Note: This article appeared in Outdoor Photography, Christmas 2004, Number 56. The text is given here in full; for the magazine version some text had to be cut due to space constraints. The two photographs shown below were used, the left hand one is discussed in the text.
Main Photograph: Path to Turnhouse and Carnethy Hills. The low winter sun from the left provided very attractive modeling for this view of the path sweeping up to Turnhouse and Carnethy Hills.
Ebony 45S, Schneider Super-Symmar XL 80mm f/4.5, Lee 81b and Lee .3ND hard grad filters, Fuji Velvia 50 (Quickload), 2" @ f/32⅓.
Glencorse burn runs next to the road next to the car park. The day started with a temperature of −5ºC which ensured superb ice formations and frost. These, with the warm colours of the reeds and the flowing water were worth the freezing feet resulting from a lengthy set up time.
Ebony 45S, Schneider Apo-Symmar 150mm f/5.6, Lee 81b filter, Fuji Velvia 50 (Quickload), 4" @ f/32.
The Pentland Hills are just outside Edinburgh where I live but despite this it took me a while to explore them for photography. Near the end of 2003 I was unable to make an early start so it was time for the hills. The recent fall of snow was an added incentive.
After initial exploration I started the climb to Turnhouse Hill leading to Carnethy Hill (573 metres). The walk can be extended considerably by exploring the many peaks that follow. I got to the top of a hillock near the start of the path and stopped immediately. The sun was shining at right angles to the path creating very striking shadows adding extra interest to the magnificent colour and the structural qualities of the path leading up to the hills.
It usually takes me quite some time before committing to a photograph but not on this occasion. The choice of an 80mm lens was fairly obvious (slightly wider than 24mm for the 35mm format). For this photograph I wanted not only to represent the beauty of the scene but also the feeling one has at the prospect of the climb ahead. One advantage of a large format camera is the ability to choose an appropriate perspective. Here, back tilt emphasized the sweep of the path towards the summit and reduced the size of the hills but not their impact. As Paul Klee noted in his diaries, the effect of an object does not depend on its size but the extent of the space on which it acts. Most photographs present a projection of the three dimensional world onto a plane parallel to the lens. With large format we can take advantage of other planes. This adds significantly to the fascination of landscape photography and its central question of how to choose a representation that is truthful to the subject, its perception and is also artistically interesting.
After setting up I decided to use an 81b filter to bring out the warm colours of the grass and earth. This is a fairly mild filter so that its use is rarely intrusive and benefits landscapes of this kind.
Metering was next; my approach is first to establish the EV (exposure value) range of the land using a spot meter. Having settled on an initial exposure value I then sweep the landscape noting how far each important part departs from the chosen value making sure that its rendered tone will be appropriate. This process leads to a final choice, which is often a compromise of course since the various requirements can be conflicting and it is not always possible to use graduate filters to resolve the problem. After that I measure the various parts of the sky to decide what, if any, graduate filters to use. On this occasion I decided on a .3 filter (i.e., one stop reduction). It was important to leave the radiating clouds quite bright to provide an echo and continuation of the snow; a darker filter would have ruined the effect.
I was now ready to make the exposure. The fine day brought its own problem: this is a popular spot and many people enjoy the climb, so I waited patiently, well almost. Forty minutes went by and the path was about to be clear of people. Two ladies approached me and asked politely if they'd spoil the photograph by continuing their walk; I explained that red cagoules and landscape photographs are not natural allies. Joy of joys they offered to wait. But then disaster; as I was about to press the shutter a new group arrived and marched on. I thanked the ladies and wished them a good day. After another twenty minutes, the figures were small enough not to be too obtrusive. In any case there was a risk of losing the best of the light so the compromise was unavoidable. This is not misanthropy; the eye is inevitably drawn towards any discernible human figure so that it rather than the landscape becomes the main focus.
I returned on the next day and in early February and found plenty to do each time (but to be honest one good photograph counts as plenty).