After a couple of weeks of non stop activity, I took some time out on Sunday to walk along the banks of the River Adur at low tide, from Shoreham by Sea to Lancing. I’ve been meaning to do this walk for nearly a year now. I drive over this river at least once a week and have never managed to make the time to take a camera.
It is of course a magnet for wildlife, and I saw many examples of the lesser tripod equipped photographer. I’m not a wild life photographer, not knowing the difference between duck and gull is no advantage in that pursuit and its a race I’ve no intention of entering. I do on the other hand love landscapes. There has been a lively debate in the Brighton & Hove Camera Club about landscape photography recently and the arguments have been articulated by very talented people on all sides. I’ve found the debate energising and thought provoking and I’d like to explain why.
When I started shooting landscapes, my major challenge was technical. There are a lot of very gifted, very technical landscape photographers out there and as someone who was born and raised in the country I could recognise the emotional impact a landscape is capable of delivering but I often struggled to convey anything other than a representation. My initial effort therefore went into honing my technique and mastering the many tools that are available to help and hinder.
The next step, after I considered myself capable of taking a decent picture, was to answer the question “What does this landscape mean to me?” That was the question I was failing to answer by focussing entirely on technique. I’ve thought about it a great deal and I’ve looked at a lot of landscape photography over the years. To mention a few of my favourites, the work of Fay Godwin carries a real sense of purpose, Don McCullin although best known as a war photographer has published in “Open Skies” a phenomenal and unusual take on the countryside of Gloucestershire where he lives. Knowing what we know about McCullin, it’s easy to see he’s delivering a personal view of the landscape in the context of his own experiences. Magnificent, brooding pieces suggesting a timeless land of great extremes.
I’ve also looked at the politically informed work of Paul Strand and the pure graphic genius of Edward Weston with interest. Paul Strand’s book on the Outer Hebrides is reviewed elsewhere in this blog. Edward Weston’s landscapes, like his nudes, are triumphs of form and texture. Each one of these photographers has a very personal and identifiable style.
So where does all this rumination get me? There are two reasons I am drawn towards landscapes. The first is that when I was a child, growing up on a farm in the Yokshire Dales I roamed the woods and valleys by bicycle and spent many hours doing the old fashioned things, climbing trees, falling out of trees, lying in the bracken staring up at the sky. I also remember the bleak Yorkshire winters, the big featureless skies and the grouse wheeling away in a clatter of wings and as often as not, gunfire. But there is another reason.
Most of my income is derived from the IT industry. I work as consultant in a high pressure environment where the cost of failure for a typical IT project runs into millions. People build careers on their ability to make the right decisions and those jobs are lost in a nanosecond if their competence is recognised as being less than their publicity. It can be brutal and intense but it is never less than interesting. It is as far away from lying in the heather as it is possible to get and when I take my camera out for a walk through the countryside, I’m inhabiting another world, one that is stress free and timeless. It is a necessary antidote to a world run for profit and it enables me to keep my head when all around me is frenetic. It is this world I’m drawn to and it is this world that I’m trying to capture.
On matters technical, these pictures were shot with a Canon 5D, 24-70 lens, f4.0, handheld. All were processed in Adobe Lightroom, the Monochromes were further processed in Silver Efex Pro.
I was a little surprised when Google announced a month or so ago that they had acquired Nik Software, the company that brought us the excellent Silver Efex Pro and HDR Efex Pro photo editing software.
The acquisition made sense on the level that Google had already acquired Piknik the on line editing suite aimed at entry level photographers and that Google + has been more enthusiastically taken up by photographers than perhaps any other sector, but I’m sure I was not alone in fearing for the future of the earthbound applications.
Given the general feeling of trepidation, the announcement last week that Google were making the entire suite available for $149 took everyone by surprise – and the news that they would upgrade existing customers at no cost was as welcome as it was surprising. A couple of forums reported problems with downloads and support for installation, so I waited until yesterday before e-mailing Nik Customer support to see if I was eligible. They responded within minutes, to my surprise and after I had supplied the license key for my installed version of Silver Efex Pro sent me the download link within about five minutes.
The software installs on top of existing Nik software, no complicated uninstalling required and I carried out some preliminary experiments to check that it was all working. Installed easily and seems to work just as well as it always did.
Well done to Google for this – I’d already bought Silver Efex Pro and HDR Efex Pro, now I have Color Efex Pro, Sharpener, DFine and Viveza at no extra cost. Color Efex Pro consists of a set of pre-defined adjustable filters for colour enhancement, Sharpener does what it says on the tin, very effectivley. DFine is a very effective noise reduction application that allows you to choose which areas to reduce noise in. Viveza is the flagship editing application allowing the user to control contrast, luminosity, brightness, saturation etc.
I’ll be using Sharpener and Dfine, probably more than the other extra applications, but there is something here for everyone and at this price point, it represents excellent value for money.
This photograph is one that I’ve been meaning to take for ages. The bandstand in Brighton is one of the most popular venues for weddings and if there isn’t a wedding there’s usually a photographer cluttering up the view. Today, I walked past and sure enough there was a photographer. It was a very grey day and as I walked, I started to think of ways of getting a good image.The flat grey sky wasn’t going to do me any favours, so I decided to go for a high contrast, bleached out look in post production. I stopped and looked back and the photographer was packing up. As an added bonus there were very few people around so I went back and took a series of shots quite fast, not worrying about the colour, but trying to get the geometry right.
This shot was desaturated and the contrast boosted in Lightroom, then converted to black and white. I used Silver Efex Pro to get the high contrast, bleached out look and was pretty happy with the result. Sometimes even the bad days are good!