Now that I finished my photography workshop with the British landscape photographer David Osborn I must say: It was a hard week! On two days we have got up at five in the morning to get to our destination just before sunrise. There we took pictures over two or three hours. After that the task was editing the photos with Photoshop, then in the evening light, out again in the really breath-taking scenes of Wales. David has not spared me! (To remind: I was his only student for that time.) But I have learned a lot.
WORKING LIKE A PAINTER
David’s photos give the impression of paintings – and indeed he is working like a painter! The image files out of the camera are just raw material to him, from which he carves out – by means of Photoshop – the final picture with a lot of precise steps, just like a sculptor out of a block of marble. The biggest mistake you can do, he says, is trying to get the image optimization with a few large steps. Lightroom functions with sliders and auto-optimizations are a kind of barbarism to David. Instead he uses the mouse like a painter his brush with wide and soft strokes, gives more vividness to parts of the picture, brightens or darkens them, elaborates shadow details and highlight definition and much more. Despite the detail work you must not lose the view to the whole picture. You should make up your mind preferably at the beginning (or even before taking the photo) which is the main part and which the additional parts of the picture. How can I guide the view of the spectator, for example, with lightened and darkened sections of the image sections?
David’s workshops are very well structured. First, he tries to get an impression about the individual photographic skills of his student and where are his difficulties. Depending on that he builds up what he calls “the process”: working out a proper photo step by step. Everything starts with taking a photo of course. If you made up your mind about perspective, image composition and so on, then put your camera on a tripod and get your picture with one exposure or a bracket series. And then take a shot every time something special happens: e.g. an interesting sky, a sheep in the foreground, sunbeams or spots of light on the scene. But you must be patient: It could take hours to gather enough exposures to combine them to an interesting picture afterwards.
GETTING MORE DETAIL IN YOUR PICTURE
After getting back to the cottage we started working with Photoshop. One of the first surprises for me was the fine resolution I can get out of my camera (a Nikon D 800 with about 36 megapixels). Sharpening techniques is the key – not just in one step but rather several well combined actions to get a clean result. (Certainly, I already knew a lot about sharpening techniques.
There are thousands of tricks – each of them the ultimate one of course! But in comparison to David’s method at least all techniques I know are rubbish!) It creates incredible clarity to describe every detail, but David has a very methodical approach to working on photographs with Photoshop. First, he explains every step of his process using an example. Then you do the learned skills on your own using your own exposures – with David’s support of course. By and by you get used to a lot of very different techniques to enhance and elaborate your photos with astonishing results. I’d like to present one of the photos I had worked out together with David in more detail: it was taken at the Rhaedr Ogwen (Ogwen waterfall) with a view at the Nant Ffrancon valley during a foggy evening. You can see above the final photograph.
CAMERA AND PHOTOSHOP ARE LIKE BRUSHES AND PAINTS
But David does not have any ready-made recipes or ultimate Photoshop tricks in his pocket, just like many of photo books promise. Instead he puts the focus in teaching several techniques for improving the entire picture or parts of it very precisely – and combining these techniques in a clever way. It is important for him to think forward-looking and be able to anticipate the intermediate or final result. To compare it with painting once more: The camera and Photoshop are like the painter’s brushes, paints and canvas. But just using brushes, paints and canvas does not mean painting like Rembrandt or Picasso! That requires a repertoire of techniques, competence and visionary power.
PHOTOS FOR MORE THAN A SHORT GLIMPSE
This kind of working needs time and patience. But it is a good compensation to the popular quick shooting and producing piles of images. Maybe you have only two or three pictures after a week, but they will catch the interest of the spectator for more than a short glimpse. In that way David’s method is a challenge for an ambitious photographer to put more effort and creativity to his work. The rewards are photos you can be proud of. A few words about the accommodation and the environment: My wife and I have seen a lot of locations in the UK but we both agree that Snowdonia National Park is the most breath taking one! The rural style cottage in Capel Garmon near Betws-y-Coed is cozy and very comfortable in a really quiet location with spectacular views – the right environment for creative working. The owners Cathy and Paul are living nearby and are exceedingly friendly and helpful. All in all: David’s workshop was an experience to me. Strenuous sometimes, but enormously instructive and with a long-lasting effect on my future photographic work.
Werner Kirsch, Cologne, Germany. www.kirschfoto.de