Burgundy Flowers and the Strange Art of Digital Chiaroscuro


I don’t too often write about technique for the simple reason that as a self-taught photographer, most of what I know about how to use a camera or edit photographs has been learnt from others online who can have already explained things pretty well themselves.

Recently, however, I’ve been playing around in photoshop in some ways that are new to me at least, that I thought were worth a share. I am not going to do a laborious point by point demo here (although I am thinking of making a video at some point to demo this more clearly)


My original technique starts, of course, with someone else’s idea. The great french photographer Jean-Michel Berts in one of his own training videos explains a method where you add an adjustment layer to an image and in this layer take down the brightness of the picture until it is nearly black. You then use a brush to gradually paint back the light.


This was a revelation to me as it allows me actually to control the mood and lighting in any image to an unprecedented degree. When messing around like this, I started to be influenced by the dark and contrasty pictures by the original inventors of chiaroscuro (painting with light and shadow) such as Caravaggio.


At the same time I had been experimenting with using layer modes in photoshop and this is where my own bit of special sauce is added. If you make a copy of a layer in photoshop and then change its mode to multiply, you create a very dark and contrasty version of the original which also has highly saturated colours. you can then apply a mask to this layer and start to paint it out as Berts suggests.

_dsc4913-copyIn many of my recent images, I am using this technique which I then experiment with further adding layer on layer and painting out different parts of the image. I also mix in more traditional techniques such as dodging and burning.

In the flower pictures that have filled this page, taken in Burgundy in France, it has allowed me to either create these very dark backgrounds or more subtly light the flower and shift attention away from the rest of the shot.



Borough High Street


Another work trip to London and this time I was based on Borough High Street  a bit down from London Bridge.

I’ve explored the area along the river near here many times, but the road to Southwark was new to me and even this little bit of exploration was really interesting. The street will take you all the way to Portsmouth if you keep going, and was therefore a major route into the capital lined by many coaching inns as you got closer to the heart of the city.

Today it mixes old and new with an 18th century church next to graffitied side passages.



Then, looking back towards the city, the shard knocks out the view of the church:


And then closer in, the Borough Market which somehow amidst the gastro buzz still gives a sense of how this area used to be:



Covent Garden


London’s Covent Garden Market, picturesque as it is, has got to be one of the world’s least authentic.

However, walking through it early yesterday, as the stallholders were still setting up and before most of the tourists were in place, I did get a sense of it as a real living place:



The streets around were also only just beginning to fill up:






Within the market, bustle emerged from nothing:




…until suddenly people appeared to be everywhere:


I retreated to the nearby Actors Church of St Paul with its almost deserted courtyard:



Even the local pubs were still empty:



Further afield, by Trafalgar Square,  St Martin-in-the-Fields was also so free of customers, that I shared it just with a tiny number of people at prayer and the loud snoring of an overnight rough sleeper they had let out of the cold:


Outside, though, the square itself was so busy that even death could hover without causing too much of a scene:




As my late mum’s home town, I am too close to Linz in Austria to write much of a travelogue about it. If I’m honest I would struggle to express in words the difficult mixture of my own love for these streets and the fact that the city’s most famous ex-resident, Hitler, shared my affection for the place.

He wanted to make it capital of Europe, but what I really love about it today is that it is the total opposite of that- a city which few tourists are even aware of, but which manages to mix the modern and the past with a grace that we in the UK rarely manage.

So my pictures will have to do the talking. First a grab shot from the train journey from Munich:


In Linz itself, the main square has likely barely changed in two hundred years:


Similarly the shops on the main street are modern, but the street itself and the alleys that run off it could be in Amadeus:

DSCF5373DSCF5384 DSCF5375Possibly because of my memories of Bologna, I was on the search for traditional porticos:DSCF5371DSCF5376Then as you head across the bridge to what was once the sister-city of Urfahr, you see the famous Danube:DSCF5389Then all of this 18th Century glory is broken up wonderfully by no less than a museum of future technology – Ars Electronica:DSCF5368Climbing up through Urfahr to the Postlingberg Hill, we passed a war graveyard. The last European fighting of world war 2 was here, but what made less sense was that most of the graves, including those shown here, were from the first world war and were of men from many different countries- why are they buried here- so far from any of their homes or from any of the fighting of that war?DSCF5412A bit further up we passed some old defences from the turn of the last century, long abandoned and ruined and with a scary notice warning of Tollwut- rabies:DSCF5405Finally, at the top of the hill, the church which can be seen from all over Linz- very much the symbol of the town:DSCF5396Reading up on this later, I discovered that this was also Hitler’s favourite walk- he would look down on this view and plan to knock it all down to build his mega-city:Untitled_Panorama1

A walk by the Thames

Actually it is more like two walks- I was at a meeting in London, but my train got me in early so I got the chance to look from Hungerford Bridge towards the city: SDIM0715 Then in the afternoon, my meeting ended early and with a tube station closed, I had an excuse for a bit of an explore. First round the inns of court- the curious area around Temple that always reminds me of the quads of Oxford or Cambridge: SDIM0723 SDIM0726 I have deliberately left the angles of the next picture unaltered as they came out of the camera in their full Diagon Alley glory: SDIM0727 Then after a short stretch of the river, I found myself walking into Somerset House and up this strange staircase: SDIM0730 Then into the magnificent courtyard: SDIM0734 When tourists ask for directions to Buckingham Palace I am often tempted to send them here instead- they wouldn’t end up being so disappointed! SDIM0735 Then onto the Strand with all its endless traffic: SDIM0736 Finally a glimpse of another alley leading to another walk for another day: SDIM0740