Posted on May 17, 2017
I just posted my full Iceland Portfolio here. As with my last portfolio, of Big Sur and the Monterey Peninsula, I used the process of post production to look at my work from outside in, as an artist’s self-portrait. That’s the value of process… looking at your new work, finding a few diamonds, polishing the facets with a hundred minute adjustments. Portfolio as self-portrait.
I guess some folks think post production is cheating, it’s not. A lot of enthusiasts feel it’s a distraction or necessary evil. Post is completing the image, allowing it to find full expression. And for a landscape photographer, Lightroom adjustments becomes a kind of journey, a journey where you listen to what you have and what works.
Putting these photographs out there as a set, knowing the story behind each, taking each to the next level, seems to help deepen the craft. So here’s a few photos from the set with some of the backstory.
Note: If you check out the full portfolio, go full screen. These images come alive with more screen real estate. They need that to breathe.
Coming into the Country
After the hassle of a long, unpleasant flight, it’s nice to start seeing a new place. So once we had dragged our bags over the icy airport parking lot and got the rental car running, it was time to see the Land of Ice like a photographer.
The first thing I noticed was that it was cold, also the second thing and the third. It was just past dawn and the roads hadn’t thawed yet. My Denver friends, who’d just finished with winter, were thinking they should have dressed warmer. And I had come from LA.
At that point in mid March the light was gray and dull, the landscape was black and white.
Then we got to the Blue Lagoon. The steamy blue hot springs instantly expanded my color palette. After a soaking in the thermal springs, the mind started to open. And you noticed how people responded to this warmth in the midst of cold.
This image was an easy Lightroom journey to make. Someone entering a gigantic warm bath for the first time. A place too blue for reality, more like a Vogue cover. I had done a decent job when I framed this one, foreground subject, steamy mid ground, early light on the mountain behind.
In post, I tweaked the saturation up a bit to compensate for the low light desaturation. Gave more edge to the mountain, less edge to her but more warmth. I cropped her into the left side (rule of thirds). Plus I banished half a dozen folks from my shot for trying to steal focus from the heroine.
Curve of the shoreline
We had hours to kill so our little two-car caravan did a short tour of the south side of the Reykjavik peninsula. My sister kept an eye out so we stopped here and there for pics. This location demanded our attention.
By now I was starting to get Iceland in focus. The white-blue landscape, the long mesas in the distance, and a lake. The shoreline was what got to me — dark, dark water, white curve of coast. I didn’t do much in post here. Recovered the whites, cooled off the sky, cropping to get a pure, abstract balance of the three elements.
There are 8 million stories in the city
Most of Iceland is huddled close to the city. That’s where the money flows, the tourist dollars. So, you have a traditional harbor area, a “High Street” with lots of wool shops, eateries, the historical center — and an edgy design sense. Reykjavik must have a ton of Millennials who are into design and you see the attitude on every corner.
Here the idea was to juxtapose a harbor scene with the street art. The image started working when I did a tight crop to balance out the two core elements, making the Coke truck a clear background element and pushed the palette and clarity towards an edgy b&w street scene.
Reflections and rain
This shot of a young guy leaving the City Hall building doesn’t look it but it’s a classic grab shot — shoot it before it’s gone. There’s a light rain smoothing the lake, the foot bridge is a perfect leading line. The trick was to frame the young guy at the right spot before the composition lost the human element.
My post production approach with this is simple on the surface, clarify each of the local elements. Sharpen the focus on the guy. Add clarity to the leading line and his refection as well as the branches that frame it all.
That’s all obvious Lightroom stuff. I also wanted to go against the cliche of the harsh city in the rain. So I took the other parts of the scene, the background buildings, the lake, all the negative space so to speak, and eased the palette into a soft mood by moving the adjustments for stuff like clarity, sharpness and color tone into the negative, into a pastel feeling. That seemed to give more density to the mist.
Finding a balance point, Geysir hot spring
The shot of a blue hot spring next to Geysir was one I overlooked at first. I hadn’t seen any real visual relationship when I pulled the trigger (duh); it was just pretty. But last week, I took a second look at this one. I liked the soft blue of that hot spring. And when I cropped to pulled in more of the birch forest and mountain (on the left), that created a connection.
In post, that choice required adding some focus (contrast, clarity, sharpness) to the woods and hills on the left and deepening the blue of the pool. I darkened the sky — instant mood. I also added brushstroke adjustments to the fumes and clouds to create more rounded shapes.
Sculpting an image: The Troll’s Pulpit
I went to Dritvik as part of a tour of Snaefellsnes Peninsula. The day was fiercely cold, with waves and a nasty wind pounding the black sand beach and the huge stone that’s called Troll’s Pulpit.
When shooting, the tough part was to keep focus, find that core composition of wave and rock, while remembering to clean the spray off the lens after every shot. Later in post, I cropped the image tight in order to zoom in further on Troll’s Pulpit.
I darkened the sky and added a bit of color. But 90% of my time was spent adding dimensionality to the rock and waves. The challenge is that a camera works in 2D but the eye sees (and wants) that third D. So I wanted to reintroduce depth. This image is all about impact and the hard edge of this place.
Without getting to into the boring Lightroom stuff, the impression of depth comes by using the same techniques a painter uses; taking an object (a wave in this case), painting shadow and softness into one part of it, painting highlights, structure and sharpness on the part closer to the viewer. The eye does the rest.
Iceland has a bunch of places that get inordinate numbers of visitors. This country of 330,000, the smallest population in Europe, gets more American’s visiting each year than that (and that’s without counting Europeans, Chinese, Indians, etc. ). So a spot like the Skogafoss waterfall, just southeast of the city, gets jammed. When I showed up in late morning, the parking lot had 6 or 8 tour buses and it took a while to find a spot. Luckily I waved a magic wand and got a decent image:
What you don’t see is the 200 folks in magenta and orange and hot pink parkas — all standing between my lens and the falls getting facies. (That sucked.) Luckily there’s Photoshop. The alternative is to visit here before 9 am or after 6. The buses have mostly headed back to Reykjavik by then.
Seeing shots in the commonplace
The coolest thing about Iceland for a photographer is that there are an endless supply of great scenes that are less obvious and just off the road. These spots aren’t in the guidebooks or on any tours. You just need your own wheels and an eye for composition.
Posted on March 7, 2017
Julianne Kost did a nice couple of blog posts on her photo expedition to Antartica. One post was her narrative and images, the other was devoted to how she does her Lightroom and Photoshop post-production. That one also shows the photos at the different steps of post work. They’re both worth a look.
On her approach to photography, Julieanne says, “It’s important to know what you can do in post when shooting. While we aspire to capture all of the key elements to make a successful image in camera (light, gesture, composition etc.), post processing is another tool that can be used to craft and refine your vision, and if you can pre-visualize what an image can become, you have an advantage.”
Some of the images:
Here’s what she says about her Lightroom work on the image above. The initial image is presented first and it is fairly murky, not something you’d show.
In the Lens correction panel, I began my editing by enabling both the Remove Chromatic Aberration and Enable Profile Correction options to remove any distortion and vignetting caused by the lens.
Then, I cropped and straightened the image to better balance the composition (and remove the distracting ice on the left side of the frame.)
Because of the cloud cover, the original capture was flat and lacking in contrast. I used the Whites and Blacks sliders in the Basic Panel to extend the dynamic range of the photograph across the entire histogram. I also increased the Contrast slider and decreased the Highlights slider to retain detail in the brighter area of the ice.
I adjusted the white balance of the image to neutralize the ice in the foreground by moving the Temperature slider towards blue and the Tint slider slightly towards magenta.
As a result, the sky lost its yellow color so I painted in the sky area with yellow using the Adjustment Brush to add depth and create color contrast between the foreground and background.
I added local contrast and clarity by painting with the Adjustment Brush, helping to make the icicles pop and boost edge definition.
Finally, I used the Spot Removal tool to remove the darker shadow on the left as well as some distracting imperfections and drips in the ice.
Posted on June 4, 2016
One of the great challenges of photography is to add range and dimensionality to 2-D digital images — and more challenging, to Raw images that already have a flat appearance.
I have a whole section on how to add dimensional complexity to landscape photos in my new book, Photographing Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef National Parks. And I’ve continued to explore this tool set in my latest images, taken in Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly. Here are a few examples:
Agathlan: The Flatness of Midday Light
Everyone knows that mid-afternoon light is deadly. Sure, the best solution is to be at a spot when the light is right. But lots of times, that’s when you’re doing a tour or seeing the sights. Lightroom can’t totally solve the problem, but the image elements can be given far more texture and physicality with a few tricks.
This image (above) is a decent composition but without as much visual interest as it might have. So I broke the composition down into it’s key elements: the volcanic peak, field, fence and road, afternoon clouds. And I came up with this LR variation.
Obviously the sky has been darkened using one of the “Big Sky” presets I got from the Kelby folks. But there’s more happening. Look at how the cumulous have pulled away from the background cloud cover.
Now compare the textures in the mountain, how each outcrop has more depth and rawness. I could get some roughness in the rocks by doing a global Clarity adjustment in LR. But it wouldn’t have been as nuanced that way and a global adjustment would have also given the field an edgy quality and I didn’t want that.
So with both clouds and rock, I selected an area and essentially painted the internal elements of that feature with the Adjustment brush. Lots and lots of little brushstrokes that have extra Clarity, Contrast and Sharpness. I did something similar with the barbed wife fence since I wanted that leading line to have more visual impact. But for other elements, I actually backed off the Clarity and added a tiny amount of Contrast and Saturation.
Monument Valley: Selective Impact
I used a similar approach with the view you see going into Monument Valley. Instead of the standard vista you get as you drive into the Valley, of Left and Right Mittens, I went for a shot you don’t see so much, of Left Mitten and, to its right, King on Throne and the Castle. Here’s the original Raw image.
I used a preset to darken the sky to where it should be. Now you can actually see the thick rain clouds that were blowing through. I also gave texture to the pine with the Adjustment Brush and my usual mix of Clarity, Contrast and here, negative Exposure. It’s a great foreground element and it needed presence to compete with the Mitten.
I also did some Adjustment Brush work on the three buttes — but not as a whole unit. Instead, I treated each piece of each monolith as a separate column. The eye still has a clear direction into the image — from foreground pine to Mitten to King to Castle. But each element has been give far more complexity and the eye ends up exploring far more.
In a way, I’m just pulling out more information about the different visual elements here, especially the blown out sky. But these adjustments are doing more than “fixing” something. I’m telling the eye, these are the key elements that you should include in your journey. And by treating each element separately, the sense of space between each butte becomes more defined. And I’m doing it in a way that is closer to the reality of that stormy moment than the camera was picking up.
Adjusting the Light
I’m using the same technique here. But in this image, most of the elements are too dark — which mutes color and hides the compositional dynamics.
I lightened up the fields and highway, added texture to the butte and added contrast to the sky, all with local adjustments. I also eliminated some of the buildings on the left so the highway lines are cleaner.