Weekly Photo Challenge: Layers

I use Photoshop layers a lot in my post-processing of HDR images. Usually they will come out a bit flat after the tone-mapping and need a contrast boost. I may do a bit of dodge and burn and sometimes a soft warm glow. Oh! and don’t forget sharpening, all of which are done on their own layers.

Talacre Sunset

But I always feel there is room for improvement. In 1995 Tim Baskerville conducting an interview with Michael Kenna, an English photographer best known for his black & white landscapes, asked the following question;

Do you like to work through things that way; to go back again and again photographing the same places. …

Kenna’s reply was;

Yes. The first time, I usually skim off the outer layer and end up with photographs that are fairly obvious. The second time, I have to look a little deeper. The images get more interesting. The third time it is even more challenging and on each subsequent occasion, the images should get stronger, but it takes more effort to get them.

I’m like that in many ways. I first visited Talacre Lighthouse in 2010 when I moved to North Wales. At the time I was experimenting with the more extreme techniques and settings of HDR. Looking at the photograph above I can see I was making a real mess of it. It’s not only the HDR, it’s the composition as well.

By 2012 I was still having these indescribable urges to go really quite extreme with the HDR processing. Not all of the time, maybe about 25% of my photographs would get that extreme treatment.

Talacre Lighthouse

I mean, nothing is as blue as that and you can see the halo around the lighthouse. Although I have to say I think the composition looks a little better. Everything about this image screams HDR and overdone at that.

Then in 2013 I started to see the light (excuse the pun). Landscape photographs should be natural looking, or at least the ones that I publish, will be.

Talacre Lighthouse

So what does this have to do with layers? I think Michael Kenna was right. The first image I literally arrived on the beach, set up my tripod and took the photograph. With the second one I knew roughly where I was going to take the photograph from. But the third was completely different. Talacre beach is tidal. The only real constant is the lighthouse and even that is changing to some degree because the paint is starting to peel. The biggest change is the beach. Sometimes there are pools of water, sometimes there will be tree branches, or like in the photograph above you can see erosion. Nowadays when I’m photographing, I walk around looking for foreground interest, leading lines, light and shade etc. Mentally I’m composing the picture before I even set the tripod down and attach the camera.

OK! Here’s where you come in. Please take the poll. I’d like to get your view on HDR in landscape photography.

19 thoughts on “Weekly Photo Challenge: Layers

  1. It was nice to read about your development. The first time I made an HDR I had no idea what I was doing, but as I started experimenting I learned more and more.

    The third photo is very good, miles away from the two previous ones! I love the fact that you can’t really tell if it’s HDR or not, it’s just a very crisp, clear and naturally colored photo. The composition is also better on that last photo, so your photo technique has developed as well as your software skills.


    1. One of the things I found when I attached a wide angle lens to my camera was that I could not just point and shoot. I really had to look at the framing and composition before pressing the shutter. HDR for me now is a tool. But it’s a tool I want to use correctly, that’s why I now go for that really natural look and the Contrast Optimizer algorithm in PhotoMatix V5 gives me that. http://about.me/mikehardisty


  2. Looking at the poll Mike….it’s fifty/fifty..mind you only 2 votes in as yet. I guess it’s always nice to see the original as well as the processed image. Nice one Mike.


    1. HDR is great for when you want to great a composite mystical image. You can get some fantastic surreal effects if you push the sliders hard enough. But for landscapes it just doesn’t work in my opinion. Yo want to keep it as natural as possible. Don’t get me wrong. I use HDR in all of my landscapes but it is very natural and I am hoping that you would not know HDR is being used. http://about.me/mikehardisty


    1. Thank you. Not sure about the first two. I was looking through my back catalogue at the weekend and I can see so many photographs that I want to re-process.



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