Borrowdale and Derwentwater

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Visiting the northern Lake District I’d intended to walk round the bottom end of Derwentwater but the lake had other ideas. Heavy rain had raised the level and the paths and fields were now under water. So I tried the other way and walked to the top of the classic climbing crag of Shepherd’s Crag. There I found both fantastic views and beautifully photogenic birch trees.

There is a famous beauty spot barely a mile away, known as Surprise View. This has good views over the lake and up towards Keswick and Skiddaw. At any given time of any given day there will be a crowd of people there taking selfies. The last time I was there a wedding party turned up to have shots of the bride and groom taken. It was almost impossible to take shots myself without people in view.

By comparison, the top of Shepherd’s Crag is only a little harder to reach, has better views, and there wasn’t a single person there all day.

There’s a couple of things I’d like to talk about with these shots –

Resolving the composition

Look at the shots that include the lake and you’ll see that most of them include a minor hill summit in the far distance that happens to have a very pointed top. This was no accident. In each case the composition was arranged around this pointed summit. This is a feature that I call the “resolution” of the composition.

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I mostly use wide-angle lenses and try to compose using the foreground to lead the eye up the picture and into the distance. The viewer will ask themselves (unconsciously, perhaps) “what is the photographer trying to show me?” The “resolution” is the answer to this question. I’m trying to lead your eye up to this point.

You’ll perhaps also notice to the right of this point a much larger mass of mountain which has cloud on top. This is Skiddaw, one of the biggest hills in Cumbria, and it has a classic pointed mountain shape. Usually that would be my resolution but it’s hidden in cloud. If you lead the viewer up to a mass of hill shrouded in cloud they’ll be disappointed. That’s why the pointed hill top “resolves” the composition. You can use other things, like a tree stretching into the sky, as long as there’s something at the top of the picture for the viewer to settle on when their eye is led up there.

You could also think of it as like a lightning conductor in reverse, allowing the energy of the composition to be released into the sky. A flat horizon line that goes across the picture blocks that energy and makes the composition unsatisfying (seascapes break this rule, somehow).

Increasing the white level

After I’d finished processing these shots I took a look at some recent work by Joe Cornish, my favourite photographer (you can see it here ). As always I was mightily impressed and very jealous and I wondered how he gets the look that he does. I tried something I do sometimes, which is creating a PDF book of the shots using Lightroom’s Book module. I find this is a good way to depersonalise the shots, to allow you to view them more objectively. The white background of the PDF made me think they were all a little low-key and I had the bright idea (pardon the pun!) of increasing the white level in all the shots.

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I went back into Lightroom Develop and increased the Whites slider in each shot, judging the effect by eye. Usually I let the histogram constrain me in this, not increasing the whites any further past the white clipping level, but this time I ignored it. Once I had a good result I then found the clipped areas and used radial filters to bring them under control.

The results were much better than I expected. Way better than simply increasing the Exposure. Increasing the whites brightened the picture but without losing contrast or saturation. This may well be a technique that will become standard for me from now on, but let’s see.

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