Situated a few kilometres west of Berchtesgaden, the Parish Church of St. Sebastian in Ramsau has two claims to fame. The first is its achingly beautiful location in a valley, surrounded by mountains, with a couple of wooden bridges spanning the Ramsauer Ache, the river that passes alongside. As a photographer one could spend hours here taking photographs – and then return again and again to shoot in different light or weather conditions.
The second is that the poet Josef Mohr (1792 – 1848) was, for a short period in 1815, the parish assistant in the church. The following year, when working in Mariapfarr, he penned a poem that was to become, arguably, the most famous carol in the world. Two years later, on Christmas Eve 1818, he asked a friend, Franz Xaver Gruber, a school teacher, if he could set the poem to music to be sung at the midnight Christmas Mass a few hours later. That original poem was entitled ‘Stille Nacht’ in German and was subsequently translated into English as ‘Silent Night’.
This image of Ramsau was one that I felt deserving of the ‘autumnal colours’ treatment.
My life in photography started around 1966 when, as a 14 year-old, my father gave me a camera. With a deep interest in aviation it was natural that my main subjects in those days would be the aircraft at my local airports in both Prestwick and Glasgow, Scotland. In those far-off days we didn’t have the security problems we have today and all it took was a knock on the police station door to ask if it was ok to go out onto the ramp to photograph a particular aircraft. An admonition ‘not to touch anything’ was followed shortly afterwards with a polite second visit to say ‘thank you’ and that I was now finished for the day. I would often spend two or three hours just wandering around with a tripod, in the dark, shooting time exposures. Nobody ever thought to ask a 14 year-old lad what he was doing there – actually it was positively encouraged by some people I met! Can you imagine what would happen nowadays if a 14 year-old was found doing that self-same innocent thing? I do feel sorry for today’s kids with that same sort of interest being deprived because of terrorism. Happy days.
In those days my pocket-money only allowed for black-and-white film. Colour film took more serious money and, when I became a specialist air-to-air photographer shooting mainly veteran, vintage and warbird aircraft together with the odd airliner (not my ‘day job’), colour was the only way to go. I dread to think how much Ektachrome and Velvia has run through my Hasselblads. Leap forward many years and, after some 30 years of shooting some spectacular aircraft around the world, I began to realize that I still had this hankering to go back to my black-and-white roots.
I shot this de Havilland Tiger Moth flying along the south coast of England at the Beachy Head Lighthouse, a famous beauty spot, but from an angle that very few people have ever seen it.
Neuschwanstein Castle is a nineteenth century castle based on the Romanesque Revival style built on a rugged hillside above the village of Hohenschwangau in southwest Bavaria. It was commissioned, at considerable expense, by King Ludwig II and the foundation stone was laid in 1869. The castle was intended as a refuge for the reclusive King and he moved into the unfinished castle in 1884 but he lived there for only 172 days before his untimely and somewhat mysterious death on 13 June 1886.
The castle was opened to the public almost immediately afterwards. Some 1.3 million people now visit annually. The castle served as inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle and has appeared in films such as ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ and ‘The Great Escape’. This photograph was shot from the Marienbrücke Bridge over the Pöllat Gorge from which a spectacular view of the castle and the landscape beyond can be had.
As a kid I had seen some particularly beautiful images shot on Kodak High Speed Infrared film in magazines. A little investigation showed that these images were not easy to shoot but I did love that wonderful ethereal quality. I often thought ‘one day I must try this’. I actually cannot remember what it was that triggered my looking into digital Infrared but I thought it was about time to give IR a go and this would satisfy my craving for resuming black-and-white work. At the time I had a Nikon D100 gathering dust and, after a quick bit of research, I found Life Pixel, took a deep breath and sent it over to the USA for conversion with a 720nm filter. When it came back to me I couldn’t wait to use it; my first images were stunningly beautiful and I was completely hooked on what was, to me, a new path in photography.
After a few months I took another deep breath (don’t worry I had been taking some shorter breaths in the meantime!) and sent off my Canon G12 for conversion with a 590nm filter as I liked the idea of controlling everything more precisely in Photoshop and introducing some colour. On this latter aspect I have to say that I am most certainly NOT a fan of garish colours. I like to introduce the ‘blue-sky’ effect and some ‘autumnal’ colours in the foliage.
Wakehurst Place is an old property near Haywards Heath in the south of England with extensive beautiful gardens. It is owned by the National trust and is open to the public.
I do like to try ‘autumnal colours with some of my images.
As someone once said, ‘Photoshop can give you 16 million different colours but that doesn’t mean that you have to use all of them.’ My latest conversion is a Canon 70D with another 590nm filter. The main lens on this camera is a Sigma 12-24mm. Should you be tempted to use this lens, do NOT use the Mk II version as it has a really bad hotspot. Source a good used Mk 1 and you will not be disappointed. I use the Nikon version of the Sigma on the D100 on the rare occasions it has an outing. As with most (all?) lenses operating in the Infrared sector, you can still get flare, particularly as it is such a wide angle. On that point, you should shoot a few test images on any lens you might buy before committing hard cash. Explain to the dealer why you need to do this and you will probably be involved in a long conversation about IR conversions and imaging. Go home and carefully scrutinize the images on-screen; if you are happy, call the dealer and tell him you’ll be round shortly to actually buy it.
Oldland Mill was built in 1703 and saw service for over two hundred years grinding wheat and grain for local communities. It was eventually abandoned in 1912 and, by the 1980s, it was in a sorry state. Only one pair of sweeps (the Sussex term for sails) remained, much of the cladding had either fallen off or was rotten, and the brick roundhouse was falling down.
Inside, the Mill was largely complete. Restoration began in 1980 but the first 15 years were spent stripping the mill to its bare bones.
All four sweeps, each weighing about half a ton, were finished in 2007. This image was shot on the Canon 70D with the Sigma 12-24mm lens with the sun just out of shot to the right and demonstrates the potential problems of flare, particularly when using very wide angle lenses. In this particular case, though, I feel that the flare actually enhances the final image.
Without exception, I shoot all of my Infrared images as RAW files. There is just too much information lost in a jpg file. The images are then imported into Capture 1 PRO 9 for all the initial adjustments of Levels, Exposure and White Balance. I much prefer ‘Capture’ to any other software as it handles IR images much better than Photoshop or Lightroom. The files are exported to a sub-folder as 16-bit tifs to be opened in Photoshop. From here I use one of two different methods of processing the tifs
The first method is the standard Channel Swap routine. I have written a short ‘Action’ in Photoshop which, when I hit the F5 key, gives me Levels, Channel Swap, Hue/Saturation and Black and White Adjustment Layers. When recording the Action for yourself you must leave the Levels at the default setting as each image will be different. Likewise with the Hue/Saturation and Black & White Layers you should leave it at the default setting as these will be adjusted differently for each image.
Although I have a Black & White Adjustment Layer I find that I am using it rather less these days since I discovered the second method – Silver Efex Pro 2. This is a superb piece of software for B&W conversion and is available entirely free of charge from Google Nik Collection. The collection contains a few other pieces of software that you may well find very handy and I cannot speak too highly of it. Download and try it for yourself.
When opening a file in Silver Efex you will be presented with an interface where you can do your own adjustments or you can use one of their pre-sets that are adjustable to taste. My own favourite preset is ‘High Structure’ which comes in two flavours ‘Harsh’ and ‘Smooth’. Occasionally I will render one of each and blend between the two to get what I want. Clouds often render in a way that you have to pick your jaw up from the desk when you see them. I adore clouds and Silver Efex has only enhanced that feeling.
Needless to say various other Photoshop techniques can be used. One such would be, for example, with the Church at Ramsau where the wooden bridges seemed to be too dark. By selecting just the wood, copying to a new layer and changing the blend mode to screen it gave added life to the image.
Clouds, particularly storm clouds, render beautifully when using Silver Efex PRO2. Shortly after this shot was taken that lovely storm cloud did exactly what it was designed for. Fortunately I was under the shelter of the bridge by then. This is a Palladian-style bridge in the grounds of Stowe Gardens in Buckinghamshire. The extensive gardens are open to the public but the main house, which is an Independent School, is not.
The final action is to place a flattened version of the image at the top of the layer stack (select the top-most layer of the stack and press Cmd+Shift+Alt+E). Then go to Filter>Other>High Pass and select a radius of around 4 Pixels then change the blending mode to ‘Hard Light’. You could also try ‘Soft Light’ for a slightly different flavour of sharpening. This is my favourite method of sharpening an image and, with a Layer Mask and change of transparency, it can give you better control of sharpening than any Photoshop sharpening filter … and, if you don’t like it, you can always switch it off unlike ‘Unsharp Mask’.
When I was an air-to-air photographer I was one of a comparatively small number of people in the world doing it on a regular basis. Despite the fact that I adored it with a passion, I stopped doing it some years ago for a variety of reasons that all came together at once. Since then I have been trying to find an outlet for my photography where I can be, if not quite unique in what I do, then certainly one of a comparatively small number of photographers doing it. Infrared fulfills that requirement very nicely and I find that I approach it in much the same way as air-to-air photography. My reaction on seeing a ‘stonking’ IR image is exactly the same as with that beautiful aircraft with a beautiful cloud backdrop.
The Morgan Aero 8 was launched at the Geneva motor Show in March 2000 and soon became a very successful high-performance sports car. It was designed by Charles Morgan (grandson of the founder) and the advanced aluminium chassis was developed by race engineer Chris Lawrence. A track version of the road-going Aero 8 was subsequently built; known as the Aero 8 GTN, it raced at Le Mans in 2002 and 2004.
Number 430 off the production line, this is a Series 1 car from about 2002. The early Aero 8s used a 4.4 litre BMW V8 engine, delivering 286 b.h.p., resulting in a top speed of 160 m.p.h. and a 0-62 m.p.h. acceleration in under 5 seconds. The later Series 4 cars are powered by a 367 b.h.p. 4.8 litre BMW V8 giving a top speed of 170 m.p.h. It was built at the Morgan factory in Malvern Link, Worcestershire, England.
Travel to Bavaria, take the cog railway from Garmisch-Partenkirchen to Lake Eibsee then take the Seilbahn cable-car to the top of Germany’s highest peak, the 2962 metre high Zugspitze. From here, on a clear day, you can see 250km in all directions. This image was taken just below the summit as it had persistent cloud cover that day with only occasional breaks. Here you are well above the tree-line so there is no foliage but the rugged mountains provide a magnificent sight.
Linderhof Castle was built by Bavarian King Ludwig II in the mid-19th Century in southwest Bavaria. The surrounding gardens were designed in the Baroque style by Carl von Effner with the castle being set into a hillside. The impressive fountain does not run continuously. Relying solely on the water pressure of the gradient of the hill it can rise to a height of 22 metres.
Walking from Oberammergau to Ettal I came across this old water-powered mill. Although it is no longer operational it was a most welcome site from both the photography point of view and also the equally important fact that it had now been converted into a very welcome café!
The Bluebell Line is a preserved steam railway the runs from Sheffield Park to East Grinstead in Sussex, England. Everything is as it was back in the 1950s and 60s, although the standard of catering in their café is much better!
The German ‘wanderwegs’ are well sign posted.
Shrines such as this are seen throughout Europe but I felt that this one had a particularly nice view to go along with it.
Christopher McMullen says
Very nice article, Gordon; wonderful work! I took the opposite direction from you, starting with Silver EFX and now doing things manually. I may have to revisit that! I do agree that the High Pass filter is the way to sharpen. Much nicer results (for my eye) than USM. Happy shooting!
Thank you for your kind comments Christopher.
On the black & white conversion issue, the slight problem with SilverFX is that, once committed, you have to go back and start again if you don’t like the results but I do feel that’s a small price to pay.
On the USM issue, I haven’t used it for many years now. Applying it to a Smart Object slightly alleviates the issue as you can undo it but I just plain don’t like it!
Thanks Christopher. Pleased you like my efforts. The presets in SilverEFX are an excellent basis to start working on an image. Tweaking the preset gives enormous control.
Dennis carlson says
Great stuff gordon. I love ir b and w. It stirs the emotions.
Thanks Dennis. I agree, B&W does stir the emotions far more than colour.