Getting it right in camera / by Simon Ng

Daniel and I headed down the coast over the long weekend, ostensibly to get his driving hours up. We stayed at the little town of Walkerville, not far from Fish Creek and Prom Country in Gippsland. Airbnb found us a great little location, and we used the evening we arrived and the following morning to take photos. The morning in particular turned out to be productive, with a brilliantly vibrant sunrise making the 5:30am start worth the effort.

We explored, photographed, chatted and marvelled, and Daniel put his new camera (a Sony a6000) to good use. At the end of our trip, we actually produced a few frames worthy of keeping, including those below. 

What this trip brought home was how much outdoor photography, especially landscape, requires planning and fortuity in equal measure. We had chosen the spot mostly for its distance from Melbourne, but also because the beach faced east to the sunrise. The weather was meant to be fine, although rain was forecast for some point later in the day. And we'd compiled all the right equipment for capturing landscapes. But when push comes to shove, mother nature will either come to the party or not.

Waratah Bay at dawn

Waratah Bay at dawn

This set of shots provides a useful lesson in the value of filters and getting it right in camera. There are, loosely speaking, two schools of thought in photography.

The first holds with exploiting modern software to bend exposures, deal with highlights and shadows, crop to the main subject, remove distracting components of the image and so on. To most people, this is akin to cheating, although not to most photographers. Even before digital, photographers would use colour filters and darkroom techniques like dodging and burning to create the right effects in their frames. It is amazing what can be done with exposure blending (check out the work of Steve Arnold for an example of this approach).

The second school of thought says that everything should, as much as possible, be done in camera. Minimal work is done post shot by balancing exposure, framing the picture, moving to exclude anything from the frame you don't want there...in short, doing everything possible to make it right when you press the shutter. The images you see here are products of this second school. 

For the first image I used two ND Graduated filters (see right) for a combined strength of 3 stops, to control the bright horizon and sky and still get the right exposure for the foreground. I had to stand in water to my ankles and put my tripod (and therefore my camera) perilously close to the waves to get water right to the bottom of the frame. And I had to walk up and down the beach to get the right foreground in place. I use and really like Haida's ND Grads.

Sample filters showing hard and soft edges

Sample filters showing hard and soft edges

Waratah Bay at dusk

Of course, sometimes it isn't too hard to get the photo right in the frame. The only thing you need to risk is your life.

The second shot was taken as the tide came in along the shore in the evening. I'm close to that large rock (I could have stood further back and cropped afterwards, but that's losing pixels). I waited for the clouds and the sky to colour up, and then set about getting the right exposure by once again using a filter. And that was that, except that I then needed to figure out how to get back to shore now that the rock was cut off. 

I'm writing this, so all good in the end.

And the final shot. Well, that's my son staring into a very bright sunrise. I included it not to illustrate the principal of getting it right in camera, but just because we had a good time and it was because of him.

The instigator of this little adventure

If you want to know where this little slice of picturesque is, then check out the map below. And if you want to stay for the night, try Walkerville Spinney (a great little architect designed cottage run by the generous host Anne).