The Point Overlook in Shenandoah National Park
Picture of Stephen Girimont

Stephen Girimont

Owner, The Intimate Landscape, Fine Art Prints

Another Successful Failure

Playing with color while exploring Shenandoah National Park.

I’ve mentioned in the past on this blog how I’m drawn to create images that could be described as “painterly.” In photographic history, this has been called “pictorialism” and basically means the use of photography as a medium to produce artwork that isn’t meant to reflect reality. I feel there is a lot in common between some forms of pictorialism in photography and, say, landscape paintings of the dutch masters.

Antique color landscape photographs, as well as ancient landscape paintings, have a look to them that I’ve been drawn to for some time. The desaturated blues, overall warm tones and lack of deep blacks have an appeal to me I can’t readily explain. It’s a look I wanted to try to create for myself.

In the digital photography world, there is a subculture built around “film simulation recipes” where adjustments are made to a camera’s settings for color temperature, contrast, color tones, grain simulation and other configurations to try to recreate the look of various film stocks. My problem with this technique comes from the fact that I am a die-hard raw format snob. The vast majority of the settings for film simulation recipes are applied in-camera only to JPEG images and are ignored completely by most raw image processors such as Adobe Lightroom.

I had stumbled across a film simulation called “Vintage Color” on the Fuji X Weekly website that seemed close to what I was looking for, but, again, this would work only for JPEGs created in-camera. So I began to experiment with the recipe and make adjustments to bring the look closer to what I had envisioned while saving the images in both raw and JPEG formats. I could then work with the raw files in Lightroom using the JPEGs as a guide to figure out how to replicate the look. I think I’m getting close to what I’m after, but I’ll need to try it across different lighting conditions. The device you are using to view this blog may render the image below too dark, but there are no true black areas in the image.

"At the Point" - Trees and rocks of The Point Overlook in Shenandoah National Park

I decided to combine my exploration of this technique with my exploration of Shenandoah National Park. I’ve been woefully remiss in visiting this park which is just over an hour from where I live and it’s one of my goals for 2024 to correct that oversight.

It is my long-term goal to explore all the overlooks and as many trails as I am physically capable of hiking, all while photographing as much as possible, so I’m going to be at this for many years. This image, titled “At the Point”, is the first image from the park that I planned out in advance. I was waiting for a “cloudy bright” day where the sky was overcast but bright enough to provide some directionality to the light. “Soft, but directional,” as I call it.

What I didn’t plan for was the National Park Service clearcutting the brush along the ridge line that forms a backdrop for these two trees nestled amongst the rocks. My original intent was for a late-afternoon photograph facing east into the trees with the slope of the ridge line creating the background. The clearcutting, while likely necessary for wildfire control, certainly didn’t make for an attractive compositional element. I explored other views of the scene and settled on the one above, where I’m facing west with the mess from the clearcutting behind me. I do have to give credit to the NPS for forcing me to explore alternative views of the scene as I now have this view on my list of locations for future colorful sunsets.

I failed to notice at the time I was making the image how the pine trees in the middle distance extend up over the mountains in the background and into the sky just a bit. Had I taken note of this while I was on location, I could have experimented with a slightly higher camera angle to try to pull those tree tops back down to avoid that. I’ll have to revisit this location the next time conditions are similar to try to improve my composition.

I like the color tones I was able to create in the image, so I feel this test was a success in that regard, but that issue with the tree tops crossing the mountains into the sky renders this image an overall failure in my opinion. But that’s what experimentation is all about; trying things out, making adjustments, and trying over and over again until you achieve your goal. Its the journey that makes it worthwhile as much as the destination.


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