Monday, 28 November 2011

Winter Palette

The main photographic challenge at this time of year, even on the south coast of England, is finding enough light. Even a sunny afternoon is pretty dim in the shade, and come 4:00 p.m. it's all fading fast into darkness. The contrasts are extreme, and can make for ugly photographs. A little cloud helps, diffusing the light nicely, but that also brings on the late afternoon gloom a lot quicker.

This Sunday I was chasing a variety of afternoon light conditions all round St. Catherine's Hill. It just never stopped changing. I was also taken by surprise by the extremity of the change of the sun's angle to the SSW since my previous visit a couple of weeks ago; all illumination was cut off to the west face of the viaduct, and the rays of the setting sun were not beaming straight up the Twyford Down cutting as I had expected. Too bad: photographers in the landscape are like hunter-gatherers, and must interpret the situation on the ground to their advantage.

After criss-crossing the road next to the viaduct for a bit, and dodging the constant stream of returning Christmas shoppers in their cars, I opted for height and decided to climb St. Catherine's Hill the steep "back way". On the way up I met a work colleague, who occupies the office next to mine, jogging effortlessly down the track in shorts and a tee shirt. He lives nearby in Winchester, and has that enviable light build that (presumably) makes cross-country running a pleasure and not a leaden-legged torment. I have to say I could never understand running for pleasure even when I was young, fit, and two stone lighter.

I can walk though; once up high, the rich warm light of the setting sun was raking the tree tops, and was very pretty, but close to unphotographable. The case for some kind of "high dynamic range" procedure -- merging multiple identical images in software, made at different exposures -- was compelling, but I didn't have a tripod so that was that. One of these days I must give HDR a try. Done with restraint, it may be the answer to the "white skies and purple twigs" syndrome that disfigures so much digital landscape photography.

In allen Wipfeln spĆ¼rest du kaum einen Hauch...

There is some detail in those shadows, honest, but probably not much in the JPEG you're seeing. In fact, the range of dark and golden tones in there is very subtle, and makes for a very pleasing print. I'm getting quite a taste for those rich, dark, blended colours setting off glowing, warm highlights, like fruit-cake or pumpernickel. It's a true winter palette.


Steve said...

"white skies and purple twigs"

It's been a good few years since I used a digital camera but I remember this was a major annoyance back then and a big reason for sticking with film. Has this problem still not been solved by the manufacturers? Seems like it would be a bigger selling point than live views or an extra million pixels.

Mike C. said...


To a large extent the "fringing" problem ha's been eliminated (and is simple enough to fix in Photoshop), but the "shoulder" of the curve into pure white is still quite abrupt, and (like any photo process, inc. film) there is only so much dynamic range available. I tend to routinely underexpose, as if were shooting colour transparency film, but in extreme situations like a late afternoon in November with deep shadows and a bright sky, something has to be sacrificed.