Archive for 2017

The Polarizing Filter – You Can’t Mimic It In Photoshop!

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

A polarizing filter is one of the few filters that are equally effective with color imaging and with black-and-white. It can:

•  Minimize or eliminate reflections in glass, water or most any surface except metal.

•  Darken skies in color photos as well as in black-and-white

•  Cut through haze

•  Increase the saturation of colors

There Are Two Types Of Polarizing Filters

There are two basic types of polarizing filters. They essentially accomplish the same thing, but…

  1. The original “linear” polarizer pose problems with most modern through-the-lens metering systems
  2. The comparatively new “circular” polarizers were developed to minimize or eliminate metering issues.

Polarizing Filter Factors

Most filter manufacturers list polarizers as having a variable filter factor, usually 2 to 4 depending on the effect of the polarization. I personally just use a factor of 2.5 (1.3 stop correction) because any further darkening, say, of a sky is an effect I want, and do not want to override.

When To Use A Polarizing Filter

The great thing about using a polarizing filter is that you can actually see the effect before taking the picture. When held up to the eye or placed on a lens and rotated in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction, you can see gradual lightening or darkening as you rotate. You can pick just the degree of effect you want. At its lightest orientation, it is essentially just a 1.3-stop neutral density filter. If you are using a non-through-the-lens camera (rangefinder, Holga, etc) you will need to hold the polarizing filter up to your eye and note what part of the filter is at “12 o’clock” for the effect you want, then put the filter on your lens in the same orientation.

polarizing filter, alan ross, photography

Above, a polarizer effectively eliminating reflections in glass. Note that the reflections in the polished table are only moderately affected – that light was polarized in a different direction.  Below, note how the polarizer has darkened the sky, increased saturation in the colors and reduced haze.

How To Use A Polarizing Filter With A Wide Angle Lens

A polarizing filter works by darkening light in the subject that is already polarized. If there is no polarized light, the filter has no effect other than neutral density. The light in a sky is not evenly polarized, so if you are using a wide-angle lens you will capture part of the sky that may be highly polarized AND also include part of a sky that is less polarized. If you are using a wide-angle lens on a subject that does not include sky, you may not notice any odd effect.

polarizing filter, alan ross, photography

In the end, no well equipped camera case should be without the versatile polarizing filter!

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Announcing
Alan Ross’ 
Live Virtual Photography Coaching
For People Who Are Passionate About Photography

“Over the years hundreds of people from all over the world have asked me for personal help.
There was just no way I could do it…until now. Today, I’m thrilled to be able to coach
budding photographers from my own studio using the internet!” – Alan 

Do you love taking photographs?
Do you dream of becoming a better photographer?
Do you have questions about exposure, visualization, Photoshop, Lightroom
or all of it?

If your answer is YES, then you’re ready for a totally new way
to learn how to express your photographic vision in a private virtual session
with me at a really great price (shhh…don’t tell my CPA)!

                       Get details, see student testimonials, and find out how to sign up: here

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Upcoming photo expeditions and workshops:

Check out all my upcoming photo expeditions and workshops here

Photographic Visualization – How To Visualize A Photograph Before You Shoot

Thursday, August 31st, 2017

Photographic Visualization

In April 1927, during one of his regular trips to Yosemite, a 25-year-old Ansel Adams trekked up to the ‘diving board’ on the west shoulder of Half Dome. There, he made a dramatic image of the monolith using a mild yellow filter to darken the sky a bit—a generally recommended and accepted practice in those days.

But what Ansel felt about the scene before him was more dramatic than what he knew the yellow filter would give him. With one glass plate left unexposed, he daringly made another exposure, this time using a red filter that he hoped would result in an image that was more in tune with what he imagined, or visualized, the final image should be, instead of what was actually in front of him. That is called photographic visualization.

The image that resulted from this experiment proved to be a turning point for Ansel in his photographic explorations. For the first time, he was conscious of the difference between what his camera lens saw (the literal) and what he saw in his mind’s eye (the expressive) as the final print. He discovered photographic visualization.

Ansel ultimately came to refer to this freedom from recording only what the camera and lens could capture in a technical sense as visualization, and he wrote about it extensively during his lifetime.

By itself, photographic visualization doesn’t assure a successful final image, but it does set the stage for the ensuing choreography of photographic steps. To my way of thinking, it is the single most important element in creating an expressive image.

So…just what IS photographic visualization and how do you visualize a photograph before you shoot?

Simply put, photographic visualization is the confluence of imagination and technique. It is the ability to picture the essence of the final print in your mind before releasing the shutter. It’s also possessing the technical know-how to create the image that’s in your mind, even if it differs dramatically from the reality of the scene in front of you.

One of Ansel’s favorite sayings was, “There’s nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.” At the same time, a concept can be sorely limited in clarity by a fuzzy knowledge of technique. The two go hand-in-hand.

In Ansel’s case, his knowledge of technique — knowing what a strong red filter ought to do — enabled him to imagine, or visualize, a final print with a much darker sky than the yellow filter would have afforded. He visualized how he wanted the print to look and used his understanding of technique to realize that vision.

Photo visualization does not, however, require that you see a finished print that is markedly different from the real qualities of the actual scene. It could be as simple as ‘seeing’ a final color image in delicate pastels rather than in bold, vibrant colors and contrasts. It might mean choosing a particular vantage point to emphasize the qualities of a foreground object. But in all cases, visualization dictates the equipment and techniques required to achieve the vision.

Will a longer or shorter exposure enhance motion in a scene? Is it stronger vertically or horizontally? Are there any distracting elements around the edges of your image?

Photographic visualization also includes what we have come to call post-processing. We can visualize making a sky or other element lighter or darker than the meter says it ought to be. We can skew color relationships and local contrasts to strengthen our statement. We can plan for these interpretive and expressive things before releasing the shutter!

These are all things I consider, usually even before I set the camera up.

Now it’s your turn. The next time you’re out photographing, try taking a moment to disconnect from the reality of the scene in front of your lens, and try to visualize a photograph before you shoot.

Here are some steps to follow to help you with photographic visualization before you shoot:

  1. First think about what attracted you to the scene and caused you to set up your camera. Was it a rock, a feeling about the place (moody, serene, beautiful, scary)?
  2. Imagine a finished image on your wall. What does it look like? What’s the most prominent feature? Is it soft and delicate? Hard and moody? An abstract?
  3. Find your vantage point. Sometimes shifting the lens position just an inch can change the dynamic of an image. You’re not ready to decide on a lens yet!
  4. Choose your lens. If you have more than one lens, now is the time to optimize your image cropping, and that means choosing the best lens. Contrary to a lot of popular writings, the only thing a change in focal length really does is change the cropping! Telephoto “lens compression” and most perceived “wide-angle distortion” are merely manifestations of a change in perspective – the location of the lens relative to the subject. Short focal length lenses do stretch the size of elements at the edges of the field, but this is because the film or sensor is flat! Nothing to do with the lens itself.
  5. Filter or no filter. If you are working with film or a Leica Monochrome, now is the time to decide if a filter is necessary. With digital imaging, any BW filter effects can be done in post-processing. Polarization and many neutral-density effects need an actual filter.
  6. Finally, determine exposure! With negative film, it is generally best to make sure that important shadow details are not underexposed. With digital and color transparency film, the opposite is the case: don’t over-expose important highlights!
  7. Make your photograph, pat yourself on the back and MAKE A PRINT! So many wonderful images never see the light of day, which is a real shame in my view. Why go to all the trouble to make the image if it only ever exists as a negative or pixels on a memory card?

VANTAGE POINT

alan ross photography, Photographic Visualization

A line of paint on one arch intersects the curve of an opposite arch. A one-inch shift in lens position would have spoiled the effect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EFFECT OF LENS FOCAL LENGTH

Photographic Visualization, alan ross photography

The middle of a 24mm lens capture has EXACTLY the same structure as the full-frame capture with a 105mm lens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EFFECT OF FILTER USE OR POST PROCESSING

Photographic Visualization, alan ross photography

Red filter effect on the left, Green filter effect on the right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

POST PROCESSING VISUALIZATION

Photographic Visualization, alan ross photography

A “straight” print on the left, visualized darkroom print on the right

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________________

Do you love taking photographs?
Do you dream of being a better photographer?
Do you have questions about exposure, visualization, Photoshop, or Lightroom?

If your answer is YES, then you’re ready for a totally new way
to learn how to express your photographic vision…

Alan Ross’ Live Virtual Photography Coaching
For People Who Are Passionate About Photography

 

“Over the years hundreds of people from all over the world have asked me for personal help.
There was just no way I could do it…until now. Today, I’m thrilled to be able to coach
budding photographers from my own studio using the internet!” – Alan Ross

                                                    Read student testimonials and find out how to sign up here.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

Upcoming photo expeditions and workshops:

 

 

How To See Like A Photographer

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017

One of the things I enjoy most about being a photographer is the opportunity to share the knowledge and experience I’ve gained during my 40+-year career looking through the lens. I consider teaching both a privilege and a responsibility, and I do a lot of it.

Something I get asked to address in nearly all of my workshops, both private and small-group, is how to see like a photographer — how to visualize, how to make that leap from snapshot to expressive photograph, how to create an image that’s “Ansel-worthy.”

What does it mean to see like a photographer?

For me, to see like a photographer means that I am constantly looking at things for their photographic potential and visualizing what a finished image might look like — whether as a literal expression of what’s in front of me, or as an expressive interpretation of how I feel, what I think, or what a particular moment or place means to me.

Here’s an example of how and what I see:

A couple of months ago, my wife, Julie, and I were on our way into Yosemite Valley for an upcoming workshop and stopped at Inspiration Point to soak up the grand vista and stretch our legs.

I made a few images with my Canon digital, while Julie snapped away with her iPhone. When we got back to the car, she asked me what I saw.

Without even thinking, I told her that I’d noticed the many dead trees, the incredible water tumbling over Bridalveil Fall and the relationship between the reddishness of the dead trees to the green of the live trees. While I didn’t feel there was enough potential drama to get the big camera out, if I did work the scene, I would likely use an orange-to-red filter to lighten the rusty trees, and darken the green forest to emphasize the whiteness of the fall.

A few days after we returned home, I was chatting with Julie and looking out our window. I caught myself unconsciously moving my head a few inches to one side and back, playing with how the clumps of trees outside seemed more (or less) spatially organized relative to the border formed by the window frame with my head in one position or the other. (And I did this without missing a beat in our conversation!)

I just can’t help it…I’m ALWAYS looking, always seeing, always evaluating, even when I’m not “working.”

Ansel Adams called this process visualization. His ability to consistently look, see, evaluate, visualize and express was one of the main reasons he became the photographer he was. It helped him create those jaw-dropping images that beg the question…”how’d he do that?”

While I was working with him, Ansel Adams helped me see like a photographer.

Conceptually, seeing photographically isn’t that hard to understand, or at least I don’t think it is. But teaching it on a practical and “doable” level has its challenges. How we react to a scene, an object, or an element of nature is something unique and so highly personal.

Looking at Ansel’s own words on visualization, however, I think it is possible to learn to see photographically. “We must examine and explore what lies before our eyes for its significance, substance, shape, texture, and the relationships of tonal values. We can teach our eyes to become more perceptive.”

In more practical terms, here are some of the things I suggest to workshop students as they practice how to see like a photographer:

LOOK…in front of you, behind you, above, below, near, far. Wander off the path in all directions. Take the time to really see what’s there. During an “Expressive Photography” workshop I did for Carmel Visual Arts last year, we took the old coast road off Highway 1 as a field session. Everyone went at their own pace, stopping to photograph what interested or moved them.

When we compared notes and images the next day, one of the students had made an absolutely stunning abstract image of some colorful mushrooms she found growing under a log. Almost to a person, everyone in our group wished they had seen those mushrooms and photographed them. The person who got the image was the one who took the time to wander and LOOK.

DON’T JUST LOOK WITH YOUR EYES. Try and engage your other senses and take a moment (or five!) to think about what attracts you to the scene or the object in the first place. What made you want to pick up your camera? Focus in on that as you start to evaluate what you’re going to photograph and how.

SLOW DOWN, THINK, EXPERIMENT. Once you’ve isolated what you’d like to photograph, don’t be in a rush. Slow down and experiment. Is some element in the subject made clearer by moving the lens up, down, left or right—even if just an inch or two? Is the image stronger in black-and-white or color? Will a filter enhance some of the tonal values and help you better capture the mood or the feeling of the place? Will the image suit your personal interpretation or expression of the scene, if, for example, you darken the sky either in the darkroom or in post-processing?

ESCHEW SURPLUSSAGE. Mark Twain used these words in his essay, “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses”. It’s good advice, especially when it comes to photography. If it’s not needed, don’t include it. I frame a scene with my hands or use a cropping card to experiment with what elements I might want to include or exclude from a particular scene.

Ansel Adams using his hands to frame an image

Ansel Adams using his hands to frame an image: Old Pilings, Bolinas Lagoon, California 1976

These suggestions may seem pretty basic, and certainly not the special “Ansel Adams button” that will magically transform your efforts into a masterpiece worthy of Ansel’s signature. But in my experience, it’s often the small things that really matter and that make the most difference in successfully “seeing” photographically and expressing your personal vision. Give these a try!

Are you struggling to see like a photographer yourself. I’m always available by email, no matter where in the world I happen to be. I’d love to hear from you. And if you’d like some one-on-one coaching without ever leaving the comfort of your own home, check out my Virtual Photography Coaching.

alan ross, ming tombs beijing China

Arches, Ming Tombs, Beijing, China 1982

I like to use this image as an example of just how important tiny adjustments to lens placement can be. My subject was a square tower with thick walls and arched opening in each of the 4 walls. Walking by the structure, I noticed that an interesting abstraction was formed when looking through one arch across to another. I set up my 4×5 camera and found a particular spot where a painted demarcation area on the foreground arch exactly met the curve of an opposite arch.  I chose a lens to give the cropping I wanted, micro-adjusted the lens position and released the shutter. A half-inch difference in lens position would have spoiled the effect.

Ansel Adams, Bridalveil in Storm, alan ross

                         My Bridalveil Fall in Storm, Yosemite, 1974

Returning to Yosemite Valley after a fruitless, rainy, field session in Yosemite’s High Country during a July, 1974 Ansel Adams workshop, a couple of other soggy workshop assistants and I popped out of the Crane Flat tunnel to come face-to-face with this marvelous vista of clouds, mountains, waterfall and river. Amazingly, there were almost no other cars stopped at the handful of parking spots, so I pulled over and we all scrambled for our cameras.

I first tried a 150mm lens on my 4×5 camera, but it revealed only a nice scene with no clear “look at this” focus.  I switched to my 203mm and everything came together. I expanded the cloud contrast with a yellow (#12) filter, but the scene was otherwise pretty monochromatic.  I had an early spotmeter – a 1° SEI – and based my exposure to give me good density in the darkest trees.

Later, when I made a quick contact print, I could see I had full detail in both shadows and highlights—a perfect Zone System negative–but the literal rendition of the scene was a complete bore. This is where visualization came into play. The way I visualized the scene had nothing to do with the tonalities that were the reality of what was in front of my lens.

The tonal information recorded in the negative gave me all the substance I needed to bring my interpretation of the scene to life.  I expanded the contrast in the lower clouds and forest and river, and darkened the cloudy sky to give the scene the drama I felt at the time of exposure.

By the way, this was just part of a REALLY good week for me. Ansel had just hired me as full-time assistant in Carmel a few days earlier and over the next several years, he gave me the chance  to fine tune my ability to see like a photographer. I learned from the best.

Alan

_______________________________________________________________________________________

Do you love taking photographs?
Do you dream of being a better photographer?
Do you have questions about exposure, visualization, Photoshop, or Lightroom?

If your answer is YES, then you’re ready for a totally new way
to learn how to express your photographic vision…

Alan Ross’ Live Virtual Photography Coaching
For People Who Are Passionate About Photography

“Over the years hundreds of people from all over the world have asked me for personal help.
There was just no way I could do it…until now. Today, I’m thrilled to be able to coach
budding photographers from my own studio using the internet!” – Alan Ross

Read student testimonials and find out how to sign up here.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

Upcoming photo expeditions and workshops: