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.)
(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.
Continue reading “Images with Impact – Contrast in Nature” »
Tags: atmosphere, contrast, depth, golden hour, haze, Mount Baldy, San Gabriel Mountains, Santa Catalina Island, Southern California, tonal values
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Sleeklens is a company with a concept that is not new in the Adobe Lightroom world – providing presets to help us in processing our photographs. I’ve always shied away from using presets, just like I rarely if ever use the Auto tone adjustment built into Lightroom. I’ve always felt that I prefer making all the decisions myself rather than letting the computer make them in the case of Lightroom Auto tone or a designer make them in the case of presets.
But I recently received an evaluation copy of one of the Sleeklens presets workflows and have been using them on several photographs I’m working on. Sleeklens has a variety of presets for different purposes. The collection I received is titled ‘Through the Woods Workflow.’
Through the Woods Workflow consists of forty-seven presets and twenty-nine brushes.
The Presets are global adjustments, affecting the entire image. Once installed they are in their own folder in the Presets area of the Development module screen. The presets are applied just like any other preset – namely, clicking on them.
The presets are organized into seven groups – All in One, Base, Exposure, Color Correction, Tone/Tint, Polish and Vignette. The All in One presets can affect the Basic, Tone Curve, HSL and Split Toning adjustment groups. Base mostly affects the Basic adjustments and occasionally the Tone Curve. One Base preset affects HSL and Split Toning. Exposure sets either Basic or Tone Curve. Color Correction adjustments are applied to HSL. Tone/Tint plays with Vibrance and Split Toning. Polish mostly adjusts Basic. And Vignette sets Post-Crop Vignetting in Effects. One thing that is missing is settings that utilize the new Dehaze adjustment in Effects.
The brushes are used with the Adjustment Brush, Graduated Filter or Radial Filter. There are five groups – Basics, Color, Effects, Haze and Light. The brushes are applied by selecting the effect and painting with the Adjustment Brush or creating the Graduated or Radial Filter. Continue reading “Sleeklens Lightroom Workflow Review” »
Tags: adjustment brush, brushes, graduated filter, landscape photography, Lightroom, presets, radial filter, Sleeklens, Through the Woods Workflow
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Something hit me the other day on the way into work. That happens quite often. I mean I didn’t get hit by a car or anything. I got hit by an idea. And the idea this time is that there are four types of photographs. In this blog post I want to illustrate what I have in mind by showing you the same raw file rendered four different ways.
Continue reading “Four Types of Photographs” »
Tags: art, believable, capture, creativity, document, interpretation, personal style, photography, realistic
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It is often said that there are no ‘rules’ of composition. And yet, there they are – Rule of Thirds, Golden Rule, Leading Lines, S-Curves, Layers, Off Center, Symmetry, Perspective, Lines of all sorts and on and on. And why is it that when so many fellow photographers comment on one of your photographs they comment about the rules of composition and not what the image expresses? In fact, most books and courses on composition begin by stating that there are no rules of composition before launching into an exhaustive analysis of, yep, the rules of composition. And of course, it’s not fashionable to refer to the rules of composition as rules anymore because ‘there are no rules of composition.’
And yet we diligently study them all the same.
Continue reading ““There Are No Rules of Composition”” »
Tags: balance, composition, Edward Weston, leading lines, rule of thirds. golden rule, rules of composition, unity, visual tensioin
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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.
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.
Continue reading “Making a Photograph – A New Approach to Tonality Adjustments” »
Tags: black, black and white, color, contrast, exposure, graduated filter, highlight, HSL, hue, Lightroom, luminosity, saturation, shadow, spot removal tool, tonality, vignette, white
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This past Saturday, June 20, 2015, I had the privilege of being the presenter for the meeting of the photography group at Saddleback Church. There were more than 100 enthusiastic photographers of all levels in attendance. We all went strong for three hours, discussing the landscape photographic process from planning to print.
There were many request for a summary of the presentation so I’ve made it available on the link below. I hope this is helpful
The Four Pillars of Landscape Photography Presentation Summary
Visit the Ralph Nordstrom Photography website.
Tags: landscape photography, saddleback church
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Well, you have done it. You have spoken and selected the best of my Redwoods photographs from 2014. I chose my eight favorite photographs from trips to the magnificent redwood groves of Northern California and offered them to you for your consideration.
It was exciting to watch the results come in. At one point there was a tie for 1st and 2nd, another tie for 3rd and 4th and, believe it or not, a tie for 5th and 6th, all at the same time. But eventually, with your help, it all got sorted out.
So here are the results.
Continue reading “The Best of the 2014 Redwoods Photographs” »
Tags: California, damnation creek, god rays, lady bird Johnson grove, National Park, northern California, photography workshop, redwoods, rhododendrons, stout grove
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In my workshops I encourage the students to slow down and connect with what they are feeling before they snap a shot. The idea is to capture and make a photograph in such a way that it communicates what we experience to our viewers. I must confess, however, that in my classes I’ve ignored the other half of a communication – the viewer and his or her ability to recognize what we are trying to say. I speak of using our Creative Vocabulary, a growing body of tools, techniques, skills, and experiences, to convey what it is we have to say. But just like the vocabulary of speech, if we don’t speak the same language we can’t communicate.
Then there’s also the notion of the Cliché photograph. Many photographers avoid the cliché like the plague, endlessly on the hunt for something new, original, never-been-done-before. Personally, I embrace the cliché, enjoying the experience and taking something that is common and making it my own.
Why do I bring this up? Well, recently I’ve come across a couple of nationally recognized photographers who have expressed a new and, I’d go so far as so say, revolutionary view of landscape photography.
Continue reading “It’s the Journey” »
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In this series of blog posts were talking about how to create Images with Impact. You know what I’m talking about. These are those images that really grab our attention, that capture our imaginations. There’s something special about them and it doesn’t have to be a mystery how they are created. There are a few simple techniques that you can use in Lightroom and Photoshop to add impact to your images. Now if you don’t use Photoshop, you can still do everything were talking about in Lightroom.
In the first article we talked about utilizing the full dynamic range of your medium. This is something Ansel Adams taught in his books and classes that was an essential element of his stunning landscape photographs. As he developed his technique which became known as the Zone System, the primary goal was to use the full dynamic range of his medium which, in his case, was the black and white print.
So we talked about that technique first because it is the most appropriate place to start. I do want to add that in color photography or color prints not every print benefits from a white point but virtually all prints benefit from a black point – which is what we want to talk about in this article.
What exactly is a black point? It is small portions of the print that are pure black. If you’re printing on paper than these are small portions that are the blackest black that the combination of paper and ink can achieve. As a side note, different combinations of paper and ink achieve different levels of blackness. But regardless of the combination you use, the blackest black that can be achieved is your black point.
You want to keep the black point areas very, very small because they have no detail. And generally speaking we like to see detail in our shadows, another guideline that I picked up from studying Ansel Adams. But you don’t want to eliminate black points, that is, in most cases. There are a few exceptions to this rule that I will talk about later.
Let’s take a look at the before and after images of our photograph. I shot this at the Huntington Library in South Pasadena a few weeks ago. It’s in their incredible cactus garden – endlessly fascinating.
Continue reading “Creating Images with Impact – Black Point” »
Tags: Ansel Adams, black point, cactus, California, dynamic range, Garden, histogram, huntington library, layers, level adjustment, Lightroom, medium, PhotoShop, shadow, south pasadena, white point, Zone System
Posted in Histogram, How To Articles, Lightroom, Photoshop, Tonality | Comments (0)
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.
Continue reading “Creating Images with Impact – Dynamic Range of the Medium” »
Tags: black point, Darkroom, digital photography, dynamic range. histogram, film photography, landscape photography, Lightroom, medium
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