BEHIND THE LENS: Some behind the scene discussion on my photos

I am not pretending to be a master of photography.  I am not really a master of anything.  But the joy of photography is as much about the sharing of the image as the actual capture of it.    

I often get asked questions about my photography such as 'how i took that photo?', 'what equipment do I use?', or 'how I processed that photo?'.  There is also the odd questions about the camper trailer I have or specific questions on some of the destinations we have been.  So I thought I would add this 'Behind the Lens' look at my travels, photography and life.  

There is a huge amount of information out there on learning photography but I thought I would focus these concepts for people who go camping and travel from the bush to the coast. 

The photos on the following pages may not be the best of my photos and often I choose ones that have flaws or things that don't work.  They may also have been chosen to present an issue or skill. But hopefully they will inspire you to try something different next time you are 'on the road'.

Please feel free to put a comment or question and I will try to reply. Enjoy

1 tip to taking good photos - Get out there and shoot

I often get asked what camera I use as my photos are really good.  While at first I am flattered, if have often and stopped to think why the focus is on the equipment.  Now I must admit that I have camera envy when the newest and latest toy is released but we need to be careful about over playing the importance of a good camera.

When someone looks at an amazing painting, very rarely do you hear them ask - "I wonder what paint the artist used?  I wonder what type of paint brush it was?".  No, they focus on the image and what emotion or feeling it portrays.  And so it should be no different for a photo.

So this brings me to 1 tip for those wanting to take great photos.  


They say that for any activity to be mastered you need to spend 10,000 hours practicing. It is no different to photography.  The more you press that shutter button the more you will come to understand your tools.  Soon it will become a paint brush in your hand where you don't need to worry about the technical aspects.  You will just need to focus on your creativity.

Now this may see may seem challenging at first especially in between travels. So an option is for you to undertake a photography challenge.  This can take all forms such as a weekly challenge where you pick a topic such as flowers, scenery, kids, close ups, etc. and try to focus on capturing something different. It does not matter as long as you are pressing the shutter.

A great way to really challenge yourself is to do what is called Project 365. 

For the year I took a photo every day.  I decided to use my iphone rather than full camera to focus on telling a story of that day or moment rather than creating a perfect image.  Using your camera every day forces you to look at the world differently.  You will start to notice shadows, shapes and light even in the most mundane of locations.  When we travel we have unlimited new things to look at.  When we are at home it becomes more challenging. 

While there are moments where you may struggle, sometimes this leads to new insights and more creative expression of what you are looking at. And there is nothing more satisfying than looking back on the year and knowing that you made it.

If you are interested in having a look at my photos from my Project 365 have a look here - My Photo365.

12 steps to my lightroom workflow

My Lightroom workflow: Basic Landscape adjustments - Part 1

I appreciate this may only assist a few people but I thought I would share my basic lightroom workflow for the majority of landscape images I post.

I try to get as much right up front in camera first as a bad photo will always be a bad photo irrespective of your ability to use software.  I would also encourage you to shoot in RAW (rather than jpeg) as this gives you so much more to play with later on.

Before I begin Lightroom is a powerful tool.  If managed incorrectly you have the potential to blind someone with oversaturated colours, destroy their taste buds with over sharpened images and damaged their brain due to radical use of contrast.  I am a supporter of the concept of ‘punish the pixel’ but that does not mean ‘kill them’.  So with that intro here is my workflow.

The good thing is the Lightroom Panel generally follows from top to bottom which suits my workflow.

Step 1: check the horizon and see if it needs straitening. This is important for landscape shots.

Step 2:  While I am there I will usually check the crop and make any adjustments.

Step 3: fix distortions.  Often you will notice the distortion on the horizon.  I start by letting lightroom try to fix it otherwise I will go in to manual mode.

Step 4: Depending on the mood I am trying to create I may play with the white balance.  More often I want a warmer tone moving the temp slider to the right. Otherwise it may be the other way.  Again it is up to you depending on what you are trying to portray but the lesson is only small changes.

Step 5: now the fun begins.  The next is doing some basic adjustments: 

o   First is exposure.  While the aim is to get the exposure as close as possible in camera this may require a bit of tweeking.

o   second is adjusting white and black points – I do this first as it can significantly impact on the images overall saturation and contrast.  The aim is to have a nice spread of the histogram from left to right.  Try not to blow any shadows or highlights (you can tell if the little triangle in the top changes – or hold down option key in mac and change the slider)

o   highlights and shadows.  Depending on the dynamic range of the image I will start with shadows as often I want to try to lighten these up.  Less often do I need to pull down by highlights

o   Rarely do I use saturation – A much better alternative is the vibrance slide – again don’t over do it

o   Similar I very rarely use contrast.  Rather I will adjust clarity which provided a more subtle change

Then I will go and make any other minor adjustments to across the basic panel until I am happy with the end image.

Step 6: Tone Curve. Very occasionally I will go in to the tone curve as often I have achieved what I am after with the Basics Panel. I wont explain it here but the simplest advice is to just go in and play with the 4 sliders and see what it does to your picture.

Step 7 Luminance.  Occasionally I may wish to darken the blue sky as it can be washed out.  If this is the case I may go in and select the little bullseye.  Put it on the image then drag up or down.  This adjusts the luminance of just that colour.

Step 8: Selective saturation. similar on the rare occasion I may want to accentuate a colour I may do a selective saturation change (this is rare and should be done with caution for fear of ridicule and laughter)

Step 9: Dust. This is most often noticed in the sky where you have solid colours you may notice small round circles.  This is dust on your sensor.  To get rid of it choose the spot removal tool and put on ‘heal’. While this can be done any time I find it easer at the end of the process.  If done early you can think you have got everything but after you do a range of adjustments more will show up

Step 10:  by this stage I should be happy with the image.  I may then go and add a vignette if I want to focus on the centre or remove it if the lens has created some that I don’t want.

Step 11: be sharp but not that sharp.  I leave this towards the end – often I will start with sharpness at 80, radius 0.8 and luminance at 20 and then check from there by using the zoom.

Step 12.  While It may sound counter intuitive that you have just sharpened an image I thin will do some noise reduction.  I find changing the colour slide often improves any noise in areas such as the sky where it is more noticeable.


That’s about it.  While it may seem a lot, after a while you get to do this quickly.  I can often do a photo in under a minute depending on the complexity of the photo.

The next most often tool I will use is the graduated filter but I will safe that for another post.

This is the before image

This is after

8 tips to thinking vertical

Now this may seem a simple but it is surprising how many people don’t do it.

Many new to photography will look at a scene, point the camera at it, look through the rectangular view finder (or back of the screen on the new cameras) and take a photo.  When you get home you may realise there is something similar about all the images. They are all horizontal.

The design of cameras has encouraged us to hold the camera horizontally.  They have the button on top to make it easy to press.  But this naturally means many will not think what the image may look like if they change their camera vertically.

At a basic level it is often better to take tall objects (such as a tall tree, waterfall or building) vertically to emphasise its height.  Portraits are a good example where often a vertical position will give a good frame to the person.  But there are lots of other reasons why a vertical image may be more appropriate.

So next time you are out think about the following tips:

TIP 1: If you want to emphasis height try taking both a horizontal and vertical shot and see what you like better. 

TIP 2: Verticals can work really well in landscape photos especially if you have a wide angle lens.  You can get the foreground in as well as the horizon and sky giving real depth to your image.

TIP 3: Many of us are more used to panoramic photos now that our smart phones can take these easily.  But have you thought about a vertical panoramic photo?


TIP 4: Think about where you most often show your images. Web is heading towards a horizontal world with wider screens occurring every day.  But your feeds to things such as facebook scroll vertically on your phone.  If all else fails you could try a square crop.

TIP 5: You also don’t have to be restricted to horizontal or vertical.  Sometimes taking an image at an angle can be dramatic enhancing a line or shape or give the image drama.

TIP 6: Crop later.  It is often better if you can to get your image right in camera first, but there is also the option of using software to crop photos later on.  You don’t have to be restricted to the standard.  It is interesting to think that we are still using the same aspect ratio (length:height) to when the first 35mm film was developed in the 1890’s. Luckily with post cropping tools you don’t have to be locked in to this shape.

TIP 7: Work out which way to turn the camera vertical to be able to have a good hold while still being able to press the shutter.  Practice is always the best so if you find that most of your photos are shot horizontally go and spend a day and only take vertical shots.  Alternatively every shot you take horizontally also take a vertical one. 

TIP 8: When you get back home have a look at your photos and work out what looks better.  In order to learn ask yourself:

  • why does one image looks better than the other?
  • Have a look at any leading lines.  Do they go vertical or horizontal? 
  • How does this impact on the decision to go vertical or horizontal?
  • Does one allow the eyes of focus in the object better?
  • Does a vertical give more drama and a horizontal image seem calmer?


Practice the above tip and you may be surprised how you begin to see the world in a different perspective.


A different view of the rock

There are different approaches to capturing photos when you travel.  Some people are happy to just point the camera at the first thing they see and fire away.  Others focus on taking selfies of them in front of the famous building or site to prove to everyone they were there.  

But how do you take a photo of one of the most photographed natural wonders in the world that is a bit different to every one else's? Below are a couple of tips to assist.

Tip 1: Stop and look. The art of good travel photography is to pause and take in the full moment allowing your eye to explore the large vista right down to the smallest detail.  This may give you a different perspective on what you capture. When you arrive at a place such as Uluru grab that iconic photo that you have seen on the cover of every tourist magazines with the rock taking full stage.  But once you have done this, put the camera down and just take in the scenery.  Not only does this give you a chance to experience the power of this ancient monolith without looking through a view finder, it also allows the mind to begin to see other things. 

Tip 2: The Reveal. In photography sometimes it is the 'reveal' or the part not in the photo that gives it a greater sense of mystery, allowing the viewer to crete the rest of the picture in their mind.

When you see the image below you immediately recognise it as Uluru, even though the centre of the image is a tree.

Now I am not pretending that this photo is unique as I am sure others have captured this image.  However it is a slightly different way to capture this great location. 

I also like this image below as you can still clearly tell it is Uluru but the sun shining of Kata Tjuta gives a majestic feel.

Tip 3: Don't forget the detail.  It is hard not to spend most of your time taking panoramic photos of this amazing rock.  The way it sits in the landscape with the flat plains stretching out is breathtaking.  But it also pays to get up close.  From here the rock takes on a different character. And don't forget to think about the things surrounding the rock.  There are some amazing trees that contrast beautifully against the red ochra walls.


Tip 4: show the change. Now don't get me wrong.  I did capture that traditional shot of the sun setting as you can see below but I think it is even more amazing when you see the change in colours it goes through.

If you want to see some more of my images of Uluru go to here:

I would also highly recommend you have a look at Julie Fletcher Photography, an amazing photographer from Maree.

This principle can apply to any location you visit.  Allowing your eye to explore the unusual will allow you to not only capture that memorable moment, but also an image that may be just a bit different to those you have seen before.

For those interested in the first photo, below is the un-edited version. While the photo may appear to be unintentionally underexposed, this is actually done on purpose.  When taking photos if you expose to the shadows what happens is the bright areas get 'blown out' or become white.  Once this happens it is impossible to recover the detail. However in the photo above the sky still retains its colour.  I was able to bring the shadows out of the tree in post production.

you will also see there was a bit of horizon correction and spot removal.

7 Tips to Creating Star Bursts

Hopefully you have read my previous post on improving your sunrise photos.  Now that you have an excuse to get up early in the morning I though I would take this a step further and provide some ideas on how to get sun flares and star bursts. Most of the time you don’t really want to have the sun or a bright light in your photo.  But if the conditions are right you can create some interesting effects.

A reminder that pointing your camera directly at the sun can damage your eyes so be careful.

A star burst is where a point light source, such as the sun, has long fine rays of light coming from it.  Below are some tips to achieve this effect:

Tip 1:  It all about the aperture.  While some small cameras can achieve this affect it really requires the ability to set a very narrow aperture.  On your camera place it in to ‘Aperture Priority Mode’ then choose the narrowest aperture (largest number) you can – usually f22. What this does is create a very small opening.  Light entering lens passes through the small opening then diffracts (or bends).  This then hits the sensor creating the star effect.

The affect can change significantly depending on the type of lens you have and the number of aperture blades.  The more blades on the lens the more rays.

Tip 2: Try it in the morning.  It is easiest to get some nice sun bursts in the morning especially as the sun just breaks the horizon.  The sun is not as bright and easier to capture.  You will also see below that even in the morning I have used something to partially cover the sun reducing its brightness.

Tip 3: Play around with the angle.  Depending on the angle of the sun and your lens will create different effects.  Play around with the angle of the lens pointing slightly up, down or to the side.

Tip 4: Middle of the day – yes it can work then as well.  While pointing your camera directly at the sun in the middle of the day is not recommended there are still ways to get a sunburst.  You need to look for an object that can partially obscure the sun, for example a tree, person or other object.   You want to allow just a small fraction of the sun to pass the object.

Tip 6: Choose a different light source. Once you have given that ago think about trying another light sources.  For example the sun reflection of metal or water or even a street light at night.

Another similar effect is sun flare.  Rather than the sun (or other bright light) creating a star affect, a sun flare is where a section of the image is over exposed.  This can create some interesting effects. 

Tip 7: Don’t trust your camera exposure:  When taking both sun flare and star burst images you often cant trust your cameras automatic setting. The tip is to put your camera in Aperture Priority mode (or manual) and adjust the compensation by one or two stops.  If you don’t do this the photo will see the very bright light and try to average it out (leaving the rest of the photo under exposed).  Unless you are after a silhouette effect, by changing your compensation the bright light will become over exposed but the rest of the image will be correct.  For those who want to play more with your camera settings using ‘spot metering’ is a good way to get your subject correctly exposed.

There is also a cheats way for those that want to play around with photoshop.  I have only just started playing with a plug in called Topaz Star Effects.  I purchased this for night shots but it can also be used for sun flare affects such as these ones below.

Bonus tip: Experiment. One thing when playing with bright light is that it changes every second.  The fantastic thing about digital cameras is that you can experiment trying lots of different exposures and angles to get that unique photo.  give it a go.

10 Tips for those new to morning sunrise

Now I must begin by saying I am not a morning person.  My wife will confirm at home an early morning weekend involves a grumble at 8am, one eye open at 9am and potentially a vertical position by 10.  But when I travel there is a different me.  And I think it is due to the magic of our country under a rising sun.

The following information is not designed for more advanced photographers who want to delve in to graduated filters or multiple exposures and blending.  I may save that for later. This is for those who are wanting to improve their skills. All the photos below are with minimum post processing that many should be able to achieve with most cameras.

Tip 1 – the first tip starts the day before.  If I know I am going to get up early the next morning I will do a couple of things.  Firstly I will use an app on my phone. The best known is the Photographers Ephemeris but I also use lightTrac.  Both of these apps are great at telling you not only what time the sun rises but also exactly what direction.  This is important to know if there are hills or headlands that may be in the way.  If I have google maps available I will also use this to scout for a location.  It is also good to see the weather forecast saying partly cloudy day as this is when the fireworks really occurs.

Tip 2 - The next is to have all my gear ready the night before.  My wife is not a fan of me getting up from the camp site at 5am making a racket clambering over her in the tent trying to find my gear.  So the night before I pack everything, including my clothes for the morning.  Some of the must haves to check before I go to bed include fresh batteries to the camera and a head torch.

Tip 3 - For those new to taking early morning photos you really do need a tripod.  When the sun is up you can capture some photos hand held but you have already missed the best part of the morning. You will need a tripod as the speeds on your camera may be several seconds (or can be as long as 1 minute).

Tip 4 is to be there BEFORE sunrise.  The most amazing light nearly always occurs about 20 minutes before the sun breaks the horizon.  If you are lucky to have clouds in the sky you will be mesmerised.  The same goes for sunsets.  I cant count the number of times we have been at a popular place watching the sun set.  As soon as the sun drops below the horizon everyone packs and leaves.  Then 10 minutes later the sky lights up in a blaze of colour. Also don’t forget to look behind you.  Sometimes it is the light on the other horizon that is more spectacular.

Tip 5 relates to your camera setting.  While most cameras now days have program settings if you can use the ‘Manual’ or ‘Aperture Priority’ mode on your camera you will notice the difference.

While I will generally have an aperture of around f8 or f11 to have a large depth of field, the good news is there is no correct setting and it is often a matter of experimenting.  If the sun has not come up yet I will often raise my ISO (up to 800 but it really depends on your camera).

Are your photos bright and overexposed with washed out sky?  This is because your camera is looking at a very high contrast from a bright sky to dark foreground objects.  As it can't expose for both it will often expose for the foreground resulting in an over exposed sky (often washing out those great colours).  Therefore you will want to compensate by manually under exposing the image. This should give you a nice dark silhouette.

To do this, if your camera has a ‘bracket exposure’ feature use it (this is where the camera takes three or more photos at different exposures).  Otherwise just do this your self by using the ‘Manual’ or ‘Aperture Priority’ mode. Keep the aperture the same and change your exposure compensation by up to 2 stops. 

Tip 6 – if you shoot in RAW then this is not an issue but assuming you are still new to this and shooting in jpeg then change your camera’s ‘white balance’ off auto to ‘cloudy’ of ‘shade’.  This gives your image a more golden warm colour.

Tip 7 – you don’t need a cable release.  While beneficial especially if you have a DSLR to stop any vibration from the mirror you can also set your self time to 2 or 5 seconds.  This means you can press the shutter then move your hand away from the camera before it releases.

Tip 8  - find a spot and get set up.  Don’t wait until the last minute. I have found sunrise photos work better with some other element to the image (rocks, trees etc.). This provides depth, a greater sense of where you are and something of interest beyond just the sunset. The other advantage of this is it provides an opportunity for an interesting silhouette to be created. If I am in a place for a few days I will often scout out for a good place to go the next morning.  There is nothing worse than climbing a hill or beach in the dark if you have not been there during the day.


So your are there and the sun is 15 minutes from rising and all of a sudden the sky explodes.  You don’t have much time.

Tip 9 – experiment and have fun.  Try different exposures.  Don’t forget to zoom in if you have a zoom lens on.  But also take a moment to just enjoy.

Tip 10 – you should have captured some great photos already and now you can get ready for the sun to break the horizon.  I always find the best photos are just as the sun breaks the horizon.  Once it is higher it becomes very bright and difficult to shoot.  In these situations I look for an object to create some interest.  As the sun appears the object will form a nice silhouette. I will also adjust my aperture to something like f16 or f22 in order to get a nice lens flare (I will do a separate post on this later).

By this stage you have taken lots of photos and are ready for an early morning cuppa.  Or alternatively you could crawl back in to bed – but take my advice – DON’T wake your partner!

For those new to photography don’t try to compare your photos with many you see on the web.  Some of the amazing images where both the foreground is bright as well as the sun behind are done using filters and post processing. (NOTE - All the images in this post use basic editing with no use of filters or blending images). 

Next time you are travelling try setting the alarm a little bit earlier and try the above tips.  She often puts on an amazing light show.

Its all about the light

A very common photography saying is "It's all about the Light".

Capturing an image on to the sensor of your camera is a process of converting light in to pixels.  But there is no doubt that the type and quality of that light is what really separates a normal photo from a great photo.  You can think about light in three ways:

  1. intensity
  2. direction
  3. colour

I sometimes wonder if sunrise photos are popular because many people do not get up to see them.  But putting that to the side, there is a unique quality to morning light.  In the morning the intensity is not as strong as the middle of the day, often providing a lovely tonal range.  This is even more special just before the sun actually rises above the horizon especially if you are lucky enough to have clouds in the sky. 

Morning light is really interesting as the direction of the sun is low in the sky creating long shadows.  

Thirdly morning light often has a warmness to it giving a golden glow to the landscape.

The late afternoon often provides the same qualities with nice warm light low in the sky.

When travelling morning or afternoon are often the best times to get out and capture your photos. In particular in Australia where our bright beaches and intense outback makes shooting in the middle of the day difficult. Unfortunately it is not always this simple as you are often on the move and only have the ability to stop at a popular destination during the day.  

While often you can shoot with the sun behind you, sometimes this is not always the case. Can you move to have the light coming from a different direction? If your only choice is to shoot in to the sun think a bit more creatively in terms of using the light.  For example can you mask the sun behind an object or try taking a silhouette? 

When we travel most of us want nice warm sunny days.  But as a photographer often the opposite provides more unique images.  A scene with clouds has the potential to provide a more interesting image than blue sky.  

Even better is the intense mood created by stormy weather.  Some of the best photos I have taken is waking up to the rain and deciding to still get up to see if I can capture a glimpse of the morning sun.

What ever approach you take, next time you are out think a bit more about where the light is coming from.  Or if you are keen - try getting up before the sun and experience the amazing colours of an early morning sunrise.


REMEMBER - It is all about the light