How to deal with crappy light

How to deal with crappy light

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Aside from the obvious such as composition, DoF, hyperfocal focusing, leading lines, etc. one of the most important things I teach on my Lake District Landscape Photography Courses, other Landscape Photography Courses and on my Lake District Landscape Photography Holidays is how to ‘see’ the end image BEFORE you raise the camera to your eye

By ‘end image’ I don’t just mean how you are composing the shot and taking into account all variables of exposure and DoF/shutter speed effects, but actually ‘seeing’ it from the end result of your processing too
 

Let’s look at an example of how I adapted shooting to dealing with arriving at the intended shoot, Thirlmere, a man-made lake in the Lake District, on a February day when the sky was completely overcast, grey, miserable looking and with the hint of rain every few mins

The original idea had been to walk along the western bank of Thirlmere shooting wide images of the dam and reflections of the far bank in calm waters – yeah right. So the plan changed to finding something that would make for a strong subject as a B&W image against the cloudy sky where I could focus on shape, tones and mood – the obvious fallback subject for this sort of lighting is a ‘dead’ tree. Luckily, I already had a spot in mind for such a subject less than a mile away that I’d been meaning to shoot for years but where on previous occasions the light had been too good !!! 🙂

 

Here’s an image from my trip to the Lakes

on 12th of February 2015

If you just look at this from a lighting point of view at first, would you have even bothered to shoot it at all ???

If I also add that there was little wind, so not much chance of anything changing anytime soon in my favour, the temperature was just 2 degrees and that it was also lightly drizzling spots of rain meaning I had to be very careful where I pointed the camera to avoid getting rain on the lens, would you have even got out of your car ???

No doubt a few who see this image will love it as it is, but its not the image I was after and ‘saw’ at the time of shooting

 

 

This is a SOOC jpeg conversion of the RAW file

It was taken at 1:05 p.m. (i.e. noon, you shouldn’t shoot at noon normally they say) 1/250 sec, 100 ISO, and f4 on Aperture Priority with +0.7 compensation. If you’re using the ETTR exposure technique (Expose To The Right) then this is actually about 1.5 stops under-exposed from that point as I wanted to try to get some detail in the clouds, this has left the ground clearly underexposed

So when I got out of my car what did I see ???

Did I see a flat, slightly backlit tree against a dull almost featureless sky ???

NOPE !!!

I saw a very dramatic graphic image of a tree as a heavily processed B&W, shot through a RED filter

The whole point of this image is in focusing on the fact that the flat grey crappy light has reduced the contrast compared to how it’d appear in full sun, meaning the camera can better cope with the dynamic range, and that the same low clouds have helped to isolate the tree from its background making for a much stronger image than it would appear on a sunny day

Shooting in RAW and 16-bit has given me the greatest amount of data to play with, so I can ‘stretch’ the tonal range of the image to suit the end result I was aiming for without degrading the image or producing posterisation (banding) in the slight tonal changes of the grey sky. The RED filter is normally used in B&W photography as a means of darkening a blue sky to add drama, but on a flat grey sky like this is has virtually no effect. Why use it then? Well because it lightens GREEN too, here making the grass appear to be covered in frost. And no, I don’t own any coloured filters so this RED filter was applied in post-processing on the computer – doing so is quicker, easier, sharper and most importantly to a Yorkshireman CHEAPER 😀

I actually jumped out of my car excited by what lay in front of me because I was seeing the end image rather than just what lay before me

This is the end image I saw before I even got my camera out of the bag…

 

You’ll probably note that this is a totally uncropped image

I much prefer to keep as many of those expensive pixels as I can in my images, so ‘cropping’ is done in-camera wherever possible with all composition done at the time the image is taken. I’ve also not added anything to this image, this is the original sky merely processed to bring out more detail; and I’ve also not removed anything (other than some rain spots that showed up in the sky). Aside from the B&W conversion, adding contrast on a localised and wider level I have done some good old-fashioned Dodging & Burning, and added a slight blueish colour tone to finish it off (blue tones cool the image, which seemed appropriate to implying the ground was frosty)

And a couple more of the same tree a few minutes later…

 

Here’s a photography quote from someone a few of you will have heard of…

“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” – Ansel Adams

Although Ansel Adams didn’t have the option of shooting on digital, he did see his end image in terms of extensive post-production technique and the use of filters at the time. Its that ability to see the end result rather than what’s specifically in front of you that helped make him such a fantastic photographer

In our digital age its actually much simpler now as we can review immediately on the back of the camera, and in many cases apply in-camera filters too to hint at what we can achieve on the computer. The ‘trick’ is in playing with your post-processing to such an extent that you have a good idea of what post-processing you can do to the subject before you BEFORE you even take the shot

 

So the next time you arrive at your chosen landscape and the light isn’t what you were hoping for, think a little differently and shoot different subjects while ‘seeing’ that end result back on your computer

If all else fails though and you’re feeling truly uninspired and as flat as the light – go enjoy a pint 🙂

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To register your interest for one of my forthcoming Lake District Landscape Photography Courses or one of my Lake District Photography Holidays where we book a house and shoot / talk photography ALL DAY please CONTACT ME and I’ll keep you informed

Thanks for reading and I hope you found something useful

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Its always great for me as a Lake District Wedding Photographer and a Barnsley Wedding Photographer to get out & shoot something different to the Wedding photography I love so much, and teaching my Lake District Landscape Photography Courses is a perfect way to help others enjoy getting out & about in this most fantastic of areas for Landscape Photography too

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