Tag Archives: Layers

A quick look at ruins and countryside

• Lonely Bodmin Chimney •

• Lonely Bodmin Chimney •
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• Lonely Bodmin Chimney • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

The influence of man on the countryside is worth photographing.

For centuries we’ve created substantial buildings in open country. Today, these have become an intimate part of the rural scene. For photographers they provide an interesting focus for landscapes. Sometimes quaint, sometimes aesthetically pleasing, these old relics can provide great interest for the eye. They draw the viewer into the scene and provide a starting point for the appreciation of the rest of the image.

Finding ruins and old buildings

In the UK the Ordinance Survey  External link - opens new tab/page sell maps that carry a key which marks out old, derelict and protected buildings. Other countries have similar mapping systems. Surprisingly some online mapping systems are not so good at highlighting these features of our history. Unless, that is, they are part of some sort of commercial or historic leisure opportunity on the site.

I was crossing Bodmin Moor in the West Country, UK, one day and came across the chimney above in a tiny country lane. Well off the beaten track. Bodmin Moor, with many other places in Cornwall and Devon, was once a thriving mining area. The locals extracted tin. Sadly the workings bring little prosperity to either county now. But many of the old mine buildings, and especially the distinctive chimneys, bring many tourists. In the parks and moors these mines are preserved and they provide brilliant photographic opportunities. The ones that are away from the crowds are best. A lonely feature in a landscape is always more attractive than a solitary chimney surrounded by heavily trodden ground, tourists and coaches.

So how do you find these hidden gems? Here are some things you can do…

  • At walkers/backpackers shops ask the staff. They often know local interest spots.
  • Get to know some local people in places you stay.
  • Tourist information offices are found world wide and often know of hidden places.
  • Study maps and aerial views of places you are going to visit.
  • Ask in local camera shops.
  • Contact the local camera club to your destination before your trip.
  • Search out ‘interest’ booklets written by local people for local people – often found in walkers/backpackers shops
  • Contact historical and walkers societies in advance of your trip
How should you photograph ruins?

There are some basics you should think about…

Use perspective to exaggerate depth: Find a long wall or fence, even ancient pathways/hedges to shoot along and use these to create perspectives and lines to draw the eye into the picture and create depth.

Rule of thirds: In the picture above the chimney is on a third. The rule of thirds always helps with a more dynamic placement of solid objects in the landscape.

Foreground, mid-ground, distance: These help create layers in the picture. Picture something close to you as detailed and tail off the detail on the other side of some breakpoint in the image. My little steam in the foreground (above) not only provides detail, but acts to break up the picture into fore and mid-ground too. Nearer the horizon the chimney provides interest drawing in the eye and creating depth.

• Rock backdrop •

• Rock backdrop •
The textures on the sites of ruins are often great for portraits

Detail and texture: Some great things can be found around ruins, derelict buildings, mines and old industrial sites. Think of old spillways, waterways, old machinery, the wonderful textures, rocks, farm animals, heaps of mine spoils, rust, old beams of wood… the list is endless. They all provide great photographic opportunities.

People! ruins and derelict sites make great places for portraits. The textures and variations of the scene both make great backdrops. Look for surfaces that have high contrast. Lots of mid-tone highlights and darks mixed so that the texture stands out. If the light is no good then you can side light with an off-camera flash to exaggerate the texture in the rocks.

Light painting: There are some brilliant opportunities for lighting up these sorts of places fat night with all sorts of exotic lights, colours and fun light painting shots. You can find out more about light painting in this post: Night photography – let the sparks fly!. Be mindful of your safety – some of these places are dangerous and make sure you get any permissions you need before invading a site with bizarre night lights. Someone may object, especially on private ground.


Ruins and the like provide great opportunities for landscapes, portraits, studies in texture and fun shots. Be on the look out for local situations for you to get to know and plan ahead for when you are away.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

A great range of simple resources for landscape photography

Early Morning in Richmond Park - Landscapes cover a wide range of different types of photography

• Early Morning in Richmond Park •
Landscapes cover a wide range of different types of photography

Click image to view large.
• Early Morning in Richmond Park • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

Landscapes provide us with some of the most enduring images.

Yes, and they perhaps present the greatest challenge too. Get it wrong, the scene looks flat and uninteresting. Get it right, the wow factor hits the viewer.

The principles and concepts behind landscapes

When we talk about landscapes we can actually be talking about a wide range of types of photographs – usually taken in the countryside. Of course that is pretty nebulous. But it is sensible to talk about the sort of principles that apply to the construction of a good landscape photograph and then relate them to the picture you are going to take.

I have compiled a list of links below. If you follow through on all these together you get a great introduction to landscape photography…

  1. The Third Most Important Piece of Kit
  2. Seeing the Quality of Light
  3. Easy introduction to ‘visual elements’ in photographs
  4. Simple ‘Principles’ of photographic composition
  5. Don’t Stick the Horizon Line in the Middle!
  6. Rule of Thirds
  7. Landscape loves – do you know why you are photographing this scene?
  8. Ten great tips for photographing landscapes
  9. The easy way to give depth to landscapes
  10. Simple ideas about perspective in photography

More after this…

Mastering landscapes

Like all photography mastering landscapes takes time and learning. It especially needs time. I have on occasion taken many return trips to one location, and, many hours there each time to get the shot I wanted. On the other hand, sometimes it all just comes together. That is both the joy and fun of landscape photography… you never know what you are going to get out of a shoot until you have seen the shots afterwards.

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photographer and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training courses ing digital photography.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

A fun and easy Halloween trick in post-processing

• Little Fire Devils •

• Little Fire Devils •
Creating a translucent layer on strong background to make a ghostly image.
Click image to view large.
• Little Fire Devils • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

Some fun with Halloween pictures.

If you have captured some Halloween partying, or your kids loved their costumes, you can easily create some Halloween fun in post-processing. With a few ideas you can use this technique to create all sorts of ghostly images.

What you need

To do this post processing work you will need two photographs. One will be the character(s) you have photographed, which you will make into ghosts. In the picture above you see the face masks my kids were wearing. If you have more than one photo with multiple characters you can do that too. You will need to add the characters separately. I will show you how below.

The second photograph will need to be the layer you are going to use as a background. I chose to use an old picture of a domestic fireplace fully ablaze. If you want to create a fire background from scratch have a look at: How to take quick and easy photographs of fire.

There is a summary of all the steps at the end of this post. You will be able to see what you have done there. Or, you could refer to it as a way of getting an overview.

Although I will be using Photoshop in this tutorial, you can use other editing applications. I know you can do this in Elements, Paintshop, GIMP and others. Check your editor and see if it has layers and blending options. If it does, you can follow this tutorial.

How you do it

1. Open the background image in Photoshop, or your favourite image editor [Image one].

Opening the RAW image in Photoshop

Opening the RAW image in Photoshop – if your image is a *.jpg it will open directly in the editing window. • Image one

2. You will notice that there is a layer in the layers pallet. Open the layers pallet now if it is not already open (press F7 in Photoshop [Ps]). It is good practice to open a new layer. Make sure the layer is selected, then right click it and select ‘Duplicate Layer’. Now you have a working layer to do the edits in. You also have a copy of the original layer to fall back on. You will not do any work in the original layer. If you make a mistake you can delete all the other layers and start again with the original untouched layer.

3. Using your working layer, now is the time to do any editing on the background should it be needed. I simply cropped the image ready to start working. The idea of any editing is to provide a good backdrop for your characters when they are pasted into the picture [Image two].

The fully open image in the editing window of Photoshop

The fully open image in the editing window of Photoshop. You can see the layers pallet open with one layer (bottom right hand corner). Create another layer to work on so your original will be there as a fall-back • Image two.

4. Next we will work on the characters themselves. Open the image(s) of your characters so you will now have two images open in Ps. You may have more than two if you are using lots of characters.

5. Now you need to cut out the characters. In photoshop this is done using the polygonal lasso tool. You can see where I have used the tool to draw round the character. I have not bothered to be very accurate because the background will fade out of sight in the end picture. If your background is more critical take more care. [Image three]

One of the characters is highlighted with 'marching ants' using the lasso tool.

One of the characters is highlighted with ‘marching ants’ using the lasso tool. Next ‘cut’ the character out and paste it into the background image. • Image three .

6. Now you can cut the face out (edit; cut or control+X). Moving into your background image paste the cut segment into your background image (Edit/Paste).

Once the cut segment is pasted in you can move it onto position.

Once the cut segment is pasted in you can move it onto position. • Image four.

7.You will notice a new layer has appeared in the Layer pallet. Make sure the new layer is selected. Now select the Move tool (press v or click the tool in the tools pallet). By clicking on the pasted character you can slide it around the image to where you want it.

8. You currently have the Move tool open. You will see there is a tool bar showing you the parameters of the open tool [Image four]. Tick in the “Show Transform Tools” box. This gives you the ability to resize the image to make it suitable for the background image [Image five]. You can see the transform lines with corner and mid-line nodes. By holding down the shift button AND pulling/pushing one node you can resize the pasted-in character to your satisfaction. Holding down the shift key keeps the characters side-to-side ratio linked. If you don’t hold the shift key the character will go out of shape. While you are resizing, the tool bar shows accurate measurements of your movements. When you have the size right press the keyboard enter button. The ‘Transform’ controls return to the tool bar. Turn them off now by un-clicking them.

The 'Transform Controls' allow you to resize the image to suit the background.

The ‘Transform Controls’ allow you to resize the image to suit the background. • • Image five .

9. In my image, the rough edges of the character needed to be made slightly translucent to blend them into the background. I selected the Erase Tool (press e or select it from the tool pallet). Then in the toolbar I changed its setting to “20% Opacity”. This means it erases things by 80%, leaving only a remnant of the edges. Then I gently painted around the edges to make them blend into the background as they go translucent.

10. Now I repeated the above process. I cut and pasted with my second character. Then I set it place as well as dimming the edges [Image six].

Now you can repeat the process and cut out other characters you want to include.

Now you can repeat the process and cut out other characters you want to include. The picture shows the first character has gone and the second character has been selected using the lasso tool ready to cut out. • Image six

11. Once the character(s) are pasted and treated so the edges are dimmed [Image seven] we can now do the really fun part!

The characters pasted into the background image, resized and treated on the edges.

The characters pasted into the background image, resized and treated on the edges. I have pasted in two characters. You will notice I now have four layers in the layer pallet (bottom right hand corner). The lowest is the original, untouched layer. The next up is my working background layer. The two above are the characters I have pasted into the edit.
• Image seven.

12. I have used two characters pasted in which created two layers. I now want to merge them so I can treat them as one for the next part. In the layers pallet, I select both layers (select one, hold down shift, select the other). Now right-click in the selected blue of the layers. On the menu select Merge Layers [Image eight].
If you look in the Layers pallet [Image eight] you will now see one layer with both my characters merged. If you have only one pasted-in layer you will not need to do this merging part. Click the image to view it in large size.

The two character layers are selected and then right-clicked for a menu. Merge Layers.

The two character layers are selected and then right-clicked for a menu. Merge Layers. Once the character layers are merged we have only three layers.
Click image to view large.
Merged layers (Netkonnexion on Flickr)External link - opens new tab/page • Image eight.

13. Double-click the layer with your characters and a dialogue will open called “Layer Style”. In the “General Blending” box (middle top) [Image Nine] you will see an ‘opacity’ slider. Move that slider back and forward and the layer will go translucent, showing the background layer from behind. Now you have a ghostly effect! I have selected 77% but you might want more or less [Image ten].

Double click the character layer. A 'Layers Style' box will appear.

Double click the character layer. A ‘Layers Style’ box will appear. Adjust the layer so it has a ghostly translucence.
Click image to view large.
The Layer Style Box (Netkonnexion on Flickr) External link - opens new tab/page • Image nine.

The selection of the right 'opacity' sets the ghostliness of the characters.

The selection of the right ‘opacity’ sets the ghostliness of the characters. I have selected 77% – you might select more or less for your image. • Image ten.
Click image to view large.
Blending opacity = 77% (Netkonnexion on Flickr)External link - opens new tab/page • Image ten

14. Next, I did any a few edits to tidy up the picture ready to save. In my case I just did a little more tidying up of the edges of the characters to remove remaining straight lines I could see. Then did a final crop to size it as I wanted it and saved it [Image eleven].

The final picture ready to save.

The final picture ready to save.
Click image to view large.
The final picture ready to save. (Netkonnexion on Flickr)External link - opens new tab/page

A quick summary
  • In brief you have opened a file as the background.
  • Then you have opened a second file (or more) with a character you want.
  • You have cut out the character.
  • Next you pasted it into the background.
  • You moved and resized the character.
  • You slightly erased edges of the pasted characters to blend into the background.
  • If you need more than one character the cut/paste above is repeated.
  • If you now have more than one character you next merged the layers of characters.
  • The single layer (merged) is now styled to be translucent, slightly showing the layer below for ghostly effect.
  • Finally, you tidied up and saved the file.

These simple steps make it easer to see what has been achieved. As you see it’s not that difficult.

I hope you learnt a lot of ideas for your own blending of layers to make ghostly images.

Photographing the wonder of churches

Churches have a lot to offer the photographer...

Churches have a lot to offer the photographer… magnificence, detail, contrast, art, history and more. Click the image to view large.

Churches are really photogenic places.

They provide a wide range of interesting materials, textures, contrasts and subjects. The architecture is often magnificent and feature rich. They are tidy, well tended and active social centres. Photographers can find a lot of interest and endless ways to express it.

The approach

Not all churches allow photography. Check that you can use a camera and if so under what circumstances. You might be allowed to use a camera, but not flash. Sudden bright lights are disturbing and invasive in a place of peace and worship. All cameras can turn off the flash so check the manual to find out how. Quite often you are not allowed to use tripods either – they might present a trip hazard or block passage. If photography is not allowed this is usually so that you do not disturb worship or block through-ways. Ask the person in charge if there is a time when you could come back and take some shots. Offer them copies of your pictures so they can use them for literature and newsletters. Be polite, accommodating and helpful. If you are willing to work on their terms most people are reasonable in return.

It is equally important to remember you are in a place of worship. Churches are places of emotion and feeling. You should respect the privacy, commitment and activities of the worshippers and other visitors. Be courteous, respectful and deferential, don’t disturb others. This will help you enjoy the peace and atmosphere as much as it will enable people to go about their worship undisturbed.

Churches and places of worship are not state maintained. It is worth remembering that the congregations raise the money for the upkeep of the staff, buildings and equipment. If you are in a church and taking pictures please consider donating a few pounds to the church funds. It helps the church to stay open and keep the buildings in good condition.

A word about lenses

The magnificent proportions of churches and cathedrals is intended to awe people who visit. And it works on me. Even small chapels are more cavernous than the the local houses, a fact not lost on worshippers. To capture these proportions and to convey this same feeling in an image is best done with wide angle lenses or lenses which mimic the human eyes. Broadly speaking a wide angle lens will be 24mm or less on a full frame camera, or 16mm down to about 6mm on cropped sensors or point and shoot cameras. We use wide angle lenses to exaggerate the proportions in the longest dimension of the picture. A wide angle landscape emphasises the broadness of the architecture. A wide angle shot in portrait view will really bring out the height and the magnificence of the cavernous roof spaces, arches and supports.

The shot above was taken with a 50mm lens on a Canon 5D. The 50mm on a full frame camera mimics closely the way the human eye sees. The design of churches and cathedrals is meant to impress and awe the human eye so a 50mm prime lens is ideal to convey that sense to the image. On a cropped sensor the same can be achieved by using an 80mm Lens.

Longer focal length lenses like a 200mm lenses have the tendency to foreshorten the scene. This will cause distances to be less exaggerated. A fact that will make the scene less impressive. Of course careful use of perspective in the composition will help. You can achieve this by placing something close to the camera in the foreground so it appears large compared to the rest of the scene.


Shooting in low light and no flash means long exposures to get sufficient light to make an image. If you are not allowed to use tripods there are alternatives. A Gorillapod, a sort of gripping-tripod can be used on the tops of pews. But don’t try to mount your camera on sculpture or features. Bean bags can be purchased cheaply and used to rest your camera on things.

One way to take photographs in low light is by adjusting your camera for high ISO levels. This will allow you to have shorter exposures for hand-holding your shot. However, this will introduce digital noise. There is a fine balance, so practice beforehand.

You can also open up the aperture to increase the light entering the camera too. Of course this will reduce your depth of field. You will get some nice shots with bokeh in churches. However that will reduce the potential for showing the magnificence of the building since deeper into the scene will be blurred.

Exposures in churches are sometimes difficult. However, longer exposures tend to promote the shadow, contrasts and dimensions that emphasise the wonderful proportions of the church environment. It is therefore worth trying to find ways to keep your camera stable long enough for a great shot.


Often the light in churches and cathedrals is low level. Try to visit at times when there is great light coming into the building. Often a sunset or bright sunlight at a low angle through stained glass will really stand out. These will lift the mood and bring colour to the stonework.

Great light lifts the mood and brings out texture and colour

Great light lifts the mood and brings out texture and colour. Look for sunset times or bright sunlight through stained glass windows.

Great light helps bring out colour, texture and contrasts. Try to avoid high contrast light. Very bright illumination from a window will often make it pure white and everything inside around it very dark. You need to control that. Focus on the window and press the button – you will get the stained glass – everything else will be lost in white or darkness. Focus off the window and shoot and you will lose everything in the brightness from the window. Instead, look to accommodate both bright and dark by focusing on the places where the light falls, rather than its source. That way you get the colours and textures without the brightness.

What to photograph

The astonishing range of things to photograph is great for the photographer. You can exercise a lot of artistic interpretation. The architecture is impressive on the larger scale. On the other hand the the stone-work, detail and carvings are worth following up on the small scale too. There are art works, carvings and textures as well as people and activities. All are worthy of photographic attention.

You have to start somewhere. The outside of the building tells its own story. To tell it properly shoot inside first. You gain a sense of history and find more about the building. While inside look for clues about what is important in the building, the design and the build history. This will help you pick out the best features of the outside later.

I like to sit quietly for a while and take in the view of the inside of a church before shooting. I am looking for the strong lines in the architecture that lead the eye. Tall columns lead the eye upward. Often these lead to buttresses and arches that create a sense of power and support. If you can incorporate this perspective with a long view of the inner space you will convey proportion and depth – the essential magnificence of the church. There are two ways I have found that achieve these layers.

  • A concourse of columns, arches and chambers give the eye a repeating pattern into the depth of the church. In the picture above the columns and arches in a converging pattern down the length of the nave provides a sense of depth and height.
  • Picking out different activity areas provides a clear definition of depth in the church. In the picture above this is shown by the pews in the foreground, the altar area in the mid-ground and the depth of the ceiling into the distance after that.

Individual features of the church make a great study

Individual features of the church make a great study. It is worth taking time and effort to get clear features, textures and detail.

Distinct features of the building also provide great shots. Side chapels, sculptures, carvings tombs, artworks all mark specific areas. While they have an interest value on their own, the context is also important. Often the wonder in a place of worship is the history and commitment invested in it over time. When looking in chapels and side chambers try to show the sense of history and the love that has lead to its character today. Of course each place like this has its own character so you need to bring out meaning of historical events, the people involved and the dedications shown there.

The central feature of most churches and cathedrals is the altar and the space around it. This is where the architecture often comes into its own as a focal point for the eye. So use it. Look for features, lines, supports and other compositional properties that make it impressive. The altar piece itself is often simple. However, it is also a place of colour too. Show it off so that all the best of the features stand out. Try to find ways to catch the light so all the architectural features are well defined by shadow and light contrasts. If they are flat you will lose the power in the artwork.

The altar is a central place, look for the ways the art and architecture bring out its importance

The altar at Winchester Cathedral… The altar is a central place, look for the ways the art and architecture bring out its importance

Other points of interest include the people, candles, floor coverings, tiles, carvings, sculpture, coverings, clocks, bells, exhibitions, books of dedication and remembrance… the list is pretty long. It is easy to just snap at these, especially carvings or artwork. Don’t end up making a record shot unless that is the point. Try to get some sense of awe into your pictures so they tell a story. When you shoot these things put them in context. Show a close-up of a carving. Do it close up and powerful, but show the distance away to the next wall too – invite the eye to be impressed. Or, show features like these as part of the whole, so they fit in but have individual character.

Outside the building the overall design is important. Often getting a shot from some distance away is a good way to show the magnificence of the building, especially if there is a nice contrast in size, shape or design with nearby buildings or features. Again, a wide angle lens will help with this.

Churches are often in urban areas with little space around them. With a shorter view the outside of the building will often look good from close to the walls, looking steeply upward. This will exaggerate the tallness. Make the most of the proportions of the building. Especially follow the lines of the height and depth of the architecture.

If you take a shot further from the walls you will get converging verticals. This will take a lot of time to correct in post processing unless you do it artfully. Try to avoid that. Plan your shot so the camera is level, not pointing upwards. The level angle will minimise the convergence but you may find it difficult to get the whole building into the shot. You can still find great views on most churches. So try to concentrate on great features and lines instead.

Churches and cathedrals are wonderful places of peace and magnificence. I am amazed at the beauty and awesome architecture. In your photography try to show the commitment and love that has gone into creating these great places and what they represent.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.