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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Is That Really How It Looked?

Understanding how your DSLR sees the world will help you take pictures that match your vision

This Article Features Photo Zoom
Figure 6. A moonbow is one example of the camera's ability to reveal a world the human eye misses. To my eye, the moonbow shimmering beneath the Big Dipper was a glowing silver arc at the base of Lower Yosemite Fall, but my camera's light-gathering capability brightened the scene enough to reveal it in living color.

In Lightroom, I cooled the color temperature for a more night-like feel. In Photoshop, I lightly dodged the shadows to bring out just a little detail. A noise reduction plug-in cleaned up the sky and shadows.

Another often overlooked photo opportunity is the sweet light 20 to 30 minutes before sunrise and after sunset, when many photographers, perceiving the scene too dark to photograph, are casually setting up or packing away their gear. But when the sun is just a little below the horizon, the sky in the opposite direction often acquires a rich pink that transitions to steely blue, and the entire world is wonderfully shadow-free. Dark to the eye, 10- or 20-second exposures capture these soft pastels and reveal full detail beneath a gorgeous sky.

Figure 7. After photographing a beautiful sunset from the cliffs behind Yosemite's Tunnel View, I heard car doors slamming and engines starting in the parking lot below. But I was in no rush and was soon rewarded with clouds floating in Yosemite Valley beneath a sky of pink and blue pastels. Despite the darkness, long exposures in amazingly easy (low-contrast) light revealed a world my eyes missed.

Shooting in RAW mode enabled me to cool the color temperature in Lightroom for a more natural twilight feel. Photoshop noise reduction cleaned up the shadows beautifully, and a few strokes with Photoshop's Dodge and Burn brushes brought out detail in the clouds and sky.

Transcend The Literal
Believe it or not, accepting the impossibility of duplicating human vision is empowering. While literal reproduction of the world is the goal of many photographic forms, artistic nature photography depends largely on the ability to transcend the literal through the creative use of the camera's unique vision. To film photographers, artistic application of the camera's vision was an organic component of the photographic process. But many digital photographers with limited film experience miss artistic opportunities when they use digital processing to simply overpower their camera's vision.

Combining the camera's vision with the power and convenience of the digital darkroom enables an artistic synergy that would have thrilled Ansel Adams. Rather than attempt to force your camera to do things it can't possibly do, apply your creativity in the camera, and make your computer become the essential tool for enabling that creativity.

Gary Hart
has photographed California's natural beauty for more than 30 years. See more of his photography and learn about his workshops at www.garyhartphotography.com.


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