Posts Tagged ‘photographers’

Mastering Light – Warm and Cool

July 28th, 2013

Light has several properties that are important to landscape photographers including quality, direction and color.

It is important to understand that different times of day and weather conditions will produce light of different colors.  Also, when you add artificial light sources the range of colors expands.

Our brains play tricks on us when it comes to color.  During twilight we don’t see that the light is a soft, delicate blue.  In fact, we don’t perceive any color cast at all.  But the camera is not fooled.  It sees what is actually there.  Take this image that I call ‘Breakfast’ as an example.

light-warm_and_cool

When drastically different light sources are set next to each other than our eyes can clearly see the difference in the colors.  In this photograph the interior of our home is illuminated by tungsten lights which give off a very warm color.  That’s why our homes feel so warm and cozy at night – because of the warm light emitted by tungsten lights.  (That will change as we replace the tungsten lights with CFLs or LED lights.)  Outside we have a foggy morning at twilight.  The sun is about 10 minutes away from rising.  And it’s clear the color of the outside light is blue.

If I was standing outside away from the warm tungsten light, my mind would trick me into thinking the light was not blue, just a neutral gray.  But the camera is not fooled.

So then why are we so easily fooled?  Because of perception.  Our brains receive input from all of our senses including our eyes.  And without us even being aware of it, this input is translated into something we are familiar with, concepts and generalizations we have learned from all the accumulated experiences of our lives.  And our brain overrides (manipulates if you will) the actual blue color of the outdoor light and we perceive it as neutral.

Our perceptions help us with everyday living.  They help to bring order to our lives from the endless bombardment of stimuli.  But perception interferes with the photographic process of seeing.  As far as day-to-day life is concerned we don’t need to see that the outdoor light is blue.  But as photographers, cultivating the ability to see beyond our perceptions opens up the world to us in ways we normally can’t even imagine.  And isn’t this what photography is all about?


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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)

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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Posted in Expoure, How To Articles, Light | Comments (1)

Ansel Adams – The Making of 40 Photographs: El Capitan, Winter Sunrise

September 3rd, 2012

I’ve heard it said that many photographers believe there are no more photographs in Yosemite, that all the great ones have been taken.  And it’s true that the prime locations have been photographed again and again, sometimes with 50 or even 100 photographers all vying for their three square feet of ground in which to set up their tripods. 

It would appear the assumption is that if a particular location is photographed too many times, becomes too popular, it becomes a cliché.  I’ve succumbed to that point of view in the past.  There seems to be the faintest whiff of, “I’m too good to photograph something so common.  I’m able to find what no one else has never seen.”  I know; I kind of felt that way.

El Capitan, Winter Sunrise
Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams had something to say about that in connection with this photograph.

“A viewer once asked me about the values: ‘Don’t you think the trees are rather dark?’  Black and white photography gives us opportunity for value interpretation and control.  In this instance, were the trees lighter in value, the glow of the light on the cliff would, for me, be far less expressive.  Exposing for higher forest values  would have weakened the separation of the far brighter cliff and cloud values.  However, other photographers might well make quite different images.  I would not like anyone to think I believe this image to be the only one possible, but it fulfills my visualization at the time of exposure.  In an overpowering area such as Yosemite Valley it is difficult for anyone not to make photographs that appear derivative of past work.  The subjects are definite and recognizable, and the viewpoints are limited.  It is therefore all the more imperative to strive for individual and strong visualization.”

Adams’ comment gets to the heart, mind and soul of the artist.  There are two key concepts in his statement that, for me, define art.  The first is ‘interpretation. ’Black and white photography gives us opportunity for value Interpretation and control.”  I take from this that our photographs are interpretations of the subject.  After all, art is interpretation.  And, as artists, it is through interpretation that we share with our viewers our vision of the world.  We don’t document reality; we interpret or possibly even create reality.

The other concept that catches my attention is ‘individual … visualization.’  Adams speaks of his ‘visualization’ all the time.  And the reason we enjoy his photographs so much is because of his strong visualizations.  When he tripped the shutter he knew what effect he wanted to create with the image.  He knew what he wanted to convey in terms of what he was feeling and he knew how to do it, especially when he developed and refined the Zone System.

And it was his interpretations and visualizations that took a location that had been photographed time after time by many other photographers and turned it into something uniquely and identifiably his.

So stand on the bridge in Zion or line up to photograph Delicate Arch in Arches or join the throng at tunnel view in Yosemite.  You can make your photograph unique through your own strong vision and interpretation.


This is a continuing series based on my reading of Ansel Adams’ wonderful book, “Examples – The Making of 40 Photographs.”  It is exciting to read of his attitudes towards making photographs, the decisions he made and the techniques he employed and apply them to the issues that confront us today as digital landscape photographers.  I think those of us who ‘Photoshop’ our images for the sake of achieving our visualization can feel a comradeship with the master.  The question, “Did you manipulate that photograph?” will never go away as long as our medium is the camera.  Adams was also confronted with the same question.  For those of use that believe that the purpose of making a landscape photograph is to share with our audience our response to and our connection with the subject, the work is not done when we press the shutter, it’s just beginning.  And we can delight in photographing the cliché locations, time and time again, because we are creating our own individual statement, not creating ‘derivatives’ of others’ works.


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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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Lightroom Tutorial – Polarizer Filter

July 27th, 2012

A Polarizer filter is generally the first filter a landscape photographer buys.  It is so versatile.  It can darken blue skies, reduce harsh reflections and intensify colors.  Many photographers put polarizers on their lenses and never take them off.

But this is a Lightroom tutorial.  So why in the world am I talking about polarizer filters?  Well, it’s because I have a trick I’d like to share with you, one that I’ve never seen discussed anywhere else.  It’s what you can do in Lightroom to create the polarizer effect without a polarizer.  In fact, it can be better than the real thing, especially if you are shooting with a wide angle lens.  Because, the angle of view can be so great that part of the sky will be affected by the polarizer and the rest will not.  So it looks pretty unnatural when the sky in part of your image is dark and the rest is washed out.

So, what’s the trick?  Well, consider this image taken on a recent trip to Hawaii.  I shot it with my Canon G11 and I don’t even own a polarizer filter for it.  It’s a photograph of the ongoing eruption in a crater in the Kilauea caldera.  In the bottom of the crater is a lake of lava.  The smoke you see is a plume of noxious gas.

polarizer_1

(Click on the image for a larger view)

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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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