I originally meant to use the following quote in an article on post processing. But the more I thought about it, the less necessary any commentary became:
“[...] as Adams stood on a granite shelf four thousand feet above the floor of Yosemite Valley, facing the motif that he later titled ‘Monolith, the Face of Half Dome’ [...] it came to Adams that the finished print might more closely match his sense of the emotional power of the experience if he revised the tonal relationships of the picture by exposing his negative through a red filter, which would deepen the tone of the sky almost to black. Adams remembered the occasion because he had, for the first time, consciously applied a specific technical solution to an aesthetic problem. He used the red filter not by rote, or because dark skies were good, but because a dark sky was necessary for the picture he envisioned.” (John Szarkowski, “Ansel Adams at 100“)
It’s obvious now though that digital photography with all of its possibilities opens up a maze of misleading paths, and I think because of that, finding one’s own artistic vision and style has become so much more difficult.
The difficulty lies in keeping what’s necessary apart from what is a fad. Is Ansel Adams the one who created the fad that black skies have become? I don’t know. The problem with skies is indeed that they’re usually rather bright, and compete with anything else in our frame for attention that way. Darkening them is a good way to shift the attention to where it should be. Nothing is ever easy.
“If you follow a fad, it’s very temporary.” (Linda Perhacs)
Oh and, in case you wonder about the photo, and what my technical solution to the aesthetic problems were: the red toning is not real. There was enough red in the original capture to make me want to enhance it, though. The contrast has been insanely increased. And I added more blur to the water, because the slight ripples caused by the wind created an uneven and distracting pattern in it (I could have done that “more naturally” with a denser ND filter; but I didn’t have with me).
I know one obvious question that will come up now: “can I see the original?” – to which I’d like to reply: “does a painter show his empty canvas to anyone before he begins his work?”