‘The nights are drawing in’ was always a phrase I hated to hear. Having grown up in a chilly part of the UK, cold weather doesn’t bother me and in fact I find very hot days a bit hard to handle, but the extended darkness of winter has always been something I’ve dreaded. We’re at that part of the year now when it’s still warm, but getting dark earlier and earlier. The skies are beautiful as they fade into the night, but feel tinged with the sadness of autumn.
In the end, there wasn’t much opportunity for photography while I was in London. Most of my time was taken up with meeting friends and a fair bit of eating and drinking, none of which I’m complaining about at all. I did intend to use my first day there – which I had on my own – to do some photography, but on pulling my camera out of my bag once I got there, I saw that it was switched on and the battery was completely flat. Somehow the switch must have moved as I packed it, and the battery had been draining ever since. No matter – I went to see the Georgia O’Keefe exhibition at the Tate Modern instead, and had a wonderful time there.
However, the next day the friend I was meeting was held up for a while, and so I got an hour or so to take some pictures. There’s nowhere like London for visual stimulation and I’d really have liked to be without time pressure – having to keep checking my watch stopped me from switching off and wasn’t ideal for encouraging those creative moments. I tend to fall back on the obvious shots in this kind of situation, and there can’t be anything more obvious to photograph in that area than the London Eye. There are so many pictures of it around that it’s difficult to think of a different way of shooting it but I found a couple of less obvious shots, one of which didn’t involve trees, and this one that did.
It was still early in the morning and there was a slight, and very welcome coolness in the air as I wandered along the South Bank. It was one of those perfect summer mornings that you wish could last the whole day, without the relentless heat and humidity that inevitably develops by lunchtime. In the words of ee cummings there was ‘a true, blue, dream of a sky’ and looking up to the sky through the trees I caught this glimpse of the Eye framed by the branches. For me, it epitomised a summer day in the city.
I’m not ‘here’ this week, so have pre-posted this week’s tree. My trip to Canterbury fell through in the end because of accommodation problems, but I decided instead to join Geoff down in Surrey for a few days. He’s working, but I’ll see him in the evenings and I’ll travel into London most days to meet up with friends, see an exhibition or two, and hopefully do some photography. I’ve left one of my trusted Airbnb guests in charge of the pets and the house, in exchange for free accommodation for the week, so a win-win situation all round.
Continuing the tree shadow theme, this magnificent shadow covered the whole road and I had to keep one eye on the viewfinder and one on the approaching traffic to avoid joining it and marring its lovely perfection. I find I’m quite drawn to the intersection between the natural and the man-made, so this satisfies that inclination quite nicely.
I have to admit I’m getting a bit tired of this project and finding it harder and harder to come up with the goods. Feeling a little desperate, I went out for my usual walk today not expecting to see anything other than the kinds of thing I’ve done so many times before But then I spotted this tree shadow, projected onto a wooden fence and I knew this was the one. I love the way that the wood grain shows through the projected shadow, the whole thing combining both the outside and the inside of the tree at once.
Incidentally, I spent some time the other day putting together a gallery of all the tree pictures to date. You can find it here if you want to see them all in one place..
I’ve just upgraded to Photoshop Elements 14, and at the same time have installed a suite of plug-ins called Nik Efex. I’ve wanted these for quite a while, but till fairly recently you had to buy the whole suite of seven plug-ins even if you only wanted one of them, and the price wasn’t low. However, Google are now offering the whole Nik Efex suite completely free, so I jumped at the chance to get it.
Some of the plug-ins cover specific things like sharpening or HDR, but the two that interest me most are Silver Efex Pro and Color Efex Pro – the first does black and white conversions, and the second enables you to play with various different effects on your colour images. The choice is quite bewildering – almost off-putting – but there are loads that I’d be unlikely to use and you can narrow down the choices and place the ones you like in a Favorites folder so that you don’t have to trawl through the entire list every time to find the ones you want.
Around the same time that I downloaded these, I subscribed to KelbyOne, Scott Kelby’s training site for photography and software. There was a series of lessons on how to use Nik Efex that proved worth the subscription money all by itself and helped me a lot in learning how best to use the plug-ins. What I discovered is that you can remove the effect from parts of the images, intensify or reduce the effect, stack several different effects together, and generally fully customise how they’re applied.
Something in me objects to the idea of simply clicking on a thumbnail and having a ready-made effect applied – it feels like cheating, somehow, and too ‘Instagram’ in style – so gaining back this kind of control makes me feel that the final result is of my own making rather than something someone else has come up with. I can see there’s huge potential here to achieve the kind of results I’ve always wanted, but I can also see it’s going to take some time to familiarise myself with the software.
The image above is one of my New Forest, intentional camera movement shots, and I’ve applied two effects to it. One is Neutral Color Balance, which shifted the colour balance in a slightly brighter, fresher, direction, and the other is Color Contrast, which helped intensify and bring out the individual colours, particularly the pink in the foreground. Although I liked this overall, I took the effect off the more dominant tree trunks to bring the contrast down a bit there. The change is quite subtle, but definite – underneath I’ve shown the before (top) and after (bottom). You can see how the software has ‘cleaned up’ the colours quite nicely, giving the image a fresher and more summery look.
You can make much more dramatic conversions than this, and I’m playing with that at the moment, but there’s a danger of it becoming clumsy and too over-the-top, so I’m taking it slowly. It’s nothing that couldn’t be done in Photoshop, of course, but first off you’d have to know how to achieve what you want – which I often don’t – and even if you do this is a much easier way of achieving it.
I’m struggling with the tree project at the moment, hence the lack of a post last week. I feel as if I’m stuck, and not coming up with anything new and I’m not sure how I’m going to break free from that. I’ve got lots of shots I could use, but nothing with which I feel particularly happy and I don’t like posting something that ‘will do’ – I want to feel pleased with it. On the other hand, if I don’t post something this week I’ll lose my momentum and probably end up not coming back to it at all and I don’t want that to happen either.
I guess we all suffer from creative block at times, and we just have to persevere, keep pressing the shutter, and wait for inspiration to come back – it always does, eventually. I’m planning a little trip to Canterbury (where I lived for many years) in the near future and I think that might just spark off some new Ideas. At the very least, it will give me some welcome new subject matter.
This is my favourite shot of the week, although there are aspects of it I’m not happy with. I think the empty area at the right makes it feel slightly unbalanced, and I think there was probably a better composition to be had. I’d also like to be using more colour in my shots, but the weather just hasn’t been conducive to this. This is actually a colour shot, even though it looks black and white – it was taken on one of the grey, overcast days we seem to be having so many of at the moment. But I do like the circular ripple, and the contrast it makes with the softer reflection of the tree foliage.
Another shot from Sconce and Devon park. Obviously, it’s a reflection, but I’ve turned it topsy-turvy to give it a slightly disconcerting, slightly surreal, feel. I never can resist a good reflection and I never get tired of them – I doubt I ever will.
This set me wondering why so many of us like water reflections so much. I did a bit of Googling, with the first result being an academic paper which came to the conclusion that people like reflections in water better than they do in glass, and they like reflective water better than they do clear water, and so it’s probably a good idea to incorporate ponds into garden design. That really didn’t help much.
Maybe I wasn’t using the best search terms, but I couldn’t find anything much on this topic at all. There was quite a lot on mirrors and their symbolism, and lots of stuff on the symbolism of water, but nothing on the psychology of why we’re drawn to reflections in water. Even John Suler’s online book Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche, which is my go-to place for this sort of thing, had very little to say on the subject. However, he did point out that reflections in water span the boundaries between what our brain recognises as real or unreal – perhaps there’s some kind of attraction in that liminal space: a dreaminess, an other-worldliness. It seems strange to me that so little is known about something so widespread.
Over the other side of Newark, there’s a park called the Sconce and Devon Park. Its main feature is the Queen’s Sconce, a large and impressive earthwork defence used during the Civil War, but off to the side there’s a riverside trail with natural meadows. The river is called the Devon – pronounced Dee-von – and in spite of the distant but obvious sound of traffic on the A46, it’s quite idyllic down there. I went there on one of the few warm and sunny days we’ve had this year, and this scene reminded me of Monet-style waterlilies, with its soft tones and mixture of sharp and soft.
I know, I missed a week – I wasn’t feeling well, then my cat got sick, then my internet connection disappeared. Eventually I surrendered and accepted that it just wasn’t meant to be. I’ve taken on far too much lately. My Airbnb room has been booked almost solidly, and I now have a long-term booking till September. The long-term thing is a relief, as I’ll only have to clean and change sheets once a week, and I’m not doing breakfast at all.
I have this weekend to get through before that, however, and it’s typical of what I’ve been doing over the last 2-3 months. I have someone staying at the moment, till Thursday, then he leaves at lunchtime and my next guests turn up at 3.00pm. They stay till Saturday morning, and another guest arrives Saturday lunchtime. Then she leaves on Sunday morning and my long-term guest is installed sometime on Sunday afternoon.
Sometimes I feel like I do nothing much other than change beds, wash sheets, iron, clean, and shop, but I’m also still working in the library and doing occasional photography work for the Town Hall Museum, as well as tending the rest of the house, looking after our large garden, keeping the rabbits and the cat alive, maintaining some sort of social life, and trying to keep up with blog posts. Oh yes, and squeezing in the occasional bit of photography. Frankly, I’m tired.
It’s not just the physical work that tires me, it’s the fact that, as an introvert, it’s very wearing for me to have strangers constantly in the house. I’m a very sociable introvert, and I do enjoy meeting the huge variety of people that visit, but sometimes I long to be able to do what I want to do without having to think about how it will impact on my guests. I long to be able to go down to the kitchen in the morning and make a cup of tea, without having to put on my hostess face and make conversation. I long to be able to take a shower when I feel like it, rather than working around my guests’ schedules. I long to be able to go to bed and leave the kitchen in a mess until the morning. Most of all, I long just to be in the house on my own for a while without any obligations.
Normally I make sure I have some gaps between bookings, and this has kept me sane over the last year or so of hosting, but an offer I couldn’t refuse – of an ongoing Sunday to Thursday let – has filled in all the gaps and given me no respite. My home no longer feels like my sanctuary, but more like a workplace with no off-duty hours. Unable ever to switch off completely, I have worn myself down and worn myself out, so I’ve made the decision now to rent the room on a more long-term basis and hopefully free myself up to concentrate on those things that really matter to me. The potential income is less, but it’s enough, and the lifting of pressure should more than make up for it.
Since this is all about what’s been happening on the domestic front, this week’s image continues on a domestic theme. There’s a beautiful silver birch tree just outside the kitchen window, and in the evenings the sun shines through it, projecting the movement, light and shadow of its leaves and branches onto the kitchen wall. It just so happened to work rather nicely with the green wall and the red tea cloth.
On a technical note, the combination of strongly contrasting light and shade and that dreaded red colour, make this a difficult choice of subject. There are two areas where the highlights have blown somewhat – one bright spot near the top left, and an area of the red cloth near the bottom. (Oddly enough, the other bright spot to the right of the towels hasn’t actually blown, although you might think it had.) Short of using HDR, there really isn’t any way round this – maintaining the detail in the highlights would leave the overall exposure too dark. However, I might have been able to claw back more of the detail in the blown areas if I could have worked with the Raw files – still haven’t got round to buying a new version of Elements!
I subscribe to an excellent online photography magazine called On Landscape. Each issue they publish four sets of four photos on a theme, from four different photographer/subscribers, and a little while ago I sent my four off with fingers firmly crossed. I didn’t hear anything for weeks, and guessed that they hadn’t been accepted – disappointing, but the standard is high and I wasn’t totally sure that I met it. However, next thing I knew, I got an email from the magazine saying they’d been published!
It’s the first time I’ve tried to do anything like this. Posting photos on my blog or on Flickr feels safe, as basically people who don’t like them will usually just go somewhere else. I’m not terribly good at handling rejection, even on the minor level of not being accepted by a magazine, so it took a bit of courage for me to put these images out there. I’m so glad I did. It’s given me a real confidence boost and has encouraged me to try again elsewhere.
It was surprisingly difficult to get the entry together. First of all, I had to choose what I thought were the best shots out of over a hundred similar ones. Not being great at decision making, that was tough enough, but the hardest part of it was making sure that they all held together and looked like a set. This meant that they all had to be taken from roughly the same focal length – it would have looked strange to have some very close-up and some at a distance – and they all had to have the same sorts of tones and processing, which was the really difficult bit. In the end I had to re-do them all so that they worked as a coherent set.
I now feel like trying again in other places – I figure that having had one success will sweeten the blow if I don’t get anywhere with subsequent ones. I’m feeling braver. I’ve now entered the same set of four, plus an additional two, into a book project/competition called Seeing in Sixes which is running under the auspices of Lenswork Magazine. The photographers who’re chosen will have their images printed in a six-page spread in the resulting book. I’ve included the additional two images here – the first four are the original choices for On Landscape, and the last two are the extra ones that make up the six for Seeing in Sixes. Wish me luck.