alan frost photography

in monochrome with occasional colour lapses

Processing for fun with integrity – Glengorm Castle

In this digital age there are an infinte number of options when you start to process an image, so what do I mean when I refer to processing with integrity?

In my view the photographer should have a clear vision of how the finished image should appear to the viewer before any processing is undertaken. The photographer may even have a good idea of what the completed picture will look like at the time of taking, but usually I find this comes later. This image of Glengorm Castle in a remote part of the Isle of Mull on the west coast of Scotland is a good example.

This is an image I captured back in 2017 and re-discovered recently. Many of us have the time to go back through the archives and consider how we might like to present a finished photograph.

I thought it would help to explain my thinking if I shared some of the steps along the way, so I shall start with the RAW file straight out of the camera.

The light was very flat which is often ideal for black and white processing. The castle stands proud on the hill and whilst not immediately evident there is plenty of detail in the sky. There is good foreground interest and the open gate encourages the viewer’s eye to ‘walk’ into the scene and on towards the castle. Having said that I felt the castle was a little too central in the frame, and the rocks on the right are quite dominant, so a crop was required.

This is now a better balanced composition in my opinion.

Next stage. What look or feeling to the picture I am trying to create? I know I want to convert it to black and white but then what? This is the point at which certain decisions need to made before any manipulation to the image is carried out. There needs to be a plan.

In other words, there should be a clear intention, a sense of integrity in moving forward. It would be all too easy to play around with the sliders in Lightroom or some other software, in the hope that something might happen which looks okay. Worse still hitting a preset and saying that will do. Before I go further let me show you a simple black and white conversion from the cropped colour image above.

It’s pretty dull isn’t it, so what went through my mind and what choices did I make.

First and foremost I wanted to have a little fun. I wanted the final image to be much more dramatic and atmospheric, evoking the feel of a lonely haunted castle, which I had stumbled upon towards the end of the day in dark and threatening weather conditions. A place that is inviting me to take sanctuary but I do I want to walk through the gate and step inside the castle? Will the welcome I receive be friendly or hostile?

Remember this was all about having some creative play and the outcome is certainly not my usual style but by being a little over the top it does illustrate the point of this entry.

As I describe my processing choices here is the finished image again.

Tonally there is now considerably more contrast. The top part of the sky has been darkened down and the base of the picture has received a similar treatment. Importantly the castle itself, the trees to the right and the far hill on the left have been ‘burned’. This has created layers of light and dark in the picture. The gate stands out against the middle ground grasses and the castle is virtually a silhouette against the sky. I have ‘dodged and burned’ local areas of the picture as required. I have added some grain and a cool split tone both of which I feel are entirely appropriate to the original creative plan.

Lastly I decided to clone out the sheep. A small point perhaps, but keeping them in the picture made the overall look of the image too friendly for my liking. A small detail perhaps, but still in line with the original plan.

Personally I am pleased with the outcome. It is how I imagined the picture would look when finished. I stuck to the brief and processed the image accordingly. It was done with intent. This doesn’t mean it’s a great image and if the RAW file was handed to 10 other photographers, we would end up with 10 different results, each one expressing a personality of its own.

What matters to me is that processing should demonstrate integrity. Choices which are made are neither right or wrong, it’s simply that choices were made and a plan carried out in accordance with those choices.

Oh and I had a bit of fun along the way.

Stay safe and keep well.

10 Responses to “Processing for fun with integrity – Glengorm Castle”

  1. Robert Parker

    A great spooky shot, and I enjoyed learning about the photo- and thought-process. Enter freely and of your own free will! Cue a banshee wail or a few wolves howling! Great!

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  2. Vicki

    I agree with Robert – a spooky result. I thought the castle was too centered also. I see what you mean about the sheep making the image look too friendly.

    Due to a recent inheritance, I’m now in a position to purchase some ‘simple to use’ software for working in B & W – something I’d never really thought about before partly because I was more concerned about getting out in the fresh air and some exercise, as about doing nature photography. Now I’m more house based with my health, I’m thinking about what else can I do in terms of something creative. In the absence of having an expert like yourself by my side, can you recommend any software that’s relatively easy for my rather slow brain, but give me a few simple tools. Is it worth finding some software packages with free trials to play around with and find something I can understand easily. I failed miserably with PS & Lightroom 6-7 years ago as it was too hard for me to remember how to use. I learn by trial and error, doing something over and over, every day if necessary. My short-term memory is too poor to learn anything complicated. Any thoughts?

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    • alan frost

      Hell Vicki. I am sorry your health is so inhibiting but obviously pleased you still wish to be creative.
      In answer to your question I would have suggested Silver Efex Pro which is part of the DXO Nik Collection (£125 but 30 day free trial) but if you struggled with PS and LR then it may not be for you. You also need to use LR or PS as it’s a plug in to these programmes, not stand alone software. Having said that its the best b&w conversion software around in my opinion.
      If you have an iPad or similar Android tablet you could try Snapseed which is an App for both Android and IOS. Its not specific to black and white but I have seen some excellent results using this programme which is very straightforward to use. I use it occasionally on my iPhone.
      As these are the only ones I use I would hesitate to suggest anything else.
      What are you using at the moment? Hope this helps in some small way. Alan

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      • Vicki

        Thanks for your suggestions, Alan.
        I don’t have an iPad but am considering buying one for the times I’m in hospital and need to get online.

        So it sounds like Silver Efex Pro is not an option. Or snapseed. At the moment, or should I say in the past, I just converted colour images to B & W with the Apple in-house basic Photo-editing tools. I usually fiddle around with the basic exposure, contrast and mid-tones and erase spots and crop using the same (for my Canon DSLR & Lenses).

        I can’t clone out whole items though (i.e. sheep)…..unless it is small and has a clear area surrounding the subject I want erased.

        (I have been known to spend 45-60 minutes erasing hundreds of dots or twigs in a pond or lake shot though. I actually have quite a lot of patience to do what some people would call, very mudane or tedious small detail work, even though I only have my distance glasses perched on the end of my nose to see or read).

        If an outdoor scene has extremes in tonal range and contrast (like a sunset with the foreground going into silhouette), and I have my Sony a6000 with me, I can actually use the Intelligent Auto setting and get a good tonal range in-camera……then convert to B & W at home on the large 27″ screen. That setting is brilliant at capturing sunsets.

        Sounds Like I need to do some research online to find some software to extend my basic iMac inhouse editing tools.

        Thanks, Alan. 🙂

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      • alan frost

        Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful. Sounds like an iPad might be useful to you in other ways. There would be many photo editing apps in addition to Snapseed, which has the advantage of being free. I don’t know if you can use it to clone an image but there are other apps which do offer this functionality.
        Good luck with your research. Alan

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  3. Howard Widdison

    Love your explanation of how your worked through this. I work in a similar fashion, and always have an image in my mind when i take the shot…. sometimes if the scene is exactly as I want it I barely edit at all, in others such as if I was processing this I would probably have worked it in a similar fashion to how you did.
    Great job look forward to seeing more work from you .

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    • alan frost

      Thanks for your kind comment Howard and I am pleased you enjoyed reading what I had to say. Stay safe and well in Eastbourne from Sunny Chichester!

      Liked by 1 person

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