Tag Archives: landscape

A beacon of safety

Sentinel light
Ardnamurchan Lighthouse

Pic of the week – Friday 24 May 2019

As the shroud of dusk envelopes the landscape as a portent of night, so Ardnamurchan Lighthouse springs into action protecting the sailors and their ships from the most westerly point on the British Mainland.

This is one from the archive and the metadata tells me the following:

The photo was taken at 19:51hrs on 24 September 2015. I’m not sure if that’s the moment the shutter opened or closed, because this was a 25 second exposure at f20. I shot at ISO 100 to minimise noise and quite wide at 26mm. All editing has been done in Lightroom, and mostly with a light touch. I opted for a sqaure crop as I will be using this across my social media, but I like the resultant composition, I also added a slight vignette to help draw the eye to the light.

As I said above, Ardnamurchan Lighhouse is at the most westerly point on the British mainland positioned at Latitude 56° 43.6′ N Longitude 6° 13.4′ W . It’s been been safely guiding ships through the waters off Scotland’s west coast since 1849 and is now fully automated. The lighthouse tower is 36 metres tall rising 55 metres above the rocks. It was built in 1849 using granite from the Isle of Mull and was designed by Alan Stevenson, uncle of Robert Louis Stevenson, whose family designed most of Scotland’s lighthouses over a period of 150 years. Apparently it is the only lighthouse in the world designed in an “Egyptian“ style.

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Pic of the week – Friday 26 April 2019

Afghan Shop Keeper

Doing what’s necessary

One from the archive this week, taken on a filming trip to Afghanistan in December 2003 and a personal favourite.

This is in the capital city, Kabul. At the time of my visit it was strugling to find peace after years of conflict and was still in the early days of the UN forces presence. I remember the bombed-out buildings, bullet-holed walls everywhere and the total lack of any street lights.

I was impressed by the reslience of the Afghan people and this man typified it. I was told that he was a former wrestler and was famous in Afghanistan but had now lost his sight. In a country with no social security or welfare benefits you have to do what you can to simply survive. What this man had done was to create a room in his house and knock out an opening to the street. This was his shop and here he traded daily selling a variety of produce.

What I like about this image is the story it tells. Unless I had been told, I would have had no idea this man was blind. Here he was sitting in his home shop, enganing happily with a customer. There is an expression of welcome and engagement on his face and he appears relaxed and at peace with his lot. I like the scales sitting between him and his customers, speaking of balance, fairness and justice. It’s a symbol of hope for a nation plagued throughout its history by bloody conflict.

This was originally shot on film, Fuji 800 Pro if I remember correctly, and the resultant grain gives the image a certain mild grittiness which I think is appropriate.

It occurs to me now that this was almost 15 and a quarter years ago and I find myself wondering how this man’s story developed.


Pic of the week – Friday 19 April 2019

Cross sculpture - Ely Cathedral
Cross sculpture – Ely Cathedral

A promise

I admit it, I’ve not been all that diligent in recent times in posting on social media or writing a blog post. Life has been, and remains, busy.

What I’ve decided to do in order to rectify this omission is to post a “pic of the week” across all the social media I use and, on this blog, to make some comment on it. This is my promise to myself. The pictures might be something I’ve shot recently (even in that week) or something older from the archive. I feel this is probably something I can sustain as a minimum and maybe on occasion I will be inspired to post more. I’ve set myself a recurring ask reminder, so all being well…

And so we begin with this one, a sculpture on the wall at Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire. I shot this a few weeks back and this one’s for Easter.

The sculpture simply hangs there in the cathedral with no comment, allowing people to interact with it as they will. And that’s how I’ll leave it here. Just engage in the conversation by looking at the photo and allowing it to communicate.

Giving it a go – supermoon

supermoon
supermoon

A short story of opportunism


This is the final supermoon of 2019 hovering over the neighbourhood and coinciding with the spring equinox. It’s the last of this year’s three back-to-back supermoons, the first occurring on Jan.21, and the second, which was the biggest and brightest, on Feb 19.

Fortunately we had clear skies so I simply had to grab the moment to get out and take the shot – barely an hour before writing this! I must admit it was opportunistic as I hadn’t been aware this supermoon was due. I had simply gone out to take some rubbish to the bin and was met by this glorious sight.

So, I headed straight back inside to get the camera, change the lens and do my best to get a decent shot. There was no time to faff around setting up a tripod, which is fine (and best) when you are planned and ready but this was sheer opportunism so how do you go about trying to ensure you get the shot? Well, here’s what I did.

The lens I had on the camera was a 55 – 200mm with no image stabilisation. I needed to work hand held but minimise blur from camera shake. I opted for manual mode, and selected an exposure time of 1/500 sec. The rough rule of thumb is to use a shutter speed at least twice the value of the focal length of the lens. I was doubling it which more than compensated for the multiplier effect of my crop sensor of 1.6. I chose an aperture of f8 which is around the sweet spot of the lens and then put my ISO on auto. This would at least guarantee a decent exposure and I spot metered on the moon. The pay-off, of course, was going to be grain (or noise if you prefer, but I grew up with film so it’s grain for me!)

After taking a few shots to bracket exposures around my settings and to spread the shake risk a little I took the images into Lightroom. All of the processing of this shot was done in Lightroom. What I did was allow for lens correction and also chromatic abberation. Then I made some global (though slight) adjustments to the exposure and tweaked the white and black scales just a little. I also introduced a little contrast, then made local brush adjustments to the moon to bring out the detail and to the rooftops to prevent the blacks from clipping. I then set about sharpening using the mask to pick out only the edges and bringing the radius down to 0.5. I had to give it a fair bit of noise reduction on luminance with a heavy hand (nearly 100%) on the colour noise reduction.

In the end, I’m quite pleased with this shot which goes to show that you should never pass up an opportunity even if you’ve not planned and therefore think it won’t be the perfect shot. It’s always worth giving it a go.

Rescuing an oldie

Lochnagar
Lochnagar

I was browsing through my old files today and came across this photo of Lochnagar which I had taken on 28 May 2010. The original shot was somewhat “thin” but I felt it offered some prospect of redemption so I opened the develop module in Lightroom and set to work.

Here’s the before and after comparison:

Lochnagar – before and after

I felt that this image would benefit from some “thickening” of the colours and contrast and also that the sky could made just a little more dramatic.

Here then, is the story of how I used Lightroom to go from the original to the final image.

The first thing I always do is to Enable Lens corrections and tick for that. I also usually tick to Remove chromatic aberration. After that I make sure the image is straight and then it’s off to the Basic panel.

Basic panel

Usually, this is a light touch approach in here, but this image needed more intense responses to get it to how I wanted it to look. I didn’t work down this panel in sequence but started with the exposure which just needed to come down a little. My next stop was to adjust the whites and blacks, increasing the whites and reducing the blacks until the points where clipping began and adjusting to just short of the clipping point. This already made a big difference. Next stop was to adjust both Clarity and Dehaze, working with both pretty much in tandem until the balance between the two was producing the effect I was looking for, Both of these are adusted here much more than I would normally be happy with, but the image did need it. Both also affect contrast and after experimenting with that a little, I left that slider alone and moved on to the Tone curve.

Tone curve

Here, as you can see, I made very slight adjustments to the dark tones and highlights for a very gentle S curve. I need to emphasise that in processing photos I am not looking for specific settings values but judge the effect being made by eye. I constantly look at before/after comparisons to see how the work is progressing. Next up was a little work on the colour channels where I wanted to enhance the sunlight falling on the corries and flank. And so to the HSL panel.

HSL panel

Here I felt I only needed to make slight adjustments to the red and orange channels where I pushed the hue on both a little more towards orange and then very slightly increased the saturation. Another check of the before/after comparison and I felt we were nearly there. The final destination was for some sharpening.

Detail pane

My approach here is to control the sharpening carefully. To do this I first apply just a little sharpening then holding down the Alt key inclrease the masking until I see only the white parts that I want to actually apply the sharpening to. For landscapes I tend also to reduce the radius to 0.5 and leave the detail as is. Again, holding down the Alt key for the black and white screen I adjust the Luminance to minimise grain (noise) to what I think is an acceptable level, The black and white screen allows this to be visualised more easily. This image also needed some colour noise reduction, probably as a result of the extent of the clarity and dehaze adjustments made earlier. Finally, I made a trip back to the Basic panel to cool the colour temperature just a tad. And that’s it.

It’s worthwhile revisiting old shots occasionally to see what’s there and what might be worth a little more editing work. It’s also good practice for the virtual darkroom.

Avoiding landscapes on steroids

I shot this photo in the pass of Killicrankie, Perthshire, on 11 November and, as usual shot it in RAW. I thought it might be interesting to walk you through the editing I did to get to the final image and I’ll try to explain my reasoning as we go.

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

Killicrankie

Killicrankie

My aim in editing landscape shots like this, is to get as close as possible to how I saw the scene with my own eyes at the time. There are a few standard initial steps I take in my work flow and I always begin in Lightroom. Seldom do I need to use Photoshop, though there are occasions when that’s definitely required.

The first thing I do is go to lens corrections and tick two boxes there: enable profile correction (which compensates for lens distortion) and enable chromatic aberration – I can’t see any chromatic aberration in this shot, but I don’t think ticking this box does any harm, just in case.

Next it’s off to the basic panel and there I could see that there was a nice looking histogram so there’s no need to do anything with the exposure (at least not at this point – sometimes other adjustments have an effect on exposure which later needs a little correction). The histogram looked very like a standard bell curve with nothing bunched at either end, so no blown out highlights or over-cooked blacks. I decided therefore to increase the whites and reduce the blacks to just before the point where clipping occurs – just to see what that did to the image which was too “thin” compared to my memory of the scene. A quick check on before/after showed that this had introduced a little more contrast and enriched the colours a little. Definitely making headway to “thickening it up”.

The next steps were to drop the highlights a touch, just enough to bring the top of the histogram off the top of the scale and no more, and to add a very small amount of dehaze, which helped to add a little sharpening in the mid-tones. Another quick before/after check to make sure I was still headed in the right direction and I was happy to move on and consider what next. I decided to take the vibrance up a fraction, judging the effect by eye, and moved away from the basics panel.

Looking now at the colours, I was happy with the yellows and greens but felt the purple and magenta tones were just a little muted compared to my memory. So to the HSL/colour panel and minor adjustments to the purple and magenta channels. In each of those I pulled back the hue a little to the left (different small amounts on each), and slightly boosted the saturation before reducing the luminance. All these changes are small and subtle but collectively begin to add up – which is a good reason for never being heavy handed in any one element. Another before/after check and we are looking good so far.

I still felt it needed just a little more “depth” so went to the tone curve and set it to medium contrast and checked before/after. Actually, I kept the before/after window open and clicked the tone curve on and off several times just to decide if I wanted to stick with that adjustment or abandon it. I decided to stick with it.

By this time I felt we were almost there but notices that some highlights had blown out so used the adjustment brush to make local changes to the highlights.

I usually have a look at sharpening, and I find that Lightroom does a good enough job with this, though if I was being really fussy I’d probably do this in Photoshop with a high pass. Working in Lightroom, with a shot like this (and don’t take this as a rule, always trust your eyes) I set the sharpening to around 30. The Alt key I drag the masking slider way to the right. This gives a black and white screen and only the white areas are affected by the sharpening. In this case I needed to slide all the way to 99 until I was happy. I aslo reduced the radius slider to 0.5 and the detail slider to 4. Another before/after check and I was happy with how it was now looking. I felt it was now a more accurate representation of how I had seen it and that it wasn’t overcooked in processing. Landscapes on steroids don’t look good – at least that’s my opinion.

The only remaining question for me was one of composition. This entailed just sitting and looking at the image for a while and pondering if there were any distractions that I could/should crop out and also what final crop ratio I would prefer. I wasn’t sure about the evergreens at the top right of frame and, to be honest, As a leading line, I’d have preferred the railway to enter the frame bottom left, but I was hampered by physical location at the time of shooting. So, what followed as a period of trial and error with different crops. I rather liked a wide format 16×9 crop but was still unsettled by the central entrance of the leading line of the railway. Finally I settled on a square crop which allowed me to bring the leading line in from the bottom left of frame and I was happy to leave just a hint of the evergreens top right.

And here is the final result:

Killicrankie

Killicrankie

I hope you like it and have maybe found the explanation of how I went from the original “out-of-camera” shot to the final image interesting and perhaps useful.

Thank you for reading and, if you do, for following me. Why not check out my Instagram account and also follow me there.

 

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.