Soft Proofing - Behind the Scenes

September 03, 2016  •  Leave a Comment


DXT16348Lyngvig Fyr Hvide Sande, Denmark



I've missed traveling this summer, although I am not complaining - vacation is vacation. During the heat spell, I've had time to read and enjoy The Print (Ansel Adams) and Group f.64  (Mary Street Alinder). I also spent time refining my craft of photographic printing by focusing on soft proofing and editing for printing (rather than computer display).  One of the things I picked up from The Print was how much selective dodging (lightening) and burning (darkening) Ansel Adams used as he was making a darkroom print. Back in the day of the darkroom, we did this with our hands or by using paper templates and wands. The idea was to hold back or add more of the light falling from the enlarger onto the light sensitive photo paper. Ansel was, as we know, a stickler for both detail and precision in achieving his photographic visualization. He was also a founding member of the West Coast photographers group known as "Group f.64" as well as a proponent of  "Straight Photography," a photographic ideology diametrically opposite to that of East Coast proponents of pictorialism, led by Alfred Stieglitz

I have been fortunate in recent years to travel with my camera (and my always entertaining editor). This year, it led me to revisit several images made in Denmark, including a sunrise image made in 2014. While it was a great experience that early morning to see the light gradually get brighter until the sun arrived at the horizon, I had never really been pleased with my edited image. The best I could do then was ok, but it didn't seem to reflect what I saw or felt that morning. As a result, it stayed unpublished and unprinted during the last two years. The photograph was featured in last week's post about soft proofing, but there is more to the story behind this image and how it came to be.  

We were staying in a small cottage in Hvide Sande, Denmark, just north of the Lyngving Fyr (lighthouse). I could see its bright beam cast each evening when the sun finally did disappear into the sea (the Danish nights are astonishingly short in the summer). Naturally, I was eager to photograph the lighthouse before sunrise.  I am not sure why I was not bracketing that morning or why I neglected to bring the graduated neutral density filters with me.  It might have been the fog of confusion that comes with the few hours between sunset at 11:00pm and getting up a few hours later for a 4:30am sunrise.  Those details are lost to time. This is the unedited image I made that morning with a Nikon D90.


Lighthouse-53Unedited imagemade with Nikon D90


Why I was shooting in manual mode also remains a mystery (1/10 second, f/11, ISO 200). I often use a low ISO when I have the luxury of using a tripod, which I had that morning, and f/11 is a sweet spot for contrast, but why manual? I have no idea but I suspect it had something to do with freezing motion during the previous evening's sunset. I had my lens at 35mm focal length equivalent which captured what I saw and felt. 


Lighthouse-14edited image for printing


What accounts for the difference in the image two years later? I used the Lightroom Soft Proofing feature to edit the photo for printing. This revealed areas that needed attention before committing ink to paper.  I selectively dodged and burned a few areas, darkening the foreground dune grass a little while retaining the lightness of the sandy path in the foreground. I removed a few pesky signs that distracted me like random squirrels. I added a slight dehaze adjustment (not available in 2014) to the adjustment brush that I also used to to darken the sky, before I lightly dodged (lightened) the lighthouse. The end result was an increase in contrast and an image that is more likely to hold your attention (look, squirrel!). All of this came about because I remembered what it felt and looked like as the sun slowly rose to meet the horizon that morning and because i wanted to make that moment come alive as a 4x9 printed image on a greeting card.

I am sure that the process would have fascinated Ansel Adams, especially being able to make prints without a darkroom.

Interested on learning more about this process? Click here. 


See ya next week,



Deeper Geeky Dive:

Pictorialism vs Straight Photography


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