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Postcard from New York: This Glorious Day

by Alison Perry

Last spring I started a photo series at the Nyack high school athletic field. I was inspired by three things: the large open space, which brought to mind those pristine transcendent vistas painted by the Hudson River School Painters here and further north. Second, I’m drawn to the suburban landscape because I grew up as it moved in, the time seemed right to wax nostalgic about high school and afternoons spent on the athletic field. The third reason is the color blue and the color green. Green grass and trees under blue skies brings me back to summers spent laying on freshly manicured lawns bordered by trimmed hedges under the dappled light of shade trees.

Because of that, my visual inclination is toward the play of sunlight on landscape, but consistent with the great outdoors is that people move about, moving objects enter and exit the picture frame, clouds constantly sift or dissipate, weather and seasons change and light waxes and wanes. I can’t control the changing scene, I can only go with the flow. I accept it and work with it,  but now one aspect I do have more control over is the final result.

Having photographed with the old acetate films, I remember the biggest challenge was the lack of exposure latitude, especially shooting in bright sunlight or any situation that involved deep shadows and extreme highlights. What happened to the mid tone values? Another significant problem was color control. For those of us who used to rely on custom print shops to make our photographs look good, all too often our pictures came back too dark, too light, too muddy, too contrasty, too red, too blue, too yellow and so on. Back in the day, not having control over the end product was an ongoing source of irritation. If one did their own printing, these problems could be controlled, but if your choice of print house didn’t share your vision or overrode your instructions, forgetaboutit!

Because digital cameras operate in much the same way film did, Adobe and other software developers created digital editing software, which replicates custom print shops. For a very reasonable price I now have a vast assortment of controls at my fingertips including the ability to manipulate my images to achieve my personal vision. I can reestablish the loss of separation between the highlights and shadows, i.e., those really important mid tones. I can also fine tune the overall coolness or warmth of color to my liking. This brings the excitement back to photography!

To achieve a more unified and enhanced color composition using Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop I’ve provided several quick measures anyone can do to achieve a more vibrant outdoor landscape, (but it might be worth mentioning here, graduated filters are extremely useful and are manufactured in 1, 2 or 3 stops values, to tone down the highlights, bringing them closer in line with what the eye sees, but the camera doesn’t, because you don’t expose for the sky, you expose for the mid to dark tones in a scene.) Using the tackle gear image as my example, the first step I took was to reset the original tonal values for black/dark, white/highlights and middle gray/mid tone value using the levels adjustment panel and the alt key. This punched up the image while assuring I now have true white and true black values. Using the selective color panel I then removed a small percentage of black from the overall image,  because black can be rather pervasive. From there I readjusted the color balance. In this instance I slightly shifted to cool blue tones for the sake of a purer blue sky. I then removed the effects of smog just above the tree line simply by decreasing the percentage of yellow, black and magenta in the neutral tones, which also removed those tints from the clouds, leaving them the most perfect white. I then made adjustments to the shadows and highlights, first to decrease the highlight to shadow ratio, which brought up the mid tones, then I played with the mid tone slider to accurately place them relative to the overall scene. I then increased and decreased the S/L/H: saturation-luminosity -hue panels in the individual colors red, green, blue, cyan, magenta and yellow until I achieved intensities more to my liking. I experimented mostly with cyan and yellow, adding more of each to the grass and trees, then blue to punch up the sky, then red to draw attention to the tackle gear and track field. Finally, I removed a bit more black from the reds and greens, which made the tackle gear, track and green field more vibrant and lush.

nullMuch of American landscape photography is commercially driven, but I’m after stimuli that holds personal meaning. Although my natural and  subliminal inclination is sunlight on landscape, my intellectual inclination is to associate nature with man’s hand upon the land, however good, bad or indifferent it may be. I appreciate painters and photographers of light, landscape and the American Scene, including the Hudson River School, Edward Hopper, Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, Mitch Epstein, Walker Evans and others who call attention to our social fabric and our relationship with the land. There is often a transcendent dimension to their work, an honest, plain spoken, banal dispassion, which may just be the best way to broach the topic.

See also: Postcard From New York on NyackNewsAndViews

Alison Perry owns a Nyack-based photography business that combines architecture, landscape and formal space and strives to make personal art about time and place. Imagery is for sale through her website. She received BFA in Studio Art from SUNY Purchase and a graduate degree in Library Science from Long Island University. Previously, she worked in journalistic and editorial photography for several different national/regional newspapers in NYC, PA and CA. See examples of her work at alisonperry.photoshelter.com/index

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