Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Ghostly yew trees above Grasmere

This is the first post on my new blog to accompany my black and white photography website, www.johnleechstudio.co.uk. My intention is to give more information about photographic days out and a some insight to my approach to photography and processing. Feedback is always welcome. 

Click on the photographs to see larger versions. 

Distant Howgills

In May I took this photograph of a twisted tree on Whitbarrow Scar. I'd spent most of the walk looking for shapes in the limetone pavement, then saw the tree with the distant Howgill Fells forming a suitable backdrop. Several exposures were made - access was a little awkward, a prickly bush having grown in the exact spot I wanted to stand. This composition was by far the best of the outing, though the processing proved quite difficult - just how much emphasis to place on the background and how bright to make the main subject. I was pleased with the end result. Trees are a favourite subject and I have a few tree themes which I'm constantly looking to expand upon. I'm now looking for similar trees that will process to a bright ghostly foreground then a subdued background to create depth and mood.

Above Grasmere, Study 3

A familiar area of fell south of Silver How between Grasmere and Great Langdale is peppered with wonderful old yew trees. I've often run over the ground, The Old Counties Tops and John Broxhap's secret race (!) both cross here. The trees always attract my attention, yet I've rarely walked the area looking for compositions. A few weeks ago I was up there looking for an improved race line and I noticed an uprooted tree which had long since died. It seemed to have some potential, but I hadn't time to look closely. A mental note of its location was made before I ran off to join the rest of our group. My mental note drawer is overflowing with potential shots from fell running locations!

A couple of weeks later the evening light looked promising for a return to the tree. Sue and I walked up onto the ridge from the Elterwater side, though Sue then went back to the car as the weather started to look a bit grim. Not so bad if you're the one doing the photographing, but tedious as a bystander! I pressed on, pausing as several trees on my way, looking for compositions. The relationship between the trees and the Fairfield ridge beyond wasn't easy to work with. Having recently broken my 10-20 zoom lens I was restricted to a maximum width of 17mm. However, with so much subject choice there were compositions available for pretty much any focal length.

Above Grasmere, Study 2

Here's the shot I went up there to take. There's obviously a lot of processing on all these shots, making use of the colour differences between the wood and the background grasses to achieve strong contrast - the yellow slider in the black and white converter being pushed pretty much to the extreme to darken the background. The sky needed some more subtle handing, I was keen to underplay the sky in order for it to recede, maximising the impact of the branches. 

I was pleased with the shots of my target tree, the others were a bonus. This last one is my fave from the evening. The light of the evening didn't quite work as hoped and the resultant processing proved quite tricky. I've revisited each shot several times to arrive at the photographs displayed here. 

Above Grasmere, Study 4


  1. Good start to your blog John!

    I like first version, but 3rd is much better with a) no violent cropping and b)abstract background gives more room for imagination. It looks like whale eating tree to me.. ;-I

    Best regards,


  2. A welcome addition to the blogosphere. Nice write-up on your thinking regarding these tree shots. Nice little nugget in there about the yellow slider -- more like that, please.

    I know you love #1 but my preference would be: 4, 3, 2, 1.

  3. Welcome to the blog world! Your first post has more text in it than all of mine put together! My fave is the first one.

  4. Thanks everyone.

    Mikko, indeed, that tree was full of whales.

    Michael - the main thing with the sliders is to play with all of them and see how similar results can be made from different setting, then understanding what the real differences between them are. With the photoshop black and white converter I often find the yellow and red sliders have similar effects in landscapes - but if going for extremes you need to carefully balance how far you take either as they can result in strange triangular highlights and an animated glow effect.

    Amanda - you seem to be more advanced in the workings of the blog site, at least you have a proper front page on yours rather than straight into an article. I must look into how this site works :~)