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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The More Things Change...

Although his techniques and tools evolve, Edgar Callaert’s drive to explore the American landscape remains constant

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Autumn, Japanese maple, Fern Canyon, Mill Valley, Calif.
The change was to a Nikon D700, which made traveling lighter and exposures much less expensive. But it's the creative revitalization, Callaert says, that's the real benefit.

"After I got this setup," he says, "it just seems like all this pent-up energy is starting to emerge. It's still quite new and very exciting. I feel a real resurgence of my creative energy with the new equipment. Big weight advantages that will enhance backpacking are a big bonus, too. I've never been a Luddite about tech stuff; it has always been a practical and financial situation that has slowed things down. One of the lucky things about having to wait to buy into new technology is that by the time I get to it, a lot of the kinks are worked out and the obsolescence factor is way less. I have hopes that the D700 will be good for quite a while. I've gotten so much juice from this; it's like I'm a kid again. It's like a whole new start."

Twenty-five years of shooting large format instills a certain ethic in a photographer, and Callaert still works with the small DSLR as he did with the bulkier 4x5.

"In some ways, it's not a big change," he says. "Creating a special image is still what it's about, and digital capture is just another way of recording the scene. I don't need to blow through a large number of frames because I've learned, I hope, to weed out the mediocre compositions early on. A special image is still the only thing I'm after. I don't really care how I record it. My work will stay the same in terms of saturation and color controls because accurate representation of the natural world is what I look for."

Indian rhubarb, Merced River, Yosemite National Park, Calif.
For Callaert, the big change in workflow wasn't last fall's changeover to a DSLR, but rather when Adobe Photoshop worked its way into his process years ago.

"I think Photoshop was the real game-changer," he says. "I can now reproduce my good images easily, whether it's a scanned transparency or a RAW capture, and have great leeway to correct the mistakes and problems. I couldn't do that back when there were only film and dupes. Cropping, shadow/highlight, exposure and color correction are so easy that I've been able to salvage many previously unusable images from past years. I went overboard with warming filters for a while and had all this yellowy-looking stuff around that I can now correct. The practical upshot of this on my work is that I now rarely use filters of any kind, with the resultant better image quality from using less glass."

Adds Callaert, "One of the real downsides of Photoshop is its misuse by many people who create these out-of-touch, cartoonish, oversaturated images that have colors and contrasts that don't exist in nature. The HDR programs are particularly susceptible to exaggeration. Some images are just silly; they don't look like planet Earth. I feel that if your first instinct on seeing an image is to wonder if it's real or not, then somebody has gone wrong. I want nature to speak for itself, realistically. But it's all a gray area, no doubt. I think it's one that we all have to finesse in our own way with our own personal standards."


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