Some thoughts on photography

I have been interested in photography and, in particular, monochrome photography for many years. When I started digital photography had not even been dreamt of. I enjoyed taking and processing negatives and then making the prints in the darkroom. From the outset I wanted to produce what are described as “fine” prints. Prints which gave a feeling for the place and which also could be regarded as good on a technical level.

John at Calanais IV

John at Calanais IV

In order to improve my technical skills I devoured the writings of Ansel Adams and the other masters. Not only their technical writings but their philosophical thoughts and musings. I also visited exhibitions and bought the first of the many books of photographs I now own. In order to produce a fine print you need to know what one looks like, and visiting exhibitions of people who are considered good printers is the best way to do this.

When digital photography had improved to the point where good monochrome images could be made I began to experiment by making ink-jet prints from scanned negatives. The first results were disappointing but after only a few years the advances in printer hardware and software has been such that they are now the equal of darkroom prints. Indeed, in the highlight areas I sometimes feel the results exceed what would have been possible in the darkroom.

I found that my darkroom experience helped when it came to processing the image in the computer. The scan is made to ensure that the image has a good range of tones from black to white with no area blocked up or burnt out. I then look at the overall image and adjust the contrast by means of Curve Adjustment Layers. Attention is then paid to smaller areas and again the adjustments are by Curve Adjustment Layers in selected areas. I tend to use Adjustment Layers with Curves instead of Dodge & Burn tools because they are more precise, and you can change your mind later.

Moving on to digital, it is just as important to ensure an adequate record is made of highlight and shadow areas if a good quality print is to be made. When the contrast range exceeds that possible with a single exposure I will take several and combine them, either in High Dynamic Range software or using layers in Photoshop.

I don’t like what Ansel Adams called “Bald Headed Days”. Days with clear blue or grey overcast skies. I like to get some drama in the sky to help the mood of the picture. Filters were an important part of my landscape photography and I used a variety of filters from yellow to red to increase the contrast, and hopefully drama too, in the skies. There are always exceptions and if you look at my pictures “Staffin” and “Loch Etive” you will see two of them. No rules are written in stone!

With digital capture there is no need to use contrast filters, but when the colour image is converted to monochrome it is possible to get the same effects using the colour sliders.

Finally, I hope you enjoy looking at the pictures. I have taken a lot of enjoyment from them, both at the moment the picture was exposed and in the later technical work.