Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Mr. Stubbs Takes A Photo

There is a certain late-afternoon light at this time of year that, in the right sort of location, instantly calls to mind the paintings of the 18th century landscape tradition. There's a painterly quality to the moulding of the landforms and foliage, and especially to that eye-pleasing trick of combining complementary russet-reds and greens. My knees may no longer appreciate the autumnal mix of cold and damp, but my eyes like what it does to all that relentless green of summer.

This particular knee-taxing, eye-pleasing view is St. Catherine's Hill, Winchester, seen across the plague-pit valley from the very top of the Twyford Down road cutting. We were on our way home from a muddy Sunday afternoon walk when the sun emerged briefly over my left shoulder. I got out the LX3, leaned against the fence, and popped off a couple of auto-everything shots.

What it really needs for the full-on George Stubbs effect is a couple of improbably glossy horses up front, of course, but I'm not a bloody magician. A couple of sleek joggers in lycra might work, I suppose.

If you really want to bring out that sculptural moulding in the landscape, then a monochrome conversion is the thing. I use the Imaging Factory plug-in for Photoshop Elements.

Looks like a mezzotint engraving, doesn't it? I think the impression is enhanced by the LX3's relatively small sensor -- there's sometimes a "watercolour" effect to the pixels viewed at 100% which, under certain unpredictable circumstances, can be pronounced. I only shoot RAW, so this is not some kind of JPEG artefact, though it may be related to the sneaky in-camera lens corrections that the LX3 performs, even on RAW files. I have to say I like it.


Huw said...


Looking at the full-size versions I definitely prefer the colour one. Lots of grass in B&W tends to wash out.

The sensor on my S90 produces a similar watercolour effect which can be nice but is more often just aggravating.

It is a lovely time of year. This morning I went for a walk and took a few photos. I've tweaked the levels slightly but nothing else (although I always have to manually adjust the white balance: the S90 is appalling at this, despite being a brilliant camera in most other respects). Can't decide if they're twee or really rather nice, or a bit of both.


struan said...

I don't know if Elements allows you to change a single channel, but in Photoshop a neat trick is to take the monochrome conversion once you have it looking the way you want, and insert it into the original colour image as the greyscale information.

That is, create a greyscale version you like. Convert the colour image to HSL, and replace the Luminance channel with the greyscale version.

If you are used to thinking about and manipulating greyscale tonality it is a great way to find an equivalent - but different - aesthetic in colour.

Mike C. said...


The watercolour thing is baffling to me -- sometimes it's there, sometimes it's not. I don't think I will ever print any LX3 images beyond their "natural" size at 300 dpi, so it's never really an issue, and sometimes it's an asset.

Despite showing a lot of casual landscape work on this blog, it's not a genre I'm really comfortable in -- as you say of your own pictures, they usually fall somewhere between "conventional" (the word I'd choose rather than "twee") and "interesting". It's very hard to put any qualifying irony into an image of somewhere conventionally beautiful, and even harder not simply to repeat other peoples' pictures...


Mike C. said...


That sounds like an interesting approach, I'll have to explore what's possible.

My problem is that I'm a "light touch" (i.e. ignorant) Photoshop user -- I rarely even use layers, except to rotate a horizon or tweak some perspective (immediately flattening it again). I must read a book or go on a course sometime...

I was the same in the darkroom -- if a picture didn't print "straight", I'd probably abandon it. I had a friend who did selenium split toning, ferricyanide bleaching, the works -- I admired his prints, but just couldn't invest that kind of effort.

I suspect "channels" is one of the bits they take out of Elements, though. They only put curves in with version 6.