This is the last in my series on the triumvirate of style, voice and craft. These are key elements to growing your photography. I am going to analyze the above photo for the craft needed, but first, a bit about craft.
Craft is not last because it is least important. In fact, it is critical. But photographic craft can get tangled up in issues of gear, best technique for this or that, arguments about the best use of craft and so forth. All of these then distract from the really important part of craft, helping you achieve your goals as a photographer. Helping any photographer better communicate through style and voice.
Craft is basically about everything you control while taking a picture and optimizing it in the computer – what decisions you make about craft are important and affect any end results. If you "make no decision", for example, using the totally automatic setting on a DSLR turning it into a point-and-shoot, you are making an important decision of letting the camera control your image. That isn't necessarily a bad thing. Cameras do a pretty darned good job with things like auto-exposure and auto-focus.
But the more you understand about craft, the better you can control what is happening in your photo. Without craft, it can be challenging to communicate with your voice and style will then be arbitrary and often hard to keep consistent.
The problem with craft today is that cameras are so good in doing their job that many photographers simply leave that work to the gear. If you do that, you will get a photo and probably a good image. However, this can also lull you into forgetting that ultimately you are the one making the decisions about the photography. It is easy to then get sloppy and miss opportunities to get the best from your gear and your images.
Taking craft for granted can then prevent you from taking the pictures you really want to take. The more you learn about the nuances of craft (and I don't think a good photographer ever stops learning this), the better your choices will be to get an image that truly communicates how you feel about your subject, that strongly connects you and your subject in an image that you feel good about.
The shot seen above is an image taken at dawn on Cape Cod above the Marconi Beach. This area sits on a high bluff of sand overlooking the ocean. I wanted to show off something of the land and the ecosystem of bluff, even if just a little, along with the space of ocean and the sunrise clouds (that is part of my voice about how I see the world). So right away, I am making craft choices about how to frame the scene.
But first, I had to choose a focal length. I wanted to show an expanse of the clouds as well as an expanse of water. So I turned to my favorite focal length, a 24mm equivalent (to 35mm film or 35mm-full-frame). I chose my Panasonic LX-100 because it gives me that 24mm equivalent right away. This focal length (12mm on Micro Four Thirds, 16mm on APS-C) gives a distinctive look that I really like (a style choice) that gives that spacious look to the water. That is because using this wide at this distance changes perspective and gives a deep feeling to the scene (craft, style and voice).
I wanted depth of field from foreground to background, but I deliberately did not choose f/16. I didn't need it. With that focal length at this distance to the foreground, everything is going to be in focus from probably f/8 and smaller. I often choose f/8 for situations like this (which I did here) for several craft reasons, but the main one is that I gain a faster shutter speed. That faster shutter speed cuts down problems I might have with the wind blowing the grasses or any vibration of the camera during exposure (which can be a problem even on a tripod). If I don't need a small f-stop, I don't use it.
Exposure was a big challenge. I could see the sunlit, very bright clouds and the dark grasses just fine. Unfortunately, cameras don't see like we do and don't have the ability to see such a range of tonality. I exposed so that the bright sky would be as bright as possible without losing detail. That meant that the grass would be as bright as possible, too. The result is the following:
This is interesting. That photo is an out-and-out lie. That is not what that scene looked like, at all! As Andreas Feininger once said long ago before computers, "The uncontrolled photo is a lie." And this shows exactly that. You don't need Photoshop to lie about a subject, and in fact, sometimes you need something like Photoshop to bring an image around to the truth.
So the next part of craft is working on the image in the computer. I work largely in Lightroom, and that is what I did here. The work I did was to balance out the tonalities so that the image actually reflected what was really there. That meant a bit of work on the dark areas and protecting the bright areas from losing detail. This is a lot like Ansel Adams used to do. He would expose to get the best detail for the darkroom so that he could better express how he saw a scene when he processed it. I exposed to get the best detail for the tonal range and the camera's capabilities so that the image would process well.
A simple photo, but a lot of choices involved in making the image, starting with deciding to get up for the sunrise!