Mist and Crop Circles (Negative Practice Part 1) | Project Development | Surfaces and Strategies |

This idea wasn’t originally a part of my Project Proposal, however looking at Richard Mosses – Infra Series I thought it would be a good opportunity to experiment with what i’d like to call the basics of photo manipulation which is outside the ‘norm’ of retouching which is viewing a photo in its negative form. Whilst it is the default view for any picture taken on a analog camera when looking at the physical roll of film, I think it can often be easily overlooked the way in which it can make a picture look surreal and interestingly  different as it is quite literally the opposite to the way we views things colour wise. Therefor I wanted to experiment with using the negative as an art form rather than just a stage of the photo similar to the works of Dan Holdsworths – Blackout.

The view from my room is looking over Solsbury Hill, now this is hill is not just any hill…

“History
Solsbury Hill was occupied as a hill fort during the early Iron Age, between 300BC and 100BC, one of the southernmost of fortifications across the Cotswolds. During this time huts were built from timber and wattle and daub. A 20 foot wide rampart was constructed around the settlement, flanked on both sides by dry stone walls. In a previous times there were tales of a temple on the top to Bladud, the legendary king of the Britons and also that the visible remains were of a Saxon fort used in the siege of Bath in 577 AD. However, archaeological excavations suggest that the site was occupied from about 500 to 100 BC with up to 30 huts in occupation at any one time. Possibly the huts were then burnt down and the rest of the settlement destroyed and abandoned.
In later history, Little Solsbury Hill is a possible site of the Battle of Badon, fought in around 496AD between the Saxons and the British. There is also evidence of medieval field systems on the hill top.
The site has a past history of agricultural use. Barley was gown on the summit at the end of the eighteenth century and the hill was still under cultivation well into the nineteenth century.
The National Trust owns the top plateaux, following a generous donation from the Hicks family in 1930.” – Source

Peter Gabriel was also inspired to write a song about it and there was once a protest to stop it from having a bypass built through it and the event was photographed by Adrian Arbib who managed to capture some interesting happenings. More can be read about it here.

I’ve seen this hill in all forms of weather – rain, thunderstorms and my favourite mist/fog. Why is that my favourite? Because it disappears completely. It makes my view great, but after seeing it regularly across the 365 days, having it suddenly gone makes an interesting change of scenery. A couple of weeks back, this was happening for up to 3 days in a row which was rare. Now i’ve been up that hill in these 3 forms of weather before and whilst up there you receive a calming sense of nothingness where you are forced to escape. This is due to the fact that when you are near middle of the hill, there is nothing much to see but a vast landscape of emptiness, it’s so big that the edges almost come out of your own frame. Add the fog and this emptiness is amplified immensely, any view of the city surrounding you is gone. I had only experienced being up there with the fog once, and as I was staring out the window into the emptiness, I knew this was my opportunities to escape for the second time.

It was in the evening, but when this plan had sprung to mind, I didn’t want to risk missing this fog if it was the last day of it being here. So I set out and started to take photos of the landscape.

Here is shoot number 1…

Luckily, the next day was stilly foggy, I headed up again, this time earlier and got some of the white fog for shoot number 2…

Now with the fog captured, I thought to myself, if this was negative, this white would be complete darkness, adding a whole new type of emptiness to the image.

And so I started off with the trees as I thought that would be a good place to start. I inverted the images colours and then added a gradient tool to bing it to black and white. After tweaking the exposure I found that the curves tool was the place to experiment with the darks and lights of the negative…

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The result ended up being 3 different shades of grey. I quickly discovered that the fog enabled this kind of variation.

I next wanted to replicate Borut Peterlins – Wet Plate Collodion photography in the morning at 4C (39F) which inspired me to try the half negative image…

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I first had to copy one half of the image using the selection tool…

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Then once pasting it over the right side of the image, I would enhance the background layer to bring it up to scratch then invert the pasted half of the image separately.

This is how it looks before adding the black and white gradient tool…

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Every negative outcome I made that I was happy with I would save to apply later, it progressed as I went on…

My second experiment was to change the colours…

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After inverting this image, I would adjust the colour balance to give it some tone…

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I experimented with the vibrance levels to get a dark red sky, leaving a rather sinister look…

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Finally, I adjusted the hue to change the overall colour just a little…

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One interesting fact I found out about the invert is if you place the opacity to 50% you  are left with nothing but grey…

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I next wanted to further see what I could do with the curves tool, and so I added an additional curves layer and went to work on another image…

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What this did surprised me, I was able to get the negative to only display in the foreground…

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I also applied the gradient over the new selection of layers…

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And then further continued applying the layers to selected photos, beginning with the first layer of curves…

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Then applying the second…

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Very interesting how the negative only attached to the foreground, it is very apparent in this image as it almost looks as if I had cut a line between the background and the foreground hill. A mysterious out of this world look is beginning to form…

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When in black and white, I especially enjoyed the texture it would give the land, difference between the background and foreground is made more subtle, but still apparent enough to make a change and give the viewer something to question.

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Here we see the negative latching onto the hill again, but this time it bleeds across onto the background more to the right…

And even more so in this one…

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Again the effects becomes more untraceable when switched to black and white…

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And it bleeds even more in this one, discovering that the negative is essentially set half way up the photo, but attaches to certain aspects of the photo. As you can tell, the negative chooses to continue up through the trees which runs past the cut off point of the fields in the background. I did not make this choice, it has happened mysteriously through the software.

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This upward ‘half’ effect I did like, but I wanted to make sure I don’t shy away completely from the full negative effect, the exposure is much less brutal when just applying the single curve layer.

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And the single negative layer had benefits to it that I still waited to be discovered.

Up Solsbury Hill, as you would imagine there are occasionally people up there – dog walkers, runners etc… But I emphasise the word occasionally, as the hill is so vast, you often will be seeing someone very far away. I try to capture this at any given moment.

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Into…

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As you can see, the negative makes the figure stand out to be more eye capturing by in a way, highlighting it. It also adds a ghost like vibe, as if this image was captured with some sort of X-ray, sonar or infra camera.

As a side note, X-ray photography has in fact been a used as an art form. Whilst I definitely don’t have the means to any kind of X-ray machinery, fascinating images can be captured. And example of this is explained by an X-ray photographer named Nick Veasey

Without anyone in the photo, I went for the half cut and quarter cut landscape. I felt the black and white negative starts to make the landscape look like it is from another planet. This ever so slightly reminded me of the work of Henri Bureaus – 1981, 2nd prize singles, Spot News smoke shots composition.

Here is the layer against and image where it is just the trees in frame…

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It reminded me of something through a microscope, or that of a cyanotype. In fact so much, that I attempted to make it one of my own, not quite a cyanotype but I tried…

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I was with my brother at the time of shoot 1, and so I included him in this photograph below and went for the vertical half negative again, I slowly realised I wasn’t warming to the negatives left with there colour, I think it makes the photo look too unrealistic and artificial as opposed to a black and white one. I found it difficult to play with the colours, and I am yet to know how to change each colour section of the image individually, this is something I will have to learn when attempting to replicate the infrared in the near future.

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During my time up there I discovered that there was a kind of crop circle looking thing built into the grass at the edge of the hill, as I hadn’t been up there for a while, this was completely new to me…

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Whilst shooting, I decided to vlog my time up at Solsbury Hill, there was something ghostly on the footage, feel free to watch here

I tested out just using the half upward negative layers alone against one of the circle images, I wasn’t a fan as the photo lost quality and it didn’t look believable, but it did create an interesting effect to the sky. It looked like a dark red stormy cloud above…

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By this point I have made my decision that I wanted to stick to black and white for the rest of the negative edits. I felt it created more realism to the actual photograph whilst at the same time making the landscape look ether supernatural or from another world.

After a few tweaks of the brightness and contrast levels, here are some of the first results of the pattern…

This was now heading to what I had wanted to achieve. Not only is the background faded into darkness, but the stumbled across pattern is enhanced with the negative effect causing it to light up clearly, adding mystery and an extraterrestrial atmosphere.

I could get two effects from the multiple layers I had created by switching the inverting layer alone, here they are compared side by side…

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As you might notice, the last photo is a darker negative, this is because I made third darker set of layers which I could invert, this enable a darker dark and a harsher light.

When just snapping the landscape, it still to me it looks as if it were taken on another planet. The moon perhaps, being shot by a rover by the dark sky representing space and the texture now looks as if it were rock, or vice versa being on a planet close to a sun…

I wanted to put the comparisons between the two inverts in a different way, similar to the works of Victoria Siemer

I like the way in the first image the line of the horizons line up together…

The effects could also trigger an item such as a rock or a log to look something more unidentifiable…

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I used these negative layers created against more encounter with people in the distance in shoot 1. This small collection of shots where shot with the flash on as I wanted to see if the rain drops captured would create any drastic effects after the negative is applied…

To my surprise, the edit forms a sort of glowing layer around the edge of the hill and figure in the distance. The rain acts as a natural bokeh effect, I went ahead and applied the darker invert after…

Then, making use of the edits I had created, I applied them to a ghostly image of a stranger I was happy to have captured at the beginning of shoot 2…

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The mist really goes to work to add a mysterious atmosphere and again bring a ghost personality to the figure in the background, I was happy with the different results, it makes me really want to return back to the area for a third shoot and do a controlled portrait shoot now with the knowledge of how they will turn out with the negative layers attached, I believe I could get very creative with the silhouettes that could be formed…

Finally I applied the methods I had learnt to the images of the trees I took. These had to be some of my favourites as the half upwards negative edits combined with the fog left me able to get a result I was not prepared for…

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It’s as if a light was emerging from the lower centre of the tree. Like veins, running through the human body. I expected it to look interesting, but this was far greater than I had presumed. I was truly grateful to have had this weather enabling this experience to happen. Not only was I pleased with the overall results. This mini project was required for me to get a glimpse of the variety that can be created with what our cameras have captured. As always the editing process had many learning curves, but this was different, I felt free to experiment. Unrestricted from the typical “norm” required to make a photo look acceptable. I’ve picked a valuable tool from this that I can contribute to my upcoming shoots in the future. And as i’ve stated, I wish to try this out again, this time having a controlled portrait subject.

Thanks.

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Additional.

Before I tried any of this, it’s worth noting that I attempted a test edit whilst in Thailand of an image I took late at night of three bikers. I tried to edit it in the style of night vision. Here was the result, I purposely made it grainy and gave it a white vignette, giving me the idea of it being viewed through the eye of a nocturnal creature

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For one of my repeat shots in my work in progress portfolio, I attempted my first negative, I had some strong shadows to work with here, including the subjects shadow that ended up reminding me of a robot. I really enjoyed the detail that shown through after adjusting the light levels…

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I also encountered a moment in the mist when on an evening walk where there was a street lamp lighting up the mist and a telephone pole dividing the light beams. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera on me so this is just a iPhone camera shot.

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The negative result isn’t as detailed as when using the sir, but it is just as eery…

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