Black and White Photo Challenge

Fellow photoblogger Janice Sullivan nominated me for the 5-day Black and White Photo Challenge. It had been a while since I’d done any serious B&W conversions so I was glad to have this discipline. Below are the photos, with something about each one. Each image was originally posted on my Facebook page.

Ed IMG_1190 Nik Neutral sThis is the interior of The Coffee Pot in Littleton, NH; the old-fashioned interior lends itself well to B&W. I had already processed this in color and chose to make the B&W conversion from the psd file instead of from the jpg to which I had added some Topaz Adjust finishing touches. This conversion was made with Nik Silver Efex Pro 2, in which I used the Neutral preset and simply increased the structure a bit as I like the somewhat gritty look that gives.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you know my image Dreamtime at the Ashokan Reservoir, this is another taken on the same day. After preliminary processing in Lightroom 5, I brought it into Photoshop and added a B&W layer, decreased the Cyans and Blues to darken the clouds (and their reflections in the water), and increased the Yellows and Greens to lighten the bridge structure to make it more prominent. I also cropped it a bit from the bottom; without the “dreamy” look of the color image I wanted the bridge to stand out more.

 

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This was taken at the Sachuest National Wildlife Refuge, Middletown, RI, when sun and wind combined for the right conditions early one morning. Observing the waves and trying to capture “the decisive moment” is a meditative experience. Here I was struck not only by the wave action but also by the play of the rising sun on the edges of the rocks. B&W conversion was simply a B&W layer in Photoshop CS5. I darkened the Cyans and Blues at the top of the image to make the contrast with the wave stand out more.

 

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This image of a barn and tree in the Adirondacks first went into Lightroom to increase clarity to enhance detail in the barn and the grass. Then I brought it into Photoshop for B&W conversion by adding a B&W layer. I tweaked the Blues to darken the sky but not too dark, then increased the Greens to bring out more detail in the grass.

 

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Finally, here is the Diana’s Bath waterfall in New Hampshire. I began by working on my processed jpg, but then decided to take the psd file back into Lightroom to increase the Clarity. That worked! Then back into Photoshop where I added a B&W layer, then tweaked the Shadows/Highlights a bit. In the process, I ended up with a better color version as well.

What do you think? Let me hear from you. If you’re interested in purchasing a print as a gift for yourself or a friend, click on the photo to go through to my FAA website. Thank you for looking.

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Look Behind You

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Pictures of lots of photographers all lined up jostling for space so they can get their shot of that “iconic scene” are legion. To counter this, you have wise, experienced photographers who advise you, “Look beyond the obvious!” Turn in another direction!” “Look behind you!”

I was reminded of this recently not by a top-notch photographer but by a lady I met in the course of a walk at one of my favorite spots — Cooper Lake in the Catskill Mountains of New York. It was Christmas Day and the relentless chill that would (little did we then know) plague our entire winter here in the Northeast was just settling in. I set out with my new Nikon D7100 hoping to get some shots of the lake while the ice, not yet very thick or snowed over, still had some interesting patterns in it instead of  the boring, uniform white that would develop later.

People you meet along the lake are usually very open and friendly, and this lady, who said she often brings a little camera along but didn’t have it with her that day (only a fanatic like me was actually going to stop in that freezing cold to set up a camera and shoot), told me that farther along, on the side of the road away from the lake, dripping water was producing some interesting ice activity on the rocks and branches — in other words, don’t just look at the obvious — the lake — and pass up this close-up potential.

Sure enough, a little farther along and there it was. It had grown much too cold to have the patience to set up the tripod and try to get intricate shots that would really have done justice to the scenes, so the best I could do was to put on my Tamron 75-300mm Vibration Reduction lens, turn on the VR, and shoot handheld.  This is a lot of trial and error, but if a couple of good shots result, it’s worth it. Here are my couple of reasonably good shots.

DSC0168 BW sI had a few icicle photos to choose from, and the one at the top of this post was the best. I processed it in blue for an unusual effect. Then, out of many snow-ice-branch and twig-rock images, I selected this one on the left and processed it in black and white; the color did nothing to enhance it, and the B&W enhanced the starkness of this winter weather.

And yes, I did get a fairly decent image of the lake itself with the ice patterns. Here, below, is the one I chose. A good deal of cropping from the bottom was necessary, and retaining the color — actually, processing it so as to bring out the color — was the way to go. You can click on this image and on the top image of the blue icicles to see the larger photos on my website.

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Again, remember that it’s always worth looking away from the obvious — you never know what you’ll find that will make an interesting photograph.

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.

Noon Mark Diner, an Adirondack Gem

The Noon Mark Diner is, of course, named for the mountain that towers over this part of the Adirondacks: the diner is located along Route 73, the road that leads from the Adirondack Northway (a.k.a. I-87) to Lake Placid, in Keene Valley. It’s a mecca for anyone wanting good, tasty, Ed IMG_0362 snonpretentious food and friendly service, whether hiker, local, or tourist. The management also has a sense of humor: don’t you love this photo? (I couldn’t resist buying one of the pens.)

I stopped there to get a take-out lunch on my way home from my most recent trip to Lake Placid, and while waiting for my grilled cheese sandwich to be ready I pulled out my Canon Powershot G15 and made some images for my Diners and Restaurants series. Here is the first one I’ve processed (been busy processing images from my New England trip in October).

This was all done with the jpg in Photoshop–still don’t have Raw processing software that supports the G15. After lightening it a bit in Levels (232, down from 255) I increased the Vibrance, then brought it into Topaz Adjust 5. Using the Spicify preset, I chose Medium Contrast under the Curve Tool in Global Adjustments. Back in Photoshop–sometimes I can get this far and then decide that something is overdone (or underdone). So I decreased the saturation by -10 and increased the lightness by +2. Here is the result.

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Ansel Adams the Greatest Teacher

If you live within 500 miles of Salem, Massachusetts, absolutely do not miss the Ansel Adams exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum. Entitled At the Water’s Edge, it showcases more than 100 original photos by Adams, ranging from the iconic Reflections at Mono Lake to images never before seen in public. As someone who loves New England and photographs there often, I was amazed to see a close-up of barnacles at Cape Cod. 

As the title suggests, all the images on display have something to do with the theme of water–whether waves, snow, tides, the Old Faithful Geyser, even the Golden Gate before the Bridge image that hung over Adams’s desk. One thing I found very striking (as someone who enjoys photographing water myself) was his preference for crisp, sharp images that freeze a very brief instant of time and that thus produce, say, a very detailed shot of a wave breaking. This was after a brief period in which he was influenced by the Pictorialists, who preferred soft rather than crisp images and long shutter speeds to produce a silky water effect.

The latter sort of image is very popular today, especially among those who like to shoot waterfalls. Reflecting on Adams’s “defection” from the Pictorialist to the Modern school, I thought of my own recent journey of discovery with shutter speeds and water. In spring 2011 I was fortunate to be on the Rhode Island coast during the spring full moon. The tides were amazing and the wind was, well, this was Rhode Island!  Then came the icing on the cake as the full moon rose over Rhode Island Sound as I was shooting. Here are two images I shot that evening.  The first one shouldn’t have been made with that slow shutter speed; it doesn’t look right, you want to capture the incredible power of the waves and you need to freeze the action in order to do this. In the next shot the slow shutter speed works better, because it captures the water, after the wave has broken, washing over the rocks.

 

The day after seeing the Ansel Adams exhibition at PEM I was out early in the morning in that same spot–the Sachuest National Wildlife Refuge. I found one of my favorite rocks, the light was right, and the waves were breaking. I ramped up the ISO to 640 and shot at f14, 1/500 second. And those who read this blog regularly will know that I like to do black-and-white conversions, and this image was a perfect candidate–it’s the breaking wave frozen in time against the contrast of the rock and water that was important, and so I converted the image to B&W.

Another thing that struck me was how Adams wasn’t afraid to have almost solid patches of black in his images. Nowadays we tend to feel we should open up the shadows. Clearly, the solid black patches depend on contrast for their effectiveness; they’re not going to work if they’re situated in an otherwise dark picture. Here is the interpretive journey of another of my images. It was taken at sunrise last December at a lake in the Catskills of New York. (The blue colorcast is natural, not a result of processing.) A friend suggested that I might want to try opening up the dark clump of trees on the right side, which I did. You see the result here. Then after seeing the Ansel Adams show I wondered how I could process this image differently. So I went back to the saved psd file and, after trying a few different presets in Nik Silver Efex Pro 2, decided on Full Dynamic (harsh). The Contrast was already at 34, which worked for me. I increased the Brightness to 12 and the Structure to 4, because contrast in texture can also be important in B&W processing.

Different ways of interpreting a scene and of interpreting one Raw image. Tell me which you like. And tell me what you think after you see this awesome Ansel Adams exhibition at the PEM.