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

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