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"HOW DO YOU DO THAT?" is a question I am frequently asked, so here I share a few 'secrets' of the image making process. There's more to it than meets the eye. I use the Nikon Coolpix 990 digital camera, the superb Macintosh iBook computer, and Adobe Photoshop, the industry standard image enhancing software package.



Q: How did you get the sky to look dark and the building NOT to look dark?

A: Most outdoor pictures feature the sky, but it's often several times brighter than the rest of the scene, leading to problems: Frequently you get a bleached white sky and/or dull shadowy areas below. How can you get the right exposure for both the sky and the dark areas?

Answer: Take two pictures. The first one I aimed at the sky, held the shutter down lightly, aimed at the warehouses and took the shot. The sky is nicely grey, but the buildings are almost black. For the second one I aimed at the warehouses - they came out a mid-grey but the sky is pure white.

In Photoshop, I opened the first image - with the dark sky. Then opened the second image - with the white sky, and placed them on layers one on top of the other. I deleted the white from the lighter image, revealing the grey clouds on the image below. I lightened the grey to make it look more natural. Finally, I merged the two layers, giving the final picture. Final enhancement: With the cloning tool, I removed the wall top right.

Another solution: Use a graduated filter to darken the clouds.


Q: How did you get the lighting to look so nice?

A: Many camera users assume: If it's dark, use the flash. But using a flash can be like a shining a searchlight into a room - very unnatural. Better to switch off the flash and use the light that's there in the scene, here a mixture of tungsten (light bulbs) and daylight.

But won't it be too dark? No, as long as your camera can compensate for the low light by leaving the shutter open for longer. With slower shutter speeds there's a danger of blur, so I placed the camera on the cabinet. The swivel lens feature of the Nikon Coolpix is essential to be able to compose the shot - you can turn the LCD screen to face you, frame the shot, then move out of the way. Making sure the camera was secure I gently pressed the shutter.

The shutter was open for about half a second, and thanks to the excellent metering system in the Nikon Coolpix, perfectly exposed (i.e. not too dark and not too light). No enhancement was necessary.


How did you make this panorama? Did you use a panoramic camera?

No, I didn't use a panoramic camera, I took a series of shots with the Nikon Coolpix 990.

Holding the camera vertical, I turned the lens towards the left of the scene and took the first shot. I turned the lens a little to the right so the area of view overlaps with the previous one. The swivel lens feature of the Nikon Coolpix is essential here - you can hold the camera body steady, and move only the lens. I continued to take overlapping shots until I reached the right hand corner of the scene. The verticals MUST be absolutely vertical, otherwise the pictures won't match up. Check in the LCD viewfinder. Using a tripod and a pano head is the most precise way to do it, but it's not essential.

After transferring the image files to my iBook, I joined the individual shots together using a program called Photovista. It's easy: just select the series of photos, load them into the viewing area click 'stitch panorama' and Photovista does the rest.

Some post-enhancement in Photoshop may be necessary, e.g. to get the sky smooth - select the blue areas and go over them using the airbrush.


The composition of this photograph looks pleasing. Why?

Even the most mundane subjects deserve good composition. Here, I've positioned the camera so the lines give a pleasing visual effect within the frame. Here are some 'rules of line':

Rule of thirds: Try to get the lines to cut across the frame so they divide it roughly into thirds. The top of the railing is about a third the way down, the wall meets the playground not far off two thirds down - The two vertical lines on either side of the door are about a third and two thirds the way across.

Diagonals should exit the frame at at the corners: Good geometry helps to make a good photograph - The bottom of the railing makes a triangle with the bottom right hand corner of the frame.

Foreground and background lines should be kept separate. When framing the shot I adjusted the position of the camera so that the white vertical line on the door cuts midway between the gap in the railings. It forms a cross with the top of the railings - this is the focal point of the picture.Keeping the foreground and background lines separate helps to ensure that the railings stand out from the background.

More 'techie' pages will follow shortly.
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