The Evolution of a Landscape Photo

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“The negative is the equivalent of the composer’s score, and the print the performance.” – Ansel Adams

Storm Clouds and Incoming Wave, Crystal Cove State Park, California

Storm Clouds and Incoming Wave, Crystal Cove State Park, California – 2007

Ansel Adams’ most famous prints were printed many different ways over the course of his lifetime. You can see the evolution of his artistic vision (not necessarily better nor worse) over the course of his lifetime by how he printed the same photos during different periods of his life. That’s one of the main things I took away from studying his work as I was starting out in photography. Now that some years have passed for me, I’m able to review my older images with a different perspective than I had at the time. During the ensuing years, I’ve also learned new techniques and refined others along with developing a different vision for how I see things. With all that time passed, it’s only natural that I wouldn’t process a photo the same way now that I did nearly ten years ago.

Storm Clouds and Incoming Wave, Crystal Cove State Park, California

Storm Clouds and Incoming Wave, Crystal Cove State Park, California – 2016

When I processed the first image in 2007, I was still using global levels and curves adjustments in Photoshop because that’s what tools were available to me at the time. Looking back now I see a very contrasty rendition with blown highlight details and crunched shadows. In the 2016 version below, I still stick with my single exposure philosophy but I’ve made liberal use of Tony Kuyper’s Luminosity Masks and Saturation Masks which allow me more control of the darks, midtones and highlights. I also did some burning and dodging techniques similar to what’s outlined in Sean Bagshaw’s “Developing for Extended Dynamic Range” video. I’m essentially able to pull more detail out of each aspect of my RAW file without having to resort to HDR-like techniques. Also in this version, I’ve used some of the techniques highlighted in Ryan Dyar’s “Painting With Light” video, which I acquired last year as part of a holiday sale bundle, to paint a slight diffused glow around the sunset area on the horizon combined with a little bit of Orton Effect masked in certain spots. Yes, I know this is not journalism. It’s my personal interpretation of how I want this seascape to look. To be honest, though I’ve used a lot of different post-processing techniques on this photo it is still a fairly close rendition to what I saw on that day at Crystal Cove State Park. In some ways more so than the version processed in 2007.

See more of my Southern California photos.


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