Inspired by Stieglitz?

Some considerable while back I read an article about Alfred Stieglitz. The photographs that were included were quite beautiful and I was much impressed by the range and quality of the monochrome tones. So I gathered together some of my own shots and put them into a Lightroom folder which I called “Stieglitz”. The intention was to process them based on the Stieglitz look that had inspired me. The shots were chosen especially as being suitable for that treatment. I then forgot about them.

Now that I’ve found them again I can’t remember what it was about the Stieglitz photographs that so captured my attention. Googling didn’t help, I’d lost the thread. So I just processed them. Here are the first three, taken at a stately home called Riddlesden Hall, near Keighley in Yorkshire. When I’ve done some more I might create a portfolio of them all but I hope you enjoy these.

Triptych

Triptych

These three shots are not new but I’ve revisited the processing for two of them. I wrote a few weeks ago about how I found how effective it can be to stretch the whites and blacks sliders in Lightroom. Since then it’s been part of my standard workflow. This has prompted me to take a fresh look at some older pictures and that’s what I’ve tried with the two left hand shots above. I’ve shown them with the shot on the right because I think they make a great triptych.

To carry on with the theme of sharpness I’ve had for the last few posts this is another angle on that subject. An effect we want to achieve is a sense of depth and three dimensionality to our pictures. Having a wide range of tones from dark to bright is one way to help that. It’s not enough just to have the range. You’ll get that from a bright sunny day of high contrast. It’s how you position the tones to emphasise parts of the shot and downplay others. In these shots I’ve lightened the parts of the shot I want to bring to the foreground and used vignetting or radial filters to darken the surround. This makes parts of the shot advance or recede and adds to the sense of depth and this is part of the whole perception of what we simply call sharpness.

On Sharpness

I talked a few posts ago about our perceptions of image sharpness. I illustrated that post with an example of extreme sharpness – showing the amazing level of detail available even hand-held from my Olympus OMD-EM10 and its tiny and cheap kit lens.

A view of Skiddaw shot using the Olympus OMD-EM10 "high grain with pin-hole" scene mode.
A view of Skiddaw shot using the Olympus OMD-EM10 “high grain with pin-hole” scene mode.

This time I want to go to the other extreme. The shot above was a result of constraining myself to shoot JPEG only on a day of uninspiring bright sunshine. In real life this was not an attractive scene. A water pipeline is being layed and the project has created an ugly scar on the landscape. The light is flat and uninteresting. However the shapes are strong. The S-shaped curve of the pipes and track leading up to the mountain range and with the aircraft contrails fanning out at the top.

I used the Olympus’ “High Grain” scene mode, with the addition of “pin-hole effect” which has created a strong vignette. I find the results work quite well, though quite different to my normal style. Here’s another shot taken a short while later. The scene is more my usual thing but the light and haze made it a boring conventional shot.

Using Olympus High Grain scene mode
Using Olympus High Grain scene mode

The point of this post, though, is that the effects have removed much of the technical sharpness from the shot. Looking at it at 100% magnification gives the authentic impression of poor quality film shot through a poor quality lens from a hundred years ago. However this becomes irrelevant because of the strong subject and composition. If anything, sharpness and technical quality might have distracted. As it is, it becomes easier for the viewer to see the strong abstract shapes but still keeping the atmosphere of the landscape.

I was speaking about this subject to someone recently and they said that when you’re concerned about the lack of sharpness in your picture it’s because there’s nothing to hold your attention in the subject and composition. I agree. Probably all modern cameras are capable of giving good quality results. If you’re worrying whether your camera or lens are sharp enough then pay more attention to the fundamentals – subject, composition and light.

A little bit of snow

By coincidence I exchanged comments a day or so ago with a reader from Helsinki who had posted a YouTube link showing his driving in snow. I responded that with so much snow Britain would grind to a halt. Today we had about an inch of snow and there was chaos on the roads and trains cancelled. My wife’s one hour journey to work turned into three hours. Britain doesn’t understand snow. Continue reading

Coniston Water, Monochrome

Coniston Water

I made this trip nearly three years ago but the shots have languished in the catalogue ever since, untouched and unloved. The day was far too bright and in colour the shots just didn’t work. I found them again and realised that black and white would work much better, so here are the results.

The location is the southern end of Coniston Water, in the Lake District. Most of the views are towards Dow Crag and the Old Man of Coniston, with the Fairfield range in the far distance beyond the head of the lake.

A Grey Christmas

Grey Christmas
Grey Christmas

We spent the Christmas week this year in Cumbria, in a rented cottage in a little village called Brigsteer. This is near Kendal but outside the national park boundary so much quieter than the honeypots. Apart from Christmas Eve the whole week was very grey and misty. We counted ourselves lucky. Cumbria in December could quite easily bucket with rain all week. As it was we were able to walk every day. The greyness, not surprisingly, made me think of black and white.

Three monochrome shots

Llyn Tecwyn Uchaf
Llyn Tecwyn Uchaf

I was going to title this post “Llyn Tecwyn Uchaf” but that would look like I’d just dropped a book on the keyboard. That’s the name of this small lake at the northern end of the Rhinog range of hills in the southern half of Snowdonia.

Llyn Tecwyn Uchaf
Llyn Tecwyn Uchaf

I’d been on an overnight trip the night before and came up to do some scouting for future locations. I found this idyllic lake with almost no-one about. That was back in May. I never fully processed the shots but got back to them today and found that these three were rather nice. I hope you like them.

Llyn Tecwyn Uchaf
Llyn Tecwyn Uchaf