There used to be a philosophy discouraging photographers from shooting into the sun.
Some types of older equipment (without decent flare control systems) tended not to produce appealing photos when looking toward the sun, while many films didn’t have adequate dynamic range for capturing the contrast range from direct sun to inky shadows.
I’ve found that by using a very wide lens, with a tiny aperture setting, I can get some interesting and satisfactory results by looking directly into midday sun.
Years ago, I’d accomplished this with my Leica and a 21mm Super Angulon on black & white negative film (Kodak Panatomic-X ISO 32 was a good choice).
In more recent times, I use my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera fitted with a Zeiss 12mm Tuoit, set at its smallest aperture (f22), which leads to the starburst effect as result of diffraction from the very small polygon opening.
I work in RAW, and then digitally manipulate the files in post processing using Lightroom. Specifically, I uniformly lighten the shadow areas to partially compensate for the extremely contrasty setting.
It helps to partially block the sun, as in this image near Forge Village in Westford, Massachusetts.
June 10, 2016 was a perfect Spring day. Cool, clear, and sunny.
I made a project of following the Housatonic Railroad’s line up its namesake valley from Canaan, Connecticut toward Pittsfield.
Over the years I’d explored parts of this line, but never put all the pieces together.
So, with the northward freight on its way, and fellow photographer Paul Goewey in the navigator’s seat, I arrived at Housatonic in time to make a few photographs.
Often, even in nearly ideal lighting conditions, it is necessary to make contrast adjustments to digital files.
You never adjusted contrast with color slides, why is this now necessary?
With slides, what you saw was what you got. The only means of adjusting the slide was through the degree of exposure or in filtration (to adjust color etc). The means was imperfect, yet as photographers we grew to accept the results and refine our technique.
Such was never the case with black & white negatives. The negative was only one step in making the photograph, and in the course of printing, contrast adjustment was part of the process.
A digital RAW file is kin to a black & white negative in that both the RAW and the negative are a work in progress; or can be viewed as a step towards an end result.
With these photos, I made some simple changes in post-processing using Lightroom.
Specifically, on the telephoto view I made the following adjustments by manipulating the slider controls (the numbers indicate the amount of change as indicated by the slider) I brought down the highlights (-21) and lightened the shadows (+36), while making nominal adjustments to clarity and saturation sliders.
All my changes were made globally (to the entire file).
These adjustments were intended to improve presentation on the computer screen.
That is on my screen. I can’t anticipate how they will look on your screen.
Significantly, while I make these changes for presentation, I never alter my original files. Just like back in the day when after making prints I’d file the negatives in archival sleeves. I now store the un-modified RAW files on multiple hard drives. You never know when you might need to return to the original photograph.
To make the most of this scene I needed to make some global (overall) and localized contrast adjustments in Lightroom. This was necessary to compensate for the contrast characteristics inherent to the digital file produced by my FujiFilm X-T1.
I worked with the RAW file which has substantially more data than the in-camera JPG (which is compressed and thus offers very little information above what is immediately visible to the eye).
On 20 April 2016, I made this image of a Swiss BLS Cargo (Bern Lötschberg Simplon) electric leading a northward freight on DB’s (German Railways) heavily traveled double-track line north of Freiburg, Germany.
Although clear and sunny, the direction of the light was directly behind the locomotive, which is anything but ideal.
To make the most of this awkward lighting situation, I opted to feature the flowering tree that was well-lit by the angle of the sun, and work with the locomotive in silhouette, while taking a low angle to minimize distracting elements on the far side of the line.
In post processing, I’ve lightened the shadow areas of the RAW file to restore detail and improve the overall contrast to the locomotive.
Below are both the unimproved RAW file (only scaled for presentation) and my modified file.
Below are two versions of an image I made of a Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn narrow-gauge train engaging the Abt rack system on its steep ascent from Göschenen to Andermatt.
These were made with my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera on my visit to the Alps with Stephen Hirsch, Gerry Conmy and Denis McCabe in mid April 2016.
The first is the unadjusted (except for scaling) Jpg produced in camera. Notice that the sky is washed out and lacking in detail.
The second image is a Jpg that I produced from the camera RAW file by making nominal contrast and saturation adjustments in Lightroom.
The aim of the second image was to hold the sky and highlight detail that was lost by the camera Jpg. This demonstrates the ability of the RAW file to retain greater detail than the Jpg.
Instead of using an external graduated neutral density filter, as I had with some previous images displayed on Tracking the Light, I used the equivalent graduated neutral density filter in the Lightroom program.
Why not use the external filter in this situation? Two reasons:
The external filter is cumbersome and takes time to set up.
I wanted to improve the appearance of the sky without darkening the mountains. Using the electronic filter gives me the ability to selectively control highlights and shadows in the graduated area selected by the filter, while the external graduated filter would have covered the top of the image and darkened the mountains as well as the sky.
Both are valuable tools for improving a photograph.
In mid-July 1984, I heard the distinctive roar of EMD 20-cylinder engines working an eastward train on the west slope of Washngton Hill. My friends and I were positioned at the summit of the Boston & Albany route, as marked by a sign.
We often spent Sunday afternoons here. Rather than work the more conventional location on the south (west) side of the tracks, I opted to cross the mainline and feature the summit sign.
As the freight came into view, I was delighted to see that it was led by a set of Conrail’s former Erie Lackawanna SD45-2s! While these locomotives were more commonly assigned to helper duties at Cresson, Pennsylvania on the former PRR, during the Summer of 1984, all 13 of the monsters worked the Boston & Albany.
I have a number of photos of these machines, both on the B&A and PRR routes. However this image of engine 6666 never made my cut. Back lighting and hazy afternoon light had resulted in a difficult negative. My preferred processing techniques of the period didn’t aid the end result, and at the time I dismissed the photograph as ‘unsuitable’.
The other day I rediscovered this unprinted view and decided to make a project of it. Now, 30 years later, I felt it was worth the effort. I scanned the negative and after about 30 minutes of manipulation using Adobe Photoshop, I produced a satisfactory image.
I made a variety of small and subtle changes by locally adjusting contrast and sharpness. These adjustments would have been difficult and time consuming to implement using conventional printing techniques, but are relatively painless to make digitally. I’m really pretty happy with the end result.