I was recently asked by the team at BeArt Presets to review their Travel and Landscape preset collection for Lightroom. Here are my thoughts, but first a caveat.
The Thing About Presets
Lightroom presets and Photoshop actions are a great way to streamline a workflow and create a uniform look or style for your photos, but there is always a danger of them driving your vision, rather than the other way around. Especially in the case of purchasing pre made preset kits such as this one. In my humble opinion, processing images should always be done with your own end vision for the image in mind. What do you want to say? What is the story of this image? Presets are essentially pre written scripts for telling a story and, to continue this poor excuse for a metaphor, the photographer essentially becomes an actor reading a script rather than the director. So no matter how beautiful the results (and BeArt Presets’ presets are beautiful) it is important to remember that it is you the photographer who provides the vision, not a piece of editing software. With that in mind…
Clearly BeArt Presets have based the look of this kit on a nostalgic film look that is popular with many travel publications at the moment, and they can produce some stunning results for the right images. Included are 40 global presets as well as additional adjustment brush or radial filter presets. The naming of the adjustment brushes are straight forward (for example, Exposure + or Blue Temp – 100), but the global presets are named after world cities which is a savvy marketing idea but can cause some confusion until you have spent a significant amount of time with them. Presumably they are intended to reflect the look and feel of a particular place, but if you haven’t been there it doesn’t mean much. Of course, the end user has the option of renaming them to something more practical, such as “Warm Highlights/Deep Blacks” etc.
Most of the presets are based around colour casts to warm up or cool down an image. This is something that often struggle with in processing, taking a long time to get the look I’m going for. Finding the right preset to use as a base did make this a lot easier. I like that the presets are subtle in what they do to the tones and vibrancy of an image, leaving plenty of scope to further refine. I found that I didn’t have much use for the brushes as they just didn’t really suit what I was trying to achieve. Some are also duplications of standard Lightroom brushes, such as Dodge and Burn. I didn’t see what was gained by adding these.
Overall, with a little playing around and familiarising I was able to get some solid results and some textures that I was really happy with using these presets. I will definitely keep using them, depending on the image I’m working on. These are some very specific looks and the results can be stunning, but it does rely on having the appropriate image to work with.
You can find some more detailed information about what is included, as well as BeArt Presets’ other products on their website.
Subtle global adjustments leaving lots of room for personalising
Well priced at US$19 considering the amount of work that goes into creating these
Beautiful film looks for those that prefer that kind of feel in their images
Local adjustment brushes generally not useful
Confusing naming conventions
More to do with the user than this kit, but there is a danger of images looking similar to everyone else’s.
Some Example Results
Processed using only global adjustments and local brush adjustments from the kit. On the left are the untouched raw files.
Hong Kong is nothing if not intense. Despite parks and nature reserves takin up 40% of it’s land mass, the city always seems short on space. Look up at almost any point in Central, Wan Chai or Sham Shui Po and you will find office towers or apartment buildings glaring down at you from either side of a narrow street. The streets themselves are crowded with people out late at night. All but the very wealthy live in tiny apartments or bedsits, often no more than a bedroom with a sink.
Its near midnight on a weekday and Mong Kok still buzzes. Restaurants are full, shops are still open and couples walk hand in hand seemingly with no particular place to go. Other groups stand around on the footpath smoking, chatting and laughing. Taxis are doing brisk business and smoke rises from the kitchens of the street side Dai Pai Dongs.
This is not a place for quiet introspection.
Turn left and I run into people stumbling out of bars. Turn right and shoppers crowd the street. On my way back to the hotel, I pass musicians busking in front of a department store, the crowd building as word gets around. One man, shirt off, drunk, sways unsteadily with the music. The rest of the crowd moves away from him.
I cross an overpass straddling a major thoroughfare. Still jammed at this time with slow moving traffic. Cars, more taxis and delivery trucks honk at each other in the hope it will move the masses on faster.
On Canton Road, the designer stores are unloading customers with huge shopping bags emblazoned with equally huge logos. Pedestrian crossings fill, then empty as people head towards metro stations and bus stops and home. The din of tyres and voices has become white noise.
Finally, shoulder to shoulder with strangers, I turn into my hotel’s street and make my way to the front door. Its been a long day, and the constant movement and noise seems overwhelming suddenly. Closing the door on the street outside is like a weight lifting. Now cocooned in my room, I look down at the street below. The activity goes on, now with the noise removed. It seems now like a TV show. Something that is happening somewhere else. Tired as I am, I’m looking forward to being out on those same streets tomorrow.
Just back from 3 weeks amongst the crowded streets, august temples and chaotic wet markets of Hong Kong, so with the smell of stinky tofu still in my nose, and the dinging trams, clattering of mahjong tiles and cries of street hawkers in my ears, here is a gallery of images from the trip.
Inland from Australia’s Great Ocean Road, tucked hidden behind the pretty coastal towns, winding road and imposing cliff faces, is the immeasurable beauty of the Great Otways National Park. A wonderland of undulating hills and valleys covered by soft greenery and veined by gentle flowing rivers. At the ends of these rivers are some of the most beautiful and serene waterfalls in all of Australia.
One of the most well known of these, Hopetoun Falls, is a short but steep decent from the carpark on a winding path that at first shelters the sound of falling water and builds anticipation as you slowly round corners and hear the sound increase in volume. Ducking under tree branches and pushing through fern leaves, often wet with raindrops, you can hear birds overhead as they nest in canopies above. Cockatoos, Kookaburras and Bowerbirds are all common.
As the path ends, Hopetoun Falls is revealed. The distant undercurrent is now an unmistakable crash as the water flow hits the Aire River after its 45 metre drop. Scrambling over the soft ground and smooth rock close to the waterfall, a refreshing mist can be felt from the water’s spray.
Further downstream it is much quieter. The Aire River trickles peacefully around soft bends, over and around rocks and moss and carries with it small twigs and fallen leaves. It feels disconnected from the rushing water a short distance away. The crystal clear water is gentle enough to see the bottom of the river bed, filled with pebbles.
Buried deep in the forest, Hopetoun Falls feels so far away from everywhere. It is easy to feel like an explorer in a place such as this. Like you are the first person to come across this natural wonder, so untouched is it by human presence. Making the return journey in the cool shade provided by ancient trees and emerging back into the carpark feels somewhat like a return to civilisation.
Each year at the first signs of spring, fields around Victoria change colour quickly and dramatically from a lush green of plants and grasses fed by the winter rains, to bright yellow carpet, sometimes covering fields as far as the eye can see. This is the annual flowering of canola, grown across the state to eventually be harvested for rapeseed oil. For a few glorious weeks each year however, a patchwork of fields glow with happy golden flowers as a precursor to the summer to come.
Being springtime, the weather is moody and changeable. Hang around long enough and you are likely to see yellow fields in all conditions, often on the same day. Clear blue skies complementing golden fields perfectly, and as stormy weather rolls in, the cheerful colours seem to defy brooding clouds.
Provence has its Routes de la Lavande which are internationally renowned for a good reason, but the lesser known annual canola blooms that occur not just in Victoria, but around Australia are just as spectacular.
I spent a week recently amongst the red soil of central Australia around Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Watarrka feeling very small and insignificant amongst the expansive desert and these ancient and sacred monoliths.
Flying into the tiny single building airport and Yulara, the domes of Kata Tjuta and single expanse of Uluru can be seen rising from the earth and it is possible to get a sense of sheer size, but it isn’t until you stand in their shadow and see the texture worn into these rocks over thousands and thousands of years that you feel their power and immutability. At dawn, the rising sun lifts a blanket to reveal Uluru as a charcoal shape, which soon lightens to tones of reds and burnished orange as the light contours and pock marks the rock wall. The only sound to be heard is that of birds awakening with the dawn, and the near silence in such a desolate place only ads to the awe of watching the day begin just as the ancient Anangu did 60,000 years ago.
This colour will change throughout the day as the hot desert sun moves overhead, the air still and dry. Looking around, at first it seems like there is nothing there, but everything is moving, everything is alive. It takes a lot to survive out here, but plants, animals and people call this desert their home. Hidden amongst the shrubs and trees that dot the landscape are kangaroos, dingoes, birds, snakes and lizards and many varieties of desert dwelling mammals who have learned how to adapt to this harsh land. Dotted around the area, and mostly hidden from the view of the casual visitor, are communities of Anangu people, the traditional land owners who’s nomadic lifestyle has also adapted over the years to meet the demands of a modern world, but still live by the ancient laws of Tjurkurpa. These laws are told to new generations through stories of the creation time, of which the Anangu believe Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Watarrka are physical proof. It still surprises many people that there is such a huge part of this huge country that has English as a second language, or does not speak English at all.
There is a sense of permanence in this place, like nothing, not an asteroid, not even hoards of tourists, could destroy these landmarks. A sense that everything around them, the trees, plants and humans will all eventually wither and disappear, but the rock will remain.
For more images from this series, head on over to the main website.
One side benefit of photography is a deeper connection with the world that comes through the study of subject. Most photographers have at least one subject they return to again and again. A place, person or thing that holds a significant meaning. Mine is a small outcrop of headland on the Bellarine Peninsula, about an hour from Melbourne called Point Lonsdale. This was one of the first places where, with a few rolls of Ilford 100 in my pocket, I fumbled with an old Nikon and a borrowed tripod that weighed as much as a sledge hammerand pinched my fingers every time I tried to adjust it. Where I created my first overexposed, poorly composed, out of focus images of seascapes and the surrounding coastline. I’d like to say they were impressionist, but really they were just bad photos. Really bad photos. Where there any image that was half decent (by which I mean in focus) I would hurry to the darkroom, enlarging it to poster size and hanging it on my wall for the world to see. It was crap, but I was proud of this crap.
I returned time and time again to this place, partly because it was convenient, but also partly because it began to hold some meaning. Sometimes I’d walk around for hours before even thinking of taking out my camera, sometimes I wouldn’t even bring it. This beach became a place to reflect.
As I practiced and slowly improved, I felt I was able to do some sort justice to the place. I began to understand how to capture the tranquillity of low tide when the rock pools were exposed and clouds were reflected in them, the best angles for each time of day to shoot the lighthouse that stands proudly above the cliff tops, and the long jetty that protrudes from the beach and is used by fisherman all year round.
I’ve kept coming back for 15 years. It is only a small area, but I somehow always manage to find something new that I’d never before noticed. It has taught me, not only about the technical aspects of photography, but also about seeing, about being observant and slowing down. I’ve learned to appreciate what is around me. This is a place I will always return to. I feel I owe it a debt for the gift it has given me. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll be able to honour it in photographs.
Under the dusty sun of North West India, in crowded cities and quiet villages, the story of Rajasthan is told in the faces of its people. Lined faces tell of a lifetime of toil while retaining a contentment that comes with a hard day’s work. Elders appear proud of their wrinkles and sun-cracked skins, understanding them to be symbols of what is important to them: to care and provide for family and community.
The above is an extract from a new article on my time spent with people from cities and villages of Rajasthan, India. To read the full story and view more images, click the link to the full story on Maptia.
Under the watch of Mehrangarh Fort, within the twists and turns of medieval laneways and alleys, Jodhpur’s Blue City feels a world away from the chaos of Rajasthan’s second largest city. An oasis of calm in the midst of the noise and calamity that is India.
Under the clock tower, a bustling market signals the beginning of the old town. This is the unofficial border between modern Jodhpur and the city’s origin. Indeed this is the part of the city that attracts most tourists, however as I make my way uphill slightly and through streets that become narrower with every turn, the clatter falls away and a sense of calm begins to take hold. It is as if the Brahmin blue painted cube houses themselves are having a soothing influence. The streets smell of spices and burnt votive candles.
After a few minutes I’m lost. In a good way. I have a map I could check, but somehow it doesn’t seem important. This is a place to wander, the ideal setting for being lost. I wander up and down, taking a left turn here or a right there, with no other intention than to see what might be around the corner. I pass children playing in the street, old men and women sitting on doorsteps, sleeping dogs, tiny neighbourhood temples and shops. Occasionally the peace is disrupted by a motorbike barrelling through the narrow lanes, but soon returns to normal. The day is warm but it feels cool in here, partly because only shards of sunlight filter down through the buildings, and partly because the coloured walls soak up the heat.
Around one corner, a grandmother sits with her grandson on her lap, playing a game of peek-a-boo. I wave as I pass and they both waive back, both surprised that a foreigner has wandered this far away from the tourist area.
Around another corner, two boys are blowing bubbles, watching them float upwards into the sky. So engrossed that they don’t notice me at all.
Along another street, women in bright saris pass on their way to buy supplies for home, their colourful dress exaggerated by the soft blue walls. Some are curious I am there, others pay me no attention.
Finally and suddenly, and quite by accident, I am back near the clock tower market. It is dusk now but the market is still trading, bargains being struck and goods and money changing hands. This will go on late into the night, but back in the neighbourhoods of the Blue City quiet prevails. Occasionally their is the bark of a dog, or sound of a rickshaw, but they are short interruptions to the peace that exists in the midst of the chaos.
Something is tugging at my leg. I’m oblivious to it at first, concentrating on making a photo of the surrounding landscape, then become dimly aware as the tugging continues. I look down to see a pair of big brown eyes above an even bigger grin, too big for the small face that contains them.
“One selfie please,” she says. It’s more of a demand than a request, I’ve learnt from experience over the past week of being in India. In a sign of the times, I’ve also learnt that “selfie” is one of the first words of English anyone learns. If someone knows no other English, they know “selfie”.
“Ok,” I say, knowing full well I have no choice in the matter. Not that I mind. It is refreshing as a photographer to visit a country where people, children especially, are not only open to having their photo made, but often bluntly insist on it when they see camera in hand. There is an openness about people here. Where we in the West are instinctively guarded around strangers, having been told of dangers posed since we were old enough to understand what our parents and teachers were saying, most Indians have no hesitation or fear in rushing over to a foreigner and asking for a photo. I’ve taken a few thousand photos while I’ve been here so far, but I think I’ve been in even more.
I kneel down to the girl’s height and start making photos as she poses confidently. This isn’t the first time she’s done this. Probably not the first time today. We pause for a moment so I can show her the images on the back of the camera. She giggles happily. All of a sudden we’re surrounded by many more eager little faces straining for a look, and more delighted giggles. Inevitably, everyone wants to be in a photo too. Little bodies scramble over each other and shove others out of the way to get in front of the lens. Poses are struck, and costume changes made. There is much laughter and use of the “ok” hand sign, a universal expression of approval. A few aren’t entirely happy with their result though and insist on another try, to which I oblige until a satisfactory outcome is achieved.
This scene goes on for a while (there is a small army now) and could go on all evening, but friends are waiting for me. I start to move away and the crowd moves with me. They’re not done yet. Fortunately, I’ve now had some experience in extricating myself from these situations. Whereas a week ago I would have been stuck there until they lost interest, now I put the camera back in its bag and simply keep walking. The cries of “Selfie, selfie, photo, photo,” gradually turn to ones of “Bye, bye.” Turning to waive before leaving I see that no one looks too upset, not even those that didn’t get their chance to be in a photo. Instead they waive, and begin to scatter, presumably in search of the next foreigner with a camera.
Just before climbing back in the jeep, I hear faintly a small voice speaking to someone else: “Selfie please…”