‘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.

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2 Comments on “‘The Tree’ in black and white”

  1. Jim says:

    I wonder what Ansel Adams would have thought about Photoshop.

    The vignetting certainly does add drama to these photos!

    • Rick Schuster says:

      I have a feeling he would have loved Photoshop, though I can’t help but think he would have been a little annoyed at how easy it is. I think he was always into using the latest technology. I think if he were working today, he’d be using the latest technology and pushing it as far as possible. He loved Polaroid photography in it’s early days for instance, and even wrote a book about it.


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