Category Archives: Photography

Technology update. Smaller and better.

The last time I did some travel blogging was 2 years ago when I went to Japan for the first time. Back then I was using my Android tablet with an attached keyboard to write my posts and also to transfer my photos from my SD cards to my hard drive.

I ended up quitting blogging half-way through that trip as the entire process was a nightmare. The tablet was very slow, uploading and editing images was really hard and overall it took way too much time to complete a blog post. I still really appreciated having a way to backup my images but it was not feasible for blogging. Since then I’ve gone even more minimalist. I now travel with just my smartphone which I use for editing my photos and I also carry a card reader and a HDD but depend on the kindness of strangers to transfer my photos to my HDD. This has gone well so far but I never felt quite comfortable with the setup. For this trip I am taking a leap to try to do more blogging on the go and I’ve got a couple of gadgets that will hopefully help me achieve everything I want while not taking up too much space. My first addition to my setup is a Bluetooth keyboard. I bought a folding keyboard which I’ve paired up with my smartphone and I’ll be using that to blog on the go. I’m actually writing this whole article with this setup and it works a treat. This will let me write up my posts whenever I have a spare moment and is also so much more responsive than my old setup. The second issue I want to tackle is mobile backup. I’ve ordered a little gadget called the Ravpower Filehub. Ravpower is a company that is better known for its power banks but this nifty gadget does so much more. The main thing I want to use it for is to transfer files from my SD card to my portable hard drive.

This gadget has both an SD card reader and a USB port so I can use it to move files from one to the other without going through my phone. It also is a WiFi hub so I can read files and watch movies stored on the hard drive, it acts as a WiFi extender for bad connections, can turn hard point connections into wireless connections and so much more. Did I mention it also has a 6000 mA battery to charge my phone? I’m really excited to get this little piece of tech and start trying it out.

New trip: India and Nepal!

It’s been a while since I posted on this site but I think now is a good time to let you all know that in just 3 weeks I’ll be heading over to India and Nepal for a one month tour through these two beautiful countries.

This will be my second time travelling to Nepal which is exhilarating for me as it is one of the countries that reignited my passion for travelling and where I really fell in love with travel photography. It’s also going to be a shock to go back to Nepal after the tragic earthquake they had in 2015.

Not all of these beautiful temples are still standing

As usual I’m not 100% sure of what I’ll be seeing and when but I’ll be keeping you all up to date on my progress. We will be landing in Delhi on the 23rd of September and flying back from Kathmandu on the 20th of October. All we need to figure out is how to get from one place to the other.

For this trip I’ll be taking the wonderful X-Pro2 and a small selection of lenses instead of the X100S. I feel like I’ll need a little more flexibility on this trip so the X100S might be a little limiting. I ahve also recently obtained the new 23mm f2 lens for the X-Pro2 so I’ll still have my trusty 35mm POV.

These are the kinds of views for which I’ll be needing my trusty lenses.

 

In my next post I’ll try to compare my travel setup on this trip compared to my last Nepal trip and see how my travelling has changed in the last 4 years! If you’re interested in reading my packing list from 4 years ago, you can read it right here. You can also read through my posts from that trip my clicking on the link to posts from September 2013.

Iran – Top 5 places I saw – Hardest list I’ve had to make

I’ve tried to cut the number down to 5 to keep the article size manageable but there is so much more to see in Iran. I might have to make a part 2 ūüôā

In no particular order, here are the top 5 places I went to during my stay in Iran:

Yazd

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Yazd is a 5000 year old city of just over 1 million people that is located in the middle of Iran. It is a fascinating and beautiful city, famous for its confectionery, gardens and very strenuous strength training techniques. I loved to wander around the city’s bazaar and all the little winding streets.

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I spent a while just sitting in a park watching kids play football. At first they were a bit shy but after a while their natural curiosity took over. ¬†These 2 walked away with a print of their picture. ūüôā

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I also loved the Dowlat Abad gardens. The engineering required to channel water from the far mountains into the city is amazing. Small qanats (channels) were dug by hand ¬†by men who wore white shrouds in case they were buried alive. I’m struck by a mixture of awe and terror at the work they did.

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Isfahan

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Isfahan is a city in which I wish I’d spent more time. It is a city of around 2 million people and is home to the¬†Naghsh-e Jahan Square¬†which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The square with the mosques, bazaar and palace that surround it are enough¬†to spend at least a day or two visiting.

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Once you have seen that, you have barely scratched the surface of the city. One highly recommended place to see is the¬†Khaju Bridge. Local people gather under this bridge at sunset to sing and relax after the day’s work. I would highly recommend it.

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If you want to see something a little less typical, you can head to one of the city’s many pigeon towers. Pigeon guano used to be a very important source of fertiliser for the fields around Isfahan. The importance of the pigeons has decreased but some of the towers are still open and have been restored to their full glory. Worth a trip.

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Shiraz

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Ah, Shiraz, I will admit this is my favourite place in Iran and I don’t really know why. It has a certain vibe that makes me feel right at home as well as some pretty stunning architecture.

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This is the city where you can spend an evening in a coffee shop talking to the singer of an Iranian heavy metal band. It’s a place where the police ask if you need help finding your hotel and end up having a bite of your meal because you insist it’s really good.

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I feel like they are the Spaniards of Iran and that is one of the highest compliments I can give them.

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Persepolis

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Persepolis, home of Cyrus the great and Xerxes, this was probably the highlight of my trip. I have always loved the tales and stories of ancient greece. To think I was standing in the same spot where Xerxes probably planned the attack on greece.

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I walked around the site flabbergasted, having a hard tome taking it all in. It was also empty of other tourists which still amazes me to this day.

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And then when the sun was setting I was in the right place and I think I had a little nerdgasm.

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The Desert

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The city of Yazd is somewhat remote and you can go out and spend a night at one of the old caravanserais. These were the small forts where the caravans would stop to spend the night, water the camels and try to sell some of their wares.

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The setting is beautiful but what is stunning is the night sky out in the desert. Even with clouds it takes my breath away!

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Here it comes! – 5 reasons I will end up getting the X-Pro 2

As I mentioned in my previous article, the X-Pro 2 is on its way. I’ve decided that I will take the plunge and get it. After thinking about it for a good while and reading some online first impressions, I’ve come to the conclusion that the X-Pro 2 covers most of the X-Pro 1 quirks that made me stop shooting with it.

Here are 5¬†reasons why I’ll be getting the X-Pro 2.

Improved AF

After I bought the X100S, my biggest gripe whenever I picked up the X-Pro 1 was the speed of the autofocus. I do admittedly have one of the slower AF lenses (35mm 1.4) and the amount of hunting it does is frustrating, especially in low light.

From everything I have read, the AF has greatly improved and I’m looking forward to enjoying using a snappy camera again ūüôā

Would have loved to get the focus on the eyes in this one!
Would have loved to get the focus on the eyes in this one!

Improved ISO

The new sensor has an improved sensitivity of 1 stop. That is huge!

OVF with manual focus

This is the one feature that has me really excited. The X-Pro 2, like the X100T, has a small window that can be enabled in the Optical Viewfinder (OVF) to allow you to see the focus through the EVF.

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This allows you to check manual focus while still seeing through the Optical viewfinder. This is a game changer for me and I am very excited to try this out!

Weather Sealing

I’m happy the the X-Pro 2 is finally weather sealed. I’ve never had an issue with my X-Pro 1 but the added peace of mind is great, especially living in a country as wet as Ireland.

Wifi connectivity

I know alsmost all cameras have Wifi nowadays but my cameras do not. I use a eye-fi MOBI card on my x100s to transfer pictures to my phone for posting on instagram (@photolographer) and sending to my Instax printer to give as a gift¬†to people. It’s a nice little token¬†that people really appreciate. Being able to quickly select pictures to send to my phone, or be able to take pictures while looking at my phone will open a lot of candid photography moments.

I could go on for another 5 more but I think I’ve covered the major aspects. Overall I’m very excited for this new camera. My next question is do I ditch my X100S to get a 23mm 1.4?

Enter the X-Pro 2, or how I learned to stop worrying and love the x100s

I’ve been shooting Fujifilm cameras since 2012. At that time I got a good deal on a second hand X-Pro 1 with the 18mm and 35mm lenses so I took the plunge. I was looking to step away from my Nikon gear as I rarely used it any more due to its size and had been originally looking into a second-hand M9.

I will admit the rangefinder look was appealing to me and one of the reasons I went for the Fuji. It had a certain classic design that made it stand out from the other cameras on the market.

I bought the camera with a little bit of hesitation as Fujifilm X cameras were not the established brand they are today. The X-Pro 1 had just come out with the first 3 Fuji primes (18mm, 35mm and 60mm). Also, Lightroom did not support Fuji RAW files at that time so I needed to change my workflow. All of these worries went away when I took my first picture.

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I can’t really explain what it was about these images but they had a certain quality to them that my Nikon files did not have. I’d like to say that I immediately ditched my Nikon but that would be a lie.¬†I had built up a respectable selection of glass for my Nikon and felt I might need¬†it for some future magical day. In the meantime I shot more and more with my Fuji and less (if at all) with my Nikon.

I finally sold my Nikon and was perfectly happy with my 2 new primes and my X-Pro 1¬†which kept on getting better every year thanks to Fuji’s new firmwares. It still had some issues but I was happy to use it exclusively to travel to Nepal and Thailand.

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In 2014 I stumbled upon a very reasonably priced x100s and decided to take the leap. I was curious about the 23mm focal length and was also looking for a camera that would fit in my jacket pocket.  This was also love at first shot. The much improved AF of this new camera, together with the 23mm field of view, made it my new favourite.

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As I could carry it with me every day, I came to really understand the focal length and became able to see pictures in my head before I took out my camera.  Over the last 2 years I have come to realise that this camera is good enough for 80% of my photography. So much so that I have travelled to China, Hong Kong, Japan and Iran with only this camera. I have acquired the WCL-X100 wide angle converter to give me some more flexibility but I rarely use it.

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So this brings us to January 2016 and the announcement of the X-Pro 2…

 

I will start off by saying that I will probably buy this camera but it’s not triggering my G.A.S. as badly as I thought it would. I’ve been thinking why and I’ve come up with 3 reasons why my x100s¬†¬†is probably a better choice for me than the new X-Pro 2:

1. Size

The x100s is a small¬†camera that punches way above its size. I have big hands and tend to wear jackets with big pockets so it’s well within my pocketable size range at¬†127 x 74 x 54 mm (5 x 2.91 x 2.13‚Ä≥).

Taken while waiting for the bus to work
Taken while waiting for the bus to work

Having it in my pocket at all times has allowed me to capture moments that I would have regretted missing. This is probably my biggest hesitation in getting the X-Pro 2 as even with the 18mm it is not really a pocketable camera.

Much easier to capture candids too!
Much easier to capture candids too!

2. Focal Length

This one is the one surprises me the most. Looking back on my evolution as a photographer I’ve gone from a photographer obsessed with covering every focal length, to one that is worried about having to change focal length.

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The truth is I love the 23mm focal length of the x100s. I find that my 35mm lens is not wide enough and the 18mm is too wide at times. I had considered selling my x100s to finance buying the 23mm f1.4 but I’m afraid that setup may be too big to carry around everyday. (see point above)

It’s a strange problem to have and I’m sure I just need to force myself to shoot with the 35mm for a couple of months and I’ll adapt to that too. ūüôā

3. Familiarity

This is the weakest of the arguments but I have to admit that I really don’t feel like forcing myself to learn a new focal length or a new camera. The x100s is a great camera and using it has become second nature to me. I can change setting without bringing the camera to my eye¬†and I already know what will be covered by the lens before I even take the picture.

I know that with a few months of use, I’ll feel the same way about the X-Pro 2, but I’m lazy…

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Hey, 35mm is good too!

So I guess you could consider that the “Cons” list of my X-Pro 2 purchase. I’m working on a “Pros” list too so stay tuned for more. Please leave a comment below if you have any other reasons you can think of to stop me from buying the X-Pro 2!

Iran – It’s where it’s at! – 5 reasons to go to Iran now!

Iran is without a doubt the best travel destination for 2016. I say that with 0 doubts. If you want to visit a country that has 2 thousand years of history; incredible architecture; a warm, hospitable, friendly people and small amounts of tourists, then Iran is the place for you.

I have been struggling to write this blog post as I came back overwhelmed with how great a travel experience I had. I previously wrote about how overwhelming the one-sided discourse of the media regarding Iran can be. I thought I had kept a healthy scepticism. I did not believe that things there were as bad as the media would lead me to believe, yet I still felt I was going to come face to face with a generally repressive, closed society. I could not have been more mistaken.

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The people of Iran are open and welcoming to a fault. Everywhere I went I was greeted with a smile and genuine curiosity as to my opinion. I discussed subjects I did not think would be easy to bring up and though I did not always agree with everyone, I found that I learned with every interaction I had. I never had any problems wandering around or taking pictures and was often a little embarrassed at the lengths that complete strangers would go to to make me feel at home.

It was a strange feeling sometimes to have to stop and remind yourself that you were in Iran. I think the most profound moments during the trip were those in which you looked around and realised that the surrounding could be confused with part of Madrid or Paris or London. It was shocking to stop and think how impossible you thought a scene like this would be inside Iran.

As I think you need to get there ASAP, I’m going to try to give you 5 reasons you need to go to Iran and end with a recommendation of a great way to get there.

1. The architecture

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Iran has been a great local power for the last 2500 years and this can be seen in the magnificence of its architecture. Another of the shocking things about Iranian monuments is the fact that they are so well preserved and still in use. Many of the great mosques we visited were still used mainly as places of worship with a few tourists meandering about between prayers. It made you feel more in awe as the buildings came to life with their true purpose. They were not museum pieces, they were living parts of the community.

Iranian architecture has also embraced the modern and Tehran is full of modern bridges and monuments that rival anything I have seen elsewhere.

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2. The people

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My good friend David Harden said: “The beauty of the Iranian people is the absolute lack of suspicion in their eyes.” I think this is the best way you can describe my experience of them. They are amongst the most open, welcoming and kind people I have met.

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They will also make you love tea. And sugar. Mostly sugar.

3. The desert

20151029-DSCF4272The desert is intricately tied to the history of Iran. The silk road ran through this country and it is possible to spend night in reformed caravanserais, pit stops for the old caravans taking spices and silk to the west.

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A night out in the desert under the light of the stars and the full moon is something that you will not easily forget.

4. The history

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Iran is the heir of the tradition of the great Persian Empire, stretching all the way back to 550 BC. It has been a centre of culture and knowledge for almost all that time. They proud remains of Persepolis are a reminder of the magnificence of a culture that was great when my ancestors were still living in huts.

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Iran is one the verge of becoming a huge touristic destination. Hotel prices are starting to increase and most big sites have the occasional bus of tourists. This is nowhere near what you will see at any major tourist destination but is a huge increase compared to a couple of years ago.

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It is still a privilege to be able to spot the tourists and not have them be anywhere close to the majority. I do have a feeling though that with the the lifting of the sanctions, it’s on the brink of exploding. So get there before everybody else does.

How to get  there?

I went with an Yomadic Un-tour. I would highly recommend booking a seat as they sell out fast, are really small and there’s not a lot of them. You’ll be treated well and get to see stuff you don’t normally see on any other tour.

If you’re not from the US¬†or¬†UK, you can just get a visa at the airport. Not sure of the situation for Israeli citizens. It’s honestly really easy to get around. I say just go!

Edit: Corrected information regarding AU visas.

So, here’s how I ended up on a plane to Tehran…

I’m a lucky guy. I work for a tech company that gives us an extra month of vacation every five years so we can take a “sabbatical”. As you can imagine this means that everyone spends their first five years counting down to this magical month. Plans are made, discussed, debated and refined down to the smallest detail.

My plan was to go to New Zealand. It had been a dream of mine for many years to go and rent a camper for 4 weeks and drive around the North and South Island.  I had even planned and additional 2 weeks in Australia to see Sydney and maybe Ayers rock?

As I said, this plan was pretty much researched and decided upon since I joined the company back in 2010. In the meantime, I developed a passion for travel to places that were more off the established tourist track. By this I do not mean places that are hard to travel in, rather places that have not been taken over by the tourist horde.

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No Thanks!

So In early 2015 I heard of the opportunity to take a 2 week trip curated by Nate, a photographer I had been following for a while(http://www.yomadic.com/) . He had previously done a similar trip through the Balkans and I was very excited at the idea of joining a trip through Iran!

When you mention Iran, many things come to mind. For many people I encountered the first thing that came to mind was: “DANGER”!! Our media likes to keep a simple message, Iran is evil. A lot of people expressed concerns about my safety and joked about me not coming back. I must admit, I made a joke or two as well.

On the other hand, I¬†thought of the wonders of the great Persian empire, of Persepolis and the grandeur of its past. I thought of the people of Iran and their legendary hospitality. I have learned some time back to separate my feelings towards a country’s government from my feelings towards a country’s people.

At this point it’s pretty clear that I changed my 5 year plan on a dime. Gone were all thoughts of New Zealand and I focused on Iran instead. I contacted Nate, sent him my information and a very reasonable fee and I had booked myself on a 12 day trip from Tehran to Shiraz in Iran! It all sounds easy now that I’ve done it but it was one of the most impulsive decisions I have ever made.

I booked the remaining flights, did my visa paperwork a couple of months later and proceeded to go into procrastination mode. You know that feeling when you know you have something to do but you have months to do it? Well I’m an expert at wasting every precious minute up to the very end. For example, my new backpack arrived 2 days before I was supposed to leave., I finished packing at 1 am, when my flight was at 11 am.

By some sort of miracle, I always manage to get to the airport in Dublin with time to spare. I checked in my brand new bag and went through all the usual procedures to get on the plane and to Istanbul. The plane was delayed due to weather in Istanbul and by the time we landed we were 2 hours late. It was raining cats and dogs and my luggage was nowhere to be seen. After an hour of waiting, a baggage handler appears with my backpack, dripping water; apparently it had been forgotten on the tarmac. Did I mention my backpack is not waterproof?

With a sigh I get into a taxi and give him the address for my hotel. I hope it’s easy to find as I have had mixed luck with taxis in Istanbul in the past. Of course, all my hopes are dashed when he leaves me stranded in a cul-de-sac with a soaked backpack, a torrent of water flowing down the street and just the hotel name to guide me.

Long story short, I find the hotel and find my room, I then spread out all my clothes around the room to get them to dry out and go get some dinner and then sleep. I had  booked a shuttle in the morning to the airport so I could get to my flight on time.

The next morning the rain has stopped and I thought I had everything nicely planned to get me to my flight. I get on the shuttle( which was late) and am happily on my way to the airport when I see we cross over to Asia. I ask the driver and of course, the staff at my hotel had gotten me on a shuttle to the wrong airport! Luckily the shuttle driver was able to flag down a taxi for me and I got to the airport in the nick of time. I had to skip the security queues but I made it!

Nate and the rest of the expedition were waiting at the gate and I felt I had achieved something! All of this of course in what was supposed to be the “easy” part of the trip!

And that is how I ended up on a flight headed to Tehran. Please come with me on the trip of a lifetime through the wonder that is modern day Iran!

 

Smoke Photography – Cheap and fun

The weather here in Ireland can make it tough to practice your photography so having side projects you can complete at home is always a good idea.

Yesterday I decided to give Smoke Photography a shot but didn’t want to have to go out to get any extra equipment. Here’s what I used:

  • Speedlight
  • Xpro-1 Camera
  • 35mm lens. (Any lens will do)
  • Speedlight stand (could have used a chair instead)
  • Remote cable for the speedlight
  • Tripod
  • Black Jacket for backdrop
  • Black reflector to control light (could use another jacket)
  • 2 chairs to prop up the backdrop
  • One chair to place your source of smoke
  • Cardboard and elastic band (or hairband) to control flash direction.
  • Various books and boxes to control height of things and cover wind.

Here’s the whole set-up in all its glory:

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It is really important to end up with a black background so you need to make sure no light falls on the jacket. That’s why I used a piece of cardboard. With the cardboard and a fast¬†shutter speed the background was completely underexposed and appeared to be a seamless black background. I used a shutter speed of 1/125 of a second and an aperture¬†of f/8. The flash was set on manual at 1/4 power.

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Once you have everything set up, you need to set the camera at a distance that allows you to cover the greatest amount of black background while keeping the flash out of frame. This isn’t critical as you can always crop it out but smoke is unpredictable and can move around a lot so giving yourself extra¬†space will make sure you get the smoke in frame.

Last but not least you will need to manually focus in the area where the smoke is. I set up another piece of cardboard to focus on but you can also use your hand or anything else.

As a source of smoke I used cigarettes. While this is a disgusting habit, for once it came in useful. I would just roll one, give a few puffs and set it in the ashtray. I would have loved to have incense sticks as they are perfect for this but cigarettes are a good second option.

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Don’t be afraid to take plenty of pictures. Smoke can be unpredictable but after a while you start to understand how it reacts and can start playing with creating air currents to add chaos to the smoke plumes.

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After you’re done, it’s time to process the pictures. I used Lightroom to process all these images. One fun thing you can do is invert the color curve to make the image a negative and then play with the colour balance to get some interesting effects. Increasing clarity and decreasing contrast a tad can also help.

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Hope this has been useful. Remember to subscribe and let me know in the comments if you decide to give this a shot. If there is any type of photography you’d like me to try next, please let me know.