Tag Archives: interpretation

Fade to Black

Lake Tahoe Sunrise, California
Canon EOS 5D Mark2, Canon 24-105mm, 1/8 second @ f11, ISO 100

This is the age of HDR, High Dynamic Range photography. Whether it’s specialized, automated HDR software or various exposure blending techniques in Photoshop, the current photographic trend is to extract every bit of detail from every last pixel from every scene. And although this can lead to some pretty alarming results, such as here and here and here, it’s not necessarily always a bad thing. I admit to rarely using automated HDR software, particularly with landscape and nature images, but I do use Photoshop for exposure blending when the narrow dynamic range of the camera’s sensor is inadequate for the scene I’m trying to capture.

Still, many new photographers don’t realize – or haven’t been told – that black is an acceptable color for digital photography. There’s no need to always pull details from shadows especially when those details don’t add anything to the message of the image. In many cases, such as the image of Lake Tahoe used in this post, those very details can detract from its effectiveness.

When I look at this image, I can’t help but reminisce on my days of Fuji Velvia 50 film transparencies – for better or worse. If I didn’t know any better, in fact, I would assume it was a scan from one of those old slides. It was Velvia’s deep, rich blacks that were missing from many of my first digital captures and crude processing efforts back in the day. Simply increasing the black threshold with a quick Levels adjustment was often the only thing required in transforming flat and muddy to sharp and vibrant. 

The true black in this image also draws greater attention to the simple, geometric shape of the lake and its relationship to the shoreline. Allowing details to creep into the shadows would only take away from that compositional concept. Do we really need to see all the details in the foreground trees? Of course not, which is why I allowed those details to fade to black.

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Black and White Dunes

I have always believed that photography is not necessarily about capturing what you see, but rather what you feel: an emotional connection, a sense of place, an experience. There is no better example of this than black and white photography. Black and white photography is a form of visual expression that looks nothing like what the photographer actually saw, yet it’s readily accepted by the general public as being “real” or “real photography.” Some photographers actually believe and espouse the notion that black and white photography is the only real form of photography. There’s that word again. What rubbish.

I don’t practice many black and white interpretations because to me, color is a big part of my experiences in nature – not always, but it’s usually the case. Sometimes, however, a black and white interpretation does a better job of emphasizing the elements that were important to me. This is one of those instances.

Technical details:

Hatteras Island, Outer Banks of North Carolina; Canon EOS 5d Mk2, Canon 17-40L @ 20mm, 1/30 second @ f20 ISO 160

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Color Casts: What’s Wrong with Magenta Anyhow?

Coral Cove State Park, Jupiter Island Florida

Technical details:

Coral Cove, Jupiter Island Florida; Canon EOS 5D mk2, Canon 17-40L @23mm, 0.6 second @ f18 ISO 320


When I take a spin through any of the Internet image forums these days, I will soon encounter an image comment or critique imploring the removal of a color cast of some type. Magenta, for some reason, seems to be a popular target. Blues too. What’s with all the magenta hating anyway? The last I looked, magenta was a real color and it’s revealed in nature all the time during the diurnal hours of the day.

The same goes for images being “too dark.” Is there a threshold of brightness that must be attained before it escapes the slings and arrows of the offended? Maybe it actually WAS dark…….and magenta!

Then again, maybe it wasn’t dark. Maybe the artist (yes, photographers are artists) wanted to portray the scene as dark on purpose.

Photography is  about extracting and sharing feelings – and a little bit of yourself – not just faithfully reproducing the scene in front of the camera. Darkness has been a visual metaphor for sadness for ages – just to throw out one example. The image should represent how the scene makes you feel, not necessarily how it actually looks! So, don’t let the tyranny of the status quo strip your image of its perilous soul. Embrace darkness, lightness, color casts, and other subjective tools to actually say something.

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From now on, I refuse to use the words manipulation or alteration or futzin’ or any other pejorative words photographers (and critics) want to come up with to describe digital processing. I’ll use interpretation because that’s what it really is!

Haterras Island, Outer Banks of North Carolina

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