Technical Tips

A collection of technical and inspirational posts from Facebook site Peter Van Rhijn Photography.



Topaz Lab has allowed me to use images which did not make the cut before.

That is why I save all my Raw images and don't delete anything anymore. What is a reject today may be revived later if you learn a new way to edit it.

With the Topaz Lab’s creative edit, this image has gained Impact. It already had a decent composition (A Shape). But now it has additional tasty ingredients: The Unusual and The Mysterious.

In Topaz Lab, Impressions 2, I used the Georgia O’Keeffe ll pre-set. Several other pre-sets did nice things with it as well.

Canon EOS 5D Mark ll, ISO 200, f-14, 1/15 sec. Lens EF70-200mm f/4L USM at 180 mm.

Leading Line

Leading Line

Van Gogh in Georgian Bay.

It was a small and simple world that morning. The call of the loon was muffled by the mist.

The leading line started strongly but quickly faded in the fog.

Simplicity reigned and the eye was happy.

Vincent painted this scene for me. He did not ask what camera I used. He’s still a little odd, but very wise.

Sony @7R, ISO 400, f-13, 1/100sec. Lens: Zeiss, FE 24-70mm F4 ZA OSS

Colour Harmony

Colour Harmony

The original image is a close up of the bark of the Rainbow Eucalyptus tree. It was made along the Road to Hana, on Maui.

It was treated first with Fractalius and later with Topaz. The process altered the colours, reduced much detail and drastically reduced the saturation.

The end result has become an interesting example of Colour Harmony as described in my talk on "The Ingredients." When highly unsaturated colours are combined in an image, they often get along famously, much more than the original saturated colours would. In The Ingredients, this falls under the third type of colour harmony.

The first type is subject colours that repeat in the background, the second type is complementary colours.

This image was scanned from an original 6x7 slide made with Mamiya RZ 67 Pro.

Bunchberry and Leaf Lichen

Bunchberry and Leaf Lichen

What I like about Topaz, so far anyway, is that some images which I previously considered rejects can be revived and rendered in far more exciting ways.

The original of this image lacked something and I could not put my finger on it. The Topaz derivation shown here seems to have helped. It introduced a new ingredient: "The Unusual."

Like Fractalius, Topaz software feels a bit addictive and it is high time I give my new camera a good work out.

Creative Editing

Creative Editing

This may not look like a photograph, but it is. It was a reject actually. This one is done with Topaz Lab. Go to Impressions 2 and select the pre-set Georgia O’Keeffe ll . The pre-set panel can be opened via an arrow at the right top.

Derivations of your images produced with digital plug-in software like Topaz Lab or Fractalius can produce surprising improvements of images which might otherwise be destined for the recycling bin.

It takes a bit of trial and error, time spent sitting on your behind, which is fine during the winter months.

After playing with these for a while, you will develop a sense for the type of images that are most likely to benefit. If you save the Topoz rendering, it ends up back in Photoshop from where further editing is possible.

Urban Variety

Urban Variety

My birthday present to myself yesterday was a few hours shooting city stuff. A little change is always inspiring.

Starting in Toronto’s Graffiti Alley, I gradually wandered into the neighboring back alleys of Chinatown.

Against remnants of graffiti this person had planted some flowers along his garage. They looked like an impressionistic painting!

I have a new toy which was just what the doctor ordered for this: the Topaz Lab creative collection. It can turn your pictures into paintings.

Variety is the spice of life folks!

St George, Bermuda

More on HDR

Here are 2 images - the Amalfi coast in 2008 and St. George, Bermuda in 2012. Both HDR.

The Amalfi coast image was made from two images, bracketed, on tripod. To combine them as an HDR image was an after-thought, a year later. The Bermuda image was a deliberate attempt at an HDR image with five exposures combined in Photoshop. It showed me what HDR could do, and it was definitely an eye opener.

Since then I have tried on a number of occasions to shoot my niche subject - nature - with the HDR approach but so far I have been disappointed. That’s not to say I will give up, but my initial enthusiasm has cooled.

The next cameras I will own will likely have built-in HDR features, making it easier to experiment.

In my talks about “The Ingredients,” I have pointed out that accent lighting is one of a number of tasty ingredients that can help spice up gourmet images. The HDR approach, if we think about it, tries to do the exact opposite: it would remove accent light. This also points to the need for caution with HDR in nature photography where accent light often is our greatest ally.

Positano, Amalfi Coast, Italy

More on HDR

See above post.

Do we need HDR?

Do we need HDR?

HDR = High Dynamic Range Photography

Newer camera models have built-in contrast-reducing capabilities. HDR is the buzz word. It helps to reduce excessive contrast which has been a long-standing problem both in film and digital photography.

This image was processed the old fashioned way, by bracketing exposures, picking an image that was just starting to lose some detail in the sky and recovering them in PS’s Camera Raw. The rest of the image was selected in PS with the rapid selection tool and brightened.

I have found HDR helpful in city images. In nature, especially with trees, foliage etc, it has been problematic. The latitude built-in with Raw images is sufficient in 99% of the time to get a decent image.

I will try some more once I get my next camera which will probably have HDR built-in. But I’m not holding my breath. Buildings can hold their breath, nature doesn’t.

Sony ILCE 7R, ISO 200, 1/250thsec., F22, Zeiss FE 24-70mm F4 : at 29 mm.



There are occasional situations when creating an artificial vignette effect can help an image. This was the case with this image and it may be more common in similar situations which can be lumped together as “intimate landscapes”. These are typically small scale landscapes. The kind Elliot Porter pioneered.

A vignette should be subtle. It is a bit strong in this image for demo purposes. It may help to draw the attention to the center of an image where the action is and make it harder for the eye to accidentally ‘wander off’.

There is a quick way to do this in PS CS-5. In the ‘Layer’ panel: choose ‘Duplicate Layer’. In the Filter panel choose ‘Lens Corrections’. Once this window opens choose at the top ‘Custom’. Then adjust the sliders for the amount and radius of darkening as seems appropriate. Then click OK. Then go to the Layers panel and flatten the image. Naturally you don’t want to do this if you have no original or RAW copy of this image saved. If your camera model is not embedded in Photoshop, it may take a bit longer for the image to load, so be patient.

This was a shot taken in Georgian Bay. It shows the white pine during the time its pollen float on the water surface like green (but healthy!) scum.

Sony ILCE 7R with 24-70 Zeiss Vario Tessar at f20, ISO 400, 1/15th sec.

Poison Wood

Poison Wood

In Andros, my guide warned me about Poison Wood.

Poison Wood trees seemed very common and during the week I was exploring the bush, I bumped into it numerous times with no ill effects. It is possible that the sap from this tree is worse than merely brushing into it, just like our Poison Ivy requires more than light touch to release its toxic resin.

This abstract pic is a sample of it. The bright leading line creates a trail through the image space with small interruptions that create a bit of tension, which I like. The eye has to jump little gaps. A leading line that is too perfect can be dull.

This image is a mix of original (95%) and a fractalius derivation (5%).

Canon EOS 5D, ISO 200, f32; 1/4 sec, Lens: EF100mm f/2.8L Macro, Tripod, Mirror locked up to prevent mirror shake at this slow shutter speed.

Giant Airplant

Giant Airplant

This is the Giant Airplant or ‘Tillandsia Fasciculata’. An epiphytic bromeliad.

I found this plant around the inland Blue Holes of South Andros Island in the Bahamas. The most common habitat for Bromeliads, generally, is in the highlands of the Andes and in the cloud forests of South and Central America.

I had a job photographing this 20cm blossom because most flowers were almost on the ground with bright and sharp spikes of limestone surrounding them. I waited until late in the day and then used selective lighting to separate this one from its busy background.

In Photoshop I also added a mild vignette to further reduce distractions.

Canon EOS 5D Mark ll ; Lens: Canon EF100mm f/2.8L Macro. ISO 50, f9.0, 1/12th sec, mirror locked up,

I used a 1000 Lumen Fenix spotlight mounted on mini tripod at approx. 5 ft. to the subject.

The Ripples of Andros

The Ripples of Andros

I visited South Andros Island (Bahamas) twice this year: once in winter and once in spring.

Both times the beaches were totally deserted - except for some yappy dogs - and they were in their natural state with plenty of small tidal lagoons and sand spits exposed at low tide. Endless stuff to have fun with.

Here is a shot during ‘magic light’.

“Was this my favourite image ever? No, that’s the one I’m going to take tomorrow”. (Wise words from a Mr. Imogen Cunningham.)

Strongest ingredient: interesting lighting.

Sony ILCE 7R mirrorless camera. ISO 160, F22, 1/80th of a sec. Tripod used, 24-70 Zeiss Vario Tessar lens at 24 mm.

On the Rocks

On the Rocks

Life on the rocks of Georgian Bay is rough. But rewarding.

Coming home from our last trip, David Clow and I were battered, bruised, bitten and burned.

This pic reassured me it was all worth the trouble.

Ingredients: Simplicity, the Unusual, the Mysterious, a nice composition with an accent in the right upper strong point, pleasing colour combination.

For this image I had my Sony ILCE-7R sitting on the rocks on the edge of a small puddle. We had lots of rain, so plenty of puddles to choose from. The clouds reflected and mixed with the reddish rock in the puddle. This image required low-angle viewing capability conveniently offered by the fold-out LED screen of this camera. I focused manually on the far ridge of rock. Autofocus might have become confused by the softness of the reflection in the foreground.

Focus stacking would be a great way to improve images taken this way. The challenge is to find a simple way to steady the camera, when it needs to be an inch above the water level. Working on it…

Sony ILCE 7R, Zeiss 24-70 mm zoom at f 22 ; 1/125thsec., ISO 400. No tripod.

Simplicity in Georgian Bay.jpg

Simplicity in Georgian Bay

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” (Leonardo Da Vinci)

What’s important for photographers is that simplicity can provide a very clear path for the eye to follow.

As such, it is the cornerstone of Visual Order.

This image contains at least two other tasty ingredients: good placement of the line of rocks and combination of two complementary colours. It also has a calming emotional effect.

Sony ILCE-7R, ISO 80, F22, 1/60th sec, Zeiss Vario-Tessar 24-70 mm zoom lens, tripod.

Philip Edward Island White Pine

Philip Edward Island White Pine

The wind-blown white pine is iconic for the Canadian landscape. It is the Provincial Tree of Ontario. Wind-blown white pines are depicted in many Group of Seven paintings and in images by landscape photographers like Bud Watson.

The white pine is potentially the tallest tree in eastern North America. Its logs have been used for numerous purposes including masts for the British Royal Navy.

In recent years a lot of white pines along the Georgian Bay coast have been toppled by storms. After the last ice age, much of the topsoil along the coast had disappeared, scraped off the hard granite by the glaciers. Once the tree grows too tall, it ends up getting blown over.

Before they are blown over these trees often take on a very characteristic windblown appearance which can be very appealing visually.

In this image, lines seem to emanate from the left lower strong point into all directions. An unusual but welcome form of visual order. The wide angle view reinforces this composition.

Canon 5D Mark ll, 1/400th sec, F20, 17-40 Zoom at 17 mm. Tripod. ISO 200.

Growing On Me

Growing On Me

My guide Barbara showed me the blue holes of Andros Island in the Bahamas.

Besides this blue hole, deep in the jungle, was a cave, featuring razor sharp spiky limestone and cute little bats. Like a sentinel at the cave’s entrance there was this huge gnarly root of an ancient horse-flesh tree.

To better feel the root’s vibe I asked Barbara to leave me alone with it for a while, which – reluctantly - she did. She was quite worried about me. This is the image I ended up taking.

Over the weeks, the more I look at this image, the more I like it.

This root, pardon the pun, is growing on me. There is a nice left-to-right leading line and the piles of leaves magically occupy the strong points.

Sony @7R, 24-70 mm Zeiss Vario-Tessar, at ISO 50, f22, 0.3 sec exposure. Tripod. Electronic viewfinder: therefore no mirror-shake to worry about.

Fake News Sandstorm

Fake News Sandstorm

On the Andros Island beach the weather was actually calm, the wind had died down after a week of very stormy weather.

The sandstorm before your eyes is fake. It was a very quiet morning and there was hardly any wave action.

In this time of fake news we can’t blindly trust what we read, nor can we blindly trust the images we see. But you’ve suspected this for a long while.

Sand storms are very hard on camera equipment so it’s safer to create sandstorms digitally. The good news folks - believe me - will tell you what’s fake and what’s real.

This effect was achieved by applying a fractalius digital filter. These filters can be ‘dialed in’ from 100% down to 1%. The best effect varies from image to image. Here this filter applied at about 10%.

Firedancer 2

Fire Dancer from Afar

See blog entry immediately below.

Firedancer 1

Fire Dancer

Here's my ‘Fire Dancer’. He was carved in the stone of the Canadian Shield thousands of years ago. His birth had more to do with an ice age rather than with fire.

My previous post, ‘The Alien’, was an image taken in the same location, a few meters away, on top of the rock where this image was made.

Both are 100% Fractalius derivations but the exact settings of the Fractalius software are unrecorded.

The image above reveals the location on the rock (ciricled) where the ‘Firedancer’ was captured, shot about an hour earlier. I took that image to show the scale and the typical pattern of the glacier action on the rocks here in relation to a reference object: my kayak. The kayak is a Klepper which has proven to be the ideal vessel for photo shoots of several weeks in pretty wild places like this.

The Alien

The Alien

The rocks of Phillip Edward Island (Georgian Bay) are a popular hang out for aliens.

You may think this is fake news again, but here is the evidence. You can’t argue with this.

There have been of course quite a few other intriguing apparitions and over the years I have shown you several…there was the petrified fire dancer, various birds and dogs, and a frisky couple between the blankets. May be I’ll post the fire dancer again next week. He’s a hottie.

As you can see my head has moved from Andros to Georgian Bay where my next trip will take me if it ever stops raining.

The Alien was shot with Canon EOS Mark ll, at f20, Lens: EF17-40mm f/4L USM. Model release on file.

Champagne Pool 1

The Thermal Wonderland at Wai-O-Tapu near Rotarua NZ

The North Island of New Zealand is, to a large extent, situated on top of a super volcano, the size and the threat of which is similar to Yellowstone. As a result there are many similar features such as bubbling mud, geysers, and thermal pools, some with striking colours.

Besides this, there are many fumaroles releasing hydrogen sulfide and there are several good-size volcanoes, such as Mount Taranaki, Mount Tongariro and Mount Doom.

The vibrant orange in this image is due to the minerals antimony and arsenic. The colour is not enhanced in Photoshop. The Ingredients that help this image are the clear leading line, the high impact colour and the very unusual nature of the subject matter.

Camera on tripod; Sony @7R with Zeiss Vario-Tessar 24-70 mm zoom. At f22.

Tree Bark Enhanced

"Necessity is the mother of invention" Plato

In some winters there is a shortage of subject matter. This Toronto winter hasn’t given us any significant winter scenery. One way to deal with “subject drought” is to: try new creative approaches, way outside the old box.

This may not be as productive but we stay sharp and we prevent the shutter from rusting. We may actually invent something new, something we might not notice when things are green and in bloom.

Tree bark? Sure, why not. This image was made in Lambton Woods, Toronto.

Camera: Sony ILCE-7R, f22, 0.3 sec, 200 ISO, tripod.

In post-production the image was first flipped vertically, then horizontally. The dominant green discolouration now led from left bottom towards right top. Then the saturation was increased across the board by 15. Then a Fractalius 2 filter was applied, pre-set: ‘Lines’ 1, then this was reduced to 10 % of the final image. Finally the image was sharpened.

Grasses in Lake Kejimkujik

Blue Mind

Here is a relaxing image … of water.

The grasses take the eye and gently show it around the water.

Human beings have a deep emotional connection with water. “Being at the water’s edge, looking at water, makes us healthier, happier, reduces stress and brings us peace.”

It is probably not the grasses that are important in this image. It’s the calming water. It is nourishing our minds and bodies on the Pale Blue Dot.

Mamiya RZ 67, 50 mm at f16

(Quotes from ‘Blue Mind’ by Walter J. Nichols)

I love beaches!

I love beaches!

I love beaches. I grew up on the beach. Big wide Dutch beach.

So I still love playing with sand. But with camera.

Here is another abstract from Andros’ beach, Bahamas.

Every day, at low tide, I’d head out with camera on tripod, aperture at f22 and exposure compensation at minus 1 stop. (For close-ups of backlit ripples mainly)

The Andros beach had many flat areas where water would stand and very slowly drain away during low tide. This created an endless variety of sand ripples to play with… arranged in every imaginable way.

Life’s a rippled beach. With ups and downs.

Sea Shell

Beach Blooper?

A pic of Andros’ Beach on a rainy day with the previous day’s camera setting: ‘Daylight’. Big mistake…

I was not quite awake that morning.

I conformed to the rules and changed to the ‘Cloudy’ camera setting.

Reviewing my stuff later I realised I liked this image more than any of the later images with yellow sand. The colour of the sand in this shot was in harmony with the nice colours of the sea shell. (Ingredients!) Somehow the yellow sand on a rainy day (the later images that day) looked wrong.

And there lies the problem: on a rainy day the beach just has a different colour… live and learn…

Rope Pattern

Andros Beach

This bit of beach at Andros Island was different. Something about the pattern of ripples was appealing but I cannot explain why.

I could not get myself to sign inside the image, fearing it might disturb the natural chaos.

Sony ILCE 7R ISO 200, f-22, 1/50 sec. (On tripod)

Beach Impression

Andros Island

We were on Andros Island (Bahamas) and stayed with Jesse and Chelsea Leopold, our hosts at Andros Beach Club.

Andros is a photographer’s paradise. The beach in front of the resort was an infinite source of inspiration at low tide.

We sailed, paddled our kayak, did some scuba, and snorkeled around blue holes. We explored the inland paradise on foot and already plan a return trip to see the countless air plants: the bromeliads and orchids bloom in a couple of months.

Here is your ‘amuse bouche’: the beach, close to sunset. Sony ILCE 7R, ISO 100, F-22, at 1/15th sec.