Thursday, April 30, 2015

Ferry landing. Finding the interesting shots and telling a story.


 The last ferry of the day arrives at Fulford Harbour. I have a few minutes to wait for the bus to arrive and my camera is in my hand. What would make this commonplace and dark scene interesting? Right away I discover that straight shots of the ferry are boring and the traffic zooming up the hill, shot at normal shutter speeds and high iso is equally uninteresting. Yes, my camera can capture usable standard images, but really, who cares? I imagine several possibilities and settle for a very slow shutter speed and low iso and pan with the traffic flow. Now this is more like it!

What I have done is to think about the final image and not about a simple capture of the subject matter. The scene before me is the raw material I manipulate in order to create the photograph. This is what we are supposed to be thinking about all the time of course but somehow it is more obvious tonight. Foot passenger's black silhouettes move slowly in front of the car lights so I pan with their movement during the slow exposure and exciting things happen. My shooting tonight is based on previous experience in similar situations and so while individual photographs may contain unexpected combinations, I am able to pre-visualize what I will get from my camera settings and how I handle the camera.

Car lights flash across the funky little store on the wharf and, quickly speeding up my shutter, I use them to light the scene.

The traffic has gone, the little community lies silent and my last shot tells the end of this five minute story.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Dancing in the dark. Making expressive imagery in near dark conditions

I finished watching two lessons in two “Great Courses” presented by National Geographic photographers ( 'Fundamentals of Photography' and 'Masters of Photography' ) on ambient light and on wildlife yesterday evening. I then grabbed my camera and stepped outside into the last light of the Spring evening. Now, this was later than I would usually take pictures but with the amazing imagery from the course still before my eyes I looked around with fresh eyes. At first my shots were fuzzy because I was shooting hand held with a telephoto lens, but when I actually recalled what had been said and opened my aperture wide, increased the iso, lowered the exposure compensation, held the camera firmly against something solid and then focused manually, things began to click.

Later I thought about the images I had captured and then made some adjustments in 'Lightroom', principally to the colour. The blues you see in the photograph have been intensified and darkened and the result is that the colours carry the message of the evening just as much as the physical facts of maple tree do. The diagonal slant of the blossoms, the upward fan of the branches provide some tension and the darkness and blueness chime with the fresh green of new leaves and blossoms.

This business of adjusted colour and of overall integration of all the elements in the image to express something otherwise best expressed in poetry produced results that were so very special. Learning from the experts is so rewarding and seeing superb examples is so personally challenging. Practicing with my own camera is an important part of the process. Thank you Joel Sartore and Steve Winter for your lectures last night. I am learning so much!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Exploring ways of framing in depth when making a photograph.

Foreground and background are out of focus.
 We are led to focus on the bird.

Since the Renaissance, European art has been focused on perspective - the illusion of three dimensions on a flat surface. Photography, when it was first introduced, was quickly seized upon by artists as a 3D aid and as a new version of seeing. Vermeer used the camera even before it was possible to make a exposed negative and print from it to capture a scene or portrait ( watch the documentary 'Tim's Vermeer'). Before that though, art around the world was not so wrapped up in this obsession with depth. My developing interest is in investigating ways to explore that sense of three dimensional space with a camera without taking it for granted.

Not by focus, but by severely limiting what is in the frame.

Although the maple blossom and the sky are far apart in depth,
 the flat blue acts like a simple blue backdrop.
In California, photographers like Edward Weston and Ansel Adams were intentionally using small apertures to capture great depth of field. That was how the world was, they argued, and the human eyes should roam across the two dimensional print, bringing different places into focus in their eyes just as they did for the three dimensional reality that the camera had captured. Even today their photographs using this idea are pretty impressive!

Depth of field, but there is enough fuzzy information
 to provide interest and context.
The background has work to do in the composition

Other photographers however, were more attracted to the effects to be had from shallow depth of field and once the general public caught on to how to manipulate aperture and thereby select the depth of field, and faster lens' were available to permit endless variation, the idea of using shallow depth of field became an important part of photographic practice. A sharply focused near subject could be separated from a softly blurred background. And that technique is standard practice to this day. So standard that we have forgotten what came before.

By focusing on the water texture,
 I have created an almost flat screen.
( my personal favorite )

I have limited and constructed a shallow, textured space.

My personal challenge was to question this orthodoxy: to start with accepted practice and then veer off in, for me at least, new directions. We are accustomed to the process of framing as we prepare to snap our picture, - what is in the frame and what is left out -, and it is a powerful way of selecting our main subject and avoiding the distractions that lie all around. What then if one were to apply this same skill set to what is in the space inside the frame. When we lower our viewfinder so the sky is not in the photograph we have reduced the implied depth in three dimensions. We have controlled it. And when we zoom in, or approach our subject more closely so the background becomes less obvious we have done this even more.

The new leaves are out of focus and the background is sharp,
 but it is the lines and blobs that dominate the composition.

Where could I begin? What would I find? It is Spring here on the West Coast so naturally enough I found blossoms and fresh green leaves, so I began to compose consciously for a controlled sense of dimensionality  - shallow depth of field yes, but also limited distance, textured forms, and so on. I found a world view that was quite unique, a new take.

Sharp and soft focus , but the textures dominate.

Yes there are two ducks to provide a point of focus,
 but the waves provide an almost flat surface texture.

Now I can use my frame to control what is in and out of the frame and also control depth by means other than simply using f stops. I can think my way into my composition in 3 dimensions*.

The wind stirs the fluttering  leaves against a solid textured form.

A very busy image, but there is separation between maple
 branches and the darker and bluer background.
 The whole ,is really composed within a shallow depth.

A standard depth of field photograph using a larger aperture
 to separate the maple blossoms from the background.
*Since the invention of the photograph around a hundred and fifty years ago the visual arts have also been breaking away from perspective and towards a different way of representing depth. Picasso and others, perhaps influenced by newly discovered prehistoric cave paintings and art from 'primitive' cultures, began to work towards a more shallow space articulated by colour, form and texture. Hans Hofmann spoke of 'push – pull' to refer to the relationships between the elements of composition in his lessons on Abstract Impressionism.