I really love fall because it is a great time to travel and take photographs. But the hard part about fall is that we do a lot of traveling and take a lot of photographs! I was already a few weeks behind on processing my photos from the last two weekends, and then this weekend I went and took another 1,000 or so photographs, so I’m even behinder now than I was before. But we’ll slow down a bit in November and December, so with any luck I’ll have some time to get caught up on my processing and my writing. Wishful thinking, perhaps, but that’s the plan.
Over the weekend of 10/19-10/21 we headed to Roanoke, VA to spend time with our good friends Steven and Cheryl. One of the things I had been looking forward to was visiting their Farmer’s Market, which is right downtown, in the Market Square area. There is a block-long section of street that has been permanently set up for local farmers and craftspeople to display and sell their goods. It was quite an experience, and for me it was a real photographic treat. And all I did was shoot vegetables! I could have make an entire day photographing people, although many of them were not nearly as photogenic as the food. 🙂
I’ve not spent a lot if time at farmer’s markets, although I certainly need to do more of it. The quality of food for sale is much better than that found at even the better local grocery stores. Most if it is truly local, and you can be pretty sure that whatever you buy was picked just a few days before you bought it. We always tell ourselves that we don’t buy enough produce to make it worth the trip, but I think there’s a lot to be said for buying fresh and for buying local.
The fall colors were coming into their own while we were there, and I’ll try to follow up with another post on that subject in the next few days.
I have a number of friends who seem to be able to race home and see who can be the first to process and post photos from their weekends, but I don’t seem to be able to come close to that, so I don’t care to waste much effort trying to compete. In the mean time I’m currently trying to download and process another batch of photos from our two latest adventures. One of them was for a paying client today, so I’ll have to give those photos a higher priority. But I’ll get back to these soon, so stay tuned.
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!
Life maintains a fragile balance. Most of us take this balance for granted, but the result when this changes even a little can be devastating. A life full of health and optimism can quickly turn to pain and misery with little or no warning.
Kathy’s Mom passed away this past week. The funeral was Saturday. Just a few short years ago she was healthy and energetic, walking and exercising regularly, optimistic for a long and happy future. A series of falls and illnesses were eventually diagnosed as Parkinson’s. A disease as diverse as those who are afflicted, there is little to be done, save for some medicines whose side effects tend to be as horrible as the illness they are designed to alleviate. Eventually the inevitable prevailed, and in too short a time she was gone.
A loving wife and caring mother, she left a family who misses her greatly. Her wit, wisdom and sense of humor inspires us all, and I am grateful that she was even able to find a few redeeming qualities in me.
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.
It was 65 degrees here in North Carolina today, and I washed my car! Changes are in store over night tonight but I’ll brag while I can!
The coast is a special place any time of the year, but it takes on an amazing quality in the winter. Crisp, clear skies and often some great color both at sunrise and sunset. Our favorite beach within a reasonable drive is Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. Amazingly this photo is from a visit there nearly 5 years ago, in January 2007. It’s really hard to believe how quickly time flies.