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July 15, 2013

Free Web Sharpening Action

There can be many good and bad things said for photography’s great migration to the Internet, but no matter what you say, that migration has happened. Getting your images to look their very best on the Internet has become as crucial as the ability to print was in the old days. Luckily, as with everything else in the digital era, preparing an image for web presentation is much simpler than film printing.

I can’t claim that any of the knowledge I have on web sharpening is mine as I learnt all of it from other people’s tutorials. It does make it easier to be able to cross-reference everyone’s techniques, take the best from each and put it together. I wrote a set of actions about 2.5 years ago and haven’t updated my knowledge or techniques since. Over the past week I took it upon myself to look at what’s new and what I’ve been missing. I was very relieved to see that I haven’t missed anything, but there are one or two things I have now been able to improve.

Everyone still uses the same basic formula with minor differences. That formula is to resize the image 3 times, using a factor of 1.66x. Why 1.66x specifically works so well is anyone’s guess…whether Fibonacci or chance or flying beavers, it works.

Choose the resolution you want and multiply it twice by 1.66. If you want your final image to be 1000px, then the second resize should be to 1666px and the first resize to 2775px. Apply a select amount of sharpening on a duplicated layer at each stage and refine it at the end. At this stage some people do something to minimize halos, compensate for lost saturation or add slight highlight diffusion. Either way it’s not that complicated, even if you’re a Photoshop beginner. If you do it step by step a few times you’ll quickly be able to program actions that resize to a resolution of your preference and add a touch of your own.

Here’s exactly what my action does.


  • It resizes using File>Automate>fit image instead of image size because fit image works on both portrait and landscape images. You just enter the same size in both fields and it will resize the image’s longest side to that. For a 1000px image that first size would be 2775px.
  • Duplicate the original layer
  • Apply an unsharp mask of 200%, 0,3px, 0 threshold.
  • Fade the unsharp mask to minimize halos. Edit>Fade Unsharp Mask, set the mode to luminosity, zoom in to a contrast edge at 100% and play with the slider until your happy. The image should still be sharp. 50-70% works well.
  • Fit image to 1666px
  • Duplicate the sharpened layer
  • Apply an unsharp mask of 200%, 0,3px, 0 threshold.
  • Fade the unsharp mask to minimize halos. Edit>Fade Unsharp Mask, set the mode to luminosity, zoom in to a contrast edge at 100% and play with the slider until your happy. The image should still be sharp. 50-70% works well.
  • Fit image to your final size, in this case 1000px
  • Merge the top two layers (You should still have your background layer below it)
  • Set the layer blending mode of the top layer to luminosity
  • Apply an unsharp mask of 200%, 0,3px, 0 threshold.
  • Apply Fade Unsharp Mask one last time, again luminosity mode. This time its crucial that you watch the sharpness at 100% when adjusting the slider. The imge may only be a tad oversharpened.

That’s the end of the sharpening. Now all that’s added is a bit of highlight diffusion. I desaturate the cyans and blues by -10 because blues always end up oversaturated in my opinion. Then I add vibrance of 25 to compensate for the bit of color lost in all the sharpening.

  • Get the light lights selection (CTRL/CMD+click on RGB channel>CTRL/CMD+ALT+SHIFT+CLICK on RGB channel)
  • Duplicate a layer of the selection (CTRL+J/CMD+J)
  • Apply Gaussian blur of 3px
  • Set the layer blending mode of that layer to soft light
  • Add an adjustment layer and boost vibrance by 25

That’s it, now you just fine-tune the amount of each layer to your satisfaction and you’re done. If you want to make an action of a custom size, all you have to do is the following.

  • Duplicate the action of the closest size by clicking the drop down tab on the top right corner of the actions palette and selecting duplicate
  • Rename it to your new size.
  • Open the command structure of the action by clicking the little play button to the left of the text
  • Look for the lowest fit image command
  • Double click it and enter the size you want

I’m not going to post a million samples here of how sharp it makes it, download the action and use it on your own images. Feedback/critique is welcome!



Download Action on CapturEarth

July 10, 2013

Six Months Six Images


One of the most difficult bridges that photographers have to cross is the one between passion and profession. Crossing isn’t quite the right word for it. I think a more apt description would be that you are never fully on just one side. As financial pressures mount (most of the time) you find yourself more on the profession side of the bridge. You produce what the market wants and you put your own dreams on hold for the sake of money. When there’s more money and time then you give a bit of your soul back to the other side and just when you’re about to have a creative breakthrough it is sucked back by a tornado of money driven ambition.


So the bit of you on the passionate side has to make do with what resources and opportunity are available. Amazing light on workshops, the odd few days in the year that you can escape the admin or a trip that you earned with blood, sweat and tears. When you do finally do these things and achieve these goals, your brain seldom has the time to realize that you just achieved a dream from two years ago. Ambition and impatience are best friends and the less results you see, the harder you work. I always find myself reminding myself that things take time and that I need to be more patient and give myself recognition for what I have achieved. If I don’t do this I end up hitting a low and feeling like I’m getting nowhere. So perhaps this blog post could just have been an argument with myself to show me that I have taken a few good photographs over the past 6 months.


It’s certainly difficult choosing, but here are 6 of my most sentimental photographs from the past 6 months. I say sentimental because a photo might be my favorite because it’s very popular, but that might be the only meaning it has to me. Sentimental photos are images that tell a story to me about achieving a creative vision or a goal. Not about satisfying market demand and earning money.


Crystal Clear Canyon


I’ve visited Blyde River Canyon 5 times over the past 5 years. That may not sound like much, but keep in mind that it is 1800km from home. It is one of South Africa’s most iconic landscapes and no matter what you have to say about it, it’s an amazing landscape.


If you want to photograph iconic locations then you better make damn sure that you do it better than everyone else, because you didn’t discover it and there’s usually no more space for originality in composition.  Over the years the Canyon really screwed me with weather. It was always hazy and it took all those failed visits to realize what the ideal time is to visit. This year I finally visited in that time to host a workshop there. We had two amazing mornings in a row and I got more than just one image that I will be content with for a long time.


Crystal Clear Canyon

Magoebaskloof in Flood


I know that 90% of the people who read my blog posts know my Magoebaskloof story. Searched the country for forests, got Malaria and tick fever, found amazing indigenous forests in Magoebaskloof, bla bla bla. I may have found the forests last year, but what is a forest photo without a fairytale-like stream flowing through it? I first visited Magoebas last year in May, which is the dry season. There was barely a stream and I never got anything close to a stream flowing through a forest.


On the same workshop that I got the Blyde shot, we had monster thunderstorm move over the escarpment on the last afternoon. The workshop participants were comfortable shooting on their own and I could wander off to a spot I had scouted earlier. The river was pumping with brown mud-washed water and the mist was thick below the canopy. I finally got a shot that I can happily hold next to a Columbia River Gorge shot by one of America’s talented scapers.


Magoebaskloof in Flood

Autumn in the Free State


The Free State is one of South Africa’s provinces that have been eluding me big time. I have one great shot of Golden Gate, but I’ve never been a big fan of Golden Gate NP. The frank truth is there isn’t that much in the Free State that makes for great landscape photos.


For a great landscape photo you usually need a great landscape paired with great weather. Every now and then you’ll have a 3/10 landscape and 15/10 weather and the result is amazing. Exactly that happened on a trip to the Parys area and I got a shot of amazing low-lying mist over the Vaal River with a softly diffused sun on the horizon. I’m not quite sure what’s so special about this shot. It puts a Free State cracker in my portfolio and its nothing like anything else I have. For me it stands out amongst the rest.


Autumn in the Freestate

Hole in the Wall


I have three reasons for putting a Hole in the Wall image on the list. It’s not so much the specific image, but the visit as a whole.


The first thing is that just like Blyde River Canyon, HITW is damn far away from home and all my previous visits had been fruitless. This year I was there for three weeks and the weather played along very well. I have HITW images to feed the publishers for a good few years to come.


When I started photography the slightest heights made me dizzy. Many hikes and encouraging words from friends have helped my fear of heights a lot. While at HITW I climbed a cliff that I previously thought was not climbable, the weather played along and I plucked the fruits of years of small progress.


It’s obvious that if you ask any professional photographer if he/she enjoys teaching others they’ll falsely tell you that they do. It’s not necessarily that its not fun, its just that I’d rather be shooting by myself. I hit a turning point in this attitude on my Hole in the Wall workshops this year. It’s a great location, I had amazing groups of people and for the first time ever I really enjoyed teaching. If I look at the images that is what it reminds me of. I had an amazing time while teaching others, getting great photos and making a living. It made me appreciate my job.


Hole in the Wall

Proper Alpenglow


South Africa may have amazing diversity, but it lacks scale in many areas. You can argue as you wish for the Drakensberg, but it just doesn’t give the peaks of Patagonia a run for its money. South Africa’s biggest lack is definitely proper snow-capped mountains and that amazing red Alpenglow that goes with it in the right circumstances.


Seeing that blood-red glow on the peaks of Torres del Paine more than an hour before sunrise was a moment of accomplishment for me. About two years ago I decided that I want to work towards visiting one of earth’s best mountain landscapes. I decided on Patagonia and I saved and worked my ass off to earn the time and money to go. While shooting that sunrise I was not only excited for the extra bit of exposure that image would give me, but it made me look back at the road that got me there.


Patagonian Alpenglow

Keeping it Natural


When I criticize people that process excessively I always ask myself if I would have gotten where I am today without photoshop. The scary thing is that the answer is often no. Many of my best photos are dependent on digital blending, but I have to argue in my favor that if photoshop didn’t exist I’d use my filters a lot more. Every now and then nature gives you a little gift in the form of unbelievable natural light that you can capture in a single exposure. Those images make me feel liberated from Photoshop.


This is one of those images, just a touch of saturation and contrast from the RAW file.

Natural Light


The next six months may not be as productive behind the camera, but I hope they will be behind the computer. Long hours behind the computer are what make trips to places like Patagonia possible.

July 9, 2013

Sossusvlei E-Guide

For some reason it slipped my mind that I should mention my new business venture on my own blog.

I’ve started a new company in partnership with a fellow landscape photographer to consolidate everything workshop-related under a new brand. That is also why I haven’t posted new workshops over the past 6 months. I can say a lot here, but it would be a lot easier to just go and check it out for yourself! I give you CapturEarth

There was great demand and many follow-up requests for my Guide to Namibia blog posts that I had about 18 months ago. I had to take them down because an over-charging Namibian lodge owner wasn’t open to opinions. The Namib Rand one is still to come, but the Sossusvlei E-guide is complete. It costs $10 and has much more information and images than the blog post had. It’s available for purchase on the CapturEarth website.

I’m very open to critique and advice so if you purchase it I would be happy to listen to your opinion on it.








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