The journey to the image

The journey to a final image has barely begun when the shutter is fired. There’s still work to be done in getting to the composition that the eye has seen and the imagination has worked with. I thought it might be worthwhile looking at that journey again with another example.

Unretouched view towards Edinburgh

Unretouched view across the Forth to Edinburgh

This is the original unretouched shot as it came out of the camera as a RAW file. I pretty much always shoot RAW so that I have the maximum data to work with in post. This was shot in the evening as dusk was falling. I shot it hand-held at 1/40 sec, ISO-200 at f/8. The reason I’m sharing those settings is that I want to explain how I was trying to find the right compromise to get a workable image. The available light was fading quite quickly as dusk fell and there was a natural haze to the light looking out across the water. I was using a focal length of 55mm so normally, to minimise camera shake, I’d want to use a shutter speed of at least 1/60 sec (the general rule of thumb is to sue a shutter speed at least as fast as the focal length – ie shooting at 30mm choose a shutter speed of at least 1/30 sec).  I was therefore shooting just a little slower than I ideally wanted and took the risk of minimal blurring from camera shake – but I thought I’d manage to be steady enough at 1/40 sec. I could have opted to widen the aperture to get a faster speed, but I wanted to have a reasonable depth of field for a landscape shot, so didn’t want to come lower than f/8. Then there was the question of ISO. I wanted to minimise grain (noise, if you prefer) so opted for ISO-200. I think I was pretty much pushing the boundaries here.

The initial RAW image (above) is rather washed-out and not as clear as it looked to the eye. My job in post was to try to get as close as possible to what I saw without making it look too heavy-handed. I did all the processing in Lightroom to end up with this:

Edinburgh from Fife

Across the Forth to Edinburgh

That’s much closer to how I saw the sky and the landscape of Edinburgh and the Pentland Hills. So, how did I get to this? Here’s a brief run down of the editing. First of all (and this is standard to my workflow) I made adjustments to the Lens Corrections and ticked to remove chromatic aberrations. I cooled the colour temperature just slightly to bring through some more of the natural blue tone. Then I added some dehaze, and clarity, trying not to overdo it. As both of those essentially affect contrast, I left the master contrast control alone. I also boosted the vibrance a little to enhance the colours and then made slight adjustments to the saturation of purple and aqua. That pretty much got me to where I wanted to be with it. Then, just to deal with the sky, I added a graduated filter and darkened it slightly. I wasn’t entirely happy with the landscape across the centre, so used a brush to add a little more dehaze to that central strand.

I envisaged this as amore cinematic shot, so cropped to a 16×9 ratio slightly recomposing to drop the horizon below the centre line. Finally, I added a slight vignette to help draw the eye in to the composition.

That, then, is how I went from the original shot to the final image. Is this a keeper? Probably not. If I go pixel-peeping, I can see some evidence of slight blurring which is probably the result of hand-holding at 1/40 sec. This wouldn’t really stand up to printing in any large scale, so I’ll put it down to a useful experiment. If I wanted to make something of this composition, I’d need to go back and re-shoot it using a tripod. Of course, whilst I could go back at the same time to the same location, the light won’t be the same and I will never be able to exactly reproduce this image. Such are the joys…

 

 

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Something new

So, it’s been a little while since I last posted. What, you might ask, have I been up to?

Well, let me tell you.

rocky mountian peaks French Alps Chamonix

Alpine peaks

First of all, I was not away taking this photograph. It’s one from the archive, but it does feature in my new website as one of the images I now have for sale as a fine art print.

Perhaps you have now guessed – I have been busy building a new website to better reflect my business as a photographer. I have long wanted to sell prints and now have that opportunity through my new website where I will be adding to the range of images available for sale. For the moment, it’s landscapes but I think I will be adding at least one more category.

So, if you like my work and would be happy to see it on your wall, then go have a look at what’s currently available as landscapes within Fine Art Prints. All ordering and payments on my website is secure and payments are handled through PayPal – and there’s no need to have a PayPal account.

While you are there, feel free to browse my website and see what else I do.

I don’t promise that this will be my last sales pitch but I don’t anticipate any more any time soon and we’ll get back to blogging on photography more generally.

In the meantime, keep those shutters firing.

Making the most of it

I went to the seaside recently on what was a fairly calm but uninspiring day. I did have a definite plan, though. My aim was to shoot a minimalist seascape and see if I could make it interesting whilst lacking a major feature or subject within the frame.

This is what I ended up with.

beach sea and sky

deep blue

But it’s not how things began.

Here’s the original RAW file as it came out of the camera.

unedited seascape

seascape

I could see some potential in this, but as I’d been shooting towards the light, the colours are muted and the picture is pretty flat and lacking in contrast. I also felt that there are distractions here that would be better removed.

I liked the faint leading lines in the wet sand which are complemented by the small raised sandy patches helpfully pointing towards a vanishing point roughly mid-frame. Compositionally, I thought there was enough going on here to be interesting without a major subject. However, the small stalks of seaweed rising from the sand were a distraction was the drilling rig to the right of frame. I also wanted to remove the slight piece of lens flare to the left of frame. It was also clear that if this image was going to work, it needed to have a better colour treatment and some more contrast.

To achieve what I had in mind I was going to need me to work with both Lightroom and Photoshop. The danger I wanted to avoid was ending up with something that looked like it was on steroids – I wanted a natural look, so the job was more about recovering the image to something close to what I actually saw, whilst also getting rid of the distractions.

I started in Lightroom and, following my usual work flow, made the usual lens correction and ticked for removing chromatic aberration. After that I added a little dehaze to bring in some contrast before making a slight adjustment to the contrast setting itself. I find the dehaze feature more helpful with shots into the light. After that it was a case of reducing the highlights enough to prevent the left of frame area looking too thin and making a slight compensating adjustment to the overall exposure. That didn’t quite achieve what I wanted so I added a graduated filter running vertically and extending in from left of frame. Within that I made local adjustments (quite finely) for exposure and highlights.  I finished my work in Lightroom by adjusting the colour temperature to cool it a little and bring back some of the blue. I also slightly adjusted the saturation of blue and aqua in the HSL setting, adjusting for both hue and saturation. All of this with the lightest touch I felt I could get away with to achieve the effect I wanted.

Then it was over to Photoshop to deal with the distractions. After making a duplicate layer to work on, I removed the distractions I wanted by first using the content aware fill and then refining where necessary with a little cloning. Finally, I ran a high pass to sharpen the overall image.

In the end, I am happy with what I finally produced. I think I managed to achieve something very close to what I saw with my eyes on location. In short, I think I managed to make the most of it.

What lies beyond

It’s a grey, wet miserable day and I am not out shooting. So, by way of a break from the boring but necessary admin work, here’s one from the archive.

mountains, landscape, clouds, vista, valley

revelation

This is a favourite of my landscape shots and is one I keep returning to. I just love it. This was shot on 20 September 2008 during a special trip to the French Alps. It’s one of those completely serendipitous unplanned shots. My wife and I were returning to our hotel in Chamonix from a visit to Evian on the shore of Lake Geneva when we stopped for a break at a service station. I was aware that there was a degree of elevation where we were and headed, more in hope than expectation, between the parked-up lorries to see what kind of view might be on offer. At first, I was met with a very dull scene but, very quickly, the clouds started parting and the revelation was simply breathtaking.

I love the theatrical nature of this image, the clouds being drawn back like curtains to reveal the main attraction. Honestly, you could have sold tickets for this.

Apart from the memories this image evokes, I really like the composition of three main elements: the cold clear crispness of the mountains; the softness of the cloud  and the lush verdant valley below.

This image also works for me on a philosophical level and is a reminder that there is always something better lying beyond the clouds that face us at any given time.

 

Making the most of it

For the past three days I have been pretty much snowed in, thanks to the so-called “beast from the east”, a weather system originating in a polar vortex, apparently, which has brought sub-zero temperatures and very strong winds driving a dry powder snow. There are, therefore, lots of snow drifts. Where I live, in Fife, there have been no public service transport services these three days as we have gone from the Met Office issuing an amber warning to a red warning and back to amber. It can sound dramatic, but you just have to be sensible and in the midst of this I have a dog which needs to get out for exercise and “comfort” breaks.

This morning, whilst the wind was still strong there was much less snow in the air, so I decided to take my camera along for the walk to see what might be around and worth shooting. I was, if I’m honest, hoping to see some deer and other wildlife but, sadly, all I saw were some tracks in the snow where the deer had been. And so we pressed on with the walk and I started looking around for something in the intimate landscape that might be worth shooting. To be honest, the wider landscape was a world of grey and white, made all the more blurry by the now blowing snow.

Here though are a couple of shots I took this morning which I thought I’d share with you and say something about them.

trees; dead wood; winter; intimate landscape

winterwood

This is the first of the shots I though worthy of doing something with. It’s one of those compositions that just appeared unexpectedly. What I liked was the contrast of the bare wood from the dead tree against the darker background. With the snow being blown across the scene, I felt that a shutter speed just fast enough to minimise camera shake (I had to hand-hold and I was cold) but slow enough to slightly blur the flakes would potentially add some interest. I’m quite pleased with the result which is very close to what I envisaged at the time. For me, the effect of the snow adds a kind of impressionistic painterly effect to the shot which I find rather pleasing and the dead wood seems to stand defiantly against the elements. The two broken inwardly pointing branches also add a kind of framing and connection to the composition.

The route that I took this morning follows the line of a disused railway and I was still reflecting on the deer tracks and bemoaning not seeing any when I came across the railway; “aha”, I thought “tracks in the snow”…

railway; tracks; winter; landscape

tracks in the snow

Here, the old railway tracks were visible being in a more sheltered location. There was little colour on display here so, from the outset, I envisaged this as a monochrome composition. I did, as  always though, shoot in colour so that I had full control in post over how this rendered out to mono. I like the leading lines of the tracks taking the eye through the composition as they curve off towards the top of the frame. One of the challenges in getting this shot was keeping the dog out of it and having pristine snow laying between the rails.

In post, I decided to add a slight blue colour cast to the image, just to add to the  wintry feel of cold steel meandering through the snowy landscape.

Between taking these shots and getting to work in Lightroom, there was the small task of digging out the car and clearing the drive, but I think I managed to make the most of it.

Getting a bonus shot

Today I set out to explore the landscape on the Falkland Estate where I’d heard there was a waterfall you could actually walk behind.  Sure enough, after getting directions from an information point and a hike uphill, I found the Yad Waterfall.

waterfall, water, cascade, smooth, landscape, nature

The Yad Waterfall

This was too good to miss, so I was pleased to have taken the camera bag and tripod on what was just going to be a recce. It was very quiet and I had planned that if I found the waterfall I would go for a long exposure to soften the water. This was achieved using an ND filter and shooting on ISO 100 at f11. Some gentle editing in Lightroom gave me a couple of final images I am pleased with.

waterfall, water, landscape, nature, softened, smooth

Yad Waterfall

Feeling pleased with what looked like a potentially good outcome from this little trip, I headed back down to have some alfresco lunch at The Pillars of Hercules where I was joined by an unexpected guest.

robin, bird, nature, wildlife

Robin

This little robin was extremely bold and nearly got onto the plate with my toastie. Still, he made for a good model and a bonus shot for the day.

 

 

The art of preparation

Sometimes you get lucky – the trick is to be ready for it.

Heron by the river

Heron

First the disclaimer – I am not a wildlife photographer for two principle reasons:

  1. I don’t have the infinite patience it needs
  2. I don’t have the specialised kit for it

So, with that out of the way, on with the story.

This morning I decided to walk the dog along the river. The last time I was there, two days ago, I saw one heron and three deer. I decided, therefore, to pop the 200mm zoom lens on the camera before I went out, just in case. We’d walked well past where I saw the heron last time and my hopes were fading when I spotted it immediately across the river, no more than 15 metres away and well within range for my lens. Slowly and steadily, making as little movement as possible I began to lift my camera up, at which point it took off and flew away downstream. Perhaps my bright red mountain jacket had something to do with it – another reason I am not a wildlife photographer. I watched it fly low down the river and suspected it had landed not too far away. I therefore kept my camera on and up at the ready. Then I spotted it again, about 50 metres distant on the far bank. This time I stopped and took a shot from where I was before slowly edging forward hoping for a better opportunity. After twenty paces or so, it spotted the red mountain jacket again, and took to the air. This time I was ready, had the camera to my eye and followed it, getting the following shot.

Heron in flight

In flight

Although both of these shots were opportunistic, I had prepared for the opportunity. Not only did I have my camera with me, I had also decided to maximise my chances of a clear and successful shot by setting up in a way that I thought would work. I knew I would be shooting hand held so wanted to have a short enough exposure to overcome any camera shake and to freeze action. I also wanted to shoot around the sweet spot of the lens (between f8 and f11 for the one I was using). I therefore opted to work in manual mode, setting the shutter speed at 1/1000 sec and the aperture at f8. I then set the camera on auto ISO so that I would be pretty much guaranteed a good exposure. I also set the metering to spot, aiming to keep the subject centre frame with the intention that I would crop in and recompose in post – which is what I did with both images.

It’s pleasing that my preparation was rewarded on this occasion, despite the bright red mountain jacket.

A little further along the walk, and feeling optimistic about having grabbed a couple of decent shots I turned to look behind me and was struck by the way the marsh grasses and trees looked in the sunlight.

Grasses and trees

Impenetrable

I’m still not sure quite why I like this shot but I was fascinated by the patterns created by the light on the boughs and branches, the resulting contrast and the apparent randomness of the patterns. This too is cropped in post to achieve the composition I envisaged at the time I took the shot. I also heavily desaturated the image, not quite fully, and added a slight colour cast just to help the mood. I like to think of this one as my bonus shot from the morning dog walk and the great thing is that landscape is not startled by a red mountain jacket so stays put while you take time to compose the shot; a whole lot more co-operative.