Black & White Landscape Photography
I run photographic workshops on Dartmoor, and can be found regularly lecturing at photographic clubs, and judging competitions. My work has been published in various online photographic magazines and websites. In this article I will do my best to talk you through this photograph.
I enjoy lecturing, judging and workshops but it is always very pleasing to indulge purely in the joy of making photographs. On a trip to Wales in August 2018, I found myself in the enviable position of being able to focus all my energy and thoughts on nothing but photography for a whole week. With only Ruby the dog in tow I passed this location each morning on the way to the Mach Loop, (saving that for another day).
At what point is a photograph made? I use the word “made” deliberately; making something is a positive action requiring input, alternatively “taking a photograph” seems to imply it was always there and you only had to push the button. Borrowing a phrase from another area in my life - all things are created twice. This is never more true than with my photography at some point before pressing the button I have all ready created the image in my mind. Sometimes it’s only seconds between the thought and the act of making the photograph sometimes its slower and grows over days, but it does happen, probably to all of us wether we realise it or not - All things are created twice!
It’s when the first visualisation of the final image comes to mind that the planning process starts. With landscape photography we are governed to a large degree by the weather conditions. And right from the beginning this location presented one thing to me a sense of calm and space. Checking the weather forecast I was looking for flat lighting, still water and mist would be good - although not too much I wanted the expanse of landscape to create the feeling of space by creating depth in the photograph. I had planned a busy week, but in my favour this location was at the head of the lake I needed to pass every morning. Weather forecasts are useful, but seldom that reliable in mountainous terrain. So with some scepticism I decided to leave particularly early on the most likely days that would give me the conditions that I had wanted. And on the third day - I struck lucky.
Most locations present a number of possible compositions, sometimes more than one work; often the vision you had is only the starting point so during my workshops I always try and get photographers to experiment before finalising the compositions is worth while. Although other compositions work, my final selection is not that far removed from my first creation. I broke many rules with this composition, but not by accident all are deliberate. The horizon is dead centre, conventionally a more powerful placement would be a two third split in favour off either the sky or ground. In this case the symmetry helps with the feeling of space and creates calm in the image. The left hand side of the photograph is empty, and a judge would typically suggest that all the interest is on the right side with the reflection and boats; suggesting a crop may help? I tried a 16:9 However in this case it’s deliberate; the photograph is about space, and their is plenty of it here. I have deliberately darkened the outcrop of trees on the horizon at the far right of the photograph, to provide balance and a diagonal with the boats to lead your eye into the landscape.
The thumbnails show alternative compositions from the RAW files. The first gives too much dominance to the boats and downplays the feeling of space. The Other shrinks the space by removing the sky and stopping you looking no further than the lake. Both will probably be used at some point, but they just don’t connect me to the feelings I had at the time.
Photographs Are Made
(The Dead Trees at Norsworth Plantation)
The British weather is a fickle creature, and unexpectedly I find myself sat outside in the sun on May bank holiday. And although not the main purpose of this blog, I find myself reflecting on previous months where although being photographically busy I have not been that productive. May traditionally sees the end of the photographic season for clubs in the UK and my role as lecturer and judge takes a vacation, giving way to processing new work, updating the websites, blogs and getting ready for the next season. So if you find yourself reading this and and belong to camera club I’m taking bookings now for next year. Although it’s now time to focus on my own photography, the late spring giving way to summer only brings longer daylight hours and Ironically I prefer the shorter days and lower sun of Autumn and Winter.
This photograph was taken a few days after driving past this location on the way to another. I saw the dead trees from the road against the dark leaves of the plantation and knew that their must be a strong monochrome photograph waiting to be made.
One of the advantages of living inside the Dartmoor National Park is that most locations are within an hours drive, and this particular one less than 10 minutes. A fleeting glimpse and a wild imagination, are rarely realised by the first press of the shutter. Visiting the location proved a disappointment as my original concept was not possible the background not as clean the foreground cluttered and the dead trees not as interesting as first thought. So I settled on a composition including a strong foreground with plenty of texture, a sky full of impact, and a row of dark trees to frame the dead trees.
On many levels this photograph works, it has all the attributes previously described above, but as the creator of the photograph it doesn’t speak to me. Others maybe happy with it. The point of my original photograph was to show these dead trees, their relationship with each other and surrounding area. Landscape photographs just as with other forms of photography communicate what the photographer saw, but if the photograph is taken and not made, then the connection with viewer and landscape has not been lead by the photographers creative vision; it’s left to luck.
The original photograph as marked up below fails. I had seen and wanted to show the dead trees and in this composition their importance has been diminished by a strong foreground, a standard focal length has increased the depth in the image but rendered the trees smaller in the frame. The sky although interesting is also dominating, it’s too busy and my main subject is hidden in the confusion.
Living close to the location a return visit was easy to arrange, and less than 24 hours latter I found myself kneeled down in virtually the same spot recomposing the photograph. This time the weather had been kind the overcast sky was competing less with the landscape. The photograph still needed a foreground, but the expanse of trees were unnecessary, and recomposing the photograph as a square brought the focus back onto the dead trees. But they were still to small in the frame. Changing to a longer focal length brought the trees closer and compressed the perspective, but the square format and relationship between the trees could only be maintained by taking two portrait format images and stitching them together.
Final processing was completed in Adobe Camera Raw, Photoshop and Nik.