Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Create The Old Masters Look With Modern Gear
Using the latest in software, techniques and hardware can provide you with imagery that will rival the masterpieces of nature photography
For the Masters, the darkroom was where the final touches were applied to images. Now the digital darkroom is primarily the computer and the printer driver, where you can apply any number of optimization techniques (and you don’t have to worry about the chemicals!) In Photoshop, mastering Curves, Levels, Hue/Saturation and the Black and White mode are the keys to flawless prints, just as the Masters had to know developing, exposure, fixing and printing.
Curves and Levels provide you with techniques for pushing and pulling brights, mediums and darks to change tonality in an image. Selective application of these effects through local adjustment gets you the best possible results. The handy Lasso and Quick Selection/Magic Wand tools are best for this, and Layers and Masks provide you with ultimate control over each area of an image. Look at it as digital dodging and burning.
Another great option for achieving the extended dynamic contrast of classic imagery is High Dynamic Range (HDR). Darkroom photographers would have several choices for getting great prints out of negatives with bright-brights and dark-darks—playing with different grades of paper and chemistry, dodging and burning selected areas from one negative, as mentioned above, or using multiple bracketed exposures of one scene on one print. HDR mimics the latter process, only it does so quickly and efficiently through postprocessing.
Photography is a young sport,” says photographer David Muench. “It’s still developing dramatically. There are so many possibilities with digital now, and I think Ansel would have really liked it because there are so many controls to work with.To create a good HDR image, take three or more captures of one scene. (A tripod and a locked-down camera are absolute musts for this process to work effectively.) Bracket each image by half a stop or more between each exposure, with wider space in between stops for scenes with more dramatic contrast (like a very dark foreground with a very bright sky). There are a few options for good HDR compositing, including Photomatix Pro 3.0 from HDRsoft and Photoshop. (There’s also an available Photomatix plug-in for Photoshop.)
If you’ve shot your images in RAW, another similar option for getting good detail in both brights and darks is available by double-processing your RAW image. By processing the RAW image twice, first paying attention to the dark areas and then to the light areas, you can combine the two images into one optimal image through Photoshop. The results won’t be as good as HDR, but they’re certainly better than using a single image.
Today, we’re no longer limited by the choices we make in the field. We can alter an image in any number of ways, and you can bet that the Old Masters, who took advantage of every technical innovation that came their way, would be proud of the strides that photography has made.
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