It was with great reluctance that I switched from film to digital capture. And I admit I still miss laying transparencies out on the light table and looking over the variety of images just received from the lab. That being said, the advantages of the new professional digital cameras offer significant flexibility and convenience I never had with film. One of the main reasons for the switch was that digital capture puts total control from capture to print back in the hands of the photographer. In a digital workflow, the image never leaves my control, so any failings of the print are mine. Some of the other reasons are instant feedback on exposure and the ability to adjust ISO speed for individual images. Plus, with the newer cameras, I can use very high ISOs that were not practical with film.
When I make a photograph, I attempt to capture the essence of what attracted me to the scene. I want to show the beauty and grandeur of wildlife and both grand in intimate landscapes. I want to engage the viewer and motivate him or her to appreciate the natural world and help preserve it. Other photographers who have had a great influence on my work include Elliot Porter, Stephen Johnson, John Shaw, and especially William Neill. However, the list is incomplete if I don’t include my good friends Joe and Mary Ann McDonald.
Ansel Adams once said "a good photograph is knowing where to stand."; Composing the image is without doubt the hardest, and most important, part of the process and I work hard at making an image that will convey to the viewer what I felt in the field. I love to photograph landscapes both the "grand" landscape and close-ups of microcosms of the environment. Landscape photography provides the time for contemplation and fine-tuning the composition. Photographing wildlife on the other hand is much different, especially birds, decisions on composition often have to be made is seconds - a matter of instinct and reaction rather than thoughtful contemplation. Although I don't try to make "statements" with my images, I do try to compose images that will invoke an emotional response in the viewer.
I use Canon professional digital SLR cameras. Since digital SLRs are really computers with lenses, you have many options in the way you capture an image to a digital file. I use the RAW file format to capture the greatest amount of image detail, much more than with JPEG. I normally use manual exposure with spot metering. This gives me the most control over how the scene is captured and insures detail in both highlights and shadows.
I rarely use filters for special effects but I do often use a polarizer which will darken the sky and make clouds standout more as well as remove reflections and saturate the colors in foliage. I virtually always use a tripod or other steadying device such as a beanbag.
After I return from the field, I copy the image files to my computer. Image files are edited and prepared for printing using Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop CS5. Although I do very little manipulation to the images, I will adjust color balance, saturation, and contrast. Sometimes I may remove small distractions such as a twig that I just couldn’t avoid in the field. In short, the prints that you see are very much what I saw and felt in the field.
I save 16-bit master files of the images that I expect to use for fine art prints. Any adjustments are saved as adjustment layers so that I can return to the master and fine-tune it later if I wish. When ready to make a print, I resize the image to the desired print size and add an appropriate amount of sharpening.
The print is the final product of the process so it deserves the best possible equipment and technique to produce the best possible prints. In the last several years digital printing technology has advanced to the point that digital prints are as beautiful and archival as the best color prints made in a traditional darkroom. The realization of this achievement depends on four factors: the printer itself; the inks; the paper; and a color calibrated system. After examining the myriad choices available I chose the Canon imagePROGRAF ipf6100 with pigmented inks. I use a small selection of archival fine art papers to produce the prints. This is not a desktop printer; in fact it's as big as the desk and takes up a big chunk of floor space and uses large rolls of paper as well as normal sized sheets. Consumer type desktop printers normally use dye-based inks which fade in just a few years.. My printer choice was made based on many factors, not the least of which are Canon's reputation and The Wilhelm Imaging Research estimates for print life. Henry Wilhelm estimates the life when displayed framed and under glass to be over 100 years, and over 200 years if kept in dark storage. Wilhelm's estimates for traditional color photographic prints are 75 to 100 years depending on the actual material used. The resulting print quality of the Canon professional printers matches photographic prints made in a traditional wet darkroom. As a result, I have no hesitation offering these prints as fine art prints for any venue.
Although I frequently experiment with different types of equipment, my camera bag currently contains Canon cameras and lenses. Specifically I use the 21-megapixel Canon 1Ds Mark III and the 16-megapixel 1D Mark IV. I have a wide variety of Canon lenses from wide-angle to super-telephoto plus two of the magnificent Canon perspective control (Tilt/Shift) lenses. I have several tripods that I use depending on the lens and the situation - all made by Gitzo.
I use a Macintosh Quad-core 3.2GHz Mac Pro with 8 gigabytes of RAM running Mac OS X (10.6 Snow Leopard). I have dual monitors in a fully calibrated workflow from screen to print so that the colors I see on the monitor match the colors in the print.
The color calibration system consists of software files (called ICC profiles) that enable different types of computer input and output devices (such as monitors and printers) to show matching colors. The files used in my studio are produced by me using software and colorimeters from Xrite's Eye-One XT package. Each paper and ink combination must have it’s own software profile to insure the colors from the screen match the print. This is an on going, time consuming process, which is required for accurate color rendition and faithful reproduction of my intended image.
You don't take a photograph, you make it.
- Ansel Adams
I don't think there's any artist of any value who doesn't doubt what they're doing.
- Francis Ford Coppola
Every other artist begins with a blank canvas, a piece of paper the photographer begins with the finished product.
- Edward Steichen