It goes without saying that photographers love images. But it can sometimes be frustrating to come across an interesting photograph that has nothing more than the photographer's name and a brief caption. Numerous questions immediately leap to mind: What was the photographer's inspiration? What camera and lens did he or she use? Why that viewpoint? What time of day was the picture taken, and were any filters used? What about post-processing? What did the photographer think of the end result?
Every week or so, I will be posting one of my photographs on this blog, along with some background and detail that will aim to answer such questions. If nothing else, it will be a useful exercise that will make me analyse my photography process more thoroughly – but I also hope that you'll find the extra insight useful. I would welcome your comments and feedback – what you like or dislike, as well as suggestions for how you would have tackled each subject differently. Images are our first love. But words are important too!
To kick things off, here's a shot of Broadway Tower, one of the most iconic (and well photographed) landmarks in the Cotswolds. The brainchild of the 18th Century landscape designer, Capability Brown, it was built in 1798 on top of a 312m-high escarpment in Worcestershire, with views of up to 16 counties on a clear day! The tower's eccentric architecture includes turrets, battlements and gargoyles.
Assessing the location
I arrived in the late afternoon on a sunny day in late April. Broadway Tower is so well known in the Cotswolds that, even with a small amount of online research, you'll be inundated with 'picture-postcard' views in perfect lighting. I'm all for researching photography locations before visiting, but sometimes I feel it can make you 'blinkered' to other, more imaginative and unusual approaches. Broadway Tower was a case in point. I had in mind a view I had seen online of a drystone wall snaking through fields, with a footpath leading to a gate and on up to the tower. It was a good, balanced composition – the footpath providing an ideal 'leading line' to the focal point of the tower, while the drystone wall helped to divide the frame into thirds. Here are the shots I took:
As you can see, they're nothing special. I was left wanting. This side of the tower was probably more suited to an early morning, rather than late afternoon, shoot, and I was also a week or so too early – cowslips and May blossom would have given the scene a much-needed lift.
Looking for details
When the wider view isn't working for me, I often switch to a telephoto lens (in this case, a 70-300mm) and get closer, looking for details. Broadway Tower has lots to zoom in on – whether your attention is caught by the gargoyles leering from the turrets, or you want to capture the simple symmetry of the architecture.
It's always worth taking a few details – the process of building a well-rounded portfolio (that tells a story and is more appealing to picture editors) relies on a good mixture of shots.
Back to the beginning
Having taken the details above, I started to walk back towards the carpark, making a mental note that I'd return later in the spring when the fields and hedgerows would be more colourful. That's when I noticed the four trees either side of the main path leading to the tower. By now it was around 6pm and the early evening sun was casting rakish shadows of the branches across the ground. I walked past the trees and turned round to look back at the tower. Strange how I'd completely missed the potential of this composition when I'd first arrived! Looking at it now, however, I realised that, in this lovely light, the four trees could hold the composition, framing a much more diminutive Broadway Tower in the distance.
To emphasise the effect, I switched back to a wide-angle lens (16-35mm), zoomed out to 28mm and set my camera (a Canon EOS 6D) to ISO 100, f11 and 1/60s for the photograph shown above. I like the symmetry, and the fact that the footpath was visible (enabling viewers to 'walk into' the scene) – but it lacks drama.
Widening the focal length to 19mm, I also lowered the tripod to about 30cm off the ground and tilted the camera up slightly to exaggerated the trees 'leaning in' over the tower. Switching to Live View mode, I checked that the camera was level (using the on-screen spirit level) and also switched on the grid to check that I had the tower dead centre. I also added a 0.6 ND hard-graduated filter to darken the sky, adding mood to the trees but leaving the tower as a brightly lit 'beacon' at the end of the 'tunnel' of branches. The exposure was ISO 100, f22 and 0.4s.
In post-processing, I corrected the slight lean to the tower that had been caused by using the wide-angle lens and low viewpoint. The resultant crop meant I lost some of the base of the tree to the left – in hindsight I should have allowed more space around the trees to allow for this. Other RAW processing tweaks in Lightroom included a touch of saturation and vibrance (no more than 10%), plus a little bit of extra temperature (warmth) added to the tower using a feathered brush.
I hope you've enjoyed this little 'behind-the-scenes' photography workshop at Broadway Tower in the Cotswolds. Please visit again soon to see more posts like this. I'd also love to hear what you think. In the meantime, happy photography!
Join me on a Cotswolds Photography Workshop to photograph Broadway Tower and other well-known and hidden landscapes in this beautiful part of England.