Sunday, 24 May 2009

Introspective ...Hay303 Stacks

Hay303 Stacks

A shot of the fields alongside the A303 near Stonehenge,
just after hay making. Wiltshire, 2008.

Composing and making the capture

I had seen the landscape dotted with these obelisk-like haystacks over a regular journey I make. On this particular occasion the light was right, so I kept on diving off the road down farm tracks and entrances to fields, whenever it looked like there was half a chance of a shot.

I'd not long passed Stonehenge, heading west, when I got lucky with this and another shot. [Hint: note how you "make" your own luck by giving the good lady chance to smile on your efforts!]

Placing the horizon low for airiness

The rolling hills and low clouds with the clear sky above made the scene light and airy, and I knew to capture that feeling, I'd need to put the horizon low in the frame. The rule of thirds suggests that the horizon line should go about one third of the way up in a shot like this, but I wanted more emphasis, so placed it even lower.

Three's the charm

The eye tends automatically to "zone in" to odd-numbered groups, giving them power in a shot. The scene in front of me wouldn't play ball and insisted on four haystacks, but again I was lucky in that three went nicely on the skyline with one below it.

Exposure, ISO etc.

I always keep my Canon EFS 17-85mm IS USM mounted on the camera and again it was perfect for the shot. The day was beautifully bright, so I checked the ISO was set to 100. For maximum depth of field, I set to f9, giving a shutter speed of 1/320s. As I was shooting across the road with the view often blocked by the frequent lorries that were passing, the fast shutter speed would only help. I focus- / exposure-locked around a third of the way in to ensure front-to-back sharpness before recomposing and dropping the shot into the box.

In the digital darkroom


I never have the camera set to anything other than RAW, a pre-requisite for the sort of HDR treatment I intended for this shot. I went overboard and, using RAWShooter Essentials 2006 (now a part of PhotoShop LightRoom), made 12 separate exposures from the one shot. I did this, anxious to get as much texture in the clouds and razed crops as possible. I brought them together using Dynamic-Photo HDR before moving to PhotoShop.


Again, fairly standard for my workflow, I applied a bit of TLR capture sharpening first, converted to mono using the black and white filter and judicial use of the channel mixer sliders. While adjusting the sliders, I kept an eye on the interplay between sky and ground but couldn't quite achieve a conversion that convinced me. I ended up treating the sky as a separate conversion on another layer.

A tweak on the curves to increase the contrast and a slight adjustment to the levels to deepen the shadows and lift the highlights a bit and that was it.

Any comments or questions, fire away :)
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