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Create Art Through Photography

Lesson 10 of 16

Filters & Post Production in Photography

Art Wolfe

Create Art Through Photography

Art Wolfe

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Lesson Info

10. Filters & Post Production in Photography

Lesson Info

Filters & Post Production in Photography

So, I use filters. Historically, if you're gonna shoot long exposures as I was doing for the Rhythms From The Wild, you'd have to wait until the end of the day here on the Monterey coast, had to wait for the sun to drop so low that I could take then, a five minute exposure of the water moving, but today, there are 10 stop filters, six stop filters that I will go with always on my trips, and you can see what brand we use on our website, we endorse certain brands because they are so sharp and so effective, and so a 10 stop filter on the front of your camera will enable you then to shoot shots in the middle of the day that are very long exposures like this, the sun us still up, but this is like a four minute exposure, and so the overlapping waves hitting the shore creates movement, and softness that looks akin to fog, and mystery, and transforming the landscape into something that we don't physically see with our eyes. So all these shots that look like mist rolling into a mountain range a...

re actually shot on the water's edge when there's enough light to focus, and you can shoot multiple ones, and it's all because of those 10 stop neutral density filters. So again, not only is the technology of lenses and cameras changing our lives, perspectives with drones and devices that we can carry the camera, but even the filters we're using is changing the way we see and use our cameras. And this old dog is learning new tricks, and once I learn it, I teach it, so when I'm teaching workshops we're bringing along these filters, and showing people new ways to see landscape, making it more mysterious or artistic. So movement and water has long been a theme that I had used as I showed you before, but now we have more effective ways, or we can just turn it into a video if we want, so you can shoot stills, you can shoot longer exposure, you can shoot time lapse, you can shoot video. So it's all new technology, and those longer exposures with those filters change the way we see movement. So I'm incorporating that more and more, these are like three or four minute exposures of pilings along the Columbia River estuary. Waterfalls become easier to get in the middle of the day rather than having to wait til the very last of the day, and why is that critical? With a four minute exposure, at the end of the day, you get two or three shots and you're done, it's so dark you can't focus. But with the filters in the middle of the day, all these things are easier to do, you're actually increasing the likelihood of coming away with very successful shots.. So normal shot, 10 stop filter, and then with a polarizer it can take the shine off the rock and make the contrast better. So polarizer and 10 stop. So, out there in the Olympics, these filters are really changing. This was in Iceland, middle of the day, five minute exposure. That's what creates that riveting effect. I love the contrast between sharp focus and blurred motion, that creates depth. When something's out of focus and something's clearly distinguished like this, so theme motion becomes an element to work with, so those filters are enabling that. And, look at this, if I were shooting with a slide that's what it would look like, dark darks and blown out lights, but in digital capture, or... More sensitive captures, we can open up the shadows and take down the highlights and suddenly a shot that you could never get before is attainable. Here's a shot of an eagle owl in Tanzania, bright background, post-capture, working in Lightroom, I'm leading into that, will open up the shadows, blow out the highlights, simplify the image. So yeah, think about this, the longest part of my career, look at this slide, and that would be the best at what I would get, unless it was published in a magazine, then you could see it looking a little better than the slide, and today, we can take control of what we want to do with an image in the post-production, people like Thomas Knoll who wrote Photoshop and Lightroom, it's taken the shackles off us, we can take an image like this, darken it, turn it into black and white, crop it, we can do this, before, no, you couldn't do any of this. In something where the lava is so bright and the land was so dark by contrast, it's easy for us to open up the shadows, take down the highlights. We can shoot just the light of a fire now gives us enough light to hand hold and take a picture. Amazing. So, new subjects with new sensitive cameras, we can take a shot where exposing for the shadows at the base of Mount Rainier, and then in post-production, bring out that Mount Rainier, it's incredible. So here's a typical shot, people always ask me at the end of a lecture, oh have you manipulated the image, as if manipulation is a negative thing. It's like, no, I've taken a raw image, and I've opened up the shadows and I've taken down the highlights, raw images are meant to be altered, to be opened up, because a raw capture is almost akin to a negative, if you don't do anything, you're remiss, so there I've opened up the shadows, then I play with the lights and darks in Lightroom. In this shot, I'm having somebody photograph me from in an ice cave, and there's the first capture. Then we can open up the shadows, and do it further, and suddenly I'm in within that context of the snow cave more effectively, so yeah, a raw image is meant to be used in Lightroom or CameraRaw, or another of different devices that allow us to, because you know a raw image is a bunch of pixels, and all those pixels can be moved, and I'm not saying the word manipulation simply because it implies something negative, manipulation, you can just see somebody wrinkling up their face and saying that word. It's akin to somebody coming up to a Renoir back in the day, and saying, did you really use the burnt sienna, or did you use come other kind of brown? In their painting, that's a ludicrous question. So yeah, I find it a little old fashioned for people to actually ask if that's been, if you boost the contrast, because the digital capture is flattened out. So that's the raw image, if I wanted to bring out the shadows, I bring it out by playing with contrast, if I wanna make the sand dunes a little more part of the story, I can open up the shadows in the sand dunes, just by what I can do in Lightroom. I can turn those shadows of a camel into something more graphic, or I can turn it into black and white, the choice is in a nanosecond in Lightroom, we live at a great time. You know those famous slot canyons, opening up the shadows is just part of the workflow. These are how those shots are done. So, typically, this is the first capture, then highlights come down in Lightroom, opened up, but this lecture is about how technology has actually increased and enhanced the work I do, so now I have the control over it, and then I make overall adjustment. Here's a real classic, here's a shot where the mountains are in the sun in the distance, early morning, the canoes in the foreground are in the shade, single capture, then I take down the highlights, I open up the shadows, bring the exposure in a better overall exposure, then I play with highlights, here we go with the highlights, overall exposure up. Blacks and whites adjusted. Back to the original. That's the original, and this is after, and you can see it's a much better image, it's bringing balance to the capture. So when people have wondered what you do, it's like, you've gotta do this, you've got to do this, this is the single capture. Highlights down, shadows up. Then I dropped in a graduated neutral density filter and you see it makes those tufas along Mono Lake too dark, and I can go in with a healing brush and open up those shadows, then I can vignette it, and create a little more dramatic shot. They all exist there, but I'm maximizing the detail within that original raw capture. So so forth and so on. And then I can crop this one into panoramic if I choose to do that. There's a shot of gnus or wildebeest in the (stutters)... In a crater in Tanzania. Ngorongoro Crater, and it had beautiful clouds above, but I exposed for the animals, and then later on I knew in Lightroom I could just darken those shadows and bring out the detail in the clouds. So much more effective, so much more dramatic. And I'm not an expert on this as you'll see, but I've gotten good enough, I'm motivated, because if you shoot a Northern Lights with the raw image it's gonna look flat, but you can bring out the color and the contrast. Or this iceberg on the coast. So yeah, I don't teach this but I'm gonna do it, I'm gonna take the stab and try to do this to the people who have submitted work, because I think I can transform their work and open up their imagination with Lightroom. So all of these have been really effectively enhanced, bringing out the detail and the blown out highlights. And this is one after the fact, after I've opened up the shadows. Or in this Stupa in Myanmar, I've worked with the highlights of the shadows, I've opened up the detail on the walls, so it's just made me a more effective communicator, more effective photographer, and getting shots I historically could never get. The highlight of the sun coming through that guy's leg, that is something you could never get with just a piece of film. And yeah, playing with highlights, turning the image to black and white, doing the Ansel Adams on these images, I love black and white, and more and more I'm incorporating them into my levtures, look at this, this is a single capture, this is a proper exposure of the men in these boats in Mexico, but there's so much more to be said in those clouds. So in black and white, you can burn and dodge and bring out the clouds that exist there, there's nothing artificial about this shot, it's just mazimizing the detail that I've captured in the original. So yeah, an exciting time to be a photographer. Exciting time to be a photographer. Historically we'd have to dedicate a whole roll of black and white film into your camera to shoot black and white, now it's just the click of a button in Lightroom and we can transform something colorful to something more moody, black and white, and they all have their place, they all have their place in the arsenal of a photographer, and if you want to convey something of antiquity, you can even play with sepia tones in Lightroom, so it conveys the Coliseum in a different age. Or take something like this, and turn it into something more hysterical... Historical. I'm hysterical and I'm shooting it, it's of something historical. This man by the way, old man, probably nearly 100 in the mountains of New Guinea, remembered World War Two, remembered the Japanese coming on shore, and he was still alive, he had cataracts in his eyes, but the oldness of him, the historic nature, I just turned him into a sepia tone. So that's my lecture, thank you very much. (applause) Okay, let the questions begin. Do the drones disturb the animals when you're photographing them? Undoubtedly they notice it, but there's something about a drone, a quiet drone in the sky replicates an eagle flying overhead, and yeah I've seen animals kind of looking at it, and then they put their head back down. So if you're diving on them and trying to herd with a drone, yeah that would be a disturbance, but if you're shooting up from above looking down, they're so used to eagles and vultures flying overhead, and the sound of the buzz sounds like a swarm of bees, and so I've never seen a herd of animals really react to it, so that's my response to that. No more than a land vehicle, think about this, most people that go on safari into Africa, they're in Rovers, or Land Rovers, or other vehicles, and there's more noise from those vehicles coming close to the animals than a drone above. Yes? One of my questions is, I have photographs of paintings, they look different when I look on the actual camera or print, but on the computer they are more bright. I'm asking if sometimes-- Are you heading towards the word manipulation? No. (laughing) Good. No, I mean if you're looking at my paintings, I am boosting the contrast, and depending on the projection, some projectors and some of the way we are seeing this through all these devices, sometimes they're flat in color, so I'm giving some of the paintings a little more color just to cover my base on the projection, but it's not about the fidelity of the particular painting as much as communing that the paining is saying to me. So maybe there's reds that are a little richer than others, and that could be largely due to the monitor that are being projected, is that what you're asking? Yeah. Okay. My other question is that for like snow leopards, some people just have cameras just in places for like 24 hours. Yes. Can you give us any tips on that, those cameras, do they capture the image, how technologically, how is it superior? Great question. Steve Winter has done a lot of work with wild cats, and I think the best work on snow leopards is done by Steve Winter for National Geographic, he's put up camera traps all through the Himalayas in really good areas that we know snow leopards have their territories, and it's showing us the cats in a way that you could not do just shooting with a telephoto lens, they're wide angle, it's a great technology that he is using to the maximum effect, I've never done that, I've never put camera traps out because I told you I'm technologically challenged, so it's one of those things that the technology is there, but it also requires a budget, and a lot of money, and usually you're funded by National Geographic to do it, but people are doing it in their own back yards in Seattle, they're showing, if you're living east of Lake Washington, people are putting it in their backyard and suddenly they know that they've got bobcats moving throughout, and other animals that we never even knew were there, so, and it's a great metaphor because we now know that there are mountain lions that are living close to the city, and that is a recipe for the future of these animals, if they can adjust to increased humanity, and just be unseen but navigate, there's mountain lions under the Hollywood sign in LA, so animals that adapt are going to survive, and I think that's a great thing to know, and we wouldn't know that if it weren't for those camera traps. From Laurie Koch asks, do you ever bracket and do HDR as that technology has come about? I'm basically doing HDR without actually shooting HDR, because as you saw in those photos, those were all single captures, but if it's well exposed in the beginning, and I'm not soung such a vast range, even the one where those men in Cuba were shot with bright bright backdrop and dark darks, I'm zooming in just on the men and cropping, and then I'm opening up the shadows. I tend to think personally, the HDR which is opening up shadows and taking down the highlights, looks a little artificial for the type of work I'm doing, and people were just doing it to death, so I kind of don't do that because everyone was doing that. So that's my response to that, there's the drama between the highlights and the darks that I want to retain, because darks and lights often create depth and drama, and sometimes when it's totally overdone, the highlights and the shadows flattens out the image, and just suddenly it just becomes less interesting. As you mention about, you use your iPhone a bit when you're out shooting, do you use just the iPhone app or do you have a particular app for the-- No, I have no apps. I just am using the iPhone six. The regular camera that's on it? Yeah, and so I'm just taking really simple shots, and they're usually when I'm in the moment, and there's something unusual, and I'm looking for my cameras and they're back in the apartment or wherever I may be, I just pull out the iPhone and I get it, and I'm always amazed at the fidelity of the image. Thank you. Yeah. As technology has changed with the camera themselves now, I know that you have been printing your work for such a long time, has printing your work changed, and if so, how? We're part of the Epson family, we use Epson and Epson printers and inks, and it's constantly changing, Epson is really trying to authentically create archival images, and the latest round of inks and papers, and they will put the paper and the inks through this process that exposes it to intense light and heat to try to degrade the image, and then from that they can gauge the longevity of the print, and they believe now they've got prints and inks that can actually last 300 years, so historically when we would sell our work in the past as archival, they were archival given the means that we had, but in fact they're not archival, because they may last the length of the life of somebody that just bought it, but 300 years is pretty good, so we really like Epson, papers are constantly changing and there's specific papers for big colorful scenes, we may print with much higher contrast paper, and for the human canvas we were printing those on archival watercolor paper that has very little acid in it, and the water color, and the flatness of the texture really allowed the image to look like a painting, so it depends, people are printing on metal, that looks great, I mean there's so much for us now than historically ever was true. Can you make any specific recommendations for photographing a solar eclipse, such as any particular filters? Yeah, yeah, and I think the first thing is just to go online and buy the protection, little plastic glasses for your eyes. The eyes are the most critical thing that you're bringing to the experience of photographing the eclipse that will cross North America later this year, so protect those eyes. Enough scientists have said that it is critical, that it is critical. I think that when the eclipse passes over North America this year, it's gonna be high in the sky. So you need to go out the day before, and photograph the sun, and underexpose the sun, probably three or four stops to get the sun to look gray, that's what you want to do. Now that might not be entirely so. Last year I photographed the annular eclipse that you all saw, and it was a ring, and I needed to make that sun gray, because otherwise I'm going to wash it out. But I actually don't know the answer, I'm doing the dance trying to arrive at the answer, and the answer is it's online, and the proper way to shoot it is online, it's been virtually 25 years since I saw the last total eclipse of the sun, and that one was shot at 40 minutes before sunset in South Australia. What was true for that shot is not gonna be true for the one that's above, so rather than giving people false information or bad information, go online, there's gonna be a litany of ways to shoot that, but don't try to include, don't go 100 miles out of your way to shoot a landscape during the totality, because you're not going to be able to get the landscape and the sun, unless it was really low on the horizon as I did, it's just impossible, so concentrate on a tight shot of the eclipse, it's magical, it's beautiful, but the proper exposure you'll get online from people who do this all the time. I've only done it a couple times.

Class Description

Photography is more than just a click of the shutter as it can create a statement or evoke a feeling and thus becomes a powerful art form. Internationally acclaimed photographer, artist and educator Art Wolfe joins CreativeLive to teach creative professionals how to see and make art in exciting new ways. 

In this class Art will share:

  • How to maximize photographic opportunities while traveling to unique and beautiful photographic destinations.
  • The best ways to take those special images efficiently. 
  • His favorite technological advances and how he uses them to enhance his creative vision. 
As a special segment, Art will preview how knowledge of art history provides a creative foundation and show students how to apply these principles to enhance their own compositions. He will also include a live critique of student images and, using Adobe® Lightroom® CC, will guide students through the editing process to transform the images into stronger artistic statements.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Art Wolfe eBook Bonus Material

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

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Thank you, Art Wolfe and Creative Live for this outstanding and astounding invitation to open my eyes and mind to a new way of thinking based on classic elements of design. This set of video lectures is a rich feast for the brain and heart willing to consider change. Art explains the elements of design such as texture, line, etc., and then shows how he has applied those basic principles. He explores metaphor, ambiguity, graphic design and negative/positive space--all with eye-popping examples. Wolfe takes us through the galleries of the Impressionists, Abstractionists, and Pop Artists to show how visiting our local art museums with a photographers eye can teach us to see in new ways. I love the way he shows, for example, a Mondrian or a Jackson Pollack or a Hokusai painting and then segues beautifully into examples of his own work inspired by those greats. Never does Art lose sight of the mission he has in this series, which is to inspire serious-hearted photographers to rise to new visual heights in their own work. He has a way of seeming to say, "Look. If I can do it, you can do it. Here are my secrets--let me break them down for you." To me, it was a privilege to take this class--my brain is exploding, and I'm itching to get out and shoot! Thank you so much, Art Wolfe and the Creative Live team--you are both amazing! Sandy Brown Jensen Eugene, Oregon

JIll C.

After watching Art Wolfe's presentation for just a short while, I have an almost irresistible urge to pick up my camera and get out into the world to look for the abstracts that can make stunning images. His body of work is simply stunning, and his verbal patter is mesmerizing. He proposes to find beauty in decay, and to train our eyes to see what others overlook. This is not a technical class, and there is no discussion of gear or camera settings. I found it very inspiring, and his ideas will surely help me to overcome the lethargy that has overcome my photography hobby.


Wonderful lecture with tips and tricks of how he shoots, what gear he uses, suggestions for comp, and samples of how he processes a RAW file in LR. Art was just as awesome as I had heard he was in person. I'm a professional photographer and definitely came away with many new tips, perspectives and inspiration to see your image differently and to look closer at the less obvious scene. Thank you Art for sharing your talent, its so very much appreciated!!