Autumn is a great time of year for landscape photography. The leaves and the bracken turn from green to brown and assorted other warm shades which contrasts with the cooler weather. The days are getting rapidly shorter and the weather patterns become more changeable. The gulf stream keeps Great British weather much milder given the country's latitude, but the relatively warm moist air frequently brings rafts of grey cloudy blanketing the landscape. The light is dull and flat, the visibility becomes murky, it has the uncanny ability to suck the colour out of the most vibrant of autumn scenes leaving everything a dreary grey.
Southerscales Moor on the northern side of Ingleborough in the Yorkshire Dales National Park is a great area in which to photograph. The limestone pavements there are a particular favourite of mine. However the predominantly grey colour of the limestone rocks is, like the weather, can also difficult to capture at its best. Combine both weather and location and it can be a real challenge to create good photographs.
For me the answer is to forget the watery colour completely and go black and white. Imagining an image without colour is always easier in a scene that has little colour to start with. My aim is to bring out the detail in the scene, to contrast the dark and light areas. Fortunately the rock, although grey in colour, has plenty of form and texture. There is also, at times, plenty of detail within the clouds although sometimes is difficult to see in the flat lighting.
I try to imaging how the image would look in black and white, and how it can be processed to bring out the most detail. I post process my raw files using Capture One Pro 7. I like the user interface, it may not be the quickest method in processing raw files, but in my opinion, the finished look of the processed tiff files has the edge over other raw processing platforms. Others may disagree but for me it works. It is possible to create black and with images from within Capture One, but I process the files in colour, generally adding a small amount of clarity and structure to help bring out the details in rocks and clouds. Not too much or the image will appear over sharpened. I also balance the light sky and dark foregrounds by creating layers within Capture One and lightning or darkening as required, controlling highlights and shadows if needed. Then I output the tweaked photograph as a 16 bit tiff file, retaining as much image information as possible.
Now with a 120mb tiff file to work with in Adobe Photoshop CS5, the first stop is convert it to black and white. There are lots of ways to achieve this from within Photoshop but again I choose to use a bit of software to do the conversion for me, Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.
Silver Efex has many presets allowing the user to control exposure, brightness, contrast, and structure. It can simulate different type of black and white films, mimicking their sensitivity to different wavelengths of lights, grain structure, contrast and the like. It can simulate the use of various coloured filters and responds in the way that a black and white film would behave if the same filter was used on camera.
All in all, it is a very clever piece of software.
The presets are a good place to start, then the image can be fine tuned with various sliders to achieve the look you want.
For the final finish Colour Efex 4, another piece of plug in software from Nik Efex, helps with a touch of tonal contrast to bring out the overall detail in the clouds, a bit of vignette to focus the eye towards the focal point.
As with all things "artistic" it's all a matter of taste, I like the look of the final photographs, they're pretty close to what I imagined.
Digital photography is such a versatile medium, the great thing is that it costs nothing to experiment, just a bit of imagination.