Tag Archives: photography

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.

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Mr Bass Man

Mr Bass Man

Mr Bass Man

I took this photograph back in 2011 at a graduation concert. This was no studio shot but the stage lighting lent itself to this low-key treatment. The shot was taken with my camera mounted on a mono pod for some extra stability. The exposure was 1/125 sec at f5.6 with an ISO of 1600.

I wanted a fast enough exposure to minimise camera shake with a focal length of 105mm and I also wanted a shallow depth of field, hence the high ISO. This necessarily introduced some “noise” to the image. I’m not against that per se, but at times it just needs to be managed if it’s distracting. So, here’s a summary of how I processed this image.

As usual I opted to remove chromatic aberration and enable profile corrections under the Lens Corrections tab in Lightroom. After that, I proceeded with as light a touch as I needed to create the final effect I wanted.

In the basic panel I brought the highlights down a touch then lightened the whites and darkened the blacks to just short of the clipping point.I also slightly increased clarity and vibrance, just enough to add a little punch to the colours.

In the HSL panel I made very slight adjustments to the hue, saturation and luminance of the red and orange channels.

Sharpening required more careful attention. Holding down the Alt key to guide myself with the black and white rendering, I increased the masking until I was only going to affect the edges with sharpening. This entailed masking being at 93. I then applied some sharpening (32) with the radius at 0.5 and the detail at 10. Working by eye I increased the noise reduction for luminance until I was happy with how it looked. This ended up at a setting of 24. There was some noticeable colour noise on the bass man’s right forearm so I increased the noise reduction on that until I was happy with the appearance. That resulted in a setting of 27.

And that was it – those are the only adjustments I made to the image that came out of the camera.

This shot is one of my personal favourites as I feel the lighting captures the mood so well.

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.

 

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.