Monthly Archives: December 2014

Blue Sky, Blue Filter

Bristlecone Pine, Bare Branches Windy Ridge, Near Alma, Colorado, 2014

Bristlecone Pine, Bare Branches
Windy Ridge, Near Alma, Colorado, 2014

I use Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro to do my black and white conversions, and I have to say that I continue to be impressed with using the blue filter when editing landscape images.

Allow me to backtrack a little.  I’ve always been very taken with drama in landscape photography, particularly of the kind where a blue sky goes to black or very nearly so, and any white clouds in the sky end up really standing out.  In film photography, this kind of effect often could be achieved by placing a red filter over the lens.  Colored filters tend to pass their own colors and block complementary colors, so a red filter tends to lighten up things that are red and, importantly, darken things on the other side of the color wheel from red, such as the blue in blue skies.  As a result, with black and white film a darkened blue sky tends to show up as dark grey or black.

In the digital world, most black and white images are made starting with a color capture (because the color capture contains more information – three channels, one red, one green, and one blue – as opposed to a black and white capture, which contains just one channel of information – greyscale).  Because there is color information in the capture, when converting to black and white, you can digitally apply a “blue filter,” which will tend to lighten things that are blue and darken things that are, for example, red.

Using the blue filter in Silver Efex Pro is really easy.  There’s a button you can push, and then a couple of sliders to control how strong the filter is and what hue of blue it is.  Pretty cool, really.

In any case, in the past I routinely would use a red filter to really darken a blue sky.  The image in this post, “Bristlecone Pine, Bare Branches,” would have been a prime candidate for this treatment in the past, because it has nice white clouds in the sky that probably would look really striking if the cloudless blue portions of the sky were dark grey or black.

But, of course, I didn’t use a red filter, I used a blue one.  This had the effect of lightening the cloudless blue portions of the sky, making them light grey in the converted black and white image, and in fact reducing the overall contrast with those white clouds.  It’s just the opposite of how I used to do things, but I’ve come to really like it.  Putting the clouded and cloudless portions of the sky in the same value range – in this case, light greys to whites – creates a nice, delicate feel to the sky, at least in my opinion.  Plus, it simplifies the overall composition, because the more unified values of the sky – again, all tending toward light grey or white – make the sky as a whole contrast more with the black needles of the pine tree, which is where I want the viewer’s eye to be drawn to.

I still like dark skies and am sure I will continue to use the red filter effect in the future.  But it’s nice to have another tool in the toolbox, and an alternate way of interpreting blue skies in landscape photographs.

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30 Minutes and 30 Yards

Cattails on the Prairie Near Greenland, Colorado, 2014

Cattails on the Prairie
Near Greenland, Colorado, 2014

Just one guy’s opinion, but I think the image in this post, “Cattails on the Prairie,” looks quite different than the image in my previous post, “Cottonwood Copse.”  For example, last post’s image is higher in key with less contrast overall, while this image is overall darker in key with much stronger contrasts.  The prior image is pretty simple in composition, maybe even bordering on minimalism, while this image has a few more elements to it.  Perhaps most importantly, I get a much different feeling from the two images – the prior image feels to me sort of cold and wintery, while this image feels much more warm and summery.

Thing is, these two images were taken about 30 minutes and 30 yards apart.  This post’s image was seen about 30 yards up the road from last post’s image.  The cottonwoods in the previous image are part of the line of cottonwoods in this image, just seen from a different angle.  If you look closely, you might even see a fence in these two images – it’s the same fence in both.

There’s a couple of things I take away from this.  First, as a photographer you really do have a lot of latitude to interpret your photographs in whatever way you want to, and editing the image in post processing (whether in a wet darkroom or on a computer) is a decisive part of the artistic process.  Never think your images have to look just how they came out of the camera.  Have a vision for them, and make your vision happen.

Second, it’s amazing just how much creativity you can add to your photography with some simple fieldwork.  Don’t stand around in one spot – move around, look at what you can see in all directions, wait a few minutes and see how the clouds move, how the light changes.  Be an active part of your photography process.  When I do these things, I often find there’s more photographic possibilities for a given subject than I originally thought.

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Is Photography Too Easy?

Cottonwood Copse Near Greenland, Colorado, 2014

Cottonwood Copse
Near Greenland, Colorado, 2014

Is photography too easy?  This may seem like an odd (and possibly pretentious) question coming from one who photographs, but I think it’s a fair one.

There’s no doubt that it’s now easier than ever to make a photograph.  Digital technology has eliminated the requirements for developing film and printing in a wet a darkroom.  And computer software makes it relatively easy to produce a polished-looking photograph that can be quickly and easily printed.  The barriers to entering this discipline have never been lower, and the world has never been flooded with as many photographs.

They’re not all good photographs, of course.  Most probably are in fact simple snapshots, with no aspirations toward being anything more, quickly taken with a mobile device of some kind simply because it was easy to do so, and destined for no purpose greater than being shared on a Facebook page or something similar.

Still.  The sheer number of photographs being made today suggests that many will be “good” simply by being happy accidents.  Beyond this, the lowered entry barriers to practicing photography means that more people are able to pursue photography seriously now than ever before, resulting in a larger pool of increasingly accomplished practitioners making work.  And among these practitioners, digital processes mean that they are producing more work more quickly.

As a result, there really is a large amount of very high quality photography being done today as compared to even 10 or 15 years ago, at least in my opinion.

I wonder, does this devalue the worth of photography as art?  Fine art photography has always labored under a legitimacy issue when it comes to being taken seriously as an art form.  In my experience, it still does not get respected by the public as art in the same way that, say, painting does.  Has the increase in the amount of good photography being done these days created a glut that further threatens the legitimacy of this discipline?

Or, is there still room for individual photographers to create unique, compelling art?  At the very least, I think the bar has been raised.  It’s no longer enough to make technically proficient, aesthetically beautiful photographs.  There’s just too many very good photographers who can do this.  I’d like to think that technical proficiency and aesthetic beauty are still prerequisites to good photographs (sadly, much of what is regarded as contemporary photographic art seems to lack these ingredients), but really good photographs require something more.  Reaching what that something more is is not easy to do, though I do think there are a number of contemporary photographers who get there.  The really interesting question is if these achievements will be recognized and embraced in a time when making photographs is just so easy.

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