Colour Landscapes

I have always struggled with colour landscape photography. I could visualize what I wanted but I always ended up with something flat and lifeless. I never could quite get the dial up to 11.

I think, like many, I had my first ‘wow’ when I turned the lightbox on with a set of Fuji Velvia transparencies after a photographic trip around the Isle of Skye. The colour, the rich, deep, rich, deep, rich, deep, colour. Wow. The  highly saturated purples and greens you were rewarded with for lugging a medium format camera and tripod about were just something else.

Never been able to get to the same place with digital photography. My images are flat and dull and just never really hit me like the Velvia transparencies did. Some of it was due to digital sensor technology not being a match for ISO 50 colour slide film (for both resolution and colour depth) and partly it was due to my lack of feel for post-processing colour images. Monochrome I can do because I learnt it a proper darkroom so dragging sliders about in Lightroom is, in my mind, just recreating what I did in the darkroom by working the enlarger and examining test exposures. My presets that let me work quickly in digital monochrome are the equivalent of my box of different paper types and grades.

Colour is different. I got images that impressed me by picking the right film and pointing it at something nice. I have no feel for how to get what I want. So I’ve been watching a lot of other people working on their images on Youtube to see what can be done.

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The results I then managed impressed me. For the first time in a long while I have some colour images I am proud of. Sure, the camera helps, my old D300 filled the muted tones with noise and lacked the dynamic range to rescue the highlights – the new D800 is certainly a leap forward. But I think the real progress is my getting to grips with post-processing colour images to bring out the image I saw without going too far and making it look like  a cartoon.

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I tried to work these up as a set of similar images picking up different areas of the view and the variations in colour that were present. Cropping to a wide ratio seems to work well for landscape photographs to avoid a vast expanse of sky making everything else look squashed. The benefit of 36 million pixels and a 16mm wide angle lens is that the cropped images are still high resolution and a lot less hassle than stitching separate images together to make a panorama (which is something I’ve done my fair share of in the past!).

I think they work well together as they have a similar (but not identical) colour palette and they are all split into horizontal 1/3 bands or foreground, background and sky so the perspective doesn’t jump around from one image to the next.

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I think the first image in the set is my favorite. I currently adorns the desktop of all my computers. The final image has a depth to it that I wasn’t fully aware I was seeing when I looked through the viewfinder stood up on the hill. The weather was freezing and the resulting mist that settled in the valley mixing with the sunlight gives a really nice depth to the image. The screenshot below is a 50% zoom on the central area of the image which shows the sun streaked mist more clearly (click for the full size).

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So that’s my latest set of images. I think it took me about 2 hours working on the first image to get it to a place I was happy with. I used that image as the basis for a preset to apply to the other images in the set and then each subsequent image then only took a few minutes of tweaking to account for variations in exposure and lighting.

I think the hard part with creating images is knowing when to put the brush down. Looking at these again now I can see tweaks I want to make, but i’ll channel that motivation into shooting my next set of images instead of endlessly fussing over these.

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