Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Project 37/38 : ways of dramatising a landscape and burning in the sky

The dramatic tends to use the extremes of nature, by way of topography, lens selection (wide v telephoto), colour, back lighting, reflections, meteorological conditions and composition. Mountains, reflection in water and the sea are often seen as dramatic.

This project is the precursor to three projects on black and white images and looks at the techniques available in a wet darkroom and the use of film. These are techniques that I used in the 1980's when preparing for my LRPS Panel. The wet darkroom environment is alive and dynamic. The output of processed film and print is a hands on experience using chemicals that need mixing, temperatures monitored and times adjusted and managed. The parameters are variable and by reference to manufacturers graphs time and temp changes can be made to change the characteristics of the process. It is an analogue process and when carried out by hand is difficult to replicate with any degree of accuracy.

Digital Black and White photography is achievable using Adobe Photoshop, various plug ins and ink jet printers. Until recently the output of the printing process was inferior to that of the silver halide image. Progress has been made in the production of paper that shares its origin with the silver halide predecessor, offering a look and feel that is very similar. Additionally printing machines are available with advanced ink and gloss enhancers, delivering prints without metmerism or bronzing. Twelve cartridge colour printers can produce monochrome through ink mixing or alternatively use the four black variants without the colour.

Apart from working with a RAW file via Adobe Camera Raw there are a number of conversion techniques available to make a black and white image. These include:

Conversion in ACR

Conversion in Camera (surprisingly good in Nikon and Leica)

Conversion in Camera Manufactures Software ( Nikon Capture NX2 )

Conversion in Photosphop using Image > Adjustments > Black and White

I hold the opinion that images for monochrome output should be shot with that purpose. The ability to take all photographs as a colour images and then convert them is missing the point of monochrome as a style and genre. The monochrome image is not influenced by colour (although the use of filters can change the characteristic of a colour) and is primarily about shape, texture, form and light. Seeing in monochrome is gained through experience, knowing what colours reduce to grey scale tones and how filtering can manage their properties.

Post processing techniques need to follow simple guidelines and rules. The most important aspect of this is the control of the histogram. The initial file must have a full tonal range without any large areas of black or white. The exception being specular highlights which will by their very nature always be white. Where the subject is outside the dynamic range of the cameras sensor, then bracketed images should be taken and the files blended to form one master file with all the tones required. With the use of layer masks and selective adjustments the image can be made made. The following example takes a relatively bland (but has a full tonal range) image towards the dramatic by way of a 17mm lens allowing the sky to have a dominant role in the photograph.

When working on an image for print output it is important never have a 255 white. A correction of any white to 253 will ensure that a small amount of ink is delivered to the white areas. A 255 white will not have any ink as the printer assumes that the paper is base white and the lack of ink upon close examination will be a printing flaw that degrades the image.

Original Full Tone
The file is then converted into a simple monochrome version, retaining the full tonal range.

Full Tone Monochrome
The image now is no more interesting than the colour version and localised tone adjustment can be carried out. My work flow is all within CS5 and along these guidelines.

Create a Layer - Ctrl + J
Choose small areas at a time to work on.
Use Curves to make adjustments. By never adjusting the ends of the curve graph the 0000 and 255 (253) extremes are never modified and therefore the tonal range remains constant.
Ignore the areas of adjustment that will not be used.
Alt + Add Layer mask will remove all adjustments
Use soft paint brush with low opacity to paint the required correction to the local area. The painting will remove the mask to reveal the adjustment below.
The Set Foreground Colour should be at Black and White and by switching between the two mistakes and changes can be made.
Flatten Layer

Repeat until all areas have been adjusted to the desired effect.

Towards the end of the process there are further tools available within the history brush to make localised adjustments.

The history brush in association with the various blending modes will give the following effects, all of which require careful use with small opacity percentages.

Multiply - Darkens a local area
Screen - Lightens a local area
Colour Dodge - Lightens extreme small highlights
Colour Burn - Darkens small shadows
Difference - Darkens extreme highlights
Soft Light - Increases contrast in areas that have both dark and light areas.

Within CS5 there are the normal dodge and burn tools. I rarely use these are they apply themselves to a broad range of tones only controlled by the basic Highlight, Mid tone and Shadow control.

The process of  creating the image difficult to repeat and the various Layers can be left insitu for retrospective treatment if required.

Dramatised Image after manipulation by Contrast Grading Technique


The dramatic is difficult to capture in the field. There are occasions when the photographer is at the right place and the right time but these are rare and as mentioned above the ability to previsualise a different outcome is therefore required. The image used here was not "dramatic", other than using a wide angle lens and the sky had interesting detail. As a colour image I don't believe it would ever have been anything special  other than with some saturation maybe a stock image for a library showing the Favoritz lighthouse on Menorca. With a monochrome conversion and careful use of contrast manipulation, some lightening and darkening the image is transformed. The lighthouse as the interest is enhanced. The tone within the clouds hang heavy over the feature and the diagonal lines from the LHS take the eye to the building. The rock outcrop on the RHS is darkened to hold the composition while the raggedness is accentuated. In many ways this exercise covers project 38: burning in the sky, although not by using the burning tool.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Assessment material delivered to Barnsley

A trip to Barnsley today. I followed the satnav instructions and 2+ hrs later I handed over my box to Lee and received a nice cup of tea in exchange; a transaction not dissimilar to when I have given blood.
I now have 5 weeks to make changes and fill in some blanks to the blog. While having the tea I had a good read through the PWDP course notes. How refreshing they are after the Landscape set with its prescriptive, do this, now do that routine in the projects. Photojournalism is where I have some empathy so maybe after a break that is my next module.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Project 28 : intimate landscape

I am influenced here by David Ward and his books Landscape Within and Landscape Beyond. David does shoot vista but his best work takes a closer look at what is around our feet. This is not unlike Weston whose work on photographing natural form within nature is of the same genre.

As discussed elsewhere in this journal nature and landscape are not uniform and present themselves as chaotic with hidden form. It is difficult to quantify "intimate" along with close up and macro and I am not happy to include them in this. The difficulties with shallow depth of field in macro photography do not appeal to me within this context. I tend to think of this smaller world existing from 1m to 25m from the camera and in every case to exclude the horizon.

Shape and form with simple framing will succeed here and the cluttered and disjointed will always be unsatisfactory. I include below a selection of photographs taken with this in mind.

The forest floor

Small rocks forming a matrix

Light on dead wood

The larger the area under consideration for an image then the greater the distance the photographer has to move to instigate change or introduce new form. An intimate landscape implies a closeness, one where you can reach out and touch the shapes and textures but does not deny the existence of the wider world with its wide vistas. There is no reference to where the images are within the world and that is of no consequence as we are asking the viewer to look closer and allow themselves the time to see detail, texture and form. The intimacy helps to move the image from the illustrative into the abstract and to move away from objectivity and into another place, a microcosm where attention to detail is paramount for success.

"There is something about abstraction that is alluring. It forces the viewer to look afresh at the textures, colours and patterns of our world"  D Ward - Landscape Within