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It’s All in Your Perspective

Tower Bridge
London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

During the past several years, I have migrated to smaller gear. Importantly, this has included the diminutive Sony RX100 camera. For the money, this may be the most versatile small travel camera on the market today (though the competition stiffens every year – which is a good thing 🙂 ; and there are a couple other systems – like the Olympus 4:3 outfit, and the Fujifilm XT series – that have a heavy pro following). But no matter what gear you might be carrying, or using, there are going to be compromises and things a particular “kit” is just not going to be able to handle. For me, with the gear I carry and the travel I do, it is more often than not, two things: “reach” and “perspective.”

The only way I know of to fix the “reach” issue is to add a heavy telephoto to the mix, or get closer (which isn’t always going to be an option). So I haven’t attempted to “fix” that. Rather, I am working around it as best I can. Perspective, however, I have learned, I can “fix.” Well, at least I can improve it in post-processing.

The only way I know to fix the “reach issue is to add a heavy telephoto … or get closer the subject

Perspective is, in some ways, the opposite problem of “reach.” It often involves being too close, or the lens being “too wide” (if that is possible 🙂 ). Sometimes the same solution can be applied; i.e., moving. For many years, very good photographers did not have the quality zoom lenses we have today and used to “zoom” with their feet. When possible, that is still excellent advice. But moving away from your subject creates new challenges. It makes the subject smaller in the frame. It introduces elements and obstructions into the image that you often do not want. And often the need is to get higher and that is not always possible. I love shooting landscape images (when I get the opportunity) from the top deck of the cruise ship because it aids in perspective for tall subjects by getting me higher. But walking around on location, I often do not have that luxury. If you can find a way to get higher, or have the opportunity to work and area and find higher viewpoints, seek them out.

Tower Bridge
London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

To try to ameliorate these issues, I have learned yet another virtue of post-processing software. Perhaps unfortunately, my usage will most center around Adobe’s products, because it is what I have and know. I have been impressed with the capabilities of other software – notably OnOne (which unfortunately, hasn’t worked well with my hardware), and am sure they all have built this feature in their software. It is worth exploring. This is not a full on tutorial. There are a ton of them out there already. This is really more designed to bring this issue to the reader’s attention and then encourage some exploring of your own.

Fixing perspective issues, I have learned, is yet another virtue of modern post-processing software

I have been able to remarkably improve the perspective on several of my travel images, mostly using the Transform Perspective tool in Adobe Photoshop. The Tower Bridge image was the most pronounced example I could find in my recent “take” of hundreds of images in the British Isles. We were on a “whirlwind” 4-hour tour of parts of London, and the bridge was not planned by our guide to be a part of the tour. But we cajoled him into getting us somewhere close enough to stop and photograph it. This is the location he go us too. This is obviously an image better shot from a distance, and because of the urban landscape, from somewhere high. But that wasn’t going to happen. When I got home, I was not surprised – but was still mildly disappointed with the results of my several images. But I went to work with Photoshop’s Transform Perspective tool, and the second image is my result. I believe it is much more pleasing.

Using the tool requires a combination of other tools, including some of Photoshop’s “content-aware” features, and other straightening tools. There is a bit of a learning curve. (for example, I had to learn that this tool does not operate on the background image, and you need to create a duplicate layer to do the corrections on, which is always a good practice anyway, for non-destructive editing). Also, perspective corrections also often change the aspect and scale of an image (stretching and/or squeezing), and there is a scale tool for working with those adustments. Something I find particularly useful in Photoshop, is to pull “guides” (horizontal and vertical lines) out from the margins around the areas I am trying to get horizontally or vertically level. Guides also help with correcting vertical perspective. In Adobe Light Room, you can use the Lens overlay feature to create (and scale) a grid overlay pattern on the image (although my brief expirimentation leads me to believe that is is not a versatile as the Transform Perspective Tool in Photoshop).

One important item to be aware of, is that all the above corrections will almost always result in the loss of some of your image (i.e., cropping). When shooting in these situations, it is wise to leave some space around the subject to allow for later cropping. One of the most useful editions to Photoshop in recent years is “content aware” technology. Content aware allows you to remove, replace, move and even crop items (without having to eliminate cropped elements), letting the Photoshop engine make its best “guess” at filling in the space based on the surroundings. It is certainly not perfect. But it is pretty surprisingly good, a lot of the time. Of course, it is nothing you couldn’t already do – manually – but it was painstaking enough that most of us just cropped the best we could, instead. To the best of my knowledge, the Content Aware feature is not yet available in Light Room. But in Photoshop, I can often use content aware cropping, content aware fill, or both, to retain elements of an image that would otherwise have been lost to cropping. Busy images do not work as well, but images with simple graphics or mono color (sky, grass, etc.) work well, often with little or no cleanup afterward.

I recently saw some images posted by another talented shooter taken with a wide-angle lens, that showed perspective distortion at the edges – a possible characteristic of wide-angle lenses with “grand landscape” type images. Reaching out to him, I learned he (like I would guess the majority of shooters today) uses Adobe’s Light Room (which has really been made and marketed to photographers). I am old school, and set in my ways (which may really just be another way of saying “lazy” :-)).

Eiffel Tower
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

But I do have Light Room, so I looked at it. The “Transform” tool performs a similar function (it is also resident in the ACR converter that I use to convert my raw images – which is supposed to be the same “engine” as Light Room). I imported the Eiffel Tower image into Light Room and used the Transform tool in the Develop Module to correct the perspective on this image. Fortunately, this one only required some mild vertical correction and the application of the sliders were pretty easy. In doing my research I found this really well-written article on how to accomplish perspective corrections in Light Room and Photoshop (although it is really most a Light Room article). Even if you use other post-processing software, there is useful information in this easy-to-read tutorial and I recommend reading it.

Amsterdam – UNRETOUCHED
Netherlands
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

I felt like it deserved a tougher test, so I took one of my poorly executed images through the same “hoops.” The Amsterdam image is obviously one where the shooter (yours truly) did not get his handheld image level in the camera to start with. But just making a quick “rotate” adjustment in any software reveals that there is more at issue here than just the level part (for what its worth, Photoshop has a “straighten” tool built into its cropping tool for fixing these types of issues. My experience has been that I get better results using guides and doing it myself, but YMMV). So, once again, I imported this image into Light Room, and went directly to the Transform Tool. I used the sliders for rotate, vertical and horizontal to get this one “right” (note that there is still a perspective issue on the wing to the left on the building – which may be fixable, but is beyond my talent level at the moment). There is also a slider for scale (you inevitably will get some cropping and may have to make an image smaller or even larger to fit the space properly and maintain all elements of the photo) and for adjusting aspect ratio. These same tools exist in ACR, but the Light Room implementation seems much more intuitive and easy to use. Either way, I think its pretty powerful stuff. Here is the result. I think it is much more pleasing than the original. I did my post-processing from start to finish in Light Room on this one.

Amsterdam
Netherlands
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Earlier, I emphasized “similar” because the Photoshop Transform and Light Room Transform tools are not exactly identical tools. I suspect the “engine” is the same under the hood, but the controls are very different. After some playing I came to the conclusion (based only on my own limited experience) that I was still getting my desired result more effectively using the Photoshop Transform Tools. One thing that the Photoshop tool has is something called “skew.” This allows a little more “freeform” correction, by adding a horizontal or vertical slant to the subject. I find that when I am having trouble matching the vertical perspective and the horizontal rotation, that this is very useful for changing the horizontal in the image without completely changing the vertical. Images like the Eiffel Tower image often present such challenges, and I did apply some skew transformation to several of my tower images on my website. I most certainly used it on the Tower Bridge image. I also think it is easier to minimize the loss of parts of the image from cropping using Photoshop. However, this tool often means using either creative cropping, content aware replacement, or some combination of both.

When shooting in these situations, it is wise to leave some space around the subject to allow for inevitable cropping

These tools require some ability with software, patience, and the willingness to work on post-processing to obtain a desired result. I appreciate that not everyone wants to do this. But I think that the results are often worth the effort. I have been using the Transform Perspective tool for a long time, now. But perhaps not to its best use. I encourage you to try some of these tools. Use non-destructive techniques, or at least, work on a copy of your original image, and don’t be afraid to play around. What is the worst you can do? And maybe learn something. I do almost every time I play around with a new tool.

It’s All in Your Perspective

Tower Bridge
London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

During the past several years, I have migrated to smaller gear. Importantly, this has included the diminutive Sony RX100 camera. For the money, this may be the most versatile small travel camera on the market today (though the competition stiffens every year – which is a good thing 🙂 ; and there are a couple other systems – like the Olympus 4:3 outfit, and the Fujifilm XT series – that have a heavy pro following). But no matter what gear you might be carrying, or using, there are going to be compromises and things a particular “kit” is just not going to be able to handle. For me, with the gear I carry and the travel I do, it is more often than not, two things: “reach” and “perspective.”

The only way I know of to fix the “reach” issue is to add a heavy telephoto to the mix, or get closer (which isn’t always going to be an option). So I haven’t attempted to “fix” that. Rather, I am working around it as best I can. Perspective, however, I have learned, I can “fix.” Well, at least I can improve it in post-processing.

The only way I know to fix the “reach issue is to add a heavy telephoto … or get closer the subject

Perspective is, in some ways, the opposite problem of “reach.” It often involves being too close, or the lens being “too wide” (if that is possible 🙂 ). Sometimes the same solution can be applied; i.e., moving. For many years, very good photographers did not have the quality zoom lenses we have today and used to “zoom” with their feet. When possible, that is still excellent advice. But moving away from your subject creates new challenges. It makes the subject smaller in the frame. It introduces elements and obstructions into the image that you often do not want. And often the need is to get higher and that is not always possible. I love shooting landscape images (when I get the opportunity) from the top deck of the cruise ship because it aids in perspective for tall subjects by getting me higher. But walking around on location, I often do not have that luxury. If you can find a way to get higher, or have the opportunity to work and area and find higher viewpoints, seek them out.

Tower Bridge
London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

To try to ameliorate these issues, I have learned yet another virtue of post-processing software. Perhaps unfortunately, my usage will most center around Adobe’s products, because it is what I have and know. I have been impressed with the capabilities of other software – notably OnOne (which unfortunately, hasn’t worked well with my hardware), and am sure they all have built this feature in their software. It is worth exploring. This is not a full on tutorial. There are a ton of them out there already. This is really more designed to bring this issue to the reader’s attention and then encourage some exploring of your own.

Fixing perspective issues, I have learned, is yet another virtue of modern post-processing software

I have been able to remarkably improve the perspective on several of my travel images, mostly using the Transform Perspective tool in Adobe Photoshop. The Tower Bridge image was the most pronounced example I could find in my recent “take” of hundreds of images in the British Isles. We were on a “whirlwind” 4-hour tour of parts of London, and the bridge was not planned by our guide to be a part of the tour. But we cajoled him into getting us somewhere close enough to stop and photograph it. This is the location he go us too. This is obviously an image better shot from a distance, and because of the urban landscape, from somewhere high. But that wasn’t going to happen. When I got home, I was not surprised – but was still mildly disappointed with the results of my several images. But I went to work with Photoshop’s Transform Perspective tool, and the second image is my result. I believe it is much more pleasing.

Using the tool requires a combination of other tools, including some of Photoshop’s “content-aware” features, and other straightening tools. There is a bit of a learning curve. (for example, I had to learn that this tool does not operate on the background image, and you need to create a duplicate layer to do the corrections on, which is always a good practice anyway, for non-destructive editing). Also, perspective corrections also often change the aspect and scale of an image (stretching and/or squeezing), and there is a scale tool for working with those adustments. Something I find particularly useful in Photoshop, is to pull “guides” (horizontal and vertical lines) out from the margins around the areas I am trying to get horizontally or vertically level. Guides also help with correcting vertical perspective. In Adobe Light Room, you can use the Lens overlay feature to create (and scale) a grid overlay pattern on the image (although my brief expirimentation leads me to believe that is is not a versatile as the Transform Perspective Tool in Photoshop).

One important item to be aware of, is that all the above corrections will almost always result in the loss of some of your image (i.e., cropping). When shooting in these situations, it is wise to leave some space around the subject to allow for later cropping. One of the most useful editions to Photoshop in recent years is “content aware” technology. Content aware allows you to remove, replace, move and even crop items (without having to eliminate cropped elements), letting the Photoshop engine make its best “guess” at filling in the space based on the surroundings. It is certainly not perfect. But it is pretty surprisingly good, a lot of the time. Of course, it is nothing you couldn’t already do – manually – but it was painstaking enough that most of us just cropped the best we could, instead. To the best of my knowledge, the Content Aware feature is not yet available in Light Room. But in Photoshop, I can often use content aware cropping, content aware fill, or both, to retain elements of an image that would otherwise have been lost to cropping. Busy images do not work as well, but images with simple graphics or mono color (sky, grass, etc.) work well, often with little or no cleanup afterward.

I recently saw some images posted by another talented shooter taken with a wide-angle lens, that showed perspective distortion at the edges – a possible characteristic of wide-angle lenses with “grand landscape” type images. Reaching out to him, I learned he (like I would guess the majority of shooters today) uses Adobe’s Light Room (which has really been made and marketed to photographers). I am old school, and set in my ways (which may really just be another way of saying “lazy” :-)).

Eiffel Tower
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

But I do have Light Room, so I looked at it. The “Transform” tool performs a similar function (it is also resident in the ACR converter that I use to convert my raw images – which is supposed to be the same “engine” as Light Room). I imported the Eiffel Tower image into Light Room and used the Transform tool in the Develop Module to correct the perspective on this image. Fortunately, this one only required some mild vertical correction and the application of the sliders were pretty easy. In doing my research I found this really well-written article on how to accomplish perspective corrections in Light Room and Photoshop (although it is really most a Light Room article). Even if you use other post-processing software, there is useful information in this easy-to-read tutorial and I recommend reading it.

Amsterdam – UNRETOUCHED
Netherlands
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

I felt like it deserved a tougher test, so I took one of my poorly executed images through the same “hoops.” The Amsterdam image is obviously one where the shooter (yours truly) did not get his handheld image level in the camera to start with. But just making a quick “rotate” adjustment in any software reveals that there is more at issue here than just the level part (for what its worth, Photoshop has a “straighten” tool built into its cropping tool for fixing these types of issues. My experience has been that I get better results using guides and doing it myself, but YMMV). So, once again, I imported this image into Light Room, and went directly to the Transform Tool. I used the sliders for rotate, vertical and horizontal to get this one “right” (note that there is still a perspective issue on the wing to the left on the building – which may be fixable, but is beyond my talent level at the moment). There is also a slider for scale (you inevitably will get some cropping and may have to make an image smaller or even larger to fit the space properly and maintain all elements of the photo) and for adjusting aspect ratio. These same tools exist in ACR, but the Light Room implementation seems much more intuitive and easy to use. Either way, I think its pretty powerful stuff. Here is the result. I think it is much more pleasing than the original. I did my post-processing from start to finish in Light Room on this one.

Amsterdam
Netherlands
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Earlier, I emphasized “similar” because the Photoshop Transform and Light Room Transform tools are not exactly identical tools. I suspect the “engine” is the same under the hood, but the controls are very different. After some playing I came to the conclusion (based only on my own limited experience) that I was still getting my desired result more effectively using the Photoshop Transform Tools. One thing that the Photoshop tool has is something called “skew.” This allows a little more “freeform” correction, by adding a horizontal or vertical slant to the subject. I find that when I am having trouble matching the vertical perspective and the horizontal rotation, that this is very useful for changing the horizontal in the image without completely changing the vertical. Images like the Eiffel Tower image often present such challenges, and I did apply some skew transformation to several of my tower images on my website. I most certainly used it on the Tower Bridge image. I also think it is easier to minimize the loss of parts of the image from cropping using Photoshop. However, this tool often means using either creative cropping, content aware replacement, or some combination of both.

When shooting in these situations, it is wise to leave some space around the subject to allow for inevitable cropping

These tools require some ability with software, patience, and the willingness to work on post-processing to obtain a desired result. I appreciate that not everyone wants to do this. But I think that the results are often worth the effort. I have been using the Transform Perspective tool for a long time, now. But perhaps not to its best use. I encourage you to try some of these tools. Use non-destructive techniques, or at least, work on a copy of your original image, and don’t be afraid to play around. What is the worst you can do? And maybe learn something. I do almost every time I play around with a new tool.

Water Seeks Its Own Level

Copyright Andy Richards 1997

Waterfalls hold a special fascination, especially for photographers. Last December, I wrote about water and its many possibilities as a photographic subject or enhancement. While waterfalls can provide background interest and occasionally wonderful effects, a photographer can find it very rewarding to seek them out as a subject in and of themselves. Waterfalls can depict power, tranquility, or ironically—sometimes even both at the same time. With the appropriate photographic technique, the same waterfall can be portrayed to show either. They can enhance the color and texture of the substrate over which they flow. Waterfalls often demonstrate the sheer persistence of nature through years and years of inexorable flow to create canyons and ravines in bedrock.

The same waterfall can be portrayed by the photographer to depict either power or tranquility.

Copyright Andy Richards 1997

Falls can be very large or very small and still hold fascination for the viewer and great fodder for the photographer.

This waterfall is about 18-24 inches wide and about a 3 foot drop - Copyright Andy Richards 2009

Perhaps more than any other subject, waterfalls present opportunities for the creative photographer to use the tools at his disposal for creative effect.

Those who know me or have read this blog know my mantra: “get close” and my fascination with the more intimate view of subjects. Waterfalls are often a great subject to get in close and shoot parts of, to show the effects of the water, and for abstracts of shape and color. I can sit at a waterfall for hours and watch as the water flows and see the while it may look the “same” to the casual observer, the flow of the water is never precisely the same.

Waterfalls are a great subject to get in close and make “intimate” images.

Perspective and context are often an element which is necessary if the photographer wants the viewer to know the size of the falls. It is often difficult, especially with an intimate view, for the viewer to know whether the falls are large or small.

Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Waterfalls are one of the most difficult subjects for a photographer to technically expose properly. There is generally very high contrast between the almost pure white water at its most rapid movement and the shadows often naturally created by the surroundings. Lighting conditions are often difficult. Waterfalls may be photographed on overcast days, and even in the rain, but care must be taken care in selecting any background elements. It is often difficult to properly expose a waterfall on a bright sunny day with blue skies in the background. Blending techniques have allowed us to do more in “digital darkroom” programs more easily that might have been possible with film.

The photographer needs to plan the shooting of a waterfall. This—like most successful nature photography opportunities—means being willing to be up very early and/or out late. An irony to this is that in many great waterfall shots the waterfall is in a difficult to get to place, which requires a hike in and out. By its nature, waterfall means elevation. So plan to hike uphill and down (often the hike can be a rather strenuous climb).

Spending time at a waterfall can be rewarding photographically and for the soul

Of the photographic experiences I remember in recent years, the ones that come back to me as most personally moving, and as a time and place for the contemplation of nature and her majesty, are the times (especially early morning) I have spent around waterfalls. Making the time to plan and arrive at these destinations and then spending some time while there can be a very rewarding experience for the photographer, both for the images and for the soul.

This shot involved a pre-sunrise, 20 minute hike down a very steep mountain trail on a Sunday morning. I'd rather be here than in church any day! Copyright Andy Richards 2008