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Behind the image: monumental poplars

I’ve passed this bit of woodland many times, but rarely without photographing it. It stands beside the voie verte (greenway) that runs for 70-plus kilometres from the Normandy town of Domfront to Mont St Michel.

The mood of the woodland changes completely according to the lighting. On this particular day the trees looked to me like monumental structures, as though placed in celebration, commemoration or warning.

The image was shot on my Nikon D800 with the 24-70mm lens set to 32mm. I tried going a little wider – right out to 24mm – but that proved unworkable for two reasons. It introduced some nearby bushes into the frame that were distracting and it reduced the size and impact of the nearest tree.

The solution to that would have been to move closer, but that was tricky. The shot was taken from the verge of the voie verte at the top of a steep bank choked with brambles. This is as near as I could get without going into the field itself (which would have been too close).

The original colour version of the image is pleasant enough but, for me, didn’t sufficiently emphasise that monumental feeling. And it’s strange how often I find that green is a distracting colour in landscape images!

So I shifted it to black and white, boosting the clarity and (to some extent) the contrast settings. I also darkened the sky by reducing the luminance of the blue tones. This had an odd effect in the areas of foliage, resembling solarisation. In most images this would bother me and I would haul back on the modifications to prevent it. In this case, however, I’d already decided to ignore realism (whatever that is*) and go for a graphic effect. The solarisation actually adds to the dream-like quality.

This is one of the images I’m showing as 120x80cm prints at my exhibition, L’Esprit Insolite.

(* As it happens, ‘Approaches to realism’ was the title of my final-year dissertation. After all these years, I’m still not sure I have a full grasp on what it means.)

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