A little photo-geekery here. Apologies to the non-photographers. 😉
I took this photo back in the fall of 2011 along the Blue Ridge Parkway in southern Virginia. The tree was aglow in fall color and the light made it explode out of the surrounding hillside. I purposely under-exposed by 2 stops so I wouldn’t lose the sky or saturation in the golden leaves. But try as I might I just couldn’t get a final image that captured what I saw. Image #1 is the original file without processing, and Image #2 is my best attempt at that time.
When I was looking for photos to accompany my “trees” post I came across this image and decided to give it another try. I updated the Process Version to the latest one and took advantage of the latest masking and toning tools in Lightroom. I finally got the image I was looking for originally! Or at least very close to it. I may mess with it some more, but I’m happy to have broken the code on this one.
I just hope it doesn’t “force” me to start looking for old files to process…I have a hard enough time keeping up with the current stuff! 🙂
One of the things that I often accuse myself of, and for the most part it’s true, is not taking enough time with a subject to fully explore it. I am one of the most patient people I know, and when I get behind the camera I usually do a pretty good job of focusing myself so that I take as much time as I need. But sometimes I get to a point where I start to lose interest, or I see something else that I want to work with “next” and I move on before I should. That’s one of the reasons why I seldom bother with macro work. It’s just too fussy for me, although on the occasions where I have taken the time the results have been pretty good. But it’s a good example of what I mean. When I am taking very close-up photos of something like a flower, I see a flaw or something that I know will detract from it being a good photograph, then I just give up and move on to something else.
One of the advantages of working with a subject that is already “flawed” is that it then becomes an exercise of simply representing it from an interesting angle, or emphasizing a certain quality or exploring how the light shapes the subject or brings out form and character. That is one of the reasons why I love shooting what I refer to as “peeling paint and rust.” I tend to give up if a beetle has been chewing on a flower petal, but if I come across an old boat or a rusted car, that is something I can work with!
We live in what I call a “hurry up society.” This is an age that encourages moving along. We now have text messages that go away in 24 hours whether we read them or not, museums who give us a time limit for how long we can view a piece or prevent us from re-entering a room we have already visited. And heck knows we have no shortage of distractions. This all affects our photography in many ways, most of them negative, I think.
It’s far too easy in our always-connected age to take a photo and upload it instantly, so you can share, brag, complain or whatever. Then sit there and wait for all the Likes, Plusses, OMGs and LOLs to come pouring back on you. But that’s not what I’m about. For the most part my connectedness tends to be one-way. And only when it suits me. I’m just not an “always on” kind of guy! So this idea of taking all the time I need really appeals to me and is something I need to push myself to do more.
This group of photos comes from 2011 at a place called Stumpy Point, North Carolina. It’s an “unincorporated community” which means that it isn’t actual town, but it does have a fire department, and there is a boat ramp at the end of the road where several old boats have been hauled up on shore and abandoned, just like the hopes and dreams of the owners, I suppose.
I’ve been there a number times, but this particular visit was during my Road Ends project that I did for that year’s SoFoBoMo (so glad to hear that it’s been resurrected!). Look it up on a map – it’s a place where all the locals wave because they know that for one reason or another you are there on purpose. It’s not really on the way to anywhere and it is a long way from everywhere. I like it because it is quiet – we were there on July 3 and there wasn’t another soul around. I think during my handful of visits there I’ve only seen three people there, and that was the first time.
That’s one of the things I like about going there. It’s quiet, I don’t need to worry about “rent-a-cops” and their imaginary paranoia telling me it’s illegal to shoot there. I’ve never seen anyone to ask, but I suppose if I did they would say something like “ain’t nothin’ else to do out here, have at it.” I probably give them something different to look at for a while.
According to my metadata I probably spent about 30 minutes shooting on that day. I don’t remember but it was probably hot and humid, and if there was any kind of breeze it would have helped keep the mosquitos away, but in July it’s not a cooling breeze. But I got what I went there for and came across a nice little series of photos. And I have some nice photos of the same boat that I made on previous visits. She’s not going anywhere. I suppose at some point a storm will come along and wash her to her final resting place, or someone will finally accept her fate and haul the remains off to a trash heap somewhere. But for a few visits she was a great subject for photography. I wish I knew her name, but there hasn’t been anyone around to ask!
A number of my non-photographer friends have asked me on numerous occasions why their photographs don’t look like my photographs. And of course the sentiment I hear most often is that “I must have a really great camera.” And I tell them, “of course I do, but I could make the photographs I make with just about any camera. It all has to do with how I take the photograph, and knowing what to do with it after I take it.”
Many people incorrectly attribute this answer to mean that I am “Photoshopping” my photos, but when they do, their impression is that that means something sinister or unethical. I try to explain that a lot of what I do is no different than what might have been done with film in a darkroom. I just don’t have to do it with chemicals, I do it with a computer.
This article is written primarily for me to be able to point my friends to something that explains, better than I could possibly do in the lunchroom at work or at dinner in a nice restaurant, what I mean when I say that I “develop” or “process” my photos in Lightroom. And hopefully some of my photographer friends will find this interesting and perhaps even informative.
This photograph was taken in October 2011 on one of those rare times when the fall color was just about at peak, and an early morning snowstorm came through with just about perfect timing. An hour before this photo was taken I was sitting in my car in the parking lot at Clingman’s Dome, being buffeted by gale force winds when a snow plow driver stopped to tell me that I had better get started down because he was planning to lock the gate. I wisely retreated to a lower elevation and found this scene.
The scene in front of me was overall pretty dark and lacking in contrast, because even though the sun was lighting up the clouds the light was pretty diffused and the sun was not shining through all that brightly. I knew from experience that my camera would try to overexpose to bring the values closer to an average exposure. But I also knew that the snow and clouds were on the brighter end of the scale and would cause my camera to want to under underexpose the snow and clouds. I figured (correctly) that the two would just about balance each other out and made no adjustments to what the meter was reading. I confirmed the exposure with the histogram after the shot.
At the time I was pretty certain that I had captured some good photographs of a pretty amazing scene, but I also knew that a great deal of post-processing would be required to obtain a final image that looked like what I “saw” while I was standing at that overlook. When I got home and imported the files into the computer, the first thing I saw was this flat looking gray mess that some people might be tempted to toss. But I had a plan and went to work.
The first thing I did was to adjust the white balance to warm the scene up a little. My camera does a very good job with finding the “right” white balance, but I knew I was going to need to add some warmth to get the look I was after. About 500 points was plenty to get what I wanted. Next, I knew I needed to add a lot of contrast, since the snow and clouds made for a very low-contrast scene. I ended up adding a lot of black – about 70 points (this is Process Version 2010 in Lightroom – the new adjustment tools had not been invented yet!). Some adjustments to the mid-tones and highlights and I was starting to get somewhere!
My next step was to add some additional color contrast by using Split-toning to cool the shadows while keeping warmth in the highlights. This is pretty subtle but gives the scene a bit more vibrance.
After a bunch of time spent cloning dust spots – the photo was shot at f22 – I was ready to move on to some fine tuning. I made extensive use of the Adjustment Brush to selectively darken and lighten specific areas of the photo, added some contrast and saturation to areas that needed it, and generally “shaped” the image to direct the viewer’s eye through the scene. A little vignetting to keep the viewer inside the frame, some tweaks to the capture sharpening and noise reduction and it’s done. Or done for now, as I haven’t yet tried to make a print of this photo. Doing that will undoubtedly require another round or two of adjustments once I see what it looks like on paper. I’d also like to experiment with this image using Process Version 2012 in Lightroom 4, but when I click the button to convert it the photo turns to crap again. So we’ll have to save that and printing for a future episode!
Last fall we were treated to a relatively rare (for me, at least!) mix of fall color and snow. We had driven up to Clingman’s Dome in the Smokies for sunrise, only to be chased back down by gale-force winds and blowing snow. The morning light a few hundred feet below proved to be a good consolation.
October is definitely my favorite time of the year here in North Carolina. We have a number of interesting adventures planned, including a long-overdue visit to Florida (not for fall color) so stay tuned for updates on our travels. Whether you manage to see snow or not, I sincerely hope that your October is a wonderful one!
The nature photography group that I belong to is an affiliate member of the Photographic Society of America, or PSA. We have recently begun participating in a number of their competitions, some of them for projected images but most of them for printed images. Because I consider the well-made print to be the intended final result of my photography, I began to submit some of my work to be considered for entry in these competitions. We’ve got a lot of members and each club is limited in the number of images they can submit in each category, plus each photographer is limited in the number of their images that can be in any one submission. It’s all very complicated to me and I have a hard time figuring it out so I generally don’t bother trying. I just send my stuff in and if it gets picked it does, and if it doesn’t it doesn’t. No big deal either way.
I did have one of my photos win an Honorable Mention in one of the projected image competitions a couple of years ago, and that was nice. I’ve been working hard at getting better with my printing and am very proud of some of the work I have submitted, so I was hoping that one or more of my prints would do well.
I received an e-mail this morning with images of the winners from the most recent competition. Mine was not included in the list of winners or those receiving honorable mention. I won’t go into a lot of detail regarding how I feel about the winners, since they obviously appealed to the people who were doing the judging. But I’ve come to the conclusion that, at least for the purposes of these competitions, the kind of work I’m submitting isn’t what the judges are looking for. I’m just not using enough software.
This is not intended to be sour grapes or anything, and to conclude that would be missing my point. But I’d be interested in knowing if there is some place or some way to get meaningful and constructive feedback on printed work that is more representative of traditional photography, rather than heavily manipulated and/or highly processed images. Maybe I’m just entering the wrong category in these competitions, but I can’t imagine that I’m the only one experiencing this. Does anyone actively participate in a print review group? Is anyone interested in starting one? It’s something I’ve considered for a while, but there just aren’t that many people printing their work these days. And of those who do, it doesn’t seem like there are many people whose goals are similar to mine. I’d be interested in knowing the thoughts of anyone reading, and might even propose that a few of us give it a try and see how it goes. Send me an e-mail or reply in the comments.
After writing the last post I remembered that I left out a whole batch of photos that I classify in Lightroom as “Personal” and I forgot to include them when I made the selection of my favorite 11. That’s probably just as well, so this way I get to show a few more favorites, and I don’t have to explain to people why I picked a tree or something over a photo of them!
I’ve taken nearly 7000 photographs this year. That’s nowhere close to what a lot of people take, but compared with years past it’s a pretty large number for me. Seven Thousand…I’m sure glad that wasn’t film!
A lot of people think it’s cool to do some kind of “Best Of” gallery or a collection of Greatest Hits for the year. It seems a bit cliche to me, but I’m going to do it anyway. But first a disclaimer: Out of the 7000 or so photos I took this year I have only processed a very small percentage of them. So this is not necessarily my “best” or even my “favorite” images from 2011, but it’s a group of photos that pretty well represent what I did this past year. I’ve found it very interesting to see what I’ve done and compare it with what I’ve done in years past.
Most interesting to me is the choice of cameras. Of these 11 photos, 3 of them were shot with the 5D, 3 with the 20D (with Holga lens) and 5 with the G12. The X10 came along a little late, but I’ll be off to a good start in 2012 with it!
I hope you enjoy this little selection of photos. I don’t think there’s anything here that hasn’t already been shown somewhere before, but I think it makes a nice little collection.
I also hope that everyone has a safe and enjoyable New Year’s weekend and starts 2012 off making more memories and more photographs.