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Please note: RPS House is closed for our exhibition install. We will be open again from 10am on Friday 9th August 2024.

Blue Filtered Landscape

In search of skies

Stuff to study in the past and present

I had been thinking some more about the blank skies in a print from 1850, and the difficulties that Landscape photographers must have had with early photographic materials. So from the safety of my own back garden, I thought I would emulate the journey of a 19th Century photographer. I find I learn much better if I try stuff out and here is a little project anyone can try, on pretty much any subject matter.

The early silver halide films and plates were predominantly sensitive to blue light so the tonal range of a typical landscape scene looks very different. Try opening an image on a DSLR and look at the shapes of the red, green and blue histograms and see the difference. This is particularly apparent in scenes containing lots of fresh green foliage lit by a blue sky.

To emulate the results of 19th Century processes we have to optimise the exposure for the blue channel and you can do this a number of ways. One is to view the histogram on the camera and optimise the exposure for the blue channel and ignore the other colours. It is an interesting experiment to conduct and requires a little practice.

I wanted to take this one step further and actually see the image as an old silver halide film would have "seen" it. This way I could get a better idea on the actual image content. As I started my career in analogue photography one of my older camera bags had the solution.

I have a stack of old colour filters from my time in monochrome photography. Stacking up 3 blue filters onto my 50mm f/1.4 lens enabled me to see the camera image only in blue light, gaining a better impression of what the old materials would have recorded. And having so many filters before the lens also gave a pleasant vignetting effect reminiscent of old cameras.

The image was shot on a day with around 50:50 blue sky and white clouds in the sky that was in frame. The camera is looking NE and the scene was illuminated by direct afternoon sunlight. It was captured at ISO100 and f/8 and because of the blue filtration needed a 1/50s exposure. It was converted to monochrome in Photoshop.

The result vindicates these early photographers - the sky is completely devoid of detail and the clouds have disappeared. The stonework is bright and the foliage supressed. They worked hard for their photography!


You may have noted rather a lot of monochrome images on President's News. If this is of interest to you there are some great on-line learning resources available to you. Come join us in the joys of monochrome.