Jim Shoemaker's Equipment Canon EOS 5D Mark II and Mark III DSLRs Mamiya 645AFD with Leaf Aptus 17 digital back or film back On Canon DSLRs: Canon 16-35mm ƒ/2.8L, Canon 24-105mm ƒ/4L IS, Canon 100-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6L IS (for landscape and wildlife work), Canon 600mm ƒ/4L IS with a 1.4x teleconverter (for wildlife work) On Mamiya 645AFD: 35mm ƒ/3.5, 55-110mm, 105-210mm lens on occasion Gitzo GT5561SGT tripod, Manfrotto 468MGRC0 ballhead and Wimberley head for the 600mm when photographing wildlife Singh-Ray warming polarizer, and graduated and reverse graduated ND filters Cable release
"My settings are pretty tame and understated compared to a lot of work I see today," Shoemaker continues. "The bulk of my manipulation is similar to what Ansel did: dodging and burning. I put down a layer of 50% gray set to Soft Light blend mode and paint with black or white to adjust tones. This dodge and burn layer has been around for a long time. It's a more organic way of lightening and darkening portions of the image, and the intensity of each can be controlled by the opacity of the brush. I do use Levels adjustment layers as well for this type of thing, but usually that's for adjusting a larger area of the image because it's a uniform adjustment and I use a layer mask to limit it to whatever area I want modified. Since CS6 came out, the 'new' way of doing this is to just use a blank layer set to Overlay and then paint black or white directly on this, but for some reason, I don't think it looks the same, so I stick with the old method of the 50% gray layer.
"I think the modern digital darkroom isn't all that different from a traditional one," Shoemaker adds. "It just offers more tools, options and power that enable a lot of photographers to hang themselves with the technology. It's easy to get carried away."
Ultimately, Shoemaker says, although he has come far in a short time, he feels like he has only just begun.
"I'm just going on nine years of working with a camera," he says, "so I'm still a kid in this field. Believe me when I say that when I talk about photography, that I do so with the mind-set of a student, not a master. It's really not that difficult to go from making bad photographs to making good ones, but it's extremely difficult to go from making good photographs to making great ones. I don't know if I'll ever get there. It's an eternal process that requires a lot of dedication."
Seeing In Black-And-White
While his portfolio is filled with rich and moody color images, Jim Shoemaker is equally comfortable working with black-and-white, but it requires a different way of seeing.
"More often than not," Shoemaker says, "I know at the time of exposure whether I'm going to process an image in color or if I'm going to process it as black-and-white. It's rare that I discover in post that an image works better without color, and signals that I didn't give the subject sufficient thought while I was making the image. It's basically carelessness.
"Generally, a color image should be about color," he says. "Amazing sunrises and sunsets, fields of flowers, stands of trees in autumn… The story of the image is the color, or at least the color is an integral part of the subject. But black-and-white images are about luminosity, about how the light renders the subject and the interplay of shadow and highlight. It's shape and form and visual movement. It's less literal and more graphic, and having worked as a graphic designer for 20 years, I suppose that appeals to me. It forces me to really examine the subject and 'get' what's going on with it, what it's saying. Color can almost be a crutch by comparison because people can offhandedly dismiss an image as simply a pretty picture. But, with black-and-white, you have to actually have substance to make it work.
"In my opinion," he says, "long-scale subjects work best for black-and-white. Light direction and texture are also strong indicators that an image may be stronger in black-and-white. For my landscape work, the sky is also an important consideration. In color, cirrus and cirrocumulus clouds often appear weak, but in black-and-white when the sky is darkened, they can become powerful or even surreal. Even a clear sky garners more presence when the tonality falls to almost black, as opposed to even a deep blue in a color image.
"Black-and-white also has a timelessness that color can't begin to approach," Shoemaker says. "It strips away the distraction of color and focuses the attention on form, tone, texture and pattern. To me, black-and-white feels more iconic, although that, again, could be an association I make due to the influence Ansel Adams has on me."