Is it a good thing if RAW isn't Really RAW?

It has become increasingly apparent to me, that RAW files are more saturated and punchy than they used to be. When I look back at the RAW files that came out of camera's a decade ago, they were very neutral in colour. That is not the case now.

Shot on Fuji Velvia, which comes with pre-programmed colour, punched in for me by Fuji. I know this film is highly-unrealistic. It's why I use it. But if I were to shoot RAW, I would expect to have the colours as neutral as possible so I can choose my own colour programming.

Shot on Fuji Velvia, which comes with pre-programmed colour, punched in for me by Fuji.
I know this film is highly-unrealistic. It's why I use it. But if I were to shoot RAW, I would expect to have the colours as neutral as possible so I can choose my own colour programming.

I was reading the online photographer only a few days ago while I tried to get my head around the reasons for why this is so. Specifically this article. It seems that RAW was never truly RAW and there has always been a degree of processing involved as camera manufacturers try to get the best out of their sensors. For example, many camera manufacturers apply tonal curves to try to get more DR out of their sensors, and they also apply their own calibration for ISO.

I used to think that ISO was a global standard. One where if you set the ISO of all cameras the same, and give them the same amount of light, the exposure would be the same for all cameras. This appears to not be the case as this article also explains. To utilise the best response of a digital sensor, camera manufacturers set their own sensitivities for their sensors to give the most pleasing result.

So there has always been a degree of pre-processing done at the capture stage. RAW is not RAW in this regard. But it goes further than that. I have noticed that many RAW files these days have saturated colours that don't correspond to the real world.

I have been advising participants to shoot their cameras on 'Daylight white balance' for years, because that is what all colour film is balanced for. In the days of film only, we would always shoot a daylight balanced film for landscape photography. Daylight balance means we retain the colour casts apparent at sunrise and sunset.  

Auto-White-Balance, on the other hand, tunes them out.

Well, It used to be the case that Auto-White-Balance would attempt to tune out colour casts to make everything look like it was shot in the middle of the day. Sunrise and Sunsets would lose their colour as the AWB attempted to tune out their lovely colour casts to make everything look like daylight, and additionally, twilight shots would lose their blue hue as they were transported to become middle of the day shots. This is not what we want as landscape photographers. We wish to have these colour casts as they are one of the reasons why we get up early in the morning to shoot. 

However, this logic doesn't seem to be working with some of the more recent sensors. I am seeing cameras like the Fuji XT2 oversaturate their files. Setting the white balance to daylight does not improve the situation as the saturation is now applied to a different colour temperature and the file looks funky. In fact the XT2 seems to look better if one leaves it on Auto White Balance, because it's the only thing that tames down the over-saturation of the files.

If I choose to set it to Daylight Balance, so I can re-introduce those lovely colour casts that sunrise and sunset offer,  I find I need to desaturate the colour by about -40 in ACR to make them look more natural, less Dysney. That never used to be the case with RAW files.

I'm sure that Fuji are not alone with this approach and I would hazard a guess that most camera manufacturers are souping up their RAW files to give more instantaneous pleasing results.

I guess it depends what we want, and what we all think RAW should provide? 

For me, I had assumed that RAW would mean that the camera would try to record a neutral rendition of what is there. I realise there has to be a degree of interpretation to do this, and also, that manufacturers have to take some decisions in order to get the best out of their sensors. 

I think it's gone beyond this. We are now seeing camera manufacturers give us their own 'look' to the RAW files. Whether that is a good thing or not remains to be seen. Personally, I've always felt that RAW files were too flat, too neutral and that colour manipulation is not something most of us are good at, so leaving it up to us to do that work would result in some very ugly over-processed images (the web is full of very overly processed files). So I think it might be a good thing. Buying a digital camera for its 'look' is just the same as buying film for its 'look'. If Fuji are going to soup up their RAW files to give a more pleasing result, then perhaps that is something to take into account when you buy their cameras: perhaps you buy them because you like the look of their RAW files? Rather than buying it because you assumed RAW was an honest, neutral rendition of what is there.

So I guess I'm wondering: if RAW isn't really RAW, then what is it meant to be? If camera manufacturers are taking control of colour into their own hands and giving us souped up RAW files, is this a good thing, or should we be more in control of that?

RAW isn't RAW, but maybe that's ok?

Fujifilm XT-1

One of the perks of being a workshop leader, is that through meeting new participants each year, I get to see an array of assorted camera equipment, from the budget to the seriously expensive.

Image © Bruce Percy. Shot on a Fujifilm XT-1 camera with 10-24 lens. I think this camera has some of the most pleasing tones in any present digital system right now.

Image © Bruce Percy. Shot on a Fujifilm XT-1 camera with 10-24 lens. I think this camera has some of the most pleasing tones in any present digital system right now.

And once in a while, somebody turns up with a camera that I think has a very beautiful look to its images. During my Scottish workshops, I do a daily critique of participants images, so I get to see first hand the differences in colours and tones between different models. For a while, the digital camera that I thought had the most beautiful tones and colours was the Nikon D3X. 

I won't pretend to know much about the tech side of any digital camera. I rarely go to websites to look at equipment specs for digital systems as I'm pretty much focussed on my art with the medium I've been using for the past twenty odd years (I'm a film-shooter). But it is interesting to see how digital cameras are improving and advancing each year while running my workshops.

This year I've found that if the colours and clarity in a participant's work stands out, it's a fujifilm camera that's behind it. From what I'm seeing, I think the Fujifilm cameras have an 'almost' film-like quality to them - a more 'organic' look than what we've seen so far in digital imaging.

This week I'm up in the far north-west corner of Scotland with some friends, and one of them has let me play with his XT-1 camera. If I were in the market for a digital camera right now, I think this would be the one for me. The only downside about it, is that it doesn't offer some of the aspect-ratios I think are important if you are wishing to improve your composition skills. The Fuji line of cameras seem to offer 3:2, 1:1 and 6:19 only. It's an odd omission to leave out something like 4:3, 4:5 or 6:7 - any one of those would have given me a more pleasing proportioned rectangle to use rather than 3:2, which I feel is more towards a panoramic format than a rectangle, and often the culprit in making composition harder for newbies to master.

If you're in the market for a small system now, and are thinking of getting rid of the bulk and weight of a traditional SLR, I think the mirror-less cameras such as the Micro-Four-Thirds Olympus / Panasonic models as well as Fujifilm's X range of cameras would be worth investigating. Image quality is a moot point now. We've got far much more than most of us need now, and the quality that smaller systems have to offer is no poor contender to full-frame systems. 

If it were me right now, I'd be going for a Fujifilm XT-1 camera with 10-24 lens, despite it not having a 4:3 / 4:5 or 6:7 aspect ratio to play with. I love square and so I'd be happy to use it as a digital 'hasselblad' if you like. But I do hope that the omission of a decent rectangle aspect ratio will be addressed in a future firmware update at some point. 

Half concealed, half revealed

I love it when inclement weather hides part of the landscape. Rain clouds came in today and hid most of the isle of Rum (the land mass you can see on the horizon) from view. For most of the morning it wasn't visible to us, and just as we were getting ready to depart for lunch, it decided to start showing itself to us.Tràigh a' Bhìgeil

 

This is a digital file from the little Lumix GX1 camera with the 12-35 panasonic zoom lens. As I explained a while ago, I got this system for my workshops, so I could help explain compositional ideas to participants. As you may also know, I am really a film shooter and everything on this site has been captured with film.

It's nice to have such a little camera with me to illustrate and work on sketches. The thing is though, this kind of image is not one to go back to repeat (ideally, I would go back with my film camera to get this shot). The inclement weather provided a unique opportunity. As too, did the tides. My group spent a bit of time last night discussing how a landscape changes over a week. At the start of the week we had high tides, so many of the features of the landscape were hidden from us. I personally feel this is a good thing, as most beaches can be too busy with too many rocks competing for your attention. Towards the end of the week, the tide is lower and we are now finding other areas of the beach that we did not see on day one.

With this particular image, we ventured here at high tide. There is a lot of redundant rocks and kelp hidden under the water, which allowed this 'curve' to stand out. Normally, it wouldn't present itself as a possible composition option because of the 'noise' around it. But also, I feel this image wouldn't have presented itself because of the rain shower that managed to completely hide Rum on the horizon, and for a brief moment, revealed it to me.

Isle of Eigg, Lummix GX1 Style

This week i'm on the isle of Eigg with a group. We were out this morning shooting on Laig bay.Eigg-September-2013

 

I've got my little Lummix GX1 system with 12-35 Panasonic lens and Lee Seven5 filter system with me, mainly for illustrative purposes. I made this little shot just before we headed back to the guesthouse for breakfast. I deliberately used a 3 stop hard grad on the top 1/4 area of the frame (to intentionally get a lot of burn-in into the image, and I composed it square at the time too (the Lummix is one of very few cameras that allows you to change aspect ratio - something I feel ALL cameras should offer as a matter of course). Aspect ratios are vitally important to how we see, compose and how we find images in the landscape, in the first place.

Anyway, I really wish I knew how to make the colours in digital 'sing' like my Velvia images do, but I've never been able to achieve it. I personally feel it's just not possible right now with the capture mediums as they are right now. But that's my own personal feeling and I know many will not agree with me. So I decided to opt for a black and white interpretation of the isle of Rum here, with a beach littered with evenly distributed kelp.

Micro Four Thirds

I've been thinking about writing a post about my little Lumix Micro Four Thirds acquisition for some time, and I'm just back from the Isle of Arran where I used the camera as a teaching aid while running my workshop.

Isle of Arran, Lummix GX1

I should start off by declaring that I am no digital shooter. I have been shooting film 100% for the past 20 odd years and I don't intend to alter this in the foreseeable future. The argument is a tired one and I wish not to go there. However, I did see value in having a digital system for use on my workshops, because having one would allow me to illustrate compositional techniques and also show others what I'm seeing in the landscape.

I had a bit of a hard time choosing a digital system. I didn't want to break the bank and get something 'pro', and yet, me being me, I knew any digital system I bought would have to be good enough to do landscape images with. So many of the 'Compact' cameras were not in the running for me. And those that had good quality sensors, didn't feel like they had the lens selection that I would like to invest in.

The Micro Four Thirds format seemed to fit the bill for a few reasons. Firstly, the cost of a basic kit system with the equivalent of a 28-90 zoom lens is very inexpensive. Secondly the sensor size isn't that far away from APS quality. And to make the decision for me, the very small size of the outfit was ideal - I didn't want to lug around a second full-sized system if I am already carrying a medium format film system.

I initially bought the Lumix GF1 a few years ago, but I never really considered that it could potentially be a serious contender for digital landscape photography. It's only since I bought the Lee Seven5 filter system for my new GX1, that I've come to consider that this format is something I would choose, if I were a digital shooter. I think the selection of lenses, image quality, compactness of the format makes for a terrific way forward.

So I thought that I would post some images made from my workshop this week. They were all composed hand-held, with the Lee Seven5 series of hard-grads. There are a few things I would like to point out about the combination Lee filters and also the practicalities of using such a small format. Here they are:

1) I find in general, that the Seven5 hard-grads are too hard. I've always considered that hard-grads are more important than soft-grads, and this is because they become diffused when used with any focal length above 24mm. As you go up the focal lengths towards telephoto, the hard-grads become soft until they become non-effective. If you consider that you are 'zooming into the graduation' as you go up the focal lengths, and that the filter is before the focal plane, then it's not hard to see that hard-grads are in fact 'soft' when used on 35mm systems and upwards. For my medium format system where my wide angle lens is a 50mm, my hard-grad is very soft. I use a rangefinder system so although I can't see through the lens, filter placement has never been a major concern for me, because at focal lengths of 50mm and above, the grad is pretty soft any way. The only time I would notice the grad is when I'm using one that is too strong for the subject matter.

Let's consider what happens when we go down the focal-lengths. We are essentially 'zooming out' away from the grad, and so hard-grads become more obvious. With the Micro Four Thirds format, you are dealing with small focal lengths. A lens that gives you the same field of view as a 35mm camera is half the focal length. For instance, a 24mm lens on a 35mm system is replaced by a 12mm lens in the Micro Four Thirds format. Of course, you could argue that the small diameters of the Micro Four Thirds lenses should alleviate this, but in my experience - they don't.

In summary, I would say that the Lee Seven5 set of hard-grads are very useful on a Micro-Four-Thirds system, but sometimes you might want to use the soft grads a bit more than you normally would due to the lower focal lengths. So buy both the soft, as well as the hard grads for this system.

2) Focussing the micro-four thirds system to take advantage of the hyper-focal for Depth of Field is a pain. The lenses I have really don't like to be stopped down more than 5.6, maybe f8 at times, but even then I saw degradation in the image quality. f5.6 at 12mm is still a lot of depth of field, but I did find I often missed the mark when setting the hyper-focal. I found using the electronic viewfinder a must. It is a focussing aid that you should buy for this camera if you intend to try to keep the lenses from being stopped down more than required.

These two points aside, I would dearly love to know why there is no high-performance sensor - one that is equivalent to something like a D800 in the camera bodies of the Micro Four Thirds format. At low ISO, the sensors in these cameras are perfectly fine, but they get very noisy from ISO 800 upwards. It's not something I miss, as I'm used to working with 50 ISO with my Fuji Velvia film, but I can appreciate that for most digital shooters, having good image quality at high ISO's is something they take for granted these days. I would like to know why this kind of technology has not been put into the MFT format as yet - is it to do with size, price, or even energy requirements? Or is it because the manufacturers think this is a 'toy format'?

For me, I don't think MFT is a toy format. I think it may well be the future. I've enjoyed shooting the Lumix, and composing using the electronic view finder. I'm really pleased I bought it for use on my workshops. It's a great little system, and one that I would adopt full time, if I wasn't the avid film shooter than I am.

 

Do we really need High Dynamic Range?

Disclaimer: This was originally posted in 2013. I've updated it. 

Before I begin this posting, I wish to stress that this topic is specifically about landscape photography. I do believe high-dynamic-range is a feature much needed in many realms of photography. I've put this article together to really play devils advocate, and to hopefully make us think more about what we know about light, and whether working with narrow dynamic range systems is actually good for our learning and development as a photographer. 

Every once in a while, I get into a conversation with someone who says we no longer need grads, and is looking forward to the release of some new camera that claims to have more dynamic range than the current models available.

Fjallabak-Sept-2017-(10).jpg

 

I'd like to put forward the argument that having less dynamic range is a good thing and that working with limitations is a good thing, indeed, I feel it has been of great benefit for me to work within the narrow confines of a film that typically has a DR range between 3 and 5 stops.

My reasoning for this is this: In my experience, good light tends to be soft light, and soft light tends to have a low dynamic range. Also, by working in a narrower band of light, you start to really 'see' more, and notice tonal responses in the landscape that won't work for you. In essence, you become more aware and also more selective about what you shoot. This, in my opinion can only be a good thing, as photography is really the art of learning to 'see'.

I've learned a lot about light because I had to figure out how to get all the tones of a scene into a limited dynamic range. I've had to go through the pain of shooting in crap light and getting my images home and realising they looked a lot worse than images shot in soft light.

I can fully appreciate that wanting to have a wider DR available would allow us to shoot more scenes, but I'm not convinced that those other scenes will be better. There is a reason after all why we tend to shoot during the golden hours and during overcast days: the light is soft and it tends to render more pleasing tonal graduations. Being able to work with a wide dynamic range may mean you can shoot more, but I'm not convinced the resulting work will be pleasing.

Perhaps the real issue at hand is this: we want to be able to shoot anything, at any time, the way we want.

I have always come at photography from the point that it is a life-long journey in learning to 'see' and finding out where the technical boundaries are, and how best to work within them. There will always be technical boundaries.

For me, I'm happy with my limited range film. I've often found great experiences are learned from working at the boundaries of any medium and I've often found limitations make me work better too. Working with a narrow band of light has taught me a great deal about which tones I can shoot and at what times it may be possible to do so, and under which kinds of light conditions. It has given me a sense of clarity and of focus to my work.

Because of this, I now specialise, rather than try to be a master of many things. My process is simpler: less choice means less decisions, and therefore, a clearer picture of where it is that I want to go.

Improvements in photographic skill are done in small steps. We need to notice changes, and for this to happen, we need the changes to happen in manageable bites for our mind to digest.

Learning what good light is does not come from having a flexible system that can handle all kinds of light. This kind of system encourages us to be lazy. Instead, we have to do the work, and earn the knowledge.

 

So film is too expensive huh?

I'm sure this will fuel the fires of those that think nothing better discussing the merits of Digital vs Film.

Personally, I made my mind up a few years ago which medium works well for my style of photography. We pay our money, we make our choices and I respect anyone else's decision to go with whatever medium, be it digital or film.

But I'd like to talk about the false assumption that Film is expensive to shoot. I hear from a lot of people that they're interested in moving to film, but the cost of buying the stock and processing it is cost-prohibitive for them. Add in the fact that you need to buy a decent film scanner, and the speed at which you can turn around your images - and it rapidly becomes a no-no for most.

I think there are really two arguments to this. One is, I'm a bit worried about it costing me money and the other is 'I'm not committed enough to try film out'. Both are completely separate arguments.

I don't think film is expensive, if you consider that buying a new DSLR every two to three years is a reality for a lot of people. I think it comes down to the fact that people like buying cameras, like buying the latest equipment. This has nothing to do with creating art.

If you want to get into film, then buying a film camera at the moment couldn't be cheaper. Buying a decent film scanner will be a little harder as there are few to choose from and most keep good second hand prices on eBay. But I reckon if you stick with that cheap Medium Format outfit and a sub 1K film scanner for more than 3 years, you'll be just as cheap as buying a new DSLR, and you get the chance to try different film stocks with their respective look and feel properties. You may even find that you love shooting Medium format, Large Format, and wonder why you never made the jump in the first place. You may discover that this has opened up a new creative path for you.

On the other hand, you may be happy buying the latest digital SLR every couple of years - which is fine. Just consider that the argument about film being expensive is a moot point. If you really wanted to try film out, there'd be no stopping you.

Apple's Aperture.... worth another go?

I've been stung a few times in the past, and as the saying goes 'once is bad judgement, twice is a fool'. This is in relation to buying into a promise that a product will do what it says on the tin, only to find that it doesn't live up to expectations. Apple's version 3 of Aperture has just hit the shelves. When Aperture 1 came out, I was a big fan. I liked the approach, the philosophy behind it, but the performance of the software (the more hardware you throw at it, the more it consumed) along with the number of bugs in it really left me feeling short changed.

Then version 2 was announced I had high hopes that they'd fixed the performance of it. But they hadn't. They'd covered up some of the cracks with 'fast preview' buttons for example, to make it appear that the software was working fast. The only thing was that my CPU was getting hammered all the time - just even by opening it up.

So I did what I didn't want to do: I moved to lightroom, which I felt at the time (and still do) had poor library features and a clunky interface. But Lightroom is fast, it will work on any piece of hardware and even my old G5 is very happy playing ball with it. So I've come to love Lightroom, besides the interface and the poor library features, it does what it says on the tin, and it does it really well.

I feel Apple had a chance back at version 1 of Aperture. Lightroom was still new and a bit wet behind the ears too. But it's perhaps too late for Apple to convince all those but their existing customers to give Aperture 3 a go.

I'm no longer in the market for a Raw Converter program but I am in the need of a good software library, so I guess my pondering over Aperture is a bit moot. Lightroom and Aperture both have similar issues with dealing with large film-scanned images - they don't perform well. But this is mostly irrelevant for photographers these days as the number of film shooters is really in the minority now.

Grey

What does this image say to you? Aren't the bergs almost like figures? I think so. grey.jpg

Photographed in Patagonia this March, I've shot glacier Grey in Torres del Paine several times, and each time, it brings something new.

I think that what is beautiful about glaciers in photographic terms are the endless possibilities of shape. Not only is each berg different, but also bringing them together can create some interesting compositions. In the above shot, notice how there are a lot of diagonal lines leading through the entire shot. Then there is also symmetry - each side of the shot is weighted by a similar sized berg and right in the middle, there is a little one, just to fill in the foreground a little. That's already just fine as it is, but adding a hint of mountain top into the background just helps make the whole composition sit well with the eye.

The boat was moving, but as it did so, I kept shooting this same scene until I felt everything had just 'clicked' into place. Photography is not just about light, but about composition and balance.

Culpeo

The Culpeo is a South American species of wild dog. It does look very much like the foxes we get here in the UK, but this was shot in Torres del Paine national park in Chile last november. I've just upgraded to Apple's Aperture 2.0 and whilst doing that, I've come across this raw file from last years trip to Patagonia.

torresdelpaine07-52.jpg

Elliott Erwitt said that he has negatives spanning the entire duration of his career (well over 40 years worth) and he sometimes finds upon reviewing them that there is something he missed first time round.

It's good to revisit all the transparencies (or raw files) that you've shot - there may be something there you missed first time round.

I find it hard to be objective straight after a shoot and a sense of distance is often required. It's only then that I can see images for what they are, rather than what I wanted to achieve.

I'd forgotten about this picture of the Culpeo. It has a nice composition.

Night photography

I've been using film for a very long time. To me, film has a a completely different look and feel to how digital images look. It's almost like the difference between how a motion picture looks and how something filmed on video looks. Film has a way of suppressing blown highlights in a pleasing way, whereas digital just hits a brick wall.

largewatch-lights.jpg

But digital has quite a lot of advantages over film and I've pretty much come to the conclusion that I will be using both in the future. Film is strong in the departments of skin tones (Kodak Portra) and Saturated landscapes (Velvia). Digital on the other hand has immediate feedback and in terms of doing night shots or sunrise/sunset shots, it doesn't suffer from reciprocity effect which is present in all films.

In case you don't know what reciprocity effect is I'll explain. Film exposure is pretty much consistent from around 2 seconds upwards. But when you shoot longer exposures, the relationship between the shutter and the aperture fall apart. In essence, film becomes less sensitive to light, the longer it is exposed. So typically, if your light meter indicates an exposure time greater than 2-4 seconds then the meter is pretty much guaranteed to be wrong. You have to compensate and extend the exposure time in order to get a correctly exposed shot. If you don't, the film will be underexposed.

Now with digital capture, all of this becomes a thing of the past. The only issue you have to contend with is digital sensor noise. If you can imagine, the sensor is sampling the scene for the entire duration the shutter is open, and that means heat build up on the sensor. Due to all the electrons flying around, noise build up. Some cameras have algorithms built into them to remove the noise at the end of the exposure. That's why if you shoot a 10 second exposure, it takes the camera quite a bit of time after the exposure has complete to show you the preview.

The image you see above is a digital capture. I'm pretty sure I would never have caught this on a film camera without having a lot of skill and experience of shooting in the dark. I was able to dial in the exposure value I wanted into a nice little remote handset called a Canon TC-80N3. It allows me to use the camera on bulb and dial in the number of hours, minutes, seconds for the exposure... which is great as I'm always forgetting to keep check on the stop watch I carry with me (yes, a stop watch is a 'must have' for long exposures).

In terms of how the image was made, I'd been out shooting at Torness nuclear power station on the east cost of Scotland. I was just returning back to my car after it had got dark and whilst putting things away, I saw the sky moving very quickly. I loved the orange colour from the sodium lights in the car park and in particular thought the lights looked rather alien with all this strange light and swirling clouds going on. So I set up the camera on a tripod and used the remote timer I mentioned above. It took around three attempts to get the correct exposure because my light meter couldn't give me a reading so I had to guess (I have a hand held Sekonic meter). After each shot, I was able to check the preview screen to see if I'd got the exposure correct.

I love surreal images and I certainly subscribe to the idea than an image should be an expression of your imagination. Shooting at night adds another dimension to photography and your own experiences of being 'out there'.

Of course, this could have been captured on film, but I wouldn't have known if I'd got it 'in the bag'. I'll be posting more articles on both film and digital, because each has it's own strengths and weaknesses.

If you do go out to shoot at night - take warm clothes and a flask of hot tea, and don't be surprised if the first few attempts result in you coming home because you got a little bit freaked out..... it takes a while to get over the fear of being out in the dark on your own.

To view my portfolio of Torness images click here.

A cold evening shoot

One of my favourite places at the moment to photograph is the location surrounding Torness nuclear power station. Torness is situated on the east cost of Scotland on a reclaimed peninsula which is protected from the sea by a man made coast line of concrete blocks.

I like to do repeat visits to locations. Sometimes I'll come home with nothing, while other times, Ill find something new. In January we had a really hard cold spell. The changes in seasons can often add a new dimension to a place so I decided to head out to Torness to see what might happen.

tornessjanuary1.jpg

I'm always looking for compositions, and if I find something that is of interest, I then start to look for things around to anchor it. What I mean by this is that I will try to find elements of the surrounding landscape to use in order to 'lead the eye' into the picture. This is always done with what is there - I never move things of create a contrived view point. I just look for what is there and decide if it's a good place to shoot from.

With wide angle images it's a classic compositional device to have something in the foreground of the image. My initial interest had been in the two concrete towers in the distance, and I knew that an image of them alone would not be interesting enough. The cost line had been manufactured (yes, that's right - it's not natural) of large stone blocks that had been moved into position to create a defence against the sea. It was covered in frost and the cracks and textures of the ground were far too interesting to pass up on. So I spent a few minutes searching the location for the best vantage point where I could get the right composition.

This is something I always do - I explore the surrounding landscape - always looking for the best compositional aspect. Many people use their zoom lenses to move around a scene, and often stay routed to the same spot for the entire duration of the shoot. I tend to like to roam, make a few shots and move off again. Always in search of a better vantage point.

The resulting image was a long exposure because the light was starting to fade, and also, because I'm partly fascinated by the idea of compressing many moments of time into one image. But what I also loved about the shot was the monochrome aspect to it. The light here in Scotland is very 'cold' and tends to have more blue in it's spectrum. Coupled with fading winter light and an overcast sky, I had very soft tones with which to shoot and used a 3 stop ND Soft Grad filter on the image to balance the earth with the sky.