Thursday, May 8, 2014

Not Black and White

Currently, some of my work from Biscayne Bay is being exhibited at the Dante Fascell Visitor Center at the Biscayne National Park. On one wall, I have five pieces as shown here.

From comments made to me and others about these particular images, I believe that most people think these are black and white photos. Some have even inquired about how I painted or drew these designs, disregarding the fact that I am a photographer. With that and also from discussions with others having an interest in my work, the topic of post-processing, or what some call "Photoshopping" comes up. I thought these "not black and white" images would be a good way to talk frankly about how I create my art, because, well, I just love talking about that stuff.

The inspiration for these images began with the double-crested cormorant that has such a high wing load that it has to fly close to the water's surface to take advantage of the compressed air. On Biscayne Bay after those early morning golden hours, I stop photographing birds along the mangrove shoreline because of the harsh lighting. On a calm day (and it has to be calm), I turn to the east and see the water and sky as one, a large white palette with the sun about 70-80 degrees above the horizon. One day, I captured a cormorant flying by and because it was so close to the water, it offered a beautiful reflection. From that moment on, I looked for those opportunities.

Among all the various subjects I photograph, what makes these particular images stand out the most is how easy and straightforward they are to capture Above and below are some before and after photos, so that the viewer may see that the final product for these images are very much like what came straight out of the camera. To expose the scene, I point toward the water and sky (horizon line down the middle) and meter the camera from there. I compensate about +1 1/3 to 1 2/3 stops, meaning I want the water and sky to appear more white and not too grayish blue. In the meantime, this exposure must not be overcompensated too much as to blow out the black silhouettes, which are the main subjects of the image. In the end, there is a compromise going on, because basically, the camera does not have the capabilities of the human eye.

So that's where the post-processing comes in. Once on the computer monitor, I can evaluate the scene. Is the water and sky too dark? Are the silhouettes too blown out? With minor changes (in Photoshop, I use Curves), I can make the sky and water become white while darkening the silhouettes. If there are residual marks (for instance, ripples in the water), I remove them. The finishing touch might be a crop. There is no black and white conversion, it is as the camera captured it.

And that's it! Easy as hitting the shutter button.

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