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.
This is the first image I’ve posted that’s been taken with my new Sony a6000 – I finally got it about two weeks ago, and have been getting used to it since then. I knew my old camera inside-out and could adjust settings without even looking or stopping to think, so it feels like going backwards a little. In fact, I deleted all the pictures I took on my first outing with it, as it was more a case of getting used to it than trying to do anything artistic. But I’m getting there, and the camera itself is brilliant.
It’s so much smaller and lighter than my previous one, while at the same time having far greater low-light capability, a lot more pixels to play with, and extra options I haven’t even investigated yet. As my old camera is so old that it’s worth nothing now, I’m going to keep the body and use it as a dedicated Lensbaby camera, meaning that I can simply grab it and know it’s all ready to go instead of the faff of changing lenses and altering settings.
One of my problems with the new camera at the moment is that the version of Elements I’ve got won’t recognise and process the RAW files. Normally this isn’t an issue and you just download a little bit of software to update it, but my version of Elements is so old that it’s not supported any more. This means that until I buy a newer version, which I’ll have to do soon, I can only work with the jpeg files. It’s surprising how frustrating this is, as I know I can get much better results working with RAW.
The viewfinder of the a6000 is beautifully bright and clear – that is, until you’re in a poppy field in very bright light and your photo sensitive glasses have significantly darkened (next time I change my glasses I’m going clear)…………..it was almost impossible to see anything – couldn’t see which settings I was changing or what they were doing, couldn’t see what was in the frame, couldn’t see the resulting image on the LCD screen, and felt as if I were shooting blind. The results were surprisingly acceptable, considering.
This was my desperate attempt at the weekend to find something for my tree post this week, as I’ve failed to produce anything new the last couple of weeks and have relied on my backlog from the New Forest. This field is a couple of miles up the road, and last year the poppies were so spectacular that cars were continually nipping into the nearby layby so that their occupants could stop to take a proper look. This year, not so much, but there are still plenty of poppies. This image is really more about the poppies than the tree, but it does need the tree – try blocking out the tree with your fingers and you’ll see it loses something. The two images below are more what I had in mind, as the tree is more important in the frame, and I wanted to get across the idea of the poppies being sheltered by it. However, the first has an unwelcome smudge of lens flare, and the second isn’t the best composed, so I opted for the less interesting but undoubtedly cheerful image at the top of the post.
Another image from the New Forest this week. I saw this little tree growing in a clearing, surrounded by the other bigger trees who almost looked like they were protecting and taking care of it. I liked the ferns that surrounded it, too – they appear to be leaning towards the tree ever so slightly, and the tree echoes their shapes. It looks to me like it’s dancing with its friends while the adults look tolerantly on.
To the eye, the small sapling stood out clearly and even looked spotlit by the sun. However, when I saw the picture onscreen the little tree merged too much into the background and didn’t clearly take centre stage, which was how I wanted to show it. What to do? First of all I softened the image slightly using the Orton technique which, applied subtly, made the greens richer and emphasised the contrast in dark and shade a bit more. Then I added a vignette to the corners to darken them and thus make the brightly lit tree stand out. I think it’s worked.
It’s been another very busy week. I had an Airbnb guest staying all week, then friends staying Friday night, then relatives arriving Saturday morning and staying over as well, so there’s been an awful lot of laundry, bed-making, cleaning, and food shopping going on, as well as serious attempts to conquer the garden before it becomes completely impossible to get up the path that runs through it. I also had a day at Patchings Art Fair where I managed to catch the last ten minutes of Valda Bailey giving a talk, and on Saturday we went to Southwell Folk Festival, of which more in a later post.
While all this was going on, I was trying to put together an entry for Seeing in Sixes – a competition/book project asking for submissions of six themed images, with the successful entrants having their images published in a book. The deadline for entries is the day this post appears, and as this is another very busy week I’m not sure if I’ll get it done in time. I also have a backlog of pictures and blog posts in the queue, some of which I’ve even started to write but have never got back to since then. These things seem to operate like the life equivalent of chilled butter – it’s impossible to spread them nice and evenly around and instead they form into awkward clumps where there’s either too much or too little. I guess that’s just the way it goes.
Cheating slightly again this week, as this photo was taken while I was away in the New Forest a couple of weeks ago. It’s been an unusually busy week, so I’ve had no chance to get out and about. Among other things, I had a photography job to do for the Newark Town Hall Museum which I was rather dreading – quite rightly, as it turned out. I had to photograph forty-five, mostly glass-fronted, prints and drawings, in a storeroom with a mixture of lighting sources and hardly any space to move or set anything up.
The problem, of course, was reflections in the glass, and it took an hour and a half just to find a set-up that minimised the reflections. I would have much preferred to scan them, as that works brilliantly, but most of them were too big to fit the scanner. In the end, the pictures were hung, one at a time, on a metal grid that divided one part of the room from another, my tripod was wedged into the space between that and a metal shelving unit behind, so tightly that the legs wouldn’t fully expand. I had to drape the metal shelving with a large navy-blue fleece throw to prevent reflections coming from it and there wasn’t room for me to get behind the camera so I had to use the LCD screen to shoot, peering into it from the side.
Every image is going to need serious straightening out in post-processing, but it was impossible to frame accurately in that situation so I just left a wide margin around the edges so that I have some leeway to crop and straighten I can honestly say I never want to have to work in those sorts of conditions again! However, I did get the shots and there’s only the tiniest bit of reflected light showing in one or two of them.
I felt rather fraught when I got home, and was cursing the whole reflection problem, but reflections are normally something I like very much and the kind found in the image above calms me down rather than winds me up – evening light on the little stream just down the road from our holiday barn.
Back from the New Forest, and I certainly do have a lot of pictures of trees. Unfortunately there aren’t many that excite me, or give me that little glow inside that you get when you produce something you really like. It’s proved a point to me – that my work is much, much better when I concentrate on a small, familiar area and keep going back to it. I want to write some more about that, but will save it up for a later, more in-depth, post.
Photography or not, we had a wonderfully relaxing time just walking through the beautiful, lush, green place that is the New Forest. I’d never been ‘properly’ there before, only having driven through it a number of times on the way further west. However when you pass through on the A31, it crosses open areas of moorland and I always used to wonder where the trees were.
I’ve learned since then that when the word ‘forest’ was introduced into the English language it originally meant ‘wild land set aside for hunting’ and there was no requirement for trees to be present, so the Forest includes some areas of heath and moorland, too. There are plenty of trees, though, and one of the things that struck me was the way in which the Forest manages to absorb large numbers of people without losing its essential nature or feeling of wildness – we walked for hours on some days and barely saw another person.
Feeling mostly dissatisfied with the shots I’d taken so far, I experimented with some intentional camera movement and this seemed to capture for me more of the feeling of the place. In the image above I held the camera still for a short moment before moving it, and that gave a little bit of definition to the leaves and a kind of painterly look. I can’t say I’m totally happy with it, but it does bring back for me – quite vividly – the memory of how wonderful it was to walk in the sheltering half-light of the trees, with sudden dazzling shafts of sunlight illuminating the forest floor. If I could have picked even part of the forest up and taken it back home with me, I’d be a very happy bunny indeed. I suppose, in a sense, that’s what photographers do.
I didn’t think I was going to get anything posted for this week – I hurt my back quite badly several days ago, and haven’t been able to get out. I can walk reasonably freely now although it’s still a bit achey, and planned to do a little photo walk in the sunshine and find something for this week’s tree post. Sod’s law meant that I managed to pick the wettest day we’ve had in a long time, so the options were a bit limited.
I really wanted to do something all pretty and soft and spring-like, and experimented with some intentional camera movement. However, it just looked like I’d got the focussing wrong – sometimes these things don’t work out the way you hope. So – I’ve stuck to my recent car theme, and here’s one with the trees reflected in the rainy windscreen and the pink petals of the blossom scattered all over the bonnet like confetti.
I’m unsure if there’ll be a tree post next week or not – I’m going on holiday and may decide to take a blog break for a week. However, I’m going to the New Forest, so I might not be able to resist…….