As a long time fan of National Geographic magazine I’ve always found it amazing the photographs that were taken around the world way back at the beginning of the twentieth century. Given the equipment that had to lugged across difficult terrain and the types of film and other media available, we’re all lucky so many intrepid photographers were willing to make the effort.
I’ve always like those early black-and-white photographs, so stark and detailed. The exposure times were long, the developing chemicals variable and the conditions where the process took place so wild it’s sometimes incredible they got images at all. Still, it’s a look that instantly takes you back – you know it’s not a modern image just by the overall appearance. Those blacks, whites, stark contrasts, minute details – all come together to take you back in time.
Now it can be approximated digitally. Software is available to duplicate many of the attributes found in those early images. It just takes the right composition to fit into that “look.”
Here’s an image I made that really goes with this style. This is a HDR image of an overhang on the Alum Cove National Recreational Trail near Jasper, Arkansas. The exposed face of the rock has been undercut over the centuries by water, leaving these cave-like openings that have been used by Native Americans and settlers as shelters.
This is an ambient light image composited from three different exposures. I then used the NIK Silver Efex Pro software to give it that old NatGeo look. I applied the Kodak P3200 TMAX Pro film type to the image to get more contrast and grain, and then applied a magenta filter at 110% to bring out some details in the rocks. A little darkening of the rocks on the left edge and a little brightening of the deep shadows and I’m done.
All I needed was a mummy lying in the back chamber and it would be a nearly perfect National Geographic picture.