Tag Archives: trees

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.

 

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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.

Shadows and textures

It’s amazing what sometimes catches the eye making you stop and look closer. This morning when out walking the dog on a favourite route among the trees, I was enjoying once again the way light filtered through the leaves when I spotted strong light falling on a tree trunk casting clear leaf shadows onto the bark. I had to stop and take a closer look and became captivated by the number of textures I was seeing: light and shade, colour, contour, shape, rough and smooth.

The only camera I had in my possession was on my smart-phone, so I took the chance to take a shot and see what I could do with it. This shot was processed firstly in my phone using Lightroom CC then I picked it up back at base in Lightroom Classic on my computer where I made some fine tuning adjustments I just could not do on the phone.

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

I love images with texture and, for me, that’s the main feature of this shot. Compositionally, it could be argued that the photo lacks a clear subject so there’s no natural place for the eye to settle and therefore you end up scanning round the image. Well, for me, that’s just fine as it hopefully helps you to appreciate the textures which are, in a sense, the subject of this image.

In any event, I like it and I hope you do too. If you like enough, you can buy a fine art print here.

 

ATAC your photography

OK, who thought I had misspelled attack?

stream, burn, brook, nature, woodland, water

Scoonie Burn

Well, I do think it’s important to attack your photography, in the sense that we need to go at it with purpose and intent. In this instance though, I am using ATAC as an acronym for: Always Take A Camera.

I know, it’s kind of blatantly obvious: no camera means no photograph. But how often do we photographers go off somewhere, for some other reason, without a camera then see a composition or opportunity that we know we are missing? The photo above is a good example of ATAC in action.

I was simply setting out earlier this week to do the usual morning dog walk but decided on a whim to take a camera with me. I almost always have my phone with me and that has a camera on board, as do most these days, and it produces decent enough results in favourable conditions – but not all. There are times when only a “proper” camera will do and that’s really what I mean with ATAC, although if I added “proper” to that it would read as ATAPC and that just doesn’t work.

My inspiration for taking a camera with me was to have the opportunity to take some shots of the blossom in Letham Glen but as we walked up the glen, I was met with this scene above and was so pleased to have my DSLR with me, along with a Gorilla Pod which I could use for stability should I need a long exposure.

I really liked the scene of the Scoonie Burn meandering down through the trees and the little waterfalls add a nice element of interest. The soft green cast to the light gives a soothing feel to the image and comes from the morning light filtering gently through the fresh leaves of late spring.

I had some decisions to make with this one, while the dog waited rather impatiently. First of all there was quite a big differential in light between the highlights and shadows which was going to make choosing a good exposure quite tricky. Secondly, there was a decision to be made with the water – a slow shutter speed to soften the flow or something a little faster to retain detail? As I mentioned I had the option of using the Gorilla Pod, but wasn’t confident I could have enough secure stability with it to do multiple exposures and go for an HDR composite. The decided me to go hand-held and therefore to choose a fast enough shutter speed to avoid shake. I also wanted to have a decent depth of field so opted to shoot at around f10. To ensure a lack of shake I opted for a shutter speed of 1/50sec as my focal length was around 45mm (the rough rule of thumb is to choose a shutter speed at least as “fast” as the focal length, so with 50 being greater than 45 I felt secure). So, I set the camera on manual but moved the ISO to automatic and the camera then chose ISO-6400 for the “correct” exposure. Now, try doing all of that with your phone camera.

To get to the final image, I had to do some work in Lightroom to reduce the grain a little which I did by using the detail tool (sharpening). I also used a brush to reduce some highlights in key places rather than affecting the whole image.

I’m pleased with the final result of this and I thought it made for a good example of the benefits of ATAC.

Now, you might be wondering if I got any shots of the blossom I mentioned earlier. I certainly did – but that will be the subject of another blog.

Stay on the ATAC now!

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.

Dunham Massey shoot

I recently went on a photo shoot with an old friend of mine. He had the choice of location and opted for Dunham Massey, a National Trust property with a garden, ancient deer park and house. Here’s a selection of my shots with explanations of each one.

Dunham Massey-3992First up is the house itself. Pretty standard fare photographically with a full-frontal square on view of the property, but there’s nothing wrong with that and it gives a good context. Although this was out of season and I waited patiently for there to be no people walking across the shot, it proved impossible and this was the least populated shot I could get. I thought about removing the people in Photoshop but in the end felt that their inclusion added something to the image. This was shot hand held at 1/500 sec at f5 on ISO 200. As ever, I shot in RAW and did my own processing in Lightroom. In addition to the usual light touches I added a graduated filter to decrease the exposure in the sky to balance up the overall image a little more.

We spent some time in the gardens which featured children’s welly-boots in random places and uses – a dream for a photographer.

Dunham Massey-3997I was particularly taken with these RNLI branded boots hanging in a tree; that’s taking out of context to a whole new level. I decided to focus in quite tightly on the boots but leave enough space to reveal the context, though with a wide aperture to give a shallow depth of field throwing the tree out of focus and concentrating on the boots. This was shot hand held at 1/250 sec at f5.6 on ISO 200. The focal length on the shot was 55mm and this had only the usual light touch processing in Lightroom.

Dunham Massey-4010Continuing the welly-boot theme, I spotted this pair hanging from a wooden bridge. At the time of taking the shot I already knew that I wanted to render this in monochrome with the boots retaining their colour, so shot it with that in mind. As there was enough tonal range to clearly depict the bridge in it’s context, I opted for a wider shot to include the whole bridge, knowing that the colour in the boots would make them easily visible in the final image. This was shot hand held at 1/100 sec at f5.6 on ISO 200. To retain the boots in colour I opted to simply desaturate the colours individually as the boots were the only things that colour! That was a simpler approach than going into Photoshop to use layers and masks.

Dunham Massey-4005One of the things I like doing is getting in close to some detail. In the garden there was a border of bushes in bloom with small flowers and the obvious thing was to capture them in a wide shot (which I did, eventually) but first I decided to close in on some detail. In doing so I spotted a bee going about it’s business and stuck with it to get the photo above. It’s one of those things that would be so easily missed. This was also shot hand-held at 1/500 sec at f5.6 on an ISO of 200.

Dunham Massey-4044Back at the house I went in close again for this shot of the stonework by the door. I love the feeling of texture in it and opted to convert the image to mono in order to make this more apparent. Again, apart from the mono conversion, there was minimal processing within Lightroom. Although there’s not much physical depth to the subject here, I wanted to make sure everything was in focus, so opted for an aperture of f10. Keeping the ISO at 200, I was able to shoot this at 1/125 sec and given a focal length of 51mm that was easily good enough to be hand-held.

Dunham Massey-3996And finally one of my favourite things – using something as a natural frame to gain high contrast. These can be challenging as it’s good to retain some detail in the shadows which adds to the feeling of depth and avoids having a black interestingly shaped border. The challenge is to make sure that the highlights don’t blow out, so I was careful to check the on-camera histogram before deciding I probably had the shot I wanted. There was just enough light spilling into the foliage inside the gate to show up, so I metered for the outside and set my white balance for that too. This was shot at 1/200 sec at f5.6 on an ISO of 640. Within Lightroom I only had to pull back the highights a little to make sure there was detail in the bright areas.

Throughout this shoot I operated in full manual mode on the camera, taking full control of white balance, metering and exposure.

 

Colour and light

Here are a couple of different shots from today’s efforts.


This avenue of trees really captured my attention in Riverside Park at Glenrothes. The carpet of fallen leaves provided a pleasing colour base for the overhanging palette of the branches. The softness is offset by the sturdy verticals of the trunks. The challenge lies with the bright area where the daylight threatened to burn out any detail. As always I shot this in raw and made a manual exposure compromise in an effort to balance the whole image. As I’m away from base with no access to Lightroom or Photoshop, I adjusted this locally to take the highlights down a little.  I’m fairly happy with the result but will look again back at base.

1/25sec at f5.6 ISO 200

This next shot, in St Andrews, got my attention for different reasons.


The mottled shadows of a tree falling on the side of this church were making a pattern that just appealed to me. Light is so important in photography and this shot illustrates one way of using light to reveal textures that are not actually there. The shadows create a softening effect on the hard wall, creating a contrast in texture. The only processing on this shot is a slight crop to improve the overall composition.

2/200sec at f5.6 ISO 200