The Story of a Photo – Langdale Valley

The Langdale Valley

In March 2014, I did a day trip to the UK lake District. That may not seem unusual, but I live near Gatwick Airport, in the south of England. It is a long drive and I wouldn’t want to do a drive, a photo-hike, and then the return drive in a single day. It would not be fun and that much driving might be dangerous. So I do these crazy trips by train.

What does that involve? Here’s my itinerary:

  • 04:00 – Train from Gatwick Airport to London Victoria
  • 05:00 – Taxi to London Euston
  • 05:30 -Ttrain to Oxenholme
  • 08:45 – Train to Windermere, in the southern Lake District
  • 09:30 – 555 bus to my destination
  • 10:30 – Photography hike
  • 18:00 – Bus back to Windermere
  • 19:00 – Train to Oxenholme
  • 20:30 – Train to London Euston
  • 23:30 – London Underground train to Victoria
  • 00:00 – Train home
  • 01:30 – Arrive home and go to bed

It may seem extreme, but the West Coast railway is a very comfortable and fast way to get to the Lakes. If you can afford it, go First Class. It’s reasonably priced if you book up to 13 weeks in advance – breakfast and unlimited tea/coffee on the way up and sandwiches plus wine/beer/spirits on the way back. And so comfortable…

Today, my destination was Grasmere, in the heart of Lakeland. My aim was to ascend the small peak of Silver How, do a ridge walk to Blea Rigg, in the Langdale area, descend to Easedale Tarn and walk back to Grasmere. This is the route:

Grasmere route

Grasmere to Easedale Tarn walk

On paper, this is not challenging. It’s only 6 miles and ascends less than 1,800 feet. A good hiker would view this as just a stage in a day’s hike.

I’m not a good hiker, and this was different. This was a photo-hike. There are constant stops to survey and photograph the views. If I see a good view, then it’s time to get off the path and find the right angle. I typically take twice as long as a hiker might. I wasn’t particularly well that day. But I had planned the trip, and I purchased the train tickets long in advance. I would not let that stop me. But it would be fair to say that progress was slow, and by the time I had reached the summit of Silver How I was questioning my judgment and felt like going home.

Then I saw the view.

On the journey up, the weather was horrible. The light was dull and the rain discouraging. What I feared the most was low, featureless clouds. I don’t understand why hikers ascend into the clouds and see nothing. But for a photographer to do that would be insanity.

But today, everything worked out. The clouds were dramatic and sitting just above the highest peaks. And there was a sliver of snow on those peaks! I don’t think I could have designed it any better.

As I left the peak of Silver How and headed into Langdale along the northern ridge of the Langdale Valley, my photography instincts made me change lenses. The view was big, and I wanted to capture it as it looked. A wide-angle lens would have made the background too small and remote. A telephoto would have excluded the valley edges. So I put a standard lens on the camera. Standard lenses have the same angle of view as the human eye (approximately) and, being very simple lenses, are ultra sharp.

As I walked along the ridge, I saw a perfect view before me and, at the place I considered ideal, I took but a single picture. The composition was easy. A view like this just takes itself, and I was happy to be in the right place at the right time.

Later, when i viewed the picture on screen, it didn’t look special. But I keep my camera settings very neutral – low contrast and low saturation. I had read that this allowed the camera’s histogram to best show the correct exposure. I don’t know if that is actually true, but it’s what I did in those days. In any case, I knew with the correct adjustments, the picture would look great.

The RAW Picture

Here’s the original picture. Click on it to see it full size.

Processing it

My first port of call, when processing any RAW image, is DXO Photo Lab. Over the years, I’ve used many RAW Converters. Lightroom, Photo Ninja, Luminar (various versions), but DXO remains my first choice. Even if I plan to use another tool to complete the processing, DXO is the first step.

Initially, I processed the image in DXO to:

  • Correct the colour cast
  • Remove any noise, distortion, and chromatic aberrations
  • Apply the smartest RAW processing sharpening available

In my experience, DXO performs these steps at least as well as, and usually better, than any other tool. And no other tool comes near to providing all these features in one package.

I saved the processed result as a DNG, to allow me to use other RAW converters if I wanted to.

Here are some comparison images of the original RAW image and the DXO DNG:

The differences between the images is clear – DXO’s colour balance and sharpness is self-evidently better.

ClearView

I tried processing the DNG in Luminar Neo, but couldn’t get the colour balance right in it. So, it’s back to DXO.

DXO doesn’t have many ‘AI’ tools, which seems to be the in buzzword at the moment, but it has ClearView and this tool is one of the best photo enhancement filters I’ve ever seen. Combined with DXO’s Smart Lighting, it is the simplest way to enhance a photo without introducing noise and unwanted artefacts. DXO provides targeted colour enhancements as well, which was what this image needed.

I used the following DXO enhancements, besides the initial RAW processing:

  • ClearView
  • Smart Lighting
  • Saturate yellows and greens
  • Desaturate and darken blues

This is the result:

The Langdale Valley

The Finished Photo

Final Touches

My usual workflow ends with using Topaz Sharpen AI to add a bit more punch to the photo. However, I’m now using Topaz Photo AI, which combines Sharpen AI, DeNoise AI and Gigapixel AI (its image upscaling product), with it automatically determining the optimum settings. For this image, it recommended a touch of extra noise reduction and some sharpening. It produced a subtly improved image, which also shows how good the DXO result was:

 

Final words…

The UK Lake District is a photographer’s dream. If you get a chance to visit it, even for just a day, don’t hesitate. Go! Take a walk in the fells with camera in hand and you may come back with your best selling photo, as I did back in March 2014.

I’ve done day trips to Lakeland many times, but this one was the most memorable.

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