'Into The Mystic', the Making of a Photograph, December 2013
I am sometimes asked by friends and family why their photographs don’t look like mine. My answer usually includes an Ansel Adams quote, ‘You don’t take a photograph, you make it’. The 'making' of a photograph begins in the field. A good photograph should be a well composed, tack sharp and correctly exposed digital (preferably RAW) file, or a negative as they used in a bygone era. There are volumes of information available that teaches a photographer how to use a digital camera and ‘make’ a good original digital file.
This blog is about what I did to ’make’ a specific photograph of mine, 'Into the Mystic'. I wanted to show you my original file, and briefly describe the various post development steps that I used to ‘make’ the final photograph, that turned out to be one of my most popular images! Post development takes lots of time, creativity and skill, a vital and necessary step to 'making' a photograph.
Ansel Adams also said, ‘Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships’. Dodging and burning were terms used in photography for a technique used during the printing process to manipulate the exposure of a selected area(s) on a photographic print, deviating from the rest of the image's exposure. In a darkroom print from a film negative, dodging decreases the exposure for areas of the print that the photographer wishes to be lighter, while burning increases the exposure to areas of the print that should be darker. Today, there are hundreds of software tools available to a photographer to develop a photograph and ‘take care of mistakes God made in tonal relationships’, as well as the mistakes of us mere mortals!
During my last annual visit to Australia I set out one day to try my hand at ‘street photography’. I wanted to walk down the Queen Street Mall, downtown Brisbane, and photograph people that I saw that captivated my interest. Most of my photographic experiences over the last several years have been based around landscapes. I feel intimidated and a little introverted to go up to someone I do not know on the street and take their photograph, not from a far but up close with their full knowledge.
So it’s this fear and the desire to overcome these negative feelings that motivated me to set out on a train bound for Central Brisbane on October 7, 2013. After photographing a couple of street musicians, mostly from a far, I stumbled upon, what I thought was ‘the most interesting man in the world’. I wanted to photograph this man from close up, so I walked up to him and somewhat timidly asked if I could take his photograph, to which he graciously said yes! Still being intimidated and apprehensive, I only managed to squeeze off two images, both shown below.
I thanked him and said ‘You have a very interesting face’, and he joyously burst out laughing as I walked away. I wish now that I had stopped, sat next to him and engaged in a conversation. When I looked at the images I had shot in my view finder I was not that pleased but was just too inexperienced, apprehensive, etc. etc. to go back and ask for his permission again.
When I got home I uploaded the original RAW files into the software that I primarily use for my post development work, Adobe Lightroom, I was disappointed with what I had captured and went through the typical 'if only I had done this and then that, etc.' They just looked dull and uninteresting to me, but fortunately they were tack sharp and fairly well exposed. I decided that I would develop the closer up image, on the right above, because what interested me the most was his head and face, and that omnipotent mass of white hair. What began to develop in my creative mind was a real close up of his face and eyes; 'the eyes are the windows to the soul'. I then felt that what I wanted to create would just be more striking and dramatic in black and white.
So, I simply looked at the image in Lightroom in black and white, left. I then processed it further by cropping out some of the background and refined it more using the NIK plug-in for Lightroom, 'Silver Efex Pro 2'. This software provides a lot more tools to allow a user to fine tune a black and white image globally as well as in specific areas, right. Finally, I felt I was on the road to creating an image that captured the feelings I had when I first stumbled upon this man. Again, I was drawn to those eyes and that massive amounts of silver hair, and thought the best way to emphasize these points of interest was to crop the image in tight. This was then my final adjustment and the final image is shown below.
And so that is how I stumbled upon and made 'Into the Mystic', from two images that I did not care for to begin with and turned into one of my favorites! After all, it is not how you begin sometimes but how you end that matters!
“You don't make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.” ~ Ansel Adams