Black and White Fujifilm X-E2 Monochrome Photography Photography Photography - Black & White Photography - Fujifilm X-E2

The Power and Beauty of Monochrome

Arise - Klamath Overlook - 2014

2014 has been an amazing photographic journey for me. For example, my Lightroom catalog currently has almost 68,000 images in it – spanning the years 2000-2014 – with over 25,000 of those (37%) shot just in 2014. It’s almost crazy how many images I’ve taken this year!

Something I regularly revisit is the split between my earlier work on landscape photography and my more recent interest in street photography. They’re very different – but, in some sense, both deliver very satisfying feelings as I look back on my work.

Another always interesting insight is the color vs monochrome difference – how color can really enhance an image and how monochrome can to – by reducing the distractions of color. It’s a dichotomy – one that’s always fun to explore.

I recently watched a brief series of videos by John Sexton – and he inspired me to look back and explore more fully some of the landscape shots I’ve taken this year. This is one example – an image shot with my Fujifilm X-E2 at early morning at the Klamath River Overlook in far northern California as part of Michael Frye‘s Mystic Forest workshop. The color image is quite beautiful – shot as the sun was rising in early June. But I think this monochrome treatment is especially good – with its drama, composition and mood. This is an image I need to print and frame – I think it’s one of those special ones!

Black and White Monochrome Photography Photography Photography - Black & White Photography - Canon 5D Mark II Yosemite

Along the Merced River in Yosemite

Three Brothers - Yosemite - 2010

There’s a special spot along the Merced River in Yosemite where, in the late autumn with the river flowing so gently, the reflections are really quite special.

This image is just one example – a monochrome from 3 bracketed images shot with my Canon 5D Mark II back in the fall of 2010. My son David and I spent a very special day with Michael Frye and he took us to this spot as the sun was rising. It was early October when we were there. The river was beautifully calm, like glass, and the sun was just lighting up Three Brothers as we clambered down to the water’s edge with our tripods.

A wonderful memory – one we’ll never forget.

Sometimes, when I’m trying to relax, I try to think about places like this – quiet beauty at Lake Tahoe, the majesty of Yosemite in autumn – it just doesn’t get much better than this.

Photography Photography - Canon 5D Mark II Photoshop Travel

Adding Depth to an Image using Photoshop and Luminosity Painting

Sunrise - Lee Vining - 2012

As part of my desire to learn more about some advanced techniques in Photoshop, I’ve been concentrating on learning how best to take a flat image out of the camera and add depth to it using various image adjustment techniques – especially, dodging and burning. At one level, I’ve understood the basics of those techniques for a while – but I’ve not attempted to apply them in any serious way before now. Any student of Ansel Adams understands the use he made of those techniques!

So, I set out to explore and learn some more – and I learned a lot. What did we do before the Internet? Seriously, it’s amazing what a resource it’s become!

The basic idea involves being able to select carefully certain parts of an image for adjustment. Typically, luminosity – brightness – is most important but saturation, sharpness and other features follow. Most of the tools in Photoshop are blunt instruments that apply to the whole image – but you can constrain those adjustments to only portions of an image using selections and/or layer masks. In so doing, you can make much more selective adjustments – and create depth in an image that might have originally looked flat.

One of the first to describe a technique for this was Tony Kuyper – who in 2006 wrote about the idea of luminosity masks. A couple of years later, he described luminosity painting – and most recently, cooperated with Sean Bagshaw who has created a comprehensive video tutorial describing how to apply Tony’s techniques and Photoshop Actions/Panels in detail. If you want to understand the details, Tony and Sean’s work seems very comprehensive.

At the other extreme is a short video by Aaron Nace titled “Dodge and Burn Like a Boss: Using Apply Image” I stumbled across on In this video, he describes how to do selective dodging and burning using the notion of luminosity masks. His technique is different, in many ways simpler – but also less precise. For many images, that might be fine – it all depends on the level of precision adjustment you might want. And, when you watch the video, fasten your seat belt. Aaron moves along quickly – so be ready to stop and review as he explains his technique!

Tonight I created an example of applying Aaron’s technique to an image I shot last fall in the Eastern Sierras on an amazing photo workshop with Michael Frye. Up top you can see the image after walking through the adjustments – and below is the original, out of the camera image. It’s pretty flat, frankly. The edited image has more color – but, more importantly, more depth and, I think, overall richness.


But, I’m still learning! Let me know what you think by sharing a comment below!

Photography Photography - Canon 5D Mark II

Late October among the Aspens in the Eastern Sierra

Aspenglow - Lee Vining Canyon - 2012

I had never been to the other side of the Sierra Mountains to see the fall colors that are so special here out west. I didn’t know what I was missing. Last year, I found out. See above!

My photo buddy Doug Kaye and I took a photo workshop “over there” taught by Michael Frye (and helpers) last October. It was simply an amazing experience. Michael’s such an amazing landscape photographer – and spending a few days with him among the fall colors of the Aspens was a delight. He had the best helpers too – former Yosemite ranger Mike Osborne and Michael’s wife Claudia Welsh.

Michael’s just added a second Eastern Sierra session to his 2013 workshops. Go. You’ll be amazed at what you learn.

iPhone 4S iPhone 5 Nik Software Photography Photography - Canon 5D Mark II Photography - Canon PowerShot S100 Photography - Nikon D600 Photomatix Pro Photoshop

Lessons from 2012: What I Learned about Photography

Opera House - Sydney - 2012

Last year on New Year’s Eve I posted my thoughts on what I’d learned about photography in 2011.

Looking back on it, I think 2011 was perhaps the steepest slope in my photography learning curve – it was a remarkable year.

This year, my photography has continued to progress – but perhaps not quite as dramatically as that year of 2011. Looking back on it, I think I’ll remember 2011 as “my year” – when I seriously began moving beyond “snapshots” into serious photography. Here are my highlights of 2012 for my photography.


Last year I mentioned paying more attention to getting the image right in capture. What’s proven to be most important about that is slowing down – and “working the subject” in the moment. For me, it’s a struggle between my right/left brains. I need to force myself to flip between the more critical, analytical left brain and to get into the more creative right brain. I’m finding this easier to do – the more I shoot in the field, the more aware I’ve become of the flip.

I still worry a lot about getting the right capture – applying all of my left brain analytical skills to that task – but try to flip modes over to my right brain where I worry less about those details and just be creative. In my experience, I’ve begun to de-emphasize the gear and technique and emphasize the “in the moment” aspects – which are almost always surprising – and which I find delightful. Those shots add a lot to my enjoyment of photography.


Once again in 2012, Doug Kaye and I did several 1:1 photo walks around the Bay Area in 2012. These are always special – we pick a venue but let the experience take us where ever it does – at least once a month.

There’s nothing better that doing this kind of shooting – it’s great fun with a great friend and always a delight. As I mentioned last year, these photo walks are a “learning accelerator” for me.

One of my personal favorite photo walks was one we did early in 2012 at Pigeon Point Lighthouse. The light was very special that day – and one of my images ended up being the cover shot for my Portfolio 2012 photo book.

Photo Workshops

I benefited greatly from several photo workshops this year.

Perhaps the most valuable was the Eastern Sierra Fall Colors workshop that Doug and I attended led by Michael Frye. I’d never been to the other side of the Sierras – and seeing the colors in the fall in the company of Michael was amazing. A wonderful experience. I’m a big fan of Michael’s – having taken a private one-day workshop from him in Yosemite with my son David back in the fall of 2010. He’s a great teacher!

Earlier Doug and I enjoyed the Sonoma Coast Workshop led by Derrick Story. We’ve both taken several weekend workshops from Derrick – and learned a lot from each one. This time we headed up to Fort Ross – and had a great time shooting in wonderful light – plus doing a model shoot on the beach at Bodega Bay.


If I were to label my 2012 photography learning, it’d be labeled Post-Processing. I’ve learned so much this year about how to take an image and make it into something I really enjoy. Lots of new tools have been part of that process for me – including the suite of Nik’s tools, Photoshop, Lightroom, etc. I’ve come to respect the Topaz tools for their ability to simplify and amplify images. And a huge set of learning came from the Lab color techniques of Dan Margulis and, simplified, Lee Varis. A workshop with local expert Mark Lindsay also had a big impact on my awareness of these techniques. 2012 was a great year for my post-processing skills – and I look forward to learning and applying them in 2013.


In 2011, I began creating my portfolio – for the first time. This year, I continued to add to it – such that there are now several hundred images in that portfolio.

This year, I wanted to focus on pairing that huge collection down to what I might consider “my best” – but I failed to do so. A goal of mine in 2013 is to try to do that – to distill my work down to 40 or so images that I consider my best work – out of the 400+ currently in my portfolio culled from the ~30,000 images in my Lightroom library. I’m always amazed at how the great photographers in history are judged on the basis of such a small set of their life’s work in photography. We went to see a Walker Evans exhibition at Stanford’s Cantor Art Museum this year – about 70 photographs represented his lifetime of work in Photography.

In November, I began working on a photo book with my most interesting work from 2012. I used iPhoto again this year to build the book – and the results came out looking great. I gave several copies to family members as Christmas gifts. Here are the photos I used for the 2012 photo book.

Online, I continue to enjoy Google+ where the community of photographers is very strong and engaged. After each of our photo walks, Doug and I typically share a few of our favorite shots on Google+. Flickr continues to be another valuable resource – and the iPhone app update that Flickr made late in the year brought a lot of fun back to using Flickr on the go.


I’ve been living a digital life with my photography – meaning that I’ve only been sharing bits of images online and doing very little printing of my images. What printing I’ve done this year has been using either Apple’s iPhoto books service or, for individual prints, Costco’s in-store printing.

I realize this is the next and, perhaps, final step for my work – completing the capture to print workflow. I’m looking forward to adding printing to my photography skills in 2013!


2012 was a different year for my photography – a more serious year and one more focused on both the details of capture but, perhaps more importantly, on the world of post-processing.

I’m looking forward to the new photography experiences and learning coming up in 2013 – including some radically new venues like Havana and Death Valley. Should be fun and rewarding!

My 2012 Photography Resources

See my Cool Tools page for my current list of recommendations. One major change this year was the purchase of a Nikon D600 2 – my first new DSLR in several years.

HDR Photography Photography Photography - Canon 5D Mark II Yosemite

Revisiting Yosemite – Three Brothers and the Merced River

I recently had a request for a large print of my Yosemite – Three Brothers image.

After looking at my earlier 2010 processed version, I decided to re-process it again using some of the techniques I’ve been learning. I think a better, more natural image resulted. See what you think…

Here’s my 2010 effort at an HDR (High Dynamic Range) version:

Three Brothers - Merced River - Yosemite - 2010

And, finally, here’s my late 2012 version – a more sophisticated workflow and, hopefully, a better and more natural image:

Three Brothers - Merced River - Yosemite - 2010

Click on either image to see a larger version.

Funny how our tastes change as we learn more about what to look for. The earlier version is one of my most popular images – but, frankly, it’s a bit overdone. That’s what we tend to do as we learn new tricks. Instead of that earlier version, I’ll be printing a 20×30 inch version of tonight’s version – and looking forward to seeing how it turns out!

This image was shot during a one day private workshop that my son David and I took with Michael Frye in early October 2010. I was shooting with my Canon 5D Mark II, David with my tiny Canon PowerShot S95. With Michael’s great help, we learned a whole lot about photography from some very special spots for shooting in Yosemite Valley. A great trip!


Aspens and New Learnings

Photography is such an amazing and satisfying hobby. Here’s my latest example…

In late October, my photo buddy Doug Kaye and I headed east over Hwy 120 through Yosemite to Lee Vining for an Eastern Sierra photography workshop led by Michael Frye and Mike Osborne. We’d never made this trip – over the ridge and down into Lee Vining and Hwy 395 that runs on the eastern side of the Sierras.

I’d done a private workshop with Michael and my son David two years ago in Yosemite Valley and knew that he was a great teacher. That experience is what caused me to sign up for this Eastern Sierra workshop when it was announced almost a year ago. (Michael’s workshops fill up very quickly – often the same day they’re announced!)

This weekend turned out to be an amazing experience – one that I’ll never forget. Doug and I both agreed this workshop was the best workshop experience we’d ever had. We came home exhausted – but amazed at what we’d learned along the way.

I have many favorite images from this weekend – but one of my favorites is an image I shot from a special spot in Lee Vining Canyon where we spent the late afternoon on Saturday.

When we arrived, the sun was just beginning to set over a ridge to the west. We shot a bunch of canopy shots before the sun went down behind the ridge to the west. When the sun went behind the ridge, the most amazing color shift began. The trees in the distance began to pick up a beautiful blue cast – while those up close continued to reflect the aspen yellow from trees down the road whose canopies were still in the late afternoon sun. I was completely captivated by this shift and how the colors changed.

Here’s my original shot as that was happening:

Aspenglow - Lee Vining Canyon - 2012

After we got back, I looked at this image and post-processed it a couple of different ways. I import my images into Lightroom and often do basic adjustments there. I had fun making some basic adjustments and shared the photo online in a couple of spots.

But, as it turned out, I was about to learn some new tricks – thanks to a photo workshop that Doug had arranged with Mark Lindsay. Mark is a very talented artist, image editor, and photographer based in Marin. We spent a day with Mark learning some new techniques for using Photoshop to further enhance our images. Mark’s workflow steps through image adjustments by focusing first on color cast and then on getting the tonality of the image right. “Good bones” is what tonality is all about – ensuring an image has the right tonal range. And, then, Mark uses the tools of Lab color mode to enhance the saturation and colors of an image. The combination of these steps takes an image from being average and flat to being very special.

Here’s my post-processed version of that original shot – applying the core techniques of what I learned from Mark:

Aspenglow - Lee Vining Canyon - 2012

You can see how striking the differences are between the two. The original is soft and flat, the adjusted version is so much more three dimensional and, frankly, realistic to what I remember having taken the shot in the moment.

I still have lots to learn – but what a great time I’ve been having – both in the field shooting in amazing places like the Eastern Sierra and back home applying new techniques to creating even better images! My focus is on taking images off the page – from flat to three dimensional in a way that keeps me and viewers engrossed inside the image. Great teachers like Michael and Mike helping me at amazing places in the field and Mark helping me post-process back home are my “sherpas”!

HDR Photography Photography Photography - Canon 5D Mark II Yosemite

Fall in Yosemite – Three Brothers

Three Brothers - Merced River - Yosemite (HDR) - Scott Loftesness

Early in October last year, my son David and I spent a day exploring Yosemite with photographer Michael Frye.

We drove up to Yosemite on Friday afternoon and met Michael early on Saturday morning in the Curry Village parking lot.

One of his first questions was what did we want to shoot? Not the big icons, we quickly agreed – instead, take us to some secret spots in the park instead!

Michael lived in Yosemite for 25 years. He knows this land intimately. One of our mid-morning stops provided us with this shot looking back up the Merced River at Three Brothers. The combination of the slow water in the river, the stunning reflection, and the glorious light on the Brothers made for a spectacular scene. In the course of shooting at this location, I learned more about my camera (Canon 5D Mark II) from Michael than I’d ever learned before!

The resulting image is a 3-shot HDR, combined used Photomatix Pro with final adjustments made in Lightroom 3.

David and I will never forget this wonderful day last October that we spent with Michael!

Photography Photography - Canon 5D Mark II Yosemite

Exploring Yosemite with Michael Frye

Yesterday, my son David and I spent the day yesterday exploring Yosemite and landscape photography with Michael Frye. We had a great time – learning about the more out of the way places in Yosemite – away from the big monuments. And about Michael’s techniques – both in the field and in processing his images.

Michael and his wife lived in Yosemite for over twenty years. He clearly exceeds Gladwell’s 10,000 hours test in terms of intimate knowledge of this most special place!

One of the best spots provided us with an incredible view upriver toward Three Brothers – a formation that’s usually very hard to capture. This time of year, the river was flowing slowly and provided a mirror-like surface reflection that was just stunning:

Three Brothers and the Merced River - Yosemite

If you’re interested in Yosemite and photography, be sure to follow Michael’s blogs – 25 Years in Yosemite: A Photographer’s Journal and In the Moment: A Landscape Photography Blog.

His latest book, Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Masters, is a tremendous resource on applying the techniques of the landscape photography masters to today’s digital photography – and includes a wide range of Michael’s personal portfolio to illustrate the key points. Michael’s The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite is the essential handbook for photographers in Yosemite National Park.