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Wildebeast and Dolphins!

Part of the enjoyment of my photography is the scouting for locations. Visually scouring maps and researching the internet is where it starts for me and then when you are on the plot, physically checking the areas to see the theory transform into reality. This is not a seamless process. Many hours are spent and many miles are driven and trod in the quest for the photographic nirvana. Then, having found the spot, the exact place to put your tripod legs down; the perfect time of year and then day for the light direction to be just so, you are left with the vagaries of the weather. This depends of course on where you are in the world. If you are in Death Valley in summer the weather is a given. In the U.K. it is a different matter.

Even now, having spent the majority of my life in the New Forest area, I still ponder over OL22, the OS map of the ‘Forest, searching for a location I haven’t visited that perceives merit or using it as an aide memoire for places not visited recently. That’s how the opening shot came to be. I had the location pinpointed, the time of year plotted, even the weather was schemed into the plan and for once, it played ball. Arriving early, way before dawn, I set up as usual and as soon as there was sufficient light I composed, focused and checked focus by zooming in on the monitor, waiting for the light. The 0.6 graduated Lee Filter was on of course and I was all set up looking over the mist veiled moor with the sporadic conifers rising up on the hillocks through the mist. The mist was thick at this time and waiting was the game to obtain the balance of detail and ethereal atmosphere desired, so that’s what I did.

On PhotoTrek’s, the workshops for beginners and novices, I frequently analogise about wildebeest and dolphins when discussing the merits of using aperture priority shooting mode. This was one such moment. Stood on the hill overlooking the moor, a mutual startling took place as a group of ponies emerged from the copse behind me. Seeing me loom out of the mist at this time of a morning stood with a funny three legged contraction caused them to abruptly halt. Being confronted with a small herd of ponies coming to a sudden halt behind me caused surprise to say the least!

The ponies took flight, galloping off down towards the moor. Quickly I whipped off the filter and twiddled the thumbwheel to open up the aperture – it was still low light and I anticipated a faster speed being required. Within seconds they ponies were racing along the moor through the mist. I could just make them out so fired off three shots before they disappeared in the mist. I checked the monitor. The images were pants. Mind you, images in the mist often look that way due to the low contrast. The histogram however showed that what was there I had captured. Shooting in raw as I do, this first part of the process had been achieved – capturing the information. Back in the office, the images downloaded onto the monitor showed the first shot to be a dud as it was not in focus, sown to two. On the third image, the ponies were too far to the left in frame leaving me with just one image to process.

Processing misty images is always a compromise. Give them too much contrast and the image does not look real; too little and there is not enough detail. The camera will always expose with what information there is, in middle of the range, that oft phrased ‘mid grey’. Those that are familiar with that other phrase, ‘expose to the right’ should however take a note of caution. If you over expose a misty scene too much and then pull it back too much, nasty artefacts can appear as the total range of tones recorded are inevitably low. (Look at the range of tones on the histogram – no full left to right histogram, just a small spike usually.) Judicious dodging lifted the highlights and some burning brought the detail of the ponies and the trees in my shot. The test prints were many however! This is probably the most difficult image of mine to print. Achieving the subtle tonality is the problem and as the gamut of a print is never as good as the gamut we see on the screen, attention to detail is the name of the day. Critical examination and adjustment was necessary to achieve what I wanted, my perception and recollection of the actuality on the day. Nowadays we have ‘soft proofing’ on many programs which helps in this regard, providing an on-screen visualisation of the printed image. Back when this image was processed, it was the test prints. (It still is nowadays too as the final examination.)

This was one shot where a camera set to Jpeg would not have given me what I wanted. I could have played around with the Jpeg settings in camera, but by then the ponies would have disappeared. That programmer in Japan or wherever just didn’t know what I had in front of me so didn’t program the camera for that situation. Raw definitely ruled in this situation, that’s for sure.