Back to Black (and White)

Reflections in Stonydelph Lakes.

Reflections in Stonydelph Lakes.

When I started out with a camera, an embarrassingly large number of years ago, I managed to scrape enough money to buy a basic Eastern Bloc SLR with TTL metering, but everything else was completely manual – aperture, shutter speed and focus. Nevertheless this was a big step up from a Kodak Instamatic (remember them?). However I was a bit pushed to pay for colour film (slides or prints) and the developing costs were very high too, particularly as I was still at school.

So it was that I came to shooting black and white film by default. It was much cheaper, you could buy it in bulk, load your own cartridges, process the film in your own darkroom, and even equip your own darkroom with a basic timer, chemicals and enlarger for not too much money.

Shooting in black and white was my life until well into my time at University, when I started to splash out a tiny bit on some colour slide film. But it taught me a lot of things, and in particular how to look for tonal contrasts in images. It also taught me a lot about how to use filters and what the effects of those magic squares of plastic might be on the image.

In recent year, concentrating on macro and wildlife photography, I have let my use of black and white slide a bit. However in recent weeks, I have re-ignited my love of black and white landscapes, which can be quite magical when combined with beautiful low, slanting winter light, and ever-changing skies.

There are some images where colour is important, or even crucial. But using black and white forces you to look at how light and darkness interact in each image: Where are the light and dark bits, how can the be linked together using pathways of similar or contrasting tone, what textures are there and how can they be portrayed?

I always shoot in RAW these days, now my computer is up to it, and then convert the image from colour to black and white afterwards. Shooting black and white JPEG in camera really does limit your options. I then process it, usually in Lightroom, sometimes with some tweaking in Photoshop. This allows you to change the colour balance and apply digitally the filters that I used to carry round in my camera bag – a red filter to darken the sky, a green filter to lighten the grass and so on.

If anybody hasn’t tried black and white, it really is worth a go. When you go back to colour, the sensitivity to the amount of light and dark in the frame will persist, and it will make you think about how to frame a photograph in a different way. You will also learn what scenes look great in black and white, and which ones really don’t lend themselves to black and white. I’ve started shooting a lot more images with the primary aim of conversion to black and white. I love the feel of these images. I hope you do to.

Lakeside Path

Lakeside Path

A walk by the lakes

A walk by the lakes

Here comes the rain!

Here comes the rain!

Sunshine and Showers over Betty's Wood

Sunshine and Showers over Betty’s Wood

Boardwalk at Claybrook Marsh

Boardwalk at Claybrook Marsh

Wet Path at Claybrook Marsh

Wet Path at Claybrook Marsh

Winter Woods

Winter tree canopy

Winter tree canopy

Winter has a reputation for being long, dark and wet, but to my mind it is one of the most photogenic times of year. In winter you can see every detail of the tree canopy. The fractal beauty is outstanding, and completely obscured during the summer.

Then there is the winter light. It has a lovely watery quality, a cool beauty. It comes in from a low angle all through the day. Like a perpetual sunrise or sunset, it illuminates the tree trunks and branches with a stark contrast to bring out the true structure of the tree, branches, bark and twigs.

Even in the rain, and in dull weather, there is beauty in the hazy wetness of the woods, a lovely softness that you get at no other time of year.

The woods in winter have a true grandeur that is hidden in summer. They are definitely worth a visit.

Our woods on a damp winter day

Our woods on a damp winter day

The plantation in winter

The plantation in winter

Birch woodland path in winter

Birch woodland path in winter

Birch Wood Path

Birch Wood Path

Canal trees in winter

Canal trees in winter

Along the canal in winter

Along the canal in winter

Flooding

Surreal Bench

Surreal Bench

We recently visited Derwentwater for a family wedding.  On the Saturday morning, the lake was already flooding over its banks, but by Sunday, there was a full flood including the hotel car park. Fortunately we had moved our car, but a few people were caught out.

Some lovely moody, atmospheric and slightly surreal photos to be had though!

Flooded car park

Flooded car park

Derwentwater

Derwentwater

Derwentwater - flooding begins

Derwentwater – flooding begins

Jetty at Derwentwater

Jetty at Derwentwater

Derwentwater

Derwentwater

Winter Light

Glade in the mist

Glade in the mist

As the seasons change, autumn brings not just a change in colour, but also a change in the quality of the light. Summer light is bright and harsh, and the golden hour is either very early in the day or very late. As winter approaches it changes completely – now the sun is low all the time, with long shadows and a wonderful pastel, watery quality. The golden hour is at a civilised hour. The weather is interesting too – storms, clouds racing across the sky, and by way of contrast, perfectly still mornings and evenings with frost on the grass and mist rising in the river valley.

Don’t get me wrong – I love all the seasons, including summer – but winter light is probably the most photogenic.

These are just a few shots of the woods in winter light – low light through the trees, mist, stormy skies and mist rising at sunset. Perfect!

Mist rising at sunset

Mist rising at sunset

Mist through the trees

Mist through the trees

Storm approaching

Storm approaching

Ray of light with stormy sky behind

Ray of light with stormy sky behind

Mist through the trees

Mist through the trees

Mist and golden trees

Mist and golden trees

Main path in the mist

Main path in the mist

Unreal Skies

The Sunset Starts

The Sunset Starts

Sky on Fire!

Sky on Fire!

A few days ago, I was at the woods at sunset, when an absolutely astonishing sunset began to happen. As the sun started to go down in the south-west, as it does at this time of year, the clouds opposite, in the north-east, started to take on an amazing colour.

The Colour Starts to Build

The Colour Starts to Build

The Colour Spreads

The Colour Spreads

At Its Glorious Peak

At Its Glorious Peak

Slowly the colour began to get progressively more intense, and the colour started to change from yellow, through orange, to pink. The clouds looked like a scene from the movie “Independence Day”. Every cloud seemed to be affected and the sky looked as if it were on fire.
Every minute, the scene was changing, as it faded through shades of red and pink to darkness.
I have never seen a sky like it over the woods. It was quite incredible.

Fading to Pink

Fading to Pink

Continuing to Fade to pink

Continuing to Fade to pink

Sun Disappearing

Sun Disappearing

Last Pink Clouds

Last Pink Clouds

The last rays

The last rays opposite the entrance

Special Trees

Ridgeway pines

Ridgeway pines

We were recently privileged to visit some friends in Devon.  While we were there, we were privileged to meet some wonderful tree people, including Pip Howard and Rob the Treehunter.  http://europeantrees.wordpress.com.  They are part of a wonderful European-wide project looking at trees, landscape and people called HERCULES.

We were already keen on trees – we really have to be since we own a woodland containing quite a lot of them – but this was a real eye-opener to the presence of and meaning of special trees in the landscape.

South Devon has some very special trees and landscapes.  First of all there are the amazing sunken old roads, now become paths or bridleways between steep hedge banks, with overgrown trees.  Then, in the fields and in scattered places around the landscape, we find the most amazing old pollards, hundreds of years old, growing slowly and magnificently, hollow and full of wildlife habitat.  Finally there are the trees that mark certain routes, or certain waypoints.  I was not aware, although I am now, how Scots Pine was used to mark roads and waypoints, making them easy to identify in the landscape, and thus helping drovers and others to navigate.

The challenge is to photograph these magnificent trees and show something of their character. I felt that monochrome images helped to keep the eye on the tree and its form, and avoid being distracted by colours.  This is a small series of monochrome images that I took while I was there.

Field Trees

Field Trees

Grand tree on bridleway

Grand tree on bridleway

Tree from below

Viewed from below

Ancient ash pollard in field

Ancient ash pollard in field

Ancient ash pollard in field

Ancient ash pollard in field

Ridgeway pines

Ridgeway pines

Ridgeway pines

Ridgeway pines

Ridgeway pines

Ridgeway pines

Ridgeway pines

Ridgeway pines

Evening Light

Betty's Wood on Misty Evening

Betty’s Wood on Misty Evening

Betty's Wood on Misty Evening

Betty’s Wood on Misty Evening

Another great thing about spring is the light changes both direction and quality in the evening.  The watery winter light is giving way to a much warmer spring light, and the angle is changing, which means that the light on our paths, across Betty’s Wood, and out of the woods is also changing, giving a new perspective on the landscape.  In particular, the woods are now illuminated from the north west at dusk, and that makes it possible to take some lovely pictures in the glade and along our main path.

Evening Light

Trees and fields across the road from the woods

Evening light

Trees and fields across the road from the woods

Reedmace

Reedmace

Fence

Barbed wire fence in evening light

Ditch at Dusk

Ditch at Dusk

A pastel pink sky

Spectacular Sunsets

The weather has been quite terrible over the Christmas and New Year period, and Saturday was no exception.  We were dressed in warm and waterproof clothing in the relentless wind, drizzle and rain on our trip to the woods to unblock the ditch which was threatening to overflow onto our main path.  After a hard afternoon of raking and digging out the mass of leaves, twigs and silt that had become stuck in the ditch, and cutting some more wood for kindling and for our log fire, we were just heading home when the clouds cleared, and we were treated to the most spectacular sunset with the most beautiful of colours.

Here is a sequence of images, captured on my little Canon EOS-M that I keep in my bag when working, showing the beautiful, and most unexpected sunset across the fields opposite the entrance to our woods.

A pastel pink sky

A pastel pink sky

As the sun goes down, a golden line on the horizon.

As the sun goes down, a golden line on the horizon.

The sunset starts - apricot and orange sky

The sunset starts – apricot and orange sky

Gentle warm sunset sky

Gentle warm sunset sky

The sun sinks further

The sun sinks further

The sky is on fire!

The sky is on fire!

Photo of the Year – RESULTS!

Common Blue

Photo of the Year 2013:  Common blue roosting at dusk

Happy New Year, and thank you to everybody who voted in the poll for our photo of the year.  It was a very close vote in the end but we have a winner – and it is the photo of the common blue butterfly roosting at dusk.

Runner up was the sunset shot.

Spectacular sunset opposite our entrance

Runner up: Spectacular sunset opposite our entrance

And in third place was our lovely white bluebell

Photo Number 6:  Rare white English bluebell

Third Place: Rare white English bluebell

I’m hoping for another wonderful photographic year at the woods in 2014.