The Great Wave, Greymouth 2023

One of the most famous examples of Japanese art is called The Great Wave Off Kanagawa. It is a woodblock print produced by Katsushika Hokusai in 1831. No – the photograph above is not it!

Not too many years after that, one of the most influential French photographers you’ve probably never heard of – Gustav Le Gray, – produced his own photographic masterpiece – The Great Wave, Sète.

For the first time ever on my blog, I am using a photograph not of my own creation. Below is The Great Wave, Sète by Gustave Le Gray, circa-1857.

the great wave sete by gustave le gray
The Great Wave, Sète – Gustave Le Gray, circa 1857

By now you’re probably asking yourself “so what? Where is this going?”.

Well – here is where it is going.

Back on 1 August, while on a road trip stopover in Greymouth, I took and posted a photograph of my own version of the great wave on my daily photo blog. At the time I had a vague feeling that my image had a look of familiarity about it. I thought I had seen something like it somewhere else.

Sure enough, when I arrived home I found The Great Wave, Sète featured in Tom Ang’s book Photography, The Definitive Visual History.

So impressed was I that I decided to have a crack at emulating Gustave Le Gray’s style.

Hence, the wave I captured in Greymouth has been transformed into this.

The Great Wave, Greymouth (August, 2023)

I don’t think that my emulation has captured the same degree of rawness and drama that Le Gray achieved in his photograph, but with the help of Nik Silver Efex Pro and Nik Analog Efex I certainly feel that I have added a retro-look and a little bit more drama and appeal to The Great Wave, Greymouth.

As I am more a believer in the finished image than the process, I don’t normally get into detail about how I process my images other than stating what editing package(s) I have used.

Here though is a brief rundown of how I achieved the end result.

But first – a thought for you to consider…

Why do we photographers spend hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars on camera/lens equipment to get the best possible image? Then we spend hundreds more on a computer and software to further enhance images from the camera, and then we use more (often the same) software to alter the image to make it look like it is over 100 years old?

I guess the answer is because we are creative – and we can!

So – here’s the workflow I used for these photographs:

  • RAW files processed in DxO Photolab 6, with basic adjustments – brightness, contrast, structure, etc – made to the overall image;
  • Control lines and or control points applied in specific areas of the image to fine-tune Clearview, micro-contrast, exposure, sharpness, highlights, shadows, etc;
  • Exported to Nik Silver Efex Pro in 16-bit TIF format;
  • Preset based on Film Noir 2 preset created (and saved for re-use later) to alter toning of image, burn edges, add minor vignette, adjust/add film grain effect, etc.;
  • Saved in TIF;
  • Re-opened in Nik Analog Efex and old-fashioned scratches, film blemishes, etc added (but not too obvious);
  • Saved, renamed and exported (resized at the same time) to jpeg format for use here.

Gustave Le Gray was a clever man. He was a successful sculptor, draughtsman, painter and photographer. He produced some great photographs in his very early pioneering work, and yet the only French photographer I could ever think of was Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Nevertheless, Le Gray and especially his seascapes including The Great Wave – has inspired me to convert more of my recent photographs to resemble photographs from the late 1850s.

I’ve called my emulation “The Le Gray Effect”.

The End Of The Line, Blaketown Breakwater, Greymouth – August 2023
The Mouth Of The Grey River, Greymouth – August 2023
Miro and Rita, Ships’ Graveyard – near Invercargill – August 2023

I thought I’d also try the “The Le Gray” effect on a few other types of photograph – a landscape, some trees, and a drop of water on a branch.

View Up Jacobs River, South Westland – August 2023
Trees In The Mist, McLeans Recreation Reserve near Motueka – July 2023
A Drop Ready To Drop, McLeans Recreation Reserve near Motueka – July 2023

In summary The Great Wave has given me inspiration to continue with my black-and-white efforts, so I am looking forward to sharing more with you in the very near future.

For now though you can enjoy each of the Le Gray Effect images in slideshow form.

As always, please send me your comments using the form at the bottom of this post.

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