If you follow this website you may have seen this photograph before — it is one of two that were the subjects of an earlier article (“A Photograph Exposed: One Subject, Two Compositions“) focusing on compositional decisions I made when I photographed this Sierra Nevada subject. In this companion article I want to look at the next step — going from that original exposure to the final (at least for now!) interpretation of the subject that you see above, and the how and why of post-processing the image.
For me, post-processing is as much a part of the creative process of photography as is composing and making the exposure. In fact, many of the decisions that I make at the time of exposure anticipate what I may do during the post-processing stage. These decisions recognize that the camera does not “see” the same way that we do, and that simply trying to produce an exposure that looks the exactly like the actual scene is often both hopeless and counterproductive. Continue reading A Photograph Exposed: Technique and Interpretation in Post→
Landscape photographs depend on many things: good fortune to be in the right place at the right time, experience that helps predict when and where to find “right place at the right time,” sensitivity and experience that help you recognize the potential in a scene, being able to think beyond the intrinsic beauty of a scene to consideration of how it might make a photograph, an intuitive sense of “what is right” visually, the ability to apply some objective thought on top of the intuition, and other things in a list that is too long to recount completely.
I would like to share some of the thinking that went into photographing one particular scene earlier this summer.
Back in mid-July I experienced a special evening in the Tuolumne Meadows Sierra Nevada of Yosemite National Park. It was special for many reasons — some photographic and some not, but even the non-photographic reasons helped put my mind and my senses in the right place to make photographs. I had arrived and set up camp, taken care of camp chores, and finally headed out for late-afternoon and evening photography. I pulled off the road to take a look at a possible subject, and by remarkable coincidence found myself parked behind two good friends who were there for much the same reason. We joined forces and headed of to a nearby area that seemed promising. In an even more remarkable coincidence, partway there two more friends showed up, also there for the same purpose! Something about hiking off into a beautiful landscape with like-minded friends seems to heighten my awareness.
Black and white photograph of silhouetted trees and boulders and their reflections lining a flooded section of the shoreline of Tenaya Lake.
This photograph is a personal favorite for a bunch of reasons related to how the photograph came about, the experience of making the photograph, associations with the place, and a print that pleases me a great deal.
I maintain the no photographer’s work is wholly original. What comes closest to being truly original is the personal vision of the artist — that particular way of seeing that the photographer develops. That vision is actually unique, but it is built from experiences and exposure to a visual world that includes the ways of seeing of other photographers and painters and more. I acknowledge and am grateful to a wide range of photographers whose work informs my way of seeing the world.
Moving rocks, lenticular clouds — morning on the Racetrack Playa.
This photograph from Death Valley’s Racetrack Playa is one of the first I made when I began photographing this landscape seriously, and it may still be my favorite photograph from the park — yet it also carries a flaw that I’ll mention below.
My first visit to Death Valley National Park had been perhaps seven years earlier at the very end of the previous millennium, when I was one of several adults accompanying a group of middle school and high school students on a visit that was to include a short backpack trip in the Cottonwood Canyon area. The story of that trip deserves its own article. That article would describe snow, near-hypothermia, winds that blew down tents, a retreat from the pack trip, an attempt to hike down the upper portion of Death Valley, water shortages, a dust storm, a dangerous situation with a bus, and more.
I’ll never forget my first view of this great valley. We had arrived in the park after dark, stopping between Towne Pass and Stovepipe Wells at a small campground a few thousand feet above the valley floor, where we set up in the darkness and went to sleep. Having never seen the Valley before, the next morning I unzipped my tent and stepped outside to see the stupendous “oh wow!” landscape of the valley and the mountains on the far side in the beautiful morning light. I was hooked, and I’ve been going back annually for more than fifteen years. Continue reading A Photograph Exposed: “Two Rocks, Morning, Racetrack Playa”→
Fog and haze obscure the winter skyline of downtown San Francisco, California.
It is unlikely that any view of San Francisco will be entirely unique, but I haven’t seen many other photographs of the City’s skyline that look quite like this one. It isn’t unusual for people who see the photograph (especially as a print) to ask, “Is that real?” It is as real as a photograph gets, and the conditions actually occurred — the only time I have seen them quite like this, with quite this soft and subtle atmosphere and light. (The post-processing on this photograph was relatively minimal, and a lot of it was about controlling the brightness of that bright cloud high in the sky.)
Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I frequently drive north over the Golden Gate Bridge to photograph in the redwoods, along the coast, or at Point Reyes National Seashore. This usually means leaving home well before the sun rises, and depending on where I’m headed, I usually cross the bridge right around dawn. The plan is to pause and look at the scene in the early light and decide if something really interesting might happen — and it that seems probable I’ll photograph here for a while before moving on.
On the weekend of June 18-19 of this year I made a point of getting to Yosemite so that I could photograph the high country on the first day that Tioga Pass Road was open for the season. On a shoot like this, my subjects range from some that I planned to shoot ahead of time to some that were completely unanticipated. Among the many things that might affect my decisions is the light itself, and this is a story about that light… and perhaps a few other things, too.
I had driven to the park very early on Saturday morning and after photographing straight through the morning I finally made it over the pass and headed down to Lee Vining Canyon to find a campsite for that night. After getting up at 3:30 a.m. and driving to the Sierra from the SF Bay Area and then shooting all morning, I was exhausted! I pulled into the first available site, paid my fee, and promptly fell asleep in the car for perhaps an hour. When I woke up I set up my camp and at about 3:00 or so headed down to Lee Vining to get some “dinner” – on “photographer time,” dinner tends to either be very early or very late, and on this day I made it early so that I could be back up in the park well before the “good light” started.
Heading back up to Tioga Pass after my mid-afternoon dinner, I had a few subject ideas in mind. Tuolumne Meadows itself was one possibility, and I knew that I wanted to watch for any cascades or creeks that would be flowing in the spring snow-melt conditions. Tenaya Lake was another possibility, and a client’s interest in photographs of Mount Conness had me thinking about the possibility of a photograph from Olmsted Point that included ice-covered Tenaya Lake and this peak. Continue reading A Photograph Exposed: A Tale of Light→
I have backpacked in California’s Sierra Nevada range for quite a few decades. A number (a large number!) of years ago my wife and I went on a two-week trans-Sierra backpack trip that traversed the range from west to east between Crescent Meadow and Whitney Portal, following a route known as the “High Sierra Trail.” On the third morning we left our camp and began the stiff ascent toward the pass we had to cross to enter the Kern River drainage. Near the top of the steepest part of the climb the trail momentarily leveled out and we found ourselves facing a high, rockbound lake with a perfectly vertical patterned rock face dropping straight into the water on the far side. The view seemed familiar – and I realized that it was a scene captured by Ansel Adams (“Frozen Lake and Cliffs“) in the early 1930s. (I also later realized that there is a wonderful and well-known photograph of the subject by Vern Clevenger.)
My wife and I were enthusiastic about photography in those days, too, and we carried a couple of Pentax SLRs and a few lenses and many rolls of film into the back-country. But I don’t think I came back with more than a few “snapshots” of this lake on that trip. Fast-forward a few decades to 2008 when a group of my backpacking friends decided to follow this same trans-Sierra route — and, of course, I had to join them. Once again, I found myself ascending the trail toward that small bowl, but this time I had a plan to photograph the lake and the equipment to do it right. I recalled parts of the climb from my previous trip, but I had probably forgotten more than I remembered during the intervening decades. As the trail traverses a beautiful wet section full of wildflowers (which I had forgotten) I could tell that the lake was just ahead, and soon I topped a small saddle and saw the familiar scene before me.
As planned, I set to work doing some of the photography that I had contemplated before the trip. To be honest, I mainly worked from more or less the location that Adams must have used, though the conditions were a bit different on this day – the light was changeable as broken clouds passed above, and there was very little snow, much less any ice, left at the lake. After perhaps 30 or 45 minutes of work, my hiking partners were getting restless and it was time to move on. I felt that I had worked this scene about as much as possible under the circumstances – and I did get a photograph of the “classic view” that I like a great deal — so I loaded up my heavy 9-day backpack load, put away the camera, and strapped the tripod to the outside of the pack. I hoisted the load and slowly started up the switchbacks immediately above the lake.
A couple of switchbacks up the trail I happened to look back at the lake from a slightly higher vantage point, and from here the astonishing deep blue color of the lake and the apron of rocks falling into the water became visible. My first reaction was a combination of “Wow!” and “No way am I taking this pack off and setting all that stuff up again!” Continue reading A Photograph Exposed: “Submerged Boulders, Lake, and Cliffs”→