Time No. 2 – Before and After
This is “Time No. 2″ that I created at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley, perhaps the most photographed spot in the entire park. This image was created just before the sun went down and it’s amazing how Zabriskie Point can look so differently as the light changes from morning, to noon and to late afternoon.
Today I wanted to show a “before and after” so you could see what the original image looked and how your vision can change it. Sometimes vision takes place as you’re shooting and sometimes it occurs when you’re processing the image. And sometimes your vision changes over time and so you go back and change the image repeatedly (you should see how the The Angel Gabriel has evolved over time).
This original image is quite flat and muted, and so to make this a “Cole Thompson” image, I had to improve the contrast and separate the colors. I do this by adjusting the color channels in the black and white conversion tool of Photoshop CS5. By sliding each color’s adjustors in both directions, you can see how it will affect the contrast and separation. With the colors I had in this image, I was able to change the b&w version quite a bit by adjusting the color channels; the Red and Yellow channels brought out highlights, the Blue channels darkened certain parts of the image, and the green had no effect. When adjusting the channels, be careful not to go so far that you introduce unacceptable amounts of noise, particularly in the blue channels.
I then dodge and burn the image with my tablet to further enhance the contrast. In this image I used a very small brush to individually work each piece of the image so that I brought out the striations that separated each set of hills. I particularly paid attention to the ridge tops and brought out the highlighted edges.
One of the most important steps in my conversion process is to use the “Histogram” to check the blacks and white and then to adjust them using “Levels” if necessary (it’s almost always necessary). After you have established a good black and white, you can use “Levels” to adjust the midtones and really change the mood of your image, for my images I generally am pushing the midtones darker.
Once the image looks great on screen, I then use the global contrast adjustment to push the contrast even further so that it will print with the same “pop” that it has on screen. Remember that a monitor uses transmitted light and that always makes things look better than it will on a print. The reason for this is that a print uses reflected light which is quite dull and flat by comparison. By pushing the contrast further than you think you should, it will help ensure the printed piece looks good.
For me, the appeal of this image is it’s simplicity, it’s detailed contrasts and the compressed perspective. Death valley is really a spectacular place, especially in the winter. I go each January and just revel in the timeless solitude.
P.S. What I don’t like about side by side comparisons is when someone always writes and says “I like the color image better!” I’m just kidding of course, we all have our individual tastes and mine just runs to the black and white.