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Fred Adams

This month’s “Top Tip from the Top Photographers,” features a photo called Across to Applecross by London-based photographer Fred Adams.

This photo caught my eye sitting at the top of the landscape category with a score of 99.4.   I then viewed the rest of Fred’s work and he had some really good stuff.  He was kind enough to share a little with us.

Check out the photo below, and then read on to see how he made it and also get Fred’s tip for beginning photographers:


About the Photographer

Fred’s website describes him as “highly versatile,” and that comes across in his diverse photography.

As you might expect from someone based in London, much of his work is urban.  His urban work includes everything from iconic London subjects to urban scenes to detail shots.  However, he also shoots events and will occasionally get out and shoot some landscapes.  And, seemingly just to show an even greater range, some of his work is in color and some in black and white.

No matter what he is shooting, all his work shows great compositional sense and skill in exposure.  He applies those elements to the waterfall photo he calls Across to Applecross.

How He Took This Photo

This photo was taken in the a remote part of Scotland called the Applecross peninsula.  It is about 2 hours west of Inverness, but remote enough that only 238 people live on the entire peninsula.

Fred says he was on a landscape photo trip to Scotland when he happened upon this spot:  “I was driving across the Applecross penisula not knowing what to expect, about to cross the bridge (left of picture). ”

Suddenly, he realized there was a great picture unfolding on his right.  It was early afternoon, “not the optimum time but thankfully just enough cloud cover to soften the light.”  He go out, checked the location, and set up this shot (and a few others).

Fred notes that “given it’s just off the road, am amazed that this hasn’t been done more often.

Getting the Shot

Fred set his ISO to its lowest native setting to eliminate noise, and he his aperture set almost as small as possible to maximize depth of field but avoid diffraction.

From there, Fred added a 9-stop neutral density filter (NDx400) to slow down the shutter speed significantly and create a nice blur to the water.  Importantly, he composed the scene with the camera on the tripod, and then added the filter (once a 9-stop filter is on the camera you cannot see anything through it.)  An interesting side-note is the this is only the second time Fred had ever shot with a neutral density filter on his camera!

Fred also took 3 shots and “bracketed” these 3 exposures by 2-stops.  If you aren’t familiar with bracketing, that means that he set the camera to take three shots, the first one at normal exposure, the second one two stops underexposed, and the third two-stops overexposed.  The pictures would later be combined (and more about that in a second).

In the end, here are the settings he used for this photo:

  • Shutter Speeds: 2.5 seconds, 10 seconds, 30 seconds (bracketed)
  • Aperture: f/18
  • ISO: 100
  • Focal Length: 17 mm

Once back home, Fred combined the three exposures in an HDR program called Photomatix to bring out the best tones of each of the three photos.  He ended by bringing out a little more detail using Nik’s Color FX pro and finally tweaked it a bit in Lightroom.  (If you aren’t familiar with these items of software, check out the 2014 Photographer’s Resource Guide, where each of these is addressed).

The key to this photo though, is its strong composition.  The flowing water creates a nice foreground.  The mountains and sky provide a nice background.  But, importantly, notice how the stream creates a line that draws your eye into the picture and ultimately to the hills.

Top Tip for Those Starting Out

When asked what tip he would give photographers just starting out, Fred says to “always experiment with photography”.  That certainly seems appropriate coming from a guy who made this picture on only his second session with a neutral density filter.  He explains that “I’m certainly no long-exposure expert and this just goes to show what can be achieved with the minimum of experience of a technique.”

With that said, he cautions that “experimentation is great but should not be a substitute for good composition, and the true strength of this picture lies in the composition in my opinion.”

More About Fred Adams

Fred is a freelance photographer based in London.  You can find out more about Fred Adams and be inspired by his photography at his website.  I recommend you check it out.

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