Working on Guardian Of The Forest has been a love-hate relationship for me. It’s both one of my favourite ever images and also my nemesis. Allow me to explain…
A few years ago now, I was dabbling with some photos I’d taken and decided that a landscape I’d photographed would be better with something added to it. I chose a deer. Some (very amateur) Photoshop later and I had my first composite. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a huge stepping stone in my photographic journey. My “A-Ha!” moment if you will.
It was at this point I fell in love with compositing; with making fantasy images full of magic and mystery. I realised I don’t just want to show a landscape as-is. I like to show them how I imagine them – as if they’re a location in a fairytale.
Skip forward a few years and my Photoshop and image planning has improved massively. Through sheer grunt work and determination I’ve taught myself enough that when I look back at some of those older images, I feel like I could do so much better if I were to remake them.
For the majority of images, I like to let that feeling linger. I look back on them, see my growth and feel good about where I’ve come. I leave them as they are and they become part of my photographic diary.
That first deer composite is different though. It’s so special to me. It’s become part of my photographic identity. Hell, even my brand logo is a (symmetrical) version of the same deer’s head. I couldn’t let it go. I had to try it again.
The remake of Guardian Of The Forest has taken many, many months to get right. I’ve had to try and let go of the old edit – the colours, the style, and bring it up to my current standards as best I can. I’ve wanted to give up SO MANY TIMES, but I persisted. Perhaps foolishly. However I felt I owed it to myself, and to the deer, and even to the original image, to see it through, no matter how difficult the process might be.
I’ve learned a lot about myself in the last few months as I ramp up to my exhibition, particularly as I was determined to have a remake of this image done in time. It’s not been easy. There have been tears and sleepless nights. There have been times I’ve wanted to quit. But I haven’t. We made it.
My muse, the magnificent stag I photographed so many years ago, has been brought to current standards and is ready to print. I shall hang his updated image in the pride of place during my exhibition. There’s something rather poetic about it being my first ever composite, but the last image completed for this gallery show.
I hope you like the remake as much as I do. If you trawl through my Facebook page you can likely find the original should you wish to compare.
If you’ve followed my work for a while you’ll know I have a thing for lone trees. I also love deer and birds. There’s something so majestic about these subjects that I’m constantly drawn to them and they focus often in my work.
I decided to create a piece to perhaps give you an idea of what it’s like for me when I’m out shooting landscapes to use in composite images.
This image is built from two main photographs – the scene (tree/foreground/sky) and a separate deer shot. I merged these in Photoshop and wanted to edit it in a way to make it feel somewhat surreal and day-dreamy.
When I go out shooting scenes like this, I’m always wondering “what would this look like with a deer/bird/wolf in it?” and try to frame it as such that I can add those elements to the story later in post-production. For me, deer are very much my imaginary friends. I’m never alone when I go on hikes as my brain is constantly picturing them stood next to trees, or birds flocking over a scene, or perhaps a wolf scrambling over a ruin.
My imaginary animal friends are a big part of my creativity and I hope you enjoy this glimpse into what my photography process is like.
For more works like this, please check out my gallery.
This is the first in what I hope will be a series of dark dreamlike images.
Ever since I left Scotland I keep dreaming about walking through the gorgeous snowy woodland there. I can’t physically go back yet, so I decided to revisit it in the next best way 🙂
For my photography friends, here’s a little bit of additional info… The backdrop is from Scotland – a shot I took a few weeks ago. The person is me (in a wig – a purple bob wouldn’t have worked so well!). I photographed myself today against a plain magnolia painted wall. Since I was wearing black, this made it super simple to create a layer mask in Photoshop using luminosity masks. The toning and slight glow to the image was added as a final step using Macphun’s Tonality Pro. All images used were shot with my Sony A7ii.
As always, a larger version and prints are available on my portfolio.
When I said yesterday that I wanted to test my new A7ii and telephoto lens for landscape photography, some people probably wondered why I’d pick that lens when I have a 16-35 Zeiss in my bag.
I have a bit of a weird obsession with telephoto landscape shots. There’s something magical in showing a perspective of a place that people might not usually see. If I can pick out an often overlooked detail in the distance and really focus on that, well, those kind of shots just make me happy.
Today I took the A7ii and 70-200mm for a test around my local area. Now, this isn’t somewhere I’d usually do landscape photography since it is a very flat and muddy rural area. I much prefer to shoot forests, mountains, lakes or coastline. Flat farm land just doesn’t do it for me and I struggle to see its pretty side given I lived here for 18 years. To make things even trickier, the weather was similar to yesterday: dark and overcast. Despite all the odds being against me I decided to venture out anyway. in the interest of blog posts and reviews!
I didn’t manage to catch any wildlife in motion today because most of what I saw were too far away. I started to wish I had my old 100-400mm Canon lens until I realised that even with that, they’d still be out of reach. Some things just aren’t meant to be.
With wildlife shots clearly not happening, I focussed purely on landscapes. For these tests, I made use of my tripod and was able to force the ISO to a nice low value. In most cases I set it at 50-100. The only exception was when I shot in manual mode, in which case I set the shutter speed & aperture but trusted the camera to set ISO itself. After yesterday’s tests, I’m not going to argue with its choice of ISO!
The dull weather was seemingly not the best for landscape photography. While the light was fairly even, the sky was incredibly dull most of the time, providing a completely flat backdrop with minimal interest.
I took a few test shots here and there but wasn’t really feeling it until I saw a lone tree sitting on a small island in the lake. I seem to have a bit of an obsession with lone trees!
Lone Tree FTW
Shooting in today’s light was difficult. The ground, trees and even grass were often super dark, whereas the sky was a flat but bright grey. Usually on my 70D a single exposure would have blown highlights or shadows and I’d end up bracketing the image to merge in post. That’s all a lot of faff and results in a lot of images bloating my laptop.
Oh how the Sony is different!
The dynamic range on the A7ii has blown my mind today. I can shoot a scene with dark foreground and super bright grey sky, while not suffering any clipping on the histogram. It’s incredible.
Here’s the unprocessed shot:
See what I mean about the sky & lighting? Super dull right?
Here’s the Lightroom histogram for the unedited shot. Despite the bright sky and dark tree, the A7ii has managed to preserve all the detail with zero clipping at either end of the histogram:
You might be wondering what on earth my plan was, shooting a barren tree on a dull day. Well, my friends, I have a little trick for dealing with these kinds of skies! Give them a play in the photo editing software of your choice and try a high pass filter. It’ll even out the image and that sky will blend in much better. That flat sky can actually become a nice backdrop instead of looking dull.
I allowed myself to go all the way and process my test image today because I was excited to play with it! So, here it is! My first “I’m super happy with this!” edit of an image using my A7ii with the Sony 70-200 f4…
After all the shots I’ve taken this year, I think this might be one of my favourites! If anyone told me I’d say that about a landscape shot on a dull day in this part of Lincolnshire I’d have laughed! The moral of the story is as always: go out and shoot anyway! Don’t be a fair weather photographer, and don’t feel like you have to use a lens for their generic purpose! And don’t overlook your local patch!
Since I’ve spent most of the afternoon working on this shot, I’ve decided to upload it to my Portfolio. I’ve also made this one available for print as I think it’s rather pretty. 🙂
In case it’s not entirely clear: I am COMPLETELY in love with my A7ii. It’s light, has amazing ISO capabilities and I now know its dynamic range is kickass.
Paired with the 70-200mm, the A7ii is great for telephoto landscape shots. I used a tripod for this test, but I genuinely believe that I didn’t need the tripod today. Unless I’m shooting long exposure or golden hour shots, the tripod will probably stay in my bag.
So, what’s next for my tests? I think it’s time to give the Zeiss 16-35 a try! I’ll be back with another review in a couple of days to show you some test shots and share my first impressions.
Again, if anyone has any questions about the camera or either lens, let me know!