From time to time I’d like to go back to some of the memorable images that I’ve been able to photograph since the advent of the digital revolution about 2004. That covers only a small portion of a 39-year career with the NEBRASKAland Magazine — and the bulk of the early images captured on film have turned magenta over the decades and are otherwise unusable. Mike Forsberg mentioned to me as he joined the digital era that “digital is a problem solver”, and I’d certainly agree — knowing both capture and post processing options opens up a tremendous range of possibilities, from straight forward image capture to unbelievable photoshop renditions. The recent issue of Aperture Magazine, with some very horrific life and death images (hopefully not a continuing topic) also features an artist that photographs a young model and combines two images of the same person appearing together in different clothing and settings. The artist photoshops the two images together seamlessly for a very interesting effect.
The “Sunset, Facus Springs” required capturing a tremendous range of light, from the sun’s disk on the western horizon to the lovely field of Prairie Gentian (Eustoma grandiflorum) in the foreground. This image is my first attempt at a “digital blend” — one image exposed to capture the extremely bright sky, sun and clouds, another image file exposed for the darkest cattails and the foreground. Doing a “blend’ in Photoshop is straight forward with any number of web site tutorials available. I’ve always recommended Luminous-Landscape.com and I’m sure that I followed its blend instructions for this image.
For the initial capture, I used a Digital SLR and the widest lens in the kit, a 17-35mm zoom lens set at 17mm. On the camera’s smaller sensor (a 1.6X sensor) this probably equalled a 28mm lens field of view on a full frame, 35mm-size sensor. The camera was mounted on a tripod, and set to manual exposure. Nothing really difficult to accomplish after looking for a good composition with an “open foreground” and a suitable background — although a strong wind blowing the grass and flowers in the foreground required using a higher shutter speed than I would have liked. What depth of field the extremely wide lens provided was certainly a blessing, but in larger prints, I can tell that the mid to longer distance subjects are not rendered as sharply as the foreground. When looking at a print, however, if the viewer’s eye can see sharpness in the closer subjects, it will often “accept” somewhat less sharpness in the distance. Doing the opposite, having the foreground unsharp and the background sharp can be very unsettling.
What a beautiful evening — probably within yards of the Oregon-California Trail (the pioneers used the springs during their passage up the North Platte Valley), and the only time I’ve seen the purple flowers in bloom on the alkline meadow — most years the grass prevents or hides the visible blooms. And the sunset was terrific as well. Chimney Rock stands on the upper horizon and the modern highway that crosses the WMA was out of sight along the left side of the meadow. IF there was a film that could capture the tremendous range of very bright to very dark subject matter, I’d have captured the scene in one take, but as Mike mentioned, “digital is a problem solver”.
Do I feel the image as shown above is a “fake” or an objectionable use of Photoshop to create something that “wasn’t there”?, Certainly not. The human eye is able to “see” into dark shadows and extremely bright light, unlike standard camera film or even the digital sensor in one take. “HDR”, high dynamic range capture is becoming a shop worn technique that way too many photographers are using without too much thought. Keeping a “natural” impression of light is still very important, I believe, to the success of an image.
I felt it was an interesting choice to start a discussion of digital images with something both “out of the ordinary” in some respects, but to my eye a completely natural and very beautiful moment.