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Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Charles Cramer’s magnificent landscape photographs reflect his musical training in the use of form, balance, dynamic range and a sense of scale

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El Capitan Meadow In Autumn, Yosemite National Park, California.
OP: Throughout your life there has been a connection between music and photography. What are the connections for you between these two art forms?

Cramer: I started off as a musician and spent my college years as a piano major. I also spent two more years doing graduate work at the Eastman School of Music in New York. But a week or two before my first trip to Eastman, I visited Yosemite National Park for the first time. That was quite an eye-opening experience for me. I had never really been anywhere, actually, and to suddenly see Yosemite—it made a big impression on me. At Eastman, I was cooped up in these little practice rooms for six to eight hours a day, and I realized I wanted out. When I returned to Yosemite the next summer, I brought an old Speed Graphic 4x5 press camera. Since I didn't know what I was doing, I used no tripod, no camera bag—I carried the camera in one hand, and in my pants pockets I fit a couple of film holders and a small Weston light meter. The results were unbelievably bad, actually, but it was lots of fun and I loved doing it, so it was a beginning.

I think music gives you quite a sense of discipline. If you have a recital coming up, you'll spend five-plus hours a day practicing—you just continue to practice and refine, refine, refine. It's the same with printing. Refine, refine, refine.

OP: What's your workflow?

Cramer: I use Lightroom to catalog and rate my digital captures. I'm excited about the changes in the Lightroom 4 Develop module—I think Adobe has a real breakthrough here. Once I've selected an image for printing, I'll usually try alternate RAW converters like Capture One from Phase One or RAW Developer from Iridient Digital just to see if one does a better job, although I most times like what Lightroom gives me. I then bring the file into Photoshop. Most of the fine-tuning I do to images involves moving the light around, which means lots of selections, and Photoshop gives me much finer control over these selections and their masks. I also use the Curves adjustment layer for practically everything. Lightroom only offers one curve, and that curve only makes adjustments to the whole image.

Gunnison River, Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park, Colorado.
After working up a Photoshop file for 20 to 30 minutes, I'll then make a proof print, usually around 11x14 inches, on a sheet of 13x19 paper. I still feel there are big differences in seeing an image on a monitor versus seeing a print. Even with a finely adjusted monitor, the deep shadows always look lighter on the monitor. The human brain processes glowing light from a monitor differently than reflected light from prints. So I have a rule that I make a print sooner rather than later. Then my critical evaluation is directed at the print. I take my time in evaluating this print. In fact, I normally work on groups of three or four images at a time. After printing a few different proof images, I'll come back to this first one and feel I have a fresh grasp on what could be done to make the print even better. Some images require many proofs, and some only take three or four.

The end goal of my photography has always been to make beautiful prints. I've spent a large part of the last 30 years refining my skills, not just photographing the natural scene, but also learning how to make the best possible prints from these images. This led me to take up dye transfer, an impossibly complex and time-consuming method to make color prints. I made dye transfers for 15 years. When Kodak stopped making the materials in 1994, I stockpiled supplies, which fortunately lasted until digital printing became viable with the LightJet. Inkjet printers are now even better than LightJets—they're sharper, have more color gamut and double the expected permanence. I feel the current state of digital printing has now eclipsed dye transfer, and I'm enjoying the incredible control over almost every variable in a print. It's a great time to be a photographer.

You can see more of Charles Cramer's photography by visiting his website at www.charlescramer.com.


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