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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Back To B&W

A lifelong student of the medium, photographer Tony Hertz makes digital black-and-white landscapes with a wet-darkroom sensibility

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Photographer Tony Hertz admits that he often spends several hours working to correct an image with workflows that take him from Adobe's Lightroom and Photoshop to Silver Efex Pro, the black-and-white software solution in Google's Nik Collection of imaging software. He even goes as far as to make alternate processing choices to be able to compare and contrast different adjustments and programs. Above: "Bishop Peak Fog."

For photographer Tony Hertz, black-and-white photography represents a return to his roots. He worked as a newspaper photographer during the 1980s, where all of his assignments were shot on black-and-white film, then processed and printed by hand in a traditional darkroom. Having left the newspaper to pursue a career as an independent photographer, he turned to color to meet his clients' needs, but he never stopped thinking about black-and-white.

"Gnarled Wave."
"I've kind of tuned my eye to seeing things in black-and-white," Hertz says, "not consciously, but somehow things turned to that because of my experience. It resonates with me more. Landscapes are my real passion, and I tried shooting color landscapes. Maybe eight or 10 years ago, I went through all my slides and sorted everything out. When it came to putting them back, I thought, why not go black-and-white; that's where I started, so why not get back to my roots. And that felt good."

The return to black-and-white may have been inspired by his history in the darkroom, and while he teaches a film class at the local community college, Hertz is no Luddite. "I teach film, but I'm shooting digital," he says. "Is that an oxymoron? It kind of pulls on me a little bit to go shoot more film, but I love my digital camera and I feel pretty proficient at Lightroom and Photoshop, thanks to the many people who I've learned from over the years. I've been involved with digital since the Nikon D100 DSLR came out. When I started in Photoshop with version 2.0, I knew that photography was going digital, I saw the writing on the wall. I really enjoy the darkroom, but I also teach a digital photography class, too."

"Lithia Creek." The photographer employs several methods for achieving the otherworldly light and tonality that's prevalent in his work. Hertz's photos are subject to meticulous exposure corrections and image enhancements, while in the real world, he also employs flashes with wireless triggers, and even a flashlight for light painting during the long exposures he often requires to capture such moody, atmospheric lighting conditions.
With a foot in both worlds, Hertz combines his darkroom experience with computer know-how to craft photographs that reveal a traditional sensibility: subtle detail in the shadows and highlights, and rich tonalities throughout the middle of the curve.

"I like good details in the shadows," he says, "and good details in the highlights as well as you can. Diffuse light helps because too much sun will bleach them out, and burning and dodging, too. Let's take 'Worthy Cypress.' I burned down the bottom left of that image, and then I lightened up some of the larger rock in the background and some of the water down below. I really zoom in to very high magnification, 400% or 600%, and then I use very small brushes and Overlay mode for dodging and burning. I don't use the actual dodging and burning brush. I'm doing it on an overlay layer, and then using black or white to dodge or burn. I'll spend a lot of time detailing small areas. I spent many hours on this picture. The tree itself is a whole other ball of wax. See all those small light areas in there? Those were either darkened down—because there was a little too much light—or lightened up, particularly in the shadow areas underneath the thicker branches. I lightened those up in Overlay mode. And then I might use a gradient layer in order to darken some areas of the sky.

"In some ways, I feel a little guilty," Hertz says, "in that it's different than the traditional, and it almost feels like cheating, in a sense. But, then again, it's just another tool. I learned that from George Lepp. He'd say, 'It's just another tool, and Ansel Adams himself would use it, too.'


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