I’m home from Oregon and am introducing 22 new images in my newsletter.
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I’m home from Oregon and am introducing 22 new images in my newsletter.
Are you signed up?
I was driving down the Oregon coast when I saw this sandbar. I liked its shape and how it contrasted against the water, and how it provided balance to the land in the background. It was a simple image and I further simplified it by using a long exposure to mute the detail in the clouds.
When I compose an image, I compose simply by how it feels and when it feels right, it is done. I never give a thought to the so-called rules of composition.
Thinking that following rules will produce a great image is like believing that following the instructions and staying within the lines on a paint by number kit will produce a masterpiece.
Following those rules may produce a “competent” image, but not a masterpiece!
I have no doubt that Apple will one day program the rules of composition into an iPhone so that every image we take is a competent image, but it will never create a great image. Great images are created by feeling people whose images cause others to feel.
Remember the wise words of the philosopher Yoda:“Feel the force. A photographers strength flows from the Force. But beware of the dark side.”
Feel the image and beware of the dark side (rules).
I’ve had a number of people ask if I’d do some more “before and after” shots. So here are five from my recent Oregon trip.
I had my eye on this Monolith by Cape Blanco for several years, but I had never found an easy way to get down to the beach. On this trip I found one.
At the hour I get there (never early!) the monolith is backlit and so it’s a difficult shot. I was fortunate to have these great delicate clouds that streak well with a long exposure and I envisioned them becoming an important part of the image, if I could deal with the backlight.
The sun was in the upper left corner and it was washing out the clouds and giving me a big flare. I used my hand as a sunshade for the 30 second exposure, properly placing it by watching where my hand’s shadow fell on the lens. I knew that later in Photoshop I’d have to even out the sky, because it was bright on the left and darker on the right.
Then there was the debris on the beach from the last few days of big storms and high tides, but I knew that I could deal with that in post processing.
To deal with the debris I cloned out the tree stump and burned down the foreground to remove the rest. I don’t like anything that distracts from the main subject.
For the sky I burned down the upper left corner to bring out detail in the clouds, then I dodged up the right to balance the sky out. I also used a very small dodging brush to follow the cloud streaks to bring them out more. Adding contrast also helped the clouds stand out against the sky.
The backlighting didn’t hurt me as much as I feared it would. There’s not much shadow detail in the Monolith, but I generally don’t prefer a lot anyway.
This is one of my favorite images from this trip. I envisioned this Monolith framed by the very dark hills on the sides, the rocks below and the clouds above.
This was a pretty simple image and an easy one…I thought…until I got home and found out that my Vari-ND was doing the dark pattern thing on me. It’s one of the quirks of all variable ND filters, sometimes at wide angles and when the sun angle is just right, you get these weird dark patterns across the image. And here’s a heads up: the cheaper the variable ND filter the more it will do this. That’s why I use the Singh-Ray Vari-ND, it happens much less frequently and when it does, there are a couple of workarounds.
If I had noticed the patterning in the field I could have switched lens and probably have avoided it. This was shot with my 24-105 at 24 mm, which is where the problem can happen, when you’re shooting at the wide end of your lens. If I had switched to the 16-35 and used 24 mm the pattern probably would have gone away, because 24 mm is mid focal length for that lens. And of course another option would have been to simply switch to a fixed ND filter for this shot.
This image also had some vignetting in the corners and I didn’t like how the clouds were thin on the right side of the image.
You might notice that I underexpose my images, usually by about 1 stop. I do this for a couple of reasons. First, I like the look of a dark image with pronounced highlights. Second, it makes it easier to deal with the wide dynamic range in these types of scenes where the sky is important to the image. If I had opened up another stop, that sky would have easily washed out and I’d have lost the cloud detail. Shadow detail is not very important to my images, so underexposing works for me.
I fixed the dark pattern in the sky with vey some careful and slow dodging (it’s easy for a sky to look blotchy if you use a small or hard brush or you work too quickly) I’m typically dodging and burning between 1-3% strength and for skies I’m generally using 1%. I used the clone tool to fix the vignetting and I also cloned in some clouds from the left to the right for a more balanced look.
I also used dodging and burning to bring out the water detail. I call it local contrast enhancement when I go back and forth between burning and dodging to increase the contrast in just one area.
I was happy with how this image turned out, especially after finding out about the dark pattern in the sky.
Something I noticed in the image above: there’s a thin highlight separating the sky from the monolith. I went back to the original TIFF and it’s not there, but it appears when I convert it to a JPEG for the web. I’ll have to do some work to figure out what that is and how to fix it.
People are naturally drawn to lighthouses, as are photographers. But the lighthouse shot is soooooo overdone that I almost didn’t create this one. But I thought I’d see if I could put my twist on it. I love to put the subject small in a large frame and then added a long exposure for a bit of movement. I underexposed and used a polarizer because I wanted black skies.
In the final image, I further isolated the lighthouse by burning down the foreground and the sky. Looking at this image now, a few weeks after I last worked on it, I think I’ll remove those trees on the far right because I find them distracting.
This illustrates how I work to refine an image. I’ll let it sit for a few weeks and then look at it with fresher eyes. I’ll then perhaps modify it again and then put it to bed for a few weeks more before I look at it again.
Now that I’ve removed those trees, I’ll come back in a week to see if I want to keep this change or not.
I was driving on the road to Cape Blanco when this tree just jumped out at me! I love centered images and struggled if I should center the tree where it hits the ground or the upright of the tree. Centering the upright portion of the tree looked more centered and that’s what I went with.
It was a windy and hazy day which made the shot a little challenging. I took about 20 long exposures trying to get the clouds just right and ended up using this one. I didn’t underexpose as I usually do, because I didn’t want to lose the tree detail. It was still a processing challenge and I started over 4 times before I got it right.
Again, I did a lot of dodging and burning on this image. Many people feel that they can do this with a mouse, but I certain cannot! I use a pen and tablet and the control is so much better than with a mouse. I never like to be adamant, but you cannot do what I do with a mouse. Period.
I got rid of the shadow of the tree, that bothered me for some reason, and left a highlight around the tree. I darkened the sky and left it bright behind the tree. As I look at the image today, I think that I may go back and open up the trees a bit on the right side.
As I make decisions about my images, it reminds me of how I’ve seen some others make those decisions. They will show the image to someone and say: What do you think I should do to this image? I am very opposed to that approach, I think one should have a Vision and not adulterate it with someone else’s opinion.
I was lucky on this trip to have constantly changing weather conditions. Some days it was raining hard, others were sunny and others were constantly changing as on this day. The sun was coming and going and what I was trying to get was the sun hitting the island and the land left and right bits of land in shadow.
I was here for several hours trying to get the clouds and lighting just right. Sometimes the clouds were perfect, but not the foreground. At other times I’d get the shadowing how I wanted it but the clouds were no good.
I didn’t get exactly what I wanted in the shot, but I was confident that I’d be able to create the effect I was looking for in post processing.
I burned the land down on the left and right to put the focus on the island. Then I dodged up the island to make it brighter. Then I went to work on the clouds, lightening the upper ones and darkening the smaller ones just above the island. Then I darkened the foreground to hide the detail and to bring the eye to the island.
So after seeing these “before and after” shots, I hope that you’ll not conclude that you need to learn more about Photoshop. It is not my intent to focus on post processing as the key to an image because that is exactly what I don’t believe.
Instead my approach is to have a Vision of the image and then let that drive the processing. When you have Vision, your processing then has purpose: to bring the image into compliance with your Vision.
And armed with that Vision, you don’t need to ask others what to do with your image, you already know how it’s going to look in your head!
I’ll be spending the next two weeks in Bandon, Oregon for my annual retreat.
This is a sacred time for me. It’s a chance to be completely alone, with no distractions and only one thing to think about: creating images.
At first it always takes a couple of days before I begin seeing, and often I’ll worry about the process and why it isn’t coming along. But then it comes…as it always does.
As I prepare to depart for Bandon I’m wondering if I’m finished with my Monolith series which I’ve been working on there for the last several years, or if I’m ready to move onto a new idea. I’ll find out soon enough as I walk those beaches and see if something else catches my eye.
In the past I’d need to go on these trips with a plan and preconceived ideas of what I’d be working on. Now I simply go and trust that I’ll see something and if I’m meant to go in a new direction…then I’ll be carried away with excitement and inspiration.
As I look at my portfolios, that is how it has always happened: spontaneously and through a sudden burst of inspiration.
It’s taken me a long time to learn to trust in the creative process and to realize that it cannot be manipulated or rushed.
Every autumn I go to Bandon, Oregon to photograph Monoliths. I have very specific conditions that I prefer; clear skies with wispy clouds that allow me to use long exposures on the Monoliths.
Unfortunately this last October I had not called ahead and made this request with Zeus, the god of clouds, rain, thunder and lightning. What I encountered was fog and lots of it, and unfortunately there is nothing for me to shoot in the fog.
So I decided to go up the coast and check out Cannon Beach, I heard they had some great Monoliths and I was hoping that the weather would be better there. Unfortunately it was just as foggy and so I decided to give up and head home where I would rent some movies and veg out.
Because as long as the fog was obscuring my Monoliths, there was nothing for me to photograph there.
But something inside of me said: Wait a minute, there is always something great waiting to be discovered…in every light, in every weather and in every location. It may not fit into your preconceived ideas of what you want, but there is something here for those who can “see.” And so I stayed.
Through the fog I faintly saw people walking towards me and it reminded me of spirits. A title immediately came to mind as I imagined the image: “They Walk Among Us.” Using the fog, a long exposure and by over-exposing, I created this very high-key image…in the fog.
It reminded me that having preconceived ideas (knowing what I want) might sometimes be a strength, but at other times it may make me blind to unexpected opportunities.
Whenever I’m at a location and feeling that there’s nothing for me to see, I’ll ask myself this question: If I had a time machine and could transport all of the great masters of photography here, could they find a great shot?
Of course they could!
So what is the lesson for me? That sometimes I need to look beyond my preconceived ideas of what I want…and see what is being offered.
I’ve returned from Bandon, Oregon with 12 new images that I’m introducing in my latest newsletter.
These are two of my favorites from the series.
Monolith No. 68
Hello Portland, I’m coming to visit you!
While visiting this great city, I’ll be giving a presentation at the Portland Photographer’s Forum and I hope you can join us. Here’s the details:Monday, October 21st, 2013 at 7 pm Hosted by the Portland Photographer’s Forum Free Admission Topic: Why Black and White? Camerawork Gallery Peterson Hall 2255 NW Northrup Street Portland, OR 97210
Please arrive early enough to find parking and be seated by 7. After the presentation I’ll take questions and raffle off a few posters and prints.
If you’re in the area, I’d love to see you!
P.S. Money-back guarantee: If you don’t have a great time, every penny of your free admission will be refunded!
Why do I have a newsletter and a blog?
My newsletter is where I introduce new images and in this issue I am introducing new work from Oregon, Hawaii and San Francisco.
My blog is where I talk about my views, my techniques and my philosophies. I try not to do that in the newsletter because many of my readers are not photographers.
So, here is the most recent issue of my newsletter: http://www.colethompsonphotography.com/Newsletters/2012-11-21aNewsletter.htm
If you’d like to receive the newsletter you can sign up here: http://www.colethompsonphotography.com/NewsletterSignup.htm
I’m back from my annual retreat in Bandon, Oregon. It’s a very small town and I think it’s the most beautiful and unique spot on the entire Oregon coast. I go there each year for about 10 days to photograph, to be alone and to contemplate. I found some wonderful new dunes on this trip and the Gods of wind and weather smiled favorably upon me. Here is a new “Dunes of Nude” image I created while on this trip.
I mentioned that one of the reasons I go to Bandon each year is to be alone and think. Here are some of the thoughts I had while on this trip:
Yesterday I had my interview with Brooks Jensen for LensWork Extended. It’s always nice to talk with Brooks because he’s so down to earth and pragmatic. But in truth I always feel intimidated because of my lack of knowledge of art and “art talk.” I am unschooled in such things and simply know what I like.
Tomorrow (Saturday) I’m off on another trip and hope to see some new images. I say “see” because I know the images are there, it really is just a matter of being able to see them!
Well folks, it looks like this blog has evaporated into cyberspace. Sorry about that!