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Shooting in Style

Yesterday I published a post detailing some of the process I've been going through to help identify my personal photographic style.

Today, I took those photographic elements I aspire to create and put them to practice.

Here is the resulting image:

Overall, I'm really happy with how it came out. Even more so, I'm happy with the intention and process that went into the creation of the photo. It has the contrasting scale of humans to nature I appreciate; the deep, warm tones that I enjoy; themes of process and journey that can be pulled out; and it has someone on a bike -- always love a good photo with a bike!

Something to consider for the future would be to try and accomplish the same shot with a wider focal length that might expand the depth of the image slightly rather than compressing the trees and mountain into one focal plane. But, all in all, I really am content with what was captured. Here's a quick look into the shooting and editing process!


Christine, a classmate, volunteered her time to be my subject for an early morning shoot where I could find a landscape that incorporated a low-trafficked dirt road and mountain vista. Her suggestion of Deer Creek Road east of Missoula -- an area she has explored before on her bike -- was great. Off of Deer Creek Road is a labyrinth of decommissioned Forest Service and logging roads cut into the sides of the surrounding hills. It was on one of these off-chutes that I found the setting I was looking for.

There were a number of shots leading up to this that were approximating the image I had in my head, but not nailing it completely. I didn't feel that the scale and seclusion I wanted to convey was present. During had a recent encounter with a man in a park who used to be a TV producer, he gave me a piece of advice about finding new perspectives in my photographs. As he said, people are used to seeing things at their eye level. A photograph taken from that same view point tends not to anything new. So shoot it from an angle people don't see; give them something that is new. I didn't think getting lower to the ground would solve my problems, so I opted to get higher. I looked around for nearby trees. My options were all just about useless. The sturdiest pines had boughs that started too far off the ground (I'm not much of a jumper...) and most of the alternatives leaned more towards a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree status. But a few looked like they might just be strong enough to hold me, and so I selected one alongside the trail and pushed/bent/contorted sinewy pine branches out of my way until I reached a good vantage point. I could see the trail, I could see the mountain: success! It took a few passes to capture the right moment, but after the third try I had something I was happy with.

I'm by no means an editing master, and I feel that this is the area of my "style" that will continue to develop the most. Many of the consistencies I found between favorite images in my last post were on the composition/design level: scale, perspective, lighting, themes, etc. The color editing is still in the works. But, I wanted to show the process I went through from raw image to final edit and explain the decisions along the way.

This is the raw image that came out of camera with no alterations made.

The first adjustments were to the color temperature and exposure. I have found that I prefer photos that are bright and warm. So the exposure got bumped just four tenths of a stop (an adjustment I should have just done in camera but hey, still learning!) and the temperature brought up to 5500. It's a subtle change, but the color temperature in particular has become a consistent adjustment where I tend to bring it to the range of 5500 to 6000 degrees.

A quick side note about color temperature...

Zero degrees Kelvin is the coldest temperature possible. As you move up from zero, the color of light created at those temperatures changes. It starts with the reds/oranges we see in candle light, moves up through the yellow/white light light created by house lights, and ultimately ends up around 10,000 degrees Kelvin which produces the blue in the sky. Artists, however, have traditionally described blue colors as being cool, cold, or harsh. Whereas reds and yellows (and secondary oranges) are described as being warm and inviting. Moral of the story: artists screwed things up. A "cool" toned image is actually depicting light that is physically hotter on the Kelvin scale, while a "warm" toned image is displaying light that is colder. Those dang artists... :D

Next came the tone curve. If you know, you know. I've become a real fan of what the tone curve can do to images whether it's creating a matte black look, a soft, faded film look, deep tonal contrast, etc. My consistent workflow has become to bring in the highlights and blacks slightly, and then drop a second point close to each end of the curve to create contrast in my light and dark tones. A third point is then used as needed in the mid-tones to lift shadows or drop highlights as needed. I've begun doing consistent work in the blue channel as well to add the slightest bits of blue and yellow to the highlights and shadows respectively. The result? Hopefully, an image with good tonal contrast and slightly warm shadows.

The last bit of leg-work happened in the HSL (Hue, Saturation, Luminance) sliders. This has been a relatively new area of experimentation in the editing process. By changing the hue (the actual color you see), the saturation (the intensity of the hue), and the luminance (how much light or dark value is added to the hue) you really can alter the image drastically. So I've tried to keep the edits limited to stay true to the image that was created and use it only to enhance the feel of the moment. There was such a neat contrast this morning between the crisp, cool temperatures in which we started to the warm, golden light we felt as it crested over the surrounding mountains. I wanted to enhance that feeling. So my alternations were alter the blue hue and darken the sky slightly (to try and emphasize the coolness that was receding from the morning air) and bring out as much yellow and orange as possible (to emphasize the warm light that was coming in and the muted fall colors of the season).

A few more minor alterations were made: a slight softening of the image through decreased texture and clarity, the tiniest bit of additional warm toning in the shadows, and a gradient filter applied from the top right of the image down toward the middle to bring out more of the perceived sunlight and warmth coming from that side of the scene. At the end, this was the comparison:

I'd love to hear your thoughts and takeaways from the image! Are the edits too much? Do they convey my intended feelings? Does your impression of the picture align with what I set out to capture? I'm happy to hear it all! This is a small step in the larger learning process of the school year, but it felt good to go out and shoot with process and intention in mind. I'm excited for more opportunities to practice and to see how my intended style continues to evolve!

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