We took a walk around Amphitrite Point by the Ucluelet lighthouse in the evening, it was near sunset, and the volcanic rock and wind sweep vegetation was very inviting. I spent some time looking for framing along the path, and I settled on a few spots. As the light was fading quickly, I brought the camera to my eye to check the dynamic range. A camera can record around 12 to 14 stops of light, depending on the camera. This is close to what the eye sees, but the brain, as I scan the scene, adjusts to 20 or more stops of light and creates an impression based on the 20 stops, not the 12-14. So I know my impression of the scene will be very different from what the eye saw in one instant after another and what the camera will record or the mind has constructed.
Framing the Image
Fortunately, the light is fairly even. I check the exposure for the sky and the dark areas of rock in the foreground, and there is a one to two-stop difference. As I am using a digital camera, I know the highlights once over-exposed can never be recovered, and the shadows, on the other hand, can. So I set the exposure for the sky—so no need to use bracket exposure techniques to capture the dynamic range. The images below were one of the framing ideas I had decided on earlier. I only had time for the three exposures you see below.
The first image has the horizon line in the upper third of the image, the second has it more centred, and the third is somewhere in between. I often place the horizon line in the lower third of the image and then take one with it in the upper third of the image, but it is a clear night with no clouds in the sky, so in this case, I did not bother to place it on the lower third.
Dealing with Time and Physical Limitations
The other consideration was the line of rock that leads to the tree, and I would have liked to have made a few more images playing with where the tree was located in the image, by moving up and down the path, or forward and backward. The path being small and the opening in the trees limited, and time is short, I chose not to bushwhack, so I did not explore these options. Also, altering the size of the pool of water in the scene might have been interesting. I would have had to find my way closer to the pool and to the right. The other consideration was how much of the ocean to include, which could have been altered by moving up or down the hill I was on. If the light had not been failing and I had arrived earlier, all this would have been more possible. This does say something about the importance of checking sunset times and arriving early to scout the location.
Downloading the Images and Preparing the Camera for the Next Day
Once back in my lodgings, I downloaded the images to an iPad and began looking through them in Lightroom. While doing this, I recharged my battery and returned my camera’s settings to my preferred neutral position. Often as the light is failing, I have to increase my ISO, so I make sure this is back to the camera’s native ISO. I usually attempt a few panoramas, so I also make sure my focus setting is not still in manual focus. Once everything had been downloaded and uploaded to the cloud, I reformated the SD card in the camera using the backup battery. I then set the camera down beside the charger to remind myself to repack the camera and the newly charged battery, now the backup battery, in the bag for the next day.
Processing the Image
Looking through the images I have taken, I find one I feel would be the most interesting and begin adjusting it using a personally customized preset. The preset makes some automatic adjustments to the RAW image. In other words, it applies what a camera’s JPG engine would normally do to an image if I were shooting JPG rather than RAW, but the way I would want it adjusted. I do this to save time as I have some preferred settings that are somewhat repetitive. I do have several custom presets that I use, depending on the nature of the light in the photograph or the subjects in the photograph.
Once the preset is applied, I consider my crop, check horizon lines, and do a quick check for sensor dust. There is a two-stop difference between the highlights and shadows, and I know if I crop out a lot of highlights or shadows, it will alter the exposure. So when I am making the next set of global adjustments to the image, I want to start with the correct exposure. This is why I want to consider the crop first before processing the image any further. The image below is the crop I chose.
In the photograph below, I have made some adjustments to make it more accurately reflex how I remember the scene feeling at the time; the coolness in the sky and rays of sunlight hitting just the tops of the rocks; the darkness creeping into the rocks in the shadows, and stillness of the pond reflecting the darkening sky.
The image still has some very diverse light on certain parts of the rock; other photographers at this point might consider moving the image into photoshop, where they can isolate specific areas of the image and bring the tonal values more closely together. This strategy could lighten the darker areas or bring up the highlights in the ocean to emphasize the light reflecting off it. Others might look at lightening the tree to make it more dominant. In other words, Photoshop could open up other ways of making the photograph reflect how different photographers might remember the scene.
Same Scene Different Results
My idea of how the scene should look might be very different from other photographers. I have often made an image in the same spot as other photographers, and when I look at their images, I am always surprised at how different they saw things. I think this has a great deal to with how we see, that as our eyes move around adjusting to different light and examining specific details of interest. Our mind is busy putting all that information together to create a memory of the place, a memory different for every individual depending on what detail they focused on and how their eyes moved about the scene.
Examples of How Others Might be Processed
Lightroom has many more adjustments that another photographer or I could have used to create a very different impression of the scene, and some external editors can be integrated into Lightroom. So to illustrate some other ways of processing, I have made a few alterations to the image. The first being the simple addition of a frame.
The image below is an example of reducing the tonal differences in the image, which creates a softer, more even feel to the light.
Perhaps pushed a bit too far, the image below is an example of colour grading and temperature adjustments to the photograph. There is also a reduction of the green channel, making the green plants in the immediate foreground less dominant.
The image below is an example of a photographer going in the opposite direction and desaturating the whole image. A lot of photographers prefer less saturated images and instead use contrast or clarity to enhance the image.
The two images below are black and white photographs, and those photographers who love to work in black and white, know that the colour channels, like the colour filters you used to place over the camera lens when you were shooting film, can effectively do the same thing in post processing. This gives these kinds of enthusiasts a vast degree of options for altering the tonal value of the image, as you can see from these two images.
When they are at their best, photographs seem almost three-dimensional, but it is not an accurate reflection of reality. It is an illusion the image is flat; after all, you can not reach into it; you can only scan it with your eyes. All photographs are either manipulated in the camera by an algorithm that creates a JPG or altered in post-processed using the RAW file, as I have shown above. The photographer must choose that best conveys their reaction or feeling of their experience of the place through their photograph. Ansel Adams’s statement that he “does not take photographs he makes them” speaks to the manipulation that goes on both in framing the shot and then in the darkroom. So a photograph, as Garry Winogrand put it, is an illusion and not really made by the camera; it is made “…with the eye, heart and head. ” So how a photograph is processed, whether it be a modified JPG engine in the camera or the post-processing of a RAW file, it is the photographer’s choice. Roland Barthes points out, and rightly so, that “photographs possess an evidential force,” which I believe gets in the way of enjoying how people express themselves through their photographs. One should never ask did you alter the photograph, as the answer is always yes, even if no post-processing occurred.
- Guide to Dynamic Range: How to Use Dynamic Range in Photos,
- Dynamic Range, Wikipedia
- Barthes, Roland, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, 1980 translation by Richard Howard.