Dec 31, 2009

Santa Came This Christmas

ANMPAS, NM Magazine, NM State Fair, Ship Rock, Joe Bridwell

Who Doesn't Pause to Recall on New Year's Eve?
2009 was less about shooting everything and more about making images fine art. In May, 2008 NM State Fair judges gathered to critique images. Several judges made direct comments to me about Ship Rock; taking my heart in my hands, I sought the next prescient level - matting, framing, and statewide competition.
I've already overly belabored this blog about the upward succession of events; State Fair, Annual New Mexico Photographic Art Show (ANMPAS), New Mexico Magazine Photo Contest for Ship Rock...
but there are a couple more items to chronicle.

New Mexico Magazine created a video where the judges panel chronicled their feelings about winning images chosen for the 9th Annual Photo Contest. I've quoted Fabian West above as she discussed Ship Rock. In a phone conversation, Fabian even told me she was going to hang it on her office wall!

At ANMPAS, an excited buyer’s push came the weekend after Christmas.
Ship Rock was purchased by a California movie producer...

Part of My Awe…
from this process includes consequences from being witness to a statewide judging process; all judges favored my favorite image. That was a first for me...
Results from being a volunteer during the first set up of our ANMPAS gallery. In helping to create an impeccable artistic sense as we hung carefully framed images - my view of photography was elevated. There were some incredibly neat images in the front room of that astonishing gallery…
Comes from interacting with excellent photographers who competed to enter that gallery. It was a distinct privilege to ask and receive their images and feelings about their images as we published my choice of best of show on Pathways of Light
Much of the very good-natured fun came from enjoying Leroy Perea, Gallery Director, who would occasionally put on a laughing comedian's face!

In a time when photographers are scrambling to find a new, positive venue to communicate their fine art, my hopes and dreams grew through 2009 into one of the merriest Christmases I've ever had!
Does anyone remember the old song, "Fairy Tales Can Come True, It Can Happen to You..."

May 2010 have even more Excitement and Glamour...

Dec 20, 2009

Heart of the Big-I by Bert Norgorden

ANMPAS, Heart of Big-I, Bert Norgorden

Winner, Landmark Category, 9th Annual Photo Contest,
New Mexico Magazine, January, 2010.

I took the photo “The Heart of the Big-I” in Spring of 2007. I am usually drawn to nature and the natural world, but I have been struck by the beauty and majesty of the Big-I since its completion.
I was sitting on the Seasons balcony visiting friends who were leaving town when I saw a storm moving toward the Big-I. I excused myself and left - arriving with the storm.
The lighting and colors were very dramatic! I was able to set up and take a few shots before the storm rushed further East.

Editor’s Notes on Heart of the Big-I
From my first glance, I understood Bert’s fascination with the Big-I. Between chasing the light and a storm, Bert nailed a remarkable image.

The Big I completes our photographers ANMPAS presentation.
Thanks to Don, David, Peter, Keith, and Bert – their work illustrates New Mexico’s devotion to Fine Art Photography!

Moulton Barn Morning - Keith Bauer

ANMPAS, Moulton Barn, Keith Bauer

Photographing in Grand Teton National Park is one of those experiences in life that every photographer should do. The incredible mountain range is one of the most spectacular ranges in the world. Of course that’s only one of the attractions from this magnificent place.

The “Moulton” barn(s) on Mormon Row are some of the most photographed icons in the west. This shot is of the barn which is less well known than it’s more famous cousin just a few hundred yards to the south. While these iconic barns have been photographed millions of times, I wanted to create my own image. Scouting the location the day before provided a mental model of what I might try to capture. The incredible backdrop of the Grand Teton range with morning light glowing in the background conjured up images in my head that I knew would someday create a print I’d be happy to hang on my walls.

Grand Teton Peak is the tallest of the peaks in the range standing at 13,770 feet. Not surprisingly, that peak and it’s cousins in the range are often shrouded in clouds. Much to my chagrin that cool September morning the clouds were there and the magnificent background for the image was nowhere to be seen. Clouds in the east also didn’t look promising. What to do..... Wait and see was the decision I made. As a small slit in the east allowed the warm morning light to rake across the valley, the barn and the foreground lit up. I was rewarded for my decision to wait. A few quick meter readings and I was capturing the image that stood in front of me. I knew while shooting this image that I’d be looking at a panoramic crop. While the blue hues in the sky were beautiful, they were not to be the focus of the image. The light on the foreground grasses, the barn and the gift of a white cloud hovering low were to be the focus of this image.

As with most of my images, this image came home, sat in my Lightroom library to age before I tackled trying to create the final product I eventually printed. None of my images match the experience that I enjoy when I’m out with my camera. That’s why they age before meeting the paper they are printed on. If I were to keep the images that really match the experience of “being there”, my library would be empty. So, I allow them to age, allow my emotions to age, and eventually create a print that’s a good as I can to remember the moment.

Editor's Note on Moulton Barn Morning
Like the other guys, Keith is one who 'Chases the Light...'

This nearly dawn shot doesn't show the luminance of the Tetons, masked by shadow. It does show Keith's persistence and coordinated sense of color and composition.
Notice how he preplanned the shot, then let light fall where it could.
I like the idea of letting one's emotion and the shot age…

Reflections on “Condor Takes Flight” by Peter Davies

ANMPAS, Condor Takes Flight, Peter Davies

Fuji Masterpiece Award
New Mexico Competition
2008 Professional Photographers of America

This photograph of an Andean Condor was shot on September 19, 2007 at the edge of Colca Canyon in Peru. Colca Canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States. The setting is magnificent, as described in my journal entry for this day...

Early morning. Sun shining, warming the cool air. Before us are high, snow-capped peaks, with last remnants of glaciers in a high valley. Not long from now, these glaciers will be gone. Below us, a deep canyon... In many places, you can’t see all the way to the bottom.

The condors nest on side walls of the canyon, and as the early morning sun warms the walls and surrounding air, the condors jump from their nests to ride the updrafts of warm morning air. They soar, back and forth, riding the warm air currents up the sun-drenched side of the canyon, and as they reach the upper edge of canyon, they come into sight. Again from my journal entry this day...

Engaging, watching, experiencing these birds through the lens of my camera was a fantastic experience. You spot one in the distance, tracking it through the telephoto. Watching the details of its movements as it makes the finest shifts of its feathers in response to changing air currents. Closer and closer, arching my back, tracking straight up and around. Capturing tiny slices of time... images of grace.

“Condor Takes Flight” was taken when a pair of adolescents landed on a rock at the edge of the canyon about 200 feet from where I stood. They rested, and played with each other. And then, at the moment the closer bird took flight, I captured the image.

Closing Comments
I would like to thank LeRoy Perea for his creative vision in creating ANMPAS and for the outstanding job he has done in bringing this vision into reality. I would also like to thank Joe Bridwell for creating this opportunity to reflect and share.

Peter Davies
Fine Art Photographer

Editor's Note on Condor Takes Flight
My first glance at Condor was across the room. I couldn't figure out what it was.
But on closer examination I knew I had some kind of a bird – just not how, where, and when. Then I asked Peter, "Hey, can you tell me the story behind this shot?" And, he did...
Now, I've got to tell you; I think his written story is quite eloquent. I really like how he enhances the picture's drama with field notes (italics).

Rebirth by David Cramer

ANMPAS, Rebirth, David Cramer

1st Place, Professional Color Division
2009 Festival of the Cranes

Bosque del Apache is my favorite place in the world. When sandhill cranes and snow geese are in residence, it is my favorite place in the universe. It’s only natural to want to photograph in one’s favorite place, so I’ve spent thousands of hours with camera in hand exploring every nook and cranny of this place under all kinds of light and weather conditions.
This particular shot came about one cold winter morning on the last day of a workshop I was co leading. After having several mornings at Bosque, my co leader and workshop participants decided to spend the last morning staying warm and reviewing images.

Not Me...
While driving from San Antonio to the Refuge before sunrise, I noticed only one crane pool had a fair number of birds. As I’m always looking to photograph something new or different, after shooting the predawn blastoff, I headed back to this pool, which would have me shooting directly into the sun. I’d already begun visualizing and planning on backlit shots that might have some interest, or at least be different from thousands of cranes taking flight shots in my catalogue.
To my pleasant surprise, Mother Nature had provided a unique addition to the stage - a dense fog floating over the birds and the pond. Having seen Art Morris’s beautiful “Fire in the Mist” image, I immediately recognized this arrangement as potential for a unique photograph. It lasted only moments. The sun rose behind the brush in the background and began to illuminate the scene with light. Unfortunately, no birds were flying in or out, so I focused on areas with the biggest concentration of birds where cranes were beginning to move about.
My excitement was high, as I knew time would be short. Seconds later, bright beams of light were filtering through the fog, filling it with color and depth. I photographed for perhaps only a minute before light overwhelmed the scene and fog was fading fast. A few quick looks at my camera LCD confirmed I had something interesting, but it was only after viewing the image on my computer screen that I fully realized the beauty and depth it held. I called it a day and headed back to the hotel, eager to download and backup images for safety. Needless to say, workshop folks were less than happy with their decision to stay in that morning.

The image title comes from not only reference to the birds waking up each morning, but also the idea that each photograph, even when taken in a setting we’ve photographed thousands of times, has the potential to bring something new into our lives. Lately - I’ve been wondering how much it costs to rent a fog machine.

Editor's Note on Rebirth
David is one of those guys who gets the highly emotional fine art image because he 'Chases the Light...'. I can certainly understand why his workshop colleagues felt a bit of awe.
That bad boy with his wings up keynotes the soft, ephemeral drama of a moving sunrise Bosque silhouette. Too bad David didn't take a video - so we could listen to raucous morning sounds...

You can find David Cramer here.

At Rest by Don Bartram

ANMPAS, At Rest, Don Bartram

While on a trip to the coast of Maine during the summer of 1996 my wife and I spent a week on an old coastal schooner The "Grace Bailey" out of Camden.

This schooner had been built in 1882 and used to move coal and lumber along the east coast. It was restored in 1990 and had cabins for 29 passengers added. The stove in the kitchen was a large old fashioned wood stove like my grandparents used. All schooner power (including room lights) was supplied by a 12v marine battery. The schooner in this picture is the "J&E Riggen" and is quite similar to ours.

One morning while anchored off an island in Penobscot Bay I woke up fairly early and climbed the ladder to the deck. What I saw is depicted in the photo At Rest. The water was very still and the fog was everywhere. As you can see there is no horizon at all ~ the image just floats. I will admit I almost fell going back down to get my camera gear. I spent the next 25 minutes taking lots of pictures. This one is one of my favorites, and has done well at several shows and fairs.

Editor's Note on At Rest
When I first saw At Rest, part of me objected to centering the shot. But it was not one of those pictures I could pull my eye away from. I looked again; what did I like in the composition this time? I looked once more. I was totally struck by the fact that I could not see where the water ended...
Don Bartram is a master at understated photography. I think you'll like his description of how it came about.
Don, I'm really glad you didn't fall back down the howse hole...

As we noted December 8th, the First Annual New Mexico Photographic Art Show is under way. It runs through December 27th, so go down and take a look!
We're going to present five fine art photographers – Don Bartram, David Cramer, Peter Davies, Keith Bauer, and Joe Bridwell - to showcase ANMPAS. Joe's entry is in the prior blog about ANMPAS.
David, Peter, and Keith will be in succeeding blogs.

Well done, Everybody...

Dec 8, 2009

Annual New Mexico Photographic Art Show

Ship_Rock, ANMPAS, 9th Annual NM Magazine, 2009 NM State Fair

Ship Rock
2nd Place, Scenic Class, Professional Category, 2009 New Mexico State Fair
Winner, Landscape Category, Ninth Annual Photo Contest, 2009, New Mexico Magazine
Juried Entry, 1st Annual New Mexico Photographic Art Show, 2009

Places that really strike me have features in common. Harsh powerful grandeur, graduations of colors, tortured eroded shapes…
All are empty and lonely. They invoke a sense of both space and strangeness. All have a fierce inhospitality, an infinite variety of desolate beauty…
Ship Rock was formed as the throat to an ancient volcano 30 million years ago. A volcanic ray - thirty or forty feet high but only about three feet thick - wanders like the Great Wall of China southward from Ship Rock. Molten magma squeezed up through the cracked earth. Up the wall to the north, the core of old Ship Rock volcano rose a thousand feet against the sky, like a free-form version of a Gothic cathedral. Gothic, too, was the color — the stone reflecting soft sunset umbers. Balanced on the wind just over the wall, a red-tailed hawk hunted a rodent to kill. A million years of frost and heat cracked this dike as chunks have fallen out.
From 700 AD to ~ 1300 AD, the Anasazi lived all over this land. Their time honored legacy of remarkable stone dwellings is legendary!
The Navajo call Ship Rock Tse’ bit’ a’i – Rock with Wings. What about deeds done by Monster Slayer here in the time of Navajo myth? Monster Slayer, climbing the vertical stone of Ship Rock toward the nest of the Winged Monsters to kill them and make this landscape safe for the Navajos. Monster Slayer, at the nest, taught the Monsters' chicks to become the eagle and the owl. Monster Slayer rescued from his impossible perch by the sacred Spider Woman.
"I love the place," Tony Hillerman wrote of vast tribal lands that span the northeast corner of Arizona and straddle the borders of New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado. "I need only drive west from Shiprock into that great emptiness to feel my spirit lift."
I penned these feelings 2 days after returning from shooting Ship Rock in 2008

On a day I most like to remember, gusting wind pressed me against the dike’s west wall. This wind was advance guard of a front sweeping eastward out of Arizona and Utah. It bombarded Ship Rock with long tendrils of cirrus clouds against blue sky, sending dust devils skittering across the prairie. Ship Rock, the dike, and sunset’s pastel hues provide a truly evocative memory of the West.
The tripod was precariously perched on angular basaltic chunks which fell from the dike many years past. Chirp of a squirrel, swish of feathers from a crow flying nearby - small events to break a profound silence where ancient Anasazi lived more than a thousand years ago.
Three quick high dynamic range (HDR) shots, timed just as the sun dropped behind Lukachukai’s western mountains, preceded a very careful descent down the dark, dangerous backside of the dike. I had absolutely no desire to damage either self or camera. Trailing through long shadows cast at the distant car, I thought, "This is an iconic moment....!" Little was I to really know...

As strong as this very special moment's memory remains, it's the next few months which also brand an everlasting memory. Ship Rock was to become an extended laboratory for digital darkroom development in HDR and oh so careful tone mapping.
Ship Rock was to become an image which has garnered remarks from world-class photographers such as,
"Congratulations on 'Ship Rock.' The light, detail, and composition are stunning. It's one of my favorites in ANMPAS/2009."
"I have been wanting to shoot it and you have chosen the best shot I have ever seen of it."

Between May and December, 2009, a number of prominent judges have also offered their professional view of Ship Rock. As noted above, it has placed prominently in three major photographic venues from New Mexico...

ANMPAS is a Christmas photo event celebrated at the Fine Art Building, New Mexico State Fair. It's free and open to the public daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m., except Tuesdays, until 23rd December, 2009.
I'd think at least twice if not thrice before I'd miss seeing these fine art images from New Mexico's top photographers. Seven rooms contain over 200 images juried by five judges for this first time event. At Saturday's celebration, awards were handed out for best image in each of seven categories. An overflow crowd cheered through the awards ceremony.
If you haven't been there, our Fine Art Building is an open, spacious gallery. Once through the foyer, you step into the main room. The array of quality fine art images is absolutely stunning. Framed, matted images have been meticulously prepared. Each image was carefully staged under overhead lighting.
Then, you proceed through the Judges room, to the five remaining rooms, looking at other images, seeking just those which really strike your fancy!

Pathways of Light is negotiating with selected photographers to present small versions of their images with a recap of emotions while shooting their image. Ship Rock paves the way for those images...
So, over the next few weeks as ANMPAS continues, you're going to see my selections for top entries. As each writer/photographer produces a piece and an image, we will post them. Keith Bauer has agreed to write an overview when this process is complete.

New Mexico Magazine - Update December 20, 2009

In a short video from New Mexico Magazine on their webpage December 15, 2009,, Fabian West, Art Director, described Ship Rock.
"This is one of the most beautiful pictures I've ever seen of Ship Rock!  It's such a different view with strong light and color contrasts.  I like the circular arc of the dike framing and leading ones eye to Ship Rock..."

Thanks Fabian…

Dec 4, 2009

Unique Portfolio Marketing Technique

9th Annual Photo Contest, New Mexico Magazine, Ship_Rock, Winner, Landscape

The 1st Annual New Mexico Photographic Art Show (ANMPAS) kicks off this evening with an Art Crawl at Fine Arts Building, New Mexico State Fair, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Saturday afternoon, there's a Reception and Open House!
What's that got to do with this iPod Touch image?

Lightroom 3 beta
LR3b has a fascinating new capability; you can make videos!
I thought, "Why not create a video of my portfolio to show people on the laptop?"
So I hustled around, found or created the proper images, and launched into Video land... I've never made a video before so I had to learn just the rudiments of that process. I have been using PowerPoint for many years. So, I basically constructed a slideshow of my portfolio in LR3b, then converted it to video.
But it's a little awkward to try to show your portfolio on a laptop with all its attendant set up and presentation requirements...

Apple iPod Touch 3rd Generation
I thought, "What's a smaller, more attractive way to show my video portfolio?"
On Black Friday, pure pandemonium reigned when I went into the Apple store at the new mall in Uptown. Now, sudden sounds really annoy me! I've been there about three minutes, when a five-year-old set off the burglar alarm on one of the iPods. Imagine a loud, imperiously shrieking klaxon; and yes, she was deeply mortified!
As I picked up my first Touch, the salesman said this happens three or four times an hour. Sure enough, wasn't long...

The Touch plays music, videos, podcasts, and movies. When I got home, I had to learn how to use iTunes version 9.0.2 to sync my new Touch video portfolio.
I just received word Ship Rock was Winner, Landscape Category of 9th Annual Photo Contest from New Mexico Magazine. When notification came in the mail, it included the certificate shown above.

For those of you unfamiliar with the iPod Touch we took a single, hand-held frame capture taken from the Touch. In other words, I used my camera, shot a frame of the certificate while the video was playing, and present it to you as a tickler for marketing and communication. Figuring I might have a three minute attention span from a delighted client, I tailored the rest of video like a PowerPoint slideshow.
I haven't figured out how to put the video portfolio on YouTube yet; stay tuned...
So now, I have the little portable portfolio on my Touch as a video, a DVD backup to hand clients, and a laptop presentation for those who want more exposure!

And yes, I'm now creating videos, listening to professional photographers podcasts, and constantly learning new technology ~ all on my pocket PDA a.k.a. iPod Touch! I'm getting a sense of adventures and photography shooting style of shooters like David duChemin, Chase Jarvis, Guy Tal, Darwin Wigget, Scott Bourne, and many, many more.
Thanks, Touch! You make me feel like all those insanely obsessed music-hungry teenagers...
Howah!!! (Theme word from Scent of a Woman)

Nov 25, 2009

RTM ~ Stupid!!!

Mapsource, Ship_Rock

I had a math teacher long ago who said, “RTP (Read the Problem)!” He was referring to nerves; some of us blew up on tests. In particular, he would knock 10 points off if you misspelled YOUR name…
Well, I got by that one.
Then I wanted to become a geologist. Maps are big for geologists; they told me where I was in the wilds before GPS. So, I learned to read maps.
Thought I was by that one as well…

This week I got a letter from New Mexico Magazine. An award certificate said I Won the Landscape Category for their 9th Annual Photo Contest. Huzzah!
As I gazed in admiration at the certificate, I noticed a small blip – they spelled the title of my winning image Ship Rock. I thought, “Idiota…!” I submitted Shiprock for that marvelous image’s name…

This map is an inset from Mapsource of the western US. It’s based on US Geological Survey place names. I pulled up northern New Mexico and asked it who was the idiot; me or NM Mag?
Clearly, the map said, “RTM (Read the Map) ~ Stupid!!!”

Well, I’ve corrected hundreds of spelling errors on the laptop. Here’s one more - a public confession…

Ship_Rock, 3AEB, HDR, Winner, Landscapes, New Mexico Magazine, 9th Annual Photo Contest

And just to drive the old stake through my old heart…

BAH, Humbug!

Nov 14, 2009

How WE See!

Take a Good Look!
I read a provocative article at dpBestflow. In a subsection dealing with HDR, dpBestflow touched on how our eyes see in one of the simplest explanations I've found. Immediately, something clicked; I understood why I like subtle tone mapping instead of some slightly more garish responses created by Photomatix.
In simple terms, nonlinear local adaptation will 'smooth' colors you see. As an example, compare your working 60 W bulb with Magic Hour sunset out the window. Everyone's brain is uniquely filtering what they see to their visual appreciation mode - inside and outside light turns out to be white. WOW!!!
Here's a pictorial definition:
On the left, Photomatix’ Detail Enhancer (Pde) pushed beyond limits my psyche can endure. On the right, added range of light and color from a ‘typical’ 5EV HDR (5EV).

Photomatix, Detail Enhancer, 5AEB, HDR

For my brain, added color Tone Compressed (default) HDR appeals more. When carefully tone mapped in Lightroom and Photoshop - each picture is rich, textured, and lustrous.
But, my brain balks when it sees images where Detail Enhancer, following someone else's visual appreciation, takes me from 'real world' to 'off-world sci-fi'!

How Do Judges React During Competitions?
I’ve spent 4 years watching judges evaluate digital images in competition. The majority will opt for careful tone mapping – voting their opinion through high scores and ribbons. Conversely, lower scores and no ribbons typify more brassy HDR tone mapping conditions.

Here are key vision points from dpBestflow on vision...

In human vision, adaptation is our ability to adjust to dramatically different lighting conditions. Our brains can adjust so we are able to see clearly on the brightest summer day and in a candlelit room. It’s a much more complicated, unconscious, and organic version of ISO.

Local Adaptation
Local adaptation is our ability to adjust different areas of our field of vision to accommodate different levels of brightness, different color temperatures, color casts, etc,. Think of sitting at your desk and looking out a window at Magic Hour. You probably have a 60w incandescent (orange) light bulb over your desk. Late-evening daylight out the window is much brighter and much, much bluer. You aren’t aware of it, but there might be as many as 12 EVs difference between light at your keyboard and light outside, both of which your brain perceives as white light.

Nonlinear Response
Nonlinear response is our ability to accommodate drastic changes in sensory input without overloading our brains. In terms of light, this means - if you double brightness, it doesn’t double your perception. Bright highlights or light sources might be 5,000-10,000 times brighter than their surroundings, but our excellent brains compress that to fit within our ability to perceive.

dpBestflow is a joint venture between Library of Congress and American Society of Media Photographers. Their byline is "dpBestflow is the new guide for every aspect of digital imaging technology from ASMP, the leader in education for the professional photographer."
You might want to take a look at what they have to offer...

Nov 9, 2009

Mind Your Histogram…

Bad Histograms
Hard Work Blunted…
Recent review of many Google and Bing images created a technical quandary. When I found a Magic Hour landscape image I sort of liked, it often had 'unbalanced' histograms with 'blown out' shadows or highlights – or both.
How do you know?
If the histogram touches or runs up either vertical axis, you’ve blown your histogram and may loose valuable data.
The shooter might take several shots of the same composition; thoughtfully evaluating each histogram. Several shots are a heuristic way of assuring captured data fit within the histogram - creating a well-balanced image.
We won’t touch on Expose to the Right – use Goolge to find valuable tutorials to enhance your digital growth.

Magic Hour is that time around dawn and dusk when light is soft and lustrous...
Now, if you consider I like deep wilderness shots, the shooter really took some extraordinary pains to get to that hard-to-find place where a particular image was captured. Yet, finding a balanced histogram from my image search was an exception - rather than the rule. So, why not apply the right technical steps in camera to assure a 'well-balanced image'?

Histogram Fundamentals
Back in the digital studio…
When histograms violate black and white points, the shooter doesn't always apply the first rule of capture - don't blow out shadows or highlights. Your primary step in color balance is to choose that fitting black and/or white point.
Little spikes at each end of the histogram indicate clipping – rather important markers. If spikes are black, you're okay. If not, you need to practice eliminating blown out areas in your histogram.

Reading Histograms
The underexposed histogram tells you 2 essential things: somewhere on the image, the red channel is blown, and, on the linear sensor distribution you're missing about half your highlights.
In the overexposed histogram, red, green, and blue channels are blown and you're missing about half your shadows. If you see yellow, cyan, or magenta, you have a combination of 2 blown channels.
Needless to say, when you get into high dynamic range photography, histogram interpretation gets much more complicated...

If you're shooting raw and you've blown a highlight or shadow (or heaven forbid, both), when you open the file in Lightroom or Photoshop, Adobe Camera Raw lets you make immediate corrections to black-and-white points. Simply move Exposure or Blacks sliders until vertical triangles go black.
If you want to learn more about histogram fundamentals, get a hold of one of Bruce Fraser's books Real World Adobe Camera Raw. Details may vary from book to book, but what you need is the well-written overview and how-to examples.

DSLR, Linear Sensor, nonlinear Eye, balanced histogram

Sensor Technacrati…
Bear in mind - digital cameras have a linear sensor. If you think of your eye as being a sensor, it's not linear; it's nonlinear! In other words, you and your camera clearly do not see the same way. So, it may help to learn to think like a camera - you get better images.
Here’s a diagram comparing important camera and human qualities. The big deal; where are most pixels in an image from a linear sensor? Upper 50% of the histogram…

Although there are other sequences of advanced steps which color balance and tone map your images to fine art perfection, our discussion is a pretty basic start!
So I urge - think like a camera, learn and use its remarkable capacity to your advantage, and you'll simply get better pictures...

Nov 8, 2009

Lightroom 3 Promotes Creative Writing

Lightroom 3 beta, Folders Panel

Did you know LR3 can make your writing more creative?
Windows folder and Lightroom catalog after writing an article for a new project. aWhitePocket contains images. DinosaurDanceFloor and LocalFlowCells are primary folders with relevant geology. Time’sIndelibleFootprint hosts articles evolving from this project.
PictureWindows hosts the final article…

Creative Writing
Any writing, fiction, poetry, or non-fiction, that goes beyond bounds of normal professional, journalistic, academic, and technical forms of literature _Wikipedia.

Lightroom 3 significantly lowers writing’s technical bar. For me, creativity has two parts. First, I need to take that perfect picture. Second, looking at the picture creates a swift channel to the part of my brain where easy writing happens.
Now, I must say – Windows folders, available for nearly 15 years, have been unfriendly to this process; for the right image _too much search; _too little find. Yet, they are indelibly engraved in my finger tip consciousness. In creative mode, folders seem to grow with each new idea. There are image folders (full-size images for printing; small size images from manuscripts); writing folders; backup folders - pretty soon, old, tired ~ your mind sorta folds up and says 'enough of that…'!

Enter Lightroom 3!
With the new Folders Panel, photographers quickly create thumbnails of all images in evolving working folders. This works whether you’ve got one folder or several nested subfolder levels. Several nested folders are the inevitable result of creative writing.
But, Lightroom’s for Photographers, not Storytellers. So, it doesn't see Word documents, PDF files, anything else I create with Photoshop outside Lightroom, or all things created when you write and edit a story. I wish it did not take 6-10 diligent efforts to get feelings into good English…
Fortunately, Lightroom engineers got two very important steps right in Version 3. First, they automated bringing new images in, while ignoring dupes. Simply choose your working folder, press the Import button; Lightroom comes back with just those images you need to import, giving full view of only new images. Now choose Import again; bring them into Lightroom where you see them... Second, right click on working folder. When the dialog pops up, choose Show in Explorer. Bingo... now you in the correct Windows creative writing folder panel - working on all your other files.
You've gone from the left side of your brain, which sees images, to the right side, which writes English… Now, I really call that Creative Writing.

Lightroom let’s me see, has smoothed my technical obstacles path, and increased my productivity about 30%!
Don’t forget to tidy your Collections before archiving…

HUZZAH, Adobe Lightroom 3 Engineers!

Oct 27, 2009

Techno Weenies Trifecta

White Pocket, Vermilion Cliffs, Arizona

A collection of White Pocket image thumbnails courtesy Synnatschke, Parker, Ceccaldi, Liverman, and Schmickle…

Why Talk Trifecta?
Let's face it - if you've got a terabyte of hard drive space, finding an image or folder can be enough to break your heart.  Say you want to write an article.  Might take you a week; might take you two.  After a while, things seem to get lost in all those hard drive folders.
Enter Lightroom 3.  Yep, it's a beta.  But, beta aside, Hurrah to skilled Adobe engineers!  You literally see, in the newly revamped Folders Panel, I can do 2 very important functions
1.    See all images relevant to the article, and,
2.    See and work on other non image items in the folder to smoothly continue writing!
Thought of old graduate school days of library research, Xerox’s, or even handwritten notes …Arrggghhhh.  With Lightroom 3 - you can see what you're doing, you can write your article faster, etc..  I estimate a 20 to 30% increase in efficiency just using LR3 this exciting new way.  Unfortunately, it's still up to you to have that creative Muse grace your writing shoulder much less your viewfinder.

Cheers Aside - Let's Share a Rather Long Trifecta...
They always say, "Life's fine events come in 3’s..."!
This last few days seems like a fog; just about when free Lightroom 3 beta was announced, Frank Sirona, a German landscape photographer and good friend, wrote me a very intriguing letter.
Frank asked, "What would you think about putting together an article for... What I´m thinking of is an article describing geology and beauty of Coyote Buttes area in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument."

You guessed it; I fired up LR3b, looked at some of Frank’s images, then tried to segregate other Web images into three geologically distinct categories (Coyote Buttes North CBN, Coyote Buttes South CBS, and White Pocket WP).
So, why the fog?
Several reasons: flattered by Frank's suggestion, I went off on a geology/writing/photography bender.  After reading several technical papers, I had a sense of not only some of the incredible beauty at Vermilion Cliffs, but of the truly remarkable origin and affects of ancient rocks that make up this wilderness.  Almost immediately, I knew I was going to positively respond to Frank.
What I hadn't counted on was one of the facile new conveniences LR3b would provide.  Without any manuals, but with instincts honed from Lightroom 2, I began the rather intricate process of writing the dual article - geology and beauty – with LR3b’s now considerable help.
What's an intricate response?
I like to collect images, put them in Microsoft Word, pick up a microphone headset, and talk to the images.  You say; 'talk to the images'?  By that metaphor, I mean dictate words for the article and watch them 'magically' appear around each image.  What a marvelous way to simply let your memories, internal and external visual images, and spoken thoughts flow... it’s an amazing form of story tellin’!

Lightroom 3 beta, Folders Panel

With Lightroom 2, image segregation was facilitated in Collections.  In Lightroom 3, it's both in Folders and Collections.  At least in Windows, my writing process can spawn many folders following different ideas to completion of an article.
Welcome, LR3b - Adobe designer's now let me look through the Folders Panel not only at individual images, so I can organize them and my thoughts about the article – but - actually lets me go directly down to HD folder level where I can see relevant technical articles in Adobe's Free Reader PDF format.  Talk about Nervana! 
Now, I can both see and read as I compose.  Frankly, I wish I'd had this facility years ago when I stepped out of the bachelors and began graduate work.  It would've saved so much time...
Here's my current Folders evolution from LR3b.  Mind you, these folders evolved as I created the article. 

But what about dark chocolate atop the sweetest ice cream cone?
If I put a new image in an already used folder as the article grows, LR3b will quickly let me import just that image back into my proper folder.  On screen, prior images are dark whereas new images are light and checked.  You simply click Import...
what an incredibly subtle enhancement to reflective creativity!
Way_to_Go, Adobe engineers!!!

Ancient Culture
With years of writing about geology, I'm trained to look at rocks, confine them to a photograph, think about their origin, then try to explain all this in simple English.  If you check Frank's request, that's just what he wants.
Of course, you always need to be prepared for the unexpected...
Geologic articles need to talk about similarities and differences of a region like Vermilion.  That part was easy.  The hard part was trying to recognize two different cultures were very present at two vastly different times and places. 
All right, Joe, "What the hell do you mean - Two Cultures?"
Well, Frank, the first time I went to The Wave (CBN) 4 years ago, David Loope was kind enough to provide a GPS coordinate for Grallator tracks right across the valley.  Oops - sorry folks, a Grallator was a small Jurassic dinosaur who lived 190 million years ago.
As geologic research for this article has progressed, Grallator's ain't the only dinosaurs on that part of ancient supercontinent Pangaea.  Suddenly, I'm going from trekking an area and taking pictures to trying to learn where the area was when this huge Jurassic Navajo sandstone was laid down.  Geologic words like equator, tropical westerlies, supercontinent, plate tectonics, breakup, continental drift, dinosaurs, dinosaur tracks, sand dunes, alluvial episodes, slumps... the list is quite long, but it's not my intention to bore you silly.
To make a long story short, I'm now sitting on a long manuscript which Frank has yet to see, trying to complete the seemingly tenuous link between two cultures.  Yes, I've briefly described the geologic setting and its effect on millions of years of dinosaur life; Culture 1.

Recent Culture
But there's more...
as you can see from some images in our tentative summary above, White Pocket contains some of the most incredibly luscious photography nature photographers will ever capture. 
I'd be remiss if I didn't thank Steffen Synnatschke, whom I've never met.  It's Steffen's work, along with others listed above, which sets the digital bar and graces my visual steps back onto Pangaea.  They let me see what it was like in those oases where dinosaurs cavorted at the equator, left tracks, but no bones, and gorgeous, candy colored rocks slumped from too much water recharge and overburden pressure.  In these images (or tracks) would become what's now an seemingly ephemeral culture, preceding avid digital photographers. Ephemeral because our images will scarcely outlast dinosaur tracks.
It's also digital photography of people like Steffen which heralds the exciting Culture 2.  Mind you, dinosaurs were only seeking water and food; they left no record of the awesome beauty they saw.  But the avid digital photographer - willing to repeatedly travel across continents and use four wheel drives to brave deep sand can capture incredible beauty - he or she has left an incredibly awesome visual track a.k.a. a series of provocative fine art images.

So, in today's high-tech world, when we think of places to go and things to shoot (figuratively of course; perhaps capture our digital image would be more proper), we may not realize ~ we are the 'second' culture to leave tracks (oops - photos)! 
Yep, you got it; Culture 2and now, I've a trifecta!

Oct 24, 2009

Dragon's Breath...

Dragon's Breath, NM, sunset, full range HDR

©Joe Bridwell

Children love this visual game…
“Tell me what you see in this gorgeous cloud picture?”

“I see lots of ruby gold colors.” A pensive, quizzical look appeared in her blue eyes.  “But also that dark blob of clouds on the left.”
A moment of silence, then more slowly, “I think… I see a dragon, mouth still open, who just belched fire…”
“Maddy, that’s truly amazing.  Can you tell me more about your dragon and its fiery breath?”
“Well, I can see its open throat, its still hot nostrils, even a place way back in its throat where fire starts...”  Maddy, who was beginning to really enjoy this game,  pointed to the burnished gold area amidst the black cloud behind the mouth.
“Maddy, you are really creative.  But, I am puzzled – where is this ‘belched’ fire?”
“Grandpa, you’re funny…” A smile appeared on her face.  “The fire is above the bright sunset…”
Stubbornly, I clung to this rather important question; “Maddy, I don’t still see fire.”
“Grandpa, bits of the fire are still there.  See the darkish cloud above the golden sunset?”  She giggled…
“If you look real close, some of the cloud underbelly’s still glows golden.”
“What is that supposed to tell me?”
“Silly, it’s the big key.  My dragon breathed fire.  But, the sky was cold.  So, the fire turned to smoke…”  Looking at my solemn, disbelieving face, Maddy laughed with great glee!

I sat there, deeply amazed.  Maddy, who loved art, looked at this image, let her remarkably artistic imagination run, and found many exciting ways to let the image tell its creative story.
“Grandpa, you did not say anything about another important dragon feature…”
“What’s that?”
“Did you miss his eye?”
I looked again, more carefully this time – sure enough, Maddy did see the eye, which dimmed slightly after breathing the enormous gasp of fire…

Dragon’s Breath seems almost a fairy tale – the exciting exploration between imagination, photography, fine art, and emotional awareness.

The image is a final response to Full Range HDR.  Nikon D300, 14bits, f/13, ISO 200, shutter speed range: 2 – 1/8000 sec (a range of 15 EV).
Photomatic combination tone compressed at default settings.
Lightroom - global color balance – medium contrast, enhance lights, black clipping, exposure, fill light, clarity, vibrance, edge masking, luminance smoothing, crop.
Photoshop – local enhancement – Smart Object, Color Burn @ 20%, adjustment layer – Lighter Color @ 10% brush opacity – Final Dodge and Burn of throat, eye, and smoky breath…
For a thoughtful description of Full Range HDR, click here.

OOPs 11/24/2009
My thanks to Rhonda Fleming, ELCC - Rhonda pointed out that I screwed up the URL to download the Full Range PDF...  does old age get ANY better?
It's workin' now...


Oct 18, 2009

Still Waters, Rattling Leaves… II

Still Water-RattlingLeaves-II, Shady Lake, NM, full range HDR

Paradigm Shift
Many of my images drift toward the surreal, but not so far as to render them completely Daliesque... I think it’s important to keep an element of reality, but a purely documentary approach lacks creative impact.  It has become increasingly difficult to find ways to be original.
I’m moving away from ‘literal’ interpretations of straight nature scenes.  More abstract photography reacts to this fact - too often, nature photographers rely on scenic drama to make powerful images.  A beautiful landscape combined with an amazing sunset can make for a stunning photograph.  But Mother Nature is doing all the work – doesn’t the photographer merely record an event?
Nature photography, as an art form, has to reach out into new directions or it risks becoming stagnant.  We have seen too many pictures of stunning landscapes or sunset skies.  Too often nature photographers merely ‘chase the light,’ waiting for that perfect sunset over a dramatic high mountain lake.
I think we must take a more active role in artistic creation - not just leave it all to Mother Nature.  It is just such artistry which makes full range HDR so appealing to me; when all light and its objects are captured, combined, then softly tone mapped, it’s the closest I may get to working magic from a ‘blank’ canvas. 
Instead of just chasing Nature’s stunning image, I capture all light ~ then get a chance - to ‘paint’ an evocative creation...

Still, But Windy…
Our duality image (above) is the difference between a raw image and a final, full-capture tone mapped HDR image. 
By full capture, I mean manually getting light’s full range using LCD histogram limits with as many shots as it takes.
The pale raw file lacks passion of adjacent, full color still water comingled with vibrant reflections of wind rattled leaves. 

And, yes, between Lightroom and Photoshop, I used a brush, painted, masked, and, like Dali, at times sweated the small stuff. 
“Is the real stump too light?”
“Should the tree be sharper?”
“Is the water like my daughter’s blue eyes now?”
“Can these reeds attain more lustrous depth; they make such a natural signature against our real stump!”

What are your artistic ‘reflections’ about Still Waters, Rattling Leaves

And, how are you sloughing off stagnation?

Oct 5, 2009

Still Waters : Rattling Leaves

Still Water-RattlingLeaves, Shady Lake, NM, full range HDR

Intimate Waterscape
©Joe Bridwell
It’s a topsy turvy world
You see; yet you don’t
What’s real; what’s reflected?
Finally, a tree stump and lillys sort out…
Then, windblown tree reflections on a still pond.
Another HDR tone poem…

Intimate Lighting
Walking along the pond’s bank, several HDR shot sets were taken before this vista became best of catch…
The sun’s brassy October glare was before sunset, but they closed at six sharp. A wind was blowing – Kodak’s Balloon Fiesta would see no balloons go up.
While tree leaves rattled overhead, our pond was relatively quiet.
But, it’s the inverted tree reflection which shows this intimacy; the reflected tree trunk is sharp and clear whereas the rattling tree top leaves disappear behind and among the real small trunk's protrusion.

Only after seeing this final image, did I realize just how powerful still water could enhance a rattling leaves effect (vocal) with a seemingly indistinct reflected shimmer (visual). Amidst viewfinder and LCD, images undergo serious visual compression; smooth vs indistinct variation can't be seen... But, in the final image ~ a rather unexpected visual reward.

Full Range HDR
With eight HDR shot sets captured, I developed all.
What’s a shot set?
It’s a range of HDR images captured such that you start with highlights albut 10% blown, then cycle 1EV (2 0.5 EV clicks each time) until the shadows are albut 10% blown. Each raw image is 14 bits, at ISO 200, f/13 (about the upper sweet spot range on a Nikkor 24-120 4.5 lens), and shot about 5 PM.
In this lighting, 12 images spanned our 10-10% blowout shot set range.

Using Lightroom 2.5, Photomatix Pro 3.2.3, and Photoshop CS4, I performed all functions from Full Manual HDR Capture. Shot sets were processed by PP, then returned to Lightroom as Tone Compressed (Default Setting) 16 bit tif images.
Using Lightroom’s Basic, Curves, and Detail Panels in Develop mode, I Tone Mapped images before carefully choosing the Masking portion of Sharpening function to see if, as usual, PP left a noisy sky. After performing Luminance noise reduction of about 50%, I might crop the image in Photoshop to strengthen impact.

Isn’t it always about the best?
When each shot set had its preferred image completely worked up, I gathered the last efforts in Lightroom as a Smart Collection. Using Full Screen Loupe View, it was then quite easy to decide which keeper (four of nine) met the winning criteria
“Which image contains a story within an already delicate story; does that image create a pleasing emotional and visual impact?”

Oct 4, 2009

Full Manual HDR Capture

Full Manual HDR Capture

Recent talks with Sandy Corless have reconstituted how I capture HDR images. Sandy has taken Dan Burkholder’s HDR workshop, then developed her own HDR style, as usual!

What Cha’ Lookin’ At..? Two images – the 0EV manual capture at f/11, ISO 200, shutter speed 1/180 sec.
The 2nd image is the resulting full range HDR where shutter speeds ranged from 1/6 to 1/6000 secs. The 11 raw files were captured at 11 AM. Our colorful result has gone thru Photomatic and Lightroom to become the ‘Best It Can Be…!’

In A Nutshell
I shoot with a Nikon D300 – it handles 14 bit raw images and allows me to manually change shutter speed at constant aperture and ISO. If I set my shutter speed to 0.5EV per click, two clicks, up or down, can change my EV by +/- one setting.
On manual setting, I choose depth of field (aperture), set ISO (200), and estimate the first capture. By moving my viewfinder dial to +5EV (10 clicks left), I estimate the initial HDR range. If the histogram shows only a small amount of signal, with most being blown out, e.g. the upper 10% of the histogram shows data, that’s my beginning HDR image. If Magic Hour tonal contrast is larger, I must continue searching until my initial HDR histogram only fills the upper 10%.
I then methodically begin decreasing my EV 2 clicks at a time moving right on the shutter speed dial until I show only 10% of the lower histogram remaining. Of course, you want to take a shot each 2 clicks, examine the histogram, then move onto the next capture!
For a near sunset or sunset Magic Hour capture sequence, this may take 15-20 images…

Photomatix Pro
Lightroom has a Photomatix Plugin which lets you select the range of images, then ask PP to assemble a 32 bit .hdr file. I always ask PP to perform all functions in assembly – Align, Reduce Chromatic Aberrations, Reduce Noise, and Reduce Ghosting Artifacts. PP plugin returns a 16 bit tif file.
Time has shown 2 issues; the resulting 16 bit tif file usually contains noise _and_ ONLY Tone Compressor at Default Settings allows me to retain the original bi-modal histogram in the 32 bit file.
An 11 shot HDR (RHS in final image above) took ~ 7 minutes on a dual CPU 32 bit 1.8 Ghz PC.

Lightroom’s Initial Tone Mapping
I apply Basic, Curves, and Detail panels to allow tone mapping to the final 16 bit tif, making copies for each separate Develop function in case of later modifications.
Detail panel actually allows me to perform 2 functions; noise reduction and sharpening.
Noise Reduction – PP usually leaves noise. By clicking on the Masking slider and moving to the right, I can see how much sky noise appears. I then move the Luminance slider until that noise is minimized.
Sharpening – I then apply an appropriate sharpening preset, modifying the Masking slider to produce the most pleasing HDR image.
If it’s a competition image, I might also choose to apply Pixel Genius’ Photokit Sharpener for its more complete sharpening tools…

If additional refinement is warranted, I open the Lightroom image in Photoshop to perform specialized tasks not presently available in Lightroom…

You can find a basic workflow either on Pathways of Light under Full Manual Range HDR capture or as a downloadable PDF here.

Oct 1, 2009

Shiprock a Finalist

Shiprock, Finalist, 9th Annual New Mexico Magazine Photo Contest,  Shiprock, NM

This morning, New Mexico Magazine’s Lisa Malaguti sent the following email:
Congratulations! Your photopgraph titled Shiprock has been selected as a finalist in the 9th Annual Photo Contest. Winners and Honorable Mentions will be announced in the January 2010 issue.

Thank You, Lisa, You’ve MADE My Day…

Sep 28, 2009

Casualty – by Luke Austin

Casualty, Luke Austin, Intimate Landscapes, Darwin Wiggett's Summer Photo Contest

1st Place
Intimate Landscapes
Darwin Wiggett’s Summer Photo Contest

This scene caught my attention because I knew I could compose the shot in such a way that it would hopefully hold the viewer's attention for more than a moment.

The shot was taken this June 2009 at Marble Canyon, Kootenay National Park. B.C. The tree was burnt in a fire which was ignited by lightning in the summer of 2003. After 6 years still standing, blackened from the fire, the small tree was uprooted and washed into Tokkum Creek. I watched as it floated down stream, suddenly catching for a few moments on a shallow section of creek bed. Those few moments were just enough for me to visualize what I could make of the scene and take the shot.

Technical Details
First, the image was rotated 180 degrees as it was not taken from directly above, but slightly closer to the tree top. I then applied a levels and curves adjustment to bring out contrast and details. As far as colour saturation of the image goes, it is completely natural. The creek, glacially fed, gives that incredible, almost unbelievable blue/teal colour. Finally the image was resized and an Unsharp Mask (USM) was added to bring out mid tone contrast.

Editor’s Comments
Luke’s image initially created a reverie. At first, I did not grasp it. Then, after thinking about it and reading further, I began to see elements which originally attracted Guy Tal. Just as in Bisti Mosaic and Three Worlds, Casualty provides another completely different digital tone poem…
Scenes within scenes; ground – both dry and underwater; burned tree – lodged precisely on ground, yet suspended lightly on water; water – rushing in blue splendor or supporting a fleeting tree!

I salute Casualty, Bisti Mosaic, and Three Worlds; through Guy’s choices, I began to re-think the original request for Intimate Landscapes. When I began to think of each of these award winning images as tone poems, each element added much more than my initial glance might have supposed.
The art lies in seeing such images, capturing them with great skill, then placing them in subtle, intertwined contexts.

Congratulations, guys, it’s an honor to be included in such fine company and art!

Bisti Mosaic – by Joe Bridwell

Bisti Mosaic, Joe Bridwell, Intimate Landscapes, Darwin Wiggett's Summer Photo Contest

Bisti Mosaic
2nd Place
Intimate Landscapes
Darwin Wiggett’s Summer Photo Contest

A Hoodoo Tone Poem
A simple digital tone poem captures shape, light, shadow, and color… One sunset, I shot 3 basically different light/dark shape sets; a pyramid, a mesa, and a manikin. My pyramid’s form; simple light and shadow. Sharply focused, our pyramid pair starts the eye's journey... A mesa, cut by shadowy pyramid, casts a lost semi-shadow... Finally, our long-nosed Pinocchio-like manikin - casts it’s own sharp-nosed shadow behind the lit mesa... Then, a cone of light sweetly highlights illusive light / shadow pairs. Is it fortune – or by design? Much of a truly great photo is luck – provocative light stresses one area over another.
This image was nearly perfect out of the camera – but I applied a customary workflow using Lightroom 2 and Photoshop CS4. Lightroom 2 enhanced exposure 0.33EV while strengthening black point at medium contrast. A Clarity of 40, Vibrance of 20, Tone Curve highlights and darks were darkened -13% and -10%, respectively, for finishing touches. Photoshop CS4 and Pixel Genius Photokit Sharpener was applied on each hoodoo detail with Opacity 40%.

Guy Tal’s Chiaroscuro
Darwin’s LLTL Summer Contest was judged by Guy Tal, of Ultimate Guide to Digital Nature Photography fame; I’ve followed Guy for years and deeply appreciate his remarks concerning Bisti Mosaic.
Guy said, “As a budding photographer, I often heard the mantra ‘It’s ALL about the Light.’ It took me some years to realize that while it can indeed make or break some images, there’s a lot more to a good image than just light. Joe’s image tells as much about him as it does about the elements portrayed – the mark of a true artist. When the light got good he resisted the temptation to grab his widest lens and let it do all the work; instead, he decided to draw our attention to the unique intricate detail that made it interesting and personal to him. The composition is beautifully arranged in the frame and creates a nice sense of depth as forms progress into the distance, with the interplay of light and shadow making for a fascinating chiaroscuro. One more little insight into Joe – it’s his image and he will not be a slave to the aspect ratio dictated by the camera. He cropped it to place boundaries where he wanted them and to maximize appeal of his composition.”

First off – chiaroscuro – had to look it up. Sure enough, Wikipedia took me on a truly fascinating journey – chiaroscuro is the effect of light modeling in painting, drawing, or printmaking, where three-dimensional volume is suggested by value gradation of color and division of light and shadow shapes - often called "shading". In Photoshop terms, chiaroscuro might be represented by dodge and burn…
To find a fascinating historical review of chiaroscuro, click the word and see what visual delights Wikipedia has in store…

Editor’s Comments
Thanks, Guy, your comments led me into fascinating areas of painting and art which a geology background ignored… some of the timeless chiaroscuro paintings contain their own extremely unique interpretations e.g., Ruben’s Raising of the Cross (1611), Rembrandt’s St Peter and Old Man in Red (1620s). Rembrandt appears to have begun with chiaroscuro elements having strong contrast, then began to soften these elements in later paintings.
Fortunately for me, you saw this effect in Bisti Mosaic and opened yet another awareness for me… in Photoshop terms, I find limited use of Dodge and Burn provides my own approach to chiaroscuro. A recent discussion with Marlene Lorio aided more evocative emphasis on Shiprock, a prize image mentioned in prior blogs.

Three Worlds - by Wayne Simpson

Three Worlds, Wayne Simpson, Intimate Landscapes, Darwin Wiggett's Summer Photo Contest

Three Worlds
3rd Place
Intimate Landscapes
Darwin Wiggett’s Summer Photo Contest

As I walked alone over the dry lake bed of Barrier Lake in Kananaskis Country Alberta, I was overcome by the desolate feeling of the place. I had been there many times before when there was water, but this was an entirely different feeling. It was only mid morning, but it felt a bit like walking in an oven as I walked across the sun baked mud.

I admit that when I’m alone in nature I’m a bit of a daydreamer. Every sound seems amplified, the smallest things suddenly seem much more apparent and everything seems beautiful in its own way. If anyone were to watch me, I’m certain that they would have a good laugh watching me stumble around, looking at the sky and staring down at what would seem like nothing to the average person. I’m sure I look goofy, but that is my creative process – to walk around and study every detail with an open mind and an emotional connection. Once I find something that interests me, my graphic design background kicks in and I begin to methodically construct a composition.

The morning I created this image was no different than any other – I wondered around admiring the lines the cracked mud created, the bright green grasses springing up in the cracks, the preserved animal prints, and the interaction between the cracked ground and the puddles. What initially intrigued me about this scene was actually cloud formations and trees reflected in the puddle. Once I looked a little more and refocused my eyes, I noticed how the cracked ground went under the water and the two seemed to merge. Three worlds came together in a single puddle, and were begging to be photographed… but how?

The Technical Side
This image presented several technical challenges that needed to be addressed. I needed to figure out a way to get the surface of the puddle and the underlying mud in focus at the same time, then I had to show the transition between the water and mud in a pleasing way, and last but not least I needed to create a perfect sun star. I started by waiting for the clouds to part and give me an unobstructed view of the sun and then created one exposure focused on the reflection at an aperture of f/18. I then quickly created a second exposure with my polarizing filter turned to cut the reflection and focused on the mud at the front of the puddle. I then blended the two exposures in Photoshop to create a subtle transition from the in-focus mud to the in-focus reflection.

Canon 5d, 24-70, f/2.8, USM @ 28mm, 1/6 sec, F/18, Iso 100
Tripod, cable release, mirror lockup

Editor’s Comments
I love how Wayne simplifies, seeing photography as if in a reverie. I often want this Muse’s mood when I shoot – seeking icons.
I might not have thought of using a polarizer to establish clarity between reflective water and underlying cracks. That’s the creative element of Wayne’s evocative shoot. Advanced use of Photoshop with its remarkable Blend Image function shows Wayne composed, perhaps beforehand, certainly knowing his collective images could be post processed to provide this impeccable, award-winning image.
Just as in Bisti Mosaic, Three Worlds provides a digital tone poem…
Scenes within scenes; dry cracked ground, water covering cracks, clouds obscuring cracks, the sun, and, finally, darkly obscured cracks under the mountain’s forest reflection!

I salute Wayne’s creativity… Three Worlds is a truly remarkable image!

Sep 12, 2009

Comments on 2009 New Mexico State Fair Professional Photography Scenics Category Winners

Glenn Hohnstreiter, 2009 New Mexico Sate Fair, Judge, Professional Category

By Glenn F. Hohnstreiter, Ph.D., M. Photog. Cr.
(©Glenn Hohnstreiter - With permission)

General Comment
The judging of photographs is always subject to criticism. Some seem to think the attitude is too regimented, some think the process ignores the creative process involved with the making of a photograph and the inherent process or difficulty involved. Since photography means many things to many people with a myriad of styles and methodology, evaluating the merits of a photograph is indeed a complex issue.

Professional Photographers of America has been judging thousands of photographs every year for over a hundred years. They have evolved into a process that involves 12 elements by which they establish the criteria of a meaningful photograph. These are listed below (copied directly from the PPA website

Impact is the sense one gets upon viewing an image for the first time. Compelling images evoke laughter, sadness, anger, pride, wonder or another intense emotion. There can be impact in any of these twelve elements.
Creativity is the original, fresh, and external expression of the maker’s imagination by using the medium to convey an idea, message or thought.
Technical excellence is print quality of the image itself as it is presented for viewing. Retouching, manipulation, sharpness, exposure, printing, mounting, and correct color are some items that speak to qualities of the physical print.
Composition is important to design of an image, bringing all visual elements together in concert to express the purpose of the image. Proper composition holds the viewer in the image and prompts the viewer to look where the creator intends. Effective composition can be pleasing or disturbing, depending on intent of the image maker.
Lighting—use and control of light—refers to how dimension, shape and roundness are defined in an image. Whether light applied to an image is manmade or natural, proper use of it should enhance an image.
Style is defined in a number of ways as it applies to a creative image. It might be defined by a specific genre or simply be recognizable as characteristics of how a specific artist applies light to a subject. It can impact an image in a positive manner when subject matter and style are appropriate for each other, or it can have a negative effect when they are at odds.
Print Presentation affects an image by giving a finished look. The mats and borders used should support and enhance the image, not distract from it.
Center of Interest is the point or points on the image where the maker wants the viewer to stop as they view the image. There can be primary and secondary centers of interest. Occasionally there will be no specific center of interest, when the entire scene collectively serves as the center of interest.
Subject Matter should always be appropriate to the story being told in an image.
Color Balance supplies harmony to an image. An image in which tones work together, effectively supporting the image, can enhance its emotional appeal. Color balance is not always harmonious and can be used to evoke diverse feelings for effect.
Technique is the approach used to create the image. Printing, lighting, posing, capture, presentation media, and more are part of the technique applied to an image.
Story Telling refers to the image’s ability to evoke imagination. One beautiful thing about art is that each viewer might collect his own message or read her own story in an image.

Obviously, a great deal of thought and effort has gone into this evaluation process. In my own journey to become a better photographer by creating better photographs, I studied many concepts by which my own photography could improve and also how I could better explain these concepts to other photographers. As a result of my personal work, I wrote an article in View Camera Magazine, November/December 2002. In this article I assumed that professional photographers were well aware of the very important but basic concepts of composition, clarity, center of interest, and presentation. I then described in detail the advanced concepts listed below:
Image Intent: One clear strong message. Too often, as our photographic experience grows, we become so intent on technical aspects of our work that we forget the importance of communicating a message to the viewer. The image must be well enough defined if it is to communicate a clear strong message to the viewer. One of PPA’s claims is “The Worlds Best Storyteller.”
Left-Brain/Right-Brain Balance: The left brain controls analytical functions, while the right brain controls artistic functions. When balance is achieved in an image the left brain reacts to the inherent meaning while the right brain appreciates the artistic expression.
Emotional Appeal: A great photograph always generates and communicates an emotional response to the viewer. I like to concentrate on finding what attracted me to a scene in the first place, and then try to understand the emotion that I feel about it so that I can communicate that emotion to the viewer.
Originality: Originality and individual style are essential for creating prize-winning photographs. It is necessary to make a photograph “new” by your choice of location, your particular photographic technique, or your individual style.
Impact: Impact in a photograph is difficult to describe, but you know it when you see it. It is that riveting quality that demands attention and is impossible to ignore.
Perhaps these comments will aid in explaining the process by which images are evaluated at the professional level, and also, how I personally evaluate images that I see. Note that I do not believe in “rules,” but rather common-sense rationales for outstanding photographic images.

“Wisdom of Trees” by Peter Davies
Judging Result: Best of Show, Professional Category, First Place, Professional Scenics

Wisdom of Trees, Peter Davies, 2009 New Mexico Sate Fair, Scenic Class Winners, Professional Category

What a wonderful image! Clearly this photograph has the advanced elements listed above and expresses them in a meaningful and beautiful manner. Note the compositional elements of power-point placement of the lit center of interest, the diagonal trees framing the center, and the overall single message conveyed. Under the bright judging lights this image simply is stunning with very strong impact and beauty. One simply cannot look anywhere but the lit area for long. There was no debate in the judging as to naming this image the Best of Show. Congratulations Peter on an exceptional contribution to the world of photographic art.

“Shiprock” by Joe Bridwell
Judging Result: Second Place, Professional Scenics

Shiprock, Joe Bridwell, 2009 New Mexico Sate Fair, Scenic Class Winners, Professional Category

“Shiprock” is a most wonderful image. When I first saw this image I was stunned by the clarity, the originality, and the deep rich colors. This is clearly an example of originality in that Shiprock is photographed often, but this image, for the first time that I have seen it, combines all these factors. The photographic location, the time of season and day, and the presentation all combine to produce this exceptional photograph. The use of HDR in a photograph, like all techniques, should be an adjunct to the photograph and not be dominant or even noticeable. This image clearly uses HDR, but its use emphasizes without domination of the image. Congratulations on your hard work, Joe and your dedication to producing such an exceptional image.
“Sand Dune” by Bob Barton
Judging Result: Third Place, Professional Scenics

Sand Dune, Bob Barton, 2009 New Mexico Sate Fair, Scenic Class Winners, Professional Category

Again, “Sand Dune” is another stunning and wonderful image. As a lover of both sand dunes and black and white photography, I was very impressed with this image. This image is striking in the detail, the impact, the beauty, and the overall impact of the dune shimmering in the morning sun. John Sexton stresses “luminosity” in his workshops, and this image is a perfect example of luminosity. Digital photography has come a long way in its ability to render such an image with the clarity, depth, and impact that this image portrays. Congratulations Bob, on seeing the dune, on driving to the location without getting stuck in the sand (as I have done more than once at other sand dunes), and for producing such an exceptional image.

“Morning Glory” by Leslie Davis
Judging Result: Honorable Mention, Professional Scenics

Morning Glory, Leslie Davis, 2009 New Mexico Sate Fair, Scenic Class Winners, Professional Category

“Morning Glory” is another exceptional image. Leslie is to be congratulated on this example of the importance of dawn photography. This was most emphatically demonstrated by this image. I doubt if this image could have been taken a half-hour later. The Grand Tetons are always difficult to photograph well because they are so often photographed that the element of originality is usually missing. Leslie has produced an image that is very definitely original in the use of dawn lighting, impact of scene, breathtaking beauty, and composition. The minimal use of Photoshop results in a sense of “being there.” The added bonus of lake reflections simply “nails” this image as a truly outstanding image. Congratulations, Leslie on providing this image for the photographic community.

“Orange Creekside” by Jim Gale
Judging Result: Honorable Mention, Professional Scenics

Orange Creekside, Jim Gale, 2009 New Mexico Sate Fair, Scenic Class Winners, Professional Category

Here is another exceptional image. What makes this image outstanding is the clear intent as defined by the title. Note the left-brain/right-brain balance of the image: vivid orange rocks are most definitely a rarity in nature; they are seen here in a manner that is pleasing to both the left brain in trying to understand the rocks unusual color and to the right brain in relating strongly to the beauty of the scene, the background, the creek and the portrayal. Composition is excellent, and the impact of the image is clear. Taking images on a backpacking trip is always a problem, but this was done very well indeed. Congratulations, Jim on this outstanding image.

Editor’s Comments
The depth of Glenn Hohnstreiter’s comments is clearly strengthened by PPA’s 13 Guidelines. Having both watched Glenn Judge at State Fair and listened to Glenn’s ELCC talk, I know his dedication and insight are deep and abiding. I think mention of PPA rules and elaboration on each image quality places our 2009 Scenic Class Winners, Professional Category, in distinct perspective…

Thanks, Glenn, Peter, Bob, Leslie, and Jim … I consider it an honor to stand among you and sincerely applaud both your individual images and our combined efforts!

Sep 9, 2009

Reflection on “Wisdom of Trees” – by Peter Davies

Wisdom of Trees, Peter Davies, 2009 New Mexico Sate Fair, Scenic Class Winners, Professional Category

Wisdom of Trees
© Peter Davies
1st Place
Scenic Class Award
Professional Category
2009 New Mexico State Fair

In the final chapter of his book Mountain Light, Galen Rowell describes 3 elements that must merge to make a truly fine photograph of the natural world: technical proficiency, personal vision, and light. Creating the photograph Wisdom of Trees was truly a convergence of these elements for me.

I shot this image on October 6, 2008 at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, just north of Half Moon Bay on the California coast. I had just finished taking a four-day Fine Art Digital Printing workshop with Steven Johnson at his studio in Pacifica. Those four days brought not only intense focus on refining my technical proficiency, but also total immersion in further exploration of my personal photographic vision. At the end of each workshop day, I drove out to the coast to explore with my camera.

While I have been to the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve before, I had not realized that in addition to a small beautiful cove populated with harbor seals, pelicans and other sea life, there is a high terrace behind and above the cove. And, on this terrace is a large, almost surreal grove of cypress trees. Once I saw these trees, I found myself drawn back each evening to explore and experience them further. I took many, many photographs in the late afternoon light, trying to capture some sense of this place.

After the workshop was over, I had several hours the next morning before catching my flight back to New Mexico. I headed straight for the cypress grove, hoping to experience the morning light. Again, I wandered, explored and took more photographs. Finally, I sat down at the base of one of these trees and quietly began to reflect on my recent total immersion in my passion for photography, a mix of building technical proficiency and refining my personal photographic vision. Reflection turned into subconscious contemplation. Some time later, I opened my eyes to a different world.

A fine sea mist had come into the cypress grove off the ocean. The morning sun created a multitude of sun beams playing through the trees. Light had arrived. I quickly grabbed my camera to capture the experience. Having just come off of four days immersed in technique, my photographic instincts were sharp. I knew the dynamic range of the bright sunbeams and dark shadows of bark on the cypress trees was well beyond the dynamic range capacity of my camera’s sensor. Shooting from a tripod, I captured multiple sets of multiple exposures of different scenes as light played through the trees. I took 46 images in 16 minutes, and then the light was gone.

Technical proficiency, personal vision and light... they all came together in experiencing and capturing the Wisdom of Trees.

Technical Details
Wisdom of Trees was shot with a Canon D-5, using a Canon 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 DO lens set at 120mm. Three exposures were taken with the aperture set at f/16 and exposures times of 0.60, 0.25 and 1.60 seconds.

Conversion of the RAW files was accomplished using Lightroom 2. High Dynamic Range (HDR) processing to combine all three exposures into a 32 bit image was completed using Photomatix Pro. My primary objective in HRD processing was to capture as much tonal detail as possible in the shadows and dark tree bark without blowing out the soft highlights of the sun beams. Final image adjustments and sharpening were done in Photoshop CS3.

The final image was printed on a HP Z3200 on HP Professional Satin Paper using 200-year pigment ink. The final photograph was archival mounted, using an acid-free museum mount.

Closing Comments
I would like to thank the judges for their time, energy and expertise... and for the learning that comes through their discussions during scoring challenges. I would also like to thank Joe Bridwell for creating this opportunity to reflect and share.

Peter Davies
Fine Art Photographer

Editor’s Comments
Peter Davies is the 1st Place award-winner of Scenic Class, Professional Category, 2009 New Mexico State Fair. His enthusiasm about learning, photography, and expression is clearly shown in this piece…

Glenn Hohnstreiter has agreed to provide an overview of our effort to express sentiments from Scenic Winners. Publication date is presentlyTDB; but it should be soon…

Thanks, Peter… Well DONE!