Black and White and Clouds

Apparently Dad and myself think on similar wavelengths because right before the holiday he had a similar post. If you’ve spent much time with landscapes in the summer, then you know it’s not just us. Summer time is a great time to be doing landscapes because the afternoon can lead to some amazing cloud formations. As I posted about on Monday, those clouds can be great for sunset but they can also be great by themselves. All clouds have a texture, a shape, a dynamic to them and each shot should reflect that.

Black and white is a great way to go with just clouds because it really brings out the depth and drama to them. When it comes to this style the emphasis has to be on the clouds and not the landscape. Notice these images have very little foreground because the subject is the cloud formation in both and I wanted to emphasize that. Both were taken with the same setup, D5 and 24-70 AF-S. Yes I use that combo a lot. It’s just a good general setup. Then again that’s just me. This area of landscape photography is really fun and it really challenges you to break away from the rule of thirds and look at landscapes another way.

Winter Weather

Despite the fact that it is spring right now, we are getting snow. While this is great for water content, we need as much as we can get, for photography it’s a little boring. Grey skies never make for really interesting subject matter but the key thing to remember is that they don’t always last. If you’re patient, between snow showers comes small openings that let in light and drama in the clouds. That’s when it’s best to be ready to shoot.

Playing With Boundary Warp

Ever since the new boundary warp came out in ACR a couple weeks ago, I’ve been wanting to play with it. I really enjoy making Panos because they tell so much. The story is just so expansive with a Pano and at the same time you can really be specific when choosing what to add. With the Merge to Panorama in ACR it’s become very easy and enjoyable to make Panos and thus capture the world around us.

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I was out Saturday doing the one thing I enjoy the most when not working on a specific project, cruising. I’ve found more great photographs by driving around, with a camera on my lap, watching the sky and the light then anywhere else. That’s the best part of being a photographer is discovering new places. This place I knew about but hadn’t shot there because I needed the right sky. I didn’t quite have it that day but there was one great cloud and that’s all it took.

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To see the pano bigger click on the Image.

Now the top shot was the first image I took but I knew the moment I stopped this was a Pano opp. Using the D4 and 24-70 AF-S, I closed all the way down to capture as much detail as I could because when you’re doing a Pano, it’s going to end up really big! You want that detail if you are ever going to print it out. This was six frames that I then merged in ACR and converted with SilverEfex Pro. Now on this image I tried boundary warp to fill in the edges that weren’t there when the images were merged together. Normally I use Auto Crop which normally makes the Pano narrower, one of the disadvantages of that method. That didn’t happen with Boundary Warp. Now I was wondering if it would look off anywhere but it didn’t. Perhaps that’s because this was a landscape and there were no definitive lines, like with a building, but it’s definitely something I’m going to have to keep playing with and studying.

Holiday Projects

I love the holiday season! It’s just a great time to be with friends and family, eat a lot, play games and generally do nothing of importance. When there’s snow of course there is skiing. Afterward coming back inside to a nice warm fire, makes the whole day worthwhile. The other nice thing about this time of the year is that you can work on those projects that you’ve always set aside on the back burner saying, “I’ll eventually get to them.” On that cold winter day when nothing is going on, it doesn’t hurt to pop open the notebook and play with a few images.

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How a Long Lens Can Help With Landscapes

I do a lot of landscape work and often it’s with a wide angle lens. The reason for that is usually because of great light or great skies. But when neither of those two things show up then it’s great to go tight and take out little chunks of the landscape. While waiting for the birds on the pond to cooperate, I pointed the D4 and 600f4 towards the freshly snow covered mountains that surround Bozeman. Now that might seem a little much, but when you go wide with a mountain side covered in pine trees and snow, then it just looks like black streaks and white dots. When you go tight you can actually see the pine branches. In this case it becomes more about the patterns of the land instead of the overall tone of the land.

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Why go black and white? Well the light sucked for landscape at that moment, so with flat light the mountains just screamed monochrome.

Random Image for Random Weather

Well we’ve had a rather unusual spell of odd weather the last couple of weeks here in Bozeman. I’ve always considered Bozeman to have odd weather in general because of its location between the Bridger and Gallatin Mountains, but this year seems to be pretty odd even for that. Last fall we had a lot of really cold and snowy days. I mean down in the negatives cold. Right now it should be that cold but lately it has been up in the forties and even in the fifties the last couple of weeks. Well that doesn’t help with winter photography since a lot of the best shots come from those ice cold days around the geothermals. Hopefully with this new storm coming through we’ll get those cold temps again.

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The Endless Joys of Snow

I truly love Winter. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in the Sierra’s and spent every waking moment not in school on the ski slopes enjoying the fresh powder. I love it to this day but I enjoy it in other ways, by capturing the beauty of freshly fallen snow in my photography. Snow can be a great element in any photograph. It’s most versatile and obvious element is the fact that it adds a white point. If you are working on a black and white conversion, having an absolute white is important. Well it also adds more color to any landscape.

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These normally brownish hillside would not look nearly as interesting if there wasn’t snow. I know this for a fact because I have driven by this hillside numerous times as I traversed I-80. The snow adds color by covering up some areas while leaving others exposed. This creates more dimension on the hillside as the sweeping, rolling hillside becomes more dynamic. With the help of ACR and the adjustment brush, a simple sweep in certain areas bringing down the exposure and a sweep along the tops bringing up the snowy covered mountain tops, brings out more of that dynamic look. Now I actually really like it like this but for this example, by using the ACR brush in this way we set the image up for a great black and white.

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As you can see the result is a pretty compelling hillside. The clouds on the other hand were just something I lucked out in. They were there so I stopped. If it was a blank sky, the image wouldn’t be as good. Simple tools to bring out more in your landscape photography.

The Road Home Leads to New Images

At the end of every holiday season back home in California is the drive back to Montana. Now I’m no stranger to long drives, having done this particular drive more then three dozen times, but this one felt long. My original departure was actually delayed a day because of a big storm going through Southeast Idaho. By the time I left yesterday morning it had gotten better but remnants were still hanging around. Although the roads had me concerned, one thing that I knew would happen would be some good landscapes.

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Right around Winnemuca some great puffy clouds had formed over the freshly snow covered desert landscape. It was pretty simple shooting with the D4 and 70-200 VRII. The real challenge, and is usually the case, is finding somewhere safe to pull over.

Go Black and White

Lesson number four is pretty straight forward, go black and white. Again it’s easy to be seduced by all that color but remember that all of that color when converted is just going to be bright white or grey against a dark background. It’s really simple to get a strong black and white out of fall color because there is naturally a lot of whites and blacks which are the two most important factors to consider. There must be an absolute black and absolute white in every successful black and white image. Don’t forget that.

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One of the important factors to remember when working with Fall color and black and white is the composition. There has to be enough dark space in between all of those leaves in order to give a shape to the trees. If there isn’t the eye just gets lost. One of the great things about working with Aspens or Cottonwoods is the trunks are usually pretty bright surrounded by a pretty dark dirt forest floor. This helps to provide that shape. Keep in mind the gradient filter in Camera Raw can be very helpful when it comes to working with foregrounds and backgrounds.

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Lastly for this lesson, remember to go small. One leaf can be a powerful image with the right help. What is the right help? Well go to my last blog post to see what that is. But here is a quick summary: quality leaf, good background, gesture, light and depth of field.

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