Monday, September 27, 2010


I love black and white photography. This is where I started; shooting with a old Nikon F camera and an older Nikkor 50mm lens on Kodak Tri-X film, developing negatives in the bathroom darkroom and trying to create good tonality and decent prints with a cheap enlarger. Didn’t always work out – surprise! Ansel Adams I wasn’t. More like Charles Addams with the flu and a dried up inkwell. But what a great way to learn the photographic process. It also gave me an appreciation for those who can create the tonality and balance that make for great BW images. There is something magical, even surreal, about BW photography. For me the mood, tones and textures of light and ability to focus attention with black and white has a power that color simply does not. Since we see in color, a monochromatic representation of the world changes everything. Without color to lean on, the focus is on structure, form and light. It also dramatically changes the relationship between the different picture elements. The challenge is to create artistic, compelling images using only grayscale tones. Which is why I love the process of digital black & white. In my TV production work I gravitate toward the editing part. That’s where everything comes together to create a cohesive whole. It’s the same creating still images. I shoot in color to use those colors for their grayscale tones, and love futzing with tonal compositions. It’s great fun trying to create compelling B&W images. After all, black and white is the historic habituĂ© of, quote, fine art photography, unquote. La-de-da.

This passageway is just outside the hotel I stayed at in Venice, Italy. I shot this scene several times with different light; seeing it as a B&W pretty much all the way. It was already somewhat moody and I liked the light spilling in from the left, giving emphasis to the rain wet cobblestones and some pop to the white door. I take a look at many of my shots in grayscale to see what might be possible. My favorite finishing tool for B&W conversion is Nik Silver Efx Pro , a PhotoShop plug-in with amazing controls – dodge and burn in the digital age. It changed my life! Oaky, not all my life. I’m not expecting delivery of a yacht on the French Rivera anytime soon. But still...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sunday in Venice

I don't always know how an image will turn out when I first click the shutter, and this is one of those images.  That happens to me often.  I'll see  composition, or colors, or balance of picture elements or maybe all that and start moving around and shooting a scene; up, down, left, right, changing the placement of elements in different parts of the frame.  Basically exploring the area and what it has to offer.  Then it's off to the computer and the digital darkroom where I may see exactly what I want,  or it may take more time and more exploring before I see the image I want.  I have great respect for those photographers who take their images right from the camera and keep it "pure".  But most of the time I want to do more, instilling my own vision and creating my own interpretation of the original capture.

This was shot along a side canal in Venice, Italy, in late May (we went to Italy in May thinking we would avoid the heat and crowds - think again!).  I very much liked the serene stillness of the water, the colors and texture of the walls and the composition of wall, boats and bridge leading left to right through the image.  But for several months I could not pull the colors, textures and emotion I wanted from the photograph.  So I started futzing around with some of the different PhotoShop plug-in filters I have, most notably Topaz Adjust, and removed some of the details in the image (called "simplifying")  and made color and texture changes.  And this is the final result.  I am often amazed at what can be done in the digital darkroom and am very happy with these results. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Home in the Valley

This is a High Dynamic Range (HDR) image.  It doesn't look like a lot of HDR work you see out there.  It doesn't have that grunge look that many photographers produce and has been fairly popular for awhile now.  After a pretty short time that look gets a bit old for me, though it depends on how well the artist uses it and to what end, I guess.  I work in TV and video production and have for over 25 years.  HDR reminds me of what sometimes happens in TV when a producer falls in love with effects.  Like this:  One of my business partners was producing a marketing video and pretty much lost the audience because attention was lost to the anticipation of the next effect.  Wow!  What a ride!  What was that about, again? Some HDR work seems overcooked and I lose the subject, comp, colors (literally, sometimes), etc., to the effect.  I don't mind a little cooking, mind you, but I think many times a little goes a long way. 

In this image I was going with a more natural look from the HDR process, pulling in some of the shadows and highlights.  As a bonus I got that sky, though I did a bit of work on it to optimize the gradation.  I've shot this scene several times at different times of day with varying success.  For me, this version works.  The little valley and house are located just outside the town of Graeagle, Calif., in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. 
Just so happens I have a home in Graeagle (actually a townhome in a mountain vacation-type development overlooking a beautiful valley near these mountains).  The place is lousey with photo ops, I just have to remember to get up earlier or party later, if you know what I mean.