About this Blog

Photo Writing is the web version of the Photo Writing mini-magazine produced by Limephoto and Emil von Maltitz since 2010. As of 2015 it is now completely online. Feel free to browse through the articles and please leave comments in the comments section if you would like to engage with us.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Transkei Trundling

Last week was a fairly eventful week as I made my way down the Transkei to photograph our friends' wedding in Cape Town (Noordhoek to be exact). The plan was to spend a few days driving down and sussing sites out for photo shoots and meet my family in Cape Town the say before the wedding (I'll be blogging about the chaos that is a Jewish wedding shortly ;) ).

Ah, but the plans that we make. In my case plans were somewhat thwarted due to rain, a rapidly braking and skidding bakkie in front of me and a poorly positioned, slightly panicked and now, sadly, deceased donkey. So that marked tickets for the right hand side of our small car.

Not to be outdone, Cape Town had it's own offerings. While travelling in on the N2 the driver in front saw an accident up ahead and slammed on anchors. Following suite I came to halt behind him, only to be rammed along the left hand side by the driver behind. Wonderful. What a Christmas present! (I guess to be grateful I wasn't hurt in either of the accidents).

On to more important things such as Photography though. The entire length of the N2 is well worth a consideration in terms of landscape material. The Transkei is admittedly very rural with pockets of extremely eroded soil. The heavy December rain does no favours for these eroded channels, sending torrents of red-brown mud flowing down the rivers. Nevertheless the rain also means that the usual grey and yellow brown are replaced by vivid greens against dramatic clouds that seem to build up like giant rugged castles in the sky.

The rolling rural hills are soon replaced by the massive stone steps that mark the beginning of the Garden Route. Tsitzikamma Forest is worth a visit just for the massive boulders and tortured rock that looks as if it is in a perpetual battle with the crashing waves. In a way, the Garden Route was almost a disappointment after Storm's River and the Tsitzikamma. The Garden Route is beautiful, but it doesn't have the same rugged and raw nature as the former.

I'll be posting within the next few days on weddings as well as a more in-depth look at the the book that I have been working on. Theoretically I have just delivered the final proof to the printers, so I feel that I can now start writing about the experiences of my first book...pointing out some of the pitfalls for the first time photographic author.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Late Group - December Drakensberg Workshop

Ah the joys of summer. The Drakensberg lights up green and the rivers are swollen with icy water. It has to be one of my favourite times of year to visit these majestic mountains. The one downside if you are a photographer is the really early morning rises if you want to catch the sun as it crests the horizon. Our first day in Royal Natal was at least a realtively late start of 4:20am (“Late! Are you mad?” was some of the responses of the photograhers). Sunday morning however, required the ungodly wake-up time of 3am so that we could start walking from the Sentinal car park before 4am.

It’s all worth it though when you are standing knee-deep in freezing water and the magical light is hitting the side of the Amphitheatre, or you are looking out over a glowing sea of clouds and the sun peaks out over slams the mountain side with golden light. These are the moments when it feels good to be alive, great to be a photographer.
An interesting comment that Susan Sontag makes in her ‘On Photography’ is that people with cameras tend to chase pictures to give a sense of reality, of verasitude, to the experience. It’s almost as if we can’t can’t appreciate the moment unless we take a photograph, keep a reminder or a keepsake of the moment. By taking the photograph we are making the experience real in some way. It’s almost as if there were no photograph then the experience never really happened. I find this a fairly depressing comment, albeit accurate in a large percent of photographs taken. However, I offer a rejoinder.

Although I agree with Sontag’s commentary that the photo safari has replaced the hunting safari where images of animals and places have replaced the dead trophies of deceased animals, I feel that there is possibly something more than simply the desire to make the experience more ‘real’. Does the painter paint a scene merely to remember, or to make the experience any more tangible? I’m guessing not. The painter creates a media through which an emotion is conveyed. I would argue that the photographer who crafts an image does much the same thing. 

At any rate creating imagery was what was on the cards this last weekend as the photographers grappled with light. The weather was beautiful – enough clouds and drama without any discomfort, a seeming rarity on my workshops these days. A real treat was being able to be above the clouds on the sunrise of the third day, and yet still have those clouds break up sufficiently to be able to see the Tugela Valley far below when standing on the Escarpment edge.  

Thanks to Alison, William, Shalini, Danielle, Katrina, Robyn, Julie and Annea for a gross (Annea is dutch and likes the word ‘gross’, using it as a rather confusing substitute for ‘awesome’) weekend. Ah what would we do without William the walrus and his poetic witticisms? 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Photo Writing

As of this month I'll be posting my monthly newsletter on a separate page of this blog. It'll refresh once a month. If you would like to receive a personal copy via email you can register for updates on the Limephoto home page.

Monday, November 22, 2010


It was with something of a heavy heart that I ran the last of the St Lucia Photography workshops for African Impact last week. This was the last time (theoretically) that the photography project will take place in St Lucia and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. As of January next year the Photography workshop and project will find a new home in Thanda Private Game Reserve. I’ll still be there though, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t miss St Lucia and the friends that I have made there over the past two and a half years. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Basic Flash Workshop

I will be holding a workshop in Hillcrest covering on and off camera flash using dedicated hot-shoe flashguns on the 27th November. The workshop starts at 16:00 in the afternoon and will finish around 19:00 in the evening. This is a hands-on seminar and workshop to help flash users get to grips with their equipment. For more information and to book a place - the workshop group is limited to 10 people - please get hold of me.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Check that Histo! (November Drakensberg workshop)

A rousing chorus that emerged almost every time somebody raised the camera to their eye. "Check that histo!" would be yelled with enthusiasm by all. Chimping aside, there was plenty to photograph over this last weekend's photography workshop where I was joined by what became affectionately known as the 'poo crew'. 

Monday, November 1, 2010

October St Lucia Workshop

 Last week's blog post is somewhat delayed due to a rather frenetic week of writing and teaching. It's incredible to think November has already rolled round. Yikes, where did the year go to.

the week before last I had a fantastic and large group of students in St Lucia. Ten of them in fact. The largest group I'm prepared to take on this kind of workshop. 4 days of living, breathing and eating photography can be absolutely exhausting for a workshop goer, but the results always speak for themselves.

On the first evening we had fun chasing storm light down at the mouth of the St Lucia Estuary (can you call it a mouth when it hasn't been open to the sea in years?). The trick was catching the bursts of lightening when the ambient light was still too high for sufficiently long shutter speeds. Sean (http://seantilden.wordpress.com/), a fellow photog working at African Impact was just squeezing off image after image and managed to get some decent lighting as a result. I was attempting some sort of pattern (really?!?!? madness) and managed a couple of bursts.

Considering the rain that has finally fallen int he area we were actually incredibly lucky to have some decent weather to shoot in. Good stormy clouds without the actual camera drenching floods that follow. I'm looking forward to a weekend workshop in the Berg now with most of the same group of students. Hopefully we'll be lucky enough to have a repeat of the weather performance of the St Lucia Workshop.

Of course as the end of the year rolls ever nearer, so too does the final Landscape Workshop of the Year. If anyone is interested in attending be sure to contact me or Kate Nelson at Wild Mountain Adventures to secure a booking (wildmountain@polka.co.za).

Monday, October 25, 2010

Windland Smith Rice Awards 2010

The big news for me as a photographer last week was the announcement of the
Windland Rice Smith winners and commended photographers for 2010. The above image was selected as a highly commended in the Small World Wonders Category. I feel truly honoured to be counted amongst some of the incredible photographers that are included amongst this year's names. The exhibition will be held in the Smithsonian between the end of April through to September 2011.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Of Layouts and Weddings (Photos to follow shortly)

It’s been a relatively hectic past few weeks, hence the dearth of blog updates. Not so much because I’ve been out shooting, but rather the opposite – that I’ve been locked in front of a computer with my eyes going blocky. The unromantic aspect of photography as a career is the downtime in front of a computer…and it is a lot of downtime.

            For a start there are the interminable hours spent post-processing. I firmly agree with Alain Briot when he writes that a good photographer must take interest into eh image to the very final creative steps that out of necessity require good informed post production of fine art imagery. Herein lies the problem. It is not possible, nor necessary I suppose, for every image to require the same amount of attention to detail as a fine art print does. I’m a little bit of a perfectionist though so end up spending far too much time doing the little tweaks and twitches that images require.
            That’s the one side of the coin though. The other is that some projects require extended time in front of the computer as is the current case. The project mentioned in earlier posts is taking shape gradually on my screen. There’s lots of telephone calls with the client, the printer, then back again to the client to renew the whole process. Then there’s post-production, writing and the rough layout. Eventually I’ll get to the page by page layout, but I’m still a couple of weeks from that I suppose.
            So it came as a sort of respite over the weekend to photograph the wedding of two friends in St Lucia, Freya and Nick now both sporting the surname van de Wiel. Trust the Dutch to do it in frenetic and prolonged activity. The events kicked off early in the morning with myself tailing the groom, Nick, while my wife followed the bride, Freya for the day. An hour long drive through iSimangaliso Wetland Park and a ceremony on the sunny beach was the starters for the day. The bride and bridemaids arrived on horseback over the dunes (very romantic) while the groom looked both nervous and relieved at the same time.
            A beach brunch was followed by a return trip straight to the estuary at St Lucia so that all the guests could board a boat for a tour up the estuary. Hippos and Crocs make for interesting viewing after a wedding. Definitely a first for me. Thereafter the guests were bundled off to the reception venue in the Crocodile Sanctuary outside St Lucia. Of course this was followed by a post-reception reception in St Lucia. All in all the wedding effectively lasted from 8 in the morning through to midnight (and beyond for some). Definitely the longest wedding my wife and I have ever photographed and certainly one of the most memorable.
            So for the rest of the week I’ll be in St Lucia running the monthly workshop. St L has just come out of a shocking drought so everyone is talking about having water in the taps once more. The park looks dry but there’s a flush in the grass and trees that says the water has arrived. Being the season I’m expecting a wet week ahead! Bad weather makes for great images as I always say!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Wet and Windy September Berg Workshop

One of the greatest pleasures of my job is the opportunity to return to the Drakensberg for just about every month of the year. This allows a fairly unique opportunity to see the varied moods of the mountain without actually having to physically live there. Of course this means that the weather will not always be wonderful. In fact it can sometimes be downright nasty. For a short three or four day workshop this can present something of a problem. 

But problems are meant to be solved. When next in the Drakensberg and the rain sets in take a slow drive away from the campsites and the valleys and start to look for some of the things that we sometimes forget to look for. This is exactly what we did over the weekend for the September Drakensberg Photography Workshop. I was joined a fairly UK-centric group of 9 who were a little dismayed not to be able to see the Amphitheatre in its pyrotechnic glory at early morning. Instead constant drizzle and a very dense cloud obscured the mountain face and drenched cameras and photographers alike. Due to the Mont au Sources marathon (a strange phenomenon where usually sane individuals don running shoes and run up and down a mountain in a day...in the rain!) the only accommodation at the bottom of the mountain had to be a tent. It seems a little more than coincidence that every time we end up camping for the workshop it rains. 

Give it a chance though, and a drive turns into a series of very short stops and starts as you make your way from one photographic opportunity to the next. In fact, at one point it was hard to get more than a 100 yards before someone would yell ‘Stop!’. So it was with filled memory cards that we finally rolled into witsieshoek.

A gusty morning that had me thinking of repeats of last months ditched attempt to summit turned into a beautiful clear and hot day at the top of the Amphitheatre. Sadly the Tugela Falls wasn’t exactly ‘falling’. In fact the river wasn’t even flowing – the driest I’ve seen it yet. Time for the rains I hope. 
It’s been a frenetic few weeks, hence the dearth of blog updates. Now for a glorious 4 or more weeks to consolidate and maybe even take a holiday. Fancy that. Thanks to Emily (US), Catherine (UK/Venezuela), Andrew (UK/France), Shauneen (Ireland/UK), Sam (UK), Tobie (Switzerland) and Bob (UK) as well as Sam (US/SA), Libby (UK) and Lucy (UK) for a wonderful wet and windy weekend in the Berg. 

Making the Most of Warehouses

For anyone who follows this blog it’s probably more than apparent that I consider myself something of a landscape and nature photographer...or would like to any rate. Of course as with just about every other photographer out there, there’s often a lot more that we’ll point our lenses at. So it was last week when I found myself shooting a commission in Johannesburg...surrounded by industrial warehouses. 

Warehouses aren’t exactly the subject matter that immediately grabs the attention of amateur photographers. But in reality they can be a treasure trove of angles and interesting patterns of light. The job in question is a for a large South African Bank that commissioned me to put together a coffee table book on an old industrial site that they are wanting to redevelop into a commercial and business district. Because of the age of the site South African law necessitates that the old buildings have to be commemorated in some way. Enter the photographer – or at least in this situation the photographer as it is sometimes in other ways that the buildings are commemorated.

60 odd warehouses can start to get monotonous, but the trick is to look for the details and, very importantly, the light. Large glass windows have a habit of throwing wonderful slanted streaks of light onto the dusty concrete floors. Old timber beams create a patchwork of lines in the deeper shadows. So all in all photographing warehouses can actually be quite rewarding. 

Welcome to the wonderful world of HDR (High Dynamic Range) imagery. Without it my week of warehouse wonderings would have been very difficult. I’m not a huge fan of automated programs like Photomatix, but, to give it its due, when you are putting together extended tonal range images of complex subjects like the trusses of a roof, the programme comes into its own. What would take literally hours of painstaking layering, selecting and masking in Photoshop, takes a couple of minutes in Photomatix. Ok, I admit it, I’m a convert (to be fair to my initial feelings toward the program I tried it on some landscapes that I created the weekend after and they did not work! My usual layering and masking approaches with a range of selections from luminosity through to broad sweeps were far more effective).  

Getting the right light is imperative to making good images of any kind of subject. This means getting up before dawn to be in place for the rising sun as well as the twilight just prior. Staying out late is also a good idea. Oddly enough, photographing the interiors of these warehouses was actually easier during the times of day when most photographers call it quits and head for their 'base camps', i.e. mid day. 

The project is still in it's early stages as I have a roughly 4000 RAW files (admittedly a lot of them are HDRs) to wade through to create the final book. At the end of this I'll be posting a web-page of 'current projects' that will have some of the better images. Phew, but it's good to be back in Durbs after the traffic of Joburg!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

August St Lucia Workshop and update to Macro Workshop

Photographers, freelance ones that is, live in world of feast and famine. It just seems to work that way. One moment you are sitting wondering if you’ve done something wrong and questioning the motivations that made enter the heady, but extremely saturated world of professional photography. The next you are sitting in an airport and thanking your lucky stars the plane is delayed as it gives you some time to catch up on the admin side of the business. Feast or famine - Go figure.
I’ve just completed the usual St Lucia photography workshop with an extremely dynamic group of photographers. They were certainly a group of firsts. First time most of them came from roughly the same geographic region (save for our lonely American ). First time there were more men than women (to be fair 4:3 isn’t much of a majority though) and first time there was a majority of Nikon cameras. It was an excellent gruelling week with lots of shoots mixed in with plenty of theory. A good 5am-9pm kind of day.
As a kind of update, the micro workshop on macro and close-up photography has been moved to the 17th of September due to shoot commitments that have come up. There are still a few slots, so if anyone is interested make sure to email me to book a place.
On a different note entirely, thanks to last week’s photography group I had the opportunity to test the Nikkor 16-35 f4 AFS VR, 17-35 f2.8 AFS and 20-35 f2.8 AF lenses against each other. After my work commitments for the month are completed I’m hoping to get a brief comparison put up on the blog. Stay tuned if you are wondering which one to fork out for.
Thanks again to Catherine, Bob, Andrew, Emily, Sam, Tobie and Shauneen.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Wind and Fire

Winter in the Drakensberg means for dry grass slopes and plenty of smoke in the air. As a necessary conservation measure the National Parks Board has a routine burning pattern that seems to cycle through every two years and in some places every year. Of course dry grass also means there are plenty of natural fires. Add this to the vast areas that get burnt on a seasonal basis by both small and large scale commercial farmers and you have the recipe for a murky skyline of bluish haze. The peaks appear as ghostly outlines rather than the craggy and majestic monoliths that one is used to. 

Monday, August 9, 2010

Macro Photography workshop

I'll be running a small macro workshop on the Morning of Saturday 4th September at the Durban Botanical Gardens. Spaces are limited to 8 photographers, so be sure to contact me to make a booking if you are interested in taking part.

The workshop starts at 8:30 am where coffee and snacks will be available. A one-hour seminar covering macro and close-up photography will be followed by a hands-on shooting session. Various gadgets that I use for my macro photography, including nikon-fit macro lens, will be available for loan during the workshop. Follow-up critique on the images shot is also available to workshop-goers.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Chasing bugs - Late July St Lucia Workshop

Whenever there seems to be little else to truly inspire me, the bugs come out. One of the reasons why I shoot macro is simply the availability of subject matter. To be a great wildlife photographer one has to spend at inordinate amount of time in the bush following wildlife. Unless you already have a job that allows you this kind of access, full-time wildlife photographer is an extremely hard profession to follow, an most definitely an exorbitantly expensive one too. Macro, on the other hand, allows a photographic safari in miniature the moment you step out the door. Not that I wouldn't love to go an shoot exotic animals in far-flung corners of the world mind you. But until National Geographic comes beating a path to my door to hurl obscene amounts of equipment at me along with a return flight to 'insert dream photographic destination here', I'll just have to keep shooting the little critters.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Low Light Micro Workshop

Saturday evening was the first, and very successful, micro-workshop that was held in Durban. Although the above image wasn't shot on the workshop (I was a tad busy teaching :)) it's representational of the kind of photographs that were being created by the workshop-goers (Many thanks to Claire, Melissa, Cheryl, Joan, Brian, Bev and Rose for joining me on the evening). They certainly had more than the photography to contend with, as passers-by were continually asking questions as to what they were up to. You can see them all hard at work in the grab shot on the right.

Low light photography tends to be somewhat daunting to beginner photographers, and even some amateurs who have been photographing for years. In reality, it is ridiculously easy. Twilight's the time to be out there with a camera and tripod! I will be running this workshop again in the future so stay tuned for further updates. I'll also have a tutorial on the website in the near future for some photographic bedtime reading.

Oh, and for anyone wanting a great twilight subject, the lighthouse at Umhlanga is fantastic! Lots of different colours all mingling together to make a kaleidoscope of your image.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Photo Safari...in the Garden

One of the primary advantages of macro photography is the fact that you don't have to go very far to find something to photograph. In this case 2 metres from the front door was sufficient. Wildlife photograph photographers are constantly espousing the virtues of spending extended tim in the bush, getting to know both the area and the subjects. Well here's the wonderful thing about your garden. It doesn't cost a fortune to get there, you already pay the rates and your mortgage so you don't have to add anything else for your accommodation, fuel isn't necessary, and if the bugs arn't rocking up you can go inside and have a cup of coffee.

Monday, July 12, 2010

High Dynamic Range Images - Tonal Blending

In a previous article on blending high dynamic ranges images I looked at my personal favourite technique of simply creating large basic selections and blurring the edge of these selection masks to bring through broad areas of tonal value. When done carefully, this technique can mean for very natural looking images that still have tremendous tonal depth. The problem is that for some images these basic masks don’t work. For instance - image have very fine detail that also happen to have a very high tonal range. Here simple selections don’t work and the photographer has to resort to a more complex selection in order to single out shadows or highlights.

It is this style of imagery that the standalone programmes such as Photomatix excel at. Here the tonality of the various images is mapped out in their respective luminance values and then blended together according the range of tonal values that the photographer desires. This is one of the ways in which you can get that ‘HDR look’. I personally am not all that fond of this ‘look’ but recognise that it is a useful tool in the photographers box of tricks. Here is my approach to creating tonal mapped images without the dedicated software (although you will obviously need an editing suite like Photoshop, Elements, Gimp or Corel Paint).

To read the whole tutorial click through to the link on my site or cut and paste this URL: http://www.limephoto.co.za/HDR_2_tutorial.html

Please feel free to leave comments or suggestions on the article.