Barmouth – rediscovered

Mawddach Estuary
Mawddach Estuary

A couple of years ago I did an overnight wild camping trip to Barmouth, southern Snowdonia. This is a truly spectacular place that so far I’ve struggled to do justice to. On this occasion I messed up by arriving late and not being ready with a good location to camp and shoot. I was disappointed with the results and never bothered to sort and process them properly.

With the current weather driving me a little nuts (too much rain!) I’m looking through the catalogue and I’ve found these shots again. Here are a few that are better than I’d realised first time round. I think they give a reasonable idea of the natural beauty of this place.

Swaledale Flower Meadows – part 2

Swaledale
Swaledale

My last post had photos from a drizzly day in Swaledale. I camped overnight (in a campsite, not my usual bivvy bag) and set my alarm optimistically for 4am, hoping for clear skies at dawn. I was surprisingly asleep when it went off and I poked my head out. Hmmm… – mixed. However, enough clear areas to make it worth getting up for. Out I went, walked up the valley to find a good viewpoint.

Not the best sunrise I’ve ever seen but worth being out for.

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.

Washed out

I had a washed out day yesterday in the Lake District. I expected some light drizzle but it was just too much. You should never give up hope though and and never presuppose where the scenes will appear. I saw this shot as I was nearing the car, wet and muddy. I could barely see through the viewfinder because it was misted up so I’m happy with the composition.

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Prehistoric woods

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There is a geologic period called the Devonian. One characteristic of it was the formation of extensive forests, with ferns being one of the early forms of vegetation. If you wander round the woods of Exmoor on the north Devon coast you can imagine that time.

This particular shot caught my eye partly because of the play of light and the slender zig-zagging sapling in the centre of the scene. However, I think it is only fully successful when you see it in a large reproduction. The version above is down-sized but I’ve included a full-size version below that you can click on. I didn’t want to include it in-line because of the size (over 9Mb).

Here is the full size version

Carrying on the sharpness theme of recent posts I discovered many years ago how adding an amount of blur can (paradoxically) add an impression of sharpness. The processing software I used (PictureWindow Pro) had an Unsharp Mask tool for sharpening. I found I could get a very nice result by using a small amount of gaussian blur in addition (I think I added the blur after the sharpening but don’t quote me – it’s been a while since I’ve done it that way). My theory is that the impression of sharpness comes from having smooth tonal gradations. Too much sharpening and contrast can make the picture harsh and the blur softens it again. In this shot I’ve used Lightroom’s usual Sharpen settings but also taken the Clarity slider down to -43. I think it’s had the same effect of smoothing the tonal gradations to reduce harshness. I think it is best seen in the full size version in the ferns at the bottom of the scene.

In addition, the contrast (in tone, colour and texture) between the foliage and the tree trunks creates another source of perceived sharpness and three-dimensionality, helped by the lighting.

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.