Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Mont Saint-Michel

What I now consider the second in my Digital Art Series (after Krakow Cathedral), the development of this picture has been long and educational. Educational because I knew when I first embarked on it a couple of months ago, that I would have to learn some techniques I did not know at the time to complete it. I gave myself that time though, and am now happy with my finished version. I don't at this point want to post a series of photos showing the stages along the way but to understand where I began from, I have added the original 'out-of-Photomatix' version at the bottom of this blog. You can click on either picture to see in a lightbox, and then use the arrows to see the before and after.

I want to state how happy I am to have this picture, as Mont Saint-Michel has been one of my longest photographic ambitions since finding my passion in Spring 2010. I did not know much about it in 2010, but if you look at my Favourites list on my Flickr page (which I haven't added to a lot to be fair), a picture of Mont Saint-Michel was the first photograph on there. That's because there is something so magical and unique about this place, that it is easy to stir the imagination of the visual artist. I have seen many pictures of Mont Saint-Michel since, and many warnings as well about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It therefore took on an even bigger challenge in my head, and the opportunity to picture it finally came in August this year, when holidaying in Brittany. I still though did not really have an inkling what to expect when I arrived here. I knew I wanted to go later in the day to avoid the crowds, but that doesn't actually change much. More importantly, I did not know where I would be able to photograph it from, or how close I would be able to get to it. The fact that we were able to walk onto the mount and through the town at the time of the evening was a genuine and very pleasing surprise. Aside from the photography, it really is the magical and unique place that I imagined, and I thoroughly recommend a trip to it.

So if you have looked at the before and after picture you can tell that the reality is not quite like the scene above. Like many tourist attractions, from the outside it can actually look rather unspectacular. Now I don't think that is true of Mont Saint-Michel, there are some great views of it from further away, but on the approach, you can see a lot of gravel and of course tourists, vehicles, rails etc etc. An unaltered picture would look unremarkable and common. I knew something would have to be done to make a good picture out of this. I could have used a shot from farther away, but they did not have the same impact as a close shot. So it had to be the Photoshop route. And Photoshop to me is entirely justified in these situations to any visual or digital artist. A painter would simply not paint a picture like the one below, whether it was the scene that was present or not. They would paint their idealistic vision, and that is what I have done with this picture.

When I began working on this picture, I did not know how the finished piece would look. I rarely go into a photographic outing or processing session with an idea of exactly how I want it to look. Though I have not read many of his books, I love the philosophy of Stephen King when it comes to writing his stories, stating he never knows how a story will end when he begins it. That's how I approach my photographs. I like completing by discovery. The main item that needed addressing in this picture was the foreground, which could not remain as it was. I always assumed that at some points the sea must cover the whole of the surrounding of Mont Saint-Michel, and while this may be true at times, it certainly wasn't anywhere near that when I visited, and that was supposedly when the tide was in. My original idea was to have an old bridge leading it up to it, to place it firmly in a bygone era, but after working out that I could mask in one of my further away shots (where the reflection comes from), it was the only way I wanted to go.

I often stick my neck out when I say things I intend to do but I really want to make a video explaining the processing elements that went into completing this picture. There are far too many to cover in this blog. If that happens soon, I will indeed let you all know. It was a joy and a challenge to create this picture, and though I love natural photography, I look forward to creating my next composite in my Digital Art Series.


  1. Great job Pete and I admire your ability to type detailed blog posts! I really like the way you've composited (is that a word?) the foreground in so seamlessly. I also love an apparent light source emanating from behind the mount. Well done - and crack on with a video! ;-)

    1. Video is done! Thanks for the comments as always Tim. There's a bit about lighting the mount itself in the video but hopefully the light is not too unnatural.