Given that we live in a world that is so intensely photographed, we have to think about photography as interpretive. And that is why often go back to this observation from the legendary photographer, Ansel Adams.
“The negative is comparable to the composer’s score and the print to its performance. Each performance differs in subtle ways.”
Of all his books, the one that I love and appreciate the most: The Print. It explains how he manipulated images in the darkroom through the painstaking process of dodging and burning. For many, the darkroom existed to conform to an artistic vision. And that is why I feel less encumbered when it comes to using Photoshop. This freedom gives one a lot of room for interpretation. I often think about that interpretation, even before I press the button and capture the photos.
When I am on location, I normally walk around, take in the scene, and it is after a while, I engage the camera. In my case, that means unpacking and setting up the tripod, getting the right composition, and then slowly starting to see light through various filters. Since I keep my viewfinder and screen in monochrome, I tend to focus on textures and composition, worrying little about contrast and colors. It is also why I prefer the Leica cameras as their sensors create digital negatives that need very little effort for me to manipulate.
Except when I visited Death Valley!
And that should explain, why I was struggling with images in the Death Valley. The harsh light and the general conditions made it difficult for me to think about photos that made sense to me. Nevertheless, towards the end of my second day in the Valley, I visited the Mesquite Flat Dunes. These are probably one of the most photographed locations in the Death Valley National Park, so it was difficult to find something unique about this location.
So I knew going in, that my photography would be interpretive. What if I could make a photo or two that was devoid of harsh and bright colors. Instead, I saw a nearly monochromatic palette, with color playing the role salt and pepper play on a perfectly cooked omelet. This is one such image — you see the final version (after) and the version out of the camera with minor adjustments just as fixing optics related issues and minor tweaks to highlights in the Camera Raw.
My typical edit takes five to six layers. In this case, I had to use twice as many layers, mostly for desaturating the original which was quite color-rich. I use curves for my image edits, though occasionally I will use selective color to give a color some boost or for dampening it down.
ISO 50. Focal length: 170mm. Aperture: f/11. Shutter speed: 3 seconds. Made with Leica SL2