Category: Landscape photography

Time to move on

Life in southern Spain has been fantastic – out in the countryside, mountain views, sunny nearly every day and even snow on the mountain tops in Winter. However, after 11 years it was time for a new adventure, so we sold the house and moved north. Goodbye to mountain views and hello to the beach.

After woodland photography, my next photographic passion is the exploration of rocky, seaside coastlines and there’s plenty of those in the new location. Not had time for any serious photography yet but I’ve started exploring some of the rocky coves in the area to get a better feel for the photographic potential of the local coastline and it looks very promising. For now an iPhone photo to give an idea of the local coastline alongside a memory of the mountains we’ve left behind.





Stones, lichen and shadows

Stones, lichen and shadows

I’m currently trying to write an article about imagining depth in a photograph which is after all, a flat piece of paper. The task is proving to be quite difficult.

In the article I want to move beyond compiling a list of compositional techniques that help to create the illusion of depth, for example the use of converging parallel lines, overlapping objects or diminution in scale where the same sized objects look smaller the further they are away from us.

There are plenty of sources for that sort of information and the techniques can easily be incorporated into our compositions to create the illusion of depth or as it is sometimes called, to create the ‘z axis’. In the article I want to go beyond tips and techniques to say more about the way depth perception works – how our brain creates a three-dimensional image of the world based on the two-dimensional data received from each eye. That goal has led me into the realm of ‘visual intelligence’ (a term coined by Professor Donald D Hoffman at the University of California).

Although we might think we see with our eyes, it’s much more complicated than that. We actually ‘see’ with our ‘mind’s eye’. We see what our ‘visual intelligence’ constructs and we learn to do that in the first year of life, even before we can walk and talk. Fortunately our ‘visual intelligence’ relies on a set of universal rules that transcend languages and cultures. This enables the photographer and a viewer to reach a similar conclusion about the three-dimensional reality a photograph is attempting to convey even if they’ve never met or discussed the photograph, or if they speak different languages or live on opposite sides of the globe.

The problem I face with the article is condensing everything that is fascinating about the concept of ‘visual intelligence’ into a short post. I can easily write twenty pages on the subject but trying to condense all that into one or two pages is proving difficult. Nevertheless I’m getting there slowly. In the meantime I decided to do some more work on a photograph I took a year ago in Padley Woods – a place in the Peak District of England. In a way it’s related to the concept of ‘visual intelligence’ because my photograph is deliberately trying to create some visual ambiguity about the subject matter, so when someone looks at it their ‘visual intelligence’ has to work a little harder to try and make sense of the image. As a consequence, I hope the viewer is encouraged to engage with and explore the photograph in more detail (even if that only happens unconsciously).

The title of this post (‘Stones, lichen and shadows’) takes most of the ambiguity away by giving a clue to the nature of the subject matter, but without a caption or introductory description it can prove difficult to instantly make sense of parts of the image. For example, some people have interpreted the image as a picture of a pile of fossils where the leaves have left their impression in the stones, rather than a photograph of a dry-stone wall with the sun casting the shadows of fern leaves onto it. Our ‘visual intelligence’ is pretty smart but it’s not foolproof so it doesn’t always get it right. There are plenty of famous optical illusions that demonstrate that point, for example, Oscar Reutersvärd’s 1934 illusion ‘the devil’s triangle’, where our ‘visual intelligence’ is fooled into ‘seeing’ a three-dimensional triangle that can’t physically exist.

Another connection with ‘visual intelligence’ is the perception of colour and in particular our sensitivity to the colour green. Our eyes can only see three colours – red, green and blue – our brain has to do the rest to construct the wide palette of colours we can distinguish. Green can be a particularly difficult colour for landscape photographers because our camera sensors are biased to collect more green light than red or blue, also because we are particularly sensitive to green – possibly as a result of its importance in our evolution as a species when we were more reliant on the natural world for our survival, and also because the green colour in a lot of our subject matter – grass, trees etc. – represents a ‘memory colour’ – viewers ‘know’ what colour that sort of subject matter should be in a photograph.

The photograph in this post (‘Stones, lichen and shadows’) relies on the colour green quite a lot to give the image a subtle variation of interest and texture. However, the green tones vary quite a bit from yellow-green to blue-green. The Impressionist painters understood the subtle variations of colour in a predominantly green landscape scene often adding for example, blues, pinks and yellows to add visual realism to a scene that the casual observer or the untrained eye would simply describe as being green. Adjusting the ‘greens’ so they appear realistic without losing their aesthetic appeal and compositional contribution therefore formed an important part of post-processing with this image.

Working on the green areas in this image without altering other parts of the image could be difficult because of the generalised, almost random, distribution of the green across the stones and the differences in how the same colour looks (light green – dark green) depending on the localised ‘lighting’ effect created by the sunlight and shadows, and the variation in colour from yellow-green through to blue-green. Fortunately the RAW converter ‘CaptureOne’ has a neat way of constructing extremely complex ‘masks’ to separate parts of an image based on a selected colour and it does that in seconds which is really useful. So in this image I wanted to select the green colour (whether it be yellow-green, green or blue-green) and tone down the colour saturation a little. The following image is a screenshot taken with my iPhone of the mask ‘CaptureOne’ created in two seconds.

The quality of the screenshot isn’t perfect but hopefully you can see the way ‘CaptureOne’ has avoided some parts of the image but still picked up even small, isolated areas that it saw as matching the colour I’d selected as the target for creating the mask. Drawing in this mask by hand would be extremely difficult and time-consuming which is why I often use ‘CaptureOne’ as my Raw converter of choice, particularly when I anticipate the need for complex masks where I can use colour as the defining parameter. In this particular image for example, including the green in small parts of the fern leaf shadows without effecting the entire shadow, or including parts of stones without damaging the colour integrity of the rest of the stone colours would be a major challenge to first identify all the green (pixel by pixel) and then to draw the mask by hand.

I find the colour-masking ability of ‘CaptureOne’ particularly useful in landscape photography. I’ve also used it to select parts of tree trunks on silver birch trees where I want to alter colour, contrast, sharpness, exposure without having to hand-draw complex masks. If you haven’t seen the software and use masks in post-processing then I would suggest having a look at the software particularly since there is a trial version available.

Anyway, time for me to stop and get back to the article I’m trying to put together on the perception of depth/’visual intelligence’ in photography. In particular the way ‘visual intelligence’ helps a viewer of a photograph to reach a shared perception with the photographer of the three-dimensional world represented in the photograph even though the location where it was taken has been flattened onto a sheet of paper or a monitor screen, and the viewer has never been there.

Up to my ankles in water

A few days ago I was persuaded by a friend to accompany him on a hike up the Rio Chilar near Nerja in southern Spain. A great day out. The hike is fairly short – about 10km (6 miles) round-trip. The altitude gain is only about 250 feet so not strenuous but it can be difficult. Most of the time you are walking through the river and the river bed can be difficult with stones, boulders and changes in depth. One minute the water is above your ankles and then, if you choose the wrong place for your next step, its above your knees. So an easy hike on the lungs but hard on the feet, knees and leg muscles.

Along the way there are some great opportunities for photography. There are a number of water cascades in the river. They can be difficult to clamber over but they are great locations to stop and explore. Slow shutter speeds work well so a tripod is essential kit along with neutral density filters because the light can be bright. The first photograph was taken at one of those cascades with the camera set at ISO 100, 30sec exposure, f8 aperture and the lens set at 180mm focal length. The long exposure (courtesy of a 10 stop neutral density filter) helping to give a blue tinge to image which I feel fits with the idea of an ethereal, mystical mood.

The next photograph gives an idea of what the cascades look like. Plenty of opportunities to search for details and ideas within the complex mix of rocks, trapped wood and water.

Another great feature of the Rio Chilar trail is the mini-canyons where the river has cut through the rock. Depending on the time of day and the direction of the sun it would be useful to have a flash gun in your bag that can be used off-camera as a fill light for the shadows. I decided not to take my Canon 600EX-RT Speedlites with me but fortunately I was able to get a reasonable shot of the river flowing through a mini-canyon.

There are also plenty of small details in the river bed that provide good material to work on in Photoshop. I’ve used ‘blending’ in this next photograph to show the sort of images that can be created in post-processing. Here’s an example using the ‘vivid light’ blending mode at 85% opacity.

So, a good day out but you need to get to the start-point for about 8:30am to get parked and beat the rush, its a popular walk for the Spanish and for tourists on holiday. Minutes after taking this last photograph the pool below the waterfall was filled with a procession of people all wanting their ‘selfie’ photo-opportunity in the pool with the waterfall behind them. A bit annoying for us landscape photographers but a great way to cool down after the first half of the hike before returning back down the river.


Ticking-off lists and wandering around in search of inspiration

This post is about a photograph I’ve been trying to ‘tick-off’ my mental list for quite a while without success. I’ve also included some interesting insights from using GPS tracking during two of my recent ‘wanderings’ through Padley Woods and Wyming Brook Nature Reserve in search of photographic inspiration.

Weather conditions in wintery England are notoriously changeable – no secret there! On days when I’m scouting a new location or just wandering around searching for inspiration, the changeability isn’t a major problem even if it’s raining and cold but it can be a problem when I want a specific shot and only have a few days in which to take it. This particularly applies to a few woodland photographs I’ve carried around in my mind for quite a while but with limited time in England it has proved difficult to ‘tick-off’ them all off my mental list.

I have been lucky enough to be in England and free for photography when the weather conditions were just right for one of those shots – shafts of dappled sunlight in a grove of silver birch trees, the hard textures of the tree bark contrasting with the softness of the grasses – (click here for the photo ‘Sunlight, shadows and silver birch’) . However, a couple of others on my list have proved more difficult to ‘tick-off’. Strange really since one requires rainy, wet conditions and the other, a misty day. You would think both were weather conditions easier to find in England than sunshine but they have proved to be elusive during the relatively short time I have in England during Spring, Autumn and Winter.

However, recently I was in England at the right time when it rained persistently so I managed to get over to Padley Woods and take a photograph of an interesting path that runs through part of the woodland. The path has been on my list for quite some time but when it’s dry and cloudy the gritstone rocks forming the path are grey and photographically ‘flat’ with low contrast so they don’t photograph well. However, when wet, they spring into life to become an intricate jigsaw of stone shapes. Here’s my photo of the path on a rainy day – another one ‘ticked off’ in my search (slow search!) for a coherent set of 15 woodland photographs.

Path through the woods

‘Path through the woods’

Waiting for specific shots over a long period of time sounds very organised and focused and I suppose it is, but it also means you have know a location well. It requires time spent exploring, searching for potential subjects and thinking about the impact of different light/weather conditions. I enjoy those ‘scouting days’ very much. They are an important part of the essence of landscape photography – out walking in the fresh air, surrounded by nature, continually making artistic judgements that one part of the landscape is worth framing whilst others aren’t. Malcolm Andrews talks about the photographic aspects of ‘landscape scouting’ in his 1999 book ‘Landscape and Western Art’ which starts by asking the questions “What is landscape?” and “How does land (the countryside) get to be promoted by the photographer/painter to become landscape?”.

He suggests (p.4) that as we wander through a location we are bombarded by potential photographs, a multitude of scenes, all “… visually auditioning to be landscapes (rather than just ‘land’)”. With that thought he confirms for me one of the enormous challenges for landscape photographers. For every scene we choose to transform into a lasting memory through our photographs there are hundreds of others we mentally reject. It involves a phenomenal amount of mental processing with the landscape photographer having to be even more ruthless than Simon Cowell, that well known talent show judge! This is particularly true with woodland photography but that’s an important part of its appeal to me – the challenge to visually simplify in my mind the complexity of woodland shapes, colours, lines, textures and light and then to take a two-dimensional photograph that captures the three-dimensional essence of the place as I originally ‘saw’ it.

Andrews describes the process with more academic eloquence (p.3), he says “In judging what is a ‘good view’ … We are selecting and editing, suppressing or subordinating some visual information in favour of promoting other features. We are constructing a hierarchical arrangement of the components within a simple view so that it becomes a complex mix of visual facts and imaginative construction. … it is what we do as we aim the camera viewfinder.” That’s exactly what I meant to say!

I love the mental imagery of landscape photography Andrews creates with his words. Visual facts combined with imagination, potential scenes auditioning to be immortalised by the photographer’s camera. I can almost see the trees dancing around in the wind trying to attract my attention.

Turning to a different type of imagery using the GPS function on my watch to track my progress during two recent trips searching for photographic inspiration. The first trip was to Padley Woods (of course) and the second to Wyming Brook Nature Reserve – a new location to me recommended by a fellow blogger Andy Gough who has a WordPress blog called ‘Learning the art of landscape photography’.

Padley Woods

Padley Woods

This first GPS image shows me wandering through a relatively small section of Padley Woods. It tells me I walked for 2.26 miles – not very far – but I was surprised to learn that it took me an average of 51 minutes to cover each mile! The GPS tracking highlights the locations where I had paused to take photographs. I can see the five areas where I stopped to explore the location in more detail and where I took the time to set up my tripod and take some photographs (some of the stops show up more clearly than others because of the image’s small scale).

The next tracking image is from my first exploration of Wyming Brook Nature Reserve, just outside Sheffield. An interesting woodland and stream location, certainly a place to re-visit for further exploration.

Wyming Brook

Wyming Brook

The GPS track says I covered 3.63 miles at an average pace of 36 minutes per mile! The distance of 3+ miles surprised me because I didn’t think I’d travelled anywhere near that sort of distance but the image suggests why I thought that, with my time concentrated in just two particular areas. The GPS track demonstrates in those two areas the landscape photographer’s equivalent of ‘running on the spot’, or ‘shuttle runs’, when the photographer stops and explores part of a location in great detail. Repeatedly searching for the ‘best view’ and the right framing before finally capturing the scene. I’m quite fascinated by these GPS tracks and will certainly use GPS tracking more in the future. They provide a useful record of trips and they also help identify specific areas of photographic interest within a location, geographically marking them for future exploration as seasons and weather conditions change during the year.

Trees with artistic intent

Woodland Impression

‘Woodland Impression’

This image is another in a series I am gradually building based on woodland and Intentional Camera Movement (ICM). The photograph was taken at Lakeside in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, England – a man-made water parkland. My aim was to create an impression of the scene rather than producing a factual representation of this particular piece of woodland.

The image was taken hand-held at arms length with the exposure settings of 1 sec, f16, ISO 100 and a 35mm focal length – so a very rapid, mainly vertical movement of the camera. I’ve developed the image using the RAW converter, Capture One Pro Version 9 (a great piece of software for this sort of image). In post-processing I have tried for a oil/acrylic painting effect using the tools available within Capture One Pro (rather than Photoshop filters) to accentuate the textures, patterns and colours, particularly within the birch trees. In addition to the usual tweaks with things like ‘Clarity’ (mid tone contrast for those who aren’t familiar with Capture One), the most important action for me was to change the ‘White balance’ from the original value of 3,707 °Kelvin, Tint +3 (as shot) to 3,400 °K, Tint -0.5 to give colder colours and a more silvery/blue colour palette to accentuate the silver birches more and give a greater feel of luminosity to the foreground trees. An unwanted side effect of that change was to make the grass bluer so I used the Colour Editor tool in Capture One to select the colour of the grass, tell it to construct an adjustment mask based on that colour (a fantastically useful option within this RAW converter) and then I adjusted the saturation of the grass so it looks more natural. I can’t sing the praises enough of Capture One’s ability to create a complex mask in an image like this in seconds just by clicking on one point in your image to select the colour you want the mask to cover wherever it  occurs in the image.

Finding the right balance between creating an impressionistic photograph using ICM and retaining the detail you want (for example the thin ‘sticks’ just in front of the large tree in the background) is something that requires some experimentation, but for me it’s worth the time since the results open up new creative options and give us ‘non-painters’ more of an opportunity to capture what we see in our minds rather than simply factually, documenting the landscape scene we find before us.

At the seaside on a September day

One of the things I love about landscape photography is the way images can be framed to be expansive views or they can concentrate on a small extract of the view that is quietly minding its own business within the wider landscape. This post shows both approaches. The first image is a typical wide expanse showing Filey Bay in Yorkshire on a reasonably good weather day for late September in England. The second image (converted to black and white through Nik Silver Efex Pro) is part of a set of fishing nets hung over the railings of the beach-side promenade to dry before the fishermen go out into the bay at high tide.

Filey Bay

Filey Bay

Surfing the Net

Surfing the Net

A landscape diptych

I have been attending a group called ‘The Image Group’ (TIG) for just over a month now after exposing my creative talent (or the lack of it!) at the Royal Photographic Society’s Distinction Advisory Day organised by TIG. The group meets weekly in Fuengirola on the Costa del Sol, Spain and has an interesting mix of people. Most are very experienced photographers who earned a…


A daily selection of the best content published on WordPress, collected for you by humans who love to read.


Nature & Still Life Photography

Lerpy's Photography Log

OCA Level 2: Documentary

Photography Martin

A blog about pursuing my passion for photography

Learning Log - Robert Burton

Learning log for the studies, research and progression on the OCA-UK Degree path for Photography

Susanne's Landscape Blog

An OCA learning blog