Recent posts of my work have featured on The Outer Hebrides – The islands of Lewis and Harris. On our way to these rather special islands we stayed in the Scottish Highlands at a place called Plodda Falls. Situated to the south of Glen Affric, the nearest village is Tomich, whilst the main town of Inverness is about 35 miles to the North East at the northern end of Loch Ness; famous of course for it’s most elusive monster!Read more
A few days ago I posted a single image of a highland cow, backlit against a dark background which gave me a ‘low key’ image. I was fortunate to be able to return to the same location a day or two later, but this time the weather and lighting could not have been more different.
Low cloud, drizzle and soft light combined to blank out any distractions, and to all intents and purposes gave me the equivalent of a white studio back cloth with minimal background detail. As a consequence and using different processing the same cattle have now been made into a set of ‘high key’ photographs.
Arguably the ‘high key’ portraits are less dramatic than the ‘low key’ shot, but in my view they both have their merits. If nothing else this exercise only serves to demonstrate how the same subject can be photographed in the same location but in different weather and light to produce entirely contrasting results.
The ‘low key’ portrait can be seen by clicking in the thumbnail below.
These two alternative approaches and the subject matter reminded me of the lyrics in the song – The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond. – “O ye’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road……..”
Do you have a preference? If so please comment, as I would very much welcome your views.
Personally ‘I’ll take the low road…….”!
Sometimes, but certainly not always, I have a clear idea of the image I am trying to make even before I set out to take the photograph. This portrait of a Highland cow is a case in point.
From a lighting point of view I knew that I wanted the subject to be side/back lit, with bright sun to provide shadow areas and lots of contrast; although I was quite sure I would be adding more in post processing. The background also needed to be quite dark, so that the illuminated silhouette and backlit hairs of the animal would stand out. Compositionally I thought portrait would work better than a landscape, nor did I want to include the whole head or indeed both horns. As magnificent as they are one horn would be sufficient.
When it came to taking the shot, I deliberately included more in the frame so that I could crop later. I chose an aperture which would hopefully give me enough depth of field so that the nostrils, horn and hair on the top of the head were all sharp, but the neck or any visible part of the body were out of focus.
In many ways deciding what I wanted from the shot was easier than taking it! Animals move, they don’t pose for the photographer, The lighting was critical so the cow had to be facing the right way and just at the point when you are about to release the shutter, their head turns away and you have to be patient for the next opportunity. I took a number of shots which were out of focus, poorly composed or the background too confusing. There was a fence between me and the small herd of cattle, so I was restricted in my movement, but I felt more comfortable than being in the field with them! Finally I thought I had captured something which I could work on and you have now seen the end result.
These wonderful creatures are full of character. You sort of know that they can see you even though their long hair prevents you from seeing their eyes. They know you are there, wondering why you want to point this black object in their faces. However their initial curiosity does bring them nearer to you, before they decide that grazing on grass and straw is more interesting than a photographer who wants to turn his imagination into reality.
This image was taken with a Leica M Monochrom and 90mm Summarit f2.4 lens at f4, 1/2500 and ISO 320.
Do click on the image to view a larger version, particularly if you want to see the level of detail which has been captured.
I can’t describe myself as a fisherman, but when a good friend of mine invited me to join him for a day of fly fishing on the River Test in Hampshire the answer was always going to be yes please! I had been fly fishing before, but never caught anything apart from a few weeds and the odd tree branch when my cast was less than accurate.
We wanted to get to our destination quite early as we had booked a gillie for the morning. Hopefully he would teach us a thing a two which might increase our chances of success. As we drove towards the village of Timsbury, which is just to the north of Romsey, the morning mist had yet to clear, so I had already anticipated there might be the chance of a quick photograph before the sun burnt through.
When we arrived no one else was there so we pieced together our rods, attached the reel, chose our flies and prepared ourselves for the first cast. All this time I was admiring the scene that surrounded me. The mist rising from the river, obscuring the view of the fields in the distance. It was calm and serene but I knew it would not last long. The camera came out and ‘Mist on the Test’ was taken.
We saw a fleeting glimpse of a pair of kingfishers, watched grebes diving for their food and swans enjoying the beautiful spring sunshine, but neither of us caught a single fish; in fact we didn’t even get a bite. But it was a glorious relaxing day if a little frustrating at times. I also committed the cardinal sin of not charging my batteries over night, so the low level battery warning was blinking before the day had even begun. Even the spare battery had little or no charge. So I gave up the photography and concentrated on the fishing. Little did I know that the first release of the shutter turned out to be the best catch of the day.
And just to prove we were fishing here is my friend Nik making his first cast of the day.
Up until the summer of this year I had never used a 35 mm full frame digital camera, nor such a fast lens. This all changed with the arrival of the Leica M Monochrom and a Leica 50mm f1.4 Summilux lens. I am only just beginning to appreciate the creative possibilities of this combination.
This image was taken back in September in a wooded copse fairly close to my home. I was largely experimenting at this time and took the shot wide open (f1.4) and focused on the near post of the hand rail. Even though this post was some distance from where I was kneeling, the plane of focus is very narrow. Only the leading edge of the path and the branches of the small holly tree to the left are in sharp focus. Checking the depth of field chart Leica provide for their lenses, at a focusing distance of 5m at f1.4, the depth of field is only 4.6m to 5.5m. i.e less than a metre before things are no longer sharp. This means two things – focusing is critical even on a subject which is not that close to you and secondly and more importantly, the careful selection of the focusing point can greatly influence how the image is rendered. It becomes a creative choice just how much or how little is in focus. I like that!
Had I used my Olympus Micro 4/3rd’s camera with the Panasonic 12 to 35 at 25mm (50mm in 35mm sensor terms) and set at its widest opening of f2.8, the equivalent ‘full frame’ aperture opening would be f5.6 because of the crop factor. As a consequence I suspect all of the handrail would have been in focus, together with the foreground. The background trees may have ‘softened’ a little, but I think the appeal of this picture is how the background is very soft. Call it ‘bokeh’ if you like but it adds depth to the image which would be lost if everything was in sharp focus.
There was very little light when this shot was taken. Not only did I use a fast aperture, the ISO was set at 2000 and this still only gave me a shutter speed of 1/750, so that I could happily hand hold the camera.
As I grow in confidence and develop a greater understanding of how best to use a shallow depth of field I think f1.4 might fast become my favourite aperture setting.