Last Friday I posted a short slideshow of images shot in Lamayuru, Ladakh. Thanks to all for the kind words left in comments and sent in emails. There were a number of requests for a how-to, so I’ll do my best to be helpful. Truth is there isn’t much to tell in terms of technique. I pointed the camera and let it do it’s thing while I worried about not getting trod on by a horse, donkey or yak. In situations like this the meter on my 5D does remarkably well. But remember, HOW I meter is not as relevant as what the histogram looks like. I shoot first, meter later. Sort of. HERE’s an article on that.
I shoot in AV, chose an aperture (f/16 in the case of the image above, ISO 100, 1/100sec- (see, the “Sunny 16 Rule” really works!), then check the histogram and try to balance the dark shadows and the bright backlit sun. But here’s the thing – perfect exposures are not what these images are about. These images are about mood, so I wasn’t afraid to blow the exposure, plunge the shadows, or even get way too much lens flare. I grabbed my 5D instead of my newer 5D MkII because it’s my kick-about camera; with the 17-40 lens on it I honestly don’t care what happens to it, so I take more risks, and don’t mind burying it in the dust and chaff of harvest. If you study my work you know I tend towards simple, clean compositions. This was an intentional departure, having already shot some harvest scenes that were front-lit, perfectly exposed, and boring & lifeless (see below).
I post-processed these (the slideshow images not the image above) in Lightroom with very few tweaks. In some cases I made the blacks darker. In most cases I added vignette, pushed the clarity slider way to the right, and added some fill light. In other cases still I pulled back the saturation and bumped the vibrance. I don’t have a formula, just the desire to retain or finesse the dusty, luminous feeling of a warm autumn day in the gold of the barley fields. That’s the key, and it’s what forms the spine of the book I am working on now to compliment Within The Frame.
Within The Frame was primarily about capturing your vision within the camera. The next book, the one after VisionMongers, is about capturing your vision in the digital darkroom of Adobe Lightroom. Most books out there answer the question, “how can I make my photograph look better.” Instead, this next book ask the question, “How can I make this image express my vision?” It begins with being conscious of your vision, the feeling you want to express in your image. Sure, adding contrast might be the answer. Or it might not. Begin with your vision for the image, and play in the darkroom until you’ve brought the digital negative into alignment with that. Forget the recipes and shortcuts, and instead learn what each setting does to the aesthetic of the image. Just the same as you do in camera.
I hope this is helpful in some way. I know it’s vague. Between you and I, I think the reason these images work is because I took the risk of getting in there, shooting against the light and pushing my face (and camera) around in the dust and dirt. As my portfolio fills up with safer images, I find myself drawn more and more to the need to express myself with less perfection and more mood. Perfection is over-rated and seldom touches the heart.