Hunting for foreground round Hungershall Park

I’ve had a few suggestions about places to photograph in Tunbridge Wells and I would truly welcome some more, but this town can be difficult to capture at its best. I promise that I will feature the rocks in a future post, but they are so huge that it is hard to get them with the context of their surroundings. Similarly, I know I need to do the pantiles, but after ten years of trying, I’m yet to get a picture where the shadows from the buildings do not make everything look more dull than I remember the view.

The biggest issue that gets in the way of me taking the picture I want is the lack of foreground. As I’ve mentioned before, what I look for in a photograph is a sense of three dimensions with something in at least three plains- in the foreground, the middle distance and the background. I can get this kind of thing quite easily when I travel elsewhere even if it does mean that I have to amuse my family by dragging a large part of a tree into the shot to lead the eye:

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Particularly appealing is where the foreground actually snakes towards you, almost pushing its way out of the shot to drag your eye in:

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I was out hunting for this kind of foreground yesterday, when walking around Hungershall and Nevill Parks, but possibly I should have guessed before going out that such exclusive areas might present some challenges when it came to access. Here is an example of a beautiful view which would have been so much nicer if I could have climbed over the barbed wire and got closer to some of those trees:

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In this case, I have a road coming towards me, but leading to a building that is private and out of sight:

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I did better when I managed to use the shadows of the setting sun as a kind of foreground:

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Or here when I got as close as I could to the farm at the bottom of the hill and managed to get a bit of the ice into the shot without too much barbed wire:

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But as often, my saviour was a glorious tree at the top in Nevill Park- I’ll be coming back to this one:

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Penshurst Paintings

A few weeks ago, I posted some colour infrared shots from Dunorlan park which some of you on facebook commented looked like paintings.

I’ve maybe taken that a bit too literally playing around on Photoshop with some infrared pictures from Penshurst yesterday: _SAM2489 _SAM2491 _SAM2493 _SAM2494 _SAM2499 _SAM2500 _SAM2504 _SAM2505

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What’s wrong with this picture part 3 – the end?

In an earlier couple of posts here and here I wrestled with a particularly stubborn tree which refused to pose correctly. More correctly, I struggled to work out the best way of photographing it. I ended up feeling that the problem was mainly one of clutter- too many other things were getting in the way of a striking image:

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So this morning, with a simpler sky and more importantly a pair of boots I climbed into the field and put the tree in between me and the sun and got this:

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It’s not perfect- a wider lens would give me the whole tree, but for now, job done.

But then as I turned to go I saw this one:

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An equally beautiful old tree with an equally annoying set of distracting foliage nearby which makes getting the right shot equally hard.

I stepped back further:

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And then further still:

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Somehow I feel this is not over- sorry!

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What’s wrong with this picture? Part 2

A couple of days ago I posted about my struggles with a particular view of Eridge Green and a tree that refused to pose properly:

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I wasn’t pleased then with the flaring of the sun and the difficulty I faced with bringing out definition in the base of the tree.

Since writing the post, I’ve thought a bit more about this image and what holds it back. I mentioned then how one of the things I try to do in a picture is to help the viewer to know where to look- you can do this by creating a composition that is simple without too many distractions as I did when I moved from having a number of trees in the image to just the one above. You can also make the picture easy to navigate by working in three dimensions as I tried to do when I moved from a shot with no foreground to featuring the tree up front.

Another issue that I feel stops this one from working is to do with light, contrast and colour. Our eyes are naturally drawn in images to the brightest, most contrasty bits and frequently those where the colours are warmest. In the image I posted above, the sun has all of those features and so wars for our attention with the tree, making it all a bit too much of a muddle.

So I needed to go back and in fact did so yesterday. This time I wanted to avoid shooting into the sun unless I could get it right behind the tree. Less contrast away from the tree would allow me to focus on it instead.

As I approached through Eridge Green I could see that it was quite a different kind of morning with some amazing clouds rather than bright sun and also frost which is both cold in reality and in colour:

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These were promising conditions for the kind of image I wanted- there is nothing like the sun from the earlier shot to draw us away from the tree down below and the mist that wraps around it makes it stand out even more.

When I got to the location itself, I was able straight away to get something that seemed to me to be an improvement:

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This is from exactly the same spot as before, but because the sun is so much dimmer it isn’t fighting with the tree for attention and the trunk is more contrasty with what is behind. The warmth of the mist is still a bit distracting, but if I am being kind to myself, I could say that it points viewers towards the tree. The lovely bright band of cloud at the top certainly has the same effect of being a giant arrow in the sky- I wish I could say I put it there on purpose.

Here’s another angle:

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I’m reasonably pleased with this also. It is a bit more muddled with the different trees warring for our attention, but it is an attempt to exploit a strange “rule” of composition- our love of odd numbers. For some reason that I’ve never seen adequately explained, viewers would rather see things on their own, in threes or fives rather than in twos or fours. I have three main trees here, but the middle one is too indistinct and furthermore I should have got into the field to change my viewpoint and preferably get the three trees in a more interesting 3d formation rather than neatly lined up like this.

Here’s a final one which gets the 3d more:

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This also possibly has the advantage that I’ve got my main tree more in front of the light so it gets its own contrast, but still the composition isn’t quite there with the middle tree too out of view.

There’s no escaping the fact that I need to get on some boots and stop fearing the muddy field.

To be continued?

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What’s wrong with this picture?

So far on this blog, I’ve not really touched on technique. I know if you go looking on the net, you will find all kinds of people who are very good at explaining how their images work in ways that are really useful to those of us trying to improve. I’ve genuinely found such advice essential as I have been learning, but I want to try a different approach here, which also works for me.

In this post I am going to try to learn from my mistakes, so please be forgiving about these pictures. I intend to be extremely self critical about photos that I know basically look quite nice in order to consider how I could have got them to be stunning.

A few weeks ago, I discovered a new viewpoint close to one of my favourite spots in Eridge Green:

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I said then that I was not satisfied with the picture, so a couple of days ago I went back with the intention of getting a better one. I feel I failed, but I do think that exploring what I’m getting wrong will help me to get the picture I want in time.

First of all, what was wrong with the picture above? Well essentially it is all background with nothing interesting up front. I tend to prefer a landscape to work in three dimensions- something in the foreground, something else in the middle and then a background will draw the viewer into the view. This really just has distance.

So I went back and tried again:

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What’s wrong with this, then?

Well the sky is less interesting for a start, although the sun partly makes up for it. In this picture’s favour, it does have trees gradually becoming more distant, but they are not well composed- the one in the foreground, which is potentially the most interesting, is cut off and placed at the side and the result is that the viewer does not really know where to look. The image ends up being too complicated. A good picture should lead our eyes rather than leaving us to search all around for a route through it.

So a third try was needed:

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This is better because it is simpler. There is some unfortunate flare in the lens which is not as even and attractive as mist and might in fact be some smudges on the glass. I’m also not entirely happy about the bottom of the tree- the original picture was so dark down there that I struggled to bring out contrast in the development. I do like the ridges on the hill and the rays of the sun which I was able to capture by narrowing the aperture of the camera (unfortunately this is also what makes the lens flare worse.)

The truth is that I feel the whole picture would have been better if I had got closer down to the level of the trunk and created more of a distinct silhouette with the sun behind. So why didn’t I? Mainly because I was on my way to work and couldn’t get my relatively smart clothes all muddy by first climbing over a fence and then trudging down through the field!

I’ll get it right another day.

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