Composition Posts

The Wizard Behind the Curtain

When I was first starting out as a photographer, I dreamed of being able to capture imagery exactly as I visualized it—using film and the chemical darkroom. This wasn’t always possible, and I probably will not be unique in stating that I’ve often found photography frustrating when the result I came up with didn’t match the vision in my mind’s eye. With today’s technology many things are possible that were harder in the past. In fact, I’m astounded by the power and flexibility of digital photography when a little persistence is applied to the craft of post-production. Almost anything that you can pre-visualize, can, in fact, be created.

I like to say that with great power comes great responsibility. Just because one can do something, it doesn’t mean one should do it. Digital or not, images need to have a certain visual logic and clarity. The goal is to create a seamless illusion. For the illusion to work, your viewers should pay no attention to the wizard behind the curtain. It’s even better if they are oblivious to the existence of the wizard altogether.

True image creation is not about the pyrotechnics of craft—no matter how wonderful the technique behind the craft. If you can’t convey emotion and feeling in your imagery, the technical quality of your photos is not very meaningful. Ansel Adams likened his photography to music, and said that his negative was the score with his print the performance. When it comes to digital photography, things have changed a little: the RAW file is the score, and processing the RAW file is the performance.

Technology and its application to photography always fascinated Ansel Adams. In addition, he was always trying to extend the dynamic range of his prints to get extraordinarily dark blacks and quintessentially bright whites in a single print. Had today’s range of technical possibilities— such as multiple RAW processing, automated HDR processing, and hand-HDR layering—been available to Ansel Adams I have no doubt he would have embraced them with enthusiasm. He would have encouraged other photographers to push the technical envelopes while remembering that images are pre-visualized and made, rather than taken, and that the emotions and feelings an image evokes are always in the end more important than technique used to make them.

BELOW: In photography, as in life, there are always at least two points of view: the camera’s, and that of the subject. This image shows by implication two views: that from my hotel room looking across the courtyard, and the view from the window across the courtyard looking back at me.

Which room has the view? My hotel room view of curves, shapes and lines facing a rooftop Parisian apartment window sporting a pair of sneakers stored outside—or the window facing toward me?

70mm, eight exposures at shutter speeds ranging from 3/10 of a second to 1/160 of a second, each exposure at f/25 and ISO 100, tripod mounted; exposures processed and combined in Photoshop and converted to monochrome using Nik Silver Efex Pro.

BELOW: I found this aged gargoyle at the top of a gothic bell tower built in the late 15th century in Verneuil-sur-Avre, France. Before shooting the scene, I pre-visualized the black and white image that I wanted to make after returning home. Knowing my ultimate image goal helped me frame the image and choose the right camera settings.

26mm, 1/500 of a second at f/4 and ISO 200, hand held; converted to monochrome using Photoshop and Nik Silver Efex Pro.

Excerpt from Mononchromatic HDR Photography by Harold Davis © 2014 Taylor and Francis All Rights Reserved

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