One percent of great photographs are simple luck, being at the right place and time with a camera... the other 99% are the result of good decisions. One could even argue that a large number of the one percenters made the right decision to be in that place at that time and carry their camera. Good decisions start with pre-visualization.Pre-Visualization is seeing an image in your mind, what does that really mean? That means thinking about an image all the way through and in your mind, planning a location, time of day, what camera to bring, what lenses to have on hand, tripod, lights, cables, subject etc., and seeing that finished photograph in your mind. Louis Pasteur was credited with the thought that “chance favors the prepared mind.” I believe that when you can plan a photograph completely in your mind, you will be best prepared to make that image, to the best of your ability with the available equipment.
I really enjoy being able to photograph landscape images in the dark. One of my favorite subjects is the Milky Way. I live in Arizona and head into the desert to one of my favorite cactus gardens each time we get closer to the new moon (the phase of the moon when it is in conjunction with the sun and invisible from earth, or shortly thereafter when it appears as a slender crescent) since during these phases of the moon is when the Milky Way is most visible.
We have so many choices of camera formats (full frame, APS-C sensor, micro four thirds), camera bodies (DSLR, mirrorless, medium format, point and shoot), lenses (super wide angle, wide angle, mid-range, prime, zooms, telephotos, super-teles), drones, smartphones, and more.
I love having choices and being able to capture in color, or B&W, or infrared. I like deciding between single shot, multiple image panoramas, and blended images similar to HDR, extending the dynamic range and various techniques of noise reduction due to the ability to use low ISO or make use of super high sensitivity. Allow me take you through my thought process as I dissect one of my recent desert images revealing my photographic workflow.
I knew of an area with a few good-looking saguaro cacti and a small mountain to set my scene and accompany the Milky Way. When I arrived at the location this one night, the sliver of the moon was still above the horizon. It was gently illuminating the desert floor and one of the cacti, but it created quite a problem for me. The moon was causing lens flare in my image, diminishing the contrast of the image. In trouble shooting the problem, I had to figure a way to control exposure and eliminate the flare. I thought to hide the moon behind one of the cacti might be the solution. It seemed to be the correct decision to make. In my first attempt I tried a horizontal composition with a 14mm f/2.8 lens. I found the distortion created by the wide-angle lens to be unacceptable.
Normally I would simply move the camera position back a little, however this caused the moon to be revealed, once again causing flare. A few seconds of thinking of the possibilities, I chose to change the camera orientation from horizontal to vertical and create a 6 frame panorama that would represent the scene, but with minimal distortion. I made the 6 captures, rotating the camera between each exposure, overlapping each image by 30% creating a 120-degree field of view.
I was pleased with the results, as I was able to capture the Milky Way with the moon still up, providing light to capture the detail of the desert, yet hidden behind the cactus preventing lens flare and reduced contrast.
That is how I pre-visualize when creating an image, now I’d like to take you through the important steps of my post-processing workflow. In post-processing there is one key step to success, and that is having your monitor color calibrated.
In order to get the colors in your image to reproduce correctly, for them to look accurate on your monitor and ultimately for the print you make to look great, you should calibrate your monitor on a regular bases. This is important if you are printing it yourself or sending the file to a lab to have the prints made. I like the Datacolor SpyderX. This tool is the finest and fastest calibration tool that I know of. Simply attach the monitor calibration tool to a USB port and run the program once a month to keep your monitor consistent with what you are printing. The SpyderX Elite or Pro model are both very easy to use. The trick is calibrating on a regular basis, as monitors tend to shift over time.
With my monitor calibrated, I begin my processing of the files. I enjoy doing most of my work in Lightroom. I open a catalog of my files of the desert shoot and select the 6 images that I captured and stitch them together using Photo>Photomerge>Panoramas.
Lightroom will assemble the panorama and then I make my global adjustments for white balance, color and density. Next I make local corrections such as dodging and burning to adjust the elements so I can control what my viewers will see and how their eyes will travel around my image.
Once I have my file edits complete, I send the file to the printer and I’m ready to frame and hang the image! Because my monitor is calibrated using the Datacolor SpyderX Elite, the print looks exactly as the file does on my monitor!
If you’re looking for a complete color managed workflow from capture – to edit – to print, I recommend the Datacolor SpyderX Studio tool suite. From pre-visualization to post-production, your workflow should be seamless and well planned to produce outstanding images.