Yay! – the last one! It certainly won’t be the last tree picture you’ll see here, as I’ve got several in the pipeline already, but this week marks the end of the 52 Trees project. I was so hoping to be able to come up with something a little different for the last one, but I thought for a while that it just wasn’t going to happen. However, I’ve just spent a few days in Surrey visiting Geoff, as he now works down there, and we went to Winkworth Arboretum for the day.
I was in paradise. The colours were sensational and it was like being a child in a sweet shop. I’d had a bad night’s sleep and I was very tired and a bit cranky, but I was so overwhelmed with delight at this beautiful place that I forgot everything else. It’s difficult for me to play and experiment when I’m with someone else – I can’t switch off enough – but I had taken my ten-stop neutral density filter with the idea of trying out some intentional camera movement and I have Geoff to thank for insisting that I at least gave it a go.
I only took a few shots with it – although it wasn’t sunny, it was still quite bright and I needed to cut out so much light to get a slow shutter speed that I couldn’t actually see what I was taking through the viewfinder. I tried a few shots and then got a bit cross with it all (you don’t want to be around me when I haven’t slept, believe me) and decided just to go with straight shots for the rest of the time we were there.
I almost deleted this one when I saw it on the back of the camera, but then I had a better look at it onscreen and it suddenly seemed to have potential. There was some blown out sky that detracted a bit so I played with some cropping and came up with this version, which I’m rather pleased with. Seeing it bigger revealed the lovely soft purples and blues in the shadows, which contrast so well with the unbelievably vivid yellows and reds of the leaves. I think it captures the feeling of an autumn day, and the glorious colours that we’ve seen this year. Most of all, it’s very ‘me’ and I’m more than happy to finish with this.
I’ve no idea where I’m going from here. I might start another 52 project, but I have some reservations. It’s relatively easy to keep up and it ensures I write a weekly blog post, but at times it’s felt restrictive and sometimes even a little tedious. I’ve posted the occasional image that I’ve thought was just OK, because I needed something and it was all I had, and I don’t like doing that. I’m playing with ideas at the moment, and I think I’ll just coast for a little and trust that the right thing will make itself known to me if I let things simmer. And if you’ve stuck with me all the way through, thank you! – it’s encouragement from you that has kept me going.
Just one more week to go, and I’m finished 52 trees! I can’t say I’ll be sorry, as I’m getting a little tired of it now. Another Lensbaby shot today – I’m longing for a very fast, prime lens, but in the meantime the Lensbaby is my only option if I want that sort of effect. I don’t normally crop these shots, as you lose a lot of the blurred Lensbaby effect, but in this instance it needed it.
It’s been such a pretty autumn this year, with beautiful soft colours everywhere. The garden is littered with leaves, and I know I should sweep them up, but it looks so lovely, albeit in a slightly disheveled way. I’m spending a few days in Surrey this week, and intend to go to Kew gardens, so I’m hoping there’s still some late season colour there – with luck, I might be able to finish off this series with something lovely.
Autumn’s last dance – a brilliant autumn day with a cool breeze that rustled the last of the yellow leaves on this tree. How wonderful that autumn goes out in such a fanfare, giving us these gorgeous colours before the dull greys of winter set in. I’m on the last few weeks of my 52 Trees now and I’m aiming to end on a surge of colour and light.
It’s gone rather quiet on here, lately (is there anybody there??) I often notice that when I feel a little bit removed from my blog and uncertain of how to go forwards, I also lose readers and the comments dry up. I guess people can sense my hesitancy and occasional reluctance to write anything. I’m debating whether or not to start a new weekly project – in some ways it’s been really motivating and has helped to keep me going, but at times it’s felt a bit constraining. I also think I might have written more blog posts on other topics if I wasn’t doing this. I’ve got a little lazy, perhaps, and on many weeks have settled for just the tree post.
I’d like to change the WordPress theme again, too. I’ve never been terribly happy with this one and I know it has a number of glitches that I just haven’t been able to sort out. It’s a free theme, and I’d much rather pay for one and get something better. At the same time, I rather dread trawling through all the themes, getting more and more frustrated as I try to find one that does what I want it to do. An ability to do CSS coding would help a lot, but it’s just one more learning curve for which I feel no enthusiasm.
Life itself is changing rapidly at the moment – I’m going out more, meeting new people, trying new things, making new friends, and finding new opportunities. I’m not sure where it’s all going right now, but I feel as if I’m on the move again and it’s a good feeling. With our life and finances finally having gained some stability, I feel free to explore in a way that I haven’t for years. My blog needs to change to match this, but how? Not sure, but I’ll sit with the uncertainty and sooner or later it will become clear.
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.
Not much to say about this one. I was walking to the park on a grey, damp day, looked down and loved the unusual combination of bright yellow and burgundy red leaves underfoot. Add in the vivid mossy green of the fence behind and you have an autumnal symphony of colour.
I’ve been playing this week, which is something I don’t do nearly often enough. I’ve tried taking photos using intentional camera movement before, but always as a bit of an afterthought. They’re not easy to do well, but I got one or two that I liked one day, by chance, and that gave me the idea to try this technique in a more deliberate way. This is the image that started the whole thing:
The flower beds at the entrance to Newark Cemetery are a riot of colour, but too regimented to be interesting to me in their natural state. I moved the camera horizontally for this shot, and it worked pretty well. When I converted the RAW file, I remembered that I could move the Clarity slider in the opposite direction to normal, to smooth and blend the colours, and this turned out to be surprisingly effective.
Using the same technique transformed this image into an abstract blaze of summer colour:
Today I took a walk round the garden to see what else I could come up with. The two previous images were created just by using a small aperture/slow shutter speed, but this time I armed myself with a Polaroid filter, which cuts down quite a bit of light (therefore giving a slower shutter speed), and intensifies colours. Although not a sunny day, the light proved too bright for even this to give me long enough shutter speeds so I dug out something I’ve had for ages but never really used – a ten-stop filter. It’s quite nifty – it screws onto the end of the lens and you can then twist it to increase or decrease the light coming in.
The results were pretty mixed and I deleted lots of the resulting pics. It’s not easy to get this right and it takes quite a bit of experimentation to find just the right shutter speed and movement to give a good result. I’ll put some of the more successful images at the end, but before I do that let me pass on what I learned:
Movement: generally speaking it’s best to move the camera in the direction of the dominant lines in the image. Eg, trees usually look best when you move the camera vertically up or down, and sea or open country if you move horizontally. However, I found that the flowers in close up demanded something different. Straight lines didn’t work very well, even diagonal ones, so I tried moving in circles – you can see the effect in one of the images underneath. This was better but still not quite what I wanted. In the end I found that jiggling the camera had the best effect – imagine you’re freezing cold and shaking and shivering and that’s the movement you make.
Shutter speed: it’s impossible to give hard and fast rules on this because it will vary so much depending on the lighting, but most things seemed to come out best at around 1.5 seconds. If your shutter speed is longer and you move more, you risk losing all shape and form and ending up with pure colour – it can be nice, but I wanted a little more definition. If your shutter speed is too fast, there isn’t enough time to make sufficient movement. The best combination was a longish shutter speed (approx 1.5 secs) combined with quite slow but definite movements. Moving slowly worked much better than moving fast.
Aperture/ISO: obviously the aperture needs to be small to increase the shutter speed. Most of the time I found f22-f29 about right and because this gives you considerable depth of field, it allows for some definition in the image, too. ISO was kept as low as possible – ie, ISO 100 – again, to reduce shutter speed.
Filters: to get the shutter speed slow enough, I first tried a Polaroid filter – which reduces the light by two stops – and then a 10-stop filter. The 10-stop filter was much better for this as I could simply twist it to increase/decrease the effect and watch the shutter speed change till it hit the right number.
Composition: this was quite difficult – probably the most difficult part of the whole thing. I cropped most of these images into squares because at full size they included areas that spoiled the overall effect. To get enough movement blur, you need to move beyond the edge of your normal framing and that means you tend to end up with bits you don’t want.
Colour: these images are all about colour – none of them would work at all if you took the colour away. That’s not surprising, really, as colour is always what interests me most. However, I think you could work this technique by concentrating on texture rather than colour if you wanted to go down that route.
Post-processing: I didn’t do much post-processing – the thing I did most of was cropping, and cloning out sensor dirt (but you shouldn’t have to do that if you keep a clean sensor). The one thing that made a huge difference was the Clarity slider in Elements’ Raw Converter – moving this the ‘wrong’ way (ie, to make it less sharp) improved more than a few of these, and saved one which I would have otherwise discarded. The colours are as they came out of the camera – I haven’t enhanced them in any way.
Success rate: abysmal – be prepared to delete most of what you take! But it’s a lot of fun to do something with an element of uncertainty and serendipity.
And lastly: when you’re shooting with a tiny aperture it really shows up any dirt on your sensor. Because I normally shoot with quite large apertures (which hide sensor dirt) I didn’t realise I had several huge lumps of the stuff stuck to my sensor and I had to spend ages cloning them out. Probably a good idea to clean the sensor before you start.
I had a lot of fun with these, even when restricted to my own back yard. I’d like to find some more open, panoramic shots to try and also some urban street shots with people in them. I’m thinking I might make a little project of it. I’d also like to do a series spread over a year, where I concentrate on showing the changing colours of the seasons in abstract form. It’s wakened me up a bit to try something different – feels like it’s been a while since I stepped out of my comfort zone.
This one didn’t work at all until I used the Clarity slider on the Raw file to soften it, as it looked rather harsh initially. I think it just about succeeds now, and I like the vibrant colours and the touch of red. The movement here was vertical, which I found didn’t work so well for flowers.
These two, plus the one at the top of the post are the most successful of anything I tried. The colours work well together – the blue gate, red/orange brick, magenta flowers and white stems add up to a very satisfying colour blend. I tried moving the camera in a variety of different directions, and found that either an up and down movement, or a kind of jiggle, were most successful.
I don’t feel this one quite makes the grade – the large pink geraniums dominate a bit too much.
I like the way the leaves have come out on this, but the composition could be better.
I really can’t make my mind up about this one. I look at it one minute and think it works, and then I look again and think it doesn’t! It looks like a double exposure but there are actually two pots of ivy.
I moved the camera in a circle for this one – no other kind of motion seemed to work very well. I do like the way that the small white flowers are still quite distinct, and I think the colours are great.
Finally, this is the same picture as above but with a duplicate layer added and Linear Burn blending mode applied, giving an altogether different effect.
In this occasional series I’ll look at a selection of well-known photographers’ views on a particular aspect of photography, through the medium of quotes.
There’s a certain snobbery around when it comes to black and white photography versus colour photography. Although colour photography has been around in a useable form since the early 1900s, it was technically challenging and expensive and didn’t achieve widespread use till the 1950s onwards. Most professional photographers continued to use black and white for quite some time after this – some still do – and it may be the association of black and white with professionalism, as opposed to the amateurish colour shots taken by the masses, that has left its imprint. On top of this, colour photography was enthusiastically adopted by the advertising industry quite early on, and it therefore became associated with banality and commerce. I don’t suppose it helped.
‘Color is vulgar’, said Walker Evans, who then went on to add ‘beauty is unimportant and nature is trivial’. Somehow I don’t think we’d get on…… It’s hard to understand why some people are so anti-colour. Evans really is the most vehement of them all – here are a couple more quotes from him:
‘Many photographers are apt to confuse color with noise, and to congratulate themselves when they have almost blown you down with screeching hues alone—a bebop of electric blues, furious reds, and poison greens.’
‘Color tends to corrupt photography and absolute color corrupts it absolutely. Consider the way color film usually renders blue sky, green foliage, lipstick red, and the kiddies’ playsuit. These are four simple words which must be whispered: color photography is vulgar.’
This really is a man who likes his world black and white, or more accurately, grey – ‘I happen to be a gray man……..Gray is truer’. His attitude towards colour did mellow very slightly in the mid-70s, but he never really came round to it.
Roland Barthes, one of the high priests of post-modernism, didn’t like colour much either. In his seminal work, Camera Lucida, he announced:
‘For me, color is an artifice, a cosmetic (like the kind used to paint corpses).’
Corpses?? In Barthes’ view, black and white was ‘truth’ and he regarded colour as a kind of overlay that obscured reality/truth, an attitude that’s surprisingly widespread.
Colour is often referred to by those who eschew it as a ‘distraction’ (which it certainly can be if you want the emphasis elsewhere), but Sarah Moon goes one step further:
‘I believe that the essence of photography is black and white. Color is but a deviance.’
‘Once the camera is loaded with colour film, the problems begin.’
Personally I think this is one reason so many photographers prefer black and white – it removes one big variable (the handling of colour) from all the things that have to be considered when composing a shot. There’s a certain skill involved in visualising the final image as it will look in black and white – translating from the language of colour, if you will – but once you have that skill then black and white is very forgiving. When you post-process it you can push the contrast way beyond anything you can do with colour, giving dramatic results quite easily. And if you have someone in the background wearing a red coat, that isn’t the problem it would be if the image were in colour. This isn’t intended to put the black and white enthusiasts down – it’s a very real talent to be able to see well in black and white and not everyone can do it.
And it’s also true that it’s not easy to use colour well:
‘The difficulty with color is to go beyond the fact that it’s color—to have it be not just a colorful picture but really be a picture about something. It’s difficult. So often color gets caught up in color, and it becomes merely decorative. Some photographers use [it] brilliantly to make visual statements combining color and content; otherwise it is empty.’ Mary Ellen Mark
Moving on, William Eggleston, one of the early adopters of colour among professional photographers, is typically laid-back and laconic about the whole issue:
‘The way I have always looked at it is the world is in color. And there’s nothing we can do about that.’
Eggleston was happy to use colour and he used it very effectively. Among his contemporaries was Saul Leiter, a street photographer accomplished in both black and white and colour, who said:
‘I’m mystified that anyone thinks liking color is a bad thing.’
Ernst Haas, another contemporary and early adopter of colour photography, simply says:
‘Color is joy.’
Haas loved colour – he felt that after what he called the grey years of the second world war, colour was a celebration and symbolised life and hope for the future.
There’s a noticeable difference in attitude between the black and white and the colour enthusiasts. The black and whiters often get very worked up about the whole thing and sometimes have a bit of a tendency to rant – the colour lovers mostly express slight bewilderment about the whole issue and just get on with it.
‘I still don’t understand all these problematic discussions about color versus black and white. I love both, but they do speak a different language within the same frame…………….There are black and white snobs as well as color snobs. Because of their inability to use both well they act on the defensive and create camps.’
Haas is right, of course – there’s no reason why we should ever need to argue the merits of one over the other. They’re different, in the same way that a charcoal drawing is different from a painting, but no better or worse for it. Some photographers were meant for black and white – if you’ve ever seen any of Ansel Adams’ colour photos then you’ll know that, while they’re extremely accomplished, they lack something that his black and white photography embodies. In 1967, he wrote:
‘I can get—for me—a far greater sense of ‘color’ through a well-planned and executed black-and-white image than I have ever achieved with color photography.’
It’s an interesting thought.
Some photographers do both very well, such as Haas, and Leiter. And for some, like Pete Turner, nothing but colour will do. (And boy, does Turner use strong colour – Walker Evans would be turning in his grave faster than a chicken on a spit. This pdf download contains a selection of Turner’s images and a fascinating article about his work.)
For me, colour has always been my first love and my inspiration, but I’ve never really understood why there has to be a contest between it and black and white. Sometimes I shoot in black and white and it makes a refreshing change, and sometimes a subject simply lends itself to black and white. But if I had to make a choice?………momma, don’t take my Kodachrome away!
Kodachrome, it gives those nice bright colors Gives us the greens of summers Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah! I got a Nikon camera, I love to take a photograph So momma, don’t take my Kodachrome away
Paul Simon, Kodachrome
I’m back, after a much longer absence than I ever planned. In fact, I didn’t plan to be absent at all, or at least not for more than a week or two, but I got distracted by our house move and perhaps because of that lost all interest in photography for a while. It’s happened to me before but never for so long, and this time I seriously wondered if I’d ever pick up a camera again. Slowly, slowly, my motivation has crept back and now I feel ready to move forward again.
When you’ve been out of the loop for a while it takes time to get your hand in again, so today’s offering isn’t the most exciting set of photos I’ve ever posted, but they are a reminder of a lovely day. I’ve made quite a few friends online, but have only met a small number of them, so it’s always a special day when I get to come face to face with someone I’ve ‘known’ for a while but have never met in person. Last week I went to York for the day to meet up with Dave – who is just as lovely a person in reality as he’s always seemed online – and we had an enjoyable walk along York’s beautiful River Ouse, some great conversation, a satisfyingly large lunch, and then we finished up with a yellow bicycle hunt.
As we wandered round York, I’d noticed a yellow painted bicycle hanging on the city wall. I’m afraid I’m utterly and shamefully ignorant when it comes to sporting events, so it took Dave to inform me that York had been part of the Tour de France route and that all the yellow bicycles liberally sprinkled round the city were there to mark the occasion. Of course, you have to photograph something like that, and the yellow bicycles became the photographic theme for the day. Neither of us was familiar with the city, so our walking route became dictated by any sighting of a yellow bicycle – ‘Look! -there’s one there! – OK, let’s go that way then.’ And so we walked, doubling back on ourselves, going round in circles, but always following the yellow bicycles. That kept us happy for quite a while, and here are the results.
Note: the only lens I had with me was my Lensbaby, so these have all been taken with that. It’s actually quite a good choice for this, as it helps focus attention on the bicycles and softens and blurs the surrounding environment. It’s been a long time since I took the Lensbaby out for a walk so some of my focussing isn’t quite where I wish it had been. It’s also a shame the light was so flat that day – although it was exceedingly warm, it was one of those overcast days with a lot of cloud so I feel the results also look a little flat. Everything emerged from the camera with rather a cold blue cast to it, so I’ve had to warm it all up a little.
I’ve just had a visit from Eileen, and I’ve decided I’d like to keep her in a cupboard and bring her out every time I need inspiration or a dose of the Muse. I’m never sure how it happens, but every time I meet up with her I get better photographs than I get most of the rest of the time. I wasn’t even going to take my camera out with me this time – at that point I didn’t have my newly fixed computer back, and the lack of ability to process in RAW was leaving me feeling a bit apathetic about photography in general. ‘Take it!’, Geoff said, ‘it’s Eileen – you know you’ll want to take pictures if you’re with her’. And he was right.
We went on a visit to Lincoln, which has to have one of the most gorgeous old town areas of any mediaeval city in the UK. We had plans – we intended to see an exhibition called Colour Love, on at the Usher Gallery. But before that, we thought a visit to the Cathedral wouldn’t go wrong, and it certainly didn’t, but we were a lot longer than we thought we’d be and by the time we’d thoroughly photographed the Cathedral and had some lunch, it was 4.00pm – which turned out to be the time that the gallery closed. (On a Saturday! – that’s the Midlands for you. If you live in London or the South-East, you get used to things being open most of the time.) So we missed the exhibition, but we did have a very good time anyway.
It was a very bright, sunny day and the light in the Cathedral was wonderful, with vividly coloured splashes of it filtering through the stained glass windows. I’ve got loads of shots I’m very happy with, and haven’t finished processing all of them yet. I wanted to share these with you for the moment, and I’ll follow up with the rest in due course.
Something interesting happened while I was processing – the first image below seemed to call out for the pillars to be left in bright coloured light, with a very dark/black background that would eliminate most of the background detail and throw the attention onto the columns themselves. I tried various ways to do this in Elements, but in the end I added a solid colour Layer of black and then used the Soft Light blending mode to blend it with the original. That gave me the effect I wanted, and then I wondered how that would look if I did the same thing to the rest. Surprisingly, it worked very well on almost everything, and it gave me the feeling I wanted, which is of vivid light and colour in a very dark space. I wanted to recreate the dim, soothing, womb-like feeling of old churches and cathedrals with the contrast of the astonishingly bright light streaming through the coloured windows. I’m sure there are other, possibly better, ways of doing this, but I’m pretty pleased with the results.
My default photography trip these days is to go and photograph the oil in the ditches of the estuary. Sure, I’ll get tired of it eventually, but it still surprises me how different it is each time I go. I started out regarding them as miniature, somewhat abstract, landscapes, but they’re getting more and more abstract and don’t really resemble landscapes at all now. I’m mostly drawn to the astonishing colours, although I also like the shapes and lines and swirls I find there.
As I stand with my camera, peering into ditches, I see dogwalkers and ramblers giving me puzzled glances. What can I possibly be looking at? One or two have been curious enough to ask me, but haven’t looked any less puzzled when I tell them. They obviously think I’m nuts. I get this a lot, up here. People in the south-east were usually too inhibited, or perhaps too polite, to feel they could ask the question, but everyone talks freely to you further up the country and they’re quite happy to enquire into what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. It’s not just adults, either. While I was out photographing tree roots one day, a young boy asked me what I was up to and looked totally bewildered when I told him. I could see him struggling to make sense of why I’d want to photograph that. It’s difficult to explain sometimes why you find something fascinating when most people would walk right by it 🙂