Welcome to another post from our Topaz series, Behind the Lens! Today we’ll be learning more about photographer Jim Harris. Learn how Jim got started and learn about timed exposure, hear about creative challenges, and see a gallery of breathtaking images! Read more of Behind the Lens with Jim Harris…
Under the Creative Influence
I come from a family of talented artists. My Mother dabbled in painting but my Uncle, Marty Gunsaullus, was one of my earliest and main influences. He has made his living as an artist in Los Angeles his entire life. Marty is mainly a painter but he did do a lot with black and white film photography back in his early days. That truly inspired me.
There have been many photographers throughout the years who have given me inspiration. Many of the big names, Ansel Adams being the obvious, and people like Clyde Butcher, with his dedication to his genre of black and white large format photography being another. I got the wonderful opportunity to meet Mr. Butcher and he was quite an interesting and willing guy to talk with one on one.
What Inspires Jim
I have always loved photography that takes things to a different place, so to speak. Long exposure adds a certain “wow” factor for me to an image. I can take a scene and attempt to turn it into a piece of art. Coastal photography is something I love. By using an interesting shape of a rock or pier as a fixed foreground object, I can smooth the water to put more focus on the shapes and shadows. I can have movement in the clouds which adds an interesting dynamic to the scene.
Black and White… or Color?
I typically love stormy conditions when I do my landscapes. Stormy conditions add a certain drama and dynamics to a scene, especially at the Coast. Under low light condition, colors can be somewhat flat. By converting to black and white, I can add real dynamics and contrast to a scene, giving the scene much more impact.
Often times I will see an interesting shape or form and that also can lead to an interesting subject for black and white. Light and shadows are another perfect opportunity to convert.
Back in my early days, I had my own darkroom. I would shoot a lot of black and white film so black and white photography has always, and still does, have a major appeal to me.
With the transition to digital and with software such as Topaz B&W Effects, converting images has really become quite fun and easy! Plus, much more cost effective.
A Little About Long Exposure Photography
For long exposure photography you will typically need a few items. A solid tripod, a camera which allows to shoot in “Bulb” mode for longer then 30 second exposures, a shutter release, and I use a 10 stop Neutral Density filter made by B+W for my long exposures.
Again, when I know I want to have a long exposure shoot, I look for interesting shapes to use as an anchor while also looking for movement, whether in clouds or water. The combination of a fixed object combined with movement adds an interesting and often unusual effect to an image.
Depending on the available light will determine the length of exposure. Often times I shoot under low light condition and I will try a few exposures as a test to see where my exposures are best. Adjustments are made on the fly and many times I will “bracket” my images. By shooting long exposure you can often times have “hot spots” in the sky from over exposure so by doing bracket exposures I can blend exposures in Photoshop by using layer masks.
There are several factors I look for when I shoot, interesting shapes or light/shadow, flow of water over or around objects, and also clouds.
Old or dilapidated objects can also make for very interesting subjects.
Challenges and Disaster
There are always challenges when shooting coastal scenes, whether it is salt spray on your lens/filters, which is terrible for your equipment by the way, or rain and insects which can also ruin or make shooting very uncomfortable. Being prepared is essential. Bug spray as well as an umbrella or tarp to protect the camera is always advised.
I remember one time in particular. I typically climb out to the waters edge on rocks to get as close as I can to the ocean. One day I had my camera about chest high on my tripod and I was looking to the North. I’ve done so for many years and rarely had problems. Well, I was blind sided by a “rogue” wave which actually went OVER the top of my camera! I was VERY lucky that I was holding onto my camera and also that I didn’t lose my balance and fall onto those rocks.
Coquina rocks are very course and have many holes and contours that can severely damage skin or gear. I climbed off the rocks fearing that my camera (5D MKII) was now destroyed with salt water. While testing the functions, the rains started falling. I was able to wash off the camera and gear with some fresh rain water. Luckily my gear survived! I will never forget that wave, but I’ve been back out doing the same things over and over again anyways.
Typically, after a shoot, I will load my images into Lightroom CC. After I load my images, I will scan through the images and “Rate” using the star method. I then typically will leave them for another day to edit.
I always start my RAW processing in Lightroom CC. Then I make my basic adjustments then taking to Photoshop CC where I can further my editing.
My Favorite Topaz softwares are Denoise, Detail, Clarity and B&W Effects.
Denoise is wonderful software! When doing long exposure you can get a lot of noise in skies, especially blue skies. Typically I don’t add a plug in globally, I like to paint in or paint out where I want the specific software on a layer mask and you can do this either in Photoshop or by using Topaz layer masks which is another great feature about the Topaz software.
Detail is another superb software that I also paint in/out on layer masks. It can add “detail” to sand, waves or tidal movement in sand that I want to highlight and incorporate into the scene.
Clarity adds impact to my scenes by increasing contrast and depth. I typically paint Clarity into my waves or clouds to add depth.
B&W Effects is a wonderful conversion software. As stated, I have a special place for black and white photography and B&W Effects provides everything I love in black and white conversions. I always go to B&W Effects for its simplicity and effective control of blacks and shadows. I typically start with a neutral preset then go to the right side of the software and adjust to my taste. The dodge and burn is another wonderful tool within the software with its edge aware capabilities it makes dodging and burning very effective.
A Final Word
Thanks for joining us for Behind the Lens with Jim Harris! If you would like to keep up with Jim and see what new and beautiful creations he’s made, follow him on Flickr!
As always, I want to personally invite you to check out Topaz Labs on social media. We have Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram. And did you know we also offer free Webinars and have a great Discussion Forum?