How I've improved my photography this year by Hannah Prewitt

This year seems to have been a bit of a turning point for my photography career. It is not yet my full-time job, but I have been putting in some ground work so that hopefully one day, I can call myself a full-time professional photographer. While it’s great to keep planning for the future, it’s good sometimes to look back and see how far I’ve come. So here are some things that I’ve done this year that have helped me on my path.

I tried some different styles of photography. Even though I’m pretty certain that ocean photography is my favourite type, there’s no point in restricting myself to just that. And I would like to be a bit of a jack of all trades, since most people assume that if you call yourself a photographer, that you can do any type of photography. So I stepped out of my comfort zone and tried my hand at some portraits, night photography, and motion blurs.

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I’ve watched tonnes of YouTube tutorials. The great thing about photography these days is that you can learn everything about it online. There is so much material out there (most of it good), and I’ve made the time to sit and watch a lot of videos to teach myself how to use Photoshop, how to do astro photography, how to take portraits etc. Listed below are some of my favourite channels:

Phlearn – I’ve used this channel a lot to learn how to use Photoshop. This is such a complicated program, and these are the only tutorials I’ve found that actually explain why you’re doing what you’re doing. They also do some great Lightroom tutorials as well.

Mango Street – I love how concise and to-the-point these videos are. I also love how dedicated this couple are to achieving their goals. My favourite video from this channel is the one about their first year on YouTube.

Peter McKinnon – this guy managed to get more than 1 million subscribers in just one year for a reason. His videos can be a little long-winded sometimes but his tutorials are great. Check out his Two Minute Tuesday playlist for short tutorials.

Julia Trotti – Julia’s channel is based around portrait and fashion photography, which is not an area of particular to me, but I really enjoy her behind-the-scenes vlogs. She also posts some good tutorials for editing portraits, which is what I used to help me edit the few portraits I’ve done.

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I’ve networked. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt this year, it’s that networking is the most important thing you can do to advance your brand. Nowadays it’s unbelievably easy to network using social media, so there’s really no excuse to not do it.

I reached out to some brands. I contacted a brand that suited my style of photography and asked them for some products to shoot. I thought it was a long shot at the time, but they’d re-posted a couple of my shots on Instagram so I figured they must like my work. To my surprise and delight, they got straight back to me and let me choose whatever I wanted from their website in exchange for some marketing photos.

I wrote some tutorials. I believe that the best way to learn something properly is to teach it to someone else. So I challenged myself to write some tutorials on subjects that I felt comfortable with – taking split photos and motion panning photos.

All these things have helped me progress with my photography skills as well as helped with getting my work out there for people to see. If anybody else has some ideas, I'd love to hear them! Just leave 

How to get out of a creative slump by Hannah Prewitt

Like most creatives, I go through serious ups and downs with my photography. I can go weeks sometimes without picking up a camera. If I were to pick one up, I just wouldn't know what to shoot. The motivation is just not there. I don't enjoy these slumps and they can be difficult to get out of. One thing I try not to do is to beat myself up about it. It will naturally come to an end and you will be creative once again. The one thing that helps me more than anything else is to find inspiration from other photographers. 

If any of you are currently experiencing the same thing, hopefully these tips will help you to re-discover your creativity.

Create a board on Pinterest called "Why do I love these photos?" Scour the internet for photos that catch your eye for whatever reason, and save them to your board. You can make this board secret on Pinterest so you don't have to worry about other people seeing what you're pinning. When I did this for the first time I discovered that I actually like different types of images to the ones I’m creating. Most of the images I saved were minimalistic, simple, calm. These are the images that I’m drawn to. Since then I’ve found that I’ve started seeing things slightly differently, and have started creating similar images, like these:

Try a new type of photography. As many of you know, I usually photograph the tropics, particularly the ocean. Recently I was at home in the UK and didn't have any subjects that would suit my current style. So I decided to try my hand at portrait photography. Something I'd never tried before. My twin sister was a willing model and we just practiced taking simple portraits in the garden. This also forced me to learn how to do skin re-touching in Photoshop - a skill that will always be useful.

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Step away from the camera AND social media. The photography world is oversaturated thanks to iPhones and Instagram. Everyone calls themselves a photographer these days. It’s easy to see all these accounts that have large followings and feel depressed about your own work. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to relieve yourself of the pressure to take a photo that other people will like and just enjoy being outside in the environment that you would usually shoot, but camera-free. See things through your eyes for a while rather than through a lens.

Find great photography blogs to follow. My absolute favourite blog site for photographers is by Kat Nielsen of @wanderlustandsea. She has taken the time to put together interviews from tons of different types of photographers so there's something for everyone. You can find her work here. Incidentally, I'm featured in the Ocean Photographers section :)

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Watch inspirational photography videos or documentaries. There's lots of inspiring stuff on Netflix but there's also a lot on Youtube. I love this short film from Nikon that advertises the D5 by giving it to various photographers to test.

I hope these tips help you a little. If you have any other ideas, I'd love to know! Please leave them in the comments below.

What equipment do you use? by Hannah Prewitt

I think this is the question that photographers get asked more than any other. I actually find it slightly offensive - as if the only reason I've managed to take a good photo is because I have an expensive camera. That's not true. Give an amazing camera to someone who doesn't know how to use it and see for yourself that it's not all about equipment.

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I bought my first camera four years ago, and I still use it now. I bought it because I wanted a camera and underwater housing package that was reasonably priced and decent enough quality to take good shots in shallow water. Nothing too fancy. The camera itself is an Olympus Pen E-PL5, which is a Micro Four Thirds mirrorless camera. It has a cool flip-out touch screen and is super lightweight and easy to travel with. It came with a 14-42 mm kit lens, which is wide enough for me to snap some decent half and half photos.

Olympus underwater housing

The housing I use is pretty basic. It's the Olympus PT-EP10 housing, which comes with a standard flat port, but I also purchased a dome port from Zen Underwater. I've had this camera for 4 years and only had to replace the o-ring once. Now I'm spending more and more time in the water shooting, I'd really love to upgrade this setup!

Nikon camera equipment

The rest of my equipment is Nikon. Lots of people make a fuss about what brand you use, but I really don't think it matters. I chose Nikon because the person who inspired me to buy a camera was a Nikon user, and helped me choose my equipment. If he had been a Canon user, I would be a Canon user as well.

I have two camera bodies - a full frame D750 and a D7200 crop frame. Why do I need two cameras? Because cameras fail. If you're serious about being a professional photographer, you need a back-up camera. Also, the crop frame helps me get even closer when I'm shooting surfers from a distance.

Nikon lenses

I have four lenses. A Nikkor 50 mm f/1.8 prime lens, which is my most recent purchase and is the widest aperture lens I have. A Nikkor 24-120 mm kit lens, which came with the D750 and is a decent all-rounder if you need something versatile. I have a Nikkor 16-35 mm f/4 as my wide angle, which is my favourite lens for landscapes and if I had a housing, I'd take this lens underwater as well. Then I have a Nikkor 80-400 mm telephoto lens, which is the monster on the right. The shots I can get of surfers from a distance with this lens are incomprehensibly sharp. I also get a lot of compliments from strangers when I'm walking round with this bad boy.

And that's it. I have a Pelican case that I take as carry-on when I travel and I just about manage to fit everything in it if I pack it in a very specific way! It fits every airline dimension restrictions but if I'm honest, it weighs about 15kg when full. Somehow I've gotten away with it every time...

Cloudbreak - the swell of the decade by Hannah Prewitt

The morning of Sunday 27th May was dark, windy and wet. It was also my first wedding anniversary. Perhaps not the best day to plan a surf shoot, but rumour had it that the biggest swell since 2012 was going to hit Fiji. So we waited anxiously for the tide to start to fill in before putting on our rain jackets and heading out to Cloudbreak. This infamous wave that I'd been so thrilled to see for the first time a few weeks ago. I thought it was big then. How wrong I was. 

As we approached the break, you could see the spray from hundreds of metres away. And the boats. So many boats. I don't have that much experience shooting from a boat, but I've never had to compete with 60 other boats for a good spot. Factor in the rain and wind, and this would be the most challenging shoot I've ever done.

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It's hard to describe the feeling of being so close to something so powerful. Your body is tense and your heart is racing the whole time. Just the waves on their own are majestic, fierce and some of the most beautiful things I've ever witnessed in nature.

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Even the highly experienced watermen who are around big waves all the time seemed to be delighted by the spectacle.

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To comprehend the size of these waves, you really need to have a something in the shot for scale.

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There were no turns. The aim was to get as shacked as you could and make it out the other side alive.

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Emotions ran high, especially for those who had to be rescued by jet ski after what was possibly the best wave of their life.

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I have so much admiration for the commitment it takes to paddle yourself into a wave this size. Talk about a steep drop! 

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Finding the right spot to shoot photos was difficult. Boats starting getting deeper and deeper to get a clear view. But there were some wide sets that kept the captains on their toes.

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Just when I thought my day couldn't get any better, Kelly turns up to get a couple. 

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I think this is my favourite shot of the day. While it's not possible to portray the thunderous roar these waves make when they break, I think this image depicts the chaos, the adrenalin, and the thrill of what it's like to shoot at Cloudbreak during a monster swell.

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Tutorial: How to take perfect underwater split photos by Hannah Prewitt

One of my favourite types of photos to shoot are split photos - where you can see underwater and above water at the same time. I just love the glimpse into both worlds. But they can be quite difficult to get right, so here are a few tips on how you can take your own split photos.

 1/1000, f/13, ISO 400

1/1000, f/13, ISO 400

First of all, you're obviously going to need a camera that you can take underwater. Ideally, you're want to use a wide angle lens paired with a dome port. I have an Olympus Pen E-PL5 with a 14 mm lens and Olympus housing with a 7" dome port. The dome port helps to widen the image by moving the water further away from the lens. However, you don't need this setup. GoPro's are already extremely wide and you can even get basic waterproof covers with dome lenses for your smartphone these days!

 1/1600, f/8, ISO 200

1/1600, f/8, ISO 200

There's nothing more frustrating than getting the perfect split shot to find a massive water droplet on the above part of the image. To avoid this, before you enter the water, be sure to spit on the lens. That's right, spit all over it. I like to actually lick my entire dome port before entering the water. I picked up this tip from legendary wave photographer Clark Little if that makes it a little less gross.

 1/2000, f/8, ISO 320

1/2000, f/8, ISO 320

Ok, settings. You're going to need a pretty fast shutter speed to capture the moving water, especially if the conditions aren't perfect. I would recommend something faster than 1/800 but depends on how flat the day is. The aperture is up to you. If you want to get everything above the water and below in focus, then you'll need to use a narrow aperture. But try out some wide apertures as well, to get some different artistic water shots.

 1/3200, f/3.8, ISO 200

1/3200, f/3.8, ISO 200

I would also recommend shooting in high burst mode. That way, you're likely to get at least one great image from a burst, especially if the water is a bit choppy.

I hope these tips are helpful for you to achieve this type of image. One of the best things about these shots are that no two are ever the same, and if you're lucky, something awesome might just swim into your photo!

 1/800, f/16, ISO 800

1/800, f/16, ISO 800

Tutorial: How to create beautiful ocean panning shots by Hannah Prewitt

Recently, I posted a couple of ocean panning images on social media. People responded really well to them, and I quickly received a lot of questions asking how to do a shot like that. So, I thought I'd write a quick tutorial explaining my process.

 2.5s, f/22, ISO 64

2.5s, f/22, ISO 64

Technique

So what's the technique? Well, it's a panning shot, which means that you need to move the camera whilst taking the image. So ideally, you'll need a tripod to keep your camera nice and steady, but I have achieved many great panning shots without one, just using my body to stabilise the camera as much as possible. While the shutter is open, you'll need to slowly move your camera from left to right. I personally like to start moving the camera before pressing the shutter, as I find it helps to make the shot much smoother.

 1.6s, f/9, ISO 320

1.6s, f/9, ISO 320

Settings

This type of shot is a long exposure, which means that the shutter is open for a relatively long time. How long is up to you. Start with 1 second, and then experiment around that. I usually find that 1.6 seconds creates a pretty good image. Of course it depends on what you're shooting and how fast everything is moving. Play around with it to find what works for you. Chances are, you'll have to take quite a few shots before getting one you're happy with. Bear in mind, that because we're doing a long exposure, you'll need it to either be dark enough to avoid blowing out your image, or use an ND filter if there is too much light.

 2s, f/14, ISO 200

2s, f/14, ISO 200

What do you shoot?

Obviously we're shooting the ocean. But what the waves are doing is going to have a huge impact on your final image. The image above was taken from the clifftop overlooking a peeling point break in Bali. But shooting from the shore of a beach break is going to give you different results, because the waves are more shifty and there's probably going to be some white water (which is how I achieved the different colours in this shot below).

 1.6s, f/4.5, ISO 400

1.6s, f/4.5, ISO 400

Also, if you have clouds in your photo, then the final image will look different compared to a clear sky. Personally, I think clear skies work best.

 1s, f/22, ISO 50

1s, f/22, ISO 50

And it's as simple as that! Hopefully you're now able to take your own awesome ocean panning shots. Please feel free to tag me or send me your images. I'd love to see them!

Tutorial: How to make your underwater photos really POP by Hannah Prewitt

I always find it fascinating to see how people edit their images. I love to see before and after shots. I know a lot of photographers don’t agree with editing photos, but personally, I find it just as much fun as taking the shots in the first place. For me, it is an art, my creative outlet. I’ve received quite a few questions about how I make the water in my photos look so clear and detailed, so I’d like to share how I edited this image of silver fishes swimming.

I’d like to start off by showing you what the original image looked like straight from the camera.

Pretty shocking right? Most people would probably look right past this image. You can see that the water wasn’t very clear that day and I didn’t really expose the shot very well. However, this image can be saved because (1) I shot in RAW, and (2) the sun was out - this is very important for underwater photos.

After I did my edits in Lightroom (I won’t cover that here), you can see that the image looks 100 x better.

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But it’s still not quite as punchy as I’d like it. All the data is there, I just need to coax it out a little more. This is where I use Google Nix Color Efex Pro. Google used to charge for this but now it is free. You can download it here.

The only downside to this Collection now being free is that Google no longer support it, so if it is not compatible with a new version of Lightroom or Photoshop, Google won’t fix it. For now it works so I’ll enjoy it while I can.

To open your image go to Photo – Edit In – Color Efex Pro 4. Your image will open in the app.

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On the left hand side you can see all the filters available. There are lots of great filters in this app, but there are three that I use for underwater shots.

The first thing I do is add some contrast using the Pro Contrast tool. Have a play around with the sliders being careful not to push them too far. One of the things I love about this collection is the ability to see your before and after on the same image. This really helps with not going too far with your edits.

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Once I’m happy with the contrast, I’ll try to bring out a few more details using the Detail Extractor filter. For this image, I found that applying this filter to the entire photo, brought out too much noise in the background, so I used the Control Points to add detail to specific areas of the image.

Color Efex Detail Extractor.png

Lastly, and one of the best tools for underwater images, is the White Neutraliser. Here I’ve pushed it pretty far so you can really see the effect, but it’s great at correcting the colours in your image.

Color Efex White Neutraliser.png

And that’s pretty much it! Press Save and your edited photo will return to Lightroom as a .tif file. You can then carry on editing in Lightroom or Photoshop if you wish.Here's the final image.

Fishes with Nik Color Efex Pro edit.jpg

There are lots of other filters you can use in Color Efex Pro, not to mention the rest of the Nik collection, which are definitely worth a look, but these three filters I find are all I need for my underwater shots.

I’d love to see how you get on using this collection to bring out the best in your photos. Feel free to send me your before and afters, and let me know what you think of this quick tutorial.