Crafting an Image: Start to Finish (Part 1 of 16)

I recently returned from a memorable photography trip to Moab where I almost got hypothermia shooting at night in the middle of winter! Bu...

I recently returned from a memorable photography trip to Moab where I almost got hypothermia shooting at night in the middle of winter! But it was worth it (I hope!).

When I got back and thawed out a little, I decided it was time to do a blog post I've had in mind for quite a while. It's the kind of blog post I would have really liked when I first started learning about photography and making prints.

Whenever you see a beautifully finished print, have you ever thought to yourself, How does one actually go about making an image like this? In this in-depth series of posts, I hope to answer that question (at least from my perspective.) :)

Crafting an Image: Start to Finish

Ansel Adam's famously said, "You don't take a photograph, you make it."

I've fully embraced Ansel's point of view, and in this 16 or so part post I am attempting to document how I go about "making" an image: from the planning stage, to shooting, to editing, and finally printing (and all the hair-pulling in between!). If you'd rather read about specific topics that interest you more, feel free to jump ahead.

  • 1) Intro and Planning the Image (this post)
  • 3) Merging 10 shots into 1: Utilizing Raw Materials
  • 4) Starting to Photo Edit: Beginning Masking
  • 5) Photo Editing: Philosophy Meets Photoshop
  • 6) Finding Perfect Color: Color Curves
  • 7) Advanced Masking: Luminosity Masks
  • 8) Primary Edits: Foreground
  • 9) Primary Edits: Sky
  • 10) Zone System: What Constitutes a Good Original?
  • 11) Lab Color Editing: Pulling Color Apart
  • 12) More Local Tweaks: Spot Fixes and Saturation
  • 13) Finalizing: Final Crop and Finishing Touches (and starting to hate the image)
  • 14) More Edits: Pushing the Limits
  • 15) The Perfect Image: AKA Questioning Myself to No End ...
  • 16) The Final Print: It is Finished (or when I no longer hate the image)

When/Where planning (Delicate Arch)

Despite the fact that I've been doing photography in Moab for over twelve years, I've somehow managed to never shoot  Delicate Arch. I've always had an aversion to doing anything that other photographers have done -- always wanting to find my own creativity and outlet. Images like this public domain one below make me cringe -- I'd seriously rather pull out my own teeth than look at one more (but I'm a masochist, so here goes.) :)

Seriously, how many other images are there that look just like this? Thousands, millions? I imagine millions of these zero creativity images marching around the world with the soul-numbing purpose of drowning out all the good photography out there that will never be seen by anyone, but I digress …

Back in the real world--clients want pictures of well-known locations, so I've finally given in and decided to try and get a unique Delicate Arch image. I actually shot at Delicate Arch many years ago on 5x7 film, but instead of pointing the camera at the arch, I actually shot in the exact opposite direction (the rebel in me) and ended up with this image that I'm rather fond of. Unfortunately, when I tell potential clients this was at Delicate Arch, they give me this odd look of confusion. :)

As you might expect, I named the image "The Other Side of Delicate.”

The Actual Trip

Having decided that I wanted to try and get a good shot at Delicate Arch, I concluded that a trip over New Year’s would work well. Winter is by far the best time to try and catch a popular location like this without crazy crowds.

For many years, I had a sunrise shot in mind from a side of the arch that is not typically seen. I fancied shooting the first sunrise of the new year. I planned to give myself four or five days of shooting to try many, many different angles and times.

I actually did star shots the night before and had brought a sleeping bag with me to keep warm. I ended up staying up till about 1 a.m. taking pictures and decided that rather than hike all the way back to the car and drive back to the hotel (only to do the return trip for sunrise), I would just stay the night there crudely and COLDLY.

Seriously -- it got down to about 10-15° F that night (New Year’s Eve), and I got pretty cold and uncomfortable! It was all worth it, though, when the sunrise turned out to be pretty spectacular, and I was ready and shooting about an hour before the sunrise.

To whet your appetite, here is just one of the images I got at Delicate Arch at what I’d consider to be about 60% finished. The rest of this series of posts will go into how I arrived at this image.

Up Next
Executing the Plan: Shooting (2 of 16)

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