Archive for the ‘Expoure’ Category

Creating Images with Impact – Dynamic Range of the Medium

March 29th, 2015

We’ve all seen those photographs that stop us in our tracks, that inspire us, that speak to us. Some photographs seem to have a special power, a special presence. Often times we hear ourselves saying, “Wow.” They have qualities that make them stand apart from other photographs. These are images with impact.

The masters of landscape photography seem to have the ability to capture a special quality of light in their photographs. It doesn’t matter whether they use film or shoot digital, their images stand out.

There are certain things about these images that do more than just appeal to us – we are drawn into to them. They capture our imaginations, stir our interests and perhaps show us moments in nature we could only hope to experience. We want to linger with them, explore them, take them in, get lost in them.

Without a doubt these photographs have compositions that are very strong, are bathed in fantastic light and have technical qualities of exposure and sharpness that are perfect. These are all decisions that the artist makes in the field, decisions that are critical to a strong image.

In the days of film, a good portion of the magic was done in the darkroom. That’s where their genius really became apparent. And it hasn’t changed today. We don’t actually have dark rooms to work in, closed rooms with the strange array of mysterious orders and the soft, dim yellow lighting. Today we have powerful software running on even more powerful computers. But really, how is that different from what the film Masters did in the darkroom? I don’t believe it is. I can’t think of anything that’s been done with “Photoshopped” photographs that hasn’t already been done in the darkroom. It’s probably a lot easier to do it in Photoshop but in the end, both the chemical darkroom and the electronic darkroom serve the same end, that being creating those “Wow” images.

In this series of posts I want to spend more time considering some techniques you can apply in the darkroom that will add impact to your images.

Use the Full Dynamic Range of Your Medium

The first darkroom technique I would like to discuss is the importance of using the full dynamic range of your medium. This is not something new. When Ansel Adams developed the zone system it was precisely for this purpose – to use the full dynamic range of the black and white negative and ultimately the black and white print. But what exactly does it mean to use the full dynamic range of the medium. Let me illustrate with an Ansel Adams image I have loved for many years, one I’m privileged to be able to live with in my home – “Moon and Half Dome.”


In this exquisite photograph if you are able to examine an original closely you will notice that the shadow on the left may look like it is totally black but actually there is subtle detail. However, there are some very small areas that are pure black. Also, the moon and the bright parts of Half Dome may look like they are pure white but a closer look will reveal detail in these areas also. This photograph takes full advantage of the full dynamic range of the paper, from the blackest black to the whitest white.

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How to Photograph the Coastal Redwoods

June 22nd, 2014

California is blessed with two species of redwoods, the Giant Sequoia (Sequoia giganteum) of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Coastal Redwoods (Sequoia semperverins) along the California coast from the Oregon border to 150 miles south of San Francisco.  These awe-inspiring trees are both a joy and a challenge to photograph.  I recently spent a week in Crescent City in Northern California photographing the Coastal Redwoods and leading a photography workshop there.  I’d like to pass along some of the techniques we employed to capture photographs that do these majestic trees justice in breathtaking but often very difficult light.

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Mastering Exposure – Expose to the Right

November 16th, 2013

Over the years there has been a lot of interest in the concept of ‘Expose to the right.’  This is something that is commonly done in digital photography where you intentionally overexpose an image.  The idea is that in digital images there is more information to work with in the brighter tonalities than there is in the darker.  And this will give you more to work with in the darkroom (Lightroom and Photoshop) which will result in a better image.

I’ve written several posts on this topic and if the concept is new to you please read these.  I’m not going to go into the theory here; that is spelled out in these posts.

Lightroom Tutorial – Expose to the Right

Expose to the right – Revisited

Now, I understand the theory.  I’m a computer guy; I had better understand it.  But I’ve always wondered if the promise of a better image actually worked out in real life.  So I did a test during our recent photography workshop to Big Sur.

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The Making of a Photograph – Virgin River 2011

December 1st, 2012

A friend asked me if I’d do a blog on the making of the photograph I took of the Virgin River during the Zion National Park photography workshop in 2011.  He’s a good friend and it’s a nice photograph so let’s do it.  Here’s the end result. (You can click on each of the photographs to enlarge them and get a better look.)virgin_river_2011

And here’s what it started from.


The difference is obviously pretty dramatic so there will be a few things to talk about.  We’ll start with what I was experiencing in the field and take it all the way through the darkroom to the end product.  So let’s get started.

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Posted in Composition, Expoure, How To Articles, Light, Lightroom, Making a Photograph, Photography as Art, Photoshop | Comments (2)

HDR for Every Day

September 9th, 2012

We landscape photographers tend to avoid photographing during the middle of a sunny day.  The light is harsh with no color.  We prefer golden hour or twilight.

But there are times when we have no choice as to when we can shoot.  When we’re on vacation with family we can’t wait until sunset at every location that sparks our interest.  So we get the shot and hope for the best.  But there’s a technique we can use that will greatly enhance our chances of capturing a more compelling photograph.

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Exciting Nighttime Photography – Exposure

January 28th, 2012

There are many techniques involved in nighttime photography.  Star trail photographs are a traditional approach dating back to the film days.  If you think about it, that makes sense.  With the ISOs commercially available to most of us photographers, shooting the nighttime sky was not an option.  We simply didn’t have fast enough film.

With the advent of digital photography we can now push ISOs into the thousands and the noise levels are constantly improving.  And we can modify our cameras’ sensors to sensitize them to infrared light, something that the serious and most accomplished nighttime photographers do.  This provides us the opportunity to photograph both star trails and the night sky.

In previous articles I’ve discussed techniques for both types of nighttime photography.  In the most recent one I describe a technique that can provide both star trails and night sky photographs from a single session.  Here’s the link.

Exciting Nighttime Photography in 10 Easy Steps

One aspect I haven’t covered in detail yet is exposure.

Earlier this week there was a beautiful conjunction of the crescent moon and Venus in the early evening sky.  So I grabbed my camera, got permission from my neighbor and used their front yard to photograph the moon and Venus over the Los Angeles basin here in Southern California.

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Taking Your Photography to the Next Level

December 23rd, 2011

I read a great series of articles by George Barr on taking the next step in photography.  They were passed along to me by a good friend – Brian Graham.  I have some early thoughts on what Barr proposes.

In his articles he defines six or seven steps for both technical and aesthetic growth in photography.  His articles define each step, discuss ways you can determine what step you’re in and gives ideas on how to advance to the next step.

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Expose to the Right – Revisited

August 23rd, 2011

The post I wrote on Expose to the Right about a year ago is one of the most popular on this blog.  I wrote it after a workshop when I suggested this technique and one of the participants complained the photographs looked horrible.  I still use this technique but my workflow in Lightroom continues to evolve.

expose to the right 1Recall that Expose to the Right means to overexpose your image so that the histogram shifts toward the right edge.  It is important not to overexpose so much that you introduce highlight clipping.  I like to have a histogram that is positioned a little to the right of center as seen here.  When you expose to the right you can end up with an image that is overexposed by anywhere from 1/3 to a stop or two, depending on the situation.


expose to the right 2In the first post I suggested that you can ‘normalize’ the exposure in Lightroom with the Exposure adjustment.  If you overexposed by a stop you can start by decreasing Exposure adjustment in Lightroom by one stop.  This will have the effect of moving the histogram back toward the center or even to the left of center.  This gives you an exposure closer to what the camera’s light meter selected.




expose to the right 3From there you can continue with your regular workflow.  Here’s an example of some additional adjustments: Blacks to set a black point, Contrast to add interest (contrast is always more interesting than flat) and Brightness to liven it up a little.  There are many adjustments you might perform but these few simple ones serve to illustrate the point.




expose to the right 4But another technique would be to take the opposite approach.  Instead of normalizing the exposure, start by setting the black point with the Blacks adjustment.  This has a different effect on the histogram.  Instead of the entire histogram sliding towards the left, the shadow tail is extended without much change in the mid-tones or highlights.  This technique expands the dynamic range of the photograph.



expose to the right 5You can further expand the dynamic range by adding contrast.  With both shadow and highlight areas to work on the Contrast adjustment both brightens and further darkens the image.

In practice you can try both techniques.  Just create two virtual images from the original file and apply one technique to one and the other technique to the other.  Often the first few adjustments you make on an image have an influence on the finished photograph.  So compare the two and decide which one you want to continue with.

This is not about whether one technique is better than the other but rather to give you more options when working with the photographs that you have exposed to the right.

We do photography workshops.  Come on out and join us.  Click here to check us out.

You can also check out our photography.  Click here.


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Lightroom Tutorial – Shooting RAW

July 19th, 2011

Last night I ran across an example of why we shoot in RAW (not in the RAW – puhleeeze).

Digital SLR cameras and a few point and shoot camera support the RAW file format for our images.  RAW is essentially what the sensor captured – unprocessed, uncompressed, unadulterated.  It takes a bit to get used to but once you do you’ll not go back to JPEG, the other file format.

One of the benefits of RAW is it gives you a lot more flexibility including recovering from poorly exposed images, especially over exposed.  Now, if you’ve read any of my histogram posts (search this blog for Histograms to find them), you know that the single most important thing to avoid as far as exposure is concerned is highlight clipping.  But with RAW you have a chance to recover an overexposed image and turn it into something very acceptable.  It doesn’t always work but sometimes it does.

big_sur_scouting_110424__A1P2014-1OK, so I was scanning images in Lightroom last night and ran across this one.  It’s washed out except for the foreground and there is a tremendous amount of highlight clipping in the upper right hand corner.  (I wouldn’t blame you if you stopped reading hear and said, “There’s no way he can do anything with that image.  It’s a mess.”  Which it is.  But humor me and read on.)

By the way, you can click on the images to see them in a larger format.

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Mastering Exposure–Histograms Part 4

May 2nd, 2011

In this series of articles we’ve been exploring the histogram.  In the first two articles we discussed what it is.  Now we’re looking at different types of histograms and exploring how to work with them both in the field and during the post processing.  If you want to review or catch up, here are the links to the preceding three posts.

Mastering Exposure – Histograms Part 1: Introduction

Mastering Exposure – Histograms Part 2:  A Closer Look

Mastering Exposure – Histograms Part 3: The Rocky Mountain Histogram

In this article I want to discuss my favorite histogram, the Mole Hill histogram.  I like this one because so much can be done with it in the post processing.  Subtle colors and tonalities can be revealed in soft radiant light.  It lends itself to some of the most creative and expressive images.

Read on and we’ll look at what it is, the conditions in which it occurs, how to photograph it and how to work with it in the post processing to reveal the scene in all of its hidden glory.

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