Archive for the ‘Making a Photograph’ Category

Making a Photograph – Sheep Pass Morning (2016)

May 8th, 2017

When you get up early and leave at 4:30 in the morning for a sunrise shoot there are no guarantees. You pick a location that has potential and, by getting out so early, you up the potential for great light.  It might, and then it might not happen.  But you’re out there anyway.

When you arrive, the desert is still dark. You stand by your car, talking quietly with friends, sipping hot coffee and watching the emerging light on the eastern horizon. There is a sense of eagerness balanced with patience. Often, however, just being there is its own reward and coming home with a keeper is icing on the cake.

The earth brightens quickly this time of day and soon you grab your gear and head out into the desert. For me, just wandering and not looking for anything in particular is the best approach.

I prefer to let images come to me rather than hunting them down. When something I see stops me in my tracks, these turn out to be the best photographs. It’s not because I’m searching for leading lines or applying the rule of thirds or any other of the many ‘rules’ of composition. I don’t like to think when I’m photographing; I prefer to become quiet and simply experience. And when I’m in that state of mind I stop in my tracks because it just feels right. And the stop is usually followed closely by an utterance of surprise and joy – “Oh Wow!”.

Such was the case with “Sheep Pass Morning.” The morning shoot was winding down, meaning the sunrise had come and gone and the wonderful golden hour light was quickly fading. I wandered aimlessly and “Boom,” there it was. I was excited. This just felt right.  And yes, I did say, “Oh wow!”

I set up my camera and composed the shot. I was conscious of the cluster of rocks in the lower right corner and their relationship with the Joshua trees on the right edge. I was conscious of outcrop of rocks on the left, the mountain range in the background (Queen Mountain) and the clouds. All these elements were in my mind but mostly I was seeking balance and harmony. During that time, distant Queen mountain into shadow so I waited for the light to came back, cheering it along. Then the moment came and I tripped the shutter.

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Making a Photograph – A New Approach to Tonality Adjustments

July 4th, 2015

For some time now I’ve been using and teaching a process of working on photographs in Lightroom. It consists of basically four steps: manual adjustments, tonality adjustments, hue adjustments and finally saturation adjustments. Quite some time ago I had the brilliant idea of converting the image to black and white before doing the tonality adjustments. The technique I used was the B & W tab in Lightroom’s HSL group.  Once the tonality adjustments were done, the image would be converted back to color and the process continue.

It didn’t work out because when I converted the image back to color, the colors were so oversaturated and unnatural that the image looked horrible. It was just easier to do the tonality adjustments on the color image. So I quickly gave up on that technique. But the other day I was reading an article in Popular Photography magazine that rekindled this idea. It took a different approach. It turned the image to black and white by setting the Saturation adjustment to -100. Now the author did this in the middle of the process but I thought that if I applied this to my process and did that at the start it just might work. So I was eager to give it a try. Let’s try it with this image of the Watchman in Zion National Park.

utah_141010__SM32783 This is the original raw file. I haven’t done anything to it yet. It doesn’t need any mechanical adjustments. These consist of removing spots, straightening the image, maybe some noise reduction and the final crop. But since none of these are required we can move on to the tonality adjustments.

 

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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.”

Adams-moon-and-half-dome-1960

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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Making a Photograph – Two Sides of the Coin

November 23rd, 2014

I recently read an article by William Neill in the September Outdoor Photography magazine titled “Need to Know” that really resonated with me.  His main point is, don’t let the acquisition of gear and techniques interfere with the experience.  There’s so much information out there, so many people offering advice on techniques for composing, exposing and post processing.  But in Neill’s journey he has developed what he calls, ‘… a simple but effective tool set.”

A foundation of gear and technique is important in capturing the experience.  But it is the experience that is what we’re out there for, not histograms or depth of field or leading lines.

joshua_tree_140920__SM32515_6_7_8_9-Edit

 

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Ansel Adams – The Making of 40 Photographs: Tenaya Creek, Dogwood, Rain

December 31st, 2012

As I continue reading Ansel Adam’s fascinating book, ”Examples The Making of 40 Photographs” I continue to come across insights that I wish to share with you.

Ansel Adams - Tenaya Creek, Spring Rain, 1948-600

“Tenaya Creek Dogwood Rain” was taken one overcast spring day in 1948 as Adams was out looking for dogwoods to photograph.  He notice something along Tenaya Creek up by Mirror Lake and went exploring.  It was starting to rain and he almost returned to his car and the warmth of his accommodation when this scene caught his eye.  He went back to his car to retrieve his photographic gear including his 8X10 view camera.

I’m really taken by this photograph.  The light is perfect.  The white dogwood bracts glow against the green foliage.  It has a feeling of both intimacy and grandeur.  I would love to have a print.  It would be so easy to get lost in it.

The comments that Adams made that caught my attention (besides this beautiful photograph) deal with the inspiration the artist feels when interacting with a subject.  They are perfect and I must share them with you.

“The photographer learns to seek the essential qualities of his environment, no matter where he may be.  By this I mean he should be tuned to respond to every situation.  It is not enough to like or dislike; he must make an effort to understand what he is experiencing….  My life is full of memories of experiences that are of greater importance than recollections of mere things that have happened.  Unless I had reacted to the mood of this place with some intensity of feeling, I would have found it a difficult and shallow undertaking to attempt a photograph.”

In my own experience “intensity of feeling” comes with practice, experience, patience, slowing down, quieting the brain, opening up, understanding, respect, harmony, and reverence.  There is a very technical, analytical side to photography that can easily drown out the creative, inspirational side.  It is necessary to balance the two to create successful images.  Technical excellence without soul is sterile and empty.  Great photographs begin with inspiration, awe and wonder which is then captured and communicated through an abundance of technical skill.  We don’t find inspiration every time we go out but as our eye becomes more and more aware we find inspiration in more and more places.


We invite you to join the conversation.  Where do you find inspiration?  How has that changed over time?  We’d be interested in hearing your experiences.

Do you know someone who might also enjoy this article?  Please feel free to share it on Facebook, Twitter or other social network sites.

Join me on an upcoming workshop.  Click here for more details.

To see more of my photographs click here.

Oh, by the way, I couldn’t resist.  I purchased the photograph from the Ansel Adams Gallery.  It will arrive in a few days.  I’m so excited.

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The Making of a Photograph – Clearing Storm, West Temple 2012

December 3rd, 2012

As I drive across the Mojave Desert late one Thursday night not long ago, heading north on I-15, I have a sense of harmony, of unity with the night, the highway, my car.  The pavement ahead eases into the beam of my headlights, grows brighter as it draws closer and then slips back into darkness as it slides underneath.  Nights like this are a joy.  I’m in a groove, a state of calm serenity and anticipation.  Tomorrow I’ll be returning to Zion National Park, something I always look forward to.  I didn’t notice the faint flashes of light.

Powerful thunderstorms were roiling over eastern California and southern Nevada that night, The dark clouds glowed with flickers of light and precious water dropped on the parched desert.  it was a huge storm and I was chasing it.  Approaching the state line the casino lights of Prim were reflected, bright and shimmering, on what is normally a dry lake bed.  A half hour later as Las Vegas finally came into view, the glitz and glamor of the gaudy hotels was dwarfed by the grandeur of bolts of lightning streaking for miles across the turbulent sky.

The following morning workers were cleaning up after the storm but it hadn’t fully passed.  Storm clouds still blanketed the sky for the remainder of the journey to Zion.  A detour to Kolob Terrace to check the aspens was, I suppose, inevitable.  The falling snow up in the high country was a surprise.  And a delight.  Sunrise the next morning was looking promising.

The best location in Zion that gets the full sunrise treatment is West Temple.  I’ve photographed it many times but never got anything that I was excited about.  The most popular location to shoot from is the ‘patio’ behind the museum but on this morning I chose a less visited one – the 2nd switchback on Tunnel Road.  The expectation of clearing storm clouds, the choice of shooting locations – everything worked out just right.

west_temple_clearing_storm_121013

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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.

virgin_river_2011_raw

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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Ansel Adams – The Making of 40 Photographs: Rock and Surf

August 18th, 2012

I was fortunate to be in Big Sur last week photographing that magnificent coast with the members of our workshop.  Ansel Adams made some beautiful photographs here as did, of course, Edward Weston.  An increasingly common technique used by photographers is to employ a neutral density filter to get very long exposures that turn the ocean into a sea of ethereal mist.  Many of these photographs are incredibly beautiful.  Personally, I connect with the power and energy of the ocean, something these beautiful photographs do not capture.

Adams’ technique was to stop the motion in of the surf as in this photograph titled “Rock and Surf.”  Freezing the water was essential to the effectiveness of the composition.

rock and surf

Rock and Surf (1951)
Ansel Adams

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How Ansel Adams Did HDR

August 13th, 2012

High dynamic range (or HDR) is a condition frequently encountered by landscape photographers where the digital camera’s sensor cannot handle the dynamic range of the scene.  In other words, the scene has very bright highlights with areas of deep shadow.  The resulting image will have clipped highlights (highlights that are pure white with no detail), clipped shadows (shadows that are pure black with no detail or at best, muddy) or both.

In digital photography we have several options including HDR, the techniques whereby we take multiple shots at varying exposures.  The most underexposed image will capture the highlights and the most overexposed image will capture the shadows.  Then we blend them all together with software like PhotoMatix Pro.  The result is an image with bright highlights that still have detail and dark, crisp shadows, also with detail.

But what do film photographers do when they face this same situation?  After all, film may not be able to capture the dynamic range of the scene any better than digital can.  And with film there is not the option of taking multiple shots at different exposures and blending the negatives together.

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Ansel Adams – The Making of 40 Photographs: Lodgepole Pines

July 31st, 2012

AA24-Lodgepole_Pines

Lodgepole Pines (1921)

This Ansel Adams photograph has always stood out from the rest of his works.  It doesn’t have the usual crispness or drama that one normally expects.  Instead the focus is soft and the shadows are not full and rich.  It almost seems like it might have been created by another person.  And for that reason I find it all the more interesting.

It’s difficult to imagine the great Ansel Adams as an amateur, a novice photographer.  One normally associates him with a supremely confident master of his art, a pioneer of techniques, both technical and aesthetic, that we still use and revere today.  And this is certainly an accurate characterization.  But like all of us, he had to start somewhere.  We all go through a period where our art is in its formative stages, where we are discovering ourselves, our vision and our voice.  And this photograph was part of the process for Adams.

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