Three Dimensions of Photography

Today's lesson... Processing Matters!
Some might say that there's no point in stating the obvious, but I disagree. Like the proverbial elephant in the room, the obvious is often too cryptic to be seen.  

With the school year over and my need to be anywhere at any time now gone, I am free to sleep, shoot and wax poetic once again. While it might take some time for me to hit my stride, I am looking forward to a summer of photography and deep thoughts ;-) 
So, while you were all sleeping off a Saturday night binge at the bar, I decided to slip out of bed and do a morning shoot. The sun was climbing fast above the horizon, and time was not on my side. I grabbed my gear, jumped in the truck and scurried off to a familiar spot. Thick morning fog juxtaposed with a pastoral landscape was the only inspiration I needed. It was a quick shoot, and by 7:00 a.m. the sky was bright and burning out... time to go. In the end, I managed to squeeze off about twenty images, not much, but it felt good to be in the "zone" again. 

I've taken to a new strategy whenever I'm in the field. I'll call it my three-dimensional approach to photography. While I have typically focused on two of the three dimensions, I am now keenly award that a third dimension impacts every image I make. 
Leventhal's Three Dimensions of Photography:
  • With every shoot I am meticulous about composition (Dimension #1). I will often stare at a landscape in search of a pattern, leading lines, and a place for my eyes to follow. I consider the rule of thirds, an anchor for the image, and how negative space can emphasize a point of focus.
  • I am obsessed with exposure (Dimension #2). I consider the differences between my brightest whites and darkest blacks and try to find the balance between the extremes. I will often purposefully shoot a high-key image with blown whites that accentuate a subject or underexpose to create a mood. To some, exposure theory is a bore, to me it is the key element that defines excellence in photography. Simply put... know how to see the light.
  • I think about the post process (Dimension #3) before I take the the shot. Prior to building a composition or calculating an exposure, I ask myself... "black and white or color?" I approach each setting with questions that post-processing will resolve... Is this image about the subject, the pattern, or the light? Nearly ten years after my move from film to silicon I have discovered that the art in photography is not only made at the point of capture, but is refined and defined by how the image is presented. 
These three pictures were all produced within fifteen minutes of each other. The center image of a loan tree emerging from the morning mist reflects the character of the light as the sun broke the horizon. It is representative of the moment and I did minimal work on the raw file in order to illustrate what I saw. Before capturing the top picture of the rolling hills I considered how cross-processing would impact the image. I knew that if I pushed the saturation, contrast, and sharpness in this picture, color and pattern would define the landscape. For the final picture in this post, I decided to bracket my exposure around a single composition. Because the scene exceded my camera's ability to register the brightest whites and darkest blacks, I shot with post-processing in mind. By sandwiching three images into one and applying HDR/tone-mapped processing, I was able to produce a single picture that illustrates the wide tonal range captured by our eyes. 
In this post-film era where we no longer need to send a chrome away to be interpreted by a darkroom tech, photographers have the opportunity to control the whole process. Our vision is no-longer limited to the input... much like darkroom masters of the past, we are now in control of the output... welcome to the third dimension. 
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