October 03, 2009

a colorful Marin County

click photo for full-size image
photo by Donald Kinney

Everybody loves a photo of sunrise or a sunset, right? -- well, not everybody...   Some people are pretty picky...

Bet you didn't know that I have a photographic mentor -- well I do, but since since I haven't yet gotten his permission to use his full name, we'll just have to refer to him here by his first name -- it's Jan.   During the week Jan works as an art director for a television station in the mid-west, but on weekends he usually can be found hawking his exceptional photos at art fairs and festivals.   The sour economy has put a real squeeze on his sales recently, but people absolutely love his work -- including me.

Anyway, Jan is a traditional sleepyhead so I don't think he sees too many sunrises, but he claims to love sunsets -- but would rather experience them in person instead of shooting or looking at photographs of them.   Oh, I suppose it's because he has seen so many bad and trite photos of sunsets over the years.   So, I've been working on Jan to "bring him around" -- after all, I bet they get some wonderful sunsets back there in the mid-west.   Regretfully I'm going to have to keep working on him -- I'm sure he had a big yawn when I sent him this sunset shot earlier this week.   I didn't hear a peep...

So, why do I bother with such a person who doesn't particularly care for photos of sunsets?   Well first, he's a great guy -- and second, he knows a heck of a lot about Photoshop and photography in general.

Jan loves to photograph in the Southwest, but it is this area of the West-coast that he really has a passion for.   He's always asking me where I shot this or that, and when he arrives in town I always enjoy being the tour-guide.   Jan thinks the hidden-away town of Bolinas is just about the finest spot on earth.

So why do I call him my mentor?   Because about two years ago Jan sat me down and taught me what I think is an incredibly valuable Photoshop lesson -- that of first setting my high values (and sometimes the low values) with Levels, and then how to apply a Curve to my low values to bring out some detail in the shadows.

Up until this Photoshop lesson I had been using the to-be-avoided-at-all-costs Brightness/Contrast sliders -- often resulting in blown-out whites and lost-in-the-mud shadows.   I didn't even realize what was happening, but after his lesson I had a new tool -- it's called a Histogram -- which gives a graphical representation of the tonal values in a photograph.

A Histogram takes all of the guesswork out of Photoshop, and knowing how to read the Histogram has made a tremendous improvement in my photography.   Unless you have a few specular highlights, all the tones of your image should fit nicely within the Histogram -- if you have a big pile of spikes on the right side of the Histogram it usually means that you've got overexposed and "blown out whites" -- sometimes it's best just to do a re-shoot.   Conversely, if your high values don't reach all the way to the right end of the Histogram it usually means that your photo is underexposed, something that is easily corrected with Levels.   Fixable underexposure is always preferable to overexposure, which is difficult to correct.

If you shoot in RAW and use a conversion program such as CameraRAW, the Exposure slider is the equivalent to the Levels slider in Photoshop, and CameraRAW's Shadows slider serves as a preset or generic Curve.   Additional corrections and tweaks of Levels and Curves can be made once the image is imported into regular Photoshop from CameraRAW.

click photo for full-size image
photo by Donald Kinney

Here's a shot I snagged yesterday afternoon up at Alpine Dam, on the Fairfax-to-Bolinas Road.   Colorful, isn't it?

click photo for full-size image
photo by Donald Kinney

And when I spotted these backlit leaves yesterday I had to pull over and see if I could do anything with them.

click photo for full-size image
photo by Donald Kinney

And I shot this colorful vegetation this past week while taking a hike out at China Camp on one of my favorite trails.

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Louise said...

This was totally over my head. I don't have Photoshop or any editing software other than what came with my camera--which I don't think is very intuitive, so I don't use it. I've tried to read my camera manual a couple of times, and I'm not scholarly idiot, but it seemed like a foreign language. The only thing I can figure out how to do consistently on my camera is change the "P" setting. When I play with shutter speed and F-stop, it doesn't work consistently. But whatever you do and whatever advice Jan gives, it seems to be working.

And the Midwest has some nice sunrises and sunsets, but nothing compared to the Southwest. And I love them! Pictures of them. And just to sit and look.

AphotoAday said...

NOTE TO LOUISE -- I know what you mean about sunrises and sunsets in the Southwest -- I grew up on Arizona Highways Magazine and drooled on every page...

Civic Center said...

I used to be an assistant teacher of Photoshop at San Francisco State's Multimedia School in the early 1990s with a crazy genius named Barbara Mehlman who had a vision about the marriage between art and journalism. She explained that using "Brightness/Contrast" was like using "Bass/Treble" balance when you had a whole sound board at your disposal.

There's 20 different ways to do the same thing in Photoshop and I tend to go for the simplest, which is "Levels" for basic lights and darks enhancement. It's the most amazing photographic tool on earth and I'm surprised at how few people (other than ourselves and graphics professionals) use it. By the way, once you get into Curves and Histograms, I'm lost.

KellyL said...

Love the Alpine Dam photo. The colors and texture are eye candy for me. Thanks for sharing your pictures and your photo knowledge with us, smile.

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