Feature Photograph

Ayutthaya Flowers

This weeks feature photograph was captured in Ayutthaya.  The photograph is significant because it’s a decent example of what I spent a few hours describing to a client during a workshop which was focused on landscapes.  More, its significant because this is a good example of the almost perfect type of light that lends a 3D effect to an ideal landscape.  Combine the ideal elements of a landscape which includes in this case a foreground, mid-ground, and background.. illuminate it with almost perfect natural light.. and you are rewarded with colors and depth rarely seen in a natural setting.

Can you almost imagine yourself bracing the left side of your body against the brick wall to the left, taking the picture, and then walking down the path to the right of the tree and back between the brick structures?  A good landscape allows you to ‘picture’ yourself being there, feel the texture of the rough bricks, hear the leaves crunch underfoot, and hear the wind rustle through the trees.  A good landscape invokes more than the visual, it also invokes memories of the sounds, smells, temperature, and even the humidity in the air.

Of course a large 20x24 inch print on textured cotton art weave makes all this a lot more easy to imagine than a 410x600 pixel image on a website, but much of the process of creating art is about envisioning a concept or image.. and then making it comes to life through the artistic process.

During workshops I rarely take my own pictures.  I’m there to help the client take pictures and I can’t do that if I’m involved with my own camera.  In this case I was with a client who had a good understanding of the mechanics of photography so we spent a few hours at this one specific location discussing the images possible from this one small area.  We’d discuss what we could see and how to use the camera to capture the scene.

During the afternoon we spent together at this location we noted the perfect natural light, the way the light was shining through the leaves in a way that made them almost translucent and saturating the natural colors of the scene.  Every once in a while I’d glance over at a new perspective I hadn’t seen at this location in the almost 50 previous visits.  I noted the possibility of using the brick stand as a foreground, the tree with the purple flowers as a mid-ground, and the path that led through the frame to the background.  And I couldn’t help but notice that perfect light.  I really wanted to pick up my own camera and capture this scene, but I was giving my attention to my client and he was taking the images.  Some workers came out to rake some leaves and he went over to take pictures of them so I quickly picked up my camera, fed in the settings from experience and without metering, and snapped off 2-3 images of the above scene.

Unusually busy landscape of Ayutthaya

Meanwhile I was watching his technique while he captured the ladies working in the image above.  I noted his bracing techniques, how he positioned himself against the direction of the light, how close/far he was from the subjects for the desired composition, and all of a sudden I realized we had the makings of another good landscape.  I stepped around the far corner of the brick stand, turned to the left, and using the brick stand once more as a foreground (as well as the lady in blue), the other ladies and the tree as a mid-ground, and the tall brick structures as the background I had everything I needed but the perfect light! 

The first picture above is 100% natural, the light and colors, the only processing was about ¼ of a stop less exposure.  The light in the second picture being 90 degrees different from the first was flat.  There was no natural 3D effect, no natural bright colors, and no shadows lending interesting dimension.  Still, the compositional elements were present so I released the shutter and made the capture.


The picture above was the result.  The first picture was 100% natural light.  The second picture was light processed through post-processing, and the third picture (above) was how the second picture looked before being processed.  Why is all this significant?  Because even though we desire and go to extremes to be on location during the best natural light, we don’t always get it.  When we’re traveling and sightseeing we’re on location because that’s when the tour bus stopped and let us out, or because the wife wanted to eat lunch before walking the site and not after.  We’re on location for purposes other than predicting when the best light will be present and this is probably true for vast majority of the images captured while on vacation.  Unless we’re going out to specifically capture a scene, good light is a matter of luck and not design.

This means that if we want to present our travel images in the best possible way, then we’ll need to learn at least minimal post-processing skills.  If we expose the image correctly which we learn during the outing portion of a workshop, then we’ll have lots of latitude to post-process the image during the computer/software portion of the workshop.  Can you see why I always tell my clients that with digital photography we’ll normally spend at least half our workshop on the computer and post-processing?  Actually, the post processing part can be a lot of fun.  You can do it weeks, months, or even years later.  As your skills ground you can do it over and get better results.  As software improves you have more options and capabilities.  Sometimes for fun I’ll process ten year old RAW files with the latest software and compare my results from ten years ago.  RAW processors just keep getting better and better.. and I suppose my post-processing skills do as well.  So will yours!