A quick trip to Mars, Lancashire / by Neil Alexander


A little detour on a trip back from Lancashire earlier in the week found me at the entrance to the field above just as the sun was setting around 6pm. The countryside around these parts is rather flat and uninspiring and it was hard to find a composition that I liked. So with minutes to go before the sun actually set, I plumped for this. It gave me the hedges on either side as a frame within a frame, and the gate post and puddles as a bit of a foreground accent. Now before you exclaim,"But dude, the grass is red...", yes it is, and I like it like that, thanks.

This image was a 5 frame HDR sequence, and I've included the +2,0 and -2 EV frames straight from camera so you can see a little better why HDR works. The 2 stops over image captures all the detail in the sky, but the hedges are black with no definition whatsoever. The 2 stops under has a completely white and lifeless blown out sky, but the hedges and the foreground are all "properly" exposed. I couldn't have got away with an ND grad filter here either, because the hedges on either side of the frame extend so far up to the top.

So HDR was the only way to go. So the image just below is that sequence tonemapped in Photomatix Pro, which is the main piece of software I use to process HDR sequences. But this is just really the beginning of the processing. Once I have a single tonemapped image, then the fun really begins. Of late my processing toy of choice has been Nik's latest incarnation of Color Efex Pro - version 4. It's a delight to work with, and many of the presets (and there are many) produce some great results. However I try and put a little more effort in than simply applying an off the shelf preset and thinking "job done". The final image above is actually 4 separate filters with different degrees of levels applied and selective use of Nik's amazing U-point technology control point features.

I like the red grass. It's almost poppy-esque, but it's also got a slightly alien feel to it too.

Puddles in a field, New Longton (Click to view larger)

Anyway, as always I'd love to hear your comments and feedback so feel free to hit me up in the box below.