I have recently started up a magazine about our woods. Entitled “Woodland Beauty” it contains a lot of photographs and articles about our woods, and also about photography. It is available as a free ebook from the iTunes store (a search for Alvecote Wood will find it if you want to download to iPhone), and also via Blurb as an ePub for Kindle and other devices. If you are interested, please take a look!
I am constantly striving to make my images better reflect the beauty and wonder of the natural world around me. People often ask me what camera settings I am using to take the photos that I take. To me that is missing most of the point. Of course it is nice to be able to take a picture that is correctly exposed and in focus, and without that, the image is less likely to reflect the natural beauty you are trying to convey. It is necessary, but not sufficient, to have a technically correct image. Much more important is how the image displays the subject in its environment. It is important to consider all the stuff that is in the frame but that in itself is not the subject – stuff like colour, light, shade, distractions, shadows, bright spots and so on. If it doesn’t enhance the subject of the image, then how can you alter the picture in some way so that it does. Most importantly, can it give the feeling that you get when you are viewing the subject.
In short, you need to disengage the technical side of your brain and engage the artistic side and tie the image you are taking into the emotions you are feeling. What are you feeling and what is it about what you are seeing that makes you feel like that. What makes you gasp, draw your breath, say “Wow!”.
I can’t claim to have mastered this, but these images give some idea of how I am thinking when I take a picture.
The first image (above) is wild carrot flower in our meadow. This is a plant that I love, so it was important to show not only the delicate nature of the plant, but also the way in which it blends so gracefully with the meadow. I did this by ensuring that the depth of field was sufficiently small to blur the background but not so narrow as to make it completely free from texture. There is the feeling here of something, and the angle of the shadows reflects the angle of the wild carrot plant, as if they are all moving in the same breeze. The lighting is warm evening light, and that was important, but the wild carrot itself stands out because I have placed it in front of an area of shadow.
This image is of rosebay willow herb in our woods near sunset. I loved the way in which the sun picked out and backlit the flowers, making them seem lit up from the inside. However there were a lot of trees in the background which could have been very distracting, so I made sure the depth of field was very narrow, and this led to a nice circular bokeh. Placing the bright part of the flower by the bright part of the background really draws the eye to this part of the image.
This little damselfly is perched on a reed stem by one of our ponds. I have many pictures of damselflies with a nice green background, but here I noticed that other plants in the background gave a variety of colours – green, yellow, red=brown and blue. By placing this out of focus, it looks as if I have applied a rainbow filter of some kind to the image – in fact this is a completely natural look. The only editing done here is the usual slight adjustment of the RAW image for white balance, noise, sharpness and minor tweaks to the exposure.
Here my eye was drawn to the amazing sparkles on the pond behind the dragonfly. The dragonfly is perched on a fairly ordinary piece of dead reed stem, but the sparkles behind make it look like it is sitting in front of Christmas lights. It is a completely natural effect due to the way in which the image was taken.
Sometimes pulling away from your subject makes it stand out more. This is a dragonfly perched on a reed stem at one of our ponds. What I have done here is make use of the backlighting to make it stand out, but also use the lovely patchwork of colour produced by the evening light on the foliage in the background to enhance the image further. It looks a bit like an impressionist painting. Again, this is a natural effect, with only minor routine editing of the RAW file.
These aren’t perfect images by any means, just a set of pictures I took in the last week or two. I can criticise each of them. But I hope it illustrates what I am thinking when I take a picture, and how the background can make the difference between a pretty ordinary image and one that stands out a bit from the crowd.
Our own woods, Alvecote Wood, is ancient woodland and we are blessed with a good show of bluebells during the spring. Here are just a few photos of the bluebells, which are all native English bluebells, taken over the past couple of weeks.
I am very lucky to be able to run photography workshops both at our own woods and on behalf of the Tame Valley Wetlands Partnership. This pulls together my love of photography with my experience of adult education, and also allows me to visit some very special sites that I may not otherwise have access to.
Recently, I ran an Introduction to Photography workshop for Tame Valley Wetlands at Hams Hall. We were blessed with beautiful weather and an even more beautiful show of bluebells in a woodland that isn’t always accessible to the public. The bluebells were stunning this year, and grow in vast swathes underneath beech and birch trees. Beech is ideal for bluebells because it has a very closed canopy and therefore other undergrowth rarely thrives.
These are some of the photos from those woods on that day.
If you would like to attend a photography workshop at Alvecote Wood, our own woods, please see our Photography Workshops page.
I’m often asked this!
Over the next few blog articles I will explain how I do this using Adobe Lightroom and various other pieces of software including the excellent Google Nik Collection which is completely free.
In the meantime, for those of you who are au fait with this software, here are some of the presets/recipes that I use for these two pieces of software. They are zip files. You will need to extract them and then import them into your own copy of Color Efex Pro and Lightroom 6/CC respectively.
I’ve only ever had sight of a kingfisher as a brief flash of blue. Today, we set out for a gentle amble. I was not expecting to take any bird photos, and took a different lens for my camera to try out. We reached the bottom of Betty’s Wood and sat on the bench, when a flash of blue caught Stephen’s eye. A kingfisher! The first ever sighting at our woods, and a wonderful sight to behold. It stayed for almost one hour, feeding on three of our ponds and in the ditch. It seemed to be feeding on larvae or possibly small newts – difficult to tell at a distance.
So I apologise for a VERY bad picture. This is a 100% crop from a totally unsuitable lens. But it proves that if you build it, they will come. One of the best days ever in Betty’s Wood!
To all our friends and followers, we wish you a very Happy Christmas, and a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year.
The wonderful thing about autumn is how it progresses. First there is the excitement of a touch of colour on the first leaves, the anticipation of things to come. Then where the sun touches the tops of the trees and edge of the woods, you get the first flash of gold, and the first touches of bright yellow and red on the maples.
The changes are subtle and slow. You always think you have taken your last, best pictures of the autumn colours.
And then it changes again, and gets more golden, more orange, more red, and more beautiful.
Today it was quite dull, but the colours were outstanding in the woods. The leaves were falling fast, thanks to the strengthening wind, forming a golden brown carpet on the paths. And above, a symphony of gold with the structure showing through. At last we can see the branches again now the leaves are thinning.
This time of year is stunning. I love all the seasons for different reasons, but autumn is quite simply the best. Every day you think it can’t get more beautiful – and then it does!
A very thoughtful piece from Pip about trees and their importance to communities.
We now all live in the most tumultuous of times since WWII. The very scary move far right in England and the US hides, but is also an effect of, a plethora of other problems in virtually all economic, environmental and social issues in all landscapes.
All these issues are interconnected by one very strong hub – your home. And as we all struggle with the direction our politicians and media have taken us it is inevitable we turn to our immeadiate surroundings, our community for security.
And of course this means we rediscover or notice for the first time the real beauty of our place.
However for far too many of us the political has changed the beauty of our place, leaving scars that are far too deep to ever heal:
Photographs by Brian Mosley, Sheffield.
Discussing identity and where you belong has started to gather momentum, but…
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Yesterday was Armistice Day. The day the guns fell silent at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, and we fall silent in order to remember the victims of war, and the people who served in the military. I headed to the woods.
The beautiful old oak trees in our woods have seen a lot. The very oldest saw the rise of Napoleon and his march across Europe, his retreat from Moscow, and the Battle of Waterloo. Most of our trees witnessed the rise of the canals and railways, and the might of the industrial revolution. They were present as young trees when the American Civil War was in full swing, and when the British invented concentration camps in the Boer War. They saw the rise of the British Empire, and the Raj in India. I’m sure some were cut down to provide pit props for the local coal mines, and sleepers for the railways.
Some of the trees were already quite old when a totally preventable war started in 1914, when some of my great uncles never came home from France, or from Iraq, or fell victim to zeppelin raids in London. And from that preventable war came another one – the rise of the Nazis in Europe. For it was the punitive settlement visited upon Germany at the end of the first war that led to the conditions in which the tyrant could rise to power. The trees saw it all.
In our woods we have a mysterious bunker lined and topped with concrete slabs – we think this was probably a weapons cache for the British Resistance, to be used in the case of an invasion. It makes the whole thing real. The trees were there when that pit was dug, the weapons cached and finally removed.
So I sat quietly under the tree and remembered. And I thought that the problem with the way we remember is our memories are too short. We remember only the soldiers who died, not the reasons why they went to war in the first place. We fail to learn from the same mistakes made time and time again. We fail to learn that if you leave people powerless, poor, disenfranchised and disillusions, you will create the conditions in which tyranny can take seed, grow and develop into a tree of its own. We fail to see that it is possible to have a win-win – that you don’t always have to have a competition in which there must be losers. We fail to control the grab for resources and grab for power. So we forget, and send more generations to war.
Remembrance is about much more than standing quietly, much more than the armed forces, much more than the victims of war. It is about making sure that war does not happen again. We forget that bit, and allow tyranny to rise by allowing people to be forgotten, their views to be ignored, and tyrants to take advantage of their dissatisfaction. We do a disservice to those who fought and died, and the civilians slaughtered in their millions, if we fail to learn, and forget the minute the poppy comes off our coat for another year. We talk about heroism all the time, but we forget why it was needed. We allow it to be needed again and again.
The trees have seen it all, the endless cycle repeating and repeating over and over. We have to take the long view, have to be more like the trees, and have to really remember. But we don’t. We never do.