Images from the Film Archives — 1999
In August of 1992, our family began an annual tradition of spending a week in Wildwood Crest, NJ for a summer vacation, along with my wife’s twin sister, brother-in-law and niece. We rented a condominium at the extreme south end of the area, with nothing but unspoiled marshland and beaches further south from the place we stayed. Right nearby, the main road crossed miles of marshes to connect with Cape May, the renowned victorian town of colorful, vintage homes adorned with intricate gingerbread.
On one of the days during the 1999 trip, there was dense fog almost all morning, and I ventured out along that road to try to capture the mood of the marshes. I found a spot with just enough elevation to see some of the twisted waterways with a view of some trees far beyond. The grasses seemed to have a beautifully flowing pattern, undulating sensuously across the marsh there, but with the fog, the lighting was rather flat. Another thing going against any success was in order to indicate the fog that day in the photograph, the partly hidden trees and sky needed to be included, which posed the problem of a wide range of tonal values; very bright sky and darker, middle-toned grasses. I set up the camera anyway, hoping I could darken the sky using a black card to block the sky during the exposure, basically dodging the sky in real-time rather than in the darkroom. But this was color chrome film, and there was no darkroom anyway! There were a few breaks in the fog when the sun would manage to shine down lightly on various spots, which could make things even trickier.
At one point, it seemed the sun provided some gentle lightening over most of the entire scene, and I took that opportunity to make the attempt. During a 4-second exposure, I moved the card in front of the lens for the first 3-seconds, and move it out of the way to expose the sky for the final second. Quite a few things could go wrong, and usually did. In this case I was able to keep the card level while moving it, but should have allowed more exposure for the sky. The trees and sky ended up a deep gray rather than a very light gray as they should be. And so after viewing the processed film weeks later, there was quite a bit of disappointment.
It wasn’t until many years later, after I had obtained some “acquired” software and a film scanner, that I was able to scan the transparency and convert it to Black and White, and get a more accurate rendition of the tree line and sky in the distance, and accentuate the various tones throughout the grasses to realistically recreate the scene that day. Since almost all the grasses were the identical shade of green, much of the contrast was lost. But doing some gentle dodging and burning in Photoshop brought out the undulations in the Black and White version, helped somewhat by the light breaking out just then.
It took a few attempts for the balance of shadows and highlights in the grasses to be right, in keeping with the spirit of the low contrast that fog presents. Too much contrast eliminates the misty appearance, so care had to be taken not to leave a heavy handed mark on the image. I’m sure if I reprocessed the image today, it would end differently, but for now I’m happy that through digital technology, failures can become successes.