Landscape Photography: Bermuda vs The Rockies
Tell us about your time in Bermuda and how it inspired your passion for photography.
Bermuda was where my passion for photography was born. I worked there from 2002-2005 and towards the end of my stay realized, in a bit of a panic, that I had very few photos of the beautiful island to preserve my memories. So I bought my first DSLR, a second-hand Canon 10D with a 28-200mm lens, and proceeded to take around 1,500 photos of the island’s spectacular scenery and architecture during my last few days there. It was then that I realized I really enjoyed “taking and making” photos.
You now live back in Alberta with the Canadian Rockies on your doorstep. What effect did your return home have on your photography?
It’s a bit of a strange thing living so close to a world-class mountain range. Honestly, I took it for granted for a long time. When I was a kid, our family spent time every summer camping in or travelling through the Rockies and at first found them awe-inspiring. But after a while, I got too used to them. From the time I moved back from Bermuda, which was in 2005, until just a few years ago, I was more focused on cityscape and architecture photography, with landscape photography usually only occurring during vacations or business travel to locations that offered that opportunity.
During the past two to three years I've been much more focused on landscape photography, and I’m now trying to get to the Rockies every month or two to shoot. It’s funny how some things come full circle – Once again, I have such a deep appreciation and love for the mountains and yearn for every opportunity to visit them, whether that be to shoot or snowboard, which I also love doing in the winter.
Bermuda vs the Rockies?
They are so different and appealing in their own ways. Bermuda is coastal, flat and tiny and the Rockies mountainous, elevated and vast. While I loved living in Bermuda for the relatively short time I was there, Alberta and the Rockies are home. While I would say that I currently favour the Rockies from a landscape photography perspective, I also really want to return to Bermuda to shoot there again. During those few days when I took those 1,500 photos, I really didn’t know what I was doing.
Although I had a good creative vision and a decent sense of composition and framing, I had no idea what my camera was capable of or understand any techniques beyond the most basic. So I look forward to the opportunity to return to Bermuda one day to re-shoot some of the images and locations that have special meaning to me and also create new images.
Your final images are clearly very refined. How do you go about editing an average photograph?
My editing workflow always starts with Lightroom for its ease of use and photo management functionality. To begin with, I use an import preset to automatically remove chromatic aberration and enable profile corrections, two things that I want to be done on every image. I then carry out any required photo merges, such as for HDR or panoramas (which I do in Lightroom) or focus stacks (which I do in Photoshop and then reopen in Lightroom).
When I have the single image that I want, I typically start in the Transform panel and apply levelling adjustments and crop the photo if needed. (One of my few hard rules is to never have an uneven horizon unless done purposely for artistic effect). Depending on the subject matter of the image, I then usually go to the Detail panel and apply Sharpening.
The important thing with sharpening is that it’s usually not a good idea to sharpen the entire image, especially the sky. For this reason, I so I use the masking feature which allows me to be more selective. I may or may not apply noise reduction at this step, depending on whether the image calls for it. Most of the time I’m selective and reduce noise locally using the adjustment brush.
From there, I usually move to the Basic panel, assuming that the image was exposed correctly in-camera. (If correct exposure was not achieved in-camera, I would correct this in the Basic panel prior to sharpening). Although my Basic panel settings can vary significantly depending on the image and what I’m trying to achieve, I typically start by decreasing highlights, lifting shadows, increasing whites and deepening blacks. Throughout, I’ll be watching the histogram and guarding against clipped highlights or shadows, although a minor amount of clipping is sometimes acceptable.
From there, it depends on what I’m seeing and feeling. I always check my white balance and play with temperature and tint to make sure the photo has the right feel. For example, I will normally want a sunset shot to have a warm temperature. Dehaze can be very useful, as long as it's not overdone, and I always check its effect on my images. I may also adjust contrast, clarity, vibrancy and saturation at this point, but not always and usually not very much.
In particular, I take care not to over-saturate my images. At this stage, I will also make any necessary overall colour corrections using the HSL panel. Normally, only a few small global adjustments are necessary. I find the targeted adjustment tool in the HSL panel to be very useful and I normally try that before moving individual sliders.
To this point, most or all of my edits will have been global. Next, I would determine whether any local adjustments are necessary. One thing I always do is carefully check my sky at 1:1 zoom. It is not uncommon to have dust or rain spots show up in your sky, and those are easily removed using the spot removal tool and the visualize spots feature within that tool.
If the sky contains noise, I’ll reduce or eliminate it using the local adjustment brush. I’ll also consider whether any local exposure adjustments are called for using one or a combination of the adjustment brush, graduated filter or radial filter. Each of those can be very useful depending on the subject matter in the local area and the desired effect.
If the image needs anything removed, such as a person, sign or any other unwanted object, I’ll usually do that in Photoshop. For very small or simple removals, the spot removal tool in Lightroom is satisfactory. Once I have everything the way I want it, I’ll go to the Effects panel and check whether post-crop vignetting can improve the image.
I’ll often use it if I’m looking to add a bit more mood or dramatic effect. Throughout all of my editing workflow, I try to take care not to overdo any of the adjustments. I normally keep the haircut analogy in mind: the best haircut is one that no one notices. It looks good, but it’s not obvious that you just got it done.
Last but not least, there are exceptions to everything. The aforementioned represents my typical editing workflow but, of course, there are times when I depart from this. I’m also constantly learning new editing techniques so my workflow naturally evolves as a result. In the end, it’s important to have a good general roadmap to ensure efficient workflow. But just as when you’re in the field, there are times when you should take a detour or get off the beaten path. I try to let my vision and feel guide my final images, rather than rigid workflow steps.
What advice would you give to somebody just starting out in photography?
Know the exposure triangle inside and out! Get out of auto mode and take the time to expose manually. I look back at my beginner days and realize now that I could have progressed much more quickly as a photographer if I had had a better understanding of exposure and had forced myself to turn the mode dial. As a beginner, it’s natural to have a bit of a fear of manual mode, but the only way to overcome that is to try it and practice.
For anyone who wants to get out of auto mode but isn’t sure how to achieve it, I would recommend starting in aperture priority mode and practising there for a while. After getting the hang of aperture priority, move to shutter priority and practice that for a time. Then, try manual mode and it should feel more natural and familiar than if you had jumped straight from auto to manual.
As for editing, many beginners tend to think that they’re done after the photo is taken or that their photo is “good enough” in camera. The reality is that every photo can benefit from at least a minor amount of basic editing. To repeat the example from above, nothing screams “beginner” more than an uneven horizon. Given that even the most basic, free photo editing apps can be used to level your horizon, it’s really inexcusable not to.
Similarly, every photo editing app has an "auto-enhance” or similar button you can click to make several basic adjustments at once. At the very least, try that and see what the effect is. Getting comfortable with more advanced editing techniques takes time and can be daunting, but like everything, it takes practice and eventually pays dividends.
What are your future goals as a photographer?
Short-term, my goals are to keep improving my technical shooting skills to achieve the best possible images in-camera, to stretch myself creatively by continuously learning and practising new techniques, to build more advanced knowledge and efficiency in post-production, and to continue increasing my industry presence and profile.
Longer-term, my goals are to travel extensively and seek out unique locations to shoot year after year, to achieve Jedi-level technical mastery of my equipment (dark side beware!) and to regularly create highly compelling images that stir the viewer’s thoughts and emotions.