Making of Two Photographs

January 13, 2009 ·

Michael Reichmann

When people write with feedback onThe Video Journallocation segments the one request that I receive more than any other is for my commentary on the"how and why"of the making of my photographs. I do this now as much as possible, but sometimes there are interesting images and situations that don’t find their way intoThe Journal. This page therefore contains two recent (October, 2002) photographs and a description of their making. I hope that you find this to be of interest.

The Snake River Overlook

We had beenshootinginGrand Teton National Parkfor the day, and as sunset approached the light was becoming quite beautiful. I askedMiles Hecker, who teaches photography at a college in Casper, Wyoming, and who was our guide that day in Grand Teton, where the best spot for a sunset shoot would be. His immediate answer was theSnake River Overlook.

© Ansel Adams

This spot was immortalized in Ansel Adams’ justly famous photograph‚ reproduced above. If you have never seen either an original print or a large high-quality reproduction, try and do so. I find it to be one of Adams’ most eloquent works.

I had never seen the overlook in person so an opportunity to shoot there was appealing. We arrived about 40 minutes before sunset and set ourselves up on the parapet. In the more than a half century since Adams took his shot the trees have grown considerably and so it’s now impossible to exactly duplicate his angle of view (assuming one wanted to). Nevertheless there were about a dozen other people there to watch the sun set behind the mountains. Of those three or four others appeared to be serious photographers.

Snake River Overlook

Hasselblad Xpan with 90mm lens on Provia 100F

We were at first disappointed, because though the light and clouds had been quite dramatic during the late afternoon, as sunset approached the clouds over the mountains became heavy and the light gray, and it looked like our luck had run out. Nevertheless I set up myXpanwith a 90mm lens, took a few frames, and then we just stood around chatting. I’ve learned long ago, in the words of the immortal Yogi Bera, that "It ain’t over till it’s over."

And indeed it wasn’t. As we stood there watching the light dim and the mountain and cloud vista become grayer and grayer the sun must have dropped between a couple of cloud layers, because for a few seconds it illuminated the sky between two peaks with a brilliant orange glow. I was able to take a couple of frames before it started to fade.

Unfortunately the limitations of web reproduction can’t show the delicacy of the light and the tremendous detail and depth to the shadow that can be seen in a large print. It is a challenging image to print though because of the huge dynamic range.

An interesting side note concerns a photographer that was standing just 20 feet from us. He had what appeared to be a brand new panoramicFuji GX617camera mounted on a tripod. At first I couldn’t tell what kind of camera it was because he kept it covered with a cloth almost all the time. I was a bit surprised by this because it wasn’t raining and there was no dust blowing.

Every now and then he would take the cloth off, peer though the viewfinder, and then quickly cover it up again. I never saw him actually take a shot. As the few moments of great light occurred I glanced over and saw him chatting with his wife. I never did see him take a photograph, but his shiny new camera was nicely protected from the elements, and I’m sure that made him happy.

Kennedy Pine Forest

As much as I enjoy heading out to photograph fall colour, the reality is that I rarely achieve anything outstanding. Pretty colours are fine, but it’s not often that I can do anything special with them. Also, this year’s colours (2002) weren’t very good in the Northeast.

On a Saturday morning in late October I met up withPeter Wood, a highly accomplished bird photographer. The purpose of our getting together was to film an interview with him for a future issue ofThe Video Journal. We met at one of his favourite location, a lovely pine forest about 45 minutes north of Toronto. (For those of you who live in the area, it is located at the very top of Kennedy Road).

Kennedy Pine Forest

Canon D60 with 24mm f/3.5 T/S Lens @ ISO 100

Once our filming was over I wandered through the forest, enchanted by the light and shapes around me. What I realized was that here was the antithesis of fall colour‚ not a leaf to be seen. But, the pine needles on the forest floor certainly saidFall, and the warm light through the distant trees did as well.

I used the Canon 28mm Tilt / Shift lens because photographing a stand of pine trees from below is like photographing a group of tall buildings. Tilt the camera upwards to show more than the trunks and they’ll look like they are falling over. Though this can be corrected somewhat after the fact in Photoshop, it never looks as good as doing it when shooting through the use of a rising front.

Which is what I did. Almost a full rise on the lens allowed a perspective on the tree tops that looks more as if I was half-way up the height of the trees, rather than standing on the ground looking upwards.

What appeals to me about this photograph are the contrasts between the three horizontal layers‚ the forest floor, the bright band of distant light and the tree-top needles‚ and the strong verticality and dark tones of the tree trunks. I regard this as myanti-fall-colourpicture.

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Michael Reichmann is the founder of the Luminous Landscape. Michael passed away in May 2016. Since its inception in 1999 LuLa has become the world's largest site devoted to the art, craft, and technology of photography. Each month more than one million people from every country on the globe visit LuLa.

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