Miles Davis and Ghost Ranch

May 17, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

“Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself”  - Miles Davis

My last post was an homage to a famous photographer's style.  This one is about my own.

Miles Davis recognized that finding your personal musical style is a journey, and that the more you work on it, the faster you will identify what it is that makes you unique.  

It's the same with photography.  Part of figuring this out is just being more thoughtful about making pictures.  During a workshop I took last summer, photographer Eddie Soloway suggested taking time to look at a scene without the camera first, to consider how to respond photographically to what you see.  During my recent visit to Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico, I tried to be mindful of this.

The first subject I encountered was a log cabin left over from the filming of City Slickers.  The challenge with dark interiors and sunny exteriors is that, in a normal exposure, the camera sensor can't handle the full range of brightness without blowing out highlights or leaving the shadows blacked out.  My solution was to use a High Dynamic Range (HDR) technique, blending under- and over-exposed images together to mimic the way the eye might see the scene.

I decided I wanted a look that was dark, detailed, and gritty, showing the texture in the floor and logs, but also had some of the color drained from it, like an old faded photograph.  The intent was to give the place a moody feel, like maybe the ghosts of westerns past still haunted the cabin.

20130412_Santa Fe_297_HDR 20130412_Santa Fe_287_HDR This technique can also be applied to individual photos, and I decided to stick with it for the remainder of the shoot.  For processing I used Nik HDR Efex Pro 2, which I find easy to use while providing lots of artistic control.

20130412_Santa Fe_310_HDR

20130412_Santa Fe_333_HDR-Edit 20130412_Santa Fe_370_HDR While I was hiking, I stopped to admire the stunning red rock cliffs.  How should I respond photographically?  I liked the version on the top below: it brings out the vividness of the rocks, but is a little over the top.  The middle black and white version is dramatic, but I feel color is so integral to this subject that the form by itself can't carry the picture.  For now, my favorite is the one on the bottom, treated like the other HDR scenes above.  It feels like an honest portrayal that still retains the drama of the cliffs and sky.

20130412_Santa Fe_437-Edit-2 20130412_Santa Fe_437-Edit 20130412_Santa Fe_437_HDR Which goes to show, there's more than one way to interpret a scene...

20130412_Santa Fe_442_HDR

I don't think I'll ever arrive at a "final" personal photographic style, but I'm getting closer.  


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