Experimenting With Less Contrast

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In most of your image editing endeavors, you probably find yourself striving to achieve more contrast in your images. This probably leads you to crank up black points, and make sure your whites are as white as possible. There are times, though, when less contrast will give you a better image. I first covered this idea in 2005, in this article. Recently, the subject came to my attention again, as I decided that the best way to handle an image was to dramatically reduce the contrast. This time, I took a different approach to solving the problem.

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Foundations of Photography: Black and White

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Your digital camera is capable of producing incredible color images, but color isn’t always the best way to represent a scene. By choosing to express a scene in black and white, you’re stripping photography down to its barest essentials, and very often, you will achieve an image with more power than if you choose to capture rich, perfect color. This Lynda.com course covers every aspect of digital black and white, recognizing a good black and white scene to shooting, to black and white conversion and further retouching.

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Foundations of Photography: Black and White

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In an effort to make the world less colorful, I recently produced a course on black and white photography for Lynda.com. That course is now live and, thanks to the incredibly talented Lynda.com crew, it looks great! They did a fantastic job of crafting evocative noirish sets using only light and shadow, all of which serve to reinforce the fundamental vocabulary of black and white shooting. Covering shooting, post-production, aesthetics, and how to “see” black and white images, the course is available for immediate viewing here.

nik Silver EFex Pro 2.0

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There are lots of ways to convert color images to black and white. In Photoshop, you can use a grayscale mode change, or convert the image to L*A*B color and then extract the Luminance channel. Or, you can pull a single RGB channel, drain the saturation out of an image or use Photoshop’s excellent Black and White conversion tool. The list goes on and on, but in my opinion, the best way to perform black and white conversion (more accurately called grayscale conversion is with nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2, a plug-in for Photoshop, Aperture, and Lightroom.

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Alien Skin Exposure 3

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A photographer friend recently sent me this extraordinary collection of color images shot during the Depression. One of the things that’s fascinating about looking at them is that we simply are not accustomed to this subject matter being in color. It’s a fine example of McCluhan’s “medium is the message” idea. Your choices of black and white or color, grungy or sharp, saturated or muted – all of these have a huge impact on the reaction the viewer will have. For film photographers, many of these decisions are determined by film choice, and the ability to choose specific films to achieve a particular look or feel is one of the great advantages of film shooting. Alien Skin Exposure, a sophisticated film-simulating Photoshop plug-in, gives this same power to digital photographers.

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Florence, 2009 – Tuscan Digital Photo Workshop

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In August I had the great good fortune to spend the month in Florence, teaching a three-week photo workshop to eight delightful students. Held at the Santa Reparata International School of the Arts, this workshop was held alongside a number of other workshops including book arts, Solarplate printing, painting, and more. With the extended class time, we were able to cover a lot of ground, and with Florence and the surrounding country just outside the door we had plenty of shooting opportunities.

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Imagenomic Real Grain and Alien Skin Exposure

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Adding film grain

Experienced film photographers have a broad knowledge of the exposure and grain characteristics of many different types of film. This knowledge effectively becomes yet another creative variable that they can alter when approaching a subject. By choosing one film over another, they can opt for particular imaging characteristics. If you come from a strong film background, or simply want some new "looks" for your digital photos, then you’ll want to consider two products that provide push-button solutions for simulating the look of various typs of color and black and white film.

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Lit Building

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Learning to spot a potential photograph is one of the most difficult parts of becoming a better photographer. Complicating the process is the fact that the photograph you take is often not a finished product, but simply the raw material that you’ll use to construct a final image. Very often, the world will present you with scenes that are good potential photographs, not perfect finished images. Learning to recognize the potential image that exists in a scene is a function of experience, and an understanding of what is possible with your chosen camera and image processing tools.

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Night Tree

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This image from our masthead began as a long-exposure image shot in the middle of the night. Converting it into a usable image involves a simple, yet time-consuming process.

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