Each month a prize-winning photograph from the archives of the Crozet Calendar will be published together with a story from the photographer of how the image was made and commentary by Sam Abell about the merits of the photograph.
Behind any successful photograph is a story of physical, mental and technical effort—an effort that is meant to disappear when the photograph is seen by others. That’s one reason I prefer the word “make” to the word “take” when referring to the process of creating photographs.
But making a photograph today can be quite different than it was just one generation ago. That›s proven by Brad Anthony’s seemingly straightforward photograph of a boat beside water. Invisibly embedded in it is a successful blending of the traditional and non-traditional techniques contemporary photographers currently use to “build” an image.
In Brad’s words: “Lickinghole Basin is a very serene place to visit at sunrise. This particular morning, I went there anticipating some mist or fog due to autumn’s changing temperatures when the water is still warm but the air stays much cooler at night.
“I’d seen this boat floating around and photographed it several other times. I also know the basin well and how light hits it at sunrise vs sunset. In this case I wanted sunrise since it would light up the trees and their reflection across the water.
“I had to trudge through mud and muck to get behind the boat which was about 20 feet off the shoreline. Water level was slightly lower than normal, which allowed me to get in this position.
“It was now around 7:30 and I had been out for an hour already, just waiting for the light. As the sun began to rise, the trees started lighting up and the contrasting clouds took shape. I composed over the boat for foreground interest leading the eye into the depths of the landscape beyond.”
So, even before Brad arrived on location, there was a good deal of traditional thought taking place. His knowledge of seasonal atmospheric effects as well as the specific site— even of the wandering boat itself—are important invisible elements that enter the equation. Then there was the trudging and waiting. All very familiar to photographers doing field work.
But the least visible work in Brad’s photograph is on the non-traditional, technical side. What seems like a straightforward single image is really the blending, or ‘stacking’, of three separate exposures.
“This image (made with a Nikon D300s and a 10-20MM lens, wide open) had quite a bit of dynamic range. So, I captured three images and digitally stacked them to get the foreground, middleground, and background exposures correct.”
Dynamic range relates to the tonal range of an image. When the range is great that means the difference between the lights and darks in a given scene is extreme. Our eyes are able to automatically adjust to those extremes, but cameras cannot. By making three exposures—one for the dark boat, one for the mid-tone trees and one for the bright sky—and then digitally combining them Brad is able to render a final photograph that resembles the scene as our eyes would register it if we were standing beside him.
Such “stacking” requires skill. The ideal is to conceal the fact that multiple exposures have been made to produce the finished photograph. But often the technique is obvious. The resulting image seems artificial and inauthentic. But, as Brad said, “I try to ‘get’ the image correct in the camera instead of doing a ton of post-edit.”
I was curious about how Brad came to this advanced practice of photography and asked him when cameras had entered his life.
“I started in my early teens with a 110 film camera taking random pictures and knew I really enjoyed it. Later I moved to larger 35mm film cameras with interchangeable lenses. I also read books to educate myself. I got my first digital SLR camera when I graduated college. Then—between work, life, and kids the last 10 years—I took a hiatus from regular shooting.
“But the pandemic created a perfect opportunity for me to dive back into picture-making and get out of the house. I have recently rediscovered that my passion for photography is still there and it’s something I will continue to pursue and enjoy.
“Now I shoot casually all year long with several ‘day adventures’ in the local area or to the Virginia seashore. I also get inspired by atmospheric elements like snowfall, sunsets or by taking a Blue Ridge mountain drive or hiking to find a new scene.
“This is in keeping with my long established interest in landscape photography. It has always been a hobby of mine. I find it very relaxing to think about nothing but what is in front of me while composing images. This helps my brain ‘turn off’ and allows me to witness some of our area’s beautiful natural creations.”
Visit Brad Anthony’s website, bradanthonyphotography.com or Instagram, @banthony11.