Ansel Adams was a pianist. There’s even an edition of recordings of him from the 30s. For a long time he struggled whether he should become a pianist or a photographer.
Reading his book “The Negative” not only gives me insight into the technical processes that the “analogue” photographers had to struggle with. His often short sentences or comments on the image evaluation are an inspiring source, which always evoke in me the image of a qualified musician from Ansel Adams. He didn’t loose the spirit of music when photographing or processing.
His comments on infrared photography inspired me to rework a color image of the northern part of the island of Sylt and to study the effect of different color filters on contrasts and tonality.
The contrasts in the color image are weaker, the color also distracts a little from the mood of an impending thunderstorm. A bit of luminosity or radiance comes out better in the clouds in the black and white image.
At the end of the day, harmony was restored. The clouds moved quietly and in almost parallel formations over the church. Today, we’ll leave Sylt.
In the evening in Keitum we went after dinner in a pub a little walk. The light of the sunset was special and it changed continuously with the cloud train. After all, there was quite a bit of wind to be felt. Within less than 1 hour I took many pictures, leaning on fence posts to be less shaky.
Initially, there were phases with almost homogeneous cloud backgrounds.
The simple geometry of the lateral image of St. Severin calmed the increasingly wild sky.For a moment it looked like thunderstorms. A crack went through the clouds that reminded me of an old church song.
However, the threat of an approaching thunderstorm dissolved without a single drop of rain and the setting sun colored the clouds before we got back into the car for the drive home.
Expressive pictures on Sylt seem to be easier to achieve with clouds. The last days, first in black and white, now increasingly in color. The cloud structure of the sky reminds me again and again of Emil Nolde’s oil paintings.
First I edit the RAW images with Capture One. This allows me to determine the light and dark parts as well as the contrasts and colors. Then I erase the unavoidable stains, either from the sensor or from the optics. At the end a few filtering in Photoshop with Topaz or Nik Collection. All filters masked out and painted in at some homeopathic dosage.
The basic question of the creative photographer is, wether the representation of a photograph is literal or a departure from reality as projected in his „mind’s eye“. An expressive image is photographer’s goal. When the interaction of the different factors of exposure, aperture and camera characteristics is well understood, creative freedom knows no limits. Positively speaking: the sky is the limit.
The scenario of an almost threatening thunderstorm cloud, which, however, is still in a protective distance, is sometimes surprising on the beach. The tetrapods on my image will protect the island from flooding, but not us from rain.
A colored picture blurs this impression completely. Black and white rendering clearly shows the energy inherent in a thundercloud. We came across this cloud at Hörnum and it accompanied us all along the beach.
Just a short time before, I managed to capture the impression of a constantly beautiful weather with a cool wind and gentle waves. A strong sun pushes away all dark thoughts. On the horizon, the clouds are raining a bit.
Many times we are waiting. We like to draw strength from contemplation. Time is passing by imperceptibly, almost a little too fast.
With color photos expressive images can also be created. The true brightness values of a color image like to deceive our eyes. Quantitative estimation with the help of Lab color display is a great help in the accurate determination of brightness values. To make an image look like I had it in my „mind’s eye“.
This image was shot when looking back on our way to the sunny southern beach. The area is located in the north of Sylt and is called “Ellbogen”. Shortly before, we had protected ourselves from a heavy rain shower by waiting in the car.
The path to northern beach was illuminated like by a spotlight, the dune next to it dark, the thunderstorm clouds even more dark. The raw image didn’t reflect what I saw during that short moment. The raw image was flat and without extremes. By processing I tried to restore my original impression.
I like to let my thoughts be taken by cloud formations on a journey into the indefinite. In order to emphasize the weight of the clouds in the following photo, I tried to present the relatively close parts in a clearer and more contrasted way. The RAW image had a lot of width, but without a center of gravity. The colours are rather pale and not very saturated, thus emphasizing the nordic look.
On the westcoast of Kampen, the Red Cliff, which contains oxidized iron ore and has therefore assumed a red color, offers a strong contrast. The erosion leads to washes that may be reminiscent of skin wrinkles. The picture is interesting if rendered in color or monochrome.
After a short climb we reached the upper edge of the cliff.
An idea of Ansel Adams regarding the reality of a photo keeps me captive. His best photos, as he writes in hisbook “The Negative”, are often described by viewers as truly realistic. But they’re not. On the contrary. These would often have been the most intensively worked on by him.
He repeatedly insists in this book that the best images would have been those in which he left reality in the processing to show what he wanted to show or felt.
I am often impressed by the clouds passing by or the play of clouds in the sky. In a colored picture, I don’t quite succeed in directing the weight of the picture to the clouds in the sky. Despite the use of filters with and without gradients, the color image is beautifully colored and bright, but the desired focus is lost. With black and white pictures, it seems to be easier.
The Braderuper Heath is a northeastern part of the island of Sylt, with a white cliff of kaolin. While walking we came across an eviscerated duck that was suddenly lying in front of our feet. The head was dark or black, the throat was flabby, the internal organs were probably used for food. Maybe some dog owners had become angry already about their naughty four-legged friends.
That’s not enough. A short distance later we came across a shipwreck whose hull with the upward-facing edges offered the same aspect as the duck’s disemboweled body with its ribs. Since the tide was low, we were able to approach the mortal remains of the ship without water running into our shoes. We just sank a little into the tidal mudflats.
We could have made bets on the age of the ship and the cause of the accident. The three-masted grain schooner was moored as an unauthorized party ship off the coast of Braderup and sunk due to a fire in 1981. The cause of the fire was never determined.
There are many places with a white cliff. This one is part of the same geological structure as the cliff in Morsum.
Ansel Adams suggested in his book „The Negative“ a plan for practice in awareness and visualization to improve skills in black and white photography (Chapter 1, p. 3). „Take nothing for granted“: Black isn’t pitch black, but consists of many dark gray values, white isn’t pure white, but consists of many light gray tones.
One of his further suggestions to improve learning visualization of a subject could be the use of Polaroid Land black-and-white films. He made this suggestion 1981, long before LCD monitor and live view. With these tools our learning curve on each subject and imaging situation is steep.
Using Slow Shutter app I’m able to compose an image in live view mode and integrate a period of time to a single image. The app tends to capture the bright whites first, and doesn’t change them very much while integrating the whole image e.g. for 8 seconds. Therefore, I start my exposure at a moment, where the bright values come close to my visualization of the composition – and then I enjoy the completion. I believe, this feeling is close to the moment, when a print came out in the darkroom.
Ansel Adams didn’t have an electronic optical system. His recommendations were aimed at having a trained eye and with a few measuring points an idea of what the distribution of gray values would be in reality, in the negative and in the print (the positive).
This distribution is nowadays given by our cameras as a histogram. Each pixel of a capture is included. Thus, the distribution of gray values is not estimated by some 3 to 10 measurement points. With each pixel of a photo included and millions of them in a single capture we get a quasi-continuous function from the lowest to the highest brightness values: a histogram.
Let’s look at the following photograph of a chessboard from a common game collection and its histogram. (The chessboard was already old and slightly bent.) The chessboard consists of mainly two gray levels: the black and the white chess fields. Each individual chess field consists of slightly differing gray levels. The two peaks in the histogram represent this inhomogeneity of the photographed „black“ and „white“ chess fields.
Departure from realism is a significant contribution to creative imagery if you know to influence your result.
In Morsum one finds a cliff on the northern shore at the border to the Hindenburgdamm, shaped some 120.000 years ago, which is a national geotope. It is a soil structure formed by northern European glaciers with red (limonite), yellowish and white(kaolin) sands. These sands itself had been deposited 7 – 11 million years ago. More detailed information can be found in a Wiki (English oder German).
The image is an HDR of 5 exposures, intentionally overexposed and combined manually and one processed with software (HDR Efex Pro 2). Doing so no traces of a technically generated HDR image are recognizable. The resulting HighKey image looks natural. I adopted this way of processing HDR images from Harold Davis.
The layer structure only detects at close range. These layers are like loose sandstone. Unfortunately, they got knotted. Some layers a pretty coarse.
North Sea is rough and versatile. The water comes close to the cliff. It was low tide today when we passed by. So we didn’t get wet feet.
It is spring on Sylt, during the year everything blooms later than in the South.