Behind the scenes

This is something that bothered me in the early stages of my work so I think it actually might be useful for others to see that this isn't some magic trick happening but the result of very conscious choices and a thought process behind it. The big question was and always is how do I get from what the camera records and that looks really bland to something that satisfies me as a viewer (and more importantly as the artist)? And how do I make that happen both out in the field and back home when editing?

To illustrate how I do things I've selected a few pictures I really like, show you both the picture I came home with and also the finished product. Along the way I will talk about what prompted me to take the picture in the first place, what I saw on location and then what I did to it at home. I won't go into details of what percentage of brightness or contrast I have changed in picture while processing it – this is more about the thought process and options I consider along the way.


1.Mesquite Dunes in Death Valley

My objective when visiting the dunes was to explore the minimalist properties of the landscape and find compositions with very few lines and shapes. The upward leading line that formed an arrow with the second line – or a triangle – is what made me take the picture. Before I even entered the area I knew that most pictures won't be good straight out of camera, the light was changing constantly (early morning) and there was a strong probability that a black&white conversion would happen to the majority of pictures.

The brightness on the crest of the dune was strong enough for me to envision a simple dark picture with the triangle and leading lines being the main and almost only focal point in the finished picture.

2. Mission San Miguel

I find the missions in California to be very rewarding destinations for photography, the architecture is very unique for the area and the historic buildings are full of beautiful details. The hallways around the courtyards are cool places (literally cool in the summer heat) to walk through and there are things to photograph everywhere you look. The lighting conditions are very challenging though, it changes from very bright to very dark within just a few steps. You can see on the original how overexposed the view through the columns is and how underexposed the doorway on the right came out. One way to address that is to use HDR – by doing a number of exposures with different levels of brightness and then combining them in processing into one picture.

I chose a different path, I knew I wanted this to be black&white with a subdued moody ambiance so getting the light right wasn't my primary concern. My idea was to create something that almost looks like a black hole at the end of the hallway, I also wanted the floor and the ceiling to be as dark as and the wall and columns to be as bright as possible.

Leading lines with a hint of repetition are the theme of this image.

3. Downtown San Jose

This was a spontaneous decision on site to try and make this scene work. The area is very close to San Jose airport and planes are very low at this point already. So trying to get a building together with a plane seemed to be a good idea. As it turns out the flight path is rather wide even so close to the runway, incoming planes would be up to 100 ft left or right of this building so I had no idea what a good location was to wait for the next plane. The one in the picture was reasonably close so I took the picture. As you can see it was a hasty shot, not enough zoom, another building in the frame and the horizon is off too. The decision to keep the picture only happened later at home after I saw that with just a few adjustments it turned out to be a strong one. Cropped to a square and with the blackened sky the futuristic architecture becomes a lot more prominent and the plane that is not quite aligned with the building provides an alternative focal point in the picture.

This is only a small glimpse into what could be done with a picture, there are endless options what could be done too – keeping an open mind, following my curiosity and staying in an attitude of playfulness is what helps me the most.