A Photograph’s Unexpected Odyssey

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In late June Anton de Flon (check out his site — he is “the” Catskill Dude) and I went out to North-South Lake for a short hike. When we came to the point where the trail ascends these rocks, I decided to stop and take in the spirit of Hudson River painter Asher B. Durand, whose presence I sensed nearby. Asher loved to paint studies of rocks.DSC4400 original s

Here is the original of the first picture I took. I wanted a vertical. Yes, it’s a bit far off, but that’s me — I like to begin zoomed out and then gradually move in closer. Same way I like to get to know people.

After some very basic processing in Lightroom, I took it into Photoshop to do the main work. One of the first things I did was to zoom in to clone out one of those blue round trail markers. Then I looked at the zoomed-in picture and it struck me — Hey! I rather like that!  Yes, I wanted a vertical, but I have at least three other verticals from that day, better compositions all of them, so … I cropped the image down to exactly what i saw on the screen, then lopped a tiny slice more off the bottom.  It’s the one at the top of this post..

OK, what to do with it now?  I had been thinking of a monochrome with lots of the detail DSC4400 Nik 028 sshowing. So, into Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2 we went.  And I realized it wasn’t working, at least not with the detail I had envisioned.  But among the presets I tried was this — and I liked it a lot. Very atmospheric.  I think Asher would have approved of it — as a sketch, anyway.  (I also tried a sepia preset that made it look like something you’d find at the bottom of a drawer in the archives of the Adirondack Museum. Can you see the headline now?  “Obscure 19th-century Print in ADK Museum Collection Now Discovered to Depict the Catskills.” I did not save this version.)

OK, but then what? Well, let’s see what Topaz Adjust 5 has to offer. Click, click, click on various presets — and then came the revelation. This one — called “French Countryside” — the problem was that leaving in all the details was making for too confused an image, and what it really needed was to be smoothed out. This one worked best for the purpose.

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What do you think?

Digital Neutral Density

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On the morning after Christmas my son, Anton, and I went out to shoot at Cooper Lake. One advantage to having a great place like this nearby is that you become familiar with the optimum times to be there and the optimum angles from which to shoot, depending on when you know the good light will be hitting a specific place. Since the path bordering Cooper Lake curves around, you can start at one spot for first light and then make your way to the next spot when the sun is slightly higher. (A lake surrounded by mountains has its own challenges when it comes to allowing for differences from the official sunrise and sunset times.) And while you’re waiting for the light to be in the right position, there’s always the beaver pond, or close-ups on the opposite side of the path.

On this particular morning one of my “while you’re waiting” shots was a capture of Anton in action. Instead of shooting from the edge of the path, he had got right down to the edge of the shore. I decided to go for an environmental shot, i.e., one that shows him in the broader landscape instead of a tight shot. (This is beautiful Cooper Lake, after all.)

The problem with the resulting image was that the lower half was too dark while the upper half verged on the too light side — perfect conditions for a graduated neutral density filter. But I don’t have one in my collection, or at least it wasn’t with me that day.  I remembered that Nik Color Efex Pro 4 has a grad NDF preset, so I pulled the image into Photoshop and then into Color Efex Pro. Easy! You can manipulate sliders to change the lightness/darkness of the two halves of the photo and to regulate the degree of blend. If your exposure problem affects the right and left halves of the image rather than the upper and lower halves, there’s a rotating slider as well.

Lightroom has an adjustment brush tool for this situation, but personally I found the Nik preset much easier (and faster) to use. Just a personal preference.

The processed image is at the top of this post.

While you’re at it, you might want to take a look at Anton’s website.

The Power of Visuals

Anton on the Diamond Notch trail. Photo by Reiko

Anton on the Diamond Notch trail. Photo by Reiko

The reaction of my friend and author Fr. William Graham to this story encouraged me to share it in a blog post. It began yesterday morning when my son, Anton, phoned me and casually mentioned that there had been an accident involving the commuter bus he sometimes rides from Kingston, NY to New York City but not to worry, he was OK. Well, OK. It wasn’t easy to hear him – it sounded as if there was all this wind blowing around him – surely he could have made the call from inside his office building.

Only gradually did the enormity of the situation reveal itself. The accident had happened at Ramsey in Northern New Jersey, and the bus had left Kingston at 6 am; Anton and nearly fifty other people were still standing outside on Route 17 waiting either for medical/emergency services or a relief bus to take them the rest of the way to the city, choose whichever is appropriate. A tire from a car traveling north on 17 had loosened and gone sailing into the bus’s windscreen, hit the driver, then bounced farther back to hit more people.

Happens I work in Mahwah, just north of Ramsey, three days a week, and was in the office today. Most of the colleagues had heard about the accident or even passed it en route to work yesterday. When I mentioned that my son had been on the bus, one colleague fetched today’s Bergen Record from her car and showed me the photo on front page and the article with more photos elsewhere in the paper. “It’s a good think you didn’t see this before,” she said.  That’s for sure. There was an enormous gaping hole in the windscreen just about level with where the driver’s head would have been.  Had he not quickly ducked when he saw the tire coming, he’d have literally lost his head and fifty people on that bus could have been killed. Despite being injured, he had the presence of mind to maneuver the bus across two or three lanes of traffic and pull over on the side of the road. As it was, the person behind the driver got the worst of it; the medevac took him to the Trauma Center in Paterson, where he was in critical condition. Anton was sitting four rows away from him.

Rosendale Farm Market

Rosendale Farm Market

It was when I saw the photo of the passenger strapped on a stretcher and being moved into an emergency vehicle that I freaked out. Anton had said that someone four rows away from him had been hurt and was in very critical condition, and of course I felt bad, thinking about how some poor family member was going to get a phone call…. But what is it about a visual that really throws a situation in your face? Or is it just me, being a photographer and all? There’s something about a visual that particularizes a situation. It’s no longer a general “fifty passengers,” it’s this particular person very seriously injured. A man from Rosendale, the next stop after Kingston on this bus route. Beautiful Rosendale with its rolling hills and farmers market — I have a magnet about the Rosendale farmers market on my refrigerator, from the day a couple of years ago when I stopped, bought a few things, and (of course) took some photos.

Same thing when 9/11 happened. Again, I first heard about it from Anton. He was in the office his firm then occupied in a penthouse on Lower Broadway and he saw both planes go into the towers. For the rest of the day, everyone watched in horror as the events unfolded. But what really brought it home to me was seeing photos of people jumping out of the office windows and you could see the details of the men’s ties flying upward while their bodies were hurtling inexorably downward. And I thought about how they had put those ties on earlier that morning, never thinking that it would be the last time they’d ever have to choose a tie to go to work.

There’s just something about certain visuals that particularizes a general situation and affects you more deeply than all the lists or statistics in the world.

Have you ever had that experience?

Here’s a link to the article about the bus accident. Needless to say, my son managed to take a photo of the scene with his cellphone that incorporated the green “Lake St. Ramsey” road sign, thereby establishing a sense of place.  http://www.northjersey.com/news/1-critically-injured-after-tire-smashes-through-bus-windshield-in-ramsey-video-1.1009014  As I opened this post, so I close it with thanks to my author Fr. Graham, for his prayers.