Zone out with us in this artistic SIC show - no HDR drugs were taken - promise!

Share - Artist turned photographer?
Inspire - Images that speak to you & the HDR drug!
Create - Blake's workflow using the Zone System (based on Ansel Adams system) and how it can help your photography.

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Johny & Brent

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In this episode:

(01:04) Grew up as a painter
(02:28) Ended up using photography
(02:39) Composite work in Photoshop
(03:16) Bixby Canyon Bridge
(03:53) Use HDR as a tool to create images
(04:49) HDR or High Dynamic Range photography
(06:41) Use HDR to post process an image
(07:54) Blue Mountains of Georgia
(09:28) Never master because you'll get bored
(09:55) Process of experimentation
(10:32) An Autumn tree into the light
(11:50) The glimmer of hope
(12:59) 1 year-5 year tenure plan
(14:40) Workflow using the Zone System
(15:39) Built a 0 to 10 scale zone system
(16:34) Color zone system
(18:27) What is Zone system?

Episode Highlights:

Share Inspire Create

Share - Artist turned photographer?

  • grew up as a painter
  • school for printmaking and sculpture
  • lithography and silkscreen and edging
  • ended up using photography as a means to photograph things
  • composite work in Photoshop

Inspire - Images that speak to you & the HDR drug!
1.Bixby Canyon Bridge - difficult to shoot
-use HDR as a tool to create my images HDR or High Dynamic Range photography
-like an addictive drug

  • bracketing- take those brackets into some form of processing element like Photomatix or Photoshop
  • pushes and pulls your highlights to an extent
  • exploiting the excess information in your highlights and shadows
  • use HDR to post process an image

2.Cascade or a waterfall - Blue Mountains of Georgia

  • never want to master it because if you master you’re gonna get bored
  • 4 total images put together into one
  • experimentation - surprise element

3. Looking up at a tree into the light

  • 6 feet tall but looks huge, it looks epic and it looks monumental
  • the artistic effects with the light rays blowing through
  • glimmer of hope - to be on top
  • 1 year-5 year tenure plan
  • there’s never an end to it
  • no matter where you are in your career or mind-set there’s always something bigger for you

Create - Blake's workflow using the Zone System (based on Ansel Adams system) and how it can help your photography.

1. built a 0 to 10 scale zone system

  • breaks your photograph into all the 11 zones from 0 to zone 10 on that 0 to 255 spread
  • modify curves layer within zone 0 to zone 10

2. color zone system

  • does the same thing for all of your colors
  • to try and mix color like a painter on a pallet
  • also works for tone

Zone System

  • workflow kind of guideline essentially
  • work in your photograph like a photographer
  • work in your photograph like a painter with color


Johny: hey guys what’s up? It’s Johny here. And welcome to another episode of the SIC show and as always I’m super pumped to be here. And I’m here with my main man B. How are you my brother?

Brent: Yeah man I’m feeling like I’m an artist today.

Johny: This week on the show we interviewed Blake Rudis, an artist turned photographer.

Brent: Yeah and he’s gonna inspire us with some images and he’s gonna talk about the HDR drug. And then the Create section Blake’s gonna use and show us his work for the Zone system based on Ansel Adams Zone system and how it’s gonna help your photography.

Johny: Also don’t forget to check out our free courses. Click the link below and grab your free course today while you still can. Let’s get into it.

Brent: Enjoy.
An Artist Turned Photographer

Brent: Alright Blake share something with us so many people know about you.

Blake: So one of the things about me is I guess that’s kind of interesting is that I grew up as a painter. I was painting with Barb Ross. And like at 5 years old and he’s like the happy trees guy you know. So I grew up as a painter and then I went to school for printmaking and sculpture. And while I was in school for printmaking and sculpture I was surrounded by photographers. And they became like the legitimate bane of my existence. It’s kind of funny coz it comes in full circle. I’m actually more on photography now than anything else. But it’s because of this one individual in my class and she always tells me “I’m a photographer I don’t need to draw,” “I’m a photographer I don’t need to paint.” I’m a photographer I don’t need to sculpt.” It was like every semester I was stuck with this girl. So finally I got to a point and was like “look you draw coz if you can draw a composition you can photograph it and you paint because if you can mix colors and you can understand coloring your photographs and you sculpt because if you can make something 3 Dimensional then you know how to photograph something 3 Dimensional.” And it just kind of like went over her head you know so like after I graduated college I went back into painting because I had my printing process. I was doing lithography and silkscreen and edging and all these you know big heavy printing type things or old school stuff. So I’m back to painting. And then I ended up using photography as a means to photograph things that I saw in the real world to take into my painting so that I could eventually end up painting those. And then that turned into composite work in Photoshop to challenge myself with layers and then that turned into I wanted better photographs for my composites. So that’s where the HDR stuff came in.

Brent: Awesome so you’re a true artist then; an artist taken into photography. And now you’re creating art through your photography. That’s great.

Blake: Yeah it’s good.
Images that Speak to You & the HDR Drug!

Brent: Alright Blake so inspire us with a couple of your amazing images. I’m looking at them right now so tell me about them.

Blake: Right so one of the first images you’ll probably gonna see is of the Bixby Canyon Bridge. And that’s on Highway 01 in California. And in that bridge in particular is it’s why they shot by a lot of photographers and even you know that shot in particularly was taking it. There were probably a 30 or 40 tourists all taking pictures of the exact same spot. But it’s very difficult to shoot because you know that coast you don’t always get the best images. But that was right before I started EverydayHDR, right before I started my blog. And right when I started to understand how to use HDR as a tool to create my images to the scope that I wanted to see. That was the very first photograph that I actually took that when I created it everything clicked. Everything just, it was right there. It was one of those things where you get that epiphany where you’re stuck in this workflow kind of trap where you’re not quite sure where you need to go with your photographs. That was the first one that kind of hit me both because I finally got that good shot of the Bixby Canyon Bridge and also because when I was post processing it, it spoke to me. And the whole process started to speak to me.

Brent: To those people Blake that doesn’t know HDR or High-dynamic-range photography is, can you explain what it is?

Blake: Yeah it’s like a drug you never wanna take.

Brent: Like you say addictive?

Blake: Yes I mean look I’m wearing and HDR rock shirt you know. I’m an addict of HDR. And really when it comes down to it you know with high dynamic range there is a mentality that high dynamic range was bracketing and taking those brackets. There are three brackets a light picture, a dark picture and a medium picture. And you take those into some form of processing element like Photomatix or Photoshop. And you create a 32-bit image that gets toll down to what we can say a 16 bit image. But really what it does is just kind of pushes and pulls your highlights to an extent that is beyond what we think as reality. But the irony is that, that’s probably the closest you’re gonna get to the reality what your eye sees. Coz our eyes can see up to about 22 different stops of light where our camera can only take one stop of light. But with the HDR process you get to exploit that. But really what’s happening with the HDR world now is what I like to say when I teach HDR is that if you even touch your highlights or your shadows sliders, you are incurring a high dynamic range in your photograph.

Brent: So like in Lightroom if you’re adjusting the sliders or for shadows and highlights.

Blake: Exactly because what you’re doing there is you take the information from the single and you're exploiting the excess information that’s there in your highlights and shadows so ultimately you are hiding the dynamic range of the photograph. So traditionally what people think of HDR and it gets such a bad name it’s because if you Google it you’re gonna find some really nasty stuff. But if you really boil down what the term HDR is and what you actually get from the process most photographers are probably working of their own HDR right now and don’t even realize it.

Brent: Awesome, so back to the image. So this is the first image you took where you saw the potential of using HDR to post process this image so that it look more real than your camera actually showed you on the back of your screen because I see there’s a lot of cloud cover and maybe it was a bit of gray day. There are some sunny areas but there are some dark areas. So tell a little bit more about that.

Blake: Right, and it’s one of those areas that is where when the cloud cover walks in. It comes in and it’s very thick and it’s very heavy. And when you see that depth in that image from the foreground to the background it’s really hard. It’s almost impossible to capture one photograph. So that was kind of where I saw reality for the EverydayHDR stuff and it really hit me the most and made the most impact. You know if you look at some of the past stuff in EverydayHDR when I advertised EverydayHDR it’s always that picture.

Brent: Awesome.

Blake: Because that’s the picture that spoke to me the most. But yeah you can’t really capture that range of cloud coverage without something being blown out in that instance whereas with the HDR stuffing you can keep it all kind in that day.

Brent: Awesome, good. So the next image I’ve got of you or from you is looks like a cascade or a waterfall coming down. Is that the one we’re looking at?

Blake: Right, yes and that’s an interesting one coz that was taken in the Blue Mountains of Georgia. And really that one speaks to me too coz that was actually filming the intro to Exploring HDR, the video series. My wife was doing the film of me shooting that and that’s one of those images where you’re on scene and you just know that out of the whole day you’re not gonna process any other photograph but that one.

Brent: The keeper.

Blake: That’s the one the minute you get home you are like “yes that’s the one I don’t need to look at the rest of them. This is the one that I’m gonna put the most work and the most time and the most effort into.” But it’s also one of the things that even after being photographer for upwards of you know little over 16 years and even an artist for I don’t even know how long you know. They’re still a surprise to me. And they’re still a shock to me. That even in this world with that much experience there’s nothing that’s predictable. You know with that photograph I had this idea in my head of how that’s gonna turn out. And then in the processing of it, it turned out better. And that’s the thing for all these aspiring photographers that are coming up in the world is that you’re never gonna master this. And that’s a good thing. You should never want to master it because if you master you’re gonna get bored. So with that photograph you know it’s like I was on the scene I felt that it was gonna be the good shot of the day but then when I was post processing it with that one I was blending an HDR process with the long exposure process. So that’s actually about 4 total images that I kind of put together into one. But in that process of experimentation and saying “okay what happens if I mix this HDR with this long exposure stuff? What’s gonna happen?” I didn’t know yet. So as I was experimenting with it, it all kind of came into fruition and it really that’s the surprise element. Like it doesn’t matter how long you think you’ve been doing this or what you think you know? You still don’t know anything when it really boils down to it.

Brent: Yeah man, love it. And I love those four colors back there too. So you got the cooler colors in the foreground. You know the water and that goes to the warmer colors in the background. Lovely and we’ll jump on to the last image you sent me. And it looks like I’m looking up at a tree into the light. Now this is definitely where HDR really kicks in because you basically well if you’re looking at this or photograph this in a normal camera or just on auto it would be a silhouette right.

Blake: More than likely yes and that one is interesting because I took that in 2012. It was on a photowalk that I was doing for Scott Kelby worldwide photo walk. I was a host in a photo walk here in Weston, Missouri. And that tree is only about 6 feet tall. But it looks huge, it looks epic and it looks monumental. And when I look at my photographs and I say “Okay which one is the one that speaks to me the most?” It’s that photograph because at that time I hadn’t written any books yet. I hadn’t had any educational material besides my blog that I started in 2010. So we’re looking at about 2 year’s span of just working really hard to get to that point. And when I look up to that tree it’s kind of like “Yeah this tree is only 6 feet tall but I made it look huge and epic.” And especially with the artistic effects with the light rays blowing through and just that glimmer of hope that there’s a whole bunch of stuff that’s gonna all wrap with that one photograph. I wasn’t quite where I wanted to be but I knew I wanted to be bigger. And I think that it doesn’t matter what you do. Whether you’re a photographer or an architect or anything you are but you’re always trying to one up yourself. You’re always trying to get to the top of that tree. And even if you start out as a 6 foot tall tree you have these ideas in your head that you’re gonna be a 12, 15, 30, 40, 50, 60, 80 foot tree. But by the time you get to that point you’re still kind of at the same point that you were in the beginning. You’re still trying to one up yourself. And that’s the photograph that you know a lot of times with me when I’m done with the photograph, I’m done. I processed it, I educate on it and I’m done. But I probably printed that photograph 15 different times. One’s on canvass, on metal, on metallic paper. It’s right here on my office right next to me all the time so when I get into those doldrums you know there’s like there’s no window my sails. I look over at that picture like “You know what that’s where you were in 2012 and look where you’re coming and look where you’re going.” And I always have a 1 year-5 year tenure plan. And my goal on that 1 year-5 year tenure plan is to always one up that 1 year plan so that by the time the 5 year plan happens I’ve already developed another 5 year plan. And I think that’s kind of what that tree speaks to me about is that there’s never an end to it. And that no matter where you are in your career, where you are in your mind-set there’s always something bigger for you.

Brent: Totally and I think that’s a really good metaphor for the journey us photographers go through especially if you’re running a business that involves photography. I don’t actually know how you can do a 1 or 5 year forecast. I do a 12 week forecast. And even that’s difficult for me.

Blake: Right.

Brent: You know when it comes to goal setting and that type of thing. So awesome and thanks for sharing it with us. How did you get those rays if sun or light rays coming through the tree like that? What did you do?

Blake: What I do with that was I selected for the highlights in Photoshop. And I made a copy of the highlight layer. And then I took a radio blur and blew it out with the zoom. I actually have a video on that on my YouTube channel so if you want to check that out it’s there. And if you adjust the highlights it won’t blow anything else out but then you can also put some protections in place for your mid tones and your shadows looks like a natural blow up but in reality if you wanna see the original photograph of that there was no highlight rays going out or whatsoever.

Brent: Okay awesome. Well thanks for inspiring us with those Blake. They’re amazing.

Blake: Thank you.
Using the Zone System and how it can help your Photography

Brent: Tell me a little bit more about the Zone System that you’re talking about.

Blake: Sure, so it was in about 2013 I was getting back into some of my high school reading. I picked up Ansel Adams books; The Camera, The Negative and The Print. And if you’ve never read any of those books they’re written in the 80’s by Ansel Adams. And they still ring thru today to good photography. If you wanna make the best this is the place to start. And actually you probably get your whole education just from Ansel Adams’ The 80’s on Analog Film even on the digital world. So what I do is I wanted to not create a wheel for workflow. I wanted to create a workflow that would work for us in Photoshop just like what Ansel Adams had created in camera. And what he further created in the print. And so what I did I took the concept of his own system and built a 0 to 10 scale zone system so when you press play on this action it breaks your photograph into all the 11 zones from 0 to zone 10 on that 0 to 255 spread. But it organically selects those zones. It’s not like luminosity masking I don’t want people to confuse luminous mask coz it’s not like a luminance values it’s selecting the individual colors for zero thru zone 10. And it allows you to modify curves layer within zone 0 to zone 10. So the idea is you get your tone right first. So my workflow is I open up a pretty basic HDR image that has no stylization to it or whatsoever. I bring it in the Photoshop and press play I get my 10 zones for the tone. I really get in the tone to make sure that all of my tones are set correctly. And then there’s the color zone system after that. So then after that zone I’m working on so we’re not gonna block away the photograph. I’m working on a color photographic tone. I press play on the color zone system action and it does the same thing for all of your colors. So you get red, green, and blue, yellow. And you even get some of the tertiary colors like orange so that you can modify those colors in between. And that really kind of evolve. At first it was color to try and mix color like a painter on a pallet. As I’ve started to develop that the color zone system also works for tone, also even if you get your tones right over your 0 to 10 now you have your colors. It’s a very what I call a “layer intensive process” but not a labour intensive process. Sound like a lot but when it comes down to it I like to consider myself for workflow of efficiency expert at this point. If I see something that my workflow is not working, it’s taking too long, I throw it out. And I’ve been doing that for a long period of time. So I’ve incorporated a workflow over the course of 6 or 7 years that this has been failing over and over again. And you throw those pieces out until you get the efficient workflow that works. So some of these images that I’m creating now used to take me 3, 4, 5 hours to create. Now they’re taking me anywhere from 7 to 20 minutes to create just because I’ve nailed it down to getting the photo technically perfect with tone . Getting it perfectly with color and then I’m moving it to artistic realm.

Brent: Awesome, so what does that mean for someone who actually wants to take or use the Zone System? And they photograph something as an HDR image. What does it mean to them? How it will help them?

Blake: It’s basically a workflow kind of guideline essentially. So what happen to me when I first started was I would jump into Photoshop with the photo. And I make a curves adjustment layer. Make a level adjustment layer. But what I was really doing was I was throwing darts in the dark. You know it’s like you have no idea of what you’re doing in the Photoshop unless you really boil it down to a workflow that works. So it’s basically taking the tried and true test stuff over the course of time that many artists have been putting together; putting it all into one. So you work in your photograph like a photographer with tone and you work in your photograph like a painter with color. And once you’re done with those 2 systems you have a complete and finished final product. So you’re exploiting the dynamic ranges in there. And that’s the thing. It’s like I like to talk about the workflow process as almost like an interrogation. The information is in the file. It’s in there. You got to get out there somehow. And these techniques are like the waterboarding of interrogation in a bench. And why I use the extern process is because you can get a lot more out of 16 bit tiff that you can out of a 14 bit single exposure. So it really helps to use that exploited workflow.

Brent: Awesome, well I hope this workflow is actually voted by the Geneva Convention and like the water boarding.

Blake: it’s just an analogy you know.

Brent: Well thanks and actually I’m going to jump in and have a look at your Zone System. I know you’re gonna give me access in. So anyone who wants to we’ll have the link up below the show so jump in and check out Blake’s Zone System. Thanks for being on the show Blake. Really enjoyed you know your share. You know how you the artist or the photographer. The artist became a photographer and using the art in your photography. Those 3 images you inspired us were amazing and then this video. Thank you very much for being on the show.

Blake: Thank you and I appreciate it. I’m actually honored to be here. So I really thank you for inviting me on.

Brent: No worries and we’ll leave all the links around the show above or below.

Blake: Sounds good.


Johny: That was an interesting interview brother. That Zone System, he’s got for HDR. It’s pretty cool man.

Brent: Yeah it’s like an artist take on photography. And I kind of like that. So you actually or basically he’s come from an artist background. That’s what I like about it. That’s basically a photo art.

Johny: Yeah, which is all good man; I say photography is an art for me. I love it mate. Cool guys another epic show. Don’t forget to check out our free courses. Click the link below. It’s absolutely epic. And we’ll see you again next week.

Brent: And make sure you click on the link above or below to check out Blake’s Zone System.

Johny: Yeah for sure man. Check it out guys. It’s awesome.

Brent: See you guys next week.

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