Having a Plan B when shooting Landscapes

Posted by Mark Esposito | Posted in Color, Fall, Fine Art | Posted on 21-10-2013

Over the last couple of weeks I was scheduled to photograph the fall colors in New Hampshire. The way things turned out reminded me once again how important it is to have a Plan B, or a second location to explore.

We drove from Dallas Texas to Lincoln New Hampshire in my trusty Toyota Prius – 50mpg! (More on that in another article, but 1850 miles one way at a cost of $114) That kind of a drive is a big commitment of time, and not one that I want to see wasted. On the other hand, in Landscape Photography there are no guarantees even when the best plans are made.

Ansel Adams, in his Autobiography wrote, “Fortune Magazine asked me to make a survey of Los Angeles in about 1945. They wanted pictures of the exotic indigenous architecture such as the Brown Derby Restaurant in Hollywood. There were many such awful examples around Los Angeles, and I drove hundreds of miles in pursuit of them. I was completely frustrated by a continuous drizzle; no shaft of southern California sun ever touched the difficult scene. The deadline was in three short weeks. … Early every morning I drove out onto the wet streets, trying my best to find and capture the architectural obscenities that loomed through the drizzle; but even these objects needed sunlight.”

In his case there were no options for a Plan B, but often there are, as I found during the trip to New Hampshire. I had been monitoring the fall foliage reports on a smartphone app. Many of the states with great fall foliage have web sites dedicated to reporting their conditions for visitors. Smartphones are enormously helpful in Landscape Photography. New Hampshire has a wonder fall foliage smartphone app and webpage.

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The Emotion of color

Posted by Mark Esposito | Posted in Color, Composition, Fine Art | Posted on 17-07-2009

One of the reasons I love color photography is due to the unique emotional impact it produces when done right. Of course doing it right has some tough challenges, from the camera to the computer, to the print, the mat and the frame. Lots of ways to get frustrated along the way. I guess this is why lots of photographers stop at the computer. Mastering the camera alone is hard enough. Add to that Photoshop and all of the other software you need, and the challenge is daunting. If anything, that’s an understatement. So what’s this got to do with color? Well, making an emotional connection with color is a huge technical challenge, not just artistic. It’s not as easy as it looks.


Technical Challenges

if you’re not interested in a technical discussion, skip down to the next section

Camera technology has always offered latitude when it comes to reproducing the colors that we see. At the same time that means there is imprecision. With film, one type produces more highly saturated colors while another does better with skin tones. Digital photography has even more latitude up front by allowing for quick adjustments in how the camera will record color. With either technology colors can be adjusted on the computer. So the color in a Fine Art print is NOT simply a WYSIWYG process. The challenge of producing an emotional connection with color starts out as a technical one, and then becomes an artistic one.

Why is color such a technical challenge? You can’t find a camera that perfectly handles white balance in every situation, and has a perfectly calibrated sensor or film, and never under or overexposes. So it’s still up to the Artist to figure out how to represent or reproduce color, whether the goal is to be completely accurate, or to represent a personal vision. In the case of the photo shown above, you’re seeing what I saw as closely as I could represent it. In this case, for me, no personal vision could compete with what was already there, at least from the perspective of color.

To add to the difficulties, JPEG, the most common file format for photography, by design throws away some of the color information in a photo in order to compress the file to make it smaller. It therefore can’t perfectly represent nuances in color. In some cases it can’t represent the color at all, because it threw away the hue of a color by averaging other colors in the same area during compression. In Fine Art color photography, where color is one of the key components, we can’t afford to throw anything away. (By the way, the RAW file format does NOT throw anything away, so that is the preferred format for Fine Art Photography) I’m not bad-mouthing JPEG though. It works just fine for other print media, like most magazines and Wedding albums.

What about the paper? Even the highest quality paper has it’s unique attributes, which means that it’s going to take the ink differently. Some papers are matte, some glossy, and others in-between, and the same print on each of these will look very different. These all have an impact on the colors, and special calibration is required.

The Emotion of color

Now to the artistic side of this discussion. Black & White photography produces a range of emotional responses, sometimes very powerful. I’m not sure that they are the same responses that color might produce. That’s hard to figure out. For me there is something different with color. Of course it’s silly to think that all emotional responses are measurable or exactly reproducible between people. Obviously emotions belong to the viewer, and they are highly personal, and often based on experience. However, there must be some commonality as lots of people tend to respond in similar ways to certain attributes of art, including color.

I can’t put my finger on why the Tulips photo shown above evokes such an intense feeling (in me), but I know for sure that it’s the colors that are doing it.

To the Designer of all designers, and the creator of color and light – Thank you!

– Mark Esposito

Comments welcome