The Landscape Bounce!

Horseshoe Bend
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Before I head out to a location to shoot I always do some research about the sunrise/sunset times as well as the position of the sun relative to the subject. (Azimuth, equinox, etc)

Horseshoe Bend in Page Arizona, shown above is tricky, as are many canyon subjects. The sun rises to the front of the subject, but because it is so far below the horizon most of the subject will stay in shadow for awhile, and then the sun will get more harsh. That’s not the composition I wanted. In Landscape Photography we never want harsh light, so the middle of the day is out.

That left sunset. The logical thinking then is that with the sun behind the subject, (backlit) coming right at the camera, the front of the subject would again be too dark. As you can see, that didn’t happen. Why not?

Fortunately, and something I didn’t plan on, the light bouncing off the canyon wall beneath my feet illuminated the subject just perfectly with beautiful soft light. Predicting the light in canyons is not as easy as it would seem. Not that it would have solved this problem, but a couple of excellent programs that I use on both iOS and Android are shown below. (LightTrac and Sun Seeker) Set the location and date and they will show the sunrise/sunset times as well as the angle of the sun relative to your subject.

LightTrac – Android
LightTrac – iOS

Sun Seeker – iOS only

lighttrac sunseeker

The Emotion of color

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

Spiderock at Sunset

Just got back from a Photography Workshop in Arizona and Utah. For me this trip was a real test for my Nikon D3 and lenses. I wasn’t sure how well they would do for this kind of Landscape, shooting at f16, with tripod and remote shutter release. I say this because the prevailing belief seems to be that you need Medium Format to do justice to a great Landscape. I’m sure that 40 Megapixels makes a difference, especially when printing at very large sizes. However, the image below prints beautifully at 12×18, and can easily go larger. If Art is the goal, and not just sharpness for sharpness sake, the D3 at 12 Megapixels did just fine with the right lens, f-stop, and Mirror-up. :^}

Update: I have since this writing moved to Medium Format for the reasoning mentioned here and more. Printing larger is important with Landscapes. Additionally, Medium Format offers greater tonal range and color nuance that is equally important.

Spider Rock turned out to be the most dramatic (for me) due to some great light just before sunset one night. I’m not kidding when I say that this light lasted 10 seconds. Once again it shows that the first hurdle in Landscape photography is just being there. Sounds easy, but being there at the right time often means 6:00am and 8:00pm, when most folks are sleeping or resting after dinner. Add to that a hike to get to the best location and you can see the commitment that it takes.

Let me know what you think of it by leaving a comment!

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Technical Details: Nikon D3, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, 1/30 sec, ISO 200 @f16

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Heading to the Southwest

I’m heading off to a Photo Workshop in Chinle AZ and Monument Valley Utah with Alain and Natalie Briot in the next couple of weeks, so I hope to have something new to show when I get back. It seems like good composition would be easier at a place like the Grand Canyon, but this is far from true.

The senses are overwhelmed by the vastness and power of the view, but that doesn’t automatically translate into a great composition on print. In fact, if you just throw the wide-angle lens on the camera, trying to capture the feeling, you may end up with a bunch of busy photos. I’ve done my share of that.




Nikon D200/12-24mm @ 14mm