuff widely, to rack up lots of favourites and to cross-sell your uploads, then unless you get lucky (a chance Daily Deviation for instance) the odds are most definitely against you getting any form of recognition on this site. It's a somewhat brutal lesson in the realities of life and the truly artistic people on this site are surely the most likely to not buy into that self-promotional lifecycle.

Personally I couldn't care less. I like sharing my photographs and if people like 'em too, then that's all cool. But I was lot needier a decade ago when I joined this site and I know how frustrating it is when you struggle to get some recognition. Others that join this site at the same time as you seem to join some magical fast lane and rack up views and favs with seemingly little effort. It's frustrating and a lot of people just throw in the towel. My watch list is full of people who stopped using this site many years ago, because they got pissed off with the lack of recognition. We can say 'dry your eyes princess' or we can find other ways for good stuff to filter its way up the list and get some eyeballs.

Flickr's a flawed site too, but one feature of the site that I think's great is the 'Explored' or 'Interesting' feature. This uses a formula to find those photographs that are the most 'different' or 'interesting'. I'm not sure of the maths behind it, but if you ever view those photographs then you'll see that it's actually pretty good at pin-pointing good and interesting photogrpahy. Is it perfect? Of course not. But it gives people who receive no air-play a chance to be discovered. Thus far I've had one photo 'explored' by Flickr… and let me tell you it's a hell of a ride. The photo went from three views to over a thousand in a couple of days. There's nothing stopping DeviantArt implementing something similar. They can keep all the popularity based features, but a DA 'Explored' would be great and would give all those silent talents out there, a chance to receive a pat on the back for the amazing work they produce.

The niche

Mon Nov 21, 2011, 6:34 PM
So the other day I was looking through some impressive photographic galleries over at 500px and it occurred to me that the really good portfolios were the ones that had some sort of unifying theme. By comparison my gallery's 'bitsa' - if you know what I mean - bitsa this, bitsa that. However I realised that I had my niche too - namely dawn and dusk, there are more photos of that hour of the day than anything else in my collection. I didn't set out to concentrate on sunrise and sunset, but that's what's happened. I wonder if everyone just chances on their 'thing' or if it's usually more calculated than that.

Devious Journal Entry

Journal Entry: Sun Nov 6, 2011, 12:32 AM

Okay - I'm probably way out of the loop here - but could someone please tell me what these llama badges are all about? I mean, I appreciate when people give me one, I understand it's a high-five sort of a thing. But what's the protocol after that? Am I supposed to do something with the badge? Can I exchange llama badges for petrol vouchers? What's the deal?

My policy on favourites and comments

Journal Entry: Fri Oct 21, 2011, 3:34 PM

My policy on favourites and comments

So we all know that DeviantArt is basically one big popularity contest. Right? It's essentially a slightly grander version of those 'hot or not' sites that were all the rage a decade ago. Once upon a time this bothered me, in fact I made a poster that summed up how I felt . But I'm pretty much over it now - I enjoy the feedback on this site but I'm over raging against unoriginal people uploading stuff merely to garner pageviews.

So this has lead me to develop my own favourite and comment policy. It has no impact on this site in the grand scheme of things, but it makes me feel slightly better about the DeviantArt. My rule is this - if a deviation has a butt-load of comments and favs, then I neither comment nor fav. The person who uploaded that already knows they made something that meets widespread approval and my chipping in makes no difference to that one way or another. Sometimes I do break my own rule and fav something that's been a daily deviation, but it's more about bookmarking it than following the herd.

When I see a Deviation I like that hasn't had any loving then I do like to leave a comment. Sometimes I try and be constructive, but I understand that everything's subjective and just because I'd have retouched a photo differently to someone else, doesn't mean they did anything wrong and it certainly doesn't take anything away from their work.

I also appreciate decent sized deviations that do not feature some butt-ugly artists logo/signature in the corner. I stopped putting my name on my deviations a long time ago when I realised that it won't stop anyone stealing it and even if they did - so what? When I upload a wallpaper pack here I'm effectively handing out a free 2560px photo to anyone that wants it because I'm happy for my photos to be seen by people. Obviously I'm not okay with someone ripping my stuff off, putting their own name on it and uploading it somewhere, but that won't change if I compromise my image with an ugly signature. It takes like two seconds to remove pretty much any signature/watermark from an image with the current version of Photoshop. We all know that's the case - so why bother?

Anyway - that's my policy - I like giving a bit of comment loving to people that don't have a thousand followers, who produce original stuff, who don't follow the herd, who could probably do with hearing that they're making good stuff. And in that spirit here's a few deviations (mainly photos) I've seen recently that haven't received the exposure they perhaps should.