Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Let's think about how these two images gained color saturation and sharpness

Although photographers can find many articles and books advising us to put more thought into the creation of our images, it's not so easy to find examples of how a successful photographer actually thinks through the process. That's why we always welcome the fine images and thoughtful discussions of Arizona-based landscape photographer Steve Kossack.

"In some ways," says Steve, "these two seemingly very different images are very similar in terms of imaging style and technique. Both compositions 'read' from left to right which is the usual way we all like to see things. It's how we compose when we write in the English language and it feels like the most 'natural' flow whenever we arrange the images in our viewfinder. So the composition of these two photos was the easy part. The challenge was dealing with the different problems each scene presented which were solved the same way. Both images, in fact, were made by using a tilt/shift lens and the Singh-Ray LB Color Intensifier, but these tools were used in different ways for each image -- and for different reasons.

"Let's begin with this visit to Cedar Creek Falls which we reached by climbing off the trail in the back country of Glacier National Park We found this pristine setting totally engrossing, and we shot from many vantage points for over half an hour in the dense forest. The direct light, however, was causing problems. The shadows were deep and dark, and the reflected light off the water was almost four stops brighter than most of the rock face wherever I metered. A polarizer helped some with the reflections, but I still needed more help. The fern I used in the foreground to anchor the composition was swaying in the gentle breeze and my small aperture setting required for maximum depth of field was giving me a very long shutter speed. By switching to a tilt/shift lens, I was able to get both the foreground at the base of the image and the background area at the top in sharp focus while using a much larger aperture which in turn allowed me to use a quicker shutter speed to stop the motion of the fern. By also shifting the lens upward from its normal axis, I was also able to straighten the perspective of the top of the falls as a bonus. It no longer fell away because the camera's image plane was no longer tilted upward. As a cloud cover moved in and out, the late afternoon sun was more subdued and when a long 'open shade' break looked possible, I switched the polarizer for the color intensifier and gained 1-1/3 stops of light. The resulting increase in shutter speed made the frames that followed sharp and usable. Now with the much more even light, I had the exposure right. The dark areas became much more pronounced and the overall feeling would have been dull and somewhat flat without the Color Intensifier filter. My beautiful fern would have been almost colorless in the foreground. Green is a very dark and hard color for me to manipulate in post processing. This is one challenge I like to take care of in the field. As I removed the Color Intensifier at the end of the shoot, I took one more look through the viewfinder. I was right; the choice of the TS lens had actually sharpened the focus!

"Here at Indian Dick Camp in the depths of the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River, the problems were reversed. Rising from my sleeping bag a few feet from the river, the morning light was intense in the sky above the rim. The ground with reflected luminous light was warm enough to work with and even though the river was causing a slight breeze, the blooming Desert Datura was protected by the elevation of the river bank and its surrounding rocks and shrubs. That same bank needed to be eliminated from the image by lowering the camera to tell my story of the Datura's short survival in its hostile environment -- it only blossoms during the night and closes shortly after sunrise. The shade and its proximity to the river would tell this story.

"Again a tilt/shift lens made it possible to shoot from the low angle I had chosen to hide the river bank and get close enough to capture the lower blossom -- the two key elements of the composition. This time I did not need, or want, a fast shutter speed. The river was a muddy, unattractive and powerful flow that gave no readable reflection. The fast moving river actually detracted from the beautiful reflected light on the far- left canyon wall. Using a Singh-Ray 4-stop soft-step ND Grad evened the lighting and helped produce the 1-second exposure that not only gave the river the reflection but also a slight blur to the moving clouds above. As in the Creek Falls image, the LB Color Intensifier’s saturation helped produce a sharper, stronger image and yielded the deep green foliage that set the composition in motion!

"One of my favorite silly expressions is 'it's the same only different.' I say these two are!"

To enjoy more of Steve's images and essays and explore his many image galleries, you can visit his website.

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