Saturday, 16 July 2011

PP – back to that tree at Hawes End, Derwent Water

I'm still working on the shot I took last week at Hawes End (so don't expect a grand conclusion). The shot I went there to take, or at least the tree I went there to take. I took several shots of it, working on the composition, exploring possibilities whilst slowly getting wetter in the rain. The setting is quite complex, so many rocks lying around, the small island in the background and the distant peaks. There are so many possibilities, the struggle being to get a balance between all the separate elements. I was keen to get the whole tree in the shot in a way that featured those amazing roots, but in doing so I had to make a decision on the left hand rock, distant rocks and the key relationship between the tree and island. Here's what I've decided was the best combination, this first version being straight out of camera with no processing. Its actually the adjacent frame to my finished photograph, but same settings. The colour version shows the potential in the sky for a black and white conversion, the quality of the light being far from ideal for a finished colour photograph.

Hawes End, Derwent Water - unprocessed
1/3rd @ f9, 2 stop ND grad
The sky to the left is ever so slightly blown even with the ND grad, but as shown in the straight black and white conversion below this was easily brought within tolerance using ACR. I also used ARC to correct lens distortion. The slight barrel distortion of the 17-55 was of no concern for this landscape photograph with no real perspective, but I habitually use lens correction to remove any chromatic aberration. If left unchecked, this can cause problems with detail then converting to greyscale as the fringes create outlines. Vignetting, I sometimes leave that on the ACR defaults, but often cancel its corrections, preferring to keep the natural vignetting of the lens.

Hawes End, Derwent Water
Distortions corrected using ACR then conversion to greyscale using photoshop converter
I used the slightest touch of highlight recovery to retain the sky and a hint of shadow fill for the dark leaves. The greyscale conversion barely touched the sliders. The yellow was increased a fraction, but for cloudy images I find I have to be very careful with the cyan and blue sliders as both can lead to ugly blotchy noise in the final image. Grainy noise isn't a problem, I like that, but blotchy noise looks like an ancient print that has been stored in poor conditions and started to go mouldy.

Working on the final image

Black and white manipulation is easy - there are only three things you can do, you either make pixels lighter, darker, or leave them be. Its just that simple matter of which ones to make lighter or darker... or not.

The straight conversion is obviously very flat, yet a good tonal range overall. People so often say that a good black and white conversion contains a solid black and a solid white - I find that a bit blinkered, but in this case it holds true. The image splits into three simple areas, sky, subject, foreground, each of which need different treatment. Giving the sky a quick kick was the first step - duplicate layer, use curves for more contrast, add a quick mask with a graduated fill to blend this into the image.

Second, the tree itself - this breaks into two very different areas, so a layer for each, working on the separate needs of the dark leaves and the brighter roots.

Finally, the foreground. The flow of energy in from the roots on the right plus how to handle the rock on the left being the main problems.

Hawes End, Derwent Water - first interpretation
Ideally I'd have liked to take the image in the direction of the trees I shot over Grasmere, stark treatment to the roots, dark mysterious treatment to the other regions. But this composition is very different and the contextual areas need to have more say. The lighting is also a major factor in the differences. After looking at the first conversion (a) I then worked more on the photograph - the first one is too strong on the roots, the island is insignificant, the sky very heavy and the foreground area is drab.

I saved versions up to (e), each subtly different, before taking stock of the set. I do this using Adobe Bridge, its easy to display the set of images full screen, flicking between them and comparing areas. Its an interesting exercise, watching how the emphasis shifts and in some cases jumps between the different conversions. My (c) and (e) conversions showed promise, so I opened these as two layers in a new photoshop file and worked between the two to create this - currently my final version.

Hawes End, Derwent Water – Version (g)
The main differences between (a) and (g) are the peripheral elements. The sky is similar, but the area to the right brightened, the island and water around it is reworked, then the whole foreground is completely reworked, making more of the textures in the grass and giving the rock more status.

I'm reasonably pleased with this version, but I do think the photograph has more potential. I will return to it at a later date, possibly taking it in a completely different direction. The subject is a real gem, my current thinking is to get back there and explore it further, and ideally see it in different lighting.

Edit: Following Matt's comment and preference for the colour version I've had another look at my black and white conversions. Here's version (h), playing down the sky more with the intention of bringing the emphasis back to the main subject. It has a lighter, more airy feel.

 Hawes End, Derwent Water - Version (h)


  1. I quite like the color original as well John. It's a fabulous photo. In fact I think the color original is quite perfect as it is!

  2. Interesting. Thanks for the comment Matt. I've pretty much ignored the colour version from the off as it wasn't what I was after. I had another look at it this morning and a bit of a tinker to see where it would go, but I find the composition more awkward in colour. Meanwhile my black and white was going way too hdr and losing a sense of subject. The sky was pretty crass too. I'll add version (h) to the pot which I think addresses that better.