Posts Tagged ‘depth’

Images with Impact – Contrast in Nature

February 16th, 2016

Last year I started a series of articles under the general theme of Images with Impact. In it we are discussing things you can do with your images in Lightroom and Photoshop to enhance their impact. When I got to the topic of contrast I came to an abrupt halt. The more I thought about contrast, the more I wanted to begin that discussion with some real examples from nature. But to do that, I needed some photographs that illustrated what I wanted to share with you. And in Southern California, the types of photographs I wanted are only possible in winter. But it’s winter now. And I’ve been able to capture the photographs that I want, so now we’re picking up the series again.

What distinguishes a photograph created by the serious student of photography from one taken by a casual photographer? Many things to be sure. But one thing that stands out is a sense of clarity, a clear quality. The casual photographers’ photographs are just what the camera captures and are often like looking through a bit of haze and I don’t mean that they are out of focus. It’s the light. The effect may be subtle but it is very real. A more accomplished photographers’ photographs have a special quality to them, a quality that engages us, that draws us in and holds our attention. You might describe it as a crisp quality.  (You can click on the photographs to enlarge them.)

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(My daughter some years ago as we hiked out of a late spring backpacking trip in the local mountains.)

The serious student of photography skillfully applies contrast in the digital darkroom to achieve this look. But before getting in to how this is done, let’s step back and take a look at how we respond to contrast not only in photographs but also in nature.

In the following discussion I will use examples from nature to illustrate the affect contrast has on us. The idea is to understand how it works so that we can more effectively apply this knowledge to our photographs.

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Best Photograph of 2012 – Eastern Sierra

March 10th, 2013

We are continuing our selection of the best of my 2012 photographs.  In the first round we selected the best California Desert photograph.  Four photographs were presented and the one that ranked the highest was Death Valley Sunrise.  See Best Photographs of 2012 – California Desert for the other three.

death_valley_sunrise_2010

We have just concluded the second round in which you selected the best Eastern Sierra photographs of 2012.  There were six to choose from in this category.  I’d like to share them with you one by one and tell you a little bit about  each of them.

Let’s get started with this one.

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Best Photograph of 2012 – California Desert

February 2nd, 2013

We are choosing the best Ralph Nordstrom Photography photograph of 2012, or, more precisely, you are.  We’re running a series of surveys, selecting the best photograph from each of five areas where we did workshops – Death Valley and Joshua Tree (collectively the California Deserts), Eastern Sierra, Big Sur, Zion and Bryce Canyon.

The first survey covered the California Deserts.  And the results are in.  But before presenting them I’d like to give you an opportunity to weigh in on the second survey – the incomparable Eastern Sierra.  We were there in early June which is summer in the Owens Valley but still spring up in the mountains.  There are six photographs to choose from and the survey will only take a couple of minutes.  So click the link below and share your opinion.

Select the Best Eastern Sierra Photograph of 2012

OK, now let’s turn to the results of the California Deserts survey.  There were four photographs, two from Death Valley and two from Joshua Tree.

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

Mastering Composition – Working the Shot

October 26th, 2012

There’s no doubt that composition is one of the key elements of a successful image.  You can have all the other factors of a great shot – fantastic light, optimum exposure and appropriate sharpness – but with a weak composition you have a weak photograph. 

I know photographers that work slowly enough to work out the strongest composition before they press the shutter.  I admire these people immensely.  But I don’t work that way, especially in an area I’m unfamiliar with.

A short while ago I was driving south through Utah on beautiful highway 89 traveling between Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks after wrapping up a successful photography workshop.  I came upon a stand of cottonwood trees that were in full autumn splendor.  I had to pull over.

I grabbed my point and shoot (Canon G11) and started scouting for photographs.  I like to use the G11 for that, scouting for compositions that are worth the effort of setting up my big Canon.  I found two compositions that were promising.

The second proved to be the most interesting, at least in terms of how the final composition evolved.  Behind the cottonwoods was a meadow with a dilapidated shack.  It was so Utah!  I set up what I thought would be an interesting composition.

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(Click on the images to enlarge them.)

I positioned my camera so that there would be a narrow opening to the meadow and the shack.  It is a tight composition that draws the viewers eye to the shack which is placed in a very strong position within the frame.  It has a feeling of depth with a strong foreground opening up to the shack in the background.

I was feeling good about this composition and then I noticed a glowing cottonwood just outside the frame to the right so I moved the camera a couple of feet to the right and created this image.

bryce_121019__SM33935

The golden cottonwoods on the left are balanced by the single, smaller cottonwood to the right.  This arrangement has the effect of placing more emphasis on the autumnal trees.  The eye makes three stops, first at the cottonwoods on the left, then to the right and finally works its way back to the shack in the back.

I was pretty  pleased with these two compositions and thought I had something to work with when I got home.  So I disassembled everything and put  it back in my camera bag, collapsed the tripod and started back toward the car.  I hadn’t gone 5 steps when I looked back up toward the shack and saw there was another blaze of cottonwoods right next to it.  So I swung my backpack back down to the ground and set up again for this shot.

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Now there are three sources of golden light for the eye to explore – the cottonwoods to the left, the one a little further back on the right and the ones way in the back by the shack.  (Odd numbers of things are always good.)  The image is well balanced and every element in it contributes to the entire impression.

There’s a story here, a story of living in this beautiful valley during a time that is gone and will probably never return.  It must not have been an easy life but one of honest, hard work and the satisfaction of living in a place of such splendid beauty.  We would do it differently today with more conveniences and comforts.  And maybe, just maybe, miss out on the more intimate connection with Mother Earth that living in such a simple shack must have provided.


I’d be interested to hear which of the three compositions you like the most.  Please leave a comment saying which one you like and why.  It will make for a very interesting dialog.

If you enjoyed this post please feel free to Like it and share it with your friends.  You can use the links at the top.

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

To see more of my photographs click here.

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2012 Joshua Tree Annual Fine Art Festival

March 31st, 2012

The 2012 Joshua Tree Fine Art Festival is coming up next weekend.  The dates are Friday, April 6 to Sunday, April 8.  I’m excited to be returning and catching up with old friends.  This is the first art festival I ever did and so returning is like a homecoming.  The festival is at the Oasis Visitor Center in Twentynine Palms, CA.  The hours are 9:00 to 5:00.  Come on out and see some great art.

I’ll be showing some old favorites along with some new photographs I’m very excited about.  As far as the old favorites go I’m planning on showing Virgin River and the Watchman from Zion National Park.

virgin_river_watchman_sunset

This has proved to be my most popular photograph and has won awards.  It was captured on Thanksgiving day back in 2008.  I was in Zion with my wife and daughter for the Thanksgiving weekend.  I slipped out for this sunset and caught a beauty.  Beginners luck!  I’ve returned many times but never with light this good.  (By the way, to get a better view of the photographs you can enlarge them by clicking on them.)

To go along with the Watchman is another photograph taken that same weekend along the Riverside Walk to the Gateway to the Narrows.  When my family is with me we always do this walk.  It’s our favorite – for obvious reasons.

Riverside_Walk_2008

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