Nick Brandt does NOT add animals

Discussion in 'Photographers' started by Solarize, Jan 10, 2010.

  1. Solarize

    Solarize Member

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    I just wanted to make a public correction about a thread that was posted several weeks ago about Nick Brandt. Among other comments from many that suggested digital trickery with his images, I contributed much too hastily and misquoted from an article in Photo Pro Magazine. To correct myself, he does not clone in animals.

    To quote correctly in full:

    "Even though I use heavy ND grads and red filters, there's still a lot more grading that is usually done in Photoshop. Pulling more details out of the highlights and shadown is the main thing, and I draw the line at adding in animals, cloning them, etc, and my skies will all be from the actual time and place. I do bracket sometimes if I get a chance to get a better exposure on the sky from another frame, but it's shot at the same time. I only ever added in one sky, in a photo called 'Giraffe Fan' in 2000. I don't soften the images in post at all - any 'softening' is all done in-camera at the time of shooting, with a low-tech, on-the-fly crude version of swing and tilt"

    I've just come off the phone with Nick and we had a good chat about his work. In between my continuous 'I can't believe I misread that' apologies, he talked quite candidly about his process and where he draws the lines in post production. He does stich panoramas (a 6x17 is too impractical for the wild!) and he does dodge/burn in PS. His platinum prints are made with what sounds like an amazingly involved process with multiple negative and so on, and he is no longer as fond of the polaroid borders he added to earlier images.

    Nick, I'm so sorry for misquoting, and so releived I'm not a journalist! If you should ever contribute to a thread on this forum, I am quite sure people would love to hear your thoughts direct, rather than as second hand news!

    PS: Nick has offered to send me some contacts of the original images. While I will take him at his word re: digital manipulation (or lack of), the opportunity to hold the raw material he creates his artwork with certainly sound appealing :smile:

    Mods: please ammend comments in the previous thread.
     
  2. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I had a chat today with Nick as well, and in fact, my recollection of something I had read and written about his work was inaccurate, so apologies to Nick for my carelessness. The work is gorgeous, and unique among photographers who specialize making pictures of animals. I still find his pictures somehow lacking a certain emotional depth, but that has more to do with my own personal taste (a preference for documentary photography) than with how he chooses to make his pictures.

    I hope he'll be able to take a moment, and share his thoughts about his work.
     
  3. nickbran

    nickbran Member

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    Nick Brandt here. I saw the earlier thread regarding my photography, and felt compelled to enter the fray and clarify some points and misinformation. Thanks to the very gracious Ciaran for his post above.

    I shoot with a Pentax 67II and scan my negs. That much is true. Photoshop is a fantastic darkroom for getting the details out of the shadows and highlights with a level of detail that I never could obtain in the darkroom. However, the integrity of the scene I am photographing is always unequivocally maintained in the final photograph. Animals and trees are not cloned or added. The sky is the sky that was there.
    In panoramic photos, I take two consecutive frames and stitch them together. They are taken consecutively, and as quickly as possible. In the past, I tried working with a Fuji 6x17 rangefinder camera, and if you know the camera, you'll understand how impractical that is with animals on the move.
    I have no interest or desire in cloning or adding animals. It would indeed defeat the purpose. Anyone is welcome to trek up my to my house and look at my contact sheets to see that the final photos are what I am shooting.
    Some people think that what some of what I shoot could not possibly be real. If you wait long enough, and are lucky enough (and don't use a telephoto lens and therefore look at the literally bigger picture) you'll also see scenes just like in those photos. (Many times, those scenes were taken with many other vehicles there). However, hurry, because with every passing year, those sights are disappearing.

    However, I do agree with the criticisms of those borders on the early photos, damn it. There is a good reason I originally used them - to try and further convey that these animals were from another bygone era, but I now regard that particular effect as overly cheap, tricksy and ubiquitous, and now print those images without the borders. Live and learn.

    I also agree with some criticism of overly zealous dodging and burning, but only in early prints. These were the work of a new photographer getting over-excited with the tools of the trade. However, a lot of what you see is due to use of the heaviest ND Grads and red filters. If you think there's too much dodging and burning in later work, fine, we'll agree to disagree. (Until maybe I agree with you in another few years....)
     
  4. Eric Rose

    Eric Rose Subscriber

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    Thanks for contributing Nick. I love your stuff, bought the book and look forward to more. I hope you can find time to become a member of our group and share some of your vast knowledge with us.

    Eric
     
  5. photomem

    photomem Member

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    Nick,

    Thanks for the info on your process. I would love to buy your book, but I am a university student on an ambitious project to open my own studio soon. Therefore, no money for art books or prints. I love the work and cannot wait to see more!

    Tommy
     
  6. nickbran

    nickbran Member

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    Well, you over-flatter me with talk of "my vast knowledge". I've learned everything by much trial and more error, and had I seen posts with a couple of the more valid criticisms, I might now a better photographer for it!

    I will say that I plan to stay shooting film for the forseeable future, repeated airport x-ray exposure problems permitting.
    1) I personally have found there to be a kind dull perfection to the digital 'capture' (ugh, awful word).
    2) Even though not being able to see the film for weeks/months scares the hell out of me, I find it helps in the actual shooting - being in the moment. With digital, the very advantage is the exact danger - that you look at what you're shooting as you do it, and thus potentially change what you're doing for the worse, instead of being completely in the moment, spontaneous and instinctive.
     
  7. Sean

    Sean Admin Staff Member Admin

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    What a superb statement. Welcome to the site Nick!

    Sean
     
  8. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    Nick, very nice of you to stop in, and I wish we'd hear more from you in the future. Keep up the medium format work, it's beautiful!
     
  9. nickbran

    nickbran Member

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    Thanks, Sean. But of course, a photographer using a digital camera could justifiably argue that being able to review what he's doing in the midst of shooting, he could change what he's doing for the better. And in many cases that is true. I just know that from my personal experience, when I've experimented shooting digital, my mid-shoot reviewing got in the way of being in the moment and getting a good photo. One time, I looked at what I was shooting digitally and thought blah, it's boring. But the very same subject shot almost at the same time on film turned out great, because the mysterious unpredictable interaction of light on negative created something much more interesting and surprising.
     
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  10. doughowk

    doughowk Subscriber

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    Glad for the clarification re cloning. It would have been like Salgado adding miners to those climbing the ladders, unthinkable. Now we can enjoy your work from both an artistic and a documentary viewpoint.
     
  11. Rob Skeoch

    Rob Skeoch Advertiser Advertiser

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    I bought the book before Christmas.... to get back to the theme of the original post.... and think it's fantastic. Great images and very well printed.
    Nick even sent me a file so I could do a blog on the book.

    Nick, I can see why you use the dark red filters but why do you use so many ND filters?

    -Rob
     
  12. nickbran

    nickbran Member

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    Hi Rob,
    The difference in exposure between the animals and the African skies, even on cloudy days, is usually massive - at least six stops. So I have a choice of silhouetted elephants and great sky, or detailed elephants and blown out sky. The hard maximum ND filters help pull back some of that sky detail. Photoshop helps with some of the rest. But even then, on a big print, as I'm sure you know, you get big ol' balls of grain, even with 100ASA film, where you've darkened a minimally-detailed sky to the limit.

    Glad you like the book. Honestly, the printing is not great. Too much sepia in the shadows, and kind of washed out in some images. The reproductions lack the velvety tonality and matte dustiness of the real prints.
     
  13. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I expect I might feel differently about these pictures once I've seen the prints, and it sounds like you make mural sized prints. I love big 'ol balls of grain, myself, so I imagine these pictures are rather more impressive as large prints than they are on the web or small print versions. Thanks for stopping by, and sharing some of your working methods with us here. Oh... I've never been a fan of the look of the ND filters, but seems it's a necessary evil in the light you are working in.
     
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  15. Dan Henderson

    Dan Henderson Member

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    Nick: I am the guy who started this particular s***storm, although that was not my intention. I heard about your book, checked it out from my local library, and really loved the photographs. I think you portray the animals as beings that experience pain, loss, happiness, and many other emotions that we humans do, and that your photographs might help in some way to save them. It was never my intention to disparage you or your pictures in any way. I simply posted the question because I was curious about your workflow, since it is not explained in the book. If I offended you in any way, please accept my apology. Interestingly, the thing I was initially curious of was the variations between sharp and out of focus areas of the pictures, a question that you answered in this post. Thank you for contributing here at APUG.
    Sincerely,
    Dan Henderson
     
  16. nickbran

    nickbran Member

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    Hi Dan
    No need to apologize. I don't have a problem being criticized. It would be very diva-like of me to get all huffy-and-puffy about that. My issue was with the inaccurate comments regarding adding and cloning animals, as this would undermine what I do, and this inaccuracy didn't come from you. Like Doug said, it would have been like Salgado adding in miners on the ladders.

    Re the thing you did ask about the photos that have the variation between the sharp and out of focus areas, did I answer it here? Not sure I did, but that effect is all in camera, a personal crude, low-tech manual version of tilt/shift. Using a tilt/shift lens would have exactly the same effect, but is of course, way too impractical to use on the fly with moving subject matter.
    thanks again
    Nick
     
  17. cdowell

    cdowell Member

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    I continue on a day-by-day basis to be more impressed by this forum and the quality of discussions found here. As a result of this particular thread, I've just ordered my first Nick Brandt book and will have it in hand Wednesday. Looking forward to digging in.
     
  18. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    <sigh> I gotta buy the book too :wink:
     
  19. doughowk

    doughowk Subscriber

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    Ordered a copy of "A Shadow Falls". The images in the 1st book were truly mesmerizing, and am looking forward to viewing the newer images. From your exhibition list, do not see anything close to this area. A shame! Have you thought about exhibits at such places as Southeast Museum of Photography or High Museum in Atlanta?
     
  20. nickbran

    nickbran Member

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    Hi Doug, CDowell

    Doug - not sure how you were able to order A Shadow Falls - they're sold out due to the 'conservative' (to put it politely) publishers not printing enough. New print run in in late April. You may have a long wait unless you found a lone straggler.

    fyi : The new book, A Shadow Falls, is much better than the first, On This Earth. The book is a lot bigger, and the photos a lot better, more sophisticated, mostly better graded, and without those damned effectsy borders that are on a dozen of the photos in the first book. To use the album analogy, On This Earth had some great hit singles, but some really weak album tracks. A Shadow Falls has many more good album tracks along with the hit singles.
    If you are able to get A Shadow Falls in 1st edition, there is one panorama shot that is totally real, a complete match to the contact sheet, that no-one believes, but embarrasingly, I screwed up by over-excitedly over-working in photoshop (graded more naturalistically in the 2nd edition) - it will be easy to tell which photo I'm talking about.

    cdowell - you must have ordered On This Earth. See above comments for pre-emptive excuses!

    Doug - re exhibitions - I would love for as many people as possible to see the photos everywhere in the incarnation they are meant to be seen - as large (40"x50"+) prints, where the images take on something of the epic monumentality of the places and animals I'm photographing. Right now, I'm maxed out with multiple exhibitions since the publication of the new book. Seven down since September, another 3 to come in the next few months.
     
  21. perkeleellinen

    perkeleellinen Member

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    I also just ordered "A Shadow Falls" on the basis of this thread. Looking forward to getting it (from the US, couldn't find a UK stockist).
     
  22. cdowell

    cdowell Member

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    Correct. Amazon was showing the new one as unavailable at the moment and I thought I'd go old school...

    Glad I did now -- the amazon note made it sound like the new book would ship in 11-13 days, not three months.

    No excuses needed. What could be more right than an artist growing and refining his vision on a daily basis? But I do want to see the new one now that I know how happy you are with the printing.
     
  23. doughowk

    doughowk Subscriber

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    Nick, Amazon US shows 6 copies left; and delivery by Jan 29th. Hopefully, they are not in error. As far as Exhibitions, keep us in mind if any future openings.
     
  24. rpsawin

    rpsawin Subscriber

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    Nick,

    I enjoy your work very much and have a greater appreciation of it as a result of this conversation. Thank you for your comments especially how digital fits into your workflow.

    Best regards,

    Bob
     
  25. nickbran

    nickbran Member

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    Danger, danger, Will Robinson. Those six books are secondary market books, selling for a whopping $80-$120.
     
  26. nickbran

    nickbran Member

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    Well, happy with MY printing in A Shadow Falls. Not so happy with the book printing - too sepia, especially in shadows, some images washed out, very inconsistent. Not matching the dusty velvety rich tonality of my printing.

    Hopefully, the second printing of the book will be better, but for those who know book printing, the reason that the 1st printing was so wayward- and god forbid any of you should go through this - but the factory (in Hong Kong) did not use color strips and a densitometer for the first printing. Their voices dripping with mocking ridicule, they arrogantly told me, "we don't use machines, we use our eyes". The erratic inconsistent printing was the inevitable result. I've now kicked and screamed for the normal logical workflow used the world over - color strips and densitometer. So if they use them right, the second printing should be much better.
     
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