Category Archives: composition

Sometimes it’s worth turning around

The Kelpies

The Kelpies

These are magnificant stainless steel clad sculptures standing around 30 metres tall located by the Forth & Clyde canal at Falkirk. Since they were opened to the public in 2013 they have become a favourite subject for photographers. As you can tell, I am no exception. Mostly they are photographed in a couple of ways: relatively close up and showing their context beside the canal, and also at dusk or night when they are illuminated.

I’ve been a couple of times to take some photographs and have done the “usual” thing with them, so nothing too different really apart from a couple of very tight close-ups which show only parts of the sculptures. On one occasion, I had taken all the shots I wanted and was heading back to the car when I turned round and was met by this view. I immediately liked it. I was drawn to the way the fading light from the setting sun was lighting the Kelpies and how they were contrasted against the sky. I also really liked the dusting of snow on the Ochil Hills in the distance. There is something appealing in the contrast between the softness of the snow and the hardness of the steel Kelpies. I also liked that this view set them in a context not usually represented in photographs. It also felt like the one with its head down was grazing on the trees rising from just below the ridge. That seemed to me such a natural thing that it almost brought the Kelpies to life.

I’d been shooting on a tripod but this was such an opportunity in the fading light that I just went hand-held and aimed to get a shot before the light was gone. I was also cold and keen to be back in the car. For those interested in such things, this was shot at 1/1000sec at f8 on an ISO of 400 and at a focal length of 55mm (there must have been more light than I remember). The image was shot in RAW (as per usual) and initially processed (for all the usual things) in Lightroom. I then used Photoshop to remove some distractions which included power lines and some random birds which were really doing nothing to add to the image.

The Kelpies are well worth a visit. They were designed by sculptor Andy Scott and the name Kelpies was chosen by Scottish Canals. Kelpies come from Scottish myth and legend and are  said to be shape-changing spirits of waterways. There’s some thought that the name may come from the Scottish Gaelic words ‘cailpeach’ or ‘colpach’, meaning heifer or colt. Kelpies are said to haunt rivers and streams typically appearing in the shape of  horses. Of course, horses were also a feature of canals when they were used to pull barges. This makes these magnificent sculptures so appropriate to sit by the canal.

This image is available as a Fine Art print on my website along with another couple of more “usual” shots of the Kelpies.

 

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Spot the difference

Rannoch Station is one of the most remote railway stations in the UK. Here are two photographs of it. Can you spot the difference? You may need to enlarge the photos.

Rannoch Station

Rannoch Station

Rannoch Station

Rannoch Station

Did you spot it? There are no prizes (don’t stop reading though) for seeing that in the first shot there are wires leading down to the station building from the top left of frame whereas in the second shot they are absent.

The question is, was this worth about 45 minutes in Photoshop to take the wires out? It’s not so easy to answer and is really a matter of personal opinion.

Leaving the wires in is an honest reproduction of what was actually there and there are people who would argue for that level honesty in photography. The curious thing here is that at the time I took the photograph I really wasn’t aware of them. By the time I got round to processing the photo in Lightroom, I became increasingly aware of them. I felt they were detracting from the scene as I had originally enjoyed it. So there’s another little dimension on this minorly ethical matter. When we view any scene live – by actually being there – we tend to focus rather specifically on what we take in and our brains undertake some live editing and we simply filter out things that we’re not interested in. So, by taking the wires out in Photoshop was I being true to my own memory and perception but untrue to the actual reality?

It was a fiddly and time-consuming process to remove the wires but I felt that the scene was better without them. There was no longer competition to be the leading lines into the photo and I feel much happier without that competition going on. I think the composition is enhanced by removing the wires and therefore the effort was worth it.

In the end, I take the view that Photography, of this type is art. I think the debate becomes more pointed when we get into the realms of photojournalism or documentary genres where there is much more of an overriding need to present things honestly.

So, what do you think? I’d be fascinated to read any comments on this.

 

Tree of knowledge

Tree of Knowledge

Tree of Knowledge

There’s a story behind this one.

It begins in October 2014 when I visited Westonbirt, The National Arboretum in Gloucestershire. The plan was to get some photographs of trees in autumnal colours and during the visit I took a number of photographs, some of which were OK but none were real stand-outs. Some months later I was experimenting with masking in Photoshop and had the idea of shaping a tree in a human profile. Among the shots from Westonbirt was the one below.

Tree, leaves, shadows, bark, tree, textures, colours, nature

 

I felt this offered an opportunity to be creative with a profile mask so set about working in Photoshop with two profiles I had sourced. One was clearly male and the other clearly female. I tried edits with both and, for some reason, I found the female profile worked better in aligning with the tree. I worked with it and cropped in to make the effect more evident and saved the work in a folder along with other experiments gathering e-dust, you might say.

Recently I was working on some other creative effects and adaptations and recalled this one so was keen to revisit it. Coming back to it after a reasonably lengthy absence was quite refreshing and I decided that I rather liked it but felt it needed a title. As I’d shaped it into the profile of a human head I got to thinking about what we contain in there – everything we know, our feelings, thoughts and memories. I was leaning towards the title of Tree of Knowledge which, of course, has direct resonance in the story in Genesis: The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden,  but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Then later, So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. At this point I found it curious that I had chosen the female silhouette for the profile shape as, in the Genesis story, it was the woman who first ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil.

If there’s a moral to this little tale of mine it’s that we, as human beings, know the difference between good and evil and we have a choice as to how we behave in the light of that knowledge and that just about anything can be used for good or harm.

I find this image of the Tree of Knowledge, to be a reminder to use my photography for good.

If you wish, you can buy a print of the Tree of Knowledge here and have it on your wall as a reminder to yourself.

Thanks for reading and for following this blog.

Falls of Bruar

The Falls of Bruar, Perthshire

Falls of Bruar

Last week I was in Perthshire for a break featuring some rest and relaxation and time to read. Of course, a photographer is never really taking a break from capturing images but I was there with no fixed plan only my gear and a loose intention to get any images on an opportunistic basis. Most days were wet and more conducive to reading than photography.

On this day, however, my wife and I decided to head to Killicrankie where I thought I might get a shot or two, which I did. After that, however, we decided to head a little north to the House of Bruar for some refreshment. I remembered there were signs to the falls of Bruar so we set off up the path with the dog and I got a couple of images I like, including this one.

I know these long exposure shots of waterfalls are something of a cliché but what captured my attention here was the swirling water at the pool below the waterfall and I thought that might make for an interesting feature. The late autumn colours were vibrant and the very diffused daylight was giving them something of a gentle glow.

I chose to shoot this at f11 to provide a decent depth of field but stay close to the sweet spot of the lens. I wanted a long exposure, so from there I opted for an ISO of 100 and added an ND filter giving me a final exposure time of eight seconds. That’s been long enough to soften the cascade and capture the swirl in the lower pool. I’m pleased with the contrast between the softness of the water and the sharp detail in the rock. There’s also a glow in the water to the top of the pool which reveals the clear but peaty-brown nature of the water. I’m almost back there.

…and a tripod was pretty essential.

If you think this photo would brighten up a wall in your home or office it’s available as a fine art print from my website. Go on, treat yourself or someone else…

Thanks for reading – if you like this, please let me know.

Being discrete

a game of pool - table corner with side lighting

Pool

How do you preserve confidentiality and tell a compelling story? This photo is my answer to that question in a very specific context.

Recently I have been working on a set of photographs for the Levenmouth Foodbank which will be used in a new brochure they are producing. One of the challenges of this project was to illustrate aspects of the work of the Foodbank whilst preserving the confidentially of those who use it. It’s important to be able to tell a story through these kind of images which, for me, fall into the genre of documentary.

Why the need for discretion? It’s probably well known that people who use foodbanks are not doing so through choice but because they have fallen on hard times financially, perhaps temporarily, or perhaps more long term. There is a natural stigma about this and, for the most part, no-one forced to use a foodbank would wish to be recognised as doing so. The trustees and volunteers at the foodbank, quite rightly, also wanted to protect the identity of their clients.

One of the surprising things for me was to find that there is so much more going on at a foodbank than handing out food. I can’t be sure if this applies to all of them, but the Levenmouth Foodbank also runs a café where clients can come in and get a cup of tea or coffee, a hot filled roll and biscuits or, occasionally, some cake. It’s also a social time when clients can meet with each other and chat with Foodbank Volunteers who can guide them with things like budgeting, job seeking etc.

During a shoot at the café I was attracted to the pool table where clients can have a relaxing game with one another or, typically, challenge a volunteer to a game. I wanted to be able to capture this and illustrate the importance of human interaction in a supportive way. I also had to be discrete.

I knew this would need to be a tightly focused shot (and I’m not talking depth of field here) closing in on the detail rather than going wide. The set up for this was pretty simple. I set up my light source (one speed light mounted on a light stand bounced into an umbrella) to the side of the table. I used a wireless trigger to allow me to roam around the table looking for compositions that would work.

The single light source allowed me to create a clear focal point for the image and the shadow cast by the player on the left emphasises the light on the table. I like that the eye is drawn to the action on the table and the cue of the player on the left provides a nice leading line into the composition. It’s obvious that there are two players here and, in the background, there is also one spectator clearly visible. Immediately, there is a sense of what’s going on here without having to reveal any faces.

One of the bonuses for me is that I feel the depth of foreground shadow helps to accentuate the action and perhaps this gives a sense that out of the darkness of despair, there is always the hope of light and better things to come.

 

One to go back to

rock, beach, water, calm, sky, low tide, ripples

Rock, water, sky

It was low tide this morning when walking the dog along the beach so we went a little further than usual to where I know there are rocks and pools. This mini scene caught my eye and I was struck by the calmness of the water in this extensive but shallow pool left by the receding tide. Immediately I was thinking about a possible photographic composition but this was no more than something I might end up noting for the future – potentially one to go back to with the proper gear. All I has was my ‘phone but it’s invaluable for recording possible compositions.

This one needed a good focal point and I thought the seaweed covered rock offered a decent subject reflecting gently in the water. I felt this needed a low angle of attack so I walked into the water and crouched as low as I could to get the foreground filled with the pool and the include the sky where the cloud offered a nice “sandwich” effect with the bright horizon more or less central.

Given that this was a “scouting” shot” you might ask if it’s worth doing any processing on the phone image – yes, absolutely it is because, for me at least, it helps me see more of the potential of the composition and what I might look for in going back. Of course, anything I later do will be different, because the conditions will be different but, having gone through the full process, I have a much better idea of the possibilities.

So, I thought I would take you through the editing adjustments I made to get the final “scouting” shot above. First of all, here’s a before and after comparison to show how the image looked straight out of the phone compared to the final result:

rock, beach, water, calm, sky, low tide, ripples

before and after

All the editing was done in Lightroom and the comparison above is taken from the Lightroom Before/After function. The red area in the “before” shot is showing up as I keep highlight and shadow clipping switched on, so this is showing areas of sky that are blown out. So, where did I begin and what adjustments did I make to end up with the final “after” image?

First of all, and I pretty much always do this, is I made lens corrections and ticked to remove chromatic aberrations. After that I went into the basic menu in Lightroom and selected the auto tone option. I don’t always do this, but on this occasion I felt it would give me a decent baseline to work from. Working sequentially, I then did the following:

Exposure – dropped by about half a stop

Contrast – reduced slightly

Highlights – to deal with the blown-out area I used a brush adjustment to localise the effect only where I wanted it – in specific areas of sky

Shadows – slightly lightened

Whites – slightly lightened apart from the sky where, as part of the brush adjustment, I also dropped the whites slightly darkened

Blacks – were slightly darkened

Clarity – go carefully with this, but increased it slightly

Dehaze – as with clarity (both of these affect contrast)

Vibrance – slightly increased

I then made some colour channel adjustments, increasing the saturation of green while also adjusting it’s hue. This was to help make the rock stand out a little more as the key subject. I also made some slight adjustments to purple and magenta (hue and saturation) to bring about the effect I wanted in the sky and the sand below the water.

Finally I added a slight vignette to draw the eye towards the centre of the composition.

Having done all of that I feel this is one I might return to with the full gear even though I know it will inevitably be different. Rehearsing the whole process has encouraged me to think there is some potential here.

It also occurs to me that this shows there is much more to photography than just “taking a snap”.

 

Refreshing, inspiring and prompting thought

Clouds part to reveal the Mont Blanc Massif

Mont Blanc Massif

This image is available to buy from my website as a fine art print. Perhaps at this point I should be clear that if you buy a print, it will not have my signature watermark so it is a clean image.

There are differing opinions about what constitutes a fine art photograph and this is largely due to the fact that there is no universally agreed definition. Fine art photography seems to cover a wide range of subject matter and can almost be seen as anything that isn’t otherwise categorised, such as: photojournalism, science photography, portraiture etc. A broad consensus seems to lie around the idea that a fine art photograph is more generally about the vision of the photographer and their creative input to produce an image they have preconceived in some way. Personally, I think there’s more subtlety to it than that. Any time I take a photograph, be it documentary, portrait, product or anything else, I am always thinking about how I want the final image to look and I think that’s true for most, if not all, serious photographers.

Taking all of that as read, I believe that fine art images are those that refresh, inspire and prompt us to think. They are images that communicate and hold an inherent beauty in the eye of the beholder. Essentially they are images you would want to hang on your wall and look at, and the image above, of the Mont Blanc Massif emerging from parting cloud, hangs on my wall at home.

I took this photograph a few years ago when visiting Chamonix. There is an element of serendipity about it as I happened to be in just the right place at just the right time to capture the drifting clouds revealing the mountains beyond. To get to the image above, though, I needed to do some work in Lightroom to create the mood and atmosphere I remembered at the time I fired the shutter.

I appreciate that we don’t all buy images on a regular basis but if this photograph refreshes and inspires you to thought, then next time you are looking for a picture to hang on the wall, why not remember this one and maybe also look at the others I have available.

Thank you.