Landscape Photography by Tom Shapira: Blog en-us All photos and contents (C) Tom Shapira Photography (Landscape Photography by Tom Shapira) Mon, 12 Sep 2016 10:37:00 GMT Mon, 12 Sep 2016 10:37:00 GMT Landscape Photography by Tom Shapira: Blog 120 111 Sleeklens Worflow for Lightroom - A Short Review I happened to be one of those who consider processing NEFs in Lightroom kind of a headache. Lightroom does a rather nice job rendering NEFs, but it still doesn't compare to the colors and contrast of the ol' Capture NX2, not to mention the wonderful Control Points for selective processing. However, Lightroom has lots of advantages, and I do try to use it more nowadays. One of these advantages is the use of presets and brush effects - which are supposed to make processing images easier.

Usually, I prefer processing my images without using presets. Since I don't process a volume of images together, this allows me to use what I consider the precise post-processing that fits an image. I guess that in part, this is probably a consequence of using presets that were exaggerated and seemed to make the image, well - a too-saturated too-contrasty version of the original. Recently though, I got hold of Sleeklens's Lightroom workflow for landscape photography - called Through The Woods. I've decided to give it a try - and see if it's an improvement over the other plugins / presets I've used.

Sunset on the RocksSunset on the RocksPalmachim Beach, Israel
The low tide reveals rocks covered with seaweed, that are otherwise hidden by the waves.

Sleeklens's Through The Woods workflow consists of a selection of image presets and brush effects. The presets usually have a self explanatory name, and are divided into several groups. Each group contains a certain type of presets (e.g. exposure correction, color corrections etc., and also "All-in-One" presets which give a more complete processing solution). As you can guess - presets from different groups are usually additive - meaning you can apply them on top of each other. One of my favorites is an all-in-one preset called "Shine Into the Sunset". This preset warms up the image, and fixes the curves so that an image that was taken "into the sunset" looks more appealing. There are also good presets for shadows / highlights, contrast and more, and what I really like about them - is that they are usually natural-looking.

Among the workflow's brush effects, you can find different brushes for different processing effects. There are simple brushes to apply color, but also brushes for more specific effects such as the nice "Cloudy Sky Definition" and "Water Definition" brushes. And of course, you can control the intensity of the effect by changing the brush's Flow.

Once you get used to the long list of effects, and find your favorite ones - it really makes life easier. Sometime a single preset is enough to handle an image, but if you want to get creative - you can completely transform an image using the right selection of presets.

Sleeklens offer other workflows too, each accompanied by several examples - so you can get the impression if it's right for you. If you find this interesting - just head over to Sleeklens's website and check it out - you can get some free samples too by signing to their newsletter etc.

The image above was post-processed using the Through The Woods workflow.

]]> (Landscape Photography by Tom Shapira) Landscape Lightroom Photography Presets Review Sleeklens Workflow Mon, 12 Sep 2016 10:31:47 GMT
Back online... After a long-long break, the blog is now back online!

 The most recent addition to the Israeli Landscape collection are two sunset images from Palmachim beach. For this session, due to a recent injury, I had to make some compromise and take the camera with a single lens. This was an eye-opening experience. Many photographers wrote on the benefits of taking only a single lens (some even went as far as a prime lens), but only when I experienced it first-hand, it got to me. 

Low TideLow TideShot in the same session as "Sunset on The Rocks", this image was taken a several minutes later so the sun is a little closer to the horizon.

 When I bought my first SLR, I used a single lens for quite some time. This was a Nikkor 16-85mm, a great all-around lens, which is still my lens of choice today. With time, I bought another wider-angle lens, and some filters for both. On each photo-session, I had only limited time to capture the right light in the right place, but having these two lenses, with several filter combinations to choose from - made it a little difficult to focus on what's important: the landscape itself.

 Using two lenses in the same photo session might be rewarding. But trying two lenses from the same spot, especially in seascape photography, might become a burden. It's not only replacing the lens. Rather - it's a little more time consuming:

1. Go back to dry-shore, with your tripod (otherwise - it might be washed away by a sudden wave...).

2. Get the other lens.

3. Replace the lens, and (carefully) put the other one in your backpack.

4. Go back to the same position you were in.

5. And now try to find a new position, to fit the new perspective of your other lens...

And bang! the sunset is over.

 Having a single lens might not give you the overall optimal image. In the image above - I'd rather have the sea in the center of the image compressed by a using a wider angle lens, and the rocks and sunset-sky given more emphasis. However, having this single lens - I tried to make the best of what I had, without spending that precious time on the additional lens. Getting back to photograph after some time off can be hard enough - and spending the time on another lens instead of trying compositions is probably not the best thing to do. And in conclusion - reviewing the images I had taken - I was surprised that I still really liked them. And that's probably what matters...

ShellsShellsPalmachim, Israel
This huge pile of shells was revealed by the low tide.


]]> (Landscape Photography by Tom Shapira) Israel Landscape Photography Lens of choice Palmachim Single Lens Thu, 01 Sep 2016 14:47:13 GMT
Sunrise Over the Ramon Crater, and some Photo Stacking advice  My wife and I have spent last weekend in Mitzpe Ramon - a small town on the edge of the beautiful Ramon Crater. And so, I finally got my opportunity for photographing the crater at sunrise. 

Clear Sunrise, Ramon CraterClear Sunrise, Ramon CraterRamon Crater, Israel
A clear sunrise above the crater, as seen from the promenade on top of the cliff.

 The Ramon Crater is located in the middle of the Israeli desert - the Negev - a good 2 hours drive from the center of the country. The crater is probably one of the most unique landscape types in Israel, and as far as I concern - it fairly challenges other well-known desert parks such as Death Valley or the Grand Canyon views. In addition, it's probably one of the best places in Israel to watch the sunrise. The cliff-edge promenade provides a beautiful sunrise view - so you don't even have to put a serious effort to get there... And at this time of year - the sun rises just in front of you - classic for a good photo.

 After I set the gear up for the sunrise shot, I waited and took a few shots in the meantime, during the blue hour. The weather was unusual - to say the least. The humidity was high at 90%, and it was close to the dew point - which meant light fog. I wasn't worried about the tiny drops that appeared on top of the lens, but just as the sun rose - it hit me: if it's on the top of the lens - it must be on the glass too... Luckily a quick wipe solved the issue - and I did manage to get that shot (otherwise a whole too-early morning would have been wasted...).

 I usually prefer having several exposures over using filters in the field. It's not always easy to combine - as clouds and other objects are moving - but usually you can manage - and you get much more flexibility. Filters have a fixed value - which means you'll probably end up with a sky that's too dark or too bright, or with a bag full of filters - if you insist on getting that done right...

 So for both sunrise shots, I used about 12 exposures, that were meant to be properly combined in post-processing. Here's why:

  • Each exposure was bracketed 3 times, as the sun is very bright compared to its surroundings, and the shadows on the rocks were quite dark.
  • The focus had to be bracketed as well, as the rocks were extremely close, and the landscape was at infinity. So that's twice the images.
  • In addition, I wanted to get a "starry" sun using a closed aperture, but this blurs out the entire image. So that had to be a separate set of images as well...
  • And again, the focus was bracketed for that too - just in case a ray decides to shine on the rocks...


In the end, I didn't have to use all these images, since the initial exposure setting proved good enough. You can get the impression by visiting the Ramon Crater gallery.


Sunrise over the Ramon CraterSunrise over the Ramon CraterRamon Crater, Israel

The Ramon Crater is located in the middle of the Negev desert, and forms Israel's largest national park. It wasn't actually created by a meteor impact. Rather, it's the world's largest erosion cirque.
Due to it's arid environment, humid weather, or any type of precipitations are quite rare. On this particular Autumn morning, however, humidity was at more than 90%, generating some low clouds and light fog - an extremely unusual phenomenon for the season and for the area in general. Watching the sunrise over the desert from the clifftop is always a beautiful sight. But the conditions on this particular morning made it simply spectacular.


]]> (Landscape Photography by Tom Shapira) Advice Israel Landscape Photography Ramon Crater Sunrise Thu, 02 Oct 2014 17:45:17 GMT
Sand Dunes Photography - an Article in Landscape Photography Magazine  An article of mine has just been published on the new LPM issue 42 - you can read all about it in LPM's website. This article is a tutorial on Sand Dunes photography, featuring one of my latest series from Death Valley.


LPM - Sand Dunes PhotographyLPM - Sand Dunes Photography

You can find more images form this series in the Death Valley Gallery.



]]> (Landscape Photography by Tom Shapira) Article Dunes LPM Landscape Photography Magazine Photography Publication Sand Sat, 02 Aug 2014 19:01:04 GMT
Getting a Sharper Image: Depth-of-Field and Lens Diffraction in Landscape Photography  One of the most important technical skills in Landscape Photography is controlling the depth-of-field (DOF). In any type of photography, DOF is one of the artistic controls a photographer has over the image. But in Landscape Photography, controlling DOF properly presents an entirely different challenge than in other types of photography.

Field of DaisiesField of Daisies

 A shallow DOF is not very common in Landscape Photography, but it does have its uses. For instance, when photographing a field of flowers, a shallow DOF can be used in order to put more emphasis on color than on form, or in order to create some layering of the flowers. The same is true when trying to isolate an object from its background. Usually, the only challenges that arise when using shallow DOF are:

1. The quality of the lens. This affects the bokeh (the shape of the background blur), and the maximum aperture opening that can be used. 

2. Controlling the DOF and focus-point, so that exactly the area you'd like will be sharp.

 However, in most landscape photographs, the photographer usually tries to achieve sharp details throughout the entire frame. This means using larger f-number (i.e. f/11, f/16 etc), yielding larger depth-of-field. As a side-effect (probably an undesired one...), it also means that landscape photographers must live with the burden of carrying tripods, due to the longer exposure times required when using smaller apertures...

Raging Tide in PalmachimRaging Tide in PalmachimPalmachim Beach, Israel

The upcoming tide caused strong waves which flooded the rocks near the beach.

 This, however, presents an entirely different trade-off - one that is less familiar: using small apertures means higher diffraction - and might also mean higher blur. This means that using too-large apertures will result in a shallow DOF, causing areas far from the focused area to be blurry. But using too-small apertures will cause diffraction to be more apparent, resulting in blur over the entire image..!

 So what exactly is this "diffraction" thing? Well, it's a term from optics, which usually means it requires a long, complicated explanation... But bottom line, for the photographer, it means that no single part of the image will be sharp. It's important to clarify that the blur caused by diffraction has nothing to do with depth-of-field. It's a different type of problem, that is more apparent when using smaller apertures (larger f-numbers).

 How small is too-small? Well, it depends on the lens, as well as on the sensor (or film) size, quality and resolution. For instance, good quality sensors with higher resolutions have the ability to distinguish the smallest details. But this also means that even the smallest blur will be visible, when looking at the image enlarged to 100% (or similarly, on a large print). 

 An example will probably put everything to order. For this demonstration, I used Nikon's D7100 which is a 24 Megapixels crop-factor DSLR, with a Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 lens. The camera was set to take JPEGs with Fine quality, with the default Standard (SD) settings (sharpening, contrast etc). The following photo shows the complete image, marking the areas that will be enlarged later. The green area is the focused area, and the red areas will be used to check the DOF and diffraction.


Rural Landscape, 35mm with f/8This is the full image. The green area, slightly off-center, is the focused area. The red areas are used to check the trade-off between DOF and diffraction.


 As mentioned, the green area is the focused area. This means that looking at it alone, we should be able to see when diffraction starts to be more visible, without involving the effect of DOF too much. The following series of images shows the green area, with different aperture settings. The actual size of the images will depend on your screen, but regardless, you can see that f/4, f/5.6 and f/8 seem to have optimal sharpness, while f/11 starts to show slight blurriness. The blur caused by diffraction finally becomes very noticeable around f/16 and on.


Comparison of Sharpness with Different F-StopsComparison of Sharpness with Different F-StopsThis series of images shows the difference in sharpness when using different apertures. Diffraction starts to be noticeable around f/11, and becomes obvious around f/16.


This clearly shows that f/22 on this lens is, to put it gently, not very usable. Using sharpening may improve the situation, but not by much, as shown in the following comparison (click on the image to enlarge):

Using sharpening to reduce the effect of diffraction.These three images compare the effect of sharpening on a diffraction-affected image.

Finally, it's interesting to see the trade-off between the effects of DOF and diffraction, when checking the further and closer areas. The following series of images shows the red areas over different aperture values.


Comparison of sharpness with different f-stops, off the focused areaThis series of images shows the effect of DOF and diffraction outside the focused area of the image.

The further area (top right on the original image) seems more affected by the aperture, so let's use it to compare the effects of DOF and diffraction. It seems that optimal sharpness is achieved somewhere around f/8 or f/11. This comparison also clearly shows, that not only using a smaller aperture won't improve the sharpness - it will degrade it! With f/16 and on, the effect of diffraction softening the image, becomes even more apparent than the increase of sharpness due to the increased DOF.

 It's interesting to compare the two effects:

Comparison of the effects of Diffraction and DOF on the image's sharpnessComparison of the effects of Diffraction and DOF on the image's sharpnessComparing these three images, it's obvious how diffraction degrades the image's sharpness. Shooting at f/22 is almost comparable to using f/2!


Comparing the images above, it seems that using f/22 to increase the DOF, actually result in a blur very similar to that of f/2! So what can we do about it?

 Well, the first step is recognizing the fact, that with a crop-factor DSLR, using an aperture value of more than f/11 or f/13 is probably useless if your intention is increasing DOF. This is especially true for normal lenses. For lenses with a higher focal length, the effect of DOF is more apparent, thus using apertures smaller than f/11 or f/13 might still result in some improvement of the overall image sharpness.

 A more effective solution is to use focus-bracketing. This means taking a photo several times, using different focusing distances, then combining them in post-processing, taking the sharpest part of each image. This requires some effort, and is particularly difficult with most zoom lenses, since focus distance actually affects the focal length. This results in slightly different image for each focusing distance - making it harder to combine these images.

 Personally I think that some blur is acceptable, as long as the main subject or main area of interest in the shot is sharp (this kind of attitude also makes life easier...). I usually use focus bracketing only when sharpness is required with a very close foreground, such as when taking photos of the crest of a dune. But finally, making the compromise is up to you.

Mesquite Dunes #4Mesquite Dunes #4Death Valley, California

]]> (Landscape Photography by Tom Shapira) Aperture DOF Demonstration Depth of Field Diffraction Example Images Landscape Photography Photos Thu, 17 Apr 2014 15:29:34 GMT
A Taste of Africa - Recommendation for Short Trips near Maputo and Gaborone  Over the past several months, I had the opportunity to fly to two places I probably wouldn't have gotten to visit otherwise: Mozambique and Botswana. While the trip was for business, of course I also brought a camera... and used the relatively free weekends to get a taste of the place. This short post should give you an idea of some things to do there, if you have a day or two off, and there are some photos in the Africa galleries.

 In Mozambique I stayed in Maputo, which gave me easy access to Inhaca - a small island about 30 Km off-shore. Inhaca has some beautiful isolated shores, on which you can take a stroll without being disturbed by a living soul. Nearby, there's the small Portuguese Island (ilha dos Portugueses) which is completely uninhibited.

Abandoned Fisherment BoatAbandoned Fisherment BoatInhaca Island, Mozambique

The fishermen boat were resting on the shore during the low tide. The receding water left some small flooded areas, creating reflections of the boats.

 To the trip in Moz I brought only a small pocket camera. While walking on the shores of Inhaca, I could imagine so many images fit for long exposures or playing with the DOF... however, having only a small camera, with no filters or a sturdy tripod, had the challenge of trying to pass the impression using a more "standard" photo.

Stone Patterns in the Sand (#1)Stone Patterns in the Sand (#1)Inhaca Island, Mozambique

The receding water flow around the small rock, creating patterns in the black-brown sand.

 In Botswana, I stayed in Gaborone. And while the main nature reserves (including the Okavango Delta) are in the north of the country, there are some small game reserves just outside Gaborone - just fit for several hours out of the city on the weekend. The two reserves I have visited are Gaborone Game Reserve and Mokolodi which is 10 minutes away from the city (that's thanks to my dear host - Fritz!).

KuduKuduMokolodi Game Reserve, Botswana

A large male Kudu, standing inside the bush.

 Photographing wildlife in these reserves was a different experience than in the U.S.. In Yosemite and Yellowstone, you could get out of the car, and meet these lovely creatures face-to-face (while keeping some distance away). This allows you to vary your shots. However, in the reserves near Gaborone - you are strongly advised ( or must...) stay inside the car, for your own protection, since some of the animals can get real close.

 Still, it's really impressive to see these animals in their (semi) natural environment. You can just turn off the engine, sit in the car and enjoy watching the antelopes graze. Definitely a recommended visit to those who come to Gaborone and have a short time off.

Antelopes ConventionAntelopes ConventionGaborone Game Reserve, Botswana

Three antelopes - two males and a female. A bird is sitting on the back of the middle male.


]]> (Landscape Photography by Tom Shapira) Africa Beach Botswana Coast Gaborone Inhaca Mokolodi Mozambique Nature Wildlife Fri, 28 Mar 2014 13:31:03 GMT
Almond Blossom in Israel Every year, between January and February, comes the Hebrew holiday Tu-BiShvat. The meaning of this Holiday's name is 15 in Shvat, which is the fifth month in the Hebrew calendar. This holiday celebrates the beginning of the tree growth after the winter.

The Almond tree starts its blossom period around this time, and so it became one of its main symbols for Tu-BiShvat. The countryside is filled with blossoming Almonds, one of the most beautiful sights in Israel.

Almond BlossomAlmond BlossomJerusalem Mountains, Israel
A pink curtain of flowers is formed by several Almond trees bunched together.

 Last year, during a drive to a friend's house, I've noticed a beautiful Almond tree that "begged" to be photographed. However, it was already after the peak of its blossom, and so I've decided to try and come back the next year.

 I almost missed it this year, but one early morning I finally managed to get myself out of bed around 4:30 AM, dressed up warmly, and headed to the tree. I got there around 20 minutes before sunrise, just in time to prepare the gear and be ready for the shot. The red glow I wanted to catch would only last several minutes. After that, the light will become stronger, and gradually - less warm.

Almond Tree on SunriseAlmond Tree on SunriseJerusalem Mountains, Israel
The rising sun light-up the petals of this Almond Tree's blossom. This image was shot shortly after sunrise.

 I took several shots, and then the wind started blowing... It swept the petals, glowing with the sun behind them. It was an amazing sight. I re-adjusted the camera, and began to take a series of photos with the petals flying around. After some time though, the light became stronger and less warm, so I decided to pack things up. Overall it took less than one (intensive) hour...

Hope you enjoy the show!

Spring of BlossomSpring of BlossomJerusalem Mountains, Israel
The petals of the Almond tree's flowers are carried away by the wind. This image was shot shortly after sunrise.

]]> (Landscape Photography by Tom Shapira) Almond Blossom Israel Nature Photography Sunrise Tu Bishvat טו בשבט ישראל פריחה צילום שקדיה Sat, 22 Feb 2014 16:49:05 GMT
Antelope Canyon - Story and Tips  Antelope Canyon is probably one of those places that became famous solely thanks to photographers. While definitely an amazing place, I see no good reason for someone to want to spend several 10s of $$ for a short guided tour in a narrow, dusty, crowded place. The photography experience, however, is not of this world. The photos and compositions you can take in this place are comparable to nothing else.

 This blog entry is intended to give you some advice as well as the impression of the place - so you can decide on your own if it's meant for you.

 I'll start by saying - we haven't booked much in advance. Two days before - that's all... And apparently - Photography tours - the ones you'll need if you wanna bring a tripod with you - are fully booked quite some time in advance. It seems that the Navajo owned agencies are the ones who get fully booked first. However, after making some calls, we were lucky enough to find an agency who agreed to take both my wife and me.

Sandstone (#1)Sandstone (#1)Antelope Canyon, Arizona

 We went out on the 10AM trip to the upper canyon. Our ride to the canyon was in a closed 4WD, so the dust wasn't an issue. I asked for the guide's advice regarding camera settings (polarizer?) on the way and he was quite helpful. We were in a group of 5, overall, so it seems promising - we won't have to wrestle each other for a good spot...

 I've heard a lot of how awfully crowded the place can be, but when we got to the canyon, the first hall was surpsisingly - empty. We started advancing in the canyon, having some time to place the tripods and take good exposures. When we got to the end, we were lucky enough to have a nice light beam - and we were the first ones there!

 The way back, however, was a different story. It was so crowded, that at first we didn't have any place to stop for even a moment. At that instance I understood the horror stories about this place. Still, I managed to get some good shots at some relatively free places. And at the end, we even had another beam!

Ray of Light #1Ray of Light #1Antelope Canyon, Arizona

 So having read all that, you probably got some idea on how it's going to be. Here are some tips:

1. Take the photography tour if you're serious into photography. You'll need that tripod.

2. Have the camera settings ready in advance. You won't have much time to play when you're there - people will always wait behind you.

3. The beams are dusty. Well, not the beams themselves, but the guides are throwing sand in the air, so they'll look better. Be prepared to protect your camera and take the shot only when it's right.

4. Take in as much light as you can. No polarizer, it's dark as it is...

5. There's no one correct camera setting. There are areas with more light and less light.

6. An example for camera settings: ISO 200, f/13, ~0.5-1.5 sec. Of course, you should adjust as you need when you're there, since you won't always have the time to put the tripod on the ground for a long time. Personally I had much longer exposures (of 13 sec and more) - but these are not easy to get without disturbing and being disturbed by others.

7. Do not change lenses in the canyon. You'll both loose time, and get dust in your sensor. If you have two cameras - use both. If not, I found that most of my images were taken between 20-60mm (on a crop factor of 1.5, equivalent to 30-90mm on a regular sensor).

7. If you have time, bracket. You'll never know when it'll be needed. Many times you'll get bright and dark areas in the same image.

8. Light beams: if you're lucky to be at the right place and time, think before you shoot. The canyon is a dark place, and having the lit-up part in your image will definitely result in a burnt area.

9. It really can get very crowded. Keep in mind - how long you'll have for each image is very much a matter of luck...

10. And finally, you're there to shoot, and enjoy. Shooting will no-doubt keep you busy for most of the time, but don't forget to have a look around, and enjoy the beauty of the place. You might also get some ideas for more personal compositions.

Sandstone (#5)Sandstone (#5)Antelope Canyon, Arizona


]]> (Landscape Photography by Tom Shapira) Advice Antelope Canyon Arizona Camera Settings How-to Landscape Lens Photographer Photography Tips USA Upper Antelope Canyon beams Sat, 25 Jan 2014 16:36:45 GMT
Lightroom - Opening NEF files in an External Editor  While I mostly use CNX2 to process my NEF files, I've recently incorporated Lightroom into my workflow. I've found that Lightroom does a great job organizing my photo collection, while I still prefer CNX2 for post-processing - mainly due to its more reliable decoding of NEF files.

 However, this was made a little cumbersome by Adobe's less-than-wonderful "Edit In" feature. External editing of Raw files in Lightroom is only possible in Photoshop... Other editors will just get a TIF version of the same file. 

 Photography Life wrote some nice explanation for why Adobe decided to prevent us from editing Raw files in an external software. But... what if you really don't care about that limitation - and you still want to open the NEF file in an external editor??

 My workflow was getting a little difficult to use, so I've decided to take some action and make my own solution.

 I've prepared a small script, that instead of opening the TIFF (as Lightroom intended) - passes the NEF filename to CNX2. It doesn't depend on CNX2 location on your HD - you just need to define CNX2 as the default program to open NEF files in Windows.


You can download and use it, free of course. Just read the release notes to check the necessary configuration, and of course, as with any freeware, use it at your own risk.

Link to NEF launcher (Rapidshare link).


Let me know how it worked out for you.



Tunnel View, MoonriseTunnel View, MoonriseYosemite NP, California

The moon has just rose over the cliffs of Yosemite Valley. The colors remaining from the sunset are still visible behind it.

]]> (Landscape Photography by Tom Shapira) Capture NX2 Edit In External Editor Lightroom NEF Open NEF in an external editor Sat, 14 Dec 2013 18:38:09 GMT
Death Valley / Mesquite Dunes  Death Valley was the most derelict, uncommon place on this trip. But yet, it was to this place I was anxious to get the most - after the first dunes we've visited along the shore were covered with fog.

 The first afternoon didn't go very well. After driving all the way from Yosemite, we got to Death Valley at a perfect time for photographing the dunes. But that was only to find out that we need to go the Ranger Station to get a permit to the park... Some extra, unplanned 40 minutes. By the time we returned, it was almost too late, and there were quite a lot of photographers wandering around, or already situated at a good spot. This made it even harder to find a decent spot to shoot. I got only one shot this afternoon.

Mesquite Dunes #9Mesquite Dunes #9Death Valley, California

 There was a full moon that night, so we stayed to photograph the full-moon on the dunes. But in my perspective - it was quite unnecessary... Some say that dunes are magical on a full moon light. Well, for photography... Eh. Full moon or not - the light was faint and required extremely long exposures, on medium ISO, resulting in high image noise. And this seemed completely unjustified, since at sunrise or sunset you get a better light, you don't wander in the dark, and it's much easier to photograph... All in all, the first day at the dunes which I so craved to photograph wasn't something to hope for...

 The next morning, however, things changed. I arrived at the dunes about an hour before sunrise, and was completely by myself. Seemed like a promising start... However, since the entire dunes area is open to unrestricted exploration - many of them are already contaminated with footsteps. I didn't want to ruin the area even more, so I decided to use only the trails left by others. I trusted myself enough to see original compositions even if I walked where others have already walked, and besides - dunes change everyday...

Footprints in the Sand #1Footprints in the Sand #1Death Valley, California

 As I wondered into the dunes, it seemed that there's nowhere to be found without trails of footprints. The crests were ruined, and so my plan of waiting for the sunrise at a certain spot became less and less probable as the morning sky started to brighten up... Just as the sun started climbing over the horizon, I finally found a smooth dune that I could shoot with the setting moon just above it. I was so frustrated that I was almost ready to settle for that...

 It was after this shot that everything has changed. As the sun went up, I kept on walking, and as I walked further into the dunes, the trails became fewer and fewer, until there was only one trail to go with. The best time to photograph the dunes in the morning is an hour or so after sunrise, so I still had some hope... Suddenly I was surrounded by clean, untouched sand. No footprints! I began shooting as I continued walking with the same trail. The final shot required climbing on a steep slope. I stopped just short of the crest, so the other side won't be ruined for other photographers - and the view was stunning. The largest dunes in the area appeared just in front of me, and the shadows made the curves appear like a giant abstract drawing.

Mesquite Dunes #6Mesquite Dunes #6Death Valley, California

 I stayed a while longer, and started heading back. It was already hot, and since I thought I'll be returning early - I left my hat at the hotel - and didn't even put on some sunscreen... Just as I left the last view, I noticed some hikers climbed the large dunes, corrupting the last clean crests and slopes. As I passed the moon-set place I shot earlier, another hiker climbed that ex-smooth dune, and left a deep trail of footsteps... Well, now nobody can take the same photos any time soon... ;)

You can see more images at the Death Valley Dunes Gallery.

]]> (Landscape Photography by Tom Shapira) Abstract Death Valley Fine Art Landscape Mesquite Dunes Sand Dunes Sunrise Sunset Wed, 20 Nov 2013 06:28:09 GMT
Yosemite  Yosemite National Park was definitely one of the peaks of my trip to the U.S. last month. Yosemite was photographed so many times before, and especially by one of my favorite past-photographers - Ansel Adams, and I was curious to find out how will my take on it look.

 We only had two full days in the park, which meant two early-mornings and two golden-hours to take advantage of. From practical reasons, I decided to skip the sunrises. Spending a whole day in the park - sunrise to sunset, plus the one hour drive to and from the park, seemed a little too much considering we still had a long trip (and drive) ahead after Yosemite. So it actually left me with the two sunsets for the landscape.

 Focusing mainly on the valley, I decided to dedicate the first sunset to the classic, familiar Tunnel View. This overlook is positioned just after the tunnel leading to Yosemite Valley, hence the name. The other afternoon we spent in Glacier Point, which is right above the valley (and a good 45 minutes drive from there...) - I think that's probably one of the most beautiful spots in the park. Most of the images in the gallery are from these two afternoons.

 While the places themselves were amazing, another experience I found interesting was to see how other photographers coped with different compositional problems in these places. One example is the tall tree obstructing the view in Tunnel View. Leaving aside the different seasons, clouds etc, I checked my composition and compared it to the classic photo by Ansel Adams, from 1936 (a little hard to find on the Internet, can be seen in this gallery in the time of writing). To my surprise - the exact same tree - which I never noticed before - stood proud in his photo as well... It's quite exciting to compare two images taken almost 80 years apart at the same place... Now I just wish I could come back there in the winter!

Click to open the Yosemite gallery.

  Half Dome and Moon from Glacier PointHalf Dome and Moon from Glacier PointYosemite NP, California

Full moon rising near Half Dome just after sunset.

]]> (Landscape Photography by Tom Shapira) El Capitan Glacier Point Half Dome Moonrise Sunset Tunnel View Wildlife Yosemite Sat, 19 Oct 2013 08:27:02 GMT
City Lights  Experimenting can be fun. Usually, taking photos involve pointing the camera (and composing), and pressing the button. But what happens if you mess with that process? For instance, play with the zoom, focus or simply shake the camera? So one evening, two months ago, I decided that the scene worth the attempt to do something a little less usual. Here's the results...

City LightsCity Lights

]]> (Landscape Photography by Tom Shapira) City Experimentation Israel Landscape Light Trails Photography Sat, 24 Aug 2013 18:01:40 GMT
Colombia  Colombia seems like a beautiful, friendly country. Travelling much was not an option, as I was there for work. But even so, I was fortunate enough that "work" doesn't necessarily means "office"... Work, for that matter, also meant driving through the beautiful mountainous area northwest of Medellin, travelling by foot in a small town for hours, and staying there on different times along the day - from early in the morning until late at night. Wherever I went, the camera joined.

 There were some limitations, though. Taking photos "on the go" means that you don't have much time to compose or steady the shot. Some images were taken almost as snapshots, and others I actually took from the window of a moving car (including some in the landscape gallery - see if you can guess which...). 

 Further, it also meant that I didn't have much choice as for the place, or the time of day they were taken. If I was there on a trip, I most definitely would take the time to pass through several more view points, at the more photogenic late-afternoon or early-morning light. I did have some opportunities for that as well, but quite a few images were taken around noontime, with a very contrasty light. Luckily, the green slopes of the mountainous area and the colors of the village provided a nice, colorful subject to shoot with that contrast.

 After some thoughts - I decided to divide the photos into 3 separate galleries, different as the different places they were taken in: Medellin, the Landscape from the drive outside the city, and last - Santa-Fe de Antioquia. Maybe not surprisingly, the first of them to be uploaded to the site was the Landscape gallery...


A Green Valley Northwest of MedellinA Green Valley, Northwest of Medellin



]]> (Landscape Photography by Tom Shapira) Andes City Colombia Gallery Landscape Medellin Photography Photos Santa Fe de Antioquia Mon, 19 Aug 2013 17:57:02 GMT
Sunrise above Spain  I think that at some point, every photographer starts being more selective regarding the photos he (or she) takes. Trying to achieve a good image without pressing the shutter too many times (it's surprising how easy it is with digital...), is essential to minimize the time spent in front of the screen, sorting photos. Personally, I try to separate images taken as a part of a trip, to remind me of something I experienced, from images taken with the intent to become a little more than just that.

 But even with this thought in mind, there are those rare sights that are so amazing, that even though I know I can't take a decent image of them, they simply leave me like a little boy, shooting and shooting and shooting. And hoping that maybe, against the odds, at least one good image will come out of it - with no hard-grain or smear or color cast.

 Recently I traveled to Colombia for work. Colombia was beautiful (photos will come...). But it was the flight back that practically left me face-stuck to the window. It seems that for this one flight, all of the conditions were right. The timing of the plane, the weather, and the place. I was lucky enough to have seen this sunrise, from the moment the light touched the plane, through the red patches on the ground a little later, and until the sun was higher, as the plane landed. I decided to share some of the images taken from that flight.

 While the quality of the images might not be the highest possible (due to the plastic window, the plane movement, and the constraints on the field of view), I assure you that the sight was breathtaking. I hope you can still get that impression from the selected images on the gallery. You can click on the images to enlarge them, or view them here.

The first rays of light hit the plane as the sun starts to rise above the horizon.Sunrise above Spain #1

 The plane was lowering towards landing in Madrid, just as the sun began to rise. Since the plane was much higher than the ground (several Km up), the first rays touched the plane first, casting such a warm light I don't remember ever seeing. This lasted only for several minutes - and the initial, red-orange glow - lasted even less than that.

Red patches of light start to appear on the surface below as the sun emerges above the horizon.Sunrise above Spain #2

The ground was still dark. But as the sun began to climb, little by little, small red patches started to appear on the surface, on the higher ground facing east. At first they were hardly noticeable to the camera, but it only took a minute for them to become visible in the images as well. These red patches started to grow and expand, until at some point, we passed a mountain range, watching the texture caused by the light, the peaks of the mountains painted in glowing-red, and the warm horizon starting to brighten up. You can see the low angle of the sun by looking at the "shadow line" in the air, caused by the high peaks. 

The mountains glow in red, the plane passes right above them just as they are lit up.Sunrise above Spain #3 From here, it took quite a short time for the sun to climb, and light-up the ground with the golden morning light. It was the fourth time I have flown over Madrid's area, watching the patches of the fields form abstract images on the ground. But the morning glow gave them an even more impressive appearance. 

The fields seem like patches, creating abstract forms on the ground.Sunrise above Spain #4

Shortly after, the plane landed. It's amazing to think that each day, thousands of different people witness the same beautiful sight.

Long shadows are cast by the trees and the curves of the hills.Sunrise above Spain #5

]]> (Landscape Photography by Tom Shapira) Aerial Early Morning Flight Landscape Madrid Photography Spain Sunrise Sun, 11 Aug 2013 10:32:40 GMT
Close to Home  Just uploaded a new image. It's pretty straightforward - a small warehouse used for agricultural tool standing in the middle of the field. This warehouse, although being a warehouse, reminded me of a small house in the middle of the field. I liked how the different texture and colors of the furrows and crops combine together to meet at the house. The time is late afternoon, hence the red glow on the furrows. 

 It's funny how sometimes you find images you like close to home. This one was taken 5 minutes away from my parents house, yet only yesterday, after years living near it, I have noticed it. Took 3 times to take this image as I wanted it: on the first I forgot the battery at home (sh*t happens...), on the second I got there too late for the red glow to appear, and on the third I finally succeeded - took about 10 minutes.

Click for full size view

House in the FieldsThe House in the Fields

]]> (Landscape Photography by Tom Shapira) Agriculture Fields Furrows Hasharon House Israel Landscape Sunset Warehouse Sat, 20 Jul 2013 16:53:12 GMT
Berlin  This is the first time I have considered expanding the site to include urban scenes in addition to landscapes and nature. Staying in Berlin for only 3.5 days, there was a lot to see and do, and very little time. It seems that almost everything takes a little artistic or surreal form in this city. Maybe it's the graffiti that have taken a real form of art in this place. Or the pinkish-purplish pipes running all through the city. The strange noise of the U-Bahn and S-Bahn when they start moving. Or the pieces of history all over the city. Whatever it is, you can't avoid that feeling.

 It took some time, but going over the photos, I finally realized that what I was after was the forms, the scenes and that surrealistic feeling rather than colors. While I usually prefer color for landscape and nature, I felt that it distracts from the main idea behind these images, so I decided to convert these images to B&W in the post-processing.

 You can click through to the gallery or take a look at the slideshow.

 The Sony Center Dome in BerlinTriangle

]]> (Landscape Photography by Tom Shapira) Architecture B&W Berlin Black and White City Germany Photography Urban Fri, 12 Jul 2013 09:21:43 GMT
The Development of Photography - A Different Perspective  It seems that recently, many photographers who consider themselves serious enough, are having a hard time dealing with the fact that anyone can take photos these days, and call himself a photographer. And if that's not enough, they can get much more Likes. For some time I've been pondering about this issue myself. While an amateur, in the sense that photography is not my main source of income, I'd still like to consider myself a serious photographer. And it seems that in order to get Likes, you don't have to invest half as much an effort as I did on some of my images... Recently, my friend Lev, writer of the Double Exposure photography blog, has written an article dealing with a different aspect of that issue, that made me think some more.

Leica IIIf

 Looking back on the 150 years of photography, there was a time when the place of professional and serious photographers was clear. Only professionals had the intuition, or knew how to calculate the correct exposure, not to mention the knowledge required in order to properly develop the photos yourself. Ansel Adams described taking one of his most recognizable images in his book The Making of 40 Photographs:

"I almost ditched the car and rushed to set up my 8×10 camera. I was yelling to my companions to bring me things from the car as I struggled to change components on my Cooke Triple-Convertible lens. I had a clear visualization of the image I wanted, but when the Wratten No. 15 (G) filter and the film holder were in place, I could not find my Weston exposure meter!... ...I was at a loss with the subject luminance values, and I confess I was thinking about bracketing several exposures, when I suddenly realized that I knew the luminance of the moon – 250 c/ft2. Using the Exposure Formula, I placed this luminance on Zone VII; 60 c/ft2 therefore fell on Zone V, and the exposure with the filter factor o 3x was about 1 second at f/32 with ASA 64 film. I had no idea what the value of the foreground was, but I hoped it barely fell within the exposure scale. Not wanting to take chances, I indicated a water-bath development for the negative.".

 That's what it took to be a real photographer in those times (this image was taken in 1941). With time, however, the necessity of dealing with chemicals, and self-developing the photos had diminished. Photographers still had to know how to expose correctly, but it was much easier to develop the images later. With the spread of light meters, it also became easier to expose. The invention and improvement of film made cameras smaller and more accessible to the crowds. Putting 100 years of photography in perspective, serious photographers in the early days of photography could not have dreamt to compete with the quality achieved by amateurs with much smaller, lighter and easier to operate film cameras.

 What film couldn't do, the digital age did: now everybody has a camera. In their phones, at the very least. The distinction between serious photography and "taking pictures" - a term that did not exist less than a 100 years ago, became blurry. Easy as it is to take, process and publish images, it seems that the only thing that separates "good photography" from "bad photography" is composing the image. And while everybody has the chance of proving their creativity, more and more good photographers emerge, and the lesser the chance for an individual to stand out.

 But then again - that's the story of photography. With every advancement - it became much easier and much more accessible. The phone-camera is no more revolutionary than Kodak's first consumer film cameras, or than the first camera with built-in light meter. The main difference is that while it became much easier to take photos over the years, it wasn't easy enough for the majority of the population, and that's what the digital and smartphone revolution have changed.

 In my opinion, the real question when trying to understand where we stand in light of this revolution is "Why people photograph?". This is not a new question - it was discussed a long time ago by many, including Robert Adams in his book carrying the same title. While most people photograph for recording their everyday life events, and no less important - for fun, I think that serious photographers have a different motivation. For serious photographers, it's more an issue of the perfection of the image. Of how good timing, composition and exposure all come together to create one, good photograph.

 It seems to me that we're in a period of transition. Photography has become very common among the entire population. However, the understanding and appreciation of good photography has yet to spread that much. But with so many good photographers publishing their work everyday on the media and on social networks, it's only a matter of time until appreciation for good photography becomes common as well. And as with any other field of expertise, while many will appreciate good photography, not as many will be able, or will be interested, in practicing it.

 The style of photography might change, and there may be more "medium level" photographers out there, but the value of good photography will remain.


]]> (Landscape Photography by Tom Shapira) Article Development of photography Digital Age Digital revolution Photography Professional Photography Professional Photography and the Digital Revolution Revolution Wed, 03 Jul 2013 18:53:16 GMT
Moon and Ripples at Dusk - The Story Behind the Image This new image was taken at Palmachim beach. I'd like to share with you the story of how this image was taken.

 As you probably recall from my previous post, Palmachim has a pretty "famous" spot for photographers. It's an elongated rock, sticking out into the sea. During the right time of the year, it points right into the sunset, so you can produce wonderful images there...

 This time I got to the place pretty late, just before sunset. And not surprisingly, two photographers were already on the spot. Pretty annoying as it was, I decided to try to compose a different scene. The changing tides caused periods of strong currents on the rocks, draining the water at times, and pouring more water into the pools at others. I took advantage of the ripples, and after several trials arrived at my desired (and constrained) composition, leaving the other photographer, standing between me and the sunset, out.

 At that point, the camera was already stabilized on the rocks. I reached for my bag, which was on another rock 2 meters away, and slipped... Luckily the camera was on the tripod so it didn't fall with me. It wasn't a terrible fall, so I kept shooting. One lesson, learnt yet again: Never wear flip flops when going shooting at the sea... shoes worth so much less than your equipment, you can afford sacrificing a good pair in order to keep safe.

 I wasn't very satisfied from my composition. The sun was setting, and the other photographer still blocked my view... I almost despaired,   and was ready to go back home with several, unsuccessful shots. But to my surprise, just as the sun disappeared behind the horizon, the other photographer took his equipment and left the place... I had the entire dusk and blue hour ahead, and a clear view - at last!

 It was getting dark, and I already fell once on the slippery rocks, so I decided to remain at my spot, and recompose the scene. This time I could include the rocks ahead of me, where the other photographer sat a moment ago, in the scene. The moon was above, and the wind swept the clouds inland. I decided to try and take advantage of that. I used an ultra wide angle lens, with no filters this time, and tried a 4 minutes exposure, risking some noise, but it was necessary for the effect I wanted. Then it already became too dark, so I packed my stuff and went home, hoping for something good to come out from this session.

 Only after getting back home I realized that the fall left some marks... After taking care of them, I uploaded the images from the camera, and took some time to post-process the image. I have combined several duplicates of the same file with different exposure compensation values. Denoising was necessary, of course, as well as the tedious work of eliminating hot pixels all over the image.

 A hard day's work... But nothing like a satisfying image at the end of it. You are welcome to leave your feedback.

Moon and Ripples at Dusk (Palmachim, Israel)Moon and Ripples at Dusk


]]> (Landscape Photography by Tom Shapira) Dusk Images of Israel Israel Landscape Landscape Photography How To Long Exposure Moon Photography Ripples Sat, 22 Jun 2013 16:12:27 GMT
Photo Advice: Home Made Softbox  Landscape photographer or not, sometimes you do need to take a passport or ID photo. Using an on-camera flash or a direct external flash will result in harsh, not flattering light. In order to get an acceptable portrait, you'll need to somehow diffuse the light, or alternatively, create a much larger light source. This short article describes how to build a DIY softbox.

Well, no, it's not really a box. But it does the work. And it's simple, takes 5 minutes, and only requires the following photographic equipment:

1. An external flash. A white diffuser will be great too, if you have one.

2. A cable to activate it remotely, with a tripod mount.

3. A tripod.

The other stuff you're going to need is regular household stuff:

1. Wooden skewers, or similar long, thin wooden sticks (don't have any? just continue reading, you might be able to find something to replace them).

2. Aluminum foil.

3. Plastic wrap.

4. Baking paper, sandwich paper, or some other type of semi-translucent white paper.

5. Tape (sellotape, masking tape or similar).

Let's start. Before starting, connect the flash to the cable (or remote trigger), and mount it on the tripod.

1. Start with the skewers. Put them so that they cross one another on the edge, around 90 degrees between them. Now, using the tape, wrap it around so they are fixed. It doesn't have to be very strong 

2. put the crossed-skewers on the top part of your external flash. Use the plastic wrap to fix them. Careful, plastic wrap might get some static charge, so try to avoid letting it touch anything sensitive.

3. Take a large sheet of foil. You can stitch some together if required. Attach it to the skewers, on the rear side of the flash.

4. Take a sheet of baking paper, and put it in front of the flash, hanging from the "horns" of the skewers. Sometimes tape wouldn't hold it, so you can use a stapler to secure the tape and paper together.

That's it! If you want it to work even better, you can use mirrors or sheets of foil to bounce the light from other surfaces. Of course, you can improve the "box", and add some reflectors or paper around the open parts.


]]> (Landscape Photography by Tom Shapira) DIY softbox DIY strobe How to build a softbox Lighting Photography Softbox Strobe Sat, 15 Jun 2013 12:13:23 GMT
Singles - Sailing Away - Photo Log  This image was taken just last Friday, in Palmachim beach, Israel. Palmachim is a fascinating location for photographing the sea, that's probably the reason I have quite a few images from there in the Israel galleries... Problem is, photographers are familiar with this spot. You can find all sorts of images from Palmachim's rocks around the net, many of them from the same exact spot.

  So on Friday, I decided to walk along the coast to find a place to shoot from. I've actually never been to the "famous spot", but I do know where it is, so I thought of going there. It was still to early to shoot (~5PM), so I passed the time touring the coast and taking some macro shots on the rocks.

 Just before it was time to start preparing the gear, another photographer took my planned spot... So I had to find a new one. I chose  a rock that was partially covered with water to place my tripod. Its position made it unlikely for the waves to wash away my stuff, but still, I had to stand there, feet wet, watching for crabs to prevent them from eating my shoes...

 As I placed my gear, I've noticed that clouds were obscuring the horizon. Sometimes the sun appears lower in the horizon, just under them, so I decided to wait, but just then - a large cargo ship decided to anchor right under the setting sun - blocking the clear view of the ocean. So far - a great afternoon...

 Finally, the sun came out for only a minute or two. What's more, it was accompanied by an orange halo. So it seemed a good time to finally take that picture... It was the only minute, that Friday evening, when the sun came out. There it is, below (click to enlarge).

 The image appears a little HDRish. While I tend to like HDR when it's put to good use - this one is not a digital HDRI, but was caught with graduated filters (so actually this is something like "analog HDRI"...).


Sailing Away

Sailing AwaySailing Away

]]> (Landscape Photography by Tom Shapira) Beach Coast Israel Landscape Palmachim Photography Sea Ship Shore Slow Exposure Mon, 27 May 2013 19:27:49 GMT