I like to be creative. I like to make an image, not just take a shot. I like to revisit frames taken a while ago, and sometimes I like to reprocess a shot because the first time round it didn’t really work out as I would have wanted…… and finally I like to be honest with myself and the viewer as to how the photograph was made. All of this requires a little more explanation.
I recently uploaded this photo of Cley Windmill to Flickr. A traditional view and treatment of this much photographed and prominent building on the North Norfolk Coast. A relatively pleasing image, well composed I think, but is there anything more to say about it, or just as importantly, could I do more with it in post processing?
When I looked at it again a few days later, I wondered whether or not I should have processed it in another way and that got me thinking. What if I came up with three more versions of the same image using only Silver Efex Pro2, promising myself that I would take no more than five minutes on each version. My plan was to start with one of the many pre-sets and then make some minor adjustments until I finished with an image I liked but had a very different look to the first attempt. What would I learn from this quick experiment? Would I prefer any of the ‘new’ pictures? ….. and finally how would all these photographs compare to the original RAW file from the Leica M Monchrom. Just how flexible are the files it produces?
Last weekend I gave myself some time to take a few shots with the specific intention of using my Lee Sev5n filter system. Yes, that is how it is spelt. It’s the smaller version of its big brother and works in just the same way but its size is better suited to mirrorless cameras such as the system I use.
I decided to head back to a location I had been to in the Autumn of last year – The River Arun near the tiny hamlet of South Stoke, which is at the end of a no through road to the north of the town of Arundel.
Taking any long exposure shots has to be done with a tripod so the time taken to set up and compose the shot takes a lot longer than a more straightforward hand held exposure, but it does make you stop and think about what you are doing.
When I returned to my car and made the journey back home I was convinced that the hour or so I spent taking a handful of images had not been worthwhile. Nevertheless when I downloaded the files and started to work on them in post processing, a couple of the images started to come together. The long exposure of about 8 seconds which I used for the shot at the top of this entry, had blurred the water and the effect of the light wind movement in the reeds and the branches of the trees was captured. However there was still some detail in the foreground.
As well as taking long exposure shots to create a sense of mood, I though I would also experiment by selectively using one of the ‘blur’ filters in Photoshop and masking certain areas of the image which would have the effect of de-focusing some elements of the photograph. I have used this technique in the photo below, effectively blurring the left hand side of the image whilst keeping the right hand side relatively sharp. I have applied a vignette as well as a ‘coffee tone’ in Silver Efex Pro2 to produce the image below. This was a 10 second exposure.
Although I have not had much time since I returned from walking the South Downs Way, I have at least made a start on editing and processing some of the catalogue.
Whenever I take a large number of shots, from the moment I press the shutter there are some which stick in my mind. Perhaps instinctively I know that these shots might have the right basic ingredients to make a potentially pleasing image.
One such shot was taken early in the morning as we left the village of Amberley and started the uphill climb to Amberley Mount. The sun had not long risen and there was still some early morning mist in the air. We came across a gate in amongst some trees and hedgerow. The light being cast on the scene was just glorious. I only took the one exposure and here is the result.
|The Gate –
on the South Downs Way
I originally started processing the image in Photoshop CS5 a few days ago and made a number of fine adjustments on a daily basis until I felt completely happy with the result. More often than not I will process a photo in one sitting, but on this occasion I took more time and tried to remain patient. This was simply because each time I revisited the image, either later in the day or the following morning, I would look at the picture and see something new, which I thought could be fine tuned to enhance the overall appearance.
This staged approach is of course no different to an artist with a paintbrush in his hand. A painting will often take a number of sessions to finish and as the paint dries so the picture changes. I don’t think the method of processing a photograph should be any different. I accept that some images can be completed in no time at all, but there are others, and this is a good example, when more time and patience brings its reward. You do of course have to decide when to click ‘save’ for the last time and that decision is never an easy one. For now the ‘The Gate’ is finished and I can now enjoy ‘fine tuning’ the next image in this series on the South Downs Way.
There is not a great deal more to say, other than how fortunate I was to be in the right place at the right time to capture this shot. The shaft of light coming from the other side of the gate was a very beautiful sight, as it lit up the path and the foliage of the surrounding trees and hedgerow.
This is the penultimate entry about my 121 workshop with Paul Gallagher in the Lake District. There will be a final post concerned with ‘black and white’ printing to complete the series.
When Paul and I first met in the lounge of The Crowpark Hotel in Keswick, one of the things I said I would like to learn more about was how to pre-visualise the finished photograph before releasing the shutter. To start to think of the photographic workflow as one cohesive process, as opposed to a number of separate steps from seeing, to taking, to processing and finally to print or uploading to the web. This one step followed by another had largely been my way of doing things to date, so I wanted to try and link these stages together and change the way I thought about my approach to photography.
Common sense told me that what happens during each stage must have an impact on the next, and so on down the line. I guessed that by pre-visualising the finished image at the outset, decisions could be made at each stage, as the finished image could already be seen in the mind’s eye. The skill therefore would be to know what might be possible and to take the photograph with this is mind.
For me this idea of thinking ahead was best demonstrated when Paul and I drove through Newlands Valley. I spotted a small group of trees on the horizon and although when we first arrived at this scene the clouds were universally grey, there was some movement in the sky, so we set up our cameras for the shot in the hope that the sky and light would improve…….and after about 20 minutes it did.
Straight out of the camera the RAW image looked like this; not too inspiring you might think but Paul had already talked me through his pre-visualisation of the ‘finished’ shot. I used a 1 or may be 2 stop graduated filter just to balance the exposure values between the sky and the foreground.
Back in the digital darkroom and using Lightroom I applied a ‘preset’ to boost the clarity, remove any chromatic aberration and apply a modest amount of sharpening. The next stage was to adjust the saturation and luminance of the blue channel, knowing that when the image was converted to black and white there would be the opportunity to increase the contrast in the sky. Having made these adjustments the RAW image now looked like this.
An improvement on the first image but hardly a photograph to get excited about. The next stage was to import the RAW file into photoshop and then convert the image to monochrome. Using ‘Image’ – ‘Adjustment’ – ‘Black and white’ a window opens which allows you to make adjustments to a range colour channels. Having boosted the saturation and luminance of the blue sky in Lightroom, I further darkened the blue channel to a value of -80. The resulting image is shown below.
You might be forgiven for thinking this image is now worse than the colour version and I would probably agree but the next stage really brings the photograph to life. A ‘levels’ adjustment layer was applied and now the image looks like this.
However some further fine tuning in photoshop was required. A number of ‘curves’ adjustment layers were made to selected areas of the image, before finally sharpening the trees and the foreground, but not the sky. The final adjustment was to crop the photo to balance the composition. Paul is a great believer in cropping to suit the image and not be concerned whether or not the end result conforms to one of the common aspect ratios – i.e. 3×2, 4×3, 5×4 or 1×1. Why be constrained by uniformity if a more custom approach is adopted and enhances each individual image? When I went on the workshop to the Isle of Eigg with Bruce Percy he was a very keen advocate of 5×4 or 1×1, couldn’t stand 3×2, but rarely I think breaks away from the first two aspect ratios. His choice of course but it was good to hear another view. For now I will keep my options open and simply show the finished image.
|Three Trees – the finished photograph
OMD EM5 on a tripod with Panasonic f2.8 35-100mm lens
42mm f13 1/100sec ISO200
Personally I really like this shot. I love it’s simplicity, the shape and size of the three trees and how their alignment echoes the diagonal line of the clouds. The ability to pre-visualise this shot at the outset is a great skill and is at the very heart of the photographic process. It’s a skill which I doubt is ever mastered but with practice out in the field my knowledge can only grow with time; after all Paul has been practising his art of fine black and white photography for nearly 30 years. For me though it has opened my eyes to what is possible and that in my view is a great place from which to start.