Making new tracks – or a new view of an old subject
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I try not to shoot “honey pot” images. You know, those that you regularly see on Flickr and on forums, and are actively sought out by photographers as “bucket list” locations, often shot from exactly the same angle as several thousand before them, many of whom are trying to emulate the world famous pro photographer who took the original image with masses of impact and wow factor. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about this, it’s just not how I prefer to operate. I sometimes refer to this in my workshops as “dartboard photography” due to the number of holes left by tripod legs just after a stunning image has appeared, and hordes of photographers seek out that exact same view.
Of course the world famous pro has a couple of big advantages over the rest of us; a) all day to seek out fantastic locations in the first place and b) all day over several days/weeks to get the exact right light to give the wow factor.
I’ve had a conversation with a world famous pro on this very subject. He found a particular location while scouting around some well-known parts of France, worked out the best angle to shoot from, where the light should come from (and which parts of the vista should be illuminated), how high the camera should be (which required his “short stepladder”), aperture, focus point etc. etc. You get the drift; he fully explored the possibilities before even getting his camera out of the bag. After setting himself up and confirming he had everything exactly right, all he had to do was wait for the right light – this took four days to come! Four days stood up a short stepladder, with cable release in hand, waiting to trip the shutter!!
Ok, when he made his image it was spectacular, and remains a favourite image of mine, but we don’t all get such luxuries in life. With life and family commitments, most of us get to grab an hour or two here and there to dust off our cameras and make some images, which could explain the “bucket list” mentality of some photographers – if you’re only going to get a couple of hours out, heading to a spot you know you’ll get a great view from kind of makes sense.
The week before this particular image was made, my photographic buddy, Mike, and I had been out shooting a rather spectacular poppy field. While the field had been spectacular, there were thousands of flowers still to open, so while pleased with the images we’d captured, we vowed to return again soon.
Unfortunately, the following week was the hottest and driest in the UK for several years, and on our return the poppy field was rather dry – with lots of dead flowers! So, what do we do now?! With an hour to sunset, we needed a location, and fast!
Knowing the area pretty well, I knew there was a “honey pot” barn just up the road. This barn is normally photographed from a distance, surrounded by bright yellow oilseed rape crop with a bright blue sky above. In fact, why not try Googling “sixpenny handley barn” and see which images of this barn pop up?(Once you’ve finished reading this of course J ) While this makes for a pleasing image, I was determined to find a view and make an image unlike any I had previously seen of this particular barn.
When standing next to the field, I can see why it’s usually shot from where it is – the hill rises nicely behind the barn giving naturally pleasing curves, and it’s an easy shot without having to enter the field and risk a farmer’s wrath for trampling crops. It’s also easy as you can pull into the gateway, wander a few yards down the road and snap, the bucket list has one less name on it! Job done.
So, how to go about capturing a completely different image? Having carefully climbed a stile, I made my way to the barn to see what else was available for me to make an interesting photograph. As the wheat was nearly fully grown, the tracks made by the farmer’s tractor during crop spraying were very deep and prominent, so I carefully made my way around the edge of the field to explore these tracks as possible lead-in lines to the barn.
Having framed a few views from a distance, I knew I needed to get closer, like in amongst the wheat. Carefully retracing my steps, I found a way in to these big tractor wheel tracks. Should a farmer have arrived and questioned what I was doing, I had taken so much care walking through the crops that I feel confident I could have made a bet that they couldn’t have seen where or how I got so far into the crops. I firmly believe that we should take great care while photographing – you never know when you might need to have a friendly word with a farmer to gain access to a potentially amazing view, so the offer of a business card and a print of their choice of their land has always gone down extremely well (and no-one has ever claimed the offered free print!). Much better than arguing over trampled crops I think – after all, the crops are hard cash to a farmer!
Once in the tracks, I just followed them round and kept turning to check the view. It didn’t take that long to get the lovely curve of the tracks leading up to the barn and beyond. My only problem now, was a completely bland sky. A fair amount of haze was appearing, and the sky was just turning a paler shade of blue. As I was facing about 110-degrees from the setting sun, I reached for my polariser to see if I could make more of the clouds. There was an improvement, but I wanted more.
Looking at the foreground in front of me, there was lots of contrast and texture, so my mind starting turning to B&W. The great thing about digital is I can just turn the camera to B&W mode, and instantly see the potential results. The sky needed boosting a bit more, so I added a 0.6 Neutral Density Graduated Filter to balance the exposure. The image on the LCD was looking better all the time – just a bit more contrast needed… Again, the great thing about digital is the ability to add B&W filters in camera, and see the results immediately. A quick press of the Red Filter button and voila! I had the image you see here!
Happy with my work, I tried a few more compositions, but nothing could improve on my already captured image. I’d expected to go home with some extremely colourful images of red poppies and sunset, but instead I had an exclusive view of an oft-photographed location, in strong, high contrast Black & White – and a big grin on my face!!
Exposure information: ¼ sec @ f/11, ISO100
0.6 ND Grad plus Circular Polariser filters
Post processing: RAW file tweaked in Lightroom; B&W conversion in Silver Efex Pro (High Structure preset).
Prints of all my images are available from my website.