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Monday, November 16, 2009

Old West Color

David Stoecklein brings a timeless cowboy allure to his photography by combining classic aesthetics with his own unique style

Labels: How-ToTechniques

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Old West, New Gear
Surprisingly, Stoecklein has used very little filtration over the years. While optical filters are an excellent way to achieve certain looks, he has chosen instead to work primarily with light and the characteristics of different lighting situations. He used to use Lee filters on occasion, and was a big fan of their coral filter, in particular, which gave his imagery an exaggerated gold feeling for a warmer touch.

Tips On How To Get
The Stoecklein Look

There are some tried-and-true methods to Old West photography that will help you bring the best out of your shots

1. Shooting in inclement weather adds atmosphere to an image and impact to the visual story.
2. Dust is a good tool for adding ambience to an image and softening harsh light.
3. Visual tricks like extreme angles, backlighting and sidelighting add depth to an image and also are great tools for dealing with direct sunlight.
4. The magic hour after sunrise and before sunset is a great time for capturing cool and warm tones, ideal for adding a classic look to an image.
5. Sunrises and sunsets also work well as dramatic backgrounds for cowboys, ranchers and animals.
6. Optical filters like coral warming filters are a great way to add a “look” to an image right in-camera.
7. Or you can do it digitally! Stoecklein gets amazing results from Adobe Lightroom by previewing and manipulating images with a number of presets.
8. Keeping your camera settings ready and auto modes on save you time while you’re shooting so that you can concentrate on the subject matter at hand and any changing weather conditions.
9. Finding a balance between creating an environment and reacting to it is the key to creating images with a visual impact.
10. Keep it simple. The fewer distractions you have, the more you can concentrate on shooting—run-and-gun style!
“Most of my really well-known photos are pure, natural light,” he notes. “Although I love the look of filters, which I used a lot in my early stuff, a lot of those filters took away from the sharpness of the photo because you were shooting through so many layers of resin. Some of my really famous pictures that I did use those Lee filters on, though, I could never have achieved exactly in Lightroom, even if I did lose some of the clarity. You still can’t achieve the look that I like where I’m able to darken parts of the photos, which is something you really need to use a filter for, like your neutral-density filter. We still have a bunch of those that we use, especially on my scenic photographs.”

Stoecklein is a big fan of the digital filters available in Adobe’s Lightroom, as well. He has done some work in Photoshop, but as a master of working in the field, he’s able to capture close-to-perfect results in-camera. Instead, Stoecklein works through a series of minor slider adjustments in Lightroom, such as color channels, desaturation, contrast, exposure and other adjustments.

Lightroom also offers him a variety of presets for automatically adding looks to his photos. In the Develop module there’s a panel of selections, like Aged Photo, Antique Grayscale, Cyanotype, Sepia and many others. Lightroom adds these effects very quickly, and from there, Stoecklein can make minor or major tweaks to the photos for playing with color saturation or black-and-white looks. He says that he finds himself working with highlights, lights, darks and shadows with almost every photograph, tweaking each color channel individually and adding a little bit of fill light and recovery when he needs to. Stoecklein also uses his time in post to think about the process of image-making, which helps him to further refine his photography in the field.

“When I’m editing,” he says, “I consciously make a decision as to what I like and what I don’t like about this picture, and I try to verbalize it to myself. So you start to get your mind-set set up so that you remember what worked and what didn’t work. The whole look of something can change just by remembering what worked before. Whenever I lecture, I try to tell the students and the people that come to get in gear, get in shape, think about these things, and when they’re editing, go through these exercises; then when they’re in the field, they’ll be faster on their feet.”

Run And Gun
Stoecklein also thanks a few golden rules for providing him with stunning and dependable results. At all times, he keeps it simple. He uses autofocus when he needs to, and he always has his camera set to auto white balance. He’s a Canon shooter, and he relies on his sophisticated cameras to provide him with excellent results that he can adjust later if he needs to. This keeps his head in the game and his concentration on the subject, who also stays excited by staying interactive. He has Lowel lighting gear that he brings out when necessary, but for the most part, Stoecklein uses the natural light available to him. He says he hardly ever uses reflectors anymore, which is all part of keeping it simple.

Sometimes, getting a successful, stylistic image for Stoecklein is all about remembering a few simple things. Even after four decades of shooting, he’ll stop and ask himself a few key questions. Why am I taking this picture? What’s the message? What’s the story? Stoecklein finds that the most important part of an image is the story, especially with such iconic images that have such a timeless appeal.

“I think I’ve been able to maintain a look for 40 years,” Stoecklein concludes, “and I think my pictures are better today than they have ever been in my career. I’m very, very happy with what I’m doing, and I only look to get better in the future.”

See more of David Stoecklein’s photography at www.stoeckleinphotography.com.


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