Thursday, February 20, 2014

Revisiting Old Photos

There's an interesting contradiction about photography. On one hand, making a picture can be a once-in-a-nanosecond opportunity where the action or the light is so ephemeral, if you miss it, it's gone forever. (Of course, there's something to be said for having memories that exist no where but in your brain, full of emotions and movements that no camera can duplicate.) On the other hand, once you've nailed that shot, you can reinterpret it over and over, changing the artistic emphasis with everything from color balance (including going to shades of gray) to lightening some elements and darkening others to cropping to even changing the sharpness. And let's not forget the manipulations that involve cloning out unwanted distractions or combining exposures to compensate for extreme contrasts in the scene.

And there's certainly nothing wrong with going back to a photo when I realize it can be done differently, perhaps better. Sometimes this is because my artistic vision has evolved or maybe it's just because the processing software has improved to the point where I can accomplish a look that wasn't technically possible before.

For years, I went out to various wild locations to photograph moonlit landscapes. I published several how-to magazine articles for people who wanted to try it themselves and a couple of travel pieces for those who just preferred to experience the calming, occasionally introspective nature of sitting under a full moon without worrying about camera gear.

The other day, I came across some scans of this old work, shot on a Bronica SQ-A medium format camera and transparency film. At the time of the first prints I made, I was somewhat pure about the final product, finishing the picture so that it looked like the original film version. With a 20-minute exposure, I was usually able to get a picture that looked vaguely like a daylight scene but not quite (star paths don't appear in the sky at two in the afternoon.)  This worked for me at the time because the pictures had a weird sense of place that was partly literal and partly mysterious. But now I'm not so sure I like that interpretation and I redid some of the pictures. I like them better with a definitive look of nighttime.

What I did was import the tif files into Lightroom, increased the blacks and clarity, decreased the highlights and added a light vignette. Much better! (Of course, five years from now, I might change my mind and do something else.)

"Devastation Trail, 8:45 p.m." The difference is from the original isn't huge but to my eyes it looks more like how it felt to stand there at night.

"Near Hidden Valley, 10:15 p.m." I wanted to emphasize the lit rock juxtaposed against the bright star path so I darkened the exposure, added black and a heavy vignette.

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