Let’s Talk SHOP: John Gevers

Abby Leon, Paradigm Gallery Director

A photo of the artist. Courtesy of John Gevers.

Fort Wayne-based photographer John Gevers agrees with Walt Whitman that every moment of light and dark is a miracle; and, with every captured moment he photographs, John shines his bright light in the world. Or should I say…in the digital world! This week, John shows us the ins and outs of post-production editing on one of his awe-inspiring images!

I began making Kodachrome images as a boy growing up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in the 70s, honing my skills at the Ernie Pyle School of Journalism at Indiana University. While serving as Ambassador of Goodwill to New Zealand for Rotary International in the 80s, I formed a lifelong passion for making images that reveal the beauty in the usual and the unusual, and for capturing stories of the people I encounter, both close to home and abroad.

After working in corporate America for years, I founded John Gevers Photography in 2002, and have been honored with numerous awards for excellence in image capture and storytelling. Twice the recipient of artist grants from the Indiana Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts, I create images that use the play of light in natural and urban environments to inspire with miraculous views of the world around us.

My portrait, documentary, and street photography are influenced by the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson and the Turnley brothers, Peter and David, with whom I have studied and worked. My landscape work is influenced by the aesthetic of Ansel Adams and Eddie Soloway and painters Wyeth, Bierstadt, and Hopper.

Making images of the natural world, and of my fellow human beings, is sacred territory for me. The world is a beautiful place filled with lovely souls, and I strive to reflect that beauty in my photographic work so others may absorb it and be inspired.

I am rooted locally in Middle America but travel internationally wherever stories, imagery, and clients call.

My photography journal entry today is oriented towards photographers, but I hope that for those of you not so much into the mechanics of photography that you’ll still glean a fresh appreciation for what goes into a photographic work of art. Today, I provide the backstory to the making of a recent image, Goat Island Light • Cape Porpoise, Maine.

Some of the great painters of landscapes greatly influence my work as a photographer, and I’ve learned to be patient and wait for optimal light and position to make an image that has potential to echo painterly techniques. This can mean repeat visits to a location before I can capture a scene the way I envision a painter would have painted it. Editing can also help me create the vision I have for an image.

Some people don’t know that professional photographers usually spend significant post-production (editing) work on digital files, especially when photos are captured in the RAW format that contains much more data than the standard JPG format which processes many aspects of an image in-camera. In RAW, the camera makes no decisions about an image. The sensor gathers and retains all the data it “sees” and lets the photographer bring the image to life during editing. It’s not uncommon for a professional landscape photographer to spend hours culling their take of images from a long shoot and then hours more in post-production to bring the vision for each selected photograph to light.

In the case of Goat Island Light in Maine, I was first attracted some years ago by the lighthouse’s position off Cape Porpoise and the view created by the long horizontal lines of the three buildings that mimic the long lines of the horizon and shorelines in the foreground when the tide is just right. Early on, I envisioned that the finished image I wanted to make in the end would accentuate the horizontal lines by cropping it into a 16:9 aspect ratio (narrower and wider than the usual photo aspect ratio). So, I composed with this in mind.

The location is near Kennebunk, Maine, and I visited it numerous times after sussing out when the potential for slanted light would be the best. I wanted the sunlight to illuminate the ocean side of the buildings, casting deep shadows down from the roof and dormers. This is the kind of light that Andrew Wyeth often depicted in his work, and I wanted to create an image of Goat Island Light that conjured a Wyeth work.

Unfortunately, the weather and light during my ten days in Kennebunk wasn’t very good for photography. Finally, on September 23, 2018 at 2:01 pm, as I stood in position on the shore framing up Goat Island Light for the umpteenth time, sunbreaks started to create the light I was after. I managed to make four images, altering exposure settings between them, before the sun went under again. I exposed for the highlights because I wanted texture in the sunlit portions of the buildings. For the non-photographers still reading at this point, this simply means that I made my camera settings so that the brightest spots where the sun hit the buildings wouldn’t be completely white, also referred to as being “blown out.” And I wanted the darkest of the shadows to be pure black as Wyeth would have painted them. Shooting in RAW format helped me achieve the dynamic range I would need during the post production stage. The best exposure to work with in editing was this one:

The original, unedited image.

You’ll note that it appears to be underexposed, but based on my histogram, I could tell that I hadn’t crushed the shadows too much and that there would SOME black in the darkest portions of the image. For non-photographers, the histogram is created on the camera back for each image made. We watch the graphs closely because it tells us, among other things, whether things are overexposed or underexposed. The preview image displayed on the back of digital cameras are often not very accurate, but histograms never lie.

From the histogram (left), you can also see my camera’s settings for the image. I used the Canon 70-200 mm f/2.8 l IS lens on my Canon 1DX because the lighthouse is sufficiently far enough away from land to warrant the 200 mm reach.

Taking the RAW file into Adobe Lightroom, where I do 90% of my image processing, I then increased exposure, reduced highlights, raised shadows, and increased clarity. I was going for a painterly feel, which too much sharpening can detract from, so I left sharpening alone. I added two graduated filters in the sky to increase exposure, reduce highlights, increase clarity, and dehaze. And the water received one graduated filter to decrease exposure and to dehaze as my goal was to increase texture in the water.

The image after editing in Adobe Lightroom.

Next came the crop to 16:9 that I had envisioned when composing the image, and I cropped in a bit tighter, too, to make the buildings not look too diminutive in the landscape and to remove the shore marker on the right. Note that I kept the compositional rule of thirds in mind when cropping and kept the horizon line directly at the bottom third.

The edited and cropped image.

One of the beautiful things about shooting in RAW format is that the sensor will store all the data it captures in a sky that has texture in it but is quite hazy. You can see the lines, or striations, that are there and ready to be brought out a bit more. If I had shot in JPG format, much of the data in the sky wouldn’t have been retained by the camera and I would have had much less to work with in post-production.

My final step was to roundtrip the image through the plugin NIK Color Effects, where I worked the real Andrew Wyeth magic by increasing details and contrast while desaturating the color. I was aiming for the color palette Mr. Wyeth often used. Note what increasing details and desaturating colors did to the sky and water, among other things.

The image following the artist increasing detail and desaturating colors.

There is so much data in a RAW file that is just aching to be brought out!

Finally, since I had luck making a tribute to Andrew Wyeth with this image, I printed the giclée on canvas to give the final product even more of a painterly feel. I chose a complementary frame that was placed directly around the print, skipping a mat, which heightens the painterly effect even more.

Goat Island Lighthouse, archival giclée-on-canvas, $295.

Come visit us at the Paradigm Gallery to see this stunning work of art and more of John Gevers’ fine art giclée and aluminum sublimation prints! Out of town or can’t make it in? Feel free to call us at 260-422-6467 to purchase by phone. We ship! We’re open: Tuesday-Saturday 10am-6pm; Thursday 10am-8pm; and Sunday 12pm-5pm.

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