Just when it was starting to look like Spring was with us, we've had 24 hour periods of rain and wind. However, ever optimistic, the days are gradually growing longer, even here at 58 degrees North.
I've been reviewing my list of locations to revisit. Places where I've been but didn't have the right kit with me (shame on you I hear you say), the light wasn't quite right, or perhaps just one of those days when it just didn't come together.
Towards the top of the list is Fyrish Monument. This curious structure can be seen from the A9 high on the skyline above Evanton. I have a monochrome print of this in the gallery and it's a frequent topic of conversation with visitors. The monument was built (or rather commissioned) in 1783 by Sir Hector Munro who had been commander of British Forces in India. On his return to the Highlands the 'Clearances' were underway and many people were starving. He decided that the building a replica of 'The Gates of Negapatam', a relic which he had come across on his travels, would be a good job creation scheme for local people in an effort to help them avoid destitution.
Looking through the files from my last visit, I remember not quite being able to achieve the composition I was wanting and then having to descend before it became dark!
What better time to revisit now that I have a new lens to play with. More Canon 'L' Series glass to my collection, the Canon EF 17-40 mm f/4.0 L USM Ultra-Wide Angle Canon EF Zoom Lens might just do the job.
So, I'm keeping my fingers crossed for some decent weather and a good day on the hill doing what I enjoy most.
“Have you done something to this in Photoshop?” is a question I’m occasionally asked in the gallery.
In the days of film, photographers had their own favourite film(s) for the type of photography they undertook. For landscape, names like Velvia and Ektar will bring back memories for some and I must say I’ve spent a not inconsiderable amount of hard earned cash on both over the years. What has this got to do with Photoshop? Well, these films had their own characteristics resulting in very different results. Darkroom addicts would further process prints using techniques with curious terms like ‘dodging’ and ‘burning’ in order to achieve the results they wanted. So, photographers have ‘tweaked’ their photographs for time immemorial.
Nowadays, I shoot entirely digital and in a format called RAW. In shooting RAW (and in contrast to JPEG), the camera stores the image onto the memory card with the very minimum of manipulation. Having downloaded the images to a computer, the RAW image then needs to be processed in software to produce the required image. Typically, colour balance, saturation, and sharpness, are adjusted to produce a pleasing image. So, when does this ‘processing’ become manipulation? Does it matter?
Photographic magazines are packed every month with articles on how to transpose the sky from one photograph onto another. How to take a photograph of the moon, enlarge it and transpose it to another photograph for dramatic effect. Different photographers have different views on this. My own view is that the important thing is transparency (no pun intended!) so I believe these type of images should be clearly identified as 'composite images' or something similar. It's not wrong, it's just not my type of photography.
What is my type of photography? In the same way that a painter paints a subject in their own personal style, my photography is not a clinical, forensic science, it is a creative art. I will apply sensitive adjustments to an image which might involve reducing or increasing the ‘brightness’, or saturation, of selected areas of an image using similar techniques to those adopted in the darkroom. My ultimate objective is to recreate the scene I witnessed from the RAW file but often and more importantly, to attempt to evoke an emotion in the viewer. Any less subtle treatments will be obvious such as this image entitled ‘Homecoming’.
By 'selectively retaining the colour in the roof only, and presenting this as a rather dark image, this is the most radical I am likely to be and the intention was to add a sense of drama. But the strange thing is . . . . I don't use Photoshop - at all!
The Sutherland light is so dramatic this time of year. On Sunday the weather improved throughout the day ending with the most beautiful golden light. I had remembered from the approach to our earlier Foinaven climb some potential compositions and today the conditions would be just perfect.
Not a breath of wind and slowly meandering clouds around the summit made for prefect conditions for some long exposures. For the uninitiated, the NiSi 10 stop filter can basically be regarded as sunglasses for cameras. It reduces the amount of light reaching the sensor meaning that to capture a properly exposed image, you must leave the shutter open for much, much longer - 25 seconds in this particular case. Keeping the camera completely still throughout is vital. The result is the soft blending of the water which was flowing towards a burn bottom right, and the mirror like surface of the loch.
Having taken approximately 10 shots from different positions and as the light faded I sat and took in the scene. In the distance, the bellowing of stags could be heard in the otherwise deadly silence. The temperature dropping as quickly as the light. Time for home.
“it’s been a great summer Kevin, hope you’ve managed to get some good photographs?”
Long days, sunshine (well some days) and blue skies. How could it get any better? It surprises most people who ask that my answer to the question above is no. Well, a qualified no.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s endless possibilities out there and for a few months, the Sutherland landscape turns from russet browns to a patchwork of greens. But high summer is not my chosen season. So for me, much of the summer is spent in the gallery and workshop keeping a good selection of framed prints on the wall and meeting some really interesting visitors. Another task has been on the ‘to-do’ list for too long however, a thorough ‘pruning’ of my image collection.
A print seen displayed in the gallery is often the result of many visits to a location and usually dozens of variations shot experimenting with different compositions and different settings. Due to my enthusiasm to review the results, this often leads to these images remaining in place on my computer, even the ones which didn’t quite work out - yes there are many of those!
So I’ve just come to the end of the process which I started at the start of the summer of reviewing approximately 13,000 images dating back more than ten years. It’s always a good feeling to have a clear out of any sort but in this case, a further bonus was the opportunity to revisit some long forgotten images. The overall result, a catalogue of just over 3,000 images and somewhat increased storage!
So, it’s now time to get out with the camera and make the most of the dramatic skies, hoar frost, temperature inversions, maybe some snow . . . . adding lots of new growth for next year’s pruning or thinning out as I go?
My first impressions of the NiSi products were extremely positive but how would they perform in practice? I've been out and about putting them to the test.
The first thing I've come to do is to leave the 77mm reducer attached to the adaptor ring and holder. This means that when not in use, I can still protect my lens with my standard 77mm lens cap. Otherwise, I would be looking to purchase an 82mm lens cap. In general, I have found that the system fits beautifully together with the spring loaded knob mechanism providing a positive latch and confidence that nothing is likely to come adrift. As mentioned in Part 1, the fit of the filters in the holder is quite tight but I tend to fit these 'off the camera' anyway and then adjust as necessary. One thing which is most noticeable is how much less susceptible to dust these glass filters are compared to resin types. I have found in the past that the very action of cleaning resin filters simply generates more static and hence attracts more dust. With the NiSi filters, a very occasional wipe with a lens cleaning cloth was all that was needed, and static just wasn't an issue.
One aspect of the system which I was particularly interested in was the polarising filter. As mentioned previously, this ultra slim filter screws directly into the adaptor ring and ahead of any other filters. I must say, this seemed a little fiddly at first, the filter is so slim that there's not much to get hold of without touching the glass. However, with practice, this wasn't an issue and soon became second nature. The filter rotates freely using the knurled wheels and this provides a wide and gradual range of adjustment. Shooting at midday is always a challenge, but from the following images it can be seen how the polariser gives superb saturation and clarity to the sky and clouds and also brings out the detail in the foreground rocks. The slight reduction in light transfer of the polariser was sufficient to prevent the highlights being 'blown-out'
ND1000 10 Stop Neutral Density
I have been looking forward to using the ND1000 10 stop ND filter and an outing to Strathbeag with one of my 'Learn in the Landscape' students was an ideal opportunity. I had read many references to how colour neutral this filter was and I was keen to test this for myself.
These are jpg exports of the original RAW file. No adjustments have been applied except for levels as the light was changing rapidly between shots. It is clear to see that both the greens of the background grass and foliage and the tones in the foreground rocks are consistent between both images. I have found the same to be true of results using the graduated neutral density filters, not having to apply colour correction is a huge bonus - as I have often said, I much prefer to be out in the landscape taking photographs than sat in front of a screen!
Testing the NiSi filter system has been an interesting experience and I'll be adding further examples using the graduated ND filters in coming weeks. In a market dominated by a small number of manufacturers, could this recent addition bring anything new to the party? The answer is a definite yes. Yes, the quality and presentation of the product is impressive but this is matched by the optical quality of the filters. I have used the filters extensively in some challenging situations including mountain and coastal locations. They have proven to be scratch and dust resistant, and have an impressive colour accuracy. If you are planning on adding to or replacing your filter collection, I would recommend that the NiSi system is included in your shortlist.
Thank you to NiSi for providing the products for evaluation. NiSi filters are available to order from Amazon UK.
NiSi V5 100mm filter holder with circular polariser
Soft nano IR GND4(0.6)
Hard nano IR GND8(0.9)
Reverse nano iR GND8(0.9)
Nano IR ND1000(3.0)
One for the photographers this time around. The only filters I use are neutral density, both full and graduated to control and balance the amount of light reaching the lens, and occasionally a circular polariser where appropriate. The choice of filters has long been dominated by a small number of companies offering very similar products of similar quality (both optical and build) and at a not insignificant price. Refreshing then to find a new brand coming to the UK market offering not only more choice but also something a little bit different from the established competition.
I have taken delivery of a selection of products from Chinese manufacturer, NiSi. Anybody stuck in the 70s and still thinking that only products from the UK or the United States can possibly be of any merit had better think again. This is high end optical equipment with a really innovative design approach.
I'll be testing the NiSi V5 filter holder and circular polariser, ND1000, ND8 graduated, and ND8 reverse graduated filters.
I have used resin based filters for years and have discovered all too easily how vulnerable they are to scratching. They are also prone to attract dust due to static build up. The NiSi filters however, are made from high quality optical lens glass. What is described as a 'nano coating' is applied to both surfaces providing resistance to water and oil. Living and working in a coastal location, I'm particularly interested in this feature.
I've long been perplexed as to how some manufacturers supply their expensive filters in what is essentially a tin or plastic box. Once again, with the NiSi products an attention to detail shines through and each filter is supplied in a soft lined leather storage pouch with a magnetic closure. An information card on the outside clearly identifies the contents.
One of the claims from NiSi is that their filters have a neutral colour cast. I'm looking forward to putting that to the test as I apply them 'in the field'. I'll be reporting back with my impressions of the equipment in use and providing more information on the actual filters in coming weeks.
We had a few days of extremely cold weather in the 'Far North' a week or so ago directly from the Arctic. Snow, hail and high winds but beautiful sunshine in between. The light has been too good to miss so out I went with camera and thermos, the two essentials of any photography trip.
I have a need at the moment to shoot moving water, and there's plenty of that around at the moment. I'm also frequently drawn to the Achfary area. The River Laxford flowing well followed by lochs, birch, and not so distant snow capped mountains, Stack and Arkle as always in their splendour.
I first drove to Kinloch Brae where a group of stags looked on as I negotiated the boggy ground. The stream I had in mind just didn't work out, too fast flowing with lots of white water and without the vantage point I was hoping for. A sudden hail storm confirmed that it was time to move on.
With time to spare on the return journey, I stopped off to see what I might make of the many fishing boats moored up along the route.
Moving on to Loch Stack, I discovered an interesting viewpoint of the River Laxford ebbing and flowing with Ben Stack in the backdrop. I managed to capture this just before the heavens opened . . . again
As April comes to a close, I noticed on the drive home that the colours in the landscape were starting to change, the hillside of Beinne Spionnaidh showing the first signs of greening up. A whole new palette to work with.