Orton effect

There’s a pleasure in the pathless woods…..*

Burning bush, Stapleford Woods, NottsBurning bush, Stapleford Woods, Notts

This is usually a bad time of year for me in photography terms, and this year is no different.  Although I can see the possibilities out there, I lose that feeling of really wanting to go out and shoot that’s stirred in me by the light and colour of the other seasons.  I’m also still pondering where to go with this blog – having said I want to write about other things, my mind has – of course – gone quite blank.  What on earth were those things I itched to write about?  I’ve no idea. I’m sure they’ll come back to me eventually, and for the moment I’m content to let things percolate quietly away in that inaccessible part of my brain that’s prone to making contact with the rest of me only as and when it feels like it.

So, no new pictures, but some old ones that I never got round to processing.  Even though I’ve been very happy in this area because of the friends I’ve made and the interesting things I’ve been doing, I still feel a big pang of homesickness for the woods and the sea.  The sea is a long way off, only to be visited occasionally, but I did think it would be easier to find large stretches of woodland.  There are some – for example, Sherwood Forest and Clumber Park, but they’re a bit of a drive away and far too visitor-friendly for my taste.  I don’t want facilities.  I don’t want tarmacked paths and signposts, or cafes, or gift shops, or play areas, or even toilets.  I want somewhere that feels remote and that has enough mud to deter most visitors, leaving it nice and quiet for me and the other anti-social people who use it.  I want to switch off when I walk.  I use it as a kind of meditation, a calming down, a breathing space, and it doesn’t work for me if there are too many other folk there.

After a while I did find some woodland quite nearby. It’s a ten-minute drive, which isn’t too bad, and the woods are beautiful, if on the small side, and apart from a small kiosk in the car park they have no facilities at all.  They really are quite small, and the choice of walks is very limited, but I’m just grateful that there’s anything at all within easy reach.  There are areas of deciduous trees and work is underway to increase the size of these, but the greater part of the wood is made up of conifers.  Have you ever noticed how quiet pine forests are? – there’s a peace in this place that’s very soothing to the spirit.  I took these photos on two different visits, both in the autumn.  It’s been quite a while since I played around with the Orton technique and I still have a soft spot for it, so I’ve processed these both straight and Orton-style.

I’m going to put them side by side – well, more top and bottom, really, but it’s a figure of speech – so that you can see the difference quite clearly.  What I like about Orton is that it makes things look a little dreamlike and insubstantial and it also masks detail that I’d rather not see, like all the twiggy stuff in the foreground of some of these shots.  It also brings out colours very strongly, so strongly, in fact, that I had to desaturate the Ortonised images to make them look less like those poorly printed and luridly over-saturated postcards of the 1960s.

If anyone reading has any preference as to which works best for you, or any other comments on them come to that, I’d be very interested to hear.  I prefer the Ortonised ones myself, mostly because they move away from straight depiction of place and more towards the feeling and mystery of it.  I think it’s probably just personal taste in the end but it’s always interesting to hear another point of view.  (Note: the image at the top of the post didn’t respond well to Ortonisation because of the strong colours, so don’t go looking for its Orton counterpart – there isn’t one.)

Clearing, Stapleford Woods, NottsClearing

Clearing (Orton), Stapleford Woods, NottsClearing, Orton technique

Path, Stapleford Woods, NottsPath

Path (Orton), Stapleford Woods, NottsPath, Orton technique

Shelter, Stapleford Woods, NottsShelter

Shelter (Orton), Stapleford Woods, NottsShelter, Orton technique

Green, Stapleford Woods, NottsGreen

Green (Orton), Stapleford Woods, NottsGreen, Orton technique


*Loosely quoted from Byron: Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.  Really quite apt, since Byron is rumoured to have stayed in our cottage when it was still a coaching inn.


Summer has failed to install

Tea in the garden

Anyone who knows me well also knows that I like my bed and am not in the habit of leaping out of it at anything other than a civilised time, and even then after at least an hour of leisurely reading with a cup of tea.  But this morning I made an exception, and was in my car and heading over to Alexandra’s garden in Faversham before 8.00am.  Alexandra* has a gorgeous garden that’s just begging to be photographed, and we’d been trying to arrange this date for quite a while.

There’s a photographic version of sod’s law that says the light is always at its best the day before you get there, and this was one of those times.  For most of the last week I’ve been waking up to beautiful sunshine and blue skies; the sun has usually disappeared by the time morning gets going in earnest, but has stayed around long enough for a potential photo session.  This morning – of course – I opened my eyes to dull, flat light and grey skies and realised it was going to be pretty tough to get any decent images at all.

The only thing you can do when the light is like this is to keep the sky out of things altogether and concentrate on small, intimate areas of garden where you at least have the advantage of there being no harsh shadows.  Even so, I’m not about to burst with excitement at the photos I’ve got. In a bid to add some extra interest to what would otherwise have been some very dull shots because of the light, I took quite a few of them using the Lensbaby – for the same reason, I’ve added the Orton effect to a couple of them.  Even so, you still can’t expect to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.

(If you haven’t heard of the Orton technique, or you have but you don’t know how to do it, I wrote a tutorial on it a while ago for the Mortal Muses site.  I can’t get a unique url that will send you to the right place, but if you want to find it, go to www.mortalmuses.com, click on Muse University in the left-hand side panel, then scroll down several posts till you come to mine.)

Alexandra has two of these wonderful dog statues in the garden.  I had to do huge amounts of processing to get this image to look good at all.  It’s had curves, a solid colour adjustment layer, warming photo filter, and vignetting applied, to mention just a few of the things I did to it.  It still isn’t great, but probably the best I was ever going to get in the dull light.

Stone dog

She also has the real thing; isn’t he lovely? – unfortunately I can’t remember his name.  I’ve also managed to mess up with the focussing, which is centred on his collar rather than his eyes, as it should be.  It’s been a while since I’ve used my Lensbaby and my lack of practice is showing.


The garden has loads of lovely little details like these:

Wrought iron chair

Red Crocosmia

Terracotta ball

Flower pot

There are some amazing and interesting flowers and plants, too.  My ignorance of plant names and species is extensive, but I can tell you this is some kind of hydrangea.  The flowers are fascinating – like little parasols with dainty flower heads dangling from them.  I think I could have done with a bit more depth of field here (it’s probably wise not to employ me to do photography early in the morning before my brain’s booted up), but the soft pinks are rather nice.

Pink hydrangea

But my favourite shots of the day were these wonderful leaves, which had the most amazing colours in them.  No, please don’t ask me what they are – I have no idea!  I processed the two shots a bit differently, with the first one kept very soft and the second with more sharpness and saturation.  I’m not sure which one I like best; I think they both work, in different ways.

Colourful leaves

Colourful leaves 2

We’re going to try again soon, in the hope of better light next time.  The reason for all these grey skies, according to an email I got the other day, is because Summer has failed to install….

Install delayed…please wait.  Installation failed.  Please try again.
404 error: Season not found.  Season “Summer” cannot be located.  The season you are looking for might have been removed, had its name changed or is temporarily unavailable.  Please try again later……
Maybe we could install “Mediterranean Summer” instead…that would be nice.  Any techies out there?

*Alexandra is an author who writes under the name of Nina Bell.  She has four books in print, on the theme of family dramas, and you can find details of them on her website: www.ninabell.co.uk

And if you’ve ever wondered about getting to grips with Twitter, do read Alexandra’s blog post on it – it’s one of the best I’ve ever come across on telling you why you should join in and how it all works.  You can find her blog on the website link above.

Photographing bluebells

With the unseasonably hot weather we’ve had this year all the spring flowers and blossom seem to have come out at once and I feel as if I’m being pulled in all directions trying not to miss any of it.  The bluebells were out a good couple of weeks earlier than usual and although yet again I’d left it a bit late (I always seem to be scrambling at the last moment), I wasn’t going to give in without trying.

I know of a wood that’s carpeted with bluebells – a lovely place – and headed there last Sunday.  The bluebells were still blue, but that’s about all you could say for them; if you looked closely they were quite wizened and another day or two of warm weather and they’d be bluebells no more.  So my first thought was to avoid any close-ups that would reveal that they were on the way out and try to capture the haze of blue that was still there. (The creative photographer always works with what they’ve got!)

I took a few shots this way and thought I had one or two that worked but nothing exciting.  Then I had another idea: I thought I’d play around with some abstract shots.  By setting a slow shutter speed and moving the camera I aimed to get a soft, painterly effect.  It’s not a new idea, but I’ve only tried it once before and I like the way it looks.  I rather like the green haze that’s appeared in the shot below, and the way it almost seems like a double exposure.  But you’ll notice it doesn’t have any bluebells in it!

While the shot above had something about it, the next shot wasn’t nearly so successful (although it does contain bluebells).  I’d be the first to admit that it just looks too blurred to work properly – it makes my eyes go very peculiar just looking at it and is a good example of Getting it Badly Wrong.  It shows that you need something for your eye to fix and focus on even where the overall effect is very soft.  The colours are nice, though.

How NOT to do it!


Because I liked the way the colours had come out in this (if nothing else), I had another idea.

Sometimes when you finally see your photos on the computer screen you get a real thrill about how well they’ve turned out; this wasn’t one of those times.  Although the straight bluebell shots were OK at first glance, they showed a little bit of camera shake when viewed at full size.  This was probably caused by my being slightly out of breath when I took them (there was a steep climb up a hill involved) and then not using a tripod.

There are two schools of thought here.  The first says that trying to rescue a bad picture is very definitely not how you’re supposed to do things.  The serious photographer would delete the shots and try again next year.  It’s absolutely the right attitude if you’re trying to sell your shots or use them commercially and I’d be the first to agree.  But the other point of view says, if you’re not going to be asking for money for them, why not have some fun playing with them and see what you can salvage out of the whole sorry mess?  So that’s where I decided to go.

I took one of the straight shots and applied the Orton technique to it.  For those who haven’t heard of this, it’s a process where you sandwich together a sharp version and a blurred version of the same image, and it gives a soft effect that also brings out the colours.  Not only would it cover up the camera shake issue, it would disguise the less-than-juicy nature of the bluebells and make them look like the blue cloud they ought to resemble.  The result is at the top of this post and I think it works pretty well.

To let you decide for yourself, I’ve put the straight version and the Ortonised version together for comparison.  You can see in the straight version on the left that the bluebells are looking a bit thin, and the one on the right makes them look a lot richer and thicker on the ground.

In many ways this was a bad day’s shooting.  But I learned from it – I tried out a new camera technique and I had some fun with post-processing.  And next year I won’t leave it so late and I’ll catch my breath again before I start shooting.