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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Digital Landscape

Russ Bishop photographs nature’s most extreme beauty using today’s most advanced image-capture tools. He’s among the cadre of photographers leading the way technologically and aesthetically.

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That image is a beautiful representation of Bishop's ability to make high-impact landscapes while realistically depicting the extremes of natural beauty. He does as much work in-camera as possible, while never losing sight of his foremost goal of forging an emotional bond with the viewer via his pictures.

"The greatest reward is when viewers connect with my images emotionally," he says. "I'm trying to present the natural world in a way that makes people say, 'I want to be there.' I'm also a big proponent of waiting for the ideal light and using filters to shape and control that light in-camera. The sunset at Canyon de Chelly had an intense amount of contrast, but the colors in the sky were equally intense. Although I could have used exposure blending or HDR, a three-stop graduated neutral-density filter gave me a more natural look and nicely balanced the sky with the canyon floor. I still had to pull out more detail in the shadows with Lightroom in post, but the end result is very true to what we saw that evening. I would have considered exposure blending or HDR, in that order, if the filter hadn't worked so well, but again, I always prefer to get it right in-camera whenever possible.

"One of the biggest factors affecting how many people perceive an image today involves how our eyes react to light," Bishop continues. "The difference between what our eye sees and what film was capable of recording is huge. The latitude of film was very limiting, and we learned to accept that in photography. When you consider the dynamic range that's possible today with a RAW file, it's no wonder many people question the validity of photographs in the digital age. In actuality, we're capable of creating images now that are a much better representation of what we saw at the scene than we ever could with film. This has caused a paradigm shift as we adjust to this new way of seeing. We viewed the world through the 'look' of Kodachrome that was a very narrow scope that we grew accustomed to, but now the sky's the limit on how we can process our images—and that's visually challenging for some to interpret.

"I know image manipulation is a hot topic these days," he says. "I love to reference the fact that Ansel Adams spent years manipulating some of his most famous images with the tools he had available. Everyone knows his work and he's highly respected, yet many don't realize that his prints are very different from what he saw through the lens. I have no doubt he would have employed all of the digital tools of today if they helped to achieve his vision. Photography is an art form first and foremost, and an expression of the human spirit. Unless you're documenting something of a scientific nature where there's no room for interpretation, I think each photographer has the right to present his or her subjects as they see fit. Personally, I don't care for some of the extreme use of HDR that's popular today, but as with any artistic style through the ages, it's up to the viewer to be educated and decide what works best for them.

"Image-making today is on a new plane that's both exciting and limitless," Bishop says. "The tools we have are unprecedented in providing new ways of expression, and that's always a tempting scenario. For me, the most important factor in my photography will always be to elicit an emotional response from my audience. Is it exactly what I saw? Maybe. Does it express how I felt when I made the photograph? Definitely. The future undoubtedly will provide us with more megapixels, larger monitors and digital tools we can't yet imagine, but the common denominator is that our images must have heart. Know your craft, then follow your passions, and where the two converge lies the source of great photography."

See more of Russ Bishop's photography at www.russbishop.com.


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