Taking Photographs

If we limit our vision to the real world, we will forever be fighting on the wrong side of things, working only to make our photographs equal to what we see out there, but no better.

Galen Rowell from his book "Mountain Light".

I share Galen Rowell's view, which is why as a landscape specialist, I strive to be an artist not a documentary photographer. If you want to know what the world looks like, look out the window. If you're looking for something more interesting and inspirational, check out my photos.

I grew up shooting landscape photographs on Kodachrome film in the fifties and sixties. But I also often carried a second camera loaded with B&W film, because some scenes lend themselves to B&W rendering. Plus I could easily develop and print black & white film in my own darkroom; whereas only Kodak could process Kodachrome and color printing could only be done by commercial lab.

During the first three generations of digital cameras, I continued to carry two or three cameras: one digital, plus one 35mm and often one 6cm x 6cm both loaded with Fuji Provia professional color transparency film.

But since 2012 when Nikon introduced their first very high (36mp) resolution digital camera, I have used that body exclusively. The color density and clarity of these images are superior to even my larger size film images.

Now when I go into the field, I never run out of film and am always able to experiment with as many different exposures or viewpoints as I want in distant locations and often in rapidly changing light too. I never rely on my camera to process the files, but just to capture the RAW digital data for me to work with later.

Curiously there are a few "Neanderthals" left who still shoot large format B&W film, mostly because there are enough gallery curators who view all fine art landscape photography through a rear-view mirror, and thus see Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and their "want-a-be" imitators as the only true artists in the field. But this niche and it's supporters are dieing rapidly, literally.

If color film had been developed before black & white, would there ever have been B&W film?

Making Photographs

Today almost all photographers print their photos digitally, regardless of how the original image was captured. Film images are digitized by scanning them, and converting the color transparency or negative to a digital file. Digital files are used for individual fine art prints as well as mass-market printing of books and posters. Any digital file can be printed in color or black & white, depending on the artist's preference.

The introduction of Adobe Photoshop in the 90's along with digital color printers made it possible to print both color and B&W images without a darkroom and lots of nasty chemicals. In the printing process, it enabled photographers to more easily control the contrast and the shadow/highlight details as well as the color saturation and tonal balance. The combination of Photoshop and high-resolution, archival digital printers enabled an experienced photographer to efficiently do everything that used to be a tedious and time consuming trial and error process. Still to create an exhibition worthy print usually takes me anywhere from 6-8 hours and numerous test prints.

Since the mid-nineties, I have relied on Adobe Photoshop to process my photographs and make my prints. Because I was originally trained as a darkroom photographer and printer, the tools and techniques in Adobe Photoshop are all very familiar to me. But more important, the Photoshop process enables me to more effectively recreate the overall experience that inspired me to take the photograph. When I am shooting something that excites me, the visual as well as the other sensory experiences from the location come back to me when I am processing those files in my studio.

When I use the words “sensory experience”,  I mean the effect of the sights, sounds and even smells of the desert at dawn as the sun slowly lights up the tops of the peaks and the birds and animals become active. Or the feeling in the air that the fog brings in as soon as the sun sinks below the horizon on an ocean beach.

Photoshop lets me control essential emotional elements of my images: such as the saturation of individual colors and the contrast in selected areas of an image. Plus I am able to produce a composite image from two or more images taken at the same time, but with different exposure values, in order to cover the full range of details from the highlights to the shadows, just as my eyes saw them.

© 2015 Jack McBride. All Rights Reserved.
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