Thursday, July 31, 2014

Image of the Month: August 2014

What is more important than camera equipment, printer resolution or ink type?  According to Ansel Adams, "visualization is the single most important factor in photography".  To put it simply, photography is the art of "seeing" and visualization is the ability to anticipate a finished image before making the exposure.  It's the act of looking at a scene and imagining what the image will look like in its final format and all of the steps the image will need to go through to produce the final image.  This awareness of how a scene will translate the emotional equivalent experienced by the image maker to viewer causes you to slow down and think through the entire process of producing a final image.  

As a photographer I also have to consider what post-processing techniques I plan to use that will enhance the image to authentically translate my original intent. What is the intended emotional reaction I want to elicit from the viewer?  I strongly believe that a photographer is an artist and not just a crazed techie with a machine gun, rapid rate shutter button  resulting in hundreds of images, hoping to find one that is viable.  That is to say, there is true intent in the visualization process where I work through my approach in both visualization and post-processing steps.  There is actually a considerable amount of time just observing, seeing, thinking, composing, and adjusting before actually pressing the shutter.  It's a slow, meticulous process that reaps huge benefits.  Even if you have a camera with auto focus, auto exposure and such, you can still take quality time to actually think about what it is you are trying to convey with your final image.

So with that in mind, my tool selection in post-processing is a critical element for me when I visualize exactly how I want the final image to appear.  Because I take a creative approach to the original exposure, there is often a discrepancy between the original and final image.  The two images may not be exactly identical but if given the flow of creativity, the viewer would be able to see the similarity and discover the evolution of the image along the journey from original to final image translation.

Below is the original image exposure.  It was a cold, cloudy day off the California coastline walking path.  My intent was to demonstrate the vivid beauty of spring's floral landscape, despite the dreary weather, and at the same time make it more ethereal and less realistic.  I also considered that the asymmetry was not working, so I would have to take that into account in post-production. To create my final vision I knew I would be working with saturation levels, highlighting, dodging, and softening both composition and edges with blur techniques.

Original Image: Before Processing
© 2014, Joanne Scherf

As you can now see, the final image below demonstrates the final vision.  I made the floral landscape pop with vibrant color, while at the same time using highlights judiciously to lead the viewer's eye into the center of the composition in both horizontal and vertical movement. Another change was to go from an asymmetrical to symmetrical composition which I think fills the frame much better as the road alongside each edge now hints at the traveler's dilemma; which path to take?

Final Image: Post-Processing
© 2014, Joanne Scherf

The advantage of visualization is that it allows one to experiment with different creative options, running the gamut from composition, lighting, camera placement, movement and editing enhancements.  This is what takes your images to the next level and sets it apart from the volumes of realistic reportage of the average shutterbug. 

I recently read an article by Ron Bigelow on this very topic and I'm paraphrasing his key points below:

  • Emotion: Which emotional reaction do I want the image to elicit from a viewer
  • Appearance of the Final ImageKnowing the desired reaction to the image allows me to visualize how the final image will look
  • Materials:  What materials will produce the desired effect? 
  • Editing:  What post-production techniques should be considered and used?
  • Optimal Method of Shooting:  What are the composition, framing, lighting, angle, and camera placement options?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Double Vision: Balancing Personal and Commercial Work

As a full time professional artist one is confronted with the challenge of producing an income stream.  This means reconciling what appears to be polar opposites; maintaining a balance between one's art (personal work) and commercial work that you do for hire to "pay the bills".  Commercial photography has typically been viewed by many as "selling out".  As I see it however, being a professional artist is more of a delicate balance between art and commerce; a way to continually hone one's craft.

This is a continuous struggle for all artists that became more evident as I recently finished reading Ansel Adams: An Autobiography.  The interesting fact is that I first read this book 12 years ago, but decided to re-read it after a recent trip to Yosemite National Park where the ghost of Ansel Adams was evident everywhere.  My first read basically ended with "that's a nice book" and put it in my collection for possible future reference.  Fast forward to the present whereupon my second reading elicited a reaction that was more of an "a ha" experience where I got much more out of it.  Basically I was struck by a repetitive anthem of not only Ansel's dilemma of making a living strictly with his photography, but also that of other well known photographers.

© Ansel Adams

  •  Ansel Adams:  Personal - landscape; Commercial - portraiture
  • Edward Weston:  Personal - landscape/still life; Commercial - portraiture
  • Imogene Cunningham:  Personal - botanical/still life; Commercial - portraiture
  • Dorthea Lange:  Personal - documentary; Commercial - portraiture

© Imogene Cunningham

Do you see the trend here?  For artists that were ultimately regarded and made famous for their personal work, they all had an income stream provided by their commercial work.  In this case I also found it an interesting fact that they all did portraiture as their chosen source for paying the bills.  So rather than viewing your commercial work as "selling out" it's important to see the value it provides.  It is a balancing act to exist in both worlds, but at the same time imperative for the success of your photography profession; one cannot sustain themselves in either the commercial aspect or personal work alone.  A combination is required for a steady income stream (commercial) that ultimately feeds the soul (personal). 

So looking at both sides of the coin, both commercial and personal venues has specific benefits that should not be overlooked.  I figure it it's good enough for the legendary Ansel, Edward, Imogene and Dorthea, it's worth taking a look at what each provides. 


  • more opportunities for collaboration with other creatives (e.g., art directors) and business associates
  • professional and business development faster than limited scope of isolated practice of personal work 
  • can influence one's personal work
  • provides income stream to continue personal work


  • allows constant movement in fresh direction
  • feeds the soul
  • pushes the boundaries of one's creative muscle
  • can influence one's commercial work
  • opportunity to experiment and develop style and technique
  • no requirements or constraints; no client to please
  • freedom to fail

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Image of the Month: July 2014

This image of the month is quite special to me for several reasons.  It exemplifies my philosophy of creating images that go beyond being "just pretty" in the attempt to convey an emotional connection from the viewer, or as my brand pronounces....images that transcend.  In this case, I captured the image literally within safe distance from the potent and mighty force of the water's energy with no zoom or telescopic lens, just me and my iPhone.  I've done considerable hiking and encountered a variety of waterfalls, but Vernal Falls in Yosemite is probably the most powerful and mesmerizing cascade that has left quite an impression on me, so much so that I shot a brief video for my personal remembrance and Zen moments when needed.

© 2014, Joanne Scherf

Access to the base and ultimately top of the falls is done via the Mist Trail.  Aptly named, a section of the trail hangs on the vertical precipice as one climbs over 600 natural granite steps embedded in the mountain side.  A soft, fine mist from the falls softly envelopes hikers on this section of the trail, to a point of being completely drenched, then ultimately dried upon conquering the summit of the falls origin.   The other reason this image is special is my luck at being present for the appearance of the rainbow at the base, created by the appropriate mixture of sunlight and crystal elements of the mist as it rises from the valley floor.  More succinctly, my stillness of mind and being present to actually see what presented itself directly before me.  As if that weren't enough, other images in this collection portray a horizontal view of the fall's base with a double rainbow.  A sign of good luck; one can only hope.

One last note worth mentioning about this image.  I'll write at length about this theory later but for now let me briefly introduce, Miksang.  Miksang means "good eye" in Tibetan; a form of contemplative photography that expresses the experience of seeing by the photographer.  In this case my goal is to create images that carries within them my heart, mind, and soul of my experience as I capture a moment in time. It's about engaging in the present moment, requiring stillness of mind, patience, and the desire to really see what is there, using a camera to express my visual perception exactly as I see it.  My trademark approach goes well beyond being just a pretty picture, it'a all about conveying an experience where one EXPLORES the potential, ENGAGES your soul, and enables one to ESCAPE reality (registered TM).

I'm considering perhaps creating inspirational posters of similar Yosemite (and other travel sites).  Your thoughts are most welcome on this.  Interested?  Do people still purchase posters and frame them.  I digress, but surely something to think about.  Also thinking about creating an eBook on this collection for those more inclined to technology....more news and updates to follow.