Creating Classical Landscapes via digital techniques

The Japanese Garden, Tatton Park, England
The Japanese Garden, Tatton Park, England

Here in the UK, we had an Indian Summer over the last week or so. A bright, low September sun combined with the beginning of autumn foliage was something I have wanted to photograph for some time. The combination would give me the same colour palette as some of the great British landscape painters (e.g Constable’s The Hay Wain).

The photo above is the result. Click on the photo to see a larger version (1200×800).

This treatment took almost no time to create. Almost no post processing was performed other than a simple HDR pass. Here’s what I did…

Step 1: Three Photo bracket

3 Image Bracket, 0.7EV apart, shot with Sony Alpha A500
3 Image Bracket, 0.7EV apart, shot with Sony Alpha A500

The 3 photo bracket was taken using -07EV, 0EV and +0.7EV. The shot was timed close to sunset after a particulalry hot day (in fact, the hottest on record for an English September day!).  As there was so much available light, I shot hand held.

Step 2: Process the 3 photos via HDR

The key to getting the painterly texture  effect is structure (if you use HDR EFEX Pro), also known as micro contrast (if you use Photomatix).

Actual size view, showing the effect of structure
Actual size view, showing the effect of structure

I set structure to maximum to bring out the leaf textures and start making them resemble small paint daubs. To work well, the effect requires strong directional light in the original shots.

Step 3: Edit for composition in Lightroom

The 3 shotscombined into a single HDR image
The 3 shotscombined into a single HDR image

Here’s the photo after HDR. I particularly like the way that the long grass in the foreground looks realistic, but the farther away we get, the more painterly the photo becomes.  Unfortunately, There is no balance to the photo: we need to do something to add a feeling of composition.

To add balance and composition, I cropped such that the foreground grass, the lily pond, and far shore conform loosely to a horizontal rule of thirds.

Defining composition
Defining composition

That on its own was not enough though. The foreground grass was too overpowering n colour and brightness. To fix this, I darkened and slightly desaturated the lowest third of the photo via a graduated filter (graduated filters are not just for skies!).

Finally, I increased the effects of HDR structure further by sharpened the photo, removed some of the more obvious HDR Halos around the far treeline, and reduced the purple channet to zero (to get rid of any chromatic abberation around the tree line: increasing structure also increases the visibility of chromatic abberation).

Finished!

Conclusion

What I really like about this photo is that it was so quick and easy. No Photoshop, and almost no Lightroom. The whole effect was created in HDR EFEX Pro, and the entire post processing was done in about the same time it took for you to read this article. Cool!