Keeping it simple


Golden light at La Corbiere, Jersey.

Most photographers I know are always developing their art, changing and adapting to new subjects and new moods.  They also tend to change in the way they see images, and this feeds into new images they make.   When aesthetic changes are experienced by a large enough number of image-makers, they become fashion.  Thus, a couple of years ago, in landscape work, so-called High Dynamic Range, or HDR, images were all the rage.  Done subtly, HDR simply means properly exposing an image so you have detail in the shadows and the highlights, something that with few exceptions has always been a minimum standard for landscape work.  The trouble with the HDR fashion as it emerged towards the end of the last decade was that the effect was exaggerated until the image came to look surreal.  For me, many HDR images started to be about displaying the technique rather than the landscape as it was revealed by the light prevailing when the image was taken.  Yet it is easy to see how this happened.


Blue hour, La Corbiere

The power of photoshop, and HDR plug-ins like Photomatix, is seductive.  It is so easy to keep on editing, always seeking more impact, way beyond the point when perhaps, in the cold light of the next day, one should have stopped.  I have done this myself, egged on by sites like Flickr and 500px where the ‘success’ of an image depends on its being immediately striking rather than any lasting appeal.  Of late, however, I find myself seeking a more subdued aesthetic, one that I hope is truer to the moment as I experienced it when I took the image in the first place.  These images of my lighthouse muse, La Corbière, are the case in point; simple, minimally-edited captures of brief moments when the light seemed to connect with the landscape in a way that pleased my eye.  They are not clever and they will not win any awards but I begin to find myself more satisfied with this sort of image than any other.


Of course, as with any fashion, there eventually has to be a backlash, and the HDR pendulum seems to be swinging back the other way.  So, perhaps in my love of the understated I am just another victim of fashion’s vagaries…  Has your approach to image-making, or image-appreciation, changed recently?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

Through a forest

trees and child

The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness. – John Muir

Every now and then I like to experiment.  Panning is a fun technique and so easy to do.  Just move the camera with a slowish shutter speed.  All done in camera; no fuss.  With trees, I like to slow the movement at the bottom of the scene to get a little more clarity.  I think this helps to ‘ground’ the image.  It’s very different from my usual, realistic style but it stops me from taking photography too seriously, and that has to be a good thing, right?

A Night Drive

motorway lights

On our journey back from Devon last week, I amused myself with taking some abstracts of the view from my window.  I hasten to add that my husband was driving, not me!

motorway lights

This technique is very easy.  I manually focused beyond the window, then selected a reasonably narrow aperture (between f.14 – f.20) and a low ISO (most of these are at ISO 100).  This gave me shutter speeds of between 8 and 20 seconds; perfect to get light streams and to even out the impact of some of the inevitable bumps.  I also dialled in some negative exposure compensation. Then I sat the camera on the dashboard and pressed the shutter.

motorway lights

I used self-timer too, although as the camera is sitting in a moving vehicle, there will be some movement so any improvement to the shots from using self-timer is minimal.

motorway lights

It’s great practice for a photographer who usually likes control. You have to let go with photography like this. That’s part of the fun.  Who am I kidding?  It’s all of the fun.

motorway lights

Here I have concentrated on images where the dominant colour is amber (street lights). These images do not really work on their own so well but, as a set, or maybe the best three as a triptych, they have more merit.  At least, I think they do…

motorway lights

So, if you had to choose, which three do you think might work best together?  I am pretty sure I like no.s 2 and 3, but not sure about the third choice…

By the way, I used the Sony NEX-7 for all of these and I think it’s done a fair job.  In particular, I think the image stabilisation has coped marvellously with the vibrations from the car.  Also, a DSLR would not fit on the dashboard.


snow scene

No cricket today – winter in Weybridge

A couple of days ago I posted a shot I had edited using a Photoshop plug-in, Topaz Simplify. Several people seemed to want to know more about this plug-in so here’s a post sharing my experience.  The top image was processed using Simplify.  Below is the unsimplified version.

snow scene

You can see that the colours in the processed version are more saturated and the light seems more ethereal, less contrasty.  More particularly, the trees have taken on what I call a stained glass effect, seen more clearly in this zoomed in detail:

Topaz Simplify

Thus, Topaz Simplify has the effect of making images more painterly.  I found that it was particularly effective in images of trees, simplifying the detail in foliage and branches to create an overall impression that can sometimes be lost in the clutter of a more realistic image.  In other words, it helps the viewer see the wood for the trees.

Topaz Simplify

Holt’s Orchard, Capitol Reef

As you can see in this image from Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, Simplify boosts the saturation without introducing digital artefacts.  In fact, I found it to be an effective way to achieve a seamless high-saturation effect even in images where I didn’t require the painterly look, simply by selecting ‘saturation’ blending mode for the Topaz layer in the layers panel, as demonstrated in the image of Bryce Canyon below:

snow scene

Bryce Canyon, Utah

Once uploaded from the website, Topaz Simplify is very easy to use from Photoshop.  There are many video tutorials available but I didn’t need them.  If I can do it, anyone can! Everything works with sliders and you can see the effects on previews of the image as you work.  You can use just a touch of the plug-in or go all out, or any degree in between.

Topaz Simplify

The River Thames at Shepperton

Unfortunately, Adobe Bridge kept crashing while I was using Topaz Simplify but I have not heard of anyone else having this problem.  Certainly, the surreal effects you can achieve with this plug-in are not for everyone, or every image.  But it is a lot of fun.

Topaz Simplify

Cherkley Court, Surrey

Topaz Simplify, and all other Topaz plug-ins can be downloaded for a free month’s trial.  So you can experiment to your heart’s content without risk.

Topaz Simplify

Painshill Park, Surrey

Winter abstracts


When winter closes in and the bare bones of trees are revealed, I like to create abstract images using ‘intentional camera movement’, or ‘panning’.

trees panned

This technique is very easy.  Simply select a slowish shutter speed and move the camera while the shutter is open.  It helps to start the movement before pressing the shutter and to  finish just after the exposure, to avoid jerky shapes in the image, unless that is what you’re after, of course!  I also find the results generally much more pleasing if you move the camera in the direction of the dominant shape in your view, so vertically for trees.

panned forest

Trees are not the only subject for this sort of technique.  I have also panned landscapes, although there I move the camera horizontally rather than vertically.  But winter forests do seem to be particularly suitable subjects.

I couldn’t resist including a mysterious figure in the last two images.   The final one is for my son’s horror film project.

panned winter forest

Do you ever play around with this technique?  Please feel free to share your panned/camera movement images or other winter abstracts in the comments below; I would love to see them!