Here’s a scene I have wanted to share for a long time but have never been able to decide which of two versions is best.
What I think that really tells me is that neither is quite right, but it’s time I just shared the photos and talked through my thoughts.
The scene is of an early November morning in the deer park at Knole, a National Trust property in Kent. After a glorious foggy morning spent here a month earlier, I had another chance to get out with the cameras and the forecast was again for fog. Great!
Arriving a little later than intended, I did capture a bit of fog around sunrise, though it wasn’t as dense and atmospheric as my previous visit, nor did it hang around for very long.
With the fog lifting, I moved from my low position down in The Gallops (the small valley today’s photo looks onto) and began making my way up the side towards the woodland. After nearly stumbling into a very relaxed deer among the shrubbery and then taking a bunch of photos as it grazed, I noticed the view looking back onto the Gallops and decided to photograph it.
Looking through all my images from the morning, I had been using the GFX 50S while photographing the deer, with the Pentax Takumar 85mm F1.8 offering a lovely shallow depth of field.
It seems I then switched to my X-T3 with the 50-140mm F2.8 when taking the valley scene. I don’t quite remember why, but probably some mix of wanting a little more reach—the 85mm on the GFX sensor works out slightly shorter than the 50-140mm at 50mm on the X-T3: 67mm to 75mm full-frame equivalents—and not having the confidence in the vintage Pentax for landscape work yet, as it was still new to me.
Choosing a composition
I’m pretty clear now that the version of this image with the foreground tree and leaves framing a little on the top left and right-hand sides is my favourite, but for a long time I tied myself in knots over whether the leaves at the top were too messy or the tree trunk on the right is too distracting.
The version without these foreground ‘distractions’ is certainly a cleaner image, though its necessarily-slightly-different composition does also change the focus more onto the trees than the overall scene, I think.
The leaves poking in from the top left on my chosen version are a little messy and it would probably be better if they didn’t cross into the trees behind. I do prefer the sense of depth and of closeness the foreground elements provide though.
This version I think provides more context: that I’m standing among trees on one side of the valley, looking through the leaves across at the scene on the other side.
The other thing I prefer in my selected version is that more of the lower hillside is included, so you get the light catching the grass on the folds in the ground, again giving a better sense of depth. The tips of some trees at the bottom of the frame also help to, well, frame the scene, even if it’s not great that it is just the tips of those trees included.
In summary, this is an image that does more for me than it probably does other viewers. I really enjoy it, even as I regret not spending more time in the field getting the composition right in-camera (how often do I say that?).
I miss not being able to pop down to Knole and Scotney Castle these days, having moved to the other end of the country, but I hope to get back again some day. They are two locations I could visit again and again without getting bored.