‘The Tree’ in black and white

I was recently reading Ansel Adams’ classic book The Print, and was interested to read that he felt that nearly every landscape photograph benefits from burning to darken the edges of the image. In the darkroom, burning requires exposing parts of the image longer under the enlarger, while manually blocking the part of the image you don’t want to darken. In today’s digital darkroom that I use – Lightroom – this is called ‘post-crop vignetting’, and is of course a lot easier than burning in the darkroom. Just move that slider to the left a little. It’s easy (and sometimes tempting) to over-do it, but I do think it adds drama to most landscapes.

Ansel’s burning-in of the edges was very subtle, and something that you wouldn’t notice when looking at a print. But the slight darkening of the edges helps hold the eye in the image, and compensates for what he thought was a natural illusion that the edges are lighter than the rest of the image. He said “My experience indicates that nearly all photographs require some burning of the edges. The edge-burning must not be overdone, however; the viewer should not be conscious of it.”

Today many photographers do much heavier burning of the edges, creating noticeably darker edges, and changing the mood or atmosphere of the image. Whether an average viewer is conscious of it or not, I’m not sure, but most photographers can probably tell when vignetting has been added. Some photographers do it very heavily to great effect.

Photographer and author David duChemin, in his book Vision & Voice (which I highly recommend), admits to being somewhat crazy about vignetting his images, and there’s no debating he creates some very powerful images.

So part of my editing of these black and white conversions (see original photos here) included adding some post-crop vignetting to darken the edges. I also made some other general and local adjustments.  I’m pleased with the results.

I was having some fun with the vignetting, boosting contrast and other local adjustments, and created the version below. A little overdone perhaps, but I kind of like the moody look it has.

Trees on Big Bass Lake – Agfa Optima II S

While skiing on a northwestern Wisconsin lake, the white bark of these birch or aspen trees along the lakeshore were absolutely striking against the darkness of the deep evergreen woods behind them. Though overcast, the low sun shortly before dusk seemed to make these trees glow against the contrasting shade behind them.

These photographs were made on color film, but they make even more striking images in black and white. There was really very little color in the scene to start with.

They were shot on Portra 160 in my ‘new’ Agfa Optima II S that I picked up for a few bucks at a local thrift store. This is an automatic-exposure rangefinder made in Germany in the early to mid 1960’s. It has a coupled rangefinder with an easy-to-see diamond-shaped overlapping image area in the center of a nice big viewfinder. Very similar in looks to my Retina Automatic III, including the shutter button located on the front of the camera, it is just slightly larger and heavier, and is fully auto-exposure as opposed to the Retina Auto’s shutter-priority auto-exposure.  I prefer the Retina Auto, but this is a nice solid camera, with a capable f:2.8 45mm lens (same speed and focal length as the Retina, but it’s hard for me to judge yet if the results are as good as those from the Retina’s Schneider lens). I’ll be using this camera more, and will write more about it and provide more photos of it later.