High the vanes of Shrewsbury gleam Islanded in Severn stream; The bridges from the steepled crest, Cross the water east and west. A.E. Housman
Near the English border with Wales sits the historic market town of Shrewsbury. Founded in the Middle Ages it still retains its medieval street patterns and some buildings from that time. It was an important wool trading centre for many centuries.
Its claims to fame include being the birthplace of Charles Darwin, while a number of famous people have been pupils at its prestigious public school, including Michael Palin, DJ John Peel, and politician Michael Heseltine. For me however it was until very recently best known as the home of my grandmother in the 1960s. I probably last visited in the early 1970s, not long before she died. But with ‘staycations’ being our only real travel options at the moment, the time was ripe for a trip down memory lane for me, and into new territory for my husband.
We stayed in the town for a couple of nights, giving us time for a couple of walks around its old streets and along the banks of the River Severn. For this week’s Lens Artists Challenge I’ve selected just a few of the photos I took there. Our guest host Anne has asked us to describe our editing process when we create black and white photos; so it makes sense to me to share some recently taken images rather than try to remember how I created any from my archives!
By the way, I do sometimes shoot directly in B&W, if I am ‘seeing’ the image that way, but these days I usually shoot a colour version too. After all, you can always convert a colour photo to B&W, but you can’t easily and accurately convert a B&W one to colour. So if I got home and realised I was seeing it all wrong and colour would look better, I’d be kicking myself if B&W was all I had!
Anyway, back to Shrewsbury …
I spotted this old sign on our first afternoon in the town. I strongly suspect in fact that it is only masquerading as an old one; the telephone area code gives it away as being much newer than the design would suggest.
The image above is almost as it came out of the camera; I have just cropped it a tiny bit to remove some distracting details. But to me it was crying out for some B&W treatment, to emphasise the ‘old’ appearance. Before that however I wanted to get rid of the modern burglar alarm. I did that using the ‘clone’ tool in Photoshop Elements to replicate a blank bit of wall where the alarm should be.
Like Anne I prefer to use Nik Silver Efex for my B&W editing. And as she has pointed out, there’s no better place to start than experimenting with its filters. As I was looking for an old-fashioned effect, I browsed through its vintage options and chose a yellowed filter. But it was a bit more yellow than I wanted so I selected a less intense sepia tone from the finishing adjustments panel. At the same time I also slightly smoothed the very rough frame that Silver Efex had applied. And this is the result, which I feel looks better than the colour version. Do you agree?
The Market Hall
In the centre of the old town square sits the late 16th century Market Hall, now used as a small cinema. Its large upper room was originally used by local drapers to buy the wool brought here on ponies from Wales, while the lower floor was used by farmers to sell corn. A local man sitting nearby pointed out some holes in the wall which he told us were a sort of abacus. Farmers would insert wooden pegs into the holes to keep a reckoning of the sales. Rows of small holes don’t make for a very interesting photo however. Much more eye-catching was the pair of lions on its west side, each holding a worn crest.
The photo looks good in colour, showing off the warm colours of the stone and some yellow lichen on the lion’s paws. But the Silver Efex ‘high structure’ filter brings out the roughness of the stone, which I emphasised by further boosting the contrast. I also added a slight vignette. Together I think these effects make the lion look fiercer than his colour alter ego. It’s not a case this time of preferring one image over another – I like them both for different reasons.
Clive of India
Near the Market Hall in the Town Square is this bronze statue of Clive of India, erected in 1860. He was born in nearby Market Drayton, and was MP for Shrewsbury from 1761 until his death in 1774. He was also elected Mayor of Shrewsbury 1762-63.
This is a somewhat controversial statue these days, as (like many other countries) we reflect on the rights and wrongs of celebrating people from our past history whose actions today we would find divisive, offensive, or just plain wrong. As an East India Company official, Robert Clive was one of the key early figures setting in motion what would later become British India. Some of his actions resulted in the plundering of Indian treasures; and policies he introduced on behalf of the East India Company led to famines which proved disastrous to the local Indian farming population. Our local friend told us that there has been some talk of moving the statue to the town’s museum, which might be a more appropriate place for it.
To start the editing process I simply cropped my image to fit better on the blog; portrait format shots are hard to take in at a single look here)
I then boosted the contrast a little before uploading it to Silver Efex for more processing. As with the lion I used the ‘high structure’ filter, set to harsh, to emphasise the imposing nature of the portrait and perhaps also with that note of controversy in mind. Adding a red filter darkened the sky and made it look a bit stormy rather than blue. The image was getting a little too gloomy however, so I upped the brightness a fraction (9% to be precise!) Finally, back in Photoshop Elements I used the spot healing brush to remove a few distracting blemishes that had become more obvious during the editing process.
And now for something completely uncontroversial, a pretty flower. This was one of several planted in troughs next to the Market Hall, glowing in the sunshine and sparkling with drops from a recent watering I assumed. Of course it looks glorious in colour, and for this version I simply boosted the contrast a little.
Normally I would never convert a flower image to B&W, but for this project I decided to experiment. I like the Silver Efex ‘fine art, high key’ filter; so I tried it with that and was pleased with what I saw. But that filter comes with a frame (similar to that applied to the shop sign image above); I quite often use this but decided on this occasion to remove it as I wanted to add a slight vignette to emphasise the brightness of the flower. I also upped the contrast from the default 19% to 35% for the same reason. And finally I added a touch of Silenium toning to create a slightly cooler image. I think in its way I like this version as much as the cheerful bright yellow of the original!
St Chad’s Church
This distinctive church was built in 1792. Its unusual round shape, and prominent location on a hill overlooking the Severn, make it hard to miss. My photo was taken from the local park, the Quarry, which slopes down to the river below the church. It needed only slight cropping in Photoshop Elements to look pretty much as I wanted it to.
In Silver Efex I applied the ‘full dynamic (harsh)’ filter to add some drama to the scene, and used the ‘levels and curves’ adjustment to increase this even further. I also added some sepia toning to emphasise the timeless nature of the scene and help the white statue in front of the church to stand out.
The wider view of the church in my featured photo was edited using the Silver Efex ‘cool tones’ filter for a very different effect. I added its border in Photoshop Elements, as I do for all my featured shots.
The King’s Shropshire Light Infantry Monument
This monument stands across the road from St Chad’s; it is the white one I referred to in my description of the B&W edit of the church above. It commemorates all those from the regiment who died during Boer War campaigns in South Africa between 1899 and 1902. The soldier is carved from white marble. He stands with his rifle pointing down and his head lowered, as if in mourning. As with the statue of Clive, I cropped my original portrait format shot to create a landscape format one instead, for the purposes of this blog. I also boosted the contrast in Photoshop Elements.
Given the subject matter I again decided a sepia look would suit the image. To achieve it I used the ‘soft sepia’ filter in Silver Efex. This reduced the contrast more than I would have liked so I tweaked that from -5% to +14%. I increased the sepia effect using the toning adjustment drop-down; and I added a soft burn to the edges, emphasising the vintage look still further.
So that’s that. I hope you’ve enjoyed exploring a little bit of Shrewsbury through these images and also following my editing processes. It’s been an interesting challenge to apply the different effects so methodically and capture each step along the way, rather than my more usual messy experimentation. Thanks Anne for a super challenge!
I visited Shrewsbury in July 2021