Now that I finished my photography workshop with the British landscape photographer David Osborn I must say: It was a hard week! On two days we have got up at five in the morning to get to our destination just before sunrise. There we took pictures over the next two or three hours. After that the task was editing the photographs with Photoshop, then in the evening light, out again in the really breath-taking scenes of Wales. David has not spared me! – To remind – I was his only student on the landscape photography workshop – but I have learned a lot from David’s landscape workshop in the Snowdonia National Park, Wales.
David’s photographs give the impression of paintings – and indeed he is working like a painter! The image files out of the camera are just raw material for him; from which he carves out – by means of Photoshop – the final photograph with a lot of precise steps, just like a sculptor out of a block of marble. The biggest mistake you can do, he says, is try to get the image optimization with just a few large steps. Adobe Lightroom functions with sliders and auto-optimizations are a kind of barbarism to David. Instead he uses the mouse like a painter, using his brush with wide and soft strokes to give more vividness to parts of the picture, brightens or darkens areas, elaborates the shadow and highlight definition and so much more. Despite all the detail work you must not lose sight of the whole picture. You should make up your mind preferably at the beginning – or even before taking the photograph – which is the main part, and which are the additional parts of the photograph. How can I guide the view of the spectator, for example, by means of lightening or darkening areas of the photograph?
David’s workshops are very well structured. First, he tries to get an impression about the client’s photographic skills and where are their difficulties or weak areas. The landscape photography workshop starts with taking the photograph of course; that means making up your mind about the images composition, followed by placing your camera on a tripod and deciding if you can get your photograph with one exposure or it needs a bracketed series of exposures, and then taking a photo every time something special happens: e.g. an interesting sky, a sheep in the foreground, sunbeams or spots of light on the scene. But you must be patient: It could take a few hours to gather enough exposures to combine them into the photograph you imagine and want to create afterwards.
After getting back to the cottage we started working with Adobe Photoshop. One of the first surprises for me was the fine resolution I can get out of my camera – a Nikon D 800 with about 36 megapixels. Sharpening techniques are the key – not just in one step but rather in several well combined steps to get a clean result. Certainly, I already knew a lot about the sharpening techniques. There are thousands of tricks – each of them the ultimate one of course! However, in comparison to David’s methods at least, all techniques I know are rubbish! It creates incredible clarity to describe every detail, but David has a very methodical approach to working on photographs with Photoshop. First, he explains every step of his process using an example. Then you do all the learned skills on your own using your own exposures – with David’s support of course. By and by you get used to a lot of very different techniques to enhance and elaborate your photographs with an astonishing result. I’d like to present one of the photographs I had worked on together with David’s help in more detail: taken at Rhaedr Ogwen, Ogwen waterfall, with a view at the Nant Ffrancon valley during a foggy evening. You can see the final photograph above left.
But David does not have any ready-made recipes or ultimate Photoshop tricks in his pocket – just like so many of the photography books promise. Instead David puts all the focus on teaching several techniques for improving the entire photograph or parts of it very precisely and combining these techniques in a clever way. It is important for him to think forward-looking and be able to anticipate the intermediate or final result. To compare it with painting once more: The camera and Photoshop are like the painter’s brushes, paints and canvas – but just using tools; brushes, paints and the canvas does not mean painting like Rembrandt or Picasso! That requires a repertoire of techniques, competence and visionary power. Aesthetic quality David also teaches on the landscape photography workshops.
This kind of methodical working needs time and patience. But it is a good compensation to the popular quick shooting and producing piles of images. Maybe you have only two or three pictures after a week, but they will catch the interest of the viewer for more than a short glimpse. In that way David’s method is a challenge for an ambitious photographer to put more effort and creativity to his photography. The rewards are photographs you can be proud of. A few words about the accommodation and the environment: My wife and I have seen a lot of locations throughout the UK, but we both agree that Snowdonia National Park is the most breath taking one! The rural style cottage in Capel Garmon near Betws-y-Coed is cozy and very comfortable in a really quiet location with spectacular views, just the right environment for creative working. The cottage owners Cathy and Paul are living nearby and are exceedingly friendly and helpful. All in all, David’s landscape photography workshop was an experience for me. Strenuous sometimes, but all enormously instructive and with a long-lasting effect on my future photographic work.