This next “In Focus” covers an image captured over a period of a few weeks, with some serious detective work involved. Now, I can’t take the credit for the detective work, and have to take my hat off to my photography buddy, Mike. This field of poppies is viewable from quite a distance, but the part that’s not easily visible is the access! Well, not to be put off, Mike got in touch with the local council, who put him in touch with the county councils, who gave him the number for… Many phone calls and emails later, Mike had the contact number for the manager of the farm that this field forms a part of.
To explain a little about UK farming… Certain pesticides used to be used to eradicate weeds etc from crop fields. In our ever-increasing desire for “cleaner” foods, pesticides are used less and less as are the chemical delivery methods. Think back to the last time you saw an airborne crop sprayer? These days, you often see early flowering wild plants, such as poppies, growing among later harvesting crops such as barley and wheat.
Now, a poppy, despite it’s beautiful shape and colour, is often viewed as a weed by a farmer – and our farmer was fairly new in his job, and was uncertain of letting us advertise his “field of weeds”. We struck the agreement that he would grant us access to his field, as long as we didn’t advertise the farm it was part of or giveaway the location – now that’s a deal I can shake on!!
So, we have permission – but how do we get in? That turned out to be via a gated entrance that gets locked without warning, and then scrambling up a virtually sheer mud bank to then fight our way through a hedge. This wasn’t easily done, especially with a fully loaded camera bag and tripod on your back.
Now all we needed was some decent weather, and preferably before the poppies started to turn for the worse. After the usual checking of various weather forecasts, a date was set and we headed off.
Having safely made it into the field, we stopped to take in the view. This wasn’t any artistic viewing, or consideration of compositions, this was just a “wow” moment when we saw the field of poppies before us! We experimented with various compositions, and waited for the sunset. Nothing happened, no interesting sky, no colour, no nothing, just a few clouds… We had some pleasing images but felt a little disappointed, so we packed up and headed back to the cars vowing to return. This is when we discovered that clambering up a virtually sheer mud bank was a breeze compared to scrambling down the same bank, in the dark!!
We agreed to return, so decided to keep all eyes on all weather forecasts and reconvene soon – very soon! Finally, we saw a window of opportunity and made plans. On arrival, the sky looked better, much better! The mud bank was almost skipped up in anticipation as we headed into the field.
Having tried various landscape compositions (as in with the camera in landscape orientation, or horizontal), I switched to portrait aspect, or vertical. It seems that as my style develops, I shoot more and more in portrait mode – I don’t know why, I just find vertical aspect images more pleasing at the moment.
I had this image in my head of the setting sun highlighting the colour of the poppies, but I needed a few more elements to make the image work. These extra elements also needed to be subtle, to keep the viewer focused (pun intended) on the poppies and sunset.
After some time scrabbling around on my knees, I saw my extra elements – barley heads, mixed in with the poppies, and pointing up towards the setting sun. Not only were these subtle, they also acted as lead-in lines to draw the viewer up from the poppies to the setting sun.
To highlight the poppies as desired, I really needed to darken the sun/horizon as much as possible. This would have the effect on my camera’s meter reading of increasing the foreground exposure further, which should bring the poppies alive with light while keeping the sky correctly exposed. I already had all my Neutral Density Graduated filters attached, but the horizon was still too bright – this can be an “issue” with Grad filters, as the part that sits on the horizon is virtually clear, which doesn’t help calm a burning sun! So what to do…
Having removed all the filters, I reattached the 0.9 (3-stop) Graduated filter, which nicely balanced the top of the sky. By adding any further Grads, I was darkening the top of the sky too much, but not darkening the horizon at all due to the clear part of the filter. So, I took my 0.3 (1-stop) Graduated filter, turned it upside down, and slid this in so that the clear part was at the top of the frame, and the darkest section was positioned on the horizon. When doing this, filter positioning is critical as an inverted filter wrongly positioned by just a few millimeters can have disastrous effects on the resulting image, casting thick dark lines in the wrong place.
I could see in the viewfinder exactly the image I had mentally pictured; glowing poppies, colourful sky, subtle lead-ins. Having rechecked focusing, aperture selection, filter placement, sun position, cloud position, frame edges (always check the edges for unwanted distractions!), I realised I was holding my breath! Something I often do when I know I’ve got a good image waiting to be captured!! A gentle squeeze on the cable release, the timer delay seems an eternity, the mirror swings up, more delay, the shutter opens, one second passes, the shutter closes and up pops an image on the LCD – and out slips a “woo hoo” from the photographer (I shan’t mention the comment made by Mike when he saw the LCD, it’s unrepeatable on here!!).
Exposure information: 1 second at f/22, ISO100
When working on the computer, I often look at my images several times before processing them, as I tend to be fairy brutal with the delete button and only retain real “keepers” (I’ve never understood why some photographers keep bad images; Photoshop CS27 isn’t going to make it good!). This was one of those rare occasions when I processed this image that same evening, and uploaded it to Alamy the image library, and sent out emails to local magazines. I’m glad I did, as Dorset magazine took it straight away, and it featured on the front cover of the very next issue!!
Prints of this image are available from my website.