At my last birthday, I was fortunate to receive a voucher for a Joe Cornish landscape photography workshop. Joe is one of my photographic heroes and the person I credit most with my ongoing interest in landscape photography. Naturally, as the day approached, I was getting a bit excited. Just a touch.
The day started at Joe’s gallery in Northallerton; I arrived in plenty of time for the gallery opening at 10am. After meeting our fellow participants over a coffee and a cookie, we had a few minutes for a brief look around the gallery before gathering in one of the upstairs rooms. Joe introduced Mark Banks who was the supporting tutor for the workshop. There were eight participants in total, including me, so there was a good participant-to-instructor ratio. Before we started the practical part of the day, we had a short discussion. Joe made the point that this workshop was not about changing personal style or viewpoint but to give suggestions on improving technique and composition in landscape photography within each person’s own style.
We divided into cars and set off for our first location. We started out to the north of Black Hambleton, near Dale Head. It was overcast, with rain forecast and low cloud on the nearby hilltops. We spent a few minutes scouting the area to identify subjects we might want to shoot, then paused for a quick lunch before we started. Of course, the cloud dropped and rain set in while we were eating, so we headed into the woods for a little shelter.
Joe set challenge of creating a single image in just over an hour. Initially I tried to find a subject linking the woods to the “outside” landscape but I wasn’t happy with my shot. I decided that as the wider landscape wasn’t working, I would narrow in on some detail that would benefit from the even lighting produced by the cloud cover. During a careful exploration of the wood I found a lichen growth in a small hollow on a boulder and pine needles had collected on top of it. Normally I have a strong urge to “garden” an image like this, removing the pine needles to tidy it up, but in this case I was drawn to the way the needles had collected in almost a web pattern.
I would love to say that this is straight out of the camera, but I did a bit of post processing in Capture One Pro 7. After cropping the top and bottom to focus the composition more tightly on the pine needles, I darkened the corners 1/3 of a stop to draw more attention to the middle. I added a little Clarity, Sharpening and Noise Reduction and used Capture One’s Highlight High Dynamic Range to recover some of the green highlights that had overexposed. I added a little contrast with the Curve and used the Colour Editor to increase the saturation of the orange-brown range to help the needles pop out. Finally, I added keywords, copyright etc in the metadata before processing to an output file. This was the result:
We decamped to a pub in Osmotherley for a cup of tea and debrief from the first session (and to dry out a bit!). While we were there, the rain stopped and cloud started to lift so we headed off to our second location, which was Scarth Wood Moor to the south of Swainby. It wasn’t until I was writing this post that I realised that I had been there before as a teenager for orienteering competitions.
The low cloud was still lingering when we arrived so I tried a few compositions, getting feedback from Mark. The rain returned, but we could see that the front would clear from the north-west, as the forecast had predicted, which gave the possibility of interesting golden hour light.
And it delivered!
Again, this image had some post processing work in Capture One Pro 7. After applying lens correction, I tweaked Exposure and Saturation, added some Clarity and gently increased contrast using the Curve. I used colour editor to add some Saturation to the warm (yellow-orange) tones to recreate the light as I saw it on the day. I set the overall Sharpening and Noise Reduction, then used Local Adjustments to darken the foreground and sky (fine-tuning the exposure balance), add Saturation and Contrast to the sky and add Sharpening to the midground. Finally I added keywords and other fields in the metadata.
I learnt a lot from the day, most of which was personal, but here are a few general tips that might be of use:
- A solid tripod, a spirit level and a remote release are essential kit for a landscape photographer. This wasn’t news to me, but I think their importance can be underestimated.
- I already use live view to compose and assist with manual focusing, but I discovered that some DSLRs drop and raise the mirror before taking the image when the shutter is released, which can lead to camera shake and soft images. Once your view is composed and correctly focused, switch live view off and enable mirror lock-up to minimise camera shake and maximise image quality.
- Filters still have a significant role in landscape photography. It is possible to do a lot to mimic their effects in post processing but there are some things best done in camera. A polariser can’t be mimicked in software and using a Neutral Density filter lengthens the shutter opening without compromising on aperture. Neutral Density graduates are also useful. A similar effect can be achieved in software, but by reducing the range of brightness entering the camera by darkening brighter areas you can make better use of the limited dynamic range of the sensor, again improving image quality.
- Landscape photography isn’t just about blue-sky days and golden hour…although both can be attractive. Even if the weather might not look promising, get out anyway – you never know what might happen, and you can’t take the shot if you aren’t there.
It was a long day, finishing back at the gallery after 9pm, but I had a fantastic time and learnt a lot. The next step is translating that personal learning into my images.