Sometimes, simple is better. Most of my fine art photos are low-key photos, meaning that they are dominated by dark tones. This is an example of a high-key photo where it is predominately made up of light tones. The result is a simple elegance and a very light and airy feeling.
From a technical point of view, lighting and processing are really quite simple. You need to be a little careful with exposure if you’re using an automatic exposure setting on your camera since it will tend to underexpose the image. You also need a good monitor that’s properly calibrated so that you get an accurate preview of how the image will print.
This is another example of using twilight as the best time for fine art landscape photography. It’s tempting to stop taking pictures as soon as the sun sets, but you’d be missing some of the best light. This time after the sun sets (or before the sun rises) is often called the “blue hour,” but it really only lasts for about 30 minutes.
I found this tree on the beach on Jekyll Island and I was immediately intrigued by the exposed roots and the way they echoed the bare branches of the tree. I wanted the roots to play a dominant and dramatic role in the photo. Since the beach was lined with tall trees, there wasn’t any light on the tree itself. Without some additional light, the tree would be a silhouette and the roots would have just blended into the dark shadows on the beach.
Since it was well after sunset and getting pretty dark I used that to my advantage. I always carry an LED flashlight with me, and in this instance, it was the perfect way to light up the tree. The camera was mounted on a rigid tripod, and the late hour allowed me to use a long, 30 second exposure. That gave me just enough time to run out away from the camera and use the flashlight to paint light onto the tree. Notice that I positioned myself well off to the side of the tree to create shadows too. It’s the shadows that give the tree its depth.
A 16 X 20 inch print of this photo is currently available at The Trafik Jam in Mackinaw, Illinois.
I occasionally teach photo workshops, and I spend quite a bit of time talking about sunrise and sunset photography. The most important thing I cover is to be sure to find a subject other than just the sunrise or sunset. It’s great to have dramatic skies, but the sky itself is actually a pretty boring subject. Try to find something else of interest and let the photo be about that. The sky itself is the seasoning – not the sauce.
I also talk quite a bit about the different times of twilight. My favorite time by far is civil twilight. That’s the half hour or so before the sun rises or after the sun sets. In fact, if you look at the landscape photos on my website nearly all of them were taken during civil twilight. You can actually get the best looking skies during that time, but also, the foreground light is much softer.
Jekyll Island seems to be a special place for me. My father and I first came here 45 years ago to play golf. We came back again in the 80′s, and again five years ago when I retired. Now, he’ll be 90 in January and we’re back again and just finished our third day playing 18 holes.
In 2006, my wife surprised me with an anniversary present of a fine art photography workshop on Jekyll Island and one of my all time favorite photos is from that trip. In fact, it’s the only photo from that long ago that I still exhibit. However, technically the photo has always had challenges since it was taken with a rather early digital SLR.
Yesterday morning, I went back to the same beach for sunrise. This time, I was armed with a much better camera, better technique, and some new ideas. This photo was taken a little later during sunrise, so the sky was just a little brighter. The big difference is that I used a flashlight to light up the trees and grass during the 60 second long exposure. I really like the added detail and depth it creates. I may even like this version better than the original.
I’m really happy with this photo from Upper Antelope Canyon, but it really needs to be seen as a large print to fully appreciate the subtle tones and details. The flowing texture of the Navaho sandstone create lots of movement, and the sunlight reflecting back and forth creates wonderful colors. Right in the middle there is a small shaft of direct sunlight, and you can even see the diffusion caused by dust in the air. But all of that detail is hard to make out on a computer screen.
Some photos require lots of work, and others seem to nearly fall out of the camera ready to go. The earlier photo from Antelope Canyon that I posted a few weeks ago was an example of one that took many hours in Photoshop, most to correct lens flare that resulted from the dusty environment. This photo is just the opposite, it needed very little work to create a fine art print that I’m happy with.
We all approach our photography differently. I’m the sort of artist who will happily spend many hours perfecting a single great image, rather than trying to generate a lot of good images. In the end, I only want to show the photos that I consider to be my best work.
But, I have to be careful that the time I spent doesn’t affect my judgment. It’s too easy to end up liking one of your own photos based on how difficult it was to produce. In the end, no one really cares how far I had to hike, how long I had to wait, or how many hours I spent on the computer to create a photograph. The image has to stand on its own and be judged for what it is – or isn’t.