Another trip to Blea Tarn by Neil Alexander

Back in February I was up in the Lakes again with the sole purpose of making pretty pictures. Alas, the light was not for playing really. I still did my utmost to come away with something usable though. The image above has come to be one of my favourites from the trip and I thought I'd give you an idea how and why I did what. Before I go on, if you want to try the same location for yourself, it's here 54°25'46" N 3°5'27" W.

So first up, the taking of the original photograph. The hotel I was staying in (I'm not the type that'll camp in February!), the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel is only a couple of miles round the other side of the tarn and down a hill from here so I was easily here long before sunset to set up, compose and wait. Civil twilight was 6:42 with sunrise around 30 minutes later. 

I'd set up both tripods with a Nikon on each. One with a Sigma 10-20mm and the other with my Nikkor 17-55mm, both opened up fairly wide and waited for something to happen. And waited. Sunrise came and went, and all that occurred was a lot of moving around of some huge very grey clouds, and little else. There were occasional glimpses of obscured sunlight on the tops of the fells, but nothing to write home about. I made several photographs using slightly different compositions, but I knew pretty much what I was looking for, so didn't move too far. 


The resulting image below was a 4 second exposure at F11 made with my Singh Ray Warming Polariser and a Lee ND Grad filter. 

This is the initial Silver Efex black and white conversion of the image immediately above.

This is the initial Silver Efex black and white conversion of the image immediately above.

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Once back home and downloaded into Lightroom, I made a bunch of changes. You can see the LR development history pane to the right here. As always with shooting long exposures with a variety of filters, I had a few dust spots to remove. Once I'd done this, I opened the DNG file up in Silver Efex Pro and performed a black and white conversion - the results of which are above. Returning to Lightroom, I then tweaked a bit further primarily trying to bring out the rocks in the foreground a bit more along with the area in the middle ground, the far shoreline and above. I also brought down the highlights in the water quite a bit.  Silver Efex's work on the sky I felt was just right.

Looking at the image further still, I have to say that I find the piece of floating wood above the rock to the left rather distracting. I think that'll be coming out. I have absolutely no qualms digital removing unnecessary intrusions into my photographs particularly if they distract the viewer's eye. However unless I'm specifically performing a composite, then adding things into an photograph in post-production is a strict no-no for me.  

And that's pretty much all there was to it. No magic. No fairy dust. Just lots and lots and lots of practice. 

You'll be unsurprised to learn that the rest of the trip was a complete washout. Other than a rather lively trip half way up and down Helvellyn on my trusty pushbike through the snow, it was a complete grey washout, but them's the breaks right?

Ten top tips for better property photographs by Neil Alexander

Because more and more people are searching for properties online before they even step into an estate agents office, great photographs are increasingly becoming essential in marketing a house. A good photograph of a property will catch the eye of house-hunters instantly, whereas poorly lit, wonky pictures are off-putting and relegate a property to the ‘to look at later’ list. This is a bit of an expansion on an article I wrote a few weeks back for the Right Move blog.

Photograph of an expertly crafted Mowlem and Co kitchen

  1. Attach your camera to a tripod. Hand held cameras are great for taking spur of the moment pictures, but a tripod will give you the stability to take clearer, sharper photographs. Work the scene until you have the composition you want, then get out your tripod. Even in the brightest of rooms, I'm quite often surprised about how low a shutter speed I'm working with. Being clamped to a tripod guarantees a sharp picture even at the slowest shutter speeds.
  2. Switch on all the house lights Even during the day. Having all the lights on in your home will instantly make it look warmer and more appealing. Hotels do it, estate agents do it, and they do it for a reason.
  3. Use lighting equipment. Dark corners don’t do your home any favours online, but simple lighting equipment will help you illuminate them. A flash will help, as will a reflector and even a light stand.
  4. Room preparation. Sometimes called staging, preparing a room is a way of showing how best it can be used. This is very often done by temporarily repositioning furniture in a room and putting lamps on tables and flowers in vases, or setting a table for dinner.
  5. Hot shoe bubble spirit level. To prevent your pictures looking wonky, use a bubble spirit level to ensure your camera is perfectly angled for each room. You can get these from ebay or your local camera store for a few pounds. They pop right into your hot shoe, and they make all the difference. If your picture looks lopsided, it's an instant turn off.
  6. Take your exterior shots in the morning. Getting up a dawn isn’t everyone’s idea of fun, but it’s the ideal time of day to get the best photographs of the outside of a property: dawn light is better and there are fewer people around. In fact civil twilight is the best time. That's around 30-40 minutes before dawn, or the same after sunset (it varies depending on the time of year). Agreed mid-summer, not too many people are going to want to get up at 3am to shoot, but if you want that winning shot.....
  7. Watch how the light hits your house. At different times of the day, and at different times of year, the light will change how your house looks. Take some time to stand outside and see how it looks on different days. So plan ahead, if you think that your house looks at its best in mid-December then why not try and get some great photographs of it. There's nothing stopping you using these when you want to sell it mid-summer three years later.
  8. Processing the image. Today, processing is a term for how the image is put through photography software before it is ready to be used. This helps to soften, sharpen and generally tidy up any imperfections. Sometimes a little vignette helps draw the viewers eye to a particular area of the photograph, or you may want to bring out the colour a little more. Adobe Lightroom is a must have for any serious photographer, and the tools available inside this application in it's latest iteration are really quite incredible.

  9. Take a photography course. There are photography courses run at adult education centres all over the country, and are the best place to start learning about taking better pictures. Alternatively many professional photographers now run their own workshops. Look at the work of photographers you admire, and contact them to see if they offer any instruction.
  10. Get a professional photographer. Hiring a professional is very cost effective. They are not expensive and can make the difference between the house selling/renting quickly or not. If you’re thinking of renting your property, then with a one-time investment in professional photographs, you can re-use them each time you come to let the property.
  1. If you'd like to know more about the services I offer to home sellers, estate agents or lettings agents, then pop on over to my dedicated site -

 Photograph of the Lake House at the Relais and Chateaux Gilpin Lodge Hotel, Lake District

Photograph of the Lake House restaurant at the Relais and Chateaux Gilpin Lodge Hotel, Lake District

 Photograph of the Lake House at the Relais and Chateaux Gilpin Lodge Hotel, Lake District

Snowdonia Part 2 by Neil Alexander

I've finally managed to find a little time to wade through some of the landscape photographs I made during my little jaunt to Snowdonia a few weeks back (see part 1 here), and I thought I'd share a few more.

View down the valley to Ffestiniog with Trawsfynydd power station in the distance

You'll see from the photographs above and below that the weather was what could best be described as "inclement". But from a landscape photography point of view, it was great. The skies were really dark and moody. These were made a little later in the day, after my amazing sunrise over Llyn Celyn. By this time, the rain had begun to sweep in, but rather than turn blanket grey (landscape photographer's worst nightmare), there was plenty going on up in the sky. Taking full advantage here, I used a graduated neutral density filter to get the most definition out of the cloud I could.

Trawsfynydd disused Magnox nuclear power station

The processing of the top image was quite straight forward. The same cannot be said for this image of the disused nuclear power station at Trawsfyndd. It was quite breezy by this stage, but I wanted the lake in the foreground to be smooth and calm, so as not to detract from the two imposing towers. This required the use of my B+W Big Stopper giving me a 15 second exposure - plenty long enough to smooth out the waves. However, still to this day, I seem unable to shoot a long exposure without incurring a plethora of dust spots. To aid me in dust spotting, I created a custom tone-curve in Lightroom (I think it was a Scott Kelby tip originally) which highlights the mess I had to deal with.

Custom Lightroom Tone Curve for Dust Spotting

Custom Lightroom Tone Curve for Dust Spotting

Shot with Custom Tone Curve applied

Shot with Custom Tone Curve applied

And this is how a detailed section of the sky looks - messy right?

Dust spot detail

Dust spot detail

Fortunately, the dust spotting in Lightroom 4 seems much more accurate than the previous version which vastly reduces the time required to fix this mess. It took a few minutes to set up this custom tone curve in the first place, but I now use it all the time and it's saved me hours, literally.

And one final photograph to share. Cropped to a square purely because there was a rather unsightly telegraph pole just to the edge of frame right, the stream at the bottom was full of debris from a recent flood and to the left there was a particularly straggly looking tree that I felt just didn't sit right in the frame. Ideally, I'd have liked a little more space around the farmhouse, but I like it nonetheless.

Farmhouse at Llanelltyd, Gwynedd, Wales