Snowdonia, North Wales, United Kingdom, a mystical land of rugged peaks, tumbling waterfalls, ancient woodlands... Oh, and did I mention rain? snow? cold? damp? storms? wind? fog? clouds? I could go on, but I think you get the idea! Yep, Snowdonia certainly isn't Arizona, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Don't you get bored with endless sunny skies (I wish!) and hanker after some dramatic weather to photograph occasionally?
I live about an hour's drive from this particular location, and have visited and photographed it in many diverse lighting and weather conditions, from bright sunshine to the absolute murk that only Snowdonia can deliver, and up to now this is my favourite image. I love the knarly old bridge, with its weatherbeaten textures, and the path that leads the eye through the composition to the shapely monolith of Tryfan, brooding in the background and crowned with the first dusting of the winter's snow. Menacing storm clouds complete the whole, bringing an air of reality to this image that some of my other photos, taken in much nicer weather conditions, don't convey. I'll keep on going back to this place because I love it in any weather, and if I manage to get another photo that conveys the sense of the place better than this one, I'll certainly post it.
The original photo was taken in the mid-afternoon at the end of November, just after the first snowfall of the winter. The camera used was a Canon EOS 5D (13MP digital full frame), fitted with a 24-105mm Canon 'L' series zoom lens. Focal length was 24mm, aperture was f16, exposure was 1 second, ISO speed rating was 100 and RAW file format was used. Polarising and 2 stop ND grad filters were used, and the camera was mounted on a Manfrotto carbon fibre tripod.
The original RAW file has undergone quite significant manipulation to produce the final image, as can be seen from the comparative before and after views. The main reason for this work was to bring out the drama of the sky and to enhance the textures of the foreground brige and stones beyond that which was immediately available from a straight RAW file conversion. The workflow I followed to produce the image is laid out, in general terms, below.
1. I selected the RAW file that had the best tonal range (histogram) from the bracketed shots I took at the time.
2. Next, I converted the selected Canon RAW file to Adobe DNG format. This is something I do with every native RAW file.
3. I added keyword metadata to the DNG file so I can find it easily in my image library.
4. Using Adobe camera RAW, I then created three versions of the same DNG file, with -1ev 0ev and +1ev exposures, saving the converted files as 16 bit TIFFs in the ProPhoto colour space. I use these settings all the time for landscape work as I hate throwing data away and the 16 bit TIFFs and ProPhoto colour space preserve more of the data originally captured by the camera.
5. Using PhotomatixPro HDR software, I used the three differently exposed TIFF conversions to create a 32bit HDR file, which I then rendered, using the software tools supplied, to give the desired definition to the clouds and texture to the foreground elements.This rendered file was re-saved as a 16bit TIFF, still in the ProPhoto colour space.
6. Using Adobe PhotoShop CS2 I then opened both the straight (0ev exposure) TIFF file and the HDR rendered TIFF file, copied the rendered file and pasted it into the straight file as a new layer.
7. I then created a hide all layer mask and using a soft brush at very low opacity I slowly revealed the HDR image in areas where I wanted that particular effect, such as the sky and the foreground.
8. Once I had the basic image constructed I carried out the usual image enhancements using levels, curves and HSL adjustment layers as appropriate. The final image was then saved as a Photoshop PSD file, ready for final output sharpening depending on display medium and image size.
By the way, this image looks great printed, as you can see all the texture I've been talking about much better at 300dpi print resolution, compared with the 72dpi screen resolution with which the image is displayed here.
If you're interested in finding out more about my workflow and why I do things a certain way, then click here.
All content copyright © Howard Litherland 2009-2017 unless otherwise stated.