Monday, March 25, 2013

You Never Know

Years ago I was watching a 60 MINUTES broadcast while overnighting at a hotel. The story they were covering was about a bright young man who had grown up in Harlem, became successful, and now was returning to his old neighborhood, buying old beat-up buildings and remodeling them into affordable and safe housing for people to move in to. It was a wonderful story.

As the TV crew followed him through the hallways, up the stairs, into an apartment to visit with one of the new tenants, I noticed the wall behind them had one of my photographs made into a poster. I jumped up looked closer, and sure enough, an old wolf image of mine made into a poster. I laughed out loud and shook my head with a big grin. Hey, I made 60 MINUTES..... and in a good way! HA.

Sometimes you just never know why an image is gonna end up where it does. These little surprises are a nice treat. Its part of the fun in this business. Recently, during one of my winter photography workshops, a brutally cold morning gave us the perfect ammunition to create an image that you can only achieve in this sort of hostile environment.

It was -36ยบ F Below Zero. When you toss up a ladle of hot water into this frigid air, that hot water instantly vaporizes. It makes for a wonderful images combining both science and art. It soon appeared in National Geographic's "Your Shot" collection of online images.

Another example of how unusual circumstances result in unexpected placement, came from a photograph I snapped while shooting a Smithsonian Magazine assignment. I was in North Dakota covering a feature story on a farmer who collects tractors. While crossing from one field to another across his land, I stumbled onto a sort of "old car graveyard." I spotted this 54' Ford Crown Victoria with an Ash tree growing right outta of the hood.

It struck me immediately, NATURE'S REVENGE.

I sent the image off to one of my favorite clients, Patagonia, and they soon used it on one of the cover of their clothing catalogs, then in their beautiful book, UNEXPECTED. Now, over a decade later, they are using it again as a design for one of T-Shirts.

How cool is that?  Ya just never know.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Great Lessons In Photography

Why is it that the most significant lessons in life are always the toughest? It probably has to do with that age old concept "we learn more from our failures than our successes." I hate to say it, but it's true to the bone. Its akin to the You Can't Win If You Don't Enter theme.

Ya gotta be out there generating images and creating the most articulate ways to visually communicate. That instantaneous moment when content and art blend together is magical. It motivates one to continue aiming their lenses at the world.

In its roots, photography has always been a science driven medium. Indeed, it can be hard to see it that way, what with all the auto-this and auto-that available today. One barely needs to understand the science to get decent exposure. For the general public this is a monumental advancement. Scoot over to the most recent photo technological advancement, iPhone's, taking a photograph is amazingly simple, can be processed and shared world-wide within seconds.

My photography roots emerged from black & white photography. I was hooked on the medium the moment I witnessed a print emerging in a well seasoned tray of dektol. I studied the works of Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Minor White, Paul Caponigro, Dorothy Lange, Wynn Bullock, and Margaret Bourke-White to name a few. One quickly learned, they embraced the science of photography. They knew what film and developer combination would produce a decent negative. Understanding the complexities of printing those negatives to show off the myriad of zones and tonal values to achieve an exquisite silver halide print defined the fine art photographer of that era. Science, all science.

Wow, times have changed and digital dominates the industry. Its still science, not as organic as the chemistry laden past, but driven by math, this technology takes such giant steps it can be difficult to keep up with the changes and the costs. But, grasping digital technology and understanding its capabilities continues to be the edge photographers need to pull the most out of the visual situations they face in field.

In a recent workshop, a participant was drawn to a very contrasty scene. She looked at it, made her composition, and snapped the shutter. As she walked away from it I heard her say, "that'll never work. I'll lose all detail in those shadows." She looked at her camera monitor and sure enough it was contrasty. But, not all is lost. I explained to her, the beauty of digital is dark areas are digitals' playground.

That said, I wanted to show everyone a quick and easy way to pull out those dark, contrasty areas out of your digital captures. As many of you know, I tend to stay away from the techno lessons because I'm more concerned with people learning to see visually. But, part of learning to see is not walking away from compelling situations because you worry they just worn't work. Chances are damn good in today's digital world what you see in your mind can be accomplished photographically.

Let's take a look at this image below. While teaching in Cambodia on a Mentor Series Worldwide Treks ( we were photographing a small village with several temples and a small monk monastery. I spotted this young girl leaning on a railing. She appeared unhappy and very preoccupied. I heard sounds of chanting and music coming from the area immediately to her right. Curiosity begged for a more defined reason why she was not engaged in the music. As I moved closer, I could see the monks, all men, holding service. She was not allowed. I wanted to capture her mood and yet also include within the frame the source of her discontent.

But, as you can see it's an exposure problem. There's probably four f/stops in difference between her face and the dark room where the monks are holding service. While my eyes can accurately witness the scenario, it's a photographic nightmare of extreme exposure differences. Yet, for this to be a good photograph, it needs all the information in the scene. Not to worry!

Click on the images to enlarge

Proper exposure made on young girl creates severe darkness to the right
Using the Adjustment Brush tool in Photoshop or Lightroom
as a mask, we can bring up the dark areas

Wow, is it that simple?

Yes, it's that simple to bring back the image as observed on site. You won't lose the valuable editorial content necessary to understanding the moment that was hidden in the dark areas to the right.

If you are a Photoshop or Lightroom user and have not used this tool, learn to do it. It will save numerous images in your files and provide the confidence when out shooting that tough situations can be brought to life right out of your RAW files. Chances are darn good the information is there. You just need to learn how to bring it out.

This is an over simplified peek at this technique. But, one you will love if you have not used it in the past. All those images you were so worried about.... go back and give em' life. Science is a tool!

When opening RAW Files, choose the Adjustment Brush Tool, seen on top. Then, I like to check
the SHOW MASK box at the bottom, so I can see what areas I'm masking.
Here, you can see the masked areas I brushed on the right side. Once brushed, I turn off the
SHOW MASK (the fog disappears but is still there) and move up to the Exposure slider and move to
the right if I want it brighter, and magically watch the masked area come back to life. I have complete
control of how much I want it to brighten.
The finished image! You have great control over how you do this, the amount, the feathering, ect.
And, when you like what you see, when going to OPEN IMAGE, use OPTION-CLICK on
the open-image button to open without updating image metadata keeping your original
RAW file just as you had originally exposed it.

Here's another example; A beautiful blue door inside a historic farmhouse in Iceland caught my eye. I loved the color and the wonderful composition of little patches colors and lines criss-crossing about the scene. But, I also wanted more detail in some of the dark shadow areas to give the viewer more information in the room. Using the Adjustment Brush, it let me lighten those hidden areas.

Here, you can see the areas I decided to utilize the Adjustment Brush and mask
the areas I planned on boosting up the exposure to resemble a look more like my
eye had seen inside this room.
A comparison with the before and after

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

There's Still Hope for Photographers-Good Luck-Good Light story in the NY TIMES

With all the bad news, like this Hire A Photographer for $10 crap, its good to see something good happening in the photography world once in a while.

Check out the link below to read more about GOOD LUCK-GOOD LIGHT. If it does not take you there directly, copy and paste the link.

And, this sort of thing (below) might become the norm for some, but rest assured it will eventually kill the photography business as we know it today. I'm not sure how it will affect the editorial world, but most photography eventually finds its pricing methods in editorial. All I can suggest, is don't be stupid and go for this sort of thing.

Its important that you understand the value of your work if you intend to stay in to make a living. If someone wants to offer someone $10 to shoot a assignment, let them use their own iPhone and post the images themselves. Even that work, which will take valuable time, will cost more than $10.