Bemused by barrel distortion? Woolly about white balance? Send your technique and camera queries to email@example.com
Digital Camera World
Andrew James Andrew is a highly experienced writer and photographer – if you have a problem, he is here to help.
Our expert answers your questions. Plus, Tech Check and Image Rescue
Wide eyed Q
I have purchased a wide-angle lens for landscapes, but I am really struggling with my compositions. I thought it would be easier with a wider focal length, so why isn’t it? Anne Smithson
There’s a common misconception that a wideangle lens offers the best focal length for landscape photography, but that’s not always the case. Of course, classic landscape scenes are frequently taken at focal lengths from 16mm to 35mm, but the fact is that in lots of cases you’re better off with a longer lens to narrow, and therefore simplify your angle of view. However, if you can get it right with a wider lens then you will have a dramatic image from the foreground to the far distance.
You have to build your image carefully, the most crucial aspect being that foreground area, because it is going to take up such a large part of your photo. This means it needs to have something interesting to hold the eye and take you into the rest of the frame, but finding foreground interest isn’t always simple. With some locations, such as coastline or the rocky shore of a lake, it’s easy, as boulders provide detail, but in other circumstances you might need more subtle elements like the texture of grass, or even water ripples as an anchor to your shot.
Keep working at it and looking for elements that will fill that first third or so of your frame, and you’ll soon get the hang of wide-angle composition.
Colour theory Q
I am trying to get my head around the basics of colour theory for my evening course on photography, but it’s really confusing. Any chance of a simple breakdown? Leonard Mann
As you will hopefully already know, the primary colours of light are red, green and blue (RGB). These are pure colours, and therefore cannot be created by mixing other colours together, but when you mix red, green and blue in different ways, you create all the other hues that exist.
As photographers, we don’t actually ‘mix’ colours together in order to create other colours – we leave that particular task to painters, so it’s better for us to understand the relationship that colours have with each other. The most important thing to remember is that complementary colours are located opposite the primary colours on a colour wheel, and therefore they give us a strong contrast when they are combined in an image.
If you take a look at the diagram to the left showing red, green and blue (our primary light colours) and then magenta, yellow and cyan, the secondary colours of light, it’s easy to work out that anything opposite them will provide us with a strong contrast. Red against cyan, magenta against green and blue against yellow are all strong and effective contrasts, so if we find these colours existing within a scene, we know we have the boldest of contrasts.
In real life, magenta and cyan aren’t all that common, but blue and yellow are, and this combination will always provide an intense contrast when placed in close proximity to each other.
QI’m experimenting with my wildlife photography, and wondered whether black and white can work well in this area? Tom Lacey
ABlack and white photography is effective across any genre, and it can work beautifully for wildlife. As always, it’s simply a case of deciding whether removing the colour from the scene is going to improve the final image or reduce its impact, but the key decisions around the effectiveness of monochrome over colour are the same regardless of the subject.
Scour the internet and it won’t take long to find many photographers who are skilled in black and white wildlife imagery, and there is something very powerful about it when it’s done well. If I see a wildlife scene I think will work well in black and white, it’s usually because the available light is giving me strong light and shade that will create something with real impact. It might actually mean that the processed monochromatic image has less detail than the colour version, but the tonal shades result in a much simpler and direct image. With digital, you are always going to shoot the scene in colour, so you get a full range of tones that can be manipulated and edited into the image you want. Look at the difference between my two Namibian elephant shots. The original colour is okay, but the harsh light and darker sky behind mean the shaded side of the elephant is less dominant. Take it to mono, lighten the sky so that its detail is lost, and suddenly the main subject becomes much more powerful, and the textures in the elephant’s skin stand out more. It even feels like the elephant has more space around it, even though the composition hasn’t changed. ACR or Lightroom? Q
I’m stepping up from shooting JPEGs to raw files, so should I use Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw? Henry Walker A
For starters, there are alternatives you should look into, such as Affinity Photo, Capture One and ON1 Photo, to name but a few. However, if it’s one of Adobe’s Raw conversion programs you want, there isn’t a huge difference between how Lightroom and Camera Raw (ACR) actually process a photo. In fact, if you learn how to process in one, than other than a few slight naming and layout differences, you’ll be able to use the other!
I switch between the two programs regularly. The biggest difference is that with Lightroom, you get a file management and processing system rolled into one. With ACR, you only get the image manipulation part, and for the file management you need to use Adobe Bridge. Bridge and Lightroom’s file management are similar, but when you access a raw file via Bridge and open it in ACR, you are working directly onto the raw, while in Lightroom you import a ‘copy’ into your management system, and when you work on a file, the original is still sitting untouched where you saved it. In reality this makes no difference, since you can always reset a raw file to its original unmanipulated state. PersonalIy, I prefer Lightroom for managing large numbers of folders with lots of images, so it’s ideal if you are going to be taking multiple images and want to organise them easily.
Incidentally, there are also different versions of Lightroom – Classic and one just called Lightroom. Lightroom provides cloud-based storage, while with Classic, you store your Raw files yourself on hard drives. Choose the one you feel will suit you best.
Correcting the colour Q
I’ve bought a 10-stop filter, but the images I get when using it have a strong colour cast. Is there a way to get more accurate colours? Ronnie Court
10-stop NDs are notorious for colour casts, although the more expensive ones aren’t too bad, and often you only need minor adjustments with them. Your best answer is always to shoot raw and then make a correction in post-processing by dropping the White Balance selector over a tone that should be neutral. For example, in this coastal shot I dropped it onto the white water in the foreground and got this much warmer result, which is more accurate to the sunset conditions. I’d probably still tweak it further, but that one trick took me close to where the colour should be.
Hold on Q
I’ve just brought a large reflector, but I’m finding it tricky to hold it and shoot at the same time. What can I do? David Goldsmith
You can get reflector holders that fix to a lighting stand, but they’re an extra cost, and if you are shooting outside, they’re obviously susceptible to the slightest breeze, because a large reflector is a bit like a large sail! I use a Lastolite TriGrip, which has a handle, so often I can hold this with a couple of fingers from the hand under my camera, and if I’m only doing head shots I can get the model to hold the other end, but this only works if you are using it for bouncing light up. In truth, the only way to get the best from a big reflector without putting it on a stand is to have someone hold and position it to your instructions. At a pinch, and if it’s not windy, you can lean the reflector at an angle against a tripod so it uplights your model.
Three modes on the lens Q
I’ve just got a Canon RF 100-500mm lens, and it has three different stabiliser modes on it. What are they all for? Natalie Hart
For general photography use, you should select Mode 1. In this stabiliser mode, the lens will try to correct standard movement, so it’s good for helping to prevent camera shake when you need to shoot with slower shutter speeds. Use Mode 2 when you are tracking your subject moving across the frame, as it will ignore the panning movement, but compensate for any up or down ‘shake’. Mode 3 is a sort of hybrid mode, but it’s only activated when you engage the shutter button to fire your shot. Play with the different modes and see what difference they make to both your images and the view in the viewfinder.