The Turf Fen Wind Pump with lightning photograph was included with some other pictures in an Edmonton Camera Club competition last week. This was the digital image of the year competition so it was a tough encounter. The Turf Fen Wind Pump had not received top marks on it’s original outing but I decided to give it another airing. My other pictures were knocked out in the first round but of the original 98, the Turf Fen photograph was chosen in the top 15. It was then in the top 7, then the top 3 … but that was as far as it got.
Nonetheless, These were the top entries from a full year of camera club competition so I’m not too disappointed. In the end, although the judge applies appropriate criteria when assessing each picture, there is an element of personal choice. Many pictures from people I consider to be proper photographers didn’t go as far. The other two pictures in the last round were by Andrew Ridley who is an extraordinary designer and photographer. His personal gallery is here.
All of the pictures are clickable to see a larger version.
Photograph of the Turf Fen Wind Pump
What of the photograph. It is night and the wind pump is a near silhouette against a threatening sky. There is low purple cloud cover and swirling cloud shapes to the left of the Wind Pump. To the right, a shaft of lightning brightens the scene like veins in a bruise. The long exposure has smoothed the water to give a silky reflection of the Wind Pump tower and sails in the River Ant. It is quiet and still apart from the primal energy of the lightning, a little way off, but still dangerous.
The judge praised the colouring and authenticity of the lightning and the visible effect it had on other elements of the scene. Perhaps “praised” is too strong a word 🙂
Capturing the Lightning in the Image
I was staying for a week on a Norfolk Broads cruiser. The boat was moored late afternoon by Turf Fen Wind Pump hoping for a nice sunset. While it was still quite light I noticed a thunderstorm in the distance – terribly flat Norfolk, you can see for miles. I set up the tripod on the bank with the aim of taking some long exposures in the hope of capturing some lightning. At first this needed a neutral density filter to extend the exposure time. As it got darker the NDs became redundant and exposure’s of several minutes became possible. I confess there was a bit of trial end error involved with the exposure as the light faded.
Opening the shutter for several minutes meant that there was the potential for several flashes of lightning in one shot. Unfortunately, I didn’t really know what had been captured until the frames were examined. Despite the storm in the distance, it was dry on the river bank until it got quite dark. The lightning became more spectacular as the storm got closer and it began to rain.
Choosing the Picture
Some of the exposures recorded really wild flashes of lightning but I decided they failed to contribute to a pleasing composition. Long travelling horizontal flashes are sometimes called Spider Lightning and although spectacular, were abandoned early. Another version gave me a short cloud-to-ground strike to the left of the Wind Pump. This looked as though it was responsible for the glow in the distance. I’m assuming that the light you can see in that picture is the glow from a major town. It may well be Norwich but my geographical intelligence is peppered with significant stretches of ignorance. Despite the happy coincidence of the lightning being connected to the town glow, I still thought it was a weak composition.
The version I eventually choose is less spectacular but the lightning is much better placed. It is close enough so that part of it could be reflected in the river. The shape is interesting in that it is mostly cloud-to-ground lightning but some of the of the forks flash to the air. I really liked the shape of the lightning strike although it wasn’t as breathtaking as other pictures. It was chosen as having the best composition.
Processing the Picture of Turf Fen
The first problem was dealing with the raindrops which had landed during the long exposure and obscured some of the details. You can see the problem in the picture on the left. Fortunately I was able to sample a part of another picture to restore the detail. Tonality needed a bit of adjustment to make it work but it worked well enough in the end. The long exposure hadn’t left the water completely smooth and there were some streaks to be removed, also the handily placed bright yellow warning marker had to go.
The last major change was to clone some greenery over the highlights on the left of the Wind Pump. The brightness tended to draw the eye and added a complication to the story that was unnecessary. It was content aware fill and cloning from other bushes in the picture, some of which have been cropped out. I even remembered to try to match the reflection. A gradient filter was applied over he water to bring out some detail and bring up the exposure a little to emulate the sky.
I even tried a mono version but decided the muted night time colours were best.
Finishing the process
Finally a decision was needed on cropping. I quite liked the width you can see in the “alternative shot” above but decided something tighter was needed. I cropped the extra space on the right hand side and eventually settled on an almost square format. The vertical lines of the golden ratio pass through the cross of the Wind Pump sails and also bisect the lightning fork.
Thanks for looking – questions and comments welcome.