Black and White Challenge

By Roger (6 November 2014)

We have our Efcubed link on Facebook (here), and we use it as a reminder to check out a new blog; answer questions; and, sometimes, to put out quick photography news. We're always happy when someone “Likes” it or “Shares” one of our posts. I, also, have a personal page for family and friends. I feel compelled to point this out because I don't want people to think I'm an anti-Facebook person. However, I don't ever play along with Facebook challenges, games, lists, or polls. That includes the latest craze sweeping the pages of photographers' accounts – the black and white challenge. Even something like this is on my I-don't-do-that-on-Facebook list.

Black and white – my preferred term is monochrome – has always been one of my favorites. When I was shooting film, I always had one camera loaded with Ilford. I still look for monochrome photos in my photostream. As a matter of fact, I processed, several of last weekend's photos, from Virginia Beach, through one of my favorite Nik tools, Silver Effects. I did this before Mark tried to tweak me with the Facebook black and white challenge. (He knows I don't play these reindeer games.) ;-)

Stormy morning in Virginia Beach

Stormy morning in Virginia Beach

Instead, let's talk here about monochrome. When should you use it?

By now, you should know I don't like all-encompassing rules, but the short answer is: whenever you want to. Black and white can be used in any situation and give you great results. That isn't really helpful, though. Here are the situations where I always consider monochrome.

Textures can be very effective in monochrome. For the best results, you should light the subject from the side; direct frontal lighting will flatten out the texture you're trying to capture.

From my trip to Curacao

From my trip to Curacao

When your subject matter is shapes and/or patterns, monochrome can remove the distractions of color in your photograph. You make it easier for your viewer to concentrate on the tonal information in the image and how it shows the shapes and patterns.

Downtown St. Louis

Downtown St. Louis

I use monochrome to lend an air of realism to photographs of historical events. My sesquicentennial photographs are often toned monochromes because that is how authentic Civil War photographs looked 150 years ago. Monochrome lends to the viewer's subconcious shift to suspend his disbelief that this is how things looked back then.

Cedar Creek, Virginia

Cedar Creek, Virginia

For photographs of real historical locations, black and white post-processing can lend to the seriousness of the event. For example, almost all of my Auschwitz and Dachau photos have been converted to monochrome. It feels right to me because this was such a dark chapter in the history of man on the planet. The fact that the day was rainy and dreary while I was there didn't hurt the photo, either.

Auschwitz, Poland

Auschwitz, Poland

Monochrome portraits are still popular, too. I make them when asked by the client or if the subject is really interesting. Again, these types of portraits remove the color distractions. Without the distractions, you can more easily guide your viewer to a character study, or the emotions displayed, or highlight a mood, or any combination. Especially today, people don't see many black and white portraits, so they pause when they see one.

Singer/Songwriter Tina Hughes

Singer/Songwriter Tina Hughes

There are many reasons to try this type of photography, including you just want to try something different. Or somebody challenged you on Facebook. Pick your own reason. Now, according to the challenge rules, I'm supposed to nominate more people, so I'm nominating you. Go out there and make some black and white photographs. Have some fun with it.

Winter Walk-Through

By Roger (27 Mar 2014)

I've gotten some kind words on the photo, below. Thanks. Originally, I made a couple of quick changes and put it in one of my blogs, back in early February (here). I have changed a few things since then, so let's do a short photo walk-through; we haven't done one since last year.

Old Town Manassas on a snowy night

Old Town Manassas on a snowy night

First, I've said this before, but, you have to get out there when the time is right to make the photos you want. I wanted a snowy night scene. So at 10 p.m. (no traffic), during a snowfall, I went to the Old Town area of Manassas and set up my tripod in the middle of the street. I protected the camera with a cover. Since, someone asked for the camera settings, I'll provide them, but there are countless variations that would have produced a similar photo. This is a Nikon D4, set to ISO 640, for 1/5 of a second; with my 16-35mm lens set to f6.3; and no flash. That gave me this photo.

I made some Photoshop edits to the photo I put into the blog, but I didn't get all of the trouble spots to my liking. I also decided that the color was distracting, since there were different temperatures to the lamps and reflections. I decided to re-edit the photo and do a better job. Here are some of the major flaws.

None of these could be corrected in the camera, so I'm moving to Photoshop.

None of these could be corrected in the camera, so I'm moving to Photoshop.

The edits were fairly easy, using the Clone Stamp Tool, primarily. These little things can make quite a difference in the final photograph, especially if you print them big and hang them. Beginning from the left side, you can see an orange extension cord. There is a small post and rope along the covered sidewalk – glad I didn't trip on that with my camera in my hands! Two pools of light from overhead lamps. There is a street sign in front of the building to the rear that I wanted to get rid of (actually, there is also one to the left of it, but I didn't want to reconstruct the entire doorway); a manhole cover; and a stop sign. I guess I might have eliminated the tire tracks, but they don't bother me. As I said, the color seemed distracting, so, when I got the photo back to Lightroom, I converted it to a toned black and white. I made some adjustments to the contrast and cropping. This was a pretty easy photo to repair, but there is a little more to this walk-through.

Twice a month, Mark and I meet with a local photo group, The Viewfinders.  And, every three months, the group brings in photos for sharing and discussions. Like most photo clubs, we designate themes, so I decided to use this one for the Winter Nights entry. I haven't printed anything for any of the recent discussions, so I was happy to have something to contribute. I even ordered it on a metallic-finish paper to give it a little more pop.

Well, I got the print back just two days before the scheduled meeting and was unhappy with the result. The print was darker than my the one I saw on my monitor! It was probably about a stop darker than I intended. Nothing aggravates me more than my own stupidity!

Both Mark and I have written blogs explaining how backlit monitors show a brighter image than your eyes will see reflected back on your print, unless you adjust the monitor accordingly. I have already taken the time to determine the settings and create my own preset to use before I export the file and send it to the printer. I just forgot to use it. Doh!

So, let me remind you (and me!), once again, to correct the brightness of the file BEFORE you send it to the printers. I now had a great example to show the group the consequences of not making the correction and why you shouldn't wait until the last minute to print your photo for the quarterly reviews. The photo was well-received, but you never want others to see your mistakes. That isn't much fun.

Walking In the Footsteps of Genius

By Mark

Without Roger having to chime in, I realize that I am no Ansel Adams, nor am I Georgia O’Keeffe.

Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams

Georgia O'Keeffe

Georgia O'Keeffe

Sarah and I got back from our trip to the Southwest and I am still processing images.  I’d been out there before, a long time ago, but she had never seen the landscapes.  One of the things that helped me plan the trip was knowing that this was where two of America’s greatest artists had spent a lot of time and had both created spectacular iconic works taken from the views and vistas.

Taos Church by Ansel Adams

Taos Church by Ansel Adams

Our first vacation stop was Taos NM.  The place itself, I have to tell you was a lot more run down than I remembered and the plaza has been taken over by authentic western items made in China. There are two sites nearby which make the visit. The Taos Pueblo has been occupied for over 1000 years and is still provides a living for the tribe.

Taos Pueblo

The cemetery reflects generations of residents, the harsh beauty of the land and the endurance of their memories. Because the scenes really are monochromatic, they translate well into Black and White.  Of course, I converted them all in Silver Efex Pro2 and used some of the classic settings as my starting point.

Taos Cemetery

Taos Cemetery

Just south of the city is the Chapel of St Francis at Rancho Taos.  Its adobe walls have to be restored every few years and they had just completed the process before we arrived.

Rancho Santa Fe

Rancho Santa Fe

The natural lines and colors create fantastic shadows and changes as each day progresses and I’m certain, as the seasons change.

Ansel Adams' version

Ansel Adams' version

My Version

My Version

This image I worked in Photoshop applying the watercolor filter to make it more of an homage to Ms. O’Keefe.

Georgia's

Georgia's

SW Trip Pt1-299-Edit-Edit.jpg

Driving westward from Taos, we went through the back country past Abiquiu, where Georgia had her home and painted the peak called “Pedernales” from her studio window. 

SW Trip Pt1-368.jpg
By Georgia O'Keefe

By Georgia O'Keefe

Next week; scenes from John Ford’s playground. 

Control Points

One of the challenges in learning to work with different photo editing software packages is that their control tools can be vastly different.  This month’s Viewfinders club topic is Black and White, and I’ve already covered the functionality of the great Nik Software package of Silver Efex Pro, but what I haven’t talked about is their unique and very helpful interface, which is standard across their entire product line.  Nik uses control points which can be dropped on any point on the image.  These points have an adjustable radius, which lets you select how far the effects spread.  The second adjustment controls brightness which does exactly what you would think. The third adjust contrast which controls the relative strength between the edges of the bright and light pixels.   The last slider control is called structure.  It is a very powerful localized sharpening tool that really enhances textural details in your image.  Each control point can be adjusted individually. You can eliminate the ones that don’t work just by dragging the icon in the control panel to the trashcan.  By applying these micro corrections, you can accomplish very subtle changes, very quickly.  I think that is a good cause to ring the bell---whoops.