Tag Archives: ansel adams

Power of Yosemite National Park

It was almost the visit that never was. I had spent 7 blissful magical days at Death Valley. Next stop was Yosemite but all accommodation was nearly sold out and all Sierra Mountain passes still snowed over. I was looking at a 2 day long detour of what is about 70 miles as the crow flies to cross the Sierra Mountain. Any roof over my head at Yosemite was going to come with a hefty price tag. It would also come with dramatically lower temperatures than Death Valley and I love the heat. I eventually relented and decided under no circumstances could I miss shooting and seeing Yosemite National Park, the hallowed grounds of Ansel Adams. I made the right decision as no classic Ansel image could prepare me for the power of Yosemite National Park.

First Contact

As I drive from the Southwest into the Sierra Mountains my jaw is already on the floor of my Nissan Spaceship. This landscape defines the word stunning. Huge granite walls flank my car and a very loud and violent Merced River provides the soundtrack. Once into Yosemite National Park I nearly drive my Nissan in the river when all towering 910 meters of El Capitan enters my world. No image can truly capture how much awe this granite monolith inspires. No amount of previous exposures through photos takes away from First Contact with Yosemite.

The Image – Power of Yosemite

This is the best of my images from Yosemite. To me, Yosemite is all about drama, power and forces beyond human understanding. This valley was dramatically carved out by a glacier moving at the speed of…well a glacier. Forces beyond our comprehension created this larger than life valley. For drama I need more help from Mother Nature, clear blue skies will not do me well here. I concentrate, relax and fortunately Mother Nature obliges and I summon a dark violent rain storm on an otherwise sunny day. I create this image, Power of Yosemite:

Power of Yosemite - blogjpg

This is a stitch of 3 horizontal images. I spent about an hour enjoying this splendid view and watching the storm move across the valley while the sun played with light beams. I click the remote shutter when I see the sun lighting up Yosemite falls. This may look quite processed but I have only added some contrast and a bit more painting with light. Mother Nature did all the work, I just captured the very right moment of time when the sun lit up the perfect scene.

Visiting Yosemite National Park

I visited in the beginning of May before the peak season and I avoided the weekend. Still, Yosemite is very popular and was very crowded. I paid a fortune for a room in a lodge 8 km’s from the park. Several times driving the valley loop I came close to dying of frustration as I could not park anywhere and missed shots. This is not a desolate one on one with Mother Nature, there are tourists, trekkers, huge crowds and tour busses everywhere. Not to mention photographers. Do not think I have met so many photogs and photo clubs in one location nor seen so many photo-vests; a rather sad sight! Cars are becoming a real problem at Yosemite, there’s only so much space in the narrow valley. As I exited the park on a Saturday morning the cars queuing to get in stretched for miles down the mountain. This winter had heavy snow fall so there was much snow melt in the rivers and waterfalls. Unfortunately this also meant Glacier Point was still under 2 meters of snow and I do not have a really satisfying image of Half Moon Dome. I must return.

Yosemite Part II

This is one location I doubt I shall ever tire off. I must shoot a panorama from Glacier Point. I must capture Yosemite during a snow storm, despite my fear of snow. I shall bring a 4WD and camping gear. I must return for more Power of Yosemite.

Enjoy more images from Yosemite in my Valleys and Canyons USA gallery – more images to come: FlemmingBoJensen.com/gallery/usavalleyscanyons/

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Return of the Two Toned World

I recently wrote about black and white conversions in the Two Toned World post and I have since continued my test of different techniques. Selling five 70x100cm prints in black and white recently for a client taught me a thing or two about black and white conversions and printing them!

Another advantage of black and white photos – besides being able to shoot in the middle of the day – is when it’s raining cats and dogs you can escape into Photoshop and go through old shots and try them in black and white. This Saturday it rained non-stop so I spent the day gathering and checking all my gear before takeoff this Wednesday to Australia – and toying with black and white conversions in Photoshop. With no colours in the world on a gray rainy Saturday I thought it only appropriate to work in glorious black and white:

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Nambung National Park in Western Australia
Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Copenhagen’s Lake Peblinge in duotone
Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Duotone Tree in Fog
Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

The first two shots were converted using Alien Skin Exposure2 plugin which I have found to be by far the best way to convert to black and white. The level of control is incredible and the results are perfect. No posterisation or any problems at all in the converted files; they’re gorgeous and will print big with no visible pixel problems. The last shot of the Tree in Fog was converted directly in Lightroom 2.0; also a good way to convert. All 3 of them are in duotone where the shadows are pure black, but highlights have a slightly warm sepia tone. This lends the photo a bit of warmth while steel keeping it in stark mono.

Here’s a few tips on the conversion and printing process:

  • Viewing reflected light off a print compared to direct light from a monitor (calibrated of course!) are two different beasts. With no colours, a black and white print may appear somewhat darker than the image on screen so experiment to find just the right conversion. You may need to do an image that onscreen appears slightly too bright to achieve the print you want.
  • You want a full range of tones from black through all shades of gray to white. Don’t leave big areas of pure black or white though; they look less satisfying in print. Make sure you have shadow detail, don’t burn any highlights. Use shadows and highlight tool in Photoshop for this. White on paper in a black and white print just means no ink is used; so you’re just seeing the paper colour.
  • Create contrast and more contrast than you would in a colour photo – or the print looks a bit dull. Remember though; no burned highlights and no big black areas, always have some detail. Create different layers for shadows and highlights adjustments and blend them manually using masks to ensure contrast but also have detail.
  • Black and white prints can hold a lot more sharpening than colour prints but still you must watch out for unsharp mask halos. They are very visible in big prints.
  • It’s very easy to overdo the conversion and create posterized areas; usually the sky is the first to suffer. This may look alright on screen but is to avoided like the plague once you’ve seen it on a print! You may be tempted to do something like +140% red channel, -50% in the blue channel but it will severely posterize your sky and ruin your print.

After a lot of work I feel I have finally learned how to do satisfying black and white (well duotoned) digital files, something which I have previously found almost impossible and one area where I used to think film was so much better. With some clever techniques; a digital Ansel Adams style print is possible (now if only I had his eye for compositions).

Two Toned World

I love black and white photos and Ansel Adams is one of my heroes. I don’t convert a lot of my own stuff to black and white though, my own photographic eye is very much triggered by light quality and colour so I don’t actually shoot that much material that does well in black and white. Colours are a big part of my composition and style. But this week allowed me to seriously sink my teeth into black and white conversions and come up with photos like this one:

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Kakadu Pandanus Palm in duotone
Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

I am working on a project for a company, where I am to deliver 5 photos, 100cm wide, framed and in black and white. The client asked me to put together a cityscape and landscape portfolio in black and white so they have a small selection of the best to choose from. This meant going through my whole photo library and picking out 24 shots in all, 12 for each portfolio, that would do well at 100cm wide converted to black and white. The above is not actually part of the portfolio, just something I toyed with a few days ago. Will be interesting to see the finished project and I’ll post when we get there.

To work as a black and white photo you need a strong composition with strong leading lines and full tones going from shadow to highlights and some nice contrasts in the photo. A typical golden hour or dusk photo relies heavily on colours for all of this, so they often become dull in black and white.  Ansel Adams actually shot many of his photos in the middle of the day. The photo above is from Kakadu National Park in Australia and was shot around noon, the worst possible time for colour photography but check out how much better it fares when converted to black and white!

There are as many ways to convert a colour file to black and white as there are Photoshop experts. Photoshop CS3 now has a very good black and white adjustment layers that gives you a lot of control. I have tried a lot of conversions the past week and I found that I prefer the results I get from using the Alien Skin Exposure2 Film Simulator plugin. It comes with a truckload of colour and black and white film preset settings (like Kodak T-Max P3200 pushed 2 stops) and you can then change settings to achieve your desired effect. It’s a bit expensive but the results are so good I think I will end up purchasing it for this project.

070831-IMG_3068-01 colourThe black and white converted photo above is actually duotoned, or split-toned not just black and white. This is a great effect where you keep the highlights in a  slight sepia tone and shadows are kept in pure black and white. It also helps a lot when printing! On the left is the original colour version of the photo, shot with a polarizer filter in very ordinary noon light but this light actually works well in black and white. This means if you like black and white you can shoot colour early and late in the day and then black and white in the middle of the day. No time for siesta anymore you can shoot all day long!

Painting with light

One of the most powerful tools of processing a photo (be it in a traditional darkroom or a digital darkroom) is dodging and burning – the process of darkening or lightening parts of the photo. By doing this you are painting with light, you are controlling shadows and highlights and you can dramatically alter and enhance the expression of your art and control where your viewers eyes go when first viewing the photo. The human eyes are always attracted at first to large areas of light or darkness.

Ansel Adams was a master of photography and the darkroom and to see a perfect example of good old darkroom painting with light, have a look at how shadows and highlights are used in this classic Tetons and the Snake River shot to enhance the drama, expression and visual tension. My favourite contemporary landscape photographer is Peter Eastway, an Australia grand master of photography, and his portfolio is a textbook example of painting with light.

As you know I am not interested in a reality that doesn’t exist anyway, and I find myself more and more wanting to manipulate the look of my images to better create the drama, the tension and the expression I’m after. Only I struggle with the techniques in Photoshop and curse myself, my computer and my mouse! I am reading Scott Kelby’s books on Photoshop and photography and practicing but I still have a lot to learn. Unlike say RAWshooter, PTgui  and Lightroom I am still far from getting the results out of ‘painting with light’ in Photoshop that I really want but at least I am improving (ever so slightly, Rome wasn’t built in a day etc!)

Here’s a few recent attempts at painting with light and digital post processing:

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Sortedam Dossering HDR sunset
Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

This sunset from Copenhagen is a heavily post processed image with a lot more going on than just painting with light and it’s closer to digital art than photography. I merged two exposures of the same shot into a high dynamic range file in the new Photomatix 3.0 software. This brought out the detail in the buildings (shadows) and the clouds. The HDR software didn’t do wonders to the look of the water though so I decided to completely alter this using motion blur tool in Photoshop. Finally I added vignetting and ‘painting with light’ to the image in Photoshop. The sunset is still real though, it really did look like this! It’s mostly an experiment but I am fairly happy with the results.

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Pandanus Palm at Trinity Bay
Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

This is a photo from Australia where I have only used ‘painting with light’ to darken the messy boring bits of the photo (the trees and bushes) and lighten the interesting parts – the combination of the palm tree, the water, beach and sky. I am going for the Peter Eastway effect here and I have to admit I am not totally happy with the results. It’s alright but not totally what I had in mind so I will keep practicing on this photo.

One thing that I find hard is to ‘paint with light’ using a mouse. It’s impossible to do nice curves and strokes using a mouse and I am seriously considering getting a Wacom Intuos3 tablet – anyone have good experiences with using a tablet?

I like painting with light and as I slowly get better at it I see how incredible and powerful a tool it is and it allows me to be even more creative and really work my photos into the exact expression I want. I am still a photographer full stop and not a graphic artist and shooting the photo in the field will always be the best part of the experience for me. But no camera can capture what I want to express so I need to be able to do the digital darkroom stuff to perfection to create fine art landscapes and cityscapes so I’m back to cursing myself, the computer and the mouse!

Reality doesn’t exist – an example

As a follow up to my previous post – here is a practical example of what I mean when I say I use digital post production to make the image reflect the scene as I saw it.

Have a look at this panorama shot from Saturday, it’s Christianshavn Canal in Copenhagen and click the photo to see large size on my web:

Click to see large size on my gallery!

Shot around 2.30pm it’s about an hour before sunset. The sun in Winter is extremely low here in the North and the sunlight is quite weak but also lovely warm and orange on clear Winter days like this. Oh and yes, as you can tell from my position I can walk on water!

Now this is shot straight into the sun basically, the sun is just hiding behind the left building. It’s called “contre-jour” to make it sound arty, it’s just French for “against the light”. It’s a classic situation where any camera falls short. Your eyes can see details in the shadows even when looking against the light. The camera cannot (let’s save the topic of digital HDR for another post). I exposed for the midtones to get a workable compromise and the raw file of this shot has extremely dark shadows, the entire left side is very dark and the highlights are very bright and almost blown out.

But…remember I shoot raw and raw files actually has quite a bit of data that you can’t see but can be dug out! I carefully use the “fill light” and “shadow contrast” features in Rawshooter to lighten the shadows and the left side without overdoing it. I also tone down the highlight contrast a bit. What I’m really doing is trying to compress the too large dynamic range. Not too much I still want that looking-into-the-light feeling but I want details in the shadows too. It’s classic darkroom stuff and Ansel Adams did the same 70 years ago. It’s just a lot easier these days and I think Ansel would have loved working with raw digital files.

The result as seen above is a reflection of how I remember the scene looked and felt when I shot it. I didn’t add or remove content, I simply lightened the shadows a bit and  darkened the highlights. I am satisfied with the result – I got the look I wanted and remember from the scene so mission accomplished!