Posts Tagged ‘vision’

Is That What Your Camera Saw?

July 24th, 2014

Occasionally at art festivals a visitor to my booth will point to one of my photographs and ask, “Is that what your camera saw?”  This question points out a common misunderstanding about the physics and art of photography.

Those of us who are serious about our photography capture our digital images in RAW file format.  That’s a format that does a minimal amount of processing on the image before it saves it to the memory card.  It is more like what the camera sees.

The other format is  JPEG and is not what the camera sees but rather a highly processed image that is controlled to a large extent by the settings the photographer sets in the camera – settings like sharpness, contrast and saturation.  So if the photographer likes saturation he just has to up the saturation setting in the camera.

JPEG is much closer to the photographs that were captured in the wonderful days of film.  Each different type of file had its own unique way of responding to the scene.  Kodachrome film was great for reds while Ektachrome was perfect for blues.  Fujichrome was prized for its treatment of greens and its high contrast.

So what did the film camera see?  The question is really, “What did the film see?”  Was it a faithful documentation of reality?  Not in the least.  The same can be said for JPEG digital files.  They are no more a faithful documentation of reality than film was.

The fact is, RAW files are closer to what the camera saw than film or JPEG files ever were or will be.  And, as one workshop participant put it to me, “I don’t like shooting in RAW because the photographs are so plain and uninteresting.”  There you go.  What the camera sees, exactly what the camera sees, is often plain and uninteresting.

So the physics of digital images captured in RAW format is that the images are the closest to what the camera sees.  But from an artistic point of view, these images generally do not speak to us.  These are documentation but that’s not art; art is interpretation.

Now, a RAW file is the perfect starting point from which to create art.  It is neutral, unbiased and open to the artist to express what she saw, what she experienced that inspired her to set up the camera and compose the image, that led to the decisive moment that the shutter was pressed.

In the days of film we relied on our selection of the type of film that would do the best job of rendering particular situations.  In the digital era we have much more powerful tools that we ever had with film – Lightroom, Photoshop, Photomatix and all the wonderful software that we have access to that allows us to express our vision, our interpretation of reality.

So, are my photographs what the camera saw?  Not at all.  They are what I saw.


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Ansel Adams – The Making of 40 Photographs: Nevada Falls

May 10th, 2013

There’s so much to learn from studying Ansel Adams’ photographs, especially when you read what he has to say about them in “Examples – The Making of 40 Photographs”.  Each narrative seems to have its own distinct lesson.  The narrative associated with Nevada Falls is a study in working a composition.

nevada_falls

 

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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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Is HDR a Four Letter Word?

November 17th, 2012

HDR.  Many people respond to those three letters in shock and disgust.  For them, HDR is synonymous with over the top processed images.  It embodies all that they think is wrong with digital photography and the implied MANIPULATION that goes with it.  It is a shocking insult on reality.

I’ve heard of photography contests that strictly forbid HDR and insist that all the photographs that are submitted be a single exposure.  I’ve judged photography competitions in which the other judges viewed an HDR image that was just slightly over the top and felt it should be placed in the Manipulated category.

But the letters HDR stand for High Dynamic Range.  Nothing sinister about that.  It’s a situation frequently encountered when out photographing.  That’s when the dynamic range of the scene, the difference between the darkest and brightest spots in the scene, is greater than the dynamic range our camera’s sensor is capable of capturing.  When we encounter this situation we’re going to get clipping where the highlights or shadows or both lack detail, are blank.  This is not a desirable situation.  If there’s anything that’s shocking here it’s that the camera, that supposedly great recorder of reality, does not, cannot see what our eyes see.  So what can be done about that?

Well, if you’re shooting color film the answer is simple. Nothing.  Move on.  You’ll never be able to capture high dynamic range images on color film (without clipping) no matter how beautiful they are.  If you are shooting black and white you can do what Ansel Adams did – water bath development.  He exposed for the shadows and adjusted his development process and chemicals to get a proper development of his highlights.  Sounds to me like he’s doing what we digital photographers do with HDR – adjusting the process to capture the full dynamic range (Read “How Ansel Adams did HDR”)

If you’re a digital photographer you can use the HDR technique – capture two or more images with bracketed exposures that span the dynamic range and then blend them together using software like PhotoMatix Pro.  So where’s the problem?  I mean, doesn’t that sound like a good thing, taking photographs we weren’t able to do at all with color film or with great difficulty with black and white?

But somehow HDR has become a four letter word in some circles.  It’s become synonymous with that word that is so offensive to some – MANIPULATION.  HDR images are manipulated images.  Never mind that HDR can be used to create photographs that are a lot more like what our eyes see than what our cameras are even remotely capable of capturing. 

Many of these same people that think that HDR is a four letter word are also prone to look down their noses and ask, “Did you PHOTOSHOP that picture.”  Yes, with Photoshop we can easily drop in moons that weren’t there.  And our photographs are cheap because of that.  But it was OK in the days of film when the masters that we so admire did it.  What’s the difference?  Is it that it was hard when you did it with film and therefore to be admired but it’s easy with Photoshop?  Don’t know.  Could be.

And with HDR a similar thing might be happening.  With the software tools that are available you don’t have to settle for recreating what our eyes saw, you can take your images over the top, give them that grunge look.  Or that painterly look.  It’s up to you and your vision.

Now, for the record (not that it’s important) I choose not to go for the grunge or painterly look in PhotoMatix Pro.  I prefer to control the dynamic range, remove highlight clipping and return an image to Lightroom that I can continue to work on.  And when it comes to moons in my  photographs I prefer to be there when the full moon comes up behind my  favorite bristlecone pine.  It’s a lot more fun that way.

But I have no argument with those that drop moons or cloudy skies or whatnot in their photographs.  And I have no argument with those that choose to express themselves with grunge HDR images.  I readily confess that some of them are extremely effective with the grunge look.  That’s just not my style, not my personality. 

The only thing I think we all owe our viewers is to be honest about it.  When people come into my booth at an art festival and ask if I manipulate or Photoshop my photographs I  answer, “Of course.”  I often go on to say, “Let me put it this way.  I approach photography from the mindset of a painter.  I want to have all the creative freedom a painter would have.’”  And more than once, they have responded, “Oh, I get it.  You’re an artist.” 

Smile

Love it when that happens.


What do you think of HDR?  What do you think of manipulation in Photoshop?  Leave a comment.  We’d love to hear your opinion. 

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

To see more of my photographs click here.

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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.


If you enjoy these posts please feel free to share them on Facebook or Twitter, or email them to your friends.  And we would really enjoy hearing from you.  Join the conversation –  leave a comment.

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

To see more of my photographs click here.

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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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2013 Photography Workshop Schedule Preview

July 29th, 2012

I’m busy putting together the 2013 Photography Workshop schedule.  We’ll be going back to some of the great places I love taking people to.  But I’m also adding a new location that I think you will find very exciting.  Here’s a preview of what I’m considering.


death_valley_sunrise_2012_rrpm_rc0

February we’re going back to one of my all time favorites – Death Valley.  This is one of our largest National Parks and is filled with wonders at every turn.  It’s always exciting to be there.

 

 


pinto_basin_dawn_2012_rrpm_rc100

In March we’ll be back in Joshua Tree National Park for the annual Joshua Tree Gathering.  This is a weekend of camping, fun, food and photography.  This has become quite an affair and it’s something I do to give back to the photography community.

 


stout_grove_1_2006_emp_rc50

Here’s a hint as to what I have in mind for late May or early June.  Bet this hint isn’t difficult to figure out.  And this will be the perfect time to be there.  I’m still working out the details but will announce it as soon as they are finalized.

 

 

 


pfeiffer_beach_sunset_2012_rrpm_p50_0421

Big Sur is such a stunning place, it would be a shame not to hold a workshop there. And we’re going back in 2013.  I haven’t finalized the date yet but we’ll be there.  You can count on it.

 

 


kolob_terrace_2007_2.0_EMP_RC75

A year of photography would not be complete without returning to Zion National Park in Utah.  We’ll be back in mid to late August.  Zion is such a peaceful place, I always look forward to it.  It’s a place where many people recharge their batteries.

 


thors_hammer_star_trails_2011

I’ve always felt that if you’ve gone to the trouble of traveling to Zion you owe it to yourself to finish the week in Bryce Canyon National Park.  So that’s what we do – two photography workshops back to back.  Most students do as I do, take them both.  And we have special pricing for those that do.

 

 

 


So 2013 will be another great year of photography, returning to the places I love and adding a new one.

To me, a photography workshop is about more than shooting great locations; it’s also about growing as a photographer and artist.  I like to work with each student individually to develop their technical skills.  But equally important is developing their expressive skills.  Photography is art and through art we as artists share our vision of the world.  Becoming an artist is the process of opening yourself up to the world around you and experiencing it more deeply.  Then capturing that experience in your photographs.  This is our focus in our workshops.

If you know of someone who might be interested in a photography workshop in 2013 please feel free to share this blog post with them or post it on your Facebook page.  There are links at the top of the post for this purpose.  By the way, I offer a very attractive discount for anyone who brings another student along with them.

So come on out and join us and bring a friend.  Click here to check us out.

You can also check out our photography.  Click here.

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Ansel Adams – The Making of 40 Photographs: Frozen Lake and Cliffs

July 15th, 2012

It was in the  ‘70s when I was backpacking through the Kaweah Gap areas of the Sierra Nevada mountains.  We were two days out and came upon this lake.  I instantly recognized it from on of Ansel Adams that I particularly liked – Precipice Lake.  It was exciting and we spent the night there.

Frozen Lake and Cliffs (1932)

I’ve always been a fan of this Ansel Adams classic.   For me it has a feeling of immensity and majesty.  So it  has a special meaning to me reading about it in “Examples.”   A few things caught my attention in Adams’ narrative…

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Making a Photograph – Ansel Adams “Moonrise”

June 30th, 2012

I’m reading Ansel Adams’ book, “Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs” and finding renewed inspiration in his work.  I must admit I get a little tired of the fuss over Adams in “Outdoor Photographer” magazine, a clear ploy to sell more issues.  But when I return to the master himself and read his words I am fired up with renewed commitment to making fine photographic images.

Moonrise

“Moonrise,” the extremely popular photograph of the full moon rising over Hernandez, New Mexico, is the one I’d like to talk about in this post.

Ansel Adams, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941

This iconic photograph almost didn’t happen.  From the time Adams saw this image, set up his 8X10 view camera, ‘guessed’ at the exposure and triggered the shutter, the light was almost gone.  In the seconds it took to reverse his film holder to get a backup shot it was gone.

I say he ‘guessed’ the exposure because he didn’t have time to do the careful spot metering and exposure calculation that is at the heart of his zone system.  He didn’t have time to even dig his spot meter out.  But he realized the moon was in full daylight and he new its luminance was 250 candles per square foot.  He placed the moon in Zone VII, set his f/stop and shutter speed accordingly, composed, focused and pressed the cable release.

This image required the full range of his considerable technical skills, both in developing the negative and making the print.  He speaks of the uncertainty in developing the negative to pull out the detail in the shadows and how difficult the negative was to print, how no two prints came out exactly the same.  What becomes very clear in his technical discussion is the extent of his enormous technical skills and the decisions he made in the field when determining the exposure, in the darkroom when developing the negative to control the dynamic range, and again in the darkroom when making the prints.  And the end result was this incredibly expressive image.

But all of this technical prowess was the servant or even the slave to his artistic vision.  When he glanced out the window of  his Cadillac while returning to his hotel in Santa Fe and saw the moon, the clouds and the sleepy village with the tombstones in the glow of the setting sun he knew at that moment what the final image would look like.  For Adams, previsualization was the master of the creative process.  From the instant the car came to a stop and he rushed to set up his gear and capture the moment, everything he did, every decision he made served his vision of what he would make from this moment.

And that’s what I find so inspiring, the focus of all of the technical skills we acquire, master and perfect into the realization of the connection we have with our world.  For it is that connection and the skill to share it with others that makes us artists.

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

To see more of my photographs click here.

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Making a Photograph – Vision

June 29th, 2012

“This photograph speaks to me.”

The photographs that have a strong impact on us speak to us.  The photographer has created an image that moves us.  Did he or she have something in mind when making the photograph?  Probably so.  Strong images just don’t happen by accident.

As one grows as a photographer one’s vision becomes clearer.  One begins to discover who they are and what they have to say.  And as one’s technical and aesthetic skills develop, skills used in both the field and the darkroom, one’s ability to express their vision becomes stronger.

The artist’s vision is an important element of their art.  The clearer an artist is on what his or her vision is the more expressive their art becomes.

If you’re not clear on what your vision is, live with your photographs.  Become aware of what you associate with them, what stories they are telling you, how they make you feel.  And as your vision emerges nurture it, strengthen it, let it speak through you and your art.  And then your photographs will also speak to others.

death_valley_sunrise_2012

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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