Using Lightrooms graduated filter and adjustment brush to correct a landscape photograph

Vermont-Mount Mansfield-Winter-Clouds-landscape photograph
My final corrected image of Mount Mansfield in Winter from a camera raw file.

The initial image capture is only the beginning

When we capture our original camera raw files we need to look at them as simply the start of expressing our artistic vision. We are doing more than  just making an image. We are gathering enough data in our raw files to be able to realize that start into a finished image.

The image editing process is different for everyone but all of the tools are the same. Like in cooking there are a thousand different ways to peel an onion but eventually we get to the same result no matter what method we use.

It is the same for our raw files in that there is no one correct way to get there but by using the power  of our raw files we can come up with a final, polished and corrected image.

How can we get there? What tools do we need to achieve our photographic vision. The answer lies in The graduated filter and adjustment brush in Lightroom.

Camera Raw files are boring

The raw files come straight out of the camera with no processing so what you’re seeing on import into your computer is exactly what you shot. Keep in mind though that unlike a JPEG which is processed in camera, Raw files are flat and boring.

They need processing to bring out all of the best data in the image so a well composed and properly exposed image is essential. While JPEG’s tend to get corrupted over time as they are an already edited image, Raw files can be re edited over and over until your final image emerges. Take for example my original image file for the above image and it’s histogram in Lightroom…..

Vermont-Mount Mansfield-Winter-camera raw file example
View of Mount Mansfield with fresh snow and clouds from a field in Underhill, Vermont
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My example image’s histogram from Lightroom.

Now this is a typical example of a camera raw file as it is straight out of camera. You can see that the image is rather flat with no contrast and there are some issues that need to be addressed in the editing process.

A scene like this can be difficult to shoot as the clouds bounce around bright light at times with the sun popping in and out from behind them. Couple that with it being Winter and the snow being really reflective and you have a pretty tricky exposure situation on your hands.

My Histogram is actually looking really good as the image was exposed to the right just before the highlights would be blown out. This is good as we can pull those highlights in during the editing process without messing up the shadows or making the image to dark. The issues I need to address are easily fixed but do require some time….

  1. The upper portion of the image with the clouds – It’s a little too bright at the top and you can’t really see a lot of the darker shadows in the clouds, Those highlights wash everything out and there isn’t much detail. The blue is washed out a bit as well even though when I shot this it was much closer to what the finished image looked like….That’s the trick really. Making our image look dynamic and just as we shot it without going overboard with out edits.
  2. The Mount Mansfield range in the middle ground – There are nice highlights there but it’s the shadows that are somewhat washed out due to some haze and the fact that in the image it’s snowing on Mount Mansfield itself as I was shooting. It’s really not bad but it just needs some work to make the image more appealing.
  3. The band of trees and forest below the mountain – Again this area is flat and has no contrast. The clouds were casting some interesting shadows in this area and it just isn’t dynamic enough for me. I need to add some contrast and depth to this area as the foreground draws you in and leads you through the trees and to the mountain beyond.
  4. The foreground – This area here is ok but it just needs to be brightened up with some contrast added.  All of the grass sticking out of the snow gets washed out in all of that white so I also would like to see some contrast here as well.

The graduated filter and adjustment brush tools

So we have our camera raw file and I am feeling pretty good about it but I know that this image can be so much better. The main tools that did the heavy lifting on this image were the graduated filter tool and the adjustment brush tool. Both of these tools are great as you can target them to specific areas and use them multiple times within one image.

The graduated filter tool is very handy for corrections because unlike a traditional filter You can spin the tool 360 degrees making it more versatile for correcting landscapes. Manual filters and their holders are a bit more cumbersome in the field so I use them to get my images as close as I can then do more detailed corrections with the graduated density tool.

The other great thing about the tool is that you can use them multiple times in an image where this is not possible manually so it opens up some more opportunities in images that otherwise might not make the cut. I use them quite liberally because I can use one for a clarity adjustment in one area of the image but I can also use one to enhance color in the sky of a sunrise or sunset.

You can selectively use them for different edits just like you ca with the adjustment brush…..While the graduated density tool is used for more broad edits over bigger portions of the image you can use the adjustment brush for more targeted, precise adjustments in select areas to really build on your vision for the final, corrected image.

The adjustment brush work just like any other brush in Photoshop in that you can change its size and use it for specific adjustments in very localized parts of your image. You can also use it multiple times per image so say you want to make an exposure adjustment in one specific area you can just brush the area you want to change then move the appropriate sliders.

Using both tools on our image

Without getting into a very long conversation about my workflow I used three different graduated filters in the image to target the sky, the middle ground and the foreground. The image had a great deal of highlights to contend with and it also needed some contrast and haze adjustments.

Now these initial edits really improved my image however I performed four corrections with the adjustment brush to really make the image pop and take care of some of its flaws. One edit was made for some of the highlights in the clouds, another was used for the mountain to get rid of the haze and add in some contrast, Another was used on the middle ground forest and trees to add contrast and another was used on the foreground to bring out the contrast in the grasses and add some pop to them.

Essentially my workflow goes from a starting point which is a landscape preset I use on all of my images as an overall first step. I then hone this some more with some basic edits again to the overall image and then I dial in more concise edits with the graduated filter tool and the adjustment brush.

Some images require more and some less and it all depends on where I want to go with the final outcome. Editing is as subjective as wine tasting and how we best utilize the tools at out disposal. This image was quite flat to begin with and originally I made a really nice black and white out of it but I also felt the color version was quite nice as I love the blue color in Winter scenes. Lightroom has a lot of powerful tools including ones that may be overlooked and the graduated density tool and adjustment brush can really help to lift your images from boring to exciting.

A Vermont landscape off the beaten path in Groton State Forest and Lanesboro, Vermont

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The wondering photographer

Lanesboro, Vermont is a tiny speck of a town on a Vermont state map but it sits smack dab in the middle of some of the best foliage viewing the state has to offer.

Route 232 travels through the Groton State forest and on a side dirt road with a tiny sign for the town of Lanesboro you will come across this scene. It’s a blink and you’ll miss it location that’s between Groton, Marshfield and Plainfield.

During the Fall foliage season many photography spots can be overwhelmed with visitors and if you feel adventurous and want to get lost then scenes like this one can be found.

I had passed by this scene many times and on this occasion what really grabbed my eye was the wonderful color in the grasses in this open field along with the changing Autumn color in the background.

Tips for getting yourself lost on Vermont’s back roads

The road this location is near is an old railway bed that has since been converted into a dirt road and recreation path which connects to two very picturesque ponds and some of the more stunning foliage during  peak color of the Autumn season.

With more dirt roads than paved ones you can be assured that there will be a photography adventure around just about any corner in the state. With over 26 years of experience traversing the state’s roads I have come up with some tips for traveling and finding unique locations in Vermont.

  1. Bring a map – Seriously, Google Maps is good but what it won’t tell you is there are roads here that get closed or don’t allow certain types of vehicles or that its mud season. I would highly recommend having a set of paper maps as Vermont’s roads at times can be labeled differently on a map then they are on the road signs. Hell there are still places in Vermont that still use wooden road signs and those are often worn away or illegible. Have maps and know how to navigate, Don’t rely on Google Maps alone.
  2. Don’t be afraid to stray off a main road – Often times the side roads will offer up some really stunning imagery and while not noticeable at first will connect with main roads that can get you back into familiar territory. Most side roads in Vermont can be a little convoluted and can twist you around but most will make giant loops or connect to other roads to get you back onto a main road.
  3. Avoid mud season – This one is a no brainer but that period of time after winter ends but before spring officially starts can play havoc on vehicles. The mud gets deep and it likes to suck in cars or create ruts that are just impossible to navigate around. I have driven on many roads during this season and it just really isn’t worth it. Getting stuck in the middle of nowhere is a pretty unpleasant experience.
  4. Have a rugged vehicle – This one goes along with number three but have a tough vehicle if your going to get off the beaten path. A truck, A car with all wheel drive or four wheel drive, Anything that will not be hampered buy road conditions. I don’t have a truck but I do have awd and it will save your bacon on a muddy or washboard, rutted road.
  5. Not all landscapes will be sweeping vistas – Look for the smaller more intimate scenes as sometimes that grand Vermont landscape can be illusive depending on your location. The northern part of the state tends to be more mountainous with forests and trees tightly packed together and you have to climb above the treeline while the Southern sections are more like flat, rolling hill farmland landscapes. Forests will have ponds with tight forest cover and hard to access areas but you can also find abandoned rock quarries or farms. The smaller scenes will let you hone in on a specific element like my image above and the sky reflection in the small stream.
  6. Look for multiple places to shoot in or around one central location – By having one main shooting location and several side locations you can up your chances of coming home with a keeper. It can take a lot of drive time to reach some of the more scenic places in Vermont and you don’t want to waste your time while out. Have a plan a, b, c, and d around where your main location is so you can maximize your shooting potential.

Trusting your vision

I drive right by today’s image but as you progress as a photographer you learn to trust your eyes and your brain when it says “Stop!” That’s preciously what happened to me and I am glad that I listened to my inner artist otherwise I would have missed this shot.

This small stream here is right along the side of the road and I noticed first that it made a nice leading line into the image. The color on the field grasses was quite striking as well as the changing foliage in the background trees. Grasses like this are a common site here and their color changes throughout the foliage season. The reflection in the water provides a nice focal point to draw you in and to follow through the rest of the image. Here is my original image….

Vermont-Groton State Forest-Lanesboro-Autumn-landscape photography
Here is my original Camera Raw image file and as you can see the sky is a bit bland and the highlights on the grass wash out their detail.

My original shot was off a bit so this one would need some edits to make it really shine. Cropping to center the stream reflection, The highlights, The sky and coaxing some more detail out of the water reflection were all that was needed to really make this one shine. I used the HSL panel to make the colors really pop and add some drama to them.

Getting off the main roads and opening yourself up to the adventure really isn’t so bad is it?

Let the adventure be your guide

Vermont pretty much has it all in terms of what you can find for landscape imagery. All of it really is there if your willing to venture away from the crowds and really explore the state.

I do a great deal of planning when I shoot my landscapes but there as always room to roam the unique back roads that we have here. While we are sadly losing a lot of our rich farming traditions and the industrial production of years past, There still is a lot of vintage charm to find.

Get out there, Zig when you should zag and find your next great landscape image.

Bear Pond on Mount Mansfield in Stowe, Vermont in black and white

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Hiking to a remote Vermont location

I knew about the existence of Bear Pond for a number of years and finally I was able to visit this remote location.

The pond sits in the spine of the green Mountains on Mount Mansfield and requires a roughly four-hour hike from the base to reach. Bear Pond can be visited by a trail that is no longer maintained so the trek in to it is not for the faint of heart.

It’s a treacherous scramble over moss-covered boulders and down some steep slopes so a partner is essential.

While much more remote than Lake of the Clouds if you can find someone who has been there to use as a guide your efforts will be rewarded. You won’t meet another person there but you will certainly find enough photographic diversity to keep you busy while you are there.

How do we craft an image in one shot with multiple points of depth and focus?

The trick with this image is to make it sharp and in focus from front to back. I chose this particular composition because there was a lot of depth to it with multiple points of interest for the eyes and it really told a story of the location. It showed remoteness and unspoiled beauty but getting it all into sharp focus would be my challenge.

This image has a flow to it where you move from the foreground grass and dead trees to the middle ground logs and finally to the background and clouds in the sky.  First I needed to identify  my areas of concern and how best to get critical focus where I wanted it to be and my best course of action would be to make multiple exposures at various focus points within the image. This way I could choose the best, sharpest images and blend them together manually ensuring that the image is sharp from front to back.

My concerns about the image

  • The foreground – These alpine grasses and petrified trees make for a really interesting foreground but if I place a focus point there specifically it will throw a good portion of the image out of focus. I really wanted this area of the image to be there as I think it really leads you into the rest of the photograph. The textures and shapes are fantastic but I do not want to crop out this section.
  • The middle ground –This area is problematic as there are three different petrified trees all on different planes within the image. If I focus here the fore and middle ground will be sharp but the background will be soft. That is unacceptable to me  as I want sharpness throughout…..I felt anything less would be too distracting for the viewer.
  • The background – If we place our focus here then the fore and middle ground become much to soft and not what I want for my image. Due to the lack of clouds on my visit I want the ones that did happen to float by to be nice and sharp as well as being able to discern what is in the background. I want to see everything in a landscape and my eyes in particular like when things are nice and sharp.
  • Multiple depths in the image – When your dealing with multiple depths for instance where all of the different logs are sitting, It can be difficult to place where you want to focus in the image. You will have to make a compromise somewhere and usually that means something will not be sharp. The depth in the middle ground is my biggest problem here and focus blending will be my choice to overcome it.
  • Wind movement – While the water in the pond was very still creating a mirror reflection there was a very slight breeze blowing across the grass in the foreground. I had to wait for just the right moment for the grass to settle down in order to get my shots without any movement in the foreground. This would make blending the images manually in Photoshop much easier.
  • Interest in the sky – While not a huge concern on the day that I was at this pond their were clear blue skies so I had to make a choice to exclude a good deal of the sky from the composition. I was fortunate that while I was composing some clouds wandered by into the frame and I was able to add some interesting shapes from the sky into the shot. The clouds added shape and form to the reflections in the water and added some calm into the scene.

A three image exposure and focus blend

Generally when I shoot images of this type I make a series of test shots for my exposure values. Sometimes one exposure will work for the entire scene and other times I need to make separate exposures for the highlights and shadows.

Once I have my composition set I will make a series of exposures starting at my bottom focus point and working my way up through all of the middle focus points in a straight line. Generally this is enough to cover sharpness throughout the image but here and there you will always have to make adjustments.

In this case I made a total of three exposures with a focus point set in the foreground, One for the background and a last one for the middle of the pond and the three logs.

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My first exposure with no edits that was made for the foreground grasses and logs.
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My second exposure with no edits that I shot for focus in the middle ground. My focus point was right on the log in the middle of the pond which kept the entire middle portion of the image very sharp.
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The third image I shot in my series for exposure and for focus on the distant background. Notice the dark foreground but the lighter background.

As you can see in the progression of the images the first two are exactly the same with the exception of where I placed my focus point. These two images I used to blend together the fore and middle ground into one image and the last image was blended in for the focus and exposure in the background.

These images will always need some post processing work in order to blend everything into a smooth, coherent image. I try not to shoot my exposures so far apart that you have to push the processing to the extreme, I just want to process enough to make the lighting look natural and how it was when I shot the scene.

The final look of the image

Once I import all of the images into my computer I always first do the blending and then as my final step I will edit the combined image. I find that it’s easier to do it that way and match the exposure them it is to edit all of them separately and then combine them. In a series of three images like this one or if there are several images I will always break it up into two image chunks so I don’t get lost in the editing process. Most of the images will be so similar that it’s very easy to forget which one you are working on.

Here I took the fore and middle ground images and combined them and once I was happy with the blend I would add in the final background shot and blend that in as well. Especially in this particular shot there are s lot of elements so there was quite a bit of brushwork along with my usual gradient process to get everything looking just the way I wanted to. The final image after processing is what the scene was like and the lighting is accurate. While I don’t always do these exposure blends as at times it’s not necessary but it is a tool that we can utilize.  In  this image we have an example of how to get multiple depths and focus points into one harmonious photograph.

 

A Mount Mansfield reflection at the Lake of the Clouds in Stowe,Vermont

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Summit of Mount Mansfield and reflection with the shoreline at Lake of the clouds.

Hiking to a majestic Vermont photography location

 Lake Of The Clouds is a glacial tarn located on Mount Mansfield in the spine of the Green Mountains.

A glacial tarn is a glacial lake in a circular shape formed by glacial scouring or movement during the retreat of glacial ice.

This location was on my list to visit for many years and finally in 2013 I was able to make the hike and shoot one of Vermont’s most wonderful landscapes.

The hike to the “Chin” or summit of Mount Mansfield takes about three hours and for this image I started hiking up at 3 a.m. to catch the sunrise. I knew ultimately I would probably miss the sunrise by a few minutes and on the day I made this hike there just was no cloud cover whatsoever.

In the end I was ok with the conditions that I had to shoot under as being in the location without another soul around and taking in the silence and majesty of it all was reward enough for me.

Sunrise light and difficult exposures

The scene above on the day that I visited presented a number of challenges. As with any landscape shoot generally they are entirely dependent on the weather and this sunrise was no exception. I am not the fastest hiker when I have 20 plus pounds of camera gear on my back so I missed sunrise by a few minutes but with no cloud cover any color was non-existent from my vantage point. The difficulties in getting this image included…..

  1. The weather- As I mentioned while a little on the cool side for an early morning hike the clouds had dissipated overnight leaving me without much of anything in the sky to anchor the composition. This is the curse of a landscape photographer but not an insurmountable challenge by any means.
  2. The position of the Sun- The suns position was still very low in the sky and being that I was on Vermont’s highest peak meant that parts of the image would be in deep shadow and other parts would be in bright sun. My best course of action was to use neutral density filters, a polarizing filter and to shoot two images for blending later on. It was just really close to impossible to capture the range of light here in one image.
  3. The fragile landscape- The area here is surrounded with fragile and rare vegetation and as such I tread very lightly and try not to disturb the area. My compositions were limited but I knew I wanted a shot of the mountain summit reflecting in the water. In the end I chose this composition as it was a good compromise of foreground interest, giving the viewer a sense of place all while not including much of the sky and with no impact to the environment.
  4. The sky- No clouds meant that I would have to try and include as little of the sky into my composition as possible. I wanted enough to give some scale and to show the brilliant blue color but not so much that the image looked empty. There are times when you can creatively use a blue sky in an image but my personal preference is to not include it in this situation as it wouldn’t add anything to the final image.

How I shot my landscape for an exposure blended image

Exposure blending images can be very easy or very difficult depending on the composition. This situation warranted shooting two images but the difficulty came in combining them as trees and driftwood on the left side extended into the horizon line making a simple composition from the horizon impossible. Essentially I used an angled gradient, lots of brushwork and a lot of corrections in post to get the image right where I wanted it.

The first image here that I shot was made for the shadows. Because of the suns position the shadows were hard to bring up in a single exposure and as you can see the highlights are quite extreme. While not blown out they did allow me some wiggle room for my exposure blend……

Vermont-Mount Mansfield-Lake of the Clouds-Landscape photography-exposure blend

 

My second image was made to control the highlights which were on the bright side with no cloud cover. Imagine a line from the top left corner of the image to the bottom right corner of the image and this is how I made my blend….Blending the best parts of the highlights and shadows along that imaginary line.

This is one of the reasons why this blend was on the difficult side as generally I try to have a clear horizon to make the stitching easier. In this image because of the composition I could not use a straight up and down gradient. The gradient to blend the images would have to be at an angle and this meant some more complicated brushwork would be needed. The highlight image exposure was pretty accurate to the conditions…..

 

Vermont-Mount Mansfield-Lake of the Clouds-Landscape photography-exposure blend

You can really see the difference here in this image for the highlights and how much shadow there was in the left side compared to the right. With no easy way to get a single capture I had to shoot two and correct the lighting for both and try to match them as close as possible to the original scene. Both of these files are original, straight out of camera files that did need a lot of post processing. It really is amazing that camera raw files have such a tremendous amount of information that can be pushed to create a striking image.

Work with what you are given

After all is said and done you often times need to just work with whatever conditions present themselves.

Knowing that I would not be back to this location for a long time I made the best choices I could to come home with something exceptional.

With a three a.m. start time and a three hour hike up coming away with no images was not an option.

Words cannot describe what it feels like to be in this location early in the morning with no people and not much in the way of sounds. It’s one of those Vermont locations that can be a crap shoot in terms of weather but the experience of being there and seeing the peak of Mount Mansfield rising above the water just cannot be missed.

 

Devon-A model portrait shoot

A close up portrait image of a blond haired female posing against a pink background

Breaking out from the usual

Over a year ago when I decided to get more into alternative process photography more I had come up with a personal project to break away from doing strictly landscape photography. While I am deeply passionate about landscape work I wanted to get much more involved with shooting portraits. I wanted more of a personal connection with my work and to just simply meet new people and develop some professional contacts.

I settled on salt printing as the first alternative process to get into for its ease of use, adaptability to more modern techniques and how beautiful of a process it is for portrait images. My portrait project is going to be a collection of portraits done specifically to make salt prints but also to push myself to get better at something other than landscapes.

A bad day for photography

Well wouldn’t you know it but on the day of our shoot the weather took a bit of a turn from clear skies to cold and windy. The sunset turned out pretty decent towards the end of the shoot but the cold and windy conditions complicated what we could do.  The windy conditions meant that Devon’s hair was at times blowing all over the place and in the end some images did not make the cut because of that. The wind also made it difficult to stand out in the open for any length of time but I think we were creative with the spots we did use to escape the weather for a few moments to shoot.

We were shooting on the Burlington waterfront which is an open park area right on the shores of Lake Champlain. As often the case in the winter time here the weather can change from minute to minute and this day was no exception. I had been watching the weather all day as our shoot was in the afternoon and the morning was clear and calm. The afternoon however took a turn and the wind kicked up with the temperature dropping a bit because of the wind. We did manage to use the location to our advantage shooting in stairwells, benches, out in the open and undercover of some shrubbery. With portraits they always speak for themselves……

A black and white close up portrait image of a female model a closeup color portrait of a female model a close up portrait image of a blonde haired female model in color a black and white close up portrait of a female model with a fur hood over head

Close up color image of a blond haired female model with glasses

A Portrait of a young Child- An Alternative Process Salt Print

An alternative process salt print of a young female

Alternative process Photography therapy

A little over a year ago I decided to take my Photography work in a slightly different direction. I love doing digital work but sometimes it becomes impersonal and more about moving sliders around during editing then about the work itself. Salt printing is a way for me to just slow down a little bit and really take a hands on approach with my work.

It’s like therapy in a way because it takes me out of my multi tasking mindset as a chef in my day job and puts me into a more creative one as a photographer. Embracing flaws is an important part of any alternative process photography where as digital work doesn’t have any where near the amount of flaws. It lets you go beyond the surface and see what’s below.

The print

The image above is from a digital one that I made of my daughter awhile back. While the original file is a little on the dark side it was easily fixed and the final print came out beautifully. I have been experimenting with exposure times trying to find something consistent with this process but they seem to be all over the place. Im working on doing a test strip exposure sheet in the next few weeks to better be able to find where true black is but that is a whole other post!

judging exposure times is difficult with this process but gets better with experience. Every image is slightly different and this one being on the darker side was a challenge. You really want to expose long enough that the darks are dark and do not wash out in the development process but not so long that the print goes over the edge into over exposed territory.

Knowing that most of my exposure times with my light setup are around ten minutes I settled on 13 minutes for this image. This one rode that fine line between too little and too much exposure….It’s close to being a bit too dark but during the washing procedure I knew the print would lighten a little. Overall I think maybe a minute less would have been sufficient but I was pleased regardless of how this print came out.

The take away

With salt printing I always so that you need to embrace all of it’s flaws. There are so many points along the way were you can screw up your image but it’s also satisfying to pull your print out of the wash when you get everything just right. This process is really a labor of love but like wet plate work it has such a unique look and feel. Being able to keep these vintage process’s alive and pass them on is immensely satisfying!

How to mount a photo print for framing or sale in eight easy steps

A salt print of a young female ready for mounting and framing

As photographers mounting and framing our own prints is the culmination of all of our hard efforts at image capture. Today we will be discussing the best, easiest way yo mount your images to mat board in a professional manner. In this way you can either package the print in a plastic sleeve for safekeeping and sale or prep the print for framing.

The image above is a salt print that I produced from a digital file and the one I will be using to mount the print to mat board. I use a special paper for alt process printing that doesn’t warp or crinkle when dried so I won’t have any issues when I go to attach the print to the mat board. By doing this process ourselves we can have more of a physical connection to our work as well ad delivering a hand made product to our customers.

A list of materials for a premium mounted print

When we mount our prints we want to make sure that we use the best mounting materials that we can find. There is no sense in shooting and editing to craft the perfect image and then mounting on cheap mat boards or using non archival materials. While more expensive the better quality materials will last longer and provide many years of viewing pleasure to your customers. You really want to reassure your buyers that your prints will stand the test of time.

The following list contains everything that I use to mount my prints. This list is not the be all, end all of what you could use it’s simply what works best for me in how I want my work to presented to clients.

  • A print. For the salt prints I make myself The paper I use is Bergger Cot 320 8×10 sheets. It is made for this type of alt process work and dries flat without warping and I would highly recommend that. For regular printing I get all of my prints at mpix.com. I have used them for years, Would highly recommend them and they ship prints flat and well protected.
  • Mat and backer board. With these I do not go cheap. I always use archival mats and backer boards. Its not worth it to go cheap and the presentation of your work will suffer. Spend the money and get archival and acid free materials. I use redimat.com for this as they have all the supplies you would want and sell convenient kits that include the mat, backer board, hinging tape and a plastic sleeve for the print. Expensive but worth it because you wont have to track down all of that individually. I highly recommend them.
  • Hinging tape. This is what you will use to attach the mat to the backer board and the print to the mat. My preference again is for acid free, archival tape that is self adhesive. You can also use hinging tape where you have to apply water to make it sticky which is what I used in this example but the self adhesive is much easier to work with
  • Plastic sleeve. Your options are limitless here so I won’t get into what you should or shouldn’t use. Again I use the redimat kits and they come with clear sleeves. Clearbags.com, dickblick.com and bagsunlimited.com are a few places that I have bought them from in the past.
  • Something to sign with. Again this is just personal choice but I am now using a calligraphy pen with black ink to sign both the print and mat. I personally just like the look of the ink strokes but you could use pencil or whatever you like. Ansel Adams signed all of his prints in pencil.
  • Scissors, small brush. It really does not matter what scissors you just something sharp. The small brush is only if you are using hinging tape that needs water to make the adhesive active. The brush makes this step much easier.
  • Dust blower. While not entirely necessary I use one before I seal the print in it’s sleeve to make sure there is no stray bits of dust on the print or in the sleeve.

The eight steps

Now the fun part can begin. After you utilize these eight simple steps all of your hard work will come to fruition in the final packaging of your image.

An example of mat board with alignment markings to mount a photo print

place the mat against a light source like a window and align the print behind the mat opening. In this way you will be able to see the edges of the mat opening and where to perfectly align the print with the opening. With a pencil make light guide marks at the edges of the print on the corners. You will use these guides later to align the print for attachment to the mat. In the image above you can see my pencil marks where the print will attach.

2. An example of mat and backer board placed together and ready for hinging tape

lay the mat and backer board down on a flat surface and align the two half’s together making the seam as tight as possible. There are always variations in size with these and there will be times where the sizing is slightly off. These size imperfections are nothing to worry about, Just align the two half’s as close as you can. Your really talking a variation of 1/4 of an inch or less….the backer board is only there to give the print strength in an acid free environment.

3. An example of mat and backer board that have a hinge and ready to mount a photo print

Using the hinging tape attach the mat and backer board together. You can do this in a few different ways, one giant piece, Two pieces like I did here in the example image or three pieces. I have always done three but here I just wanted to see what two would look like. Apply a thin amount of water to the tape if your using the non self adhesive kind with a brush and carefully hinge the two pieces together. You want enough water for the pieces to be tacky but not so wet that they slide around. In the picture above the tape is still slightly wet.

4. Example of an artist signature in calligraphy style on a photo print

Sign your print. Again this will be personal preference as to what you use to do this with. I have been using a calligraphy pen lately simply because I really like the look of the ink strokes, I think it gives the print a vintage, Polished feel to it.

5. A photo print on a hinged mat board with hinging tape strips and water ready for mounting

Place your print in the guidelines that you made in the previous steps and cut four pieces of hinging tape. You can also tear the pieces of tape but I chose cutting…i just have never noticed a difference in tearing it versus cutting it. Here in this example image I have everything ready…..water and brush, print and mat, And my four pieces of hinging tape.

6. A signed photo print mounted to mat board with a t hinge

Attach the print to the mat with the strips of hinging tape using a t pattern….one strip in a horizontal position, half on the print and half on the mat and another piece in the vertical position covering the half from the horizontal piece on the mat only. In the example image above you can see the t pattern made by the strips of hinging tape.

7. A finished alternative process salt print mounted and signed to mat and backer board

Fold the pieces of your now hinged mat together and lay the print facing up on your work space. You can now sign the mat in the lower right corner or wherever you wish.

8.

A signed and mounted alternative process salt print inside of a plastic sleeve

The final step is to place the mounted print into a protective plastic sleeve. It is hard to see in this example but there is a sleeve! Now you can get sleeves with the adhesive strip on the bag flap or on the bag itself. I always go with the strip on the bag because when it’s on the flap there is the potential of harming the print or the mat.

The final product

So now we have a final piece of artwork that was packaged and presented in eight simple steps. It is daunting at first to add in the steps to mount your work but your buyers will notice the craftsmanship and materials.

Female portrait made from an iPhone image- An Alternative Process Salt Print

An Alternative Process Salt Print of a female

Challenging yourself for learning and growth

So here we have a salt print that I made recently of a friend of mine from a small phone shot that she took of herself. I have been trying for awhile to get her to do a portrait session with me but this was the closest that I could get to that so far. People can be reluctant at times to have photos made of them and in this case I wanted her to see how good that she looks in a print.

I also like to make prints from phone images wether they are big or on the small side. Beautiful prints like this prove that it isn’t the gear you have that makes for excellent images but the creative potential that is put into the image. The image itself was one of her more popular ones and it really resonated with her friends and family that saw it. I thought that it would be an excellent candidate for a salt print.

The original image

Phone image of a red haired female in winter with a fur hooded winter coat

You can see here in this original capture that I took from her Facebook page there are some interesting things going on. The eyes here are compelling and what I thought would really make an interesting salt print but the image has a few flaws which for sure made making a print of it a challenge. The eyes tell the whole story and for me thats the best part about working with alternative process photography.

Now the hard part was that this was a compressed Facebook image so already we are challenged because it’s impossible to edit a jpeg really without degrading the file but what saves this image is that I print all of my salt prints at 5×7. Because it wasn’t a large print it’s harder to detect any flaws in the image due to viewing distance. Even up close you really cannot tell where the image came from.

First I did a basic crop of the image. While I did like the hand placement on her hood it didn’t add much to the face which was really where I wanted the focus. This side of the image was cropped out as well as the left side with the blown out highlights in the too corner, Highlights like that really do not show up well at all in a salt print so I made the crop in a 5×7 size and came up with a pleasing image to make s digital negative on transparency sheets with.

I did not do much editing, Just some very basic tweaks of exposure, clarity, contrast and dehazing. The file didn’t need much pushing as there was nice contrast between the lights and darks. The dehazing brought out some of her natural freckles which otherwise were lost in the face highlights. The tight crop and light edits made for a really beautiful salt print which is an excellent way to present portraits.

The salt print

The print itself really didn’t pose any problems for me as I have really perfected my process over the past year with it. The only issue I had with the print was the exposure time. The darks in a salt print get washed out a bit in the developing process so you have to overdevelop just a bit and make the darks really dark so the final print isn’t too light.

Here I thought while the end print was fantastic it needed maybe two more minutes under the lamp to darken the blacks more. The final print was a bit light but still perfectly acceptable. The final exposure time was ten minutes which in the end wasn’t quite enough time. These vintage image processes for me are all about embracing their flaws along with a more personal connection to the work.

The Industrial World- An iPhone image

Wood chip energy production facility

A Photographer set adrift

As I continue with tweaking this site and getting it ready to go live I have hit another snag….The desktop that I use for all of my image work has finally seen the end of it’s working days. I am currently waiting on one part to complete the build of my new machine but in the meantime I cannot do any image editing with the exception of my iPhone.

Working with an iPhone has it’s advantages and disadvantages for sure but I try to embrace all of the quirks of shooting with a phone and enjoy the spontaneity of it. If I had my choice I would shoot with my big camera but my phone lets me jump from composition to composition much quicker and I can work just a little bit faster.

Being in the moment

I think the best part of only using my phone for photography is that I can really be in the moment and listen to my creative instincts. It’s easy to miss images when you have preconceived ideas about what you want to shoot and the everyday of your life often can get overlooked. I don’t like to trap myself by shooting only one specific subject in a day.

I like to let the ideas and creativity be more free flowing and fluid rather than static. Usually when you are doing some mundane task you are not paying attention from moment to moment but if you keep an open mind you can see images even in a wood power generating plant scrap wood pile.

The Industrial Plant

The McNeil generating station started operation in 1984 and uses wood to produce electricity for the city of Burlington, Vermont. Coal was the predominate energy source up until that time with natural gas not as widely available as it is today in the area and with oil prices rising wood was a viable alternative. Today of course we have many more environmentally friendly options but at the time this was a better alternative to coal.

On the day that I made this image I was out and about doing some chores and I had a bit of scrap pallet wood to bring down to the plant. They do allow residents to bring in scrap wood and wood debris for burning at the plant and the resulting pile can get quite large. I really noticed the color on the plant buildings with the flat light from the clouds overhead but the pile of wood right under the view of the plant got my creative eye going.

A quick composition

As the drop off spot for wood scraps can be quite busy I had to move quickly when it came time to shoot this image. As I was unloading my wood into the scrap pile I noticed how the wood framed the bottom of the image with the power station sitting slightly above. I thought here we have an interesting composition with the cloudy sky above that really gives you a sense of place and that tells a story.

I was really happy with how this image came out and editing on my phone with the apps I have lets me tweak colors, etc. with the difficult lighting conditions of an overcast day. Sometimes with this flat light it can mess with the colors in your images giving them an almost grey appearance. With an open mind however I made use of a decent composition and did not let an image opportunity pass me by.

Table setting at a Diner- An iPhone image

Utensils-diner-fork-knife-spoon-restaurant

The funeral and the Diner

I am traveling for a few days to New York to attend my Grandmothers funeral and am without my main camera. I still have my iPhone on me and that allows me to process and upload here and there when I can. Traveling with a young child is daunting as I am sure any parent can attest too and the photographer in me is always looking for images no matter the situation.

As we left Vermont and came into New York a hungry four year old means stop at the closest Diner and grab a bite to eat! We did not know the area well so a quick google search led us to Kerries Northway Diner in Queensbury, New York. I am always dubious of star recommendations from the internet but four year olds do not like to be hungry and waiting.

I have been on a kick lately of trying to find beauty in the mundane and challenging myself to look at scenes I might otherwise pass by to unlock whatever images they may contain. I want to shed any judgements of a particular scene and really dig down to it’s essence. Simplifying my work and coaxing images out of something that many would find ugly is most certainly one way to find daily inspiration.

The Diner and training your eye to see

I was skeptical for sure but always up for adventure I wanted to approach the Diner the way my daughter would….No judgements or any pre-conceived ideas about what may be inside. Changing my mindset here looking for images served me well because I was pleasantly surprised by what we found.

Photography for me is a lot of ups and downs. One minute I am in love with the process and the next discouraged with the work I am producing. I think it’s how we get through these low points that define us As Photographers and at the same time Even during a low point I am still always training my eyes to see images.

The Diner was filled with locals, decor with lots of old school charm and friendly staff. The place had a lot of positive vibes, no pretense, A raw atmosphere for the average joe. I could have spent a whole day in there with my main camera but unfortunately time was not on my side in this regard.

The final image and simplicity

When we were ordering the waitress set down our table settings and I slide one of them over in front of me. Looking at the shapes of the napkin and silverware against the backdrop of the vintage table I knew that I had my image. The color and texture of the table was most striking to me and I processed the image to give it a vintage feel.

It’s funny how the simplest of things can stare you in the face you just have to be open to the opportunity. While this was not a complicated image it’s simple nature tells a story all by itself with nothing much needed to be added. Out of all the things that I could have shot this table is what drew me in. I could have overlooked it but if your not constantly shooting, training your eyes or pushing yourself and your work then that to me is how your inspiration dies.