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Author: Grey Chow

Grey Chow is an award-winning landscape photographer, having his work published in several media including the BBC News. Currently, he is also sharing his experience and expertise through articles and hosting several photography workshops and tours around the world.

6 Common Beginner Mistakes in Landscape Photography

Everyone make mistakes before, including me. When I just started my photography journey, I made a lot of mistakes and I learned from them. However, there’re mistakes I should’ve to avoid in the first place and that would’ve greatly improved my photo’s quality. Here I would like to list out 6 of them as my advice to those that just newly into Landscape Photography.

1. Not using Manual focus

No matter how accurate or advanced the camera’s focusing system is, it is still possible to go wrong, especially when you are in an extremely dark environment before sunrise or going out for the night sky. By using Manual focus, you can ensure that focusing is at the best sharpness that you can get from the lens by manually adjust the focusing ring while using LIVE View to zoom in and check the sharpness. At the same time, using Manual focus means that the focusing will always remain the same for every subsequent photo that you took, provide you with a consistent sharpness result. You wouldn’t want the camera keep re-focusing automatically each time when the shutter button is pressed.

ManualFocus

Using Manual focus allow you to take control of the focusing and maximize the sharpness of your lens

2. Ignore the importance of the “Depth of field”

Most of the time, we as a beginner, we just point and shoot without having a thought about Depth of field or just simply rely on camera Auto Focus to focus on a subject picked by the camera itself. By doing so, you may not be able to get all the subjects in your frame in focus, possibly a sharp background with a soft foreground or vice versa. This is due to using a wrong Aperture or focus at the wrong subject. Normally, for wide angle lens, you should use f8~f11 Aperture to get the best sharpness and that’s the “Sweet spot” for most lenses. On top of that, instead of setting your focusing on your main subject which sometimes can be quite far from you and get a blurry foreground, you should set your focusing on something that is 1/3 distance from the bottom of your frame. Once you have done the above two steps, you would have a deep Depth of field that is wide enough to cover everything from the foreground until the background, achieve the Infinity Focus result.

3. Shooting too wide

When I got my first Ultra Wide Angle Tokina 11-16mm f2.8 lens on my Nikon D5000 (my first DSLR camera), I was so amazed at how much scene this lens could capture and the distortion effect from the lens no doubt has added some impact to the photo, sometimes. As time goes on, now I would avoid too frequently using my Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 lens at its widest Focal Length (On my Nikon D610 camera), unless it is necessary. The reason is that using a too wide Focal Length, your main subject would be appeared to be much smaller, this may make your main subject less noticeable. On top of that, a wider Focal Length also will include too many other unnecessary subjects in your frame and this can causing distraction to your viewer.

4. Going for “complicated/unusual” composition

Sometimes, we don’t want to get the same pictures as others, we want to be special, having a different perspective that no one would’ve captured and there’s plenty of composition guide out there that advise you to “break” the rule. Well, that’s true but only after you have got very familiar with the basic composition guideline. In most of the time, those compositions guidelines are often the best composition, they can make your main subject stand out from the rest of the frame and avoid any possible distraction. One of the key elements of a good composition is simplicity, composition guideline like the rule of third, leadings and centered composition are able to lead viewer’s attention on your main subject so that they can focus on the details of it.

SimpleCompo

Simple composition allowed the viewer to focus on your main subject, above photo applying the Rule Of the Thirds composition.

5. Over-rely on post-processing

People may have a perception that Post-Processing can do any miracle and that’s wrong. The main purpose of post-processing is to enhance your photo, making a good photo much better. It is still important to get back to your basic photographing skills and without that, mistakes such as out of focus, improper composition are not fixable in Post-Processing. Besides that, if your photo doesn’t have a good weather with good lighting, it will still look dull no matter how many adjustments are applied. It would be better to revisit the place again and aim for a better photo.

6. Having too many shooting

Well, it is not really a bad thing actually but if you are just focusing on the shooting and without really spending some time to review your own works and think of how to get improved, you won’t be able to make progress in your photography skill. When reviewing your own photos, ask yourself several questions, is the photo good enough? Should you try different composition or may be different camera settings such as longer exposure for the light trails or smooth out the water? Or should you go for a lower or higher perspective? If you really taking such practice, I’m sure your works will become better and better in every subsequent shooting that you made.

That’s all for this article and I hope you all enjoy it. Happy Shooting!

4 Tips for Getting a Razor Sharp Photo Today

Have you ever feel that your photos are not sharp enough, especially compare to those that you have seen from others? The sharpness is one of the important element in the photo and even Post-processing can’t save you if you got a “soft” photo, which is why each time when I bringing any student of mine, I often emphasize how important it is to always check on their photo’s focusing.

The photo sharpness can be vary depending on your camera’s image quality and also the lens that you are using. A high-end lens especially prime lens is normally able to produce a sharper image. However, in this article, what I want to share with you all are not about these. Instead, what you will learn here is how to get the best sharpness from your gears.

1. Using Manual Focus

I know now a day most of the camera come together with very accurate and advance technology that aid the camera focusing, even in a low light environment, still, it is not perfect and it can go wrong sometimes in some very harsh conditions and you would not want that to happen. Switch your camera to Manual Focus mode, not only you take back the control of the camera focusing. It also stops the camera from keep trying to re-focus each time when the camera’s shutter is pressed, this help prevents any possible focusing mistake from the camera.

ManualFocus

2. Using f/8 to f/11 Aperture

This is one of the common advice that you would be heard and there’s a reason behind it. Normally, f8~f11 is a “Sweet Spot” for most of the camera lenses. Not only that, it is also giving you enough Depth of field to cover all of the subjects in your frame for most situation, ensure all of them are in focus and stay sharp. If you going for a higher Aperture like f/22 or more, this will create Diffraction. What’s a diffraction? It is a phenomenon that occurs with light when it interacts with an obstacle, this deflects the light rays and cause irregular light pattern and causing your photo losing sharpness. In most situation, the max aperture I would go is f/16, if I need extra depth of field, I would using focus stacking technique, taking two different photos by separating focus on the foreground and mid-ground subject. After that, blend the two photos together in later Post-processing.

3. Using LIVE View to do focusing

First, open your camera’s Live View. When you are in Live View mode, zoom in (by using the magnifier button) at anything that’s positioned at 1/3rd of the way into the scene from the bottom of the frame. Once the screen is magnified, you start doing the focusing by turning the focusing ring at your lens. By looking at the Live View screen, you will notice that there’s a certain point that everything in the screen appeared to be in focus and if you continue to further turn the focusing ring, the image will start to become blurry again. That “point” is where you should set your focusing on.

If your camera has Focus Peaking feature, it will help ease the focusing process, just turn the focusing ring till you see some red “dots/lines” around your main subject and it is now in focus.

Let’s talk back on why you should focus on something that’s positioned at 1/3rd from the bottom of the frame. This is actually a technique that’s known as Hyperfocal Focus, it allows you to maximize the depth of field and ensure everything in your frame are in focus. The actual Hyper Focus technique is slightly more complicated, it involved certain calculation that involved estimated distance between you and your foreground subject, the aperture and the focal length that you are using. To me, that’s something impractical and I never bother to do the calculation, focusing at 1/3rd from the bottom of the frame works fine for me. 😉

Live View

4. Do a test shot

Once you got your focusing in place, it is important to do a test shot and check the result. The checking is simple, just zoom in the test shot photo and using your camera cursor control to move around to the following area: foreground subject, corner of the photo and also subjects in the mid-ground and background. (You can ignore the sky, is okay for the sky to appear to be soft) As long as they are in-focus then you got the best sharpness for that photo, congratulation! 😀

P.s. even though you are an experienced photographer and very confident with using Manual Focus, it is still advisable to do a test shot and always check your photo sharpness using above-mentioned step. I have had experience of making mistake or sometimes accidentally moved the focusing ring without my own awareness. I was lucky that most of the time I was regularly checking the photo sharpness and quickly corrected the focusing.

That’s all for this article and I hope you all enjoy it. Happy Shooting!

5 Tips For Better Landscape Photos You Should Know Today

Have you ever feel that even though you already master all the necessary photography knowledge to take a photo and got very familiar with your gears, still, the outcome is not really up to what you have expected? Well, taking a photo can be as simple as just pressing your camera shutter button, but then to get a good one, there’s actually more works behind it. In this article, I would like to share out 5 tips that help to transform your photo to another higher level.

1. Start with an Idea/Concept

An idea is like a soul of the photo, without a good idea, you not sure what and why are you taking a photo, not even talk about sharing it with your viewer. Ask yourself, what are you expect to get from a shooting location? Other than just scenery itself, are you looking for a photo with sunrise/sunset, Milky Way, Star trails, long exposure shot or something else?

On top of that, you could also think out something different than usual landscape photos, such as adding human interest in your landscape photo, burning steel wool, light painting and other creative stuff that you can think of.

All these ideas help you set your goal and from here you can plan your shooting accordingly to get the photo that you want.
If you really don’t know where to start or you have reached a certain time that you have run out the idea, maybe you can try to check out other photographers works or browse through some photography magazine/site for some inspiration.

Selfie
Above photo was taken with me positioning myself under the arch with Milky Way right above me.

2.Research

After you got the rough ideas of what you want, next thing you should do is to find any references photos about the place. By doing so, it gives you a better picture of what’s the environment of the place is, is there any interesting subject for foreground subject? is the place better for low tide or high tide? what is the possible focal length to use there? All these are some of the information that you can derive from the photos

3.Planning

To further explore the place, you can try using Google Street View in Google Map. From below screenshot of Google Street View, I’m actually virtually scouting around the Church of the Good Shepard. I can know that if I’m there at this position, this is the angle of the Church and the Sun or Milky Way will be right at the back of the church, as I’m facing east now.

Map

For a more detail checking on the sunrise/sunset time and direction on the date you visiting the place, you can try out TPE, The Photographer’s Ephemeris. You will need to pay to get the app on your mobile, but it’s free if you are using the web version (which is more suitable for computer/laptop). The mobile app version offers you more feature but web version is good enough to do the job if you just want to check out the sunrise/sunset time and direction.

TPE
Above screenshot is the interface of TPE Web version. https://app.photoephemeris.com

Another alternative app to check on this is PhotoPills app (paid), one of the best photography apps on the market. The PhotoPills app website is https://www.photopills.com/

All these, help you to make better planning for your photo shooting.

4.Scouting

You may want to ask, is it necessary to scout the area first after you already did so many planning and research. Well, it depends, some of the shooting locations have only a single fixed composition e.g. taking photo from a viewpoint like Kuala Lumpur Tower or Skyline Queenstown, in that case, scouting is not really necessary, the only thing that you may need to consider is to be there early to secure a shooting spot for yourself, the place can be packed with tourists and photographers sometimes. However, if you are going to place that cover a huge area, such as Moeraki Boulders or Hooker Lake, it is advisable to be there slightly earlier to scout the area and look for any possible composition first. If you are going for a sunrise, try to check out the place on the day before, and the same thing applies too if you are going for photographing Milky Way or Startrails. Finding composition in the dark will make the process much more difficult and you would not want to waste too much time on that and miss out the best moment to capture the photo.

5.Try Post processing

If you haven’t started doing post-processing, you should consider to give it a try. Post-processing not only able to enhance your photo, it also allows you to try something that beyond your camera capabilities, such as better noise reduction technique, better recover in highlight and shadow, creating Star Trails effect in a more manageable way (unless you want to leave your camera shutter open for half an hour to get a single star trails photo) and a lot more.

Other than that Post-processing help creating your own style, base on the way you prefer to edit your photo, even though you are taking a photo about the same place at the same time with same composition and settings, you can still able to come out different result than others. You can come out a photo with Gotham city style by playing around with the white balance and color, or having a photo that focuses on details and sharpness or maybe the other way around by slightly soften the image with a subtle dreamy feel using Orton effect, it all depends on your own preference. At the same time, this also makes your photo more identical when you maintain the same editing style, people will able to recognize your work immediately when they see a photo.

Gotham

Above is a photo of Kuala Lumpur skyline that processed in a Gotham City style.

That’s all the five tips that I want to share with you all, I hope you all enjoy the article. Happy Shooting!

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Creative blending – How to remove the tourist seamlessly

One thing that often experienced when taking a photo at a very popular place is that it is going to be packed with a lot of tourists and other photographers. At such situation, sometimes it is unavoidable to have people entering your frame.  When that’s happened, it is either you move and look for another angle or try to ask the person that entered your frame to move, in a polite way of course. However, moving can also mean that giving up the initial composition that you want. Besides that, people do not have any obligation to move away for you to take the photo and you can’t really do anything about that if they choose to stay there, it is a public area after all.  Another situation that I have often seen in the other way around is that photographers yelling or even scolding at any passer-by that walked into the photographers’ frame, which personally I feel that is kinda rude and we should have a better way to sort it out through communication.

Here is an alternative option, instead of going through all the hassle that may ruin your mood, what you need to do is just applying a simple blending technique. Let me go through with you all on how to do it.

Ori

Above original photo was taken during one of my hike at Crystal Hill (Bukit Tabur) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It is a very popular hiking destination due to its beautiful views and also the nearest mountain to the town. On top of that, it only required a 45 minutes hike to reach the peak.

As you can see from the photo, the viewpoint here is simply breathtaking and the weather is just nice with a beautiful sunrise together with some sea clouds around the mountain. Just to make the photo more interesting, I decided to position myself on the rock there, giving everyone a better sense of scale about the place.  However, the biggest problem with the photo is that I’m standing just right at the side of the hiking trail and there are many other hikers that going up and down through the trail. This is why there were a few hikers resting on the rock when the photo was taken.

OriHighlighted

Obviously, in this photo, the hikers are the subject that we would want to be excluded from the photo. So what can we do? The answer is simple, just take another photo with the same composition before or after this, when the place is clear.

Clear

Here is the 2nd photo that I actually took slightly before the first one, when there was a short moment that the place is totally clear off of hiker.

Replace

What I need to do next is simple, by putting both photos side by side, I just need to use that specific area from photo A (circled in green) to “replace” the same area in photo B (circled in orange).  Let’s start the post-processing part now.

LoadPhoto

After you loaded both photo A and B into same Photoshop file, next is to ensure the photo A is positioned as a top layer and photo B as a bottom layer. If it is not, just move the photo A layer to the top.

AltClick

Now select the photo A, holding the Alt key and Click on the layer mask icon. (As shown in the screenshot)

LayerMask

You will notice a black rectangle icon is created right beside the thumbnail of the layer. This rectangle icon is what we called the Layer Mask.

When the rectangle is all BLACK, it means that whatever is in this Photo A layer will be hidden and this is why only the Photo B is displayed on the screen. (On the other way round, if the rectangle is all WHITE, it means that whatever is in this Photo A layer will be displayed)

Brush

Next is to use the Brush tool to paint on the picture. Select the Brush tool, ensure that it is a soft brush (edge) that selected and the Opacity is 100%. Another thing is to make sure the foreground color is WHITE, if it is not, just press the D key to reset it to default. Also, double check to ensure the layer mask of the Photo A is selected.

Paint

Now you can start to use the brush tool to paint on the area that you want it to be removed. You can also play around with the opacity to have a smooth and seamless paint.

Removed

Just simple as that, now the hikers are all gone (without killing anyone of them :P)

LayerMask

Notice that after the painting, the Layer Mask is now no more ALL BLACK. On the thumbnail view there, you can see there’s a WHITE spot on the BLACK. The WHITE spot is actually indicated the area that we just painted with WHITE color using the Brush tool.

BrushArea

Just to have a better view of the Layer Mask, holding your Alt key (Option on Mac) and click on the Layer Mask. You will see the photo that was displayed in the center is now changed to what you have seen in the Layer Mask’s thumbnail.

PaintedArea

The WHITE color area here is the painted area and only that area of the Photo A is shown, the rest of the area is covered by the BLACK color and will remain hidden.

Now, holding your Alt key (Option on Mac) and click on the Layer Mask again to exit the Layer Mask view. From here, you can start to apply any adjustment you want on the photo.

Final

This is actually a simple blending technique in Photoshop but then it can give you a lot of usage such as remove sun flare, blending different light trails into a single photo if you add in a bit of creativity here. This article is just the 1st part of my Creative Blending series tutorial, in future I going to share with you all how to apply this blending technique in different scenarios, together with a much better way to fine tune and generate a better blending result, stay tuned!

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Why You Should Use High ISO for Night Photography

When talking about ISO, people tend to be scared of using high ISO settings. It is understandable and usually, it is advisable to use the lowest ISO that is allowed during the shooting condition, and there are reasons to support that.

First, lower ISO producing lesser noise in your photo compare with higher ISO. The Higher the ISO, the more noises that generated and up until certain ISO setting, the photo can become unusable due to the overwhelming noises.

Second, every camera’s sensor has its own Dynamic Range, which is about the range of the exposure (measured by Exposure Stops) that your camera sensor able to cope with. If your camera sensor having a 12 stops Dynamic Range, it means that it is able to capture the darkest exposure value from 1 stop up to the highest exposure value at 12 stops. However, if you try to capture a scene beyond than that, your photo will experience details lost in either the shadow or the highlight, or both, depend on your exposure setting. Other than that, this Dynamic Range does not stay unchanged following different ISO settings, it performs the best at the lowest ISO and can drop dramatically when you exceed a certain ISO setting.

DX0Mark DR

Here is a photo screenshot from Dx0Mark website, the graph shows how the Dynamic Range drop following the increase of the ISO setting. At ISO 75, the Dynamic Range is 14.5, but when the ISO goes up to 25,600, the Dynamic Range is plummeted to around 7. That’s around 7.5 exposures that are lost. Overall, a higher ISO will have a poorer Dynamic Range.

Although it is true using a lower ISO help preserve the best image quality that your camera can offer, there are several reasons that you should make a good use of high ISO settings, or at least not being afraid in using them.

1 – Noise Control is much better now

Technology keeps improving, now a day, a DLSR camera can provide a far better image quality and a much-improved noise control if compare to the DSLR camera in the old days. At the same ISO settings, you would be able to get a photo with lesser noise now, and that allows you to easily push the ISO up to 800, 1,000 or even 6,400, depending on your shooting environment. Instead of avoiding using higher ISO, you should give it a try, for yourself to understand your camera capability more and also knowing how high the ISO your camera can go up to before the photo becomes unusable.

2 – Speed up your camera setup process

For landscape photographers, we often have to shoot in the dark, whether is to photograph the Milky Way or Sunrise (because you need to be at the shooting spot before the dawn). So, finding the composition sometimes can be very tricky and time-consuming too. Imagine that, you have to use camera setting at maybe ISO 400, Aperture f5.6 and 30 seconds Shutter Speed to do a test shoot between each adjustment of your composition, that would need a total 5 minutes for 10 photos and that still haven’t including the time that you spend on moving around the place for different angles. In this case, I would suggest you boost up your ISO to 6,400, 12500 or higher, which help to greatly reduce the shutter speed to only 1 or 2 seconds and speed up your overall composition finding process. On top of that, this allowed you to do a faster test shot to check on your focusing too. Once you have completed the setup, just switch back to the ideal exposure setting with much lower ISO that you want. Oh yeah, don’t forget to delete those test shot photos afterward. 😉

3 – Using Expose To The Right (ETTR) technique

Usually, noises tend to be more in the shadow area than in the highlight area, which is why this ETTR technique come into mind. Instead of having an underexposed photo, it would be better to use a higher ISO. In layman’s term, if you view your photo in the histogram, just ensure most of the tone (or you can say the “peak”) as far as to the right side of the histogram without touching the edge. If it touches the edge, it means that your photo is losing the detail in the highlight area.

ETTR Histogram

Above photo showing the histogram using ETTR technique.

Let’s get into more detail on this. Here is the comparison of two photos with and without applying the ETTR technique.

ETTR Comparison

Photo A was taken using ISO 6,400 and Photo B with ISO 25,600. Both are using the same shutter speed but the original result of Photo A was much darker and underexposed, which the brightness and the shadow were then adjusted to achieve the same brightness as Photo B. Obviously, you can see the noises appeared to be much more than Photo B even though using a lower ISO.

4 – Doing Noise Reduction

It can be a huge difference between a photo with Noise Reduction applied and without. There are many Noise Reduction techniques available and most of them can easily found and learned from the web. Overall, the more time consuming the technique is, the better the Noise Reduction result. One of my favorites is doing an Image Stacking Noise Reduction. It is a technique that required you to take multiple photos without changing your camera settings and composition. All these photos will then import into Photoshop and merge into a Smart Object. After that, you just need to apply the Median Stack Mode (Layer > Smart Objects > Stack Mode > Median), then wait for the process to finish. You will realize the result can be a huge difference once it is completed and the more photos that are used, the better the result. I would advise you to start with at least 5 photos (personally, I would prefer going up to 20 photos, but that depend on the how high the ISO I’m using).

Before After NR
Above photo is the before and after comparison and the result is evident.

The only drawback of this technique is that it will blur out the sky, due to the clouds and stars moving constantly throughout the series of the photos that are taken. Also because the technique is actually comparing the differences between each photo and eliminate them.

Blur Sky

The solution is simple, just use the sky from any one of the photos that are taken and blend it back into the processed photo.

Conclusion

Although it is still advisable to use the lowest ISO as possible as the condition allowed but then as you can see, in some certain situation, using a higher ISO is able to give you some benefits. I hope you all enjoy the article. Happy shooting!

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Five Things To Keep Your Photography Passion Burning

Admit that landscape photography sometimes is not really that enjoying and relaxing as what most people might think of. No doubt, those photos that were taken from all the beautiful sceneries are amazing but at the back, the shooting process can be not really that easy-going. It can be tough to deal with extreme weather, to hike up to a mountain’s peak or getting totally worn out due to a few days traveling, taking photos and lack of sleep, furthermore getting irritating bugs’ bite. But one thing that drives us getting over all these challenges is our passion toward the photography, to get the photo that we want.

It is important to keep your passion burning. Here are several ideas that I want to share with you all, you can use them as an advice or a reference for you to set up your target for this year. The accomplishment of something giving you greatest satisfaction and self-affirmation.

1 – Trying new things

Here I’m referring to learning new techniques or trying a different type of photography. By doing so, it gives you a new milestone to be achieved and also the excitement that comes together from the learning process. For photography technique, you can learn digital blending or even try creating Panorama photo, from a single row panorama to multirow or even a 360-degree photo, depending on the gear that you are using.

Mount Kinabalu Milky Way Panorama

Or, doing Timelapse video, which is something totally different from a photo. Not only you able to manipulate the time by taking a sequence of photos that take minutes, hours, days or even months and play it in an only few seconds video. On top of that, since you are taking photos instead of video, which mean that you can make a good use of the superior image quality that provided by your camera, allows you to create a Timelapse video with better dynamic range and more details, or even capturing the Milky Way rising across the night sky, which usually required using a very high ISO and long shutter speed.

Other than that, you can photograph something that previously you never try before or maybe less focus on. If you haven’t into Astro Photography, you should give it a try. Unlike Landscape photography, most of the time you are taking photos using a much higher ISO that normally you would want to avoid. Furthermore, there are more factors that you need to consider when you plan your shooting, such as Milky Way rising time, it’s position at a specific time, the moon phase, and the light pollution condition. However, once you get the hang of it, you will find out it is not really that difficult.

Moeraki Boulders Milky Way

 

Besides that, you could give a try by doing a selfie photo, of course, with the beautiful sceneries together, we are still the photographers, aren’t we? 🙂

Sunrise at Crystal Hill

Another thing that you could try is Star Trail photography, it is similar to how you photograph a Milky Way but this required you to take a series of photos continuously for at least half an hour, in order to get perfect star trails (It do sounds like taking Timelapse photos). What you need to do next is to merge all these photos into one single image using Lighten blending mode in Photoshop or any StarTrail Application that you can download from the web. Stars keep moving throughout the night, by combining all the stars photos that you have captured, the stars movement become the Star Trails.

Church Of The Good Shepherd

2 – Exploring new places

When you keep photographing at the same location for quite a long time, you start to get bored and lose your interest. Well, sometimes you just have to change your shooting locations. You can make a short trip by going somewhere slightly further from your usual area or plan an overseas trip to one of the countries that you have on your bucket list. If you love cityscape, you can consider cities like Dubai (United Arab Emirates), Singapore, Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). Or, visiting countries like Iceland, New Zealand, Indonesia for some natural landscape. There are plenty of beautiful places out there.

Marina Bay Sands

3 – Shooting in a group

I love shooting alone and I know there are others that tend to prefer that way too but it is more enjoyable when you have a companion. With a group of friends that sharing the same passion, not only you take the photo together, you also share the joy, the excitement or even the failure together. It much more fun to do something together with friends. Other than that, you also learn and improve together.

Bromo Group Photo

4- Attending workshop

Sometimes, when you reach a certain skill level, you may find yourself lack of improvement and be unsatisfied with your works, a bottleneck. If that really happened, it is advisable to give a try by attending a workshop or maybe purchasing video tutorial from a photographer that you admired. Different photographers having different styles and their own philosophy, not only you learn new techniques from them, you also learn to see from their viewpoint. This kind of insights from others might be what you need for you to break through the bottleneck.

5 – Take a rest

Lastly, you might just feel weary with your current shooting routine. In that case, why not give yourself a break, temporary put down your camera and focus on something else, so that you can come back with a fresh mind later.

That’s all my advises, hopefully, they able give you some ideas to set up your new target.

Happy shooting!

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Five Ways To Enhance Your Night Sky Photos

A few years ago, when I first saw a night sky Milky Way photography piece, I was amazed. It is beautiful and yet something that is possible to be captured through our camera. Ever since then, I have developed my interest into Astro Photography and spent a lot of effort in how to photograph the beauty of the night sky, and most of the time I have to travel far from my place, just to find an ideal location for Astro Photography. From my experience, I would like to share with you all here in a few ways to enhance your night sky photos.

1 – Not Just About Night Sky

Although a photo of Milky Way itself is appealing it sometimes can be a bit too simple. In fact, it is the same Milky Way that photographed by every photographer around the world, the differences are only the angle and the position of the Milky Way appeared in the sky. By adding a good foreground in your frame, it helps to enhance the composition, adding a sense of depth to the photo, and create a contrast between the sky and the ground. Other than that, you can make use of leading line from your foreground (if there is one), which help to guide the viewer’s eye to the main subject in your photo.

Nugget Point Milky Way
The leading line (the route) in the above photo leads the viewer’s eye into the main subject (the lighthouse).

2 – Adding Human Element

What if you can’t find any interesting foreground? In that case, try taking a photo of yourself or your friends. By incorporating a human element into your photo, it able to tell a story and giving the viewer a better imagination about the scene itself. You can ask one of your friends to help in pressing the shutter while you are posing, or using your camera self-timer if you are alone. With a bit of creativeness, you can use a Speedlight or any lighting equipment you can think of to light yourself up.

Milky Way at Bromo
Having my friend holding a Speedlight as a foreground subject, giving an idea that she is on an adventure, exploring a new place under the night sky.

3 – Making Good Use Of Flash

I have mentioned that using a Speedlight to light up a person, another way of using it is to illuminate the inside of a building. It can be a small hut, church or even an abandoned house that is used as your foreground subject. By doing so, it makes the foreground subject stand out in a photo, at the same time added the mood too.

Other than using Speedlight, you can use a flashlight to paint the light on your foreground subject, which commonly we called this a “Light Painting” technique. This is one of the frequently used methods to light up the foreground without the need to bump up the ISO and reserve a better image quality. To achieve a more natural result from the Light Painting, try using a yellow light instead of white light or you can add a Warming Gel/ Filter in front your flashlight.

Milky Way above a small hut in Glenorchy
The interior light was manual lighten up by myself using a Speedlight.

4 – Doing Panorama Shot

If you want to achieve a unique perspective from a scene, try doing a Panorama shot, which allows you to capture more areas of the scenery beyond your lens’ widest focal length. Other than that, the panorama photo also creating an arch shape look of the Milky Way. Taking a panorama shot is easy, what you need to do is make sure your tripod is level properly and take multiple frames of photos in a vertical position from one side to another side. After that, import all the photos into your computer and merge them into a single photo using Lightroom or Photoshop panorama function.

Mount Kinabalu Panorama Photo
A panorama photo at the peak of Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia.

5 – Creating Star Trails Effect

Other than Milky Way, you can try something different by creating a star trail effect. Unlike Milky Way photo, we usually tend to avoid star movement with a shorter exposure time, but a star trail photo would normally require at least 30 ~ 50 minutes in order to generate an ideal trail effect. Don’t worry, I’m not asking you to take a single shot with more than 30 minutes exposure time. Instead of that, you should take multiple shots using a shutter release with interval timer configured. This allows you to take continuous shoot as long as you need until you stop the interval timer.

Afterward, you just need to import all the photos into a Star Trail application e.g. Startrail, StarStaX, and others, which will automatically create the Star Trail effect by merging all the photos into one. Alternatively, you can import all the photos into Photoshop as Layers and change the blend mode into Lighten.

Mount Bromo Star Trails
Star trails effect above the Mount Bromo Volcano, Indonesia.

These 5 examples are what I usually applied in my Night Sky photography. Do you have any other suggestions for ways to improve your Night Sky Photo? Please let us know in the comments. I’m looking forward to seeing what ideas you come up with. 🙂