Winter Monochrome at the Lake

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here in the Northeast we had a big snowstorm the day before Thanksgiving. On the day itself the snow was still coming down a bit and we went for a walk to Cooper Lake. It was very cold, the turkey was in process of roasting, so I grabbed my Olympus SH-1 point and shoot rather than my DSLR with tripod.

The images I’m showing you here are the best of the results from that walk. Conditions were a winter photographer’s dream come true. The processing was minimal — very minimal. No B&W conversion was involved; this is completely natural. I tried experimenting with converting one image to B&W and didn’t like the result; it wasn’t the right tone, somehow too warm. The cooler tones right out of the camera were spot-on for the feeling of that day. Hope you enjoy these; comments welcome!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Last but not least — Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Thank you for being readers of my blog.

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Light Touch on Catskill Spring

My son Anton (who is arguably a better photographer than I, though we agree that he’s the “landscape master” and I’m the “buildings master”) refers to spring as the “pre-fall” season, meaning that it’s equally rich in color, though colors of a more subtle kind. This year we actually had a spring in the Northeast — as opposed to a winter that stubbornly drags on and then suddenly, and shockingly, morphs into the unbearable heat of summer — which enabled me to get up to the Catskills several times, drive around, and get some good images.
OK, so I’m the reputed “buildings master” and will share those pictures with you in due course, but for now I want to share three landscape images that I made on Mother’s Day, in the Northern Catskills region they call the “mountain top.” I wasn’t looking for these specific sites — just driving around until I saw something that attracted me. The point I want to make is that in each case I used a light touch in the postprocessing. Even if I used several layers or filters, the values were tweaked very little, if at all, beyond the presets. I have no patience with overprocessed, especially oversaturated images of nature; it’s one thing to use one’s processing tools to coax that Raw image into displaying what one actually saw in that scene, quite another to “improve” on nature as if God had a bad eye for color.
Enough preaching! Here’s the first image:

DSC0224  levels 236 sThe first thing you’ll notice is that the original image has been cropped. The sky lent nothing to the overall effect. In Nik Efex Color Pro 4 I made very subtle use of Pro Contrast, Brilliance/Warmth, and Tonal Contrast, and then finished it off with Unsharp Mask at 25 %.

DSC0226 sThe second image (above) isn’t a different crop of the first — it’s a totally different picture in which I had zoomed in more. Here, in CEP 4’s Brilliance Warmth I used 20 % Warmth and then, in Tonal Contrast, set each value, including Saturation, at only 15 %. Once again, Unsharp Mask at 25 %.

DSC0228 sFinally, the above scene caught my eye as I was driving along one of the main east-west roads up there. Perhaps it’s not spectacular, but the red of the house set into nature’s spring colors made for an attractive, typically Catskill pastoral scene. The horizon needed some straightening, and I did a small amount of cropping on the sides. Then I used some Warmth/Saturation in CEP 4 and, again, 25 % Unsharp Mask.

In all cases these are in addition to the basic Raw processing before bringing the image into CS5.

There you have some views of the Catskills in May. If you’d like to comment, I’d be curious about which of the first two pictures you prefer — the wider-angle or closer view of the trees and mountain.

Intimate Landscapes by Robert Rodriguez

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Robert Rodriguez, Jr. is one of the greatest landscape photographers working in the Hudson Valley. Robert has that most important gift of all — knowing how and when to capture the beautiful light. But that gift doesn’t come without hard work, work that takes time. In fact, at Sunday’s reception for his new show at the RiverWinds Gallery in his home town of Beacon, Robert emphasized that the most important “tool” in a nature photographer’s kit is time–time to return again and again to a specific place in order to scope out the best compositions and to wait patiently until the lighting conditions are optimum for your vision of a scene. As an example, he pointed to his stunning black-and-white image from Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, taken during a vacation with his family, and recounted how it took four visits to that particular site before the light was right and he got the image he wanted. This is food for thought in a day and age when prodigious prolificness seems to be demanded of photographers; Robert shows that one needn’t buy into this.

And a gorgeous image this is. I find it interesting that many nature photographers are turning to black-and-white, not exclusively, but certainly a sufficient number of magnificent black-and-white landscape pictures are turning up that one can speak of a black-and-white renaissance.

My little snapshot at the top of the blog gives you a modest (very modest) idea of Robert’s work through the windows of the RiverWinds Gallery. If you have the opportunity to visit his exhibit, it will be at the gallery through March 4. Visit the gallery’s website for opening hours and directions. It is very easy to get to (if I say that, it’s guaranteed to be true), right off Route 9D from the I-84, and Beacon itself is worth visiting, especially for art aficionados and anyone who would appreciate amazing views of the Hudson River.

Ashokan Deep Winter: Win a free print!

Photo 1

Photo 1

I love shooting at the Ashokan Reservoir, that once-controversial body of water in New York State’s Catskill Region whose creation necessitated the obliteration of several villages in the Esopus Valley in order to supply water to New York City. The above image, made yesterday in bone-chilling temperatures, is arguably the finest in my Ashokan Reservoir collection. This version of the picture is the original postprocessed version, done first in Raw and then in Photoshop CS5 using a few adjustment layers.

Photo 2

Photo 2

Then, just out of curiosity, I brought the photo into Nik Color Efex Pro 4 and used the Tonal Contrast preset, which gives values of  25% (Highlights), 50% (Midtones), 25% (Shadows), and 20% (Saturation).  To my eye the result–here it is above–seemed a bit of overkill, but I saved it along with the original.  Then–and here is always the insidious trap with these plug-ins–the more I looked at the two versions, the more “normal” the Nik version looked, and the more “boring” the original. Not a good thing–to me it issues a powerful warning about the potential for plug-ins and filters (or at least, I should clarify, their overuse, especially in nature images) to influence what the eye will accept.

Photo 3

Photo 3

I decided to experiment with creating a third version. This is, let me emphasize, not so much a compromise as an alternative interpretation. Again it uses Tonal Contrast in Nik Color Efex Pro 4, but here I’ve changed the values to 20%, 25%, 20%, and 20%. Here it is above.

DSC0229 BW Bl

Then came the inevitable step: a black-and-white conversion. Again, an alternative interpretation, not something to replace the color versions. I first tried it with a B&W Adjustment Layer in Photoshop but didn’t particularly care for any of the results I was getting, so I went with–guess what–the B&W preset in Nik Color Efex Pro 4. Why? Because it’s a nature/landscape image, and I’m perhaps a bit wary of falling into an overly “artsy” interpretation were I to use Nik Silver Efex Pro 2, which I especially like for my old and historic buildings. Here I used 60% (Filter Color) 34 (Strength), 8 (Brightness), and 44 (Contrast), as well as 31 and 20 for the Shadows and Highlights sliders respectively. Here you see the results.

Now comes your opportunity to win a free matted print of one of these images. Just reply in a comment to this post and tell me (1) which of the three color images you prefer; and (2) whether you prefer the color or the black-and-white.  There are no “right” or “wrong” answers–just call it a marketing survey. Please identify your preference by the number given in the caption — Photo 1, Photo 2, Photo 3 — to avoid any misunderstandings. From the replies received by February 17, 2013 to both questions I will randomly choose two persons to receive a 5 x 7 print, matted to 8 x 10 and signed by me. Each winner will receive the version he or she preferred.

All images are printed on high-quality professional Lustre paper, carefully matted and inserted into a protective sleeve before being carefully packed and shipped. I will notify the winners by email to request their mailing address.

Thank you for participating in my marketing survey! — Oh! At the top of the blog I described the Ashokan Reservoir as “once controversial.” You can well imagine that the destruction and flooding of such a large portion of the Esopus Valley evoked strong feelings, heartache, not to mention the loss of many homes and livelihoods. Then I recently watched an excellent DVD by renowned historian/film maker Tobe Carey on the construction of the Ashokan Reservoir, which eloquently depicted the effects this project had on the lives of those who were displaced by it. Near the end of the film, a man was interviewed who observed that if the reservoir had not been built here, this area would undoubtedly have been subjected to massive development. “What would you rather be looking at,” he asked, “this beautiful reservoir or a shopping mall?”

To this observer, anyway, that’s a no-brainer.