Photography – Sometimes You Have To Work With What You Have

This post is one part anecdote -me desperately searching for sheep, cattle or horses- and one part me looking for usable frames, ending up doing a composite and a substantial crop in order to create the final image. You’ve all probably heard about ‘sky replacement’, this is about ‘sheep replacement’.


The Anecdote

If you have followed my work you know that lately I have started to develop a passion for introducing animals in my compositions. So when I and my wife went out the other day with our Border Collie ‘Nikki’, we were looking for basically any farm animal, cattle, sheep, goats….I was open for everything. Ideally, I wanted a meadow free from distractions, an open landscape if you will. As we were discussing were to go, it dawned on me that we live close to armored regiment with an enormous open exercise area, ‘Revingehed’. In an effort to keep it open, cattle have been kept there for decades, grazing freely in large numbers.

As we got there, not only did we not see any cattle, judging from the grass in the fields it seemed that they no longer were around. Now what? Close by there’s a nature preserve with meadows, my wife recalled that she had seen sheep grazing there. I recalled that I years ago had seen cattle at the very same location. Off we went….as we were approaching the meadow we met a woman with a dog.

– Excuse me, have you seen sheep or cattle in the meadow ?

– No, there’s no animals, you should be fine.

– Actually ….I’m looking for them

– Oh, I thought you wanted to avoid them because of your dog….

– No….

In the meadow and the surrounding woods, there’s a lot of beautiful mysterious trees, my wife suggested I’d shoot them. If you’ve ever done landscape or nature photography, you know it’s basically impossible to find a composition during the day unless you shoot the forest floor. The sky is simply too bright, pulling the eye away from whatever you are trying to shoot. As my wife and our dog walked away trying to find sheep or cattle, I walked around the meadow trying to do the impossible, finding a composition as the sun quickly drained my energy.

As I was about to give up and call my wife, my phone rang. It was my wife telling me that she had found another meadow with some sheep. As I know the area well, I got a rough idea were she was. It was no far away but at this point the sun really had started to get to me. Arriving at the meadow, my wife proudly pointed at a valley way too far away for my XF18mm [27 mm equivalent] declaring that ‘they were there, now they are gone but there’s two lying down right by the fence over there’.Sheep in meadow

I could have jumped the fence in order to get closer but I didn’t for two reasons, one I didn’t want to disturb them when they rested, I also wanted to respect the privacy of the people living in the house right by the sheep. At this point there was a sense of urgency, the sheep could walk away any second, and as I was shooting under an open sky on a sunny day, I could feel my brain shutting down.

Shooting And Processing

As I prefer to keep my compositions fairly vertical level, I decided to get down low and shoot through the fence, making sure to remove the high grass right in front of my lens. Achieving the right amount of motion shooting with a wide lens were the subject [sheep] is fairly small in the frame is a challenge. Too much motion and the sheep lose all definition and turns in to a blur. Not enough motion and you end up with what looks like camera shake. So I did what I always do when doing intentional camera movement photography, I varied the shutter speed with the help of the aperture.

Evaluating the exposures in Lightroom, I was not pleased with what I saw. There was one frame that I liked with the exception of the sheep, they lacked definition. I liked the overall composition and motion even though I would have preferred the sheep to be more prominent. I was a little bit too far away when taking the shot. In another frame, the sheep had just the right amount of motion, the rest did not. This is when I decided to make a composite and do a ‘sheep replacement’. After processing one frame in Lightroom and pasting the settings to the other frame, I opened them as layers in Photoshop.

Since there was s a lot of motion blur, replacing the sheep was an easy task, I quickly painted with a white soft brush to reveal them. With the help of the move tool, I carefully positioned them over the original sheep, avoiding any issues with scale. Next step, adding textures as described in ‘Intentional Camera Movement And Texture Layers’. Satisfied with the textures, I evaluated the result – as I always do – by zooming in and out repeatedly. I’ve found that when the image fills the canvas in Photoshop, it’s not possible to evaluate the composition.

Viewing the image at the approximate size of half the canvas allows me to view it from a distance so to speak. This approach has helped me numerous times, mostly when it comes to find unbalance in the luminosity, an important element of the composition. I never change the composition in the sense of the relationship between the elements i.e crop in Photoshop. If necessary I do this Lightroom but I always strive to ‘get it right in camera’ as discussed in ‘Composition – The Importance Of Practice‘. Processing this image, no matter how hard I tried balancing the composition with the help of local luminosity adjustment layers, I realized that the composition did not work, a crop was needed in order to give the sheep more prominence and to get rid of most of the sky pulling the eye out of the frame.

I used Photoshop’s crop tool, making sure ‘delete cropped pixels’ was unchecked, thus allowing me to try different crops without loosing any data. I immediately realized that I was right, the image needed a fairly substantial crop. After a couple of tries I was pleased with the outcome, the image shown here.

Conclusion ?

Sometimes you have to work with what you have. If the composition is off, crop. If you need to use multiple frames, do a composite. I stand by the logic in my previous posts mentioned here but at the same time, no one will ever like or dislike and image based on whether you ‘got it right in camera’ or not. Nor will anyone care if the shot was difficult to get, needed advanced time consuming processing or was shot with expensive equipment. And most importantly, neither will you when you look through your work a couple of years down the road.

Photo from my ‘Sketches‘ portfolio.

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