The making of: ‘Twisleton hawthorn’

These blog things, they came about as on-line diaries, so I think I’ll start with that approach, except that I’ll write a few short items about how I made particular images – diaries of images; and, for want of a better starting point, I’ll talk about the one I’ve used as a banner.

I’ve entitled this image various things over the year or so it’s existed, and in its various forms. Now, I just tend to call it ‘Twisleton hawthorn’, it being arguably the most prominent and interesting tree on Twisleton Scar End, in the Yorkshire Dales, and also being a hawthorn. The other titles have tended to have the word ‘stormy’ in them, since it was; very! Seconds after I took this image, the skies did that ‘opening’ thing you hear about and I was rapidly rather damp. The other reason I thought I’d describe the making of this image is that it was one of the first ‘good’ photographs I took after moving from taking holiday snapshots, and pictures high up on glaciated mountains, to buying a dSLR and attempting to make something a little more than snaps. I’d taken a couple of other nice images a few days earlier (the first one on my Flickr stream), but those were pure luck: the light happened to be good one morning, and I had coincidentally woken up early (not that the latter is at all common, so I was doubly lucky!).

So, this was the very first time I’d gone out, newly-acquired camera kit in hand, looking for something I could make a good image from. That was the wrong term at the time though: I thought of it as ‘going out to take a photo’. I wasn’t remotely considering the possibilities of post-processing it once I’d ‘taken it’, and I wasn’t thinking of ‘capturing light’ or ‘making an image’. As a direct result of that, this photo has improved through its various incarnations as I’ve learned how to process files better – at least, I think it has… That, I feel, will be another theme of this blog: my development in technique and approach, as I progressed through the stages of making images and, I hope, of my continued progression. I started by just heading out with a camera, and now I tend to try to pre-visualise images and then go out looking for landscapes which I can use to make what I’m looking for.

Back to this image then. I’d headed up onto Twisleton Scar End, somewhere I’m reasonably sure I’d never been before, since I knew that there were both limestone pavement and a few trees up there, and thought that they must be good to ‘take photos of’. Having wandered around looking at all the trees, taking the odd shot (well, quite a lot of odd shots in fact; none of them terribly good), I decided that this tree was the best of the bunch. I’d then taken endless images of it from all directions, none of which looked especially gripping on the LCD screen of my Nikon D90. I proved myself right there; they weren’t.

Then, just as I had put everything back in the bag, turned away from the tree, and started to walk back down to the car across the tricky limestone pavement, the sun suddenly emerged from the cloud behind which it had been lurking and made me flinch away from the glare. Doing so, I could see that the rather drab tree I’d spent the previous half hour looking at was now glowing with light; completely transformed! Now, a year or so later, I know how suddenly things change, and I know how much difference that makes to an image; then, despite years on high mountains, I didn’t appreciate either the drama or the speed with which this can happen. I attribute this lack of realisation before to the fact that, slogging up some alpine peak, I’ve tended to focus rather more on where my feet and axe are going than on the delicate play of light on the snow and other, more artistic, features of the terrain!

I quickly pulled the camera out, half knelt down, rested an elbow on a knee for stability, and took half a dozen shots before the rain started and the sun disappeared again. This was the best. More precisely, this was the one which was in focus and didn’t show much camera movement! Taken as a jpeg, it was quite dramatic, but not as good as I’d hoped. It’s improved since then; I’ve reprocessed it around three or four times, going back and tweaking the files each time I learnt something new about post-processing. The best version is that I’ve posted here I think; I like the extra foreground compared to the more elongated version necessary for the blog banner.

This has been a thoroughly educational image for me. Whilst taking it, I learnt the importance of predicting the light and of using a tripod. Since then, I’ve learnt how much difference can be made from careful processing, as well as the fact that having a RAW format version in the first place would have helped a great deal. I’m rather hoping I won’t modify it again from now on, but there’s always the option. Do comment to let me know if you think it could be improved!

A larger version of this image can be seen here on my Flickr stream.

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