In the Moment:
Michael Frye's Landscape Photography Blog
After I sent off the text and images for this book some errors crept in. The most prominent is on page 43, where the diagram “Zones and Histograms” shows more dynamic range than any digital camera can produce. I’ve posted corrections on my web site, including an image that you can print and tape over the erroneous diagram on page 43.
My new book, Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters, will be available in January. In this volume I look at the techniques of some past masters of landscape photography—particularly Eliot Porter, Edward Weston, and Ansel Adams—and explore how those techniques could be adapted to digital photography today. The book includes some examples of Porter, Weston, and Adams’ work, as well as at least 100 of my own images. This excerpt from the Introduction explains the theme:
I am sure the next step will be the electronic image, and I hope I shall live to see it. I trust that the creative eye will continue to function, whatever technological innovations may develop.
When Ansel Adams wrote this, digital photography was in its infancy. Today most photographs are captured on digital sensors, and film consumption has dwindled. In this digital age, do the landscape masters of the past like Adams, Edward Weston, and Eliot Porter still have anything to teach us? Can the lessons they learned through trial and error with film, paper, and chemicals still apply to photographers checking the histogram on their camera’s LCD or making a Curves adjustment on their monitor?
The answer is yes. When Ansel Adams developed the Zone System with Fred Archer in 1940, he gave photographers a tool great for controlling their images—but only with black-and-white film, and only with view cameras, where sheets of film could be processed individually. Today any photographer with a digital camera can have even more control—even in color.
Such unprecedented power creates wonderful opportunities, but can also lead to confusion. How do you apply these controls? How far should you go? Do you have to start from the beginning? No, because while the tools may be different, the basic principles that Weston, Porter, and Adams developed still apply.
The first chapter covers the technical foundation like image quality, sharpness, depth of field, and exposure, including how to apply the Zone System to digital cameras, and how to expose for optimum results with HDR. Chapter 2 is devoted to light and composition: directing the eye, using contrast, basic and subtle aspects of light, compositional rules and when to break them, patterns, repetition, and capturing a mood. The third chapter delves into the digital darkroom, including editing, developing a workflow, converting color images to black and white, adjusting black points, white points, and contrast, dodging and burning, and expanding the contrast range with HDR or manual blending in Photoshop.
In the end, the book is a comprehensive look at digital photography techniques from capture to print, with Adams, Weston, and Porter’s insights guiding the way. It’s available for pre-order from Amazon.
Back in the dark ages of film, I carried several graduated neutral-density filters. They were both hard to pronounce and hard to use. First I had to decide which one to pull out—one, two, or three stops? Hard edge or soft? Then, after mounting one on the lens, I struggled to adjust it. The transition—the “graduated” part of the filter—could be almost impossible to see through the viewfinder. The light often vanished while I was still fiddling.
With my first digital camera I realized that graduated filters were no longer necessary. I could recreate the same effect in Photoshop, with more ease and control. And now the latest versions of Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw even have built-in graduated filter tools. The photographs above show a before-and-after version done with Lightroom—original on the left, digital graduated filter applied on the right to lighten the foreground.
My latest article in the December issue of Digital Photo magazine (formerly PC Photo), titled Digital Graduated Filters, describes how to use the Graduated Filter tools in Lightroom and Camera Raw, plus how to achieve the same effect with Photoshop. The article isn’t on the their web site, but you can find the magazine at newsstands now. I have a related article on my site with some, but not all, of the same material.
Do you have a love-hate relationship with Photoshop? You’re not alone. One the one hand, it’s an incredibly powerful tool, capable of doing fantastic things. You know that if you mastered this program you could get the most out of your images and make beautiful prints. On the other hand, Photoshop can be cryptic, complex, and confusing. The learning curve can seem downright crooked.
I was lucky. When I first started using Photoshop in the late ’90s, I got to spend a weekend with Bill Atkinson, who probably knew more about digital imaging than anyone else in the world at the time (maybe he still does). He started me in the right direction and helped me avoid the confusion caused by gathering random bits of information from books and the internet. Like Charlie Cramer, Keith Walklet, and many other fine-art photographers Bill taught, I still use a variation of the simple, powerful, and flexible workflow that Bill showed me.
I’ve since taught Photoshop (and now Lightroom) skills to dozens of people in workshops for West Coast Imaging and The Ansel Adams Gallery. I try to make the complexities of Photoshop easy to understand. The truth is that Photoshop is simple. Anyone can learn to use it. And if you’re already familiar with it, you can learn to harness its full power. The secret is that you don’t have to deal with most of the tools. If you learn to use a few powerful tools well, you can do almost anything in Photoshop.
My next workshop with The Ansel Adams Gallery, Digital Printing and the Zone System (January 19 – 23, 2010) is designed for people who already have some Photoshop experience but want to master this powerful beast. You’ll learn both simple and advanced techniques for getting the most out of your images and making beautiful, fine-art prints. I included the Zone System in the title because getting good exposures in the field is vital to getting good results in Photoshop, so we’ll be working with the entire process, from capture to print. The Zone System also gives us a framework for understanding contrast throughout the workflow—an important tool in this age of HDR. Here’s a partial list of the topics covered:
– Zone System Exposure for Digital Cameras
– Color Management
– Overall workflow
– Raw Image Processing
– Making a Master File
– Using Layers for Flexibility
– Controlling Contrast
– Mastering Curves
– Flexible Dodging and Burning
– Making Difficult Selections Easy
– Converting to Black and White
– Combining Images for Greater Depth of Field
– Combining Images to Expand Dynamic Range, both with HDR and Photoshop
There’s still space available in the class if you’d like to join us. Click here to register or get more information.
So how do you feel about Photoshop? Do you love it, hate it, or both? And if you’ve learned to love it, how did you get there?
By the way, I’m planning to add more Photoshop tips and tutorials to my web site soon, but for now here’s one tip that you might find interesting, about imitating the effect of a graduated neutral-density filter.