Weekly Photo Challenge: Wanderlust

I have been very fortunate to travel widely – and not always on business – but the ten years we spent living an working in Abu Dhabi were particularly memorable: and, of course, completely different in almost every way to what we were used to.

On the nature reserve of Sir Bani Yas Island, in the Arabian Gulf, we went for a game drive at sunset, where I found this lone oryx, which seems to have some wanderlust of its own. There really was a yellow cast to the sky as the sun was going down.

Weekly Photo Challenge

 

Tuesdays of Texture: Skull

We came across this oryx skull during a safari drive on Sir Bani Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. Lots of texture here, especially rendered in this high contrast monochrome version:

skull

Tuesdays of Texture: Week 39

Composition: Arabian Landscapes

The latest instalment of Cee’s Compose Yourself Photo Challenge calls for landscapes. Like many ‘generalist’ photographers, I take a lot of landscapes but for the purposes of this post I decided to confine myself to ones from the Arabian peninsula.

Taken in the desert outside the oasis city of Al Ain, this image has a strong leading line, while the rocks in the foreground provide perspective:

Landscape2

This was also taken just outside Al Ain. In terms of composition techniques, the road provides a diagonal, but, with camels grazing beneath electricity pylons, I like it as a metaphor for the entire country: modernising while trying to retain and respect tradition.

Landscape3

This third image was taken in a small bay near the city of Muscat, in Oman. Not all of the Arabian peninsula is covered in sand dunes, and in Oman the volcanic rock of the Hajar mountains provides an impressive backdrop to the beaches and cities. Technically, you have the rule of thirds and the parasols on the beach provide perspective, while the contrasting colours of the orange buoys in the blue sea are also a compositional feature:

Finally, two photographs taken on the nature reserve of Sir Bani Yas Island that feature all these compositional factors. On the left, another example of the same contrasting colours, while the slope of the hillside gives a diagonal and the two groups of antelope give perspective. On the right, a solitary oryx heads off into the sunset. The two pictures were taken at more or less the same time, towards sunset, and it’s interersting to see the difference in the quality of light depending on whether the sun is behind the camera or in front of it.

Before & After: Oryx

For me, post-processing is equally as important as capturing the image in the first place, and some judicious editing can elevate a mundane photo into something that’s of greater aesthetic appeal and so, hopefully, of at least passing interest.

I’ve decided to begin participating in the weekly After Before Forum, hosted by Aperture64. This entails posting two versions of the same photograph: the ‘before‘, as shot, and the ‘after‘, once that original has been edited. Here’s my first contribution.

The Original Image

Oryxorig

This was taken on the Sir Bani Yas Island nature reserve in the United Arab Emirates and is of a pair of Arabian oryx, a previously endangered species that now roams freely on Sir Bani Yas, thanks to some major conservation efforts. What lifts this particular shot out of the ordinary, for me, is the matching ‘pose’ of the two animals.

The Editing

For editing I principally use Lightroom. I have a Creative Cloud subscription, which also gives me access to Photoshop, although I use this comparatively rarely (I keep telling myself that one day I’ll get to grips properly with Photoshop, but it hasn’t happened yet).

I always begin the editing process with some straightening, when necessary. This eliminates what can be an irritating distraction (especially in landscapes and – even more so – seascapes). This particular image has been very slightly levelled out.

After this comes cropping. The purpose of cropping is to remove, as much as possible, anything that detracts from the actual subject of the photograph. There was a case for leaving the oryx in a more expansive landscape, but having taken the view that the pose was the real subject, I decided on a closer crop with clear focus on the animals themselves.

Only when you’re happy with the composition of the image is there much point, in my view, in trying to get it to look as good as possible.

The enhancement of the image is very largely a process of trial and error. The camera’s own settings – other than in special circumstances I use Aperture-Priority mode – almost always deliver a correct exposure, so it’s really a matter of working through the Menu items in Lightroom’s Development mode.

Of these the first is the most important, so I spend the most time on playing around with the various Tone sliders – Highlights, Shadows, Whites and Blacks – while keeping one eye on the histogram and the other on the image itself (no mean trick if, like me, you’re basically one-eyed). It’s fascinating to see how much more detail can be coaxed out of a RAW file (I always shoot in RAW) with these adjustments.

Occasionally, this process throws up some jarring colour casts, which I’ll correct using the individual ‘Color’ sliders. As it happens, there was an odd blue tinge to the white fur, which I eliminated by taking down the Blue saturation. Since there’s no real blue in the image – none that ought to be there, at any rate – this doesn’t detract from anything else.

Once I’m happy with the result of all this, I move on to the Presence part of the Menu (Clarity, Vibrance and Saturation). To be perfectly honest, I find that the ‘Punch’ preset in Lightroom does a pretty good job. That’s +30 on Clarity and +25 on Vibrance. Of course, it can be tweaked further from there.

Likewise, since I’m not sure I really understand Sharpening, I tend to defer to Lightroom’s ‘Sharpen’ pre-sets. Finally, I might experiment with the Noise Reduction sliders, but noise isn’t usually a problem in even halfway decent light conditions. I think it’s important to remember that even though you have a lot of adjustment tools at your disposal, you don’t have to use them all, just for the sake of it.

The Final Image

Oryxedit

ABForum: Week 68

Skull

This is the skull of an oryx that I came across just lying on the ground in the nature reserve on Sir Bani Yas island in Abu Dhabi.

Texture-B&W

Posted in response to Cees Weekly Black & White Photo Challenge: Textures