Landscapes

have been

 The Landscape Recipe Book

Serving up the fourth chapter in our series which likens landscape photography to carefully crafted delicacies, FRAN HALSALL shows how to make the best of rocky terrain

Rocks are the fundamental component of landscapes and play an important role for anyone wishing to document the natural environment. Even when they are not the photographmain focus, rocks are responsible for shaping the landscapecharacter and determining which vegetation grows where. Where stone outcrops it forms everything from discreet patterns that may be only be centimetres across, to shapely tors and dramatic landforms on a massive scale. To do them justice the attentive photographer needs to have one eye trained upon the small and easily overlooked details and the other on the naturally attention-grabbing hills and mountains. Far from being grey and lifeless, the different colours, textures and shapes that rocks form —which derive from variable minerals, the method of formation and the erosion processes they have been subjected to —make them an endlessly rewarding subject to photograph.

 

Main Course

Stronger light for crisper shadows

Location

Tilted strata, Traigh allt Chailgeag, Sutherland

Method

This image was created mid afternoon on an autumn day and the sun is still relatively high, which can be seen in the short shadows at the base of the cliff. Often a lack of structural shadows, the longer ones created when the sun is near the horizon, would be detrimental but in this case the eye is drawn to the dark shadows between the jointed beds of gneiss rock. They delineate the configuration of the cliff and it appears simplified, in much the same way that a stylised drawing uses a dark outline filled in with colour. The composition is deliberately abrupt so that the first element the viewer is faced with is a wall of rock. However, the inclusion of the horizon and the clouds on the right of the frame ensure that there is a sense of spatial depth otherwise the cliffs could well look like a cardboard cut out pasted over a blue sky. A polarising filter was used to remove some of the reflected light from the sky, making it a more saturated shade, and to reduce the surface sheen on the rock, helping them appear pinker. This enhances the colour contrast between these two areas and also the white clouds.

Taste

The idea was to record the exaggerated jointing in these rocks and the crisp lighting helps to bring clarity to the sharp geology. The minimal number of elements arranged in an uncluttered composition adds to the strong graphic quality of the image.

Side

Texture and pattern

Location

Pease Bay, red rock, Berwickshire

Ingredients

Lens: Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L at 40mm Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II Exposure: 3.2sec at f/22, ISO 100 Filters: None

Method

These vividly coloured Old Red Sandstone cliffs perfectly illustrate the phenomenon of cross-bedding, where deposited layers appear at different angles to one another. This forms a strong linear pattern that in combination with erosion marks and cracks from faulting, makes for a highly textured surface. This has been framed so that the cracks lead in diagonally from the bottom left and create a junction with the lit portion in the upper third. The close-up view leaves out extraneous details, such as the sky, so that attention is focused solely on the variable sandstone layers, all of which weather slightly differently —a feature that only really becomes apparent when right next to the rocks. As the sun had only been up for a few minutes it meant that large sections of the cliff were still in shadow. By including both shaded and illuminated areas the image achieves a rich tonality that would be lacking if the rocks were either entirely lit or all in shadow. The hint of vibrancy created by the splash light is just enough to grab the attention while the overall effect is essentially subtle.

Minus one-third exposure compensation required to maintain highlight detail.

Taste

It is rare for a photograph to consist of one element only. Most images work through the interplay created by contrasting themes, so it takes a strong subject to stand alone and on this occasion the approach is warranted.

Main Course

Soft shadow definition at sunset

Location

Slieve Binnian and the Mourne Mountains, County Down

Method

By this time the sun was only just above the horizon and its intensity was much reduced, meaning that shadows are soft and partially reflect the blue of the sky which complements the last touches of golden light. The length of the shadows next to highlighted surfaces reveals the granitelow relief textures in a way that is absent when the sun is higher. These tactile areas are concentrated in the front of the frame and invite the viewer to reach out and touch them, before exploring the vista beyond. As so much of the tor was already shaded the small cairn was included as a vertical feature to catch the light and add interest to the foreground space. A common problem on mountaintops is achieving a fast enough shutter speed to cope with windy conditions. In this case it was blowing a gale and the light was rapidly fading. This forced the aperture to be opened up to f/14, and the ISO to be upped to 250, which barely provided sufficient depth-of-field considering the distance depicted. The latter was pushed no higher as this would have risked creating noise in soft areas of cloud.

No compensation, however a single Raw file was processed twice. First: for retaining highlight detail and, second: for correct exposure of the land, and then both were combined together.

Taste

It was somewhat miraculous that the image was sharp and so this was a technical triumph! The light could not be better suited to the subject and the curvy composition really captures the essence of the landscape.

Main Course

Overcast, absence of shadow

Location

Elgol, eroded sandstone cliff and pebbles, Isle of Skye

Method

There is never a better time than an overcast day with minimal shadows and no strong highlights to explore the natural pigmentation in rocks. The iron oxide rusting that produces reds, pinks and oranges is vibrant whatever the weather. The white balance was set to cloudy although it transpired that this made the image a little too yellow and the temperature was cooled down at the Raw processing stage. This composition brings together a selection of both colourful and muted pebbles, for the contrast set against the pale sandstone cliff, which makes an ideal neutral backdrop. Collectively the pebbles have a loosely triangular arrangement that gently leads toward the cliff and the shape is defined by the vertical cracks placed toward the right hand third. No pebbles were moved when making this image but in some cases a small amount of intervention is justified.

Taste

This is a subtle image however there is a lot going on with the different tonal and colour qualities of the various rocks.

The level of detail is particularly satisfying, especially the pebble resembling Jupiterswirling surface and the texture of the honeycomb cliff erosion.

Main Course

Detail, why shoot wide

Location

Blackberry, Ivy and sticky bud, The Burren, County Clare

Method

Detail shots are often associated with small scale subjects, although they can just as readily depict an area that measures metres across. The section of limestone pavement shown here is approximately 60 by 40cm and was necessarily this size to properly illustrate a range of plants that make this eroded grike their home. When the subject is this large it is ideally photographed with a wide-angle lens as this allows a degree of proximity that makes composing the shot all the easier. This was taken at a 40mm focal length from 80cm away and as with any horizontally oriented subject of this size, it would have been impossible to shoot with a lens exceeding 50mm. To get high enough to cope with the minimum focusing distances associated with longer lenses, an extra tall tripod and possibly even stepladders would have been needed. For example my 70-200mm lens needs to be 120cm away from the subject, whereas the 17-40mm focuses as close at 28cm.

Two exposures had to be combined: one at plus 1/3 exp. compensation to cope with the deep shadows and another that was 2/3 of a stop less bright to recover detail in the highlights.

Taste

Having attempted numerous similar shots to this one only to be disappointed with the results, finally the ideal conditions presented themselves: soft, early morning sunlight and almost no breeze. The touches of light on the rock and the foliage lift both elements forward in the frame while the dark shadows suggest limitless depth.

Side

Vista, why shoot wide

Location

The Giants Causeway, rising swell, County Antrim

Method

A wide angle of view allows the nearest basalt columns to be made into a significant feature by positioning the camera only a few centimetres away. The scale of these forms is exaggerated by the repetition of the same shape in the middle distance and background, which enhances the sense of spatial depth. The image was carefully composed to maintain the separation between these three parts, although some overlapping was inevitable as a fairly low angle was necessary to achieve proximity with the closest rocks. With some subjects the perspective distortion caused by a wide-angle lens can be all but hidden. Not so with these vertical columns, but if the lens were tilted either up or down the effect would be immediately obvious. The problem was mitigated with a shift lens: the camera remained level and instead the shift function was used to move the cameraimaging area downwards, which captures the same view but without the need to angle the camera.

Two separate exposures combined together. A plus 2/3 compensation was required to correctly exposure the rocks and the one for the sky is 2 1/3 stops less bright than this.

Taste

This shot capably demonstrates diminishing scale, an idea many of my images explore in an attempt to replicate a 3D space within a 2D medium. The rushing wave breaking against the rocks adds a burst of energy which provides the icing on the cake.

Main Course

Detail, why shoot long

Location

Skrinkle Haven, limestone and calcite,

Pembrokeshire

Method

When details within the landscape require a closely cropped view but feature a sizeable distance from the back to front, in this instance approximately 20cm, they are better photographed from further away with a longer lens. This is because of how depth-of-field is affected by proximity to the subject: the nearer the camera is positioned the shallower the depth-of-field. While a nearly identical composition could have been taken with a wide-angle lens there would have been no way of achieving sharpness throughout, even using the smallest aperture. This image was shot 120cm away from the subject and it was possible to establish this distance because the feature was almost vertical. However, because longer lenses have a naturally shallower depth-of-field (compared to wide-angle ones) it was still necessary to use a small aperture, in this case f/32. The composition pivots on the single pebble featuring circular calcite inclusions, chosen as the focal point because it is different from the other white lines. The rock in the bottom right is cropped so that it appears perfectly triangular and distinctly angular compared with the rounded forms.

Taste

Grey rocks need not be dull, even in overcast light. It is the patterns created by the calcite veins, complete with a scattering of rust spots that make these ones worth photographing.

Method

Mountains are immense features and this means that they are often approached with a wide-angle lens to take in their bulk, although this can have the unfortunate side effect of reducing their stature if shot really wide. In this case the interest lay not in Great Gableoverall dimensions but the tension created where the low clouds passed over the jagged volcanic rocks half way up the mountainflank, and the temporary focal point created by the narrow sliver of light that lingered only momentarily before slipping away. It would have been counterproductive to try and include much else, principally because all that this would have meant is more grey sky and poorly lit mountainside. Having identified these key elements it made sense to hone in on these alone and slightly magnify them from my distant position only a little way above the valley floor with a 94mm focal length.

Taste:

This image is moody and threatening, perfectly mirroring my perception of the mountain on this none too pleasant afternoon. It is the fragment of light that really makes it for me —without it I would not have been tempted to take the photograph.

Side

Vista, why shoot wide

Location

Great Gable, darkening sky, Cumbria

Dessert

Contrast between subjects

Location

The Stiperstones, Devils Chair, Shropshire

Method

The hardness of rocks can be played off against other subjects with contrasting properties, in this case the moorland vegetation growing around the base of the angular quartzite tor. Because rocks remain static this means that the element of time can be brought into play. Be it flowing water, rushing clouds or windblown vegetation, rocks provide a solid armature while everything around them can be in a state of flux, something which can be captured with slower shutter speeds. Here the 1/3 second exposure is slow enough to record some movement in the windblown vegetation, although there was little choice in this as the aperture could not be opened up any further without sacrificing too much depth-of-field. Plus the fact that the ISO had already been set at to 200 and even if this were pushed to the maximum rating the shutter speed would still have been too slow to offset the movement. Rather than fight against this fact it was a case working creatively within the limitations and carefully timing the shot between the strongest gusts. This proved successful as not quite all the foliage is blurred and this means that the individual plants can be made out.

Two separate exposures combined together: a plus one stop compensation was required to correctly expose the land and the one for the sky is 2 1/3 stops less bright than this.

Taste

The moorland vegetation is caught at its most colourful in late August and combined with the soft textures it creates the ideal counterpoint to hard grey quartzite. The raking light across the foreground helps to create a layered composition that enhances visual depth.

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