The Making of "The Struggle"
How the winning photo of the February contest was made
By 3by2 in Photo Contests on Mar 25, 2020
First of all I’d like to thank everyone who voted. The voting was pretty close and there were several images that could have won, indeed, I thought would have won. It remains something of a surprise to me to win.
The Struggle was taken in the Lake District in Cumbria, England and is a well-known minor road that goes up from Ambleside to the top of the Kirkstone pass just below 1500 feet, finishing at the third highest inn in the UK.
We were away for the week and on a particularly misty day with an hour to spare I decided to drive to the top of the Kirkstonepass via The Struggle. I was initially aiming for the atmosphere of the old quarry further up or maybe the top of the pass in the hope of getting above the mist but as I drove up the mist thickened and darkened and visibility dropped. I’d passed the view I took on the way up and had determined I would stop there again on the way down but as there was no prospect of a better view I turned around and headed back to it.
I knew as I opened my camera bag which lens I wanted to use on my Pentax K-5. I needed the compression and perspective of my D FA 100 mm to accentuate the curves of the wall and pull the road, disappearing into the mist, forward into the picture. As it happened, that lens was on the camera because I’d been looking for a similar shot previously. In fact I use that lens a lot in the landscape. I had the camera set to 100 ISO and didn’t really want to go beyond that on such a murky day so 1/125 and F5 was a compromise as I knew the beginning of the wall would not be in focus. I took the shot a few times to ensure there was no camera shake or missed focus.
I didn’t consider the post processing until back home. I know post processing isn’t something everyone enjoys but it has always been part of my photography, I enjoy it as much as taking the picture. This time though I was in unfamiliar territory, particularly as I wanted to use graduated and radial filters in Lightroom to create some light, which I’d previously explored without any success. I also knew that my more stayed approach to some Lightroom settings was probably not going to be appropriate for this image and I’d have to be bolder. In the end it took me 5 or 6 attempts over the course of a week before I got the look I wanted. Not all of it is exactly how I want it but I’ll let you guess which bits I’m not a 100% happy with.
These are the broad steps and settings used to achieve the way ‘The Struggle’ looks. I’m no Lightroom expert and am still finding my way but this is what worked for this image.
You can see from the basics tab that for this image the blacks needed to be black and the whites white. Highlights were particularly important in combination with the radial filter I used to highlight the road disappearing into the mist, explained further down. The biggest extreme here for me was the clarity slider. 48 is normally well beyond where I take it but in this case, it clearly suited the dry stone wall, arguably I could have taken it further but I figured I’d achieved the look I wanted already.
I didn’t do too much with the tone curve beyond matching the curve with the histogram to adjust the levels. Tweaking the curve too much tends to create banding in the sky or blown highlights and as this image relies heavily on that grey sky I didn’t want that happening.
The black and white mixer panel was mainly used whilst I was looking at the grass, bracken and the road to blend them to the right shade. Again, too far on these mixers will create artefacts and banding so you need to zoom in to 100% and look at the affected areas in detail to see that that hasn’t happened.
Noise was key in this image and the reason I’d originally kept the ISO low. Working with Lightroomfilters as I did meant that it was critical to keep the sky in particular noise free and smoothly graduated without compromising the sharpness of the drystone wall detail.
So now for the use of the radial and graduated filters I needed to create the light that wasn’t there when I took the picture because I wanted to highlight that part of the road disappearing into the mist and the biggest tool in that process was the radial filter. It took some time to determine the best size and position for that before altering the exposure to highlight the key part of the image.
The radial filter didn’t create a completely even effect in the sky so it was also necessary to use a graduated filter to graduate the top of the sky into the radially filtered area.
Finally, though it’s not possible to show all the detail, I used the adjustment brush painted in in several places, to either, lighten, darken or adjust the clarity of particular features or areas, like the trees. This was necessary to counteract some of the effects of the radial and graduated filter and even up the image in places.
And this was the image as I took it. You can see all the elements are all there and what you can see more plainly are the grass and bracken whose shades I altered with the black and white mixer: