An interview with landscape photographer - Alex Stevenson

Over the next few months, I'll be doing a Q&A with a number of photographers, whose work I admire. Earlier on this year, I spoke to Alex Stevenson, a landscape and travel photographer from Cornwall. The colour in his work is one that captures the expression of the moment, as well as the moment itself. A few examples of his work and and how to follow him can be found at the end of this article.

1. What captured your interest into photography?

For me, it was when my family relocated to Cornwall eight years ago - the incredible coastal landscapes, stunning golden sunsets and picturesque little villages. Inspiration came easy and I think that I just enjoyed the creative process, as well as all of the exploring that came with it!

2. Which photographers inspire you and what is it about their work that influences you?

My biggest inspiration right now is probably Brendan Van Son. I found him on Youtube making videos of his travels around the world, whilst making a living from photography and getting to go on assignments. It's probably because of this that he shoots the way he does - getting multiple shots from a single location, with an emphasis on a sense of adventure. 

 3. Is there a particular photo or set of photos that drew you towards photography?

Nothing in particular, but I would say that the work of photographers like Alessio Andreani really helped my passion for photography grow. Seeing long exposures and how creative and different they can be was something quite special to me. 

4. What motivates you to shoot landscapes and travel compositions? 

I've actually tried my hand at all sorts of photography - from portraiture to events - but landscapes were always my favourite. Again, I think it's all of the exploring that I get to do thanks to my landscape photography. The same goes for the travel photography - exploring a new place and experiencing different cultures is an amazing thing, but to be able to capture a scene or a moment with emotion and feeling is always quite the accomplishment! 

5. One of the challenges of landscape photography is working with the weather and having the patience to wait for the decisive moment, whether it’s at sunrise or sunset, how do you deal with those challenges? 

Yes, they are massive challenges... It can sometimes really get to you when you dont get the light or conditions you want. But you have to remember that there's always next time, and when you get it right it's all worth it. Half of the work is getting to an interesting location or waking up for sunrise, and when you get to see amazing places there's not much to be annoyed about when you don't get the light or weather etc! Just remember a rain cover or plastic bag! 

6. Who or what is it you turn to when your lacking motivation and inspiration? 

When lacking motivation, I usually just need a new location to visit, so looking at other photographers' portfolios or a quick search on Google Maps, Google Images or 500px can really do the trick. Also, a lot of motivation can come from looking at my own portfolio and knowing that I can do better.

 7. Can you walk us through your process of capturing the stunning ‘Wheal Trewavas' composition? 

I had seen some shots of this place come up on Facebook, so I knew there was potential. I did a bit more searching on Google Images and found that there were some rocks that would offer interest in the foreground whilst the old mines were in the middle-ground, so I pretty much had the shot already set up in my head. Setting the camera in continuous mode allowed me to take a seat on the rocks and add an extra bit of interest too.

8. What advice can you give to someone wanting to improve their landscape photography? 

Put the work in, get out for sunrise and practice as much as possible. Also, graduated ND filters are a great investment to help balance the exposure of the scene. 

9. What’s in your camera bag when you go out on a shoot?

I'm shooting with a Canon M5 right now, which is far from perfect for what I do, but the good out ways the bad for sure! My go to lens in a Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8, but I'm also starting to use my Sigma 17-50 F/2.8 more. Then there's the tripod, shutter release cable and my Lee filters. More recently, a DJI Mavic Pro as well! 

10. Which places are in your bucket list for photographing and why? 

New Zealand is really on high on my list and I plan to be there from April-May this year, just in time for their winter! I'd also love to go all over the US for their national parks, Peru because of Macchu Picchu and some other places closer to home in the UK (like Scotland and Dorset).

You can find Alex over at https://www.alexstevenson.co.uk

How to remove distortion from YOUR shots

I see a lot of photos with distortion, particularly when it comes to architecture. Don't get me wrong, you can and should use distortion creatively.

Distortion is the change in shape (often unintentional but not always) that occurs in the composition taken by the photographer. Distortion isn't always obvious, a good way to spot, is by enabling the grid in the tool you use, Photoshop, Lightroom etc. From there, mapping any lines in your composition to the grid, will help you see what type of distortion it is, whether it has any creative value. If not, it helps you understand what you need to fix.

So what are the types? Optical & Perspective.

Barrel distortion changes the shape by replacing straightened lines in a scene with a semi-circular curve outwards. Its common with wide angle lenses, which elongate the foreground, so when an object is placed on the edges of the frame, the object will appear distorted. Distortion can be more visible on crop sensor cameras, particularly when the field of view is wider than the camera sensor.

Pincushion is the counterpart to the wide angle lens distortion. This occurs at the long end of telephoto lenses, due to the field of view being narrower than that of the sensor. The size of the sensor in combination with working on the extreme end of a telephoto zoom lenses will make the distortion more visible. The scene, particularly on the edges will appear to be going inwards.

Perspective distortion is caused by the photographer rather than the lens. It's usually caused by the angle and perspective you shoot at. I see this type of distortion in plenty of architectural shots.

The image below was shot using a 15-45mm lens at 17mm on a crop sensor camera. I took the composition at the bottom of the stairs and suffers from both perspective and optical (barrel) distortion. The camera was pointing up towards the top of the building and I was shooting from a lower position, which resulted in the image appearing to lean back.

Liverpool Metropolitan CathedralLiverpool Metropolitan Cathedral before the optical and perspective corrections

The below image was produced after I applied both the optical and perspective distortion fixes using Lightroom. Whenever you try to fix distortion, it will most often result in the need to crop the image, as below.

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral after the optical and perspective corrections

NOTE: if distortion does have creative merit in your photo, it's your choice whether to include it as part of your composition.

The fixes

Understanding your lens

To understand where distortion becomes more visible on your lens, you could stick an image of a grid on a wall and take a series of shots at different focal lengths. Having imported these photos into Lightroom/Photoshop, you can then identify at what focal lengths, distortion has an impact. Next time you're out on a photography trip, you'll be better prepared for creating compositions that reduce your time fixing distortion problems later in post processing.

Optical Distortion

Lightroom

    1. Inside of the develop module, under the lens correction tab, you can select 'Enable Profile Corrections', this will look through a database of lens profiles and retrospectively remove the distortion based on the lens. This will automatically work if you've shot in raw and imported your photos with your exif data (and lightroom has a profile for your lens). If not, you can manually select the lens profile yourself, after selecting 'Enable Profile Corrections'. This option does remove optical distortion fairly well, however, it won't solve the problem of perspective distortion.

TIP: To save time on fixing optical distortion, you can setup a preset that includes lens correction, which you can apply when you import your photos.

Perspective Distortion

With perspective distortion there's two options, buying a tilt and shift lens or adding a fix in post process. I'll run through how I corrected the distortion problems in the image above.

Lightroom

1. First I enabled the grid, by going to 'View', 'Loupe Overlay' and then 'Grid'.

2. Under the develop module, you'll find the 'Transform' tool. The tool provides 4 default options for distortion correction, Auto, Level, Vertical and Full. Sometimes these options will correct the distortion issues. However, if not, there's fifth option called 'guided'. With this option, it allows you to put guides along the distorted lines, giving you more control to correct distortion. Below is an example of using this. You'll notice the bottom half of the image has been cropped off. This has happened because I've constrained the crop.

3. In the screenshot below, i've taken off the constraint, leaving me with a corrected photo. However, because of those corrections, I now need to manually crop the image to finish off this edit.

4. Here's a comparison of the before and after. You can see that due to fix, we've cropped a part of the photo. It emphasises the need to understand the impact of how your shooting location will impact the work you need to do later. 

Some tips

  • Don't place important objects in the corner of the frame, this will more than likely get distorted depending on the lenses (particular wide angle). Instead, you can use the rule of thirds to avoid extreme distortion by placing the most important elements of your composition on the grid intersections (another potential use of ).
  • Leave plenty of room around the subject, so your composition has enough breathing room. When you attempt to correct the perspective, you will likely need to crop the image. 

If you've got any tips or advice, do share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Pritesh Tailor


Some links I found useful & some more detailed guides.

https://helpx.adobe.com/lightroom/how-to/fix-lens-distortion-photo.html

https://helpx.adobe.com/lightroom/how-to/perspective-correction-guided-upright.html

- https://www.slrlounge.com/lightroom-tips-how-to-fix-perspective-distortion-in-lightroom/

Practical Photography's photoshop tutorial for fixing distortion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6Smb3VKuQc

Creative Live - Wide Angle Lenses: Tips for Dealing with Distortion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q0FdW4qzxD4

Lightroom CC - Removing Lens Distortions and Correcting Perspective: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32XsI-Pp3Uc

Review: Canon M6

What I was after? After lugging around a 5D Mark III and all the gear that goes with it, I started to find carrying around all this gear tiresome. The want, to have my camera where I go was counteracted by the weight of carrying it all. After all, to capture the 'moment', its also about timing and being prepared for that. So to answer the question, I was after a light weight camera, easy to carry and low in cost, which brings me to the Canon M6.

Why the M6? The simple but not the only reason, is the weight and size, coming at around 390g. When've you've got a day job, working between different offices, trying to carry around your DSLR with its gear, alongside your laptop, makes it a chore. The M6 allows me to carry my camera around to more locations outside of photo trips.

Controls & Ergonomics The camera has four dials at the top, all in good proximity to each other. In reality, you'll mainly need to adjust 3 of those dials on a regular basis. Three of those dials allows you to control the ISO, aperture, shutter speed and the exposure compensation. I said three, but I've highlighted four controls. What the dials control depends on the shooting mode you select. In general, all the dials at the top, feel solid and easy to use, just not always easy to remember, depending on whether you change your shooting mode often.

The controls on the back of the camera feel familiar to my 5D. It's good that Canon have been consistent with this. It's usually these sorts of things that for me, would leave me feeling slightly disappointed by a camera. Unlike the M5, the M6 touchscreen flips upwards, rather than down, making it easier for vlogging or selfies.

Overall, the M6 feels solid, not that i'd like to test that by dropping it. The one downside for me is the camera isn't weather sealed. However, mine's been out in the rain, including a deluge and has so far survived (a slight disclaimer, each time it started to bucket down, I usually had it put away, but the odd bit of rain hasn't done it any harm).

Focusing The camera comes with Dual Pixel CMOS AF. It provides 3 modes of focusing, 1-point AF, Smooth Zone AF and Tracking. 1-point AF and Smooth Zone were fairly reliable and easy enough to use, particularly with static subjects. When it came to capturing more dynamic subjects, such as sport, I noticed a slight delay in focusing, resulting in missed shots. At the moment, I haven't tested the focusing with regards video, so I can't comment on that.

Lens Once you've invested in one system, one brand, it's difficult, not impossible mind, to move elsewhere. So when I thought about buying a new camera, despite the position of Sony and Fuji in the mirrorless market, I always kept the above in mind. Canon provides an official lens mount adapter that allows you to attach EF & EF-S lens to EOS M cameras, so if you're worried about the lack of lens, then worry not. If you think the price is too much, you can get a non-Canon cheaper adapter elsewhere (this is what I use). The adapter provides full electronic control over the aperture and has so far been fine.

Battery life Before I go any further, I would always recommend having a backup battery, regardless of the current battery's performance. In my experience, the battery lasts me for the majority of the day, but this is variable depending on the shoot, how you use your camera, whether you've enabled some power saving settings, which is why I don't subscribe to the number of shots taken as the barometer for battery performance. I don't keep my camera switched on, whilst I'm looking for a composition, I also don't use the flash or use the connectivity tools on every shoot, which is why I think the battery lasts me for the majority of the day.

No EVF In comparison to the M5, this doesn't have an EVF built in the camera. When I first looked at buying this, I was rather unsure how i'd handle using the screen instead of some sort of viewfinder. Initially, it was odd switching back from using the viewfinder on my 5D to the LCD on my M6, but it's something you get use to. If you don't want to, there's the option to purchase a viewfinder, which you can attach to the hot-shoe. Now that leads me on to the downside.

Flash If you have the EVF attached, then you can't have an external flash attached. I imagine that's a reason they've added an on-camera flash, which is okay, but a built in camera flash, can't do the job of a for example, speedlite, for bouncing the flash off walls or ceilings. However, this didn't put me off, for one, I'm not using an EVF at the moment and secondly, I don't normally use a flash system too often.

Connectivity The M6 comes with WIFI, Bluetooth  & NFC enabled. This allows you to do away with the remote control triggers or wired triggers and instead, in combination with the app, you can trigger the camera's shutter with your smartphone. It's a small benefit but it's one that doesn't get mentioned a lot, the reduction of carrying gear. In my experience, the wifi and bluetooth has been fairly reliable, allowing me to get long exposure shots. Arranging the connection between devices, does consume a slight amount of time. So it's always better to get connectivity arranged for the first time, before your shoot. With the Canon Irista app, you can upload to Canon's cloud storage, where you can get 15GB of space, as a starter package, followed by a priced tiering. You can read more about Irista at https://www.irista.com/

Touchscreen The touchscreen has been fairly responsive and I've not noticed any sort of sluggishness. The touchscreen has been fairly useful for finding photos and just general use of the camera. For the majority of time, I use the dials, but when you want to check out things like the histogram, etc, it's been fine. If you're as protective over your kit as I am, give the touchscreen a cover. 

Conclusion So far so good is what I think, based on my experience over the last 2-3 months. It's excellent, especially as a secondary camera and can be good as a primary camera, depending on what your needs are. Yes, it does have a few things, that I would have liked, viewfinder, 4K video and weather proofing. But these things I can live without. It's not about getting the camera with every feature, it's about getting the camera that meets your needs.  If you're having thoughts about which to get, either the M6 or the M5, get yourself into a store and get your hands on one. If you've got questions over the camera, just drop me a message in the comments, or email me at photography@priteshtailor.co.uk.

Amsterdam Journey

So last month, I took a trip to Amsterdam with some mates for a Birthday. Nothing remarkable there. Actually, wait, maybe there is, it was my first trip to mainland Europe. We boarded the 'Pride of Rotterdam' ferry, in the early evening, from Hull to the Europoort, which was based in the south of the Netherlands.

We had to be checked in at least 90 minutes before we were due to depart and almost encountered a bit of a disaster, when the possibility that one of our mates might end up missing the check in time. As we arrived into the Europoort, I was shocked at the scale of the port and the industrialised nature of it. I expected to see a port, but never did I expect my first view of mainland Europe to be of such an industrialised area. I was impressed, not disappointed, it showed me the importance of the region. The Europoort has connections to Germany, France, Switzerland and many other countries.

We boarded the coach from the Europoort taking us into Amsterdam, where we arrived at around 10:30. The coach dropped us off near the Amsterdam Central train station, which looked magnificent. I was aware of how popular cycling was in the Netherlands, but I never realised the scale. 

The first thing we did was to get my IAMSTERDAM card I bought prior to the trip. I paid around €50 and that would let me use the trams, the canals and entry into the various museums for the whole day, which I thought was a good deal. As we were only there for the day, we decided to take the hour long canal cruise around the city, so we could see as much as possible. 

Once we boarded, we were provided headphones, which explained in english the various sites we saw. This is where I took the majority of my shots. Despite being required to sit down for the majority of the cruise, I took this as an advantage rather than a hinderance to my photography and attempted to compose shots from what I say and interpreted. 

 Once we got off the canal boat (dropped off where we began), we jumped on to the number '2' tram and headed towards the Rjksmuseum, the architecture looked magnificent, I felt like i was entering a palace rather than a museum. Unfortunately, due to our time constraints and the size of the queue, we weren't able to go inside. For me it was still worth going there, just to see the size, the scale and beauty of the place. Not far from there, we visisted the IAMSTERDAM sign, which we saw on the canal cruise and took a few snaps, which as you imagine, was fairly busy. 

It was around 12:30 I believe and we headed off for lunch at a Heineken bar, which looked quite busy, but they were happy to cater for a large group of us. The staff were friendly and the interior of the bar was well decorated. As we took the tram on the way towards the Rjksmuseum (a long way from central station), we decided to walk back towards the centre, so we could explore some of the shops and museums on the way. We needed to be on the coach at 5, to set off back to the port, which as you know, needs us to check in at least 90 minutes before departure, I believe. I feel at this point, I'm rambling on, I'll let the photos show you a small glimpse of Amsterdam. What I learnt was, Amsterdam isn't just a place of Art, History, Culture, but is itself an artwork. Amsterdam Trip Album

Summer down at Boardmasters festival

It's been a few months since I was given the opportunity to shoot down at Boardmasters festival, so now's a better time than any to talk a bit about it.

Before I dive into my thoughts, a bit of background info for you. Boardmasters is a surf and music festival, based down in Newquay, Cornwall, held usually over 4 days. The festival has a heritage dating back to 1981. The surf competition takes place down at Fistral beach, where professional surfers compete across the various categories. On the other side, down at watergate bay, we've got the music festival.

So my journey began at a not so early time of 7am from Manchester coach station, I wasn't expecting too many people taking the same journey, considering it was a 300+ mile trip, but low and behold there were a few of us.

I arrived at the campsite around 7ish, where I dragged myself and my gear around in the avalanche of pouring rain, whilst juggling the various wristbands and passes I received. Not the most auspicious of starts, especially for a guy that's never actually been camping before. But hey ho, you just get on with it. The first night was just a wash out, in both a literal and metaphorical sense (for me anyway, spending your birthday on a coach travelling all day).

For the rest of the days, I had an immense time, the weather, the music and the people, contributed to that. It was a pleasure to have met and worked with the various photographers and Vision Nine staff.

Here's a select few shots from my time at Boardmasters.

Boardmasters 2015Watergate Bay, Newquay, Cornwall. Canon 5D Mark III
Boardmasters 2015Watergate Bay, Newquay, Cornwall. Canon 5D Mark III
Boardmasters 2015Watergate Bay, Newquay, Cornwall. Canon 5D Mark III
Boardmasters 2015Watergate Bay, Newquay, Cornwall. Canon 5D Mark III
Boardmasters 2015Watergate Bay, Newquay, Cornwall. Canon 5D Mark III
Boardmasters 2015Watergate Bay, Newquay, Cornwall. Canon 5D Mark III
Boardmasters 2015Watergate Bay, Newquay, Cornwall. Canon 5D Mark III
Boardmasters 2015Watergate Bay, Newquay, Cornwall. Canon 5D Mark III

In my next post, I'll be talking through a few my shots and giving you my review of the Canon 17-40mm lens.