Sunday, July 30, 2006

Returning To The Scene Of The Crime

Yesterday I didn't have a lot of time (promised the wife we'd go out to a movie - The Devil Wore Prada - I liked it, she didn't), anyway that pretty much determined that I'd stick around town. I could have checked out a new spot but I hadn't done much photography lately and didn't want the spot to turn out to be a dud so I chose a location I'd had success at before.

I think this is a strategy that can sometimes be useful, though it should be combined with exploring new territory.

The advantages to returning to a previously successful spot are several - you know how to get there - it can't be a complete wipeout - perhaps you will see something even better than before or at least different - it's efficient - it gets your day off to a good start - arriving at a different time, day, season means the original shot probably isn't even there and it's like working the scene all over again.

The downside would be if you only ever returned to successful spots and didn't push your boundaries, but if you have time and it's on the way, there's nothing wrong with stopping off at a known spot before going on.

Next blog I'll discuss the process of working this particular spot.

Friday, July 28, 2006

An Experiment

Was playing tennis tonight, not a breath of wind and on the way home noticed some very nice Rudbeckia (Gloriosa Daisy) and wondered what would happen if I used a fairly long exposure and moved the plants part way through. I thought of hooking them with a coat hanger, then it occured to me I could blow on them and when actually shooting I actually used my arm to knock the stems and cause a real sway.

Of course the wind came up just as I arrived and getting complete stillness was impossible. Still, this is more or less what I had envisioned.

4 seconds, f22 (broke my own rule about not going below f16 so I could get long exposure - really must buy a neutral density filter), 90 mm. tilt and shift lens tilted to keep flowers in focus.

The Value Of Rechecking Old Proofs

Shot a year ago and ignored, I went through the 'proof sheet' with Adobe Bridge and thought I might be able to do something with these two images. Perhaps you too can find some images you quite like now yet thoroughly ignored after the shoot.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

On Attending Workshops

I heartily recommend going to workshops. You can go for one of a number of reasons - it's a great way to get back into creating if you have been in a slump for a while. You can go to learn from the teachers - but if that's the reason, be sure you like their work - after all that represents what they know. You can go to workshops because it's a fun holiday with a bunch of like minded photographers who love to talk shop. You can go because the workshop is being held in an area you haven't visited before and the leaders have and they can save you a lot of time and hassle by showing you the hot spots.

Over the years I have tended to bring to the workshop the idea that I'd work hard at my photography and shoot what I could. The images here were all obtained during a workshop - sometimes while actually with other photographers, other times by getting up really early or by standing in pouring rain while the rest of the group peered out of the fogged vehicle windows. I've made a fair amount of money from that particular shot - sorry guys, but if you were too lazy to get out of the car into the rain, you missed the best shot of the day.

Oh So Close

Don't you just hate it when a picture might have worked. Here's an example of one that could have been. I'm not happy with the totally horizontal composition. The image was overexposed (4X5) and is grainy as all getout. Still, we live for another such day and for the skill to record it properly this time.

Repeating Patterns

Note the repeating pattern of fallen over 'A's.

This is another blended image usng Helicon Focus, in this case only two images (though 3 would have been better). Shot with a long lens and not enough depth of field even stopped down so shot two images, each focused on a different spot. In theory could have blended in photoshop with layers but not nearly as effective as letting Helicon Focus adjust image size to match (as you focus nearer, the image enlarges so you can't just lay one image on top of another (at least not often).

Monday, July 24, 2006

Limited Editions

Customers quite often ask if a print is a limited edition. This time the question is an informed one and my answer that no, they are not, is clearly unsatisfactory. Even my daughter thinks I may have to give in and limit the editions. Her arguement, after discussing it with other artists and customers and friends, is that the publishing industry has done such a selling job on the necessity for collectors to purchase limited editions, that it is now the standard.

Perhaps if they thought about it, they'd realize the following:

1) none of he great photographers of the past limited their editions - hell, you can still buy Pepper # 30, and boy am I tempted. Ansel didn't, Edward didn't, not Strand.

2) the customer loses because the price is dramatically higher - the real beneficiaries are the galleries. The photographer loses because if it does turn out to be a popular image, he's going to kick himself. Imagine if Ansel did put a limit on Moonlight Over Hernandez. The gallery on the other hand, doesn't care if a particular image runs out - on the contrary - if the price is fixed, they sell all the better towards the end of the run, if as happens often, the price goes up towards the end, then they reap the benefits, and when the series runs out, well they just move onto another photographer.

3) For the most part, for the majority of photographers and for the majority of images, it doesn't matter one toot - they were never going to get to the end of their limited run anyway. For the one or two images from really good photographers that are that popular it's conceivable that it's a problem, but I doubt that even the most popular images sell into the hundreds, not fine art images anyway.

The people who most 'need' limited editions (other than the galleries) are the investing collectors - the people who don't want an image for itself, rather as something to be held for a while then sold, rather like gold mine shares. the odd thing is, I suspect they are shooting themselves in the foot here.

Lets say they have $1,000 to invest in photography. They can purchase one limited edition print or 10 unlimited prints. Assuming equal care in selecting each of the images, I'd bet on at least some of the 10 returning enough on the investment to outperform the single limited edition print.

Does this mean I'm not going to limit my prints. Unfortunately I think that will have to be a question for the market to decide. Were I a full time photographer, I think I'd keep prices low and forget limited editions. As someone with a full time job though and worn out from two years at the Farmers Market (working 7 days a week), I'm going to have to rely on galleries to get my work seen, so...

Is It A Print Or Is It The Original?

twice this month I have been asked this question while selling my photographs. I point out these are photographs (in case they think they are paintings) but that doesn't satisfy them. I don't know how to reply. I guess it probably doesn't matter as the question means they almost certainly aren't going to buy - but my explanations seem to leave them thinking I am lying, or cheating or defrauding them - anyway they go away unhappy - I was polite, I explained the nature of photographs and original negatives, slides or digital files - but that doesn't cut it - oh well.

Is The Colour Real?

This is a question I quite often get in selling my photographs. Most people are not prepared to look at an image as an object in itself, rather as a recording of something. Why they should want a 'recording' since they weren't there seems dubious, but there you have it.

For the most part I work to create what I remember, but not always. The examples here are situations in which the colour is definitely over the top, and you know what - I don't care!

People often assume that if the image is digital, the colour must be cheating, and if from film, it can't be. This of course begs the issue of Fuji Velvia which always did make colours 'over the top' and what about Cibachrome prints which were very saturated and contrasty.

Ever see a post card with pastel colours? - I thought not.

We readily accept that a black and white image isn't a direct translation from real, and we forgive red filters darkening skies, green filters lightening foliage and polarizers seeing through reflective water surfaces. Somehow though, the fact that colour could have been a direct translation means that it must. Of course this begs the question of real colour - we don't see the blues that are real on a dull day or in the shade - yet what we 'see' is considered real and the blue is not - so who's to say.

Who's to say we even see the world the same way. We know that colour blind people see the world dramatically differently - what about the rest of us - are we all colour certified - I think not. Just as some of us have more sensitive senses of smell, there are some who can differentiate more colours and see subtleties more easily. Does this mean they see the colours as more saturated - or is it something else entirely?

What's real anyway, the last image is one many people don't believe - the rock couldn't have been that red - but everyone who has been to Red Rock Canyon agrees that it is - this is the colour they remember - only those who haven't been there question the colour. The image of Lake Louise is similar - the water really was that colour.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Having Found Something To Photograph

OK, so you have gone out photographing and you have found something worth photographing - now what?

Some questions to ask yourself before shooting:

1) what is it about this subject that appeals to me and is there a way to emphasize that characteristic - different time of day, different lighting, change in camera position, ultimately how I print the picture (previously on the cheap)?
2) Are there parts of the subject that don't in fact work, that add nothing or heaven forbid actually distract from the thing that makes it great? This could mean a filtering or planning black and white or cropping or a different position.
3) From what angle does the subject photograph best - this means walking around the subject if that's possible.
4) From what height should I photograph it - even portraits can change dramatically with a simple change in camera position. Many people found that the medium format waist level cameras made better portraits than pictures taken at eye level - which seems to defy common sense, but hey, it worked?
5) Is there a position which takes best advantage of the background or eliminated distracting elements (landscapes have the equivalent of the tree growing out of the head problems)?
6) Assuming you have a choice of lenses or zoom lenses, how close should you be to best photograph the subject? Try walking to and away from the subject and see at what point the subject is best. This is independent of figuring out how much of the subject to include.
7) You have found the ideal position to record the image - it has interesting shapes and lines, shadows, and forms. Now you have to figure out how much of the subject to include. It's been my experience that attempts to include as much as possible of an interesting subject often ends up with a muddled concept - the left part might be great, the right also but if they don't relate to each other, perhaps you should be photographing them separately. Unfortunately I sometimes find a subject that is full of wonderful things but they don't quite work all together and when you isolate the parts, they are not strong enough to stand on their own. Unfortunately, all you can do is smile and move on.
8) in framing your subject think of creating a painting - you need each part of the canvas to work, none along for the ride. It might mean bringing a diagonal line to the corner, or perhaps two diagonal lines to near the corner but on adjacent sides. Do you want to include all of the rock on the left, or is it stronger if you crop out part? How much foreground adds to the image before it starts to overwhelm the rest of the image?
9) A zoom is a good way to play with cropping but a simple piece of cardboard with a cut out the shape of your film or sensor works faster, lighter and cheaper. Try different framings so you can see which was strongest when you are home (there's nothing worse than wishing after the fact that you'd moved a little to the left).
10) if you have found the very best position to photograph the thing that interests you, if the lighting is appropriate and if you frame the subject the strongest way you can - well the rest is out of your hands - all you have to do is do a decent job of recording the image.

It's very tempting when something really excites you to start firing away immediately without going through these steps. Sometimes this is justified - if lighting isn't going to last, you grab the shot the best you can. But then, with your safety shot in the bag, then you go through the steps above and see if you can top the first image.

The image above was shot in 1977 or thereabouts. I was on a rare afternoon off from my residency in family practice and went for a picnic with my wife, exploring the country south west of Edmonton and west of Pigeon Lake. We found a dirt track down to the N. Saskatchewan river and there enjoyed ourselves sitting on logs having lunch and wandering around the rock flats by the edge of the river. The image illustrates several of the points described above. I found a position which showed the cloud reflecting in the pool, and with the glittering river in the background and interesting bending curves. I anchored the image with the boulders in the foreground but not with so much of them that it distracted from the reflection. I chose a height which showed the boulders to advantage and kept the reflection in position.

The image was taken with a Zeiss Ikonta 6X6 cm. camera, FP3 film.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

On Looking For Photographs

I had written earlier about the process of deciding where to go to photograph, and when. I want to see if I can write something useful about the process of looking for something to photograph when you have already arrived.

Sometimes it's obvious, there's only one thing to photograph and I will discuss the process of doing so to best advantage towards the end of this article but what if it isn't obvious what to photograph.

Perhaps the best possibility is to illustrate with an example.

Last year I was at a Family Practice conference and typical of my style I attend lectures faithfully every morning and take off the afternoon to go photographing. As this was February, it meant missing the morning light but I'd been able to find interesting subjects at previous conferences (always held in Banff).

I had heard that a walk along an abandoned road for 4k would take me to the base of Sundance Canyon. It was on my 'must go there one of these days' list and so I headed off. The canyon walls are only 40 feet or so high, Grand Canyon it isn't, but I'd hiked 4km to get here and I wasn't about to leave without checking it out. Half the canyon was in brilliant afternoon sun. The shadows were deep and relatively short and it didn't look like I could do much with it. Colours were muted. Even the most interesting coloured rock photographs poorly at mid day in bright sun. The other side of the canyon however was more interesting. Lit by the bright other side, the light wasn't totally flat and the wall had interesting characteristics. I took several compositions as I worked my way up the canyon.

Half way up the canyon I came across the most amazing find. There was an incredibly coloured rock, white, red, pink, streaked, and in interesting patterns. Better yet a second rock sat in front of the first - perhaps the two could be combined somehow. The ultimate though was that in front of the whitish second rock was a wild rose covered in rose hips.

I just knew I had to combine the three. Depth of field would be a problem but perhaps if the background was a little blurred it wouldn't matter - I'd do the best I could and see.

I thought that if I used a wide angle I could move in really close to the rose and use the two rocks as background but no matter how I positioned myself, the background included too much - the nature of wide angle lenses. I tried several different focal lengths, finally settling on my 70-200 zoom, at 91 mm. at f32 (I have subsequently learned that no additional sharpness in any part of the image is obtained at f32 and you lose sharpness in the part of the image which was originally focused on - f16 is now my max. f stop with my full frame 1Ds2 - no matter what.

It took some effort, perhaps 20 minutes or more, even once I found the right lens, to move back and forth and find the one position left and right, up and down, two and fro that would record the image - no other position worked as well.

After finishing the rose rock combo, I continued to climb up and photographed a few more 'interesting' rocks which were all a letdown after this shot and I also made a few nice tourist brochure images which I don't particularly like but have sold ok.

The image 'sundance rose' did require substantial work to get it looking good. It wasn't super sharp (see above) but I have found that diffraction fuzziness does respond fairly well to smart sharpen in photoshop and I am able to make great 17X22 images and have even made a good 24X32 image.

Next time I will get back to my intention to discuss the process of what to do when you find something interesting to photograph.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Perils Of Digital, Part II, Computers

I'm writing this because in the last 9 days I have produced 300 prints for an upcoming Art Fair at 'Capital Ex' in Edmonton, 810,000 visitors expected. During this marathon printing session during which at one point I had three printers all going at once, I found every bug there is to find. I crashed Photoshop, I found a bug in Epson Print Utility on the Mac which can only be fixed by a cold restart (ie. kill the computer by holding down the power button), I ran out of memory (I have 6 gig) I lost communication with the printer a couple of times and had to restart the printer, I had the machines eat my very expensive 17X22 300 gm. Moab Entrada Paper.

That said, the idea of producing this much work and with consistency and high quality in the wet darkroom would have takenb months and would have been simply impossible. I think I did learn a few things along the way though.

Photoshop crashed because I used some new plug-ins - not a good idea when getting ready for a show. Uwe had touted the wonders of Akvis Enhancer and while I agree it is a good plug-in, unfortunately it doesn't work with the files from my 1Ds2 - too big - back to the drawing board. I look forward to an upgrade as I think this is well worth exploring. Once it works reliably on really large files I will let you know, in the mean time if you are not stitching and use an 8 MP camera, I do recommend trying it. Enhancer separates close tones - ie. it enhances micro contrast.

The bug in Epson Print Utility is that if you run it at the same time as you have the printer window open (the window that lists the prints being printed) or if heaven forbid you try to access the print utility from the printer window, the utility sits bouncing in the toolbar at the bottom of the screen and will not even respond to force quit. Yesterday I accidentally clicked on the utility at the wrong moment and had to restart the computer. Much to my surprise and delight, on doing so, the print que picked up where it left off and finished all my printing (20 more prints) for me.

Digital Can Be Pretty Darn Frustrating

You know, we spend a lot of time as digital photographers talking up the advantages of digital but I thought I would take a little time to discuss some of the frustrations, not so much to dissuade someone from shooting digitally (there are after all strong advantages) but to give a realistic idea of the pitfalls, hassles, costs and frustrations of a digital workflow.

The working premise here is that you are photographing seriouslly - not necessarily professionally but you have made the decision to produce a quality print, one that could be sold or given as a present, and that you are proud of your images and would be devastated if you were to lose the images.

Hassles While Shooting

Probably the worst thing you can do is to erase a memory card. This might seem hard to do but here's how you do it - first you buy 3 or more cards and you rotate them. You think you have a system so you know which card you used last, but the light is changing and you're in a rush and you grab the wrong card and erase it ready for action, only it isn't the one that is unused, it's the one you finished shooting with. Two workable solutions are 1) have separate pockets in your backpack for used and unused memory cards - this has worked very reliably for me since I instituted it. 2) always take the full card out of your camera and immediately back it up to a portable hard drive - I have an Epson 2000 and use it when out photographing more than a couple of hours. It also helps to label the cards boldly so you know which is which. You cannot afford to play with your system - always use it. Most people choose to not erase the images until loading the used card back into the camera - thus buying a little more time to save an image if the system failed.

Unless absolutely desperate, don't erase images while out shooting - good chance you will erase the one image you wanted, or the last image of a 9 image stitch (thus spoiling the other eight).

Be absolutely sure you don't clip the highlights. Depending on the camera the settings on the histogram vary but remember that gone is gone - if you don't record the highlights there is no way to save them, raw format notwithstanding. Expose to the right as is recommended, but view all three colour channels and make sure that none are clipped. If your camera doesn't show all three colour historgrams then if you are recording very strong colours, then don't move the curve quite so far to the right (one channel may be clipped while the other two are not).

CF cards are easy to drop, smaller cards even more so - be especially careful when standing in places where you won't get the card back if you drop it. Film rolls tend to be easier to hang onto.

Consider card size - with the cost dropping it's tempting to simply get the biggest card you can afford - but even in raw, that could mean hundreds of images on one card. Cards do occasionally fail and I don't think you want all your eggs in one basket. My rule of thumb is to keep the number of images to under a hundred - the equivalent of 3 rolls of film.

Next time I'm going to talk about the frustrations of working with a computer instead of a darkroom - issues like storage and backup and dealing with less than perfect software.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

New Black and White Images To Website

Just a 'heads up', I have added 15 monochrome images to the black and white landscape gallery, 7 images to the black and white industrial gallery

The image above was shot in 1977, on a 1938 Zeiss Ikonta 6X6 cm. folding camera and is of the N. Saskatchewan River S.W. of Edmonton, Alberta.

Adversity Is Your Friend

Many years ago the late Fred Picker wrote in his newsletter about a photographer who had sent him some lovely prints, and Fred included some examples in the newsletter. What was remarkable was that these gorgeous images were taken at home, on the bed (keep it clean) and were images of newsprint - simple virgin newsprint, heaped up onto the bed, then lit in ways which made for absolutely wonderful images. I have long since loaned my newsletters to someone and lost them but will always remember the example. The photographer was young, had a limited budget, had young children who tied him down and he absolutely made the best of the circumstances. If anyone knows who the photographer was I'd love to see his work.

Flowers Can Be Monochrome Too

Some of the most beautiful flower pictures are in fact in black and white. Here's a couple of my efforts to get you thinking.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Thoughts On Tripods

1. any tripod worth it's salt should reach to just below your chin without using any centre post rise - unfortunately this eliminates 90% of all tripods - it's not that all photographs should be made at eye level - talk about boring - it's that you often can see over things and a shorter tripod can't, and sometimes you do want eye level or even higher (and that's the only time you can justify the centre column - set the camera with the column down, raise the column - this requires a column that isn't rotating so you don't re-aim the camera on raising the column. Which leads to point 2
2. center columns are a good idea - it's all very well saying that it decreases stability, but there are times - 95+% of my images are shot with no rise on the centre column - but at least some of those 5% wouldn't have been possible without it.
3. leg braces - you know - those braces that run from the bottom of the centre column out to the legs - utterly useless, with one possible exception - there are a few tripods in which the distance of this brace is adjustable and thus the angle of the leg - still a well made tripod doesn't need this and has better ways to deal with leg spread.
4. centre column cranks - useless - just how heavy is your camera anyway - left over from 30 lb. movie film cameras.
5. tubular metal legs - I once had a bogen tripod and managed to catch a leg in the car door - it took some tricky work with padded pliers at home to almost take out the kink that was created and even then the leg stuck a little bit.
6. wooden tripods - I loved my Berlebach tripod for it's tough toss it around, drop it in water wooden legs. It was a bit light for the large cameras and long lenses I tend to use. It's weakest point was not the wooden legs, it was the top of the swivelling centre column (the tripod has a sort of ball head/lock for the centre column that is just wonderful). The base upon which you sit the camera was a bit light weight and had slight play. Still, it worked well for several years for 4X5 on down until I broke down and purchased a carbon fibre gitzo 1348 (4 section, goes higher than me) and then has a centre column on top of that. Mind you it cost 3 times as much and while a bit sturdier, does require more care.
7. tripod locks - take your pick - levers are faster but occasionally catch part of you, rotating locks are slower but don't stick out, don't catch on things and you can control the tightness - the gitzo has rotating collars and frankly they are just fine - I don't find them terribly slow. Not everyone agrees though.
8. tripod heads - the absolutely worst head is a tripod with no leveller and a three way pan tilt head on it. These are horrible and should be relegated to 8 mm. movie making. That said, ball heads are less than perfect - some are huge yet not super sturdy, others seize up at the wrong time.I use an arca swiss with a knob tightener only because I took the lever base and put it on a wooden slider for stitching - I love lever locks - I distrust knobs - with a clamp that allows the camera to slide right out either end unless perfectly tight I'm always checking the knob to see if it is tight enough, and carrying the camera on the tripod and over the shoulder is only done after checking the knob, again. With the lever, it's on or it's off. I suppose a branch could catch it and flip it but it hugs around the Really Right Stuff base so it's not much of a risk and has never ever happened.
9. the lower the head, the steadier the tripod - sticking six inches of ball head on top of a tripod is like permanently using six inches of centre column. I have an arca swiss and am tempted by the new Really Right Stuff ball heads.
10. feet - my own preference for outdoor work is a metal pointed foot - but that's not what I have on my Gitzo so perhaps I'm too fussy - and at least the gitzo feet are easier to clean mud off of and are ready for indoor work.
11. quick release plates - are great, few serious photographers try to fiddle with finding threading and tightening a tripod screw - they use quick release plates of one type or another.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Places To Photograph

You might consider photographing at a heritage village. Many areas have something equivalent - whether it's a restored railway, farm displays, old time village, restored town, etc. Somewhere that actually does things is ideal, I remember years ago picking up a silver bracelet with my wife that was made at Colonial Williamsburg.

The above image was shot at Heritage Park in Calgary. It's not great art but it's fun and after all this is a hobby for most of us and you can't photograph 'great art' all the time!

The image below is very much a record shot but I think might well be worth returning to to see if I can come up with something a bit more creative. Think of it as raw material.

By the way, the smithy image was a 1 minute exposure in the middle of the day - man, it was dark in there - there were in fact a few flare spots in the image that I hid in photoshop though had I cleaned the lens they might not have shown - still, not bad when you think of the light pouring in the windows during such a long exposure - Canon 17-40mm. L zoom lens.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Textures, Shapes and Lines

A not previously shown image from Coleman Colliery in the Crowsnest Pass in southern Alberta.I needed permission to go into the plant but Luscar Mines was very cooperative and I followed the rules.

The second picture is the image right from camera raw with no adjustments other than turning the saturation down to show the starting black and white image.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Shooting Often To Avoid Disappointment

An all too common experience when photographing is to not find anything worth shooting, or worse, to shoot anyway, knowing you aren't getting anything really good and somehow deluding yourself into believing that magic will happen after the image is recorded. Of course it doesn't and you look at the proofs and sigh - all that work for nothing.

I was just reading a 'despatch' by David Noton talking about going out on a lovely morning yet not finding anything really worth it.

The obvious suddenly occurred to me - the only way to avoid major letdown is to photograph so often that a single day's shooting isn't all that important.

If you are like me in the past, photographing every few weeks when I finally had a day free - there was a lot riding on that one day working out. I had previously thought my success with digital had to do with shooting more images - but I think perhaps it had a lot more to do with getting out more.

I also note in David's 'despatch' that he shot anyway, he worked the scenes hard and tried his best - I suspect this kind of 'practice' is vitally important.

It's still a disappointment not to capture one of the 'great' images on a given day, but it sure beats staying home and cleaning out the gutters.

The image above was a stump in a front lawn noticed as I was walking the dog half a dozen houses away. It's a pleasant enough image but not 'top drawer' and other than as an illustration of a point, I wouldn't show it. If it's not a keeper, why shoot it? Well, my 'eye' was active, looking for compositions and textures and shapes that are interesting - that exercise is always worth while, the process of shooting the image (actually moving round the stump looking for the strongest composition) is useful. The actual process of recording the image isn't that important but producing a well toned rich print is...

Friday, July 07, 2006

Some Things Are Worth Photographing and some...

I think there are things that are not worth photographing and if you think about it you can save some time and frustration. For example, no matter how good a sunset picture you get, wouldn't you rather have been standing there watching the sunset? Pictures of grand canyon look lovely, but standing on the edge of the canyon has to be more thrilling, no matter how many pixels you used, no matter what size film you recorded it with. To be fair, the wonderful lighting that happens so seldom isn't available to most of us when we visit so recording it to show what you missed is I think relevent, but I would argue we'd still wish we were there during that wonderful lighting and the image is a pale shadow of the real thing.

On the other hand, and to flog an old story again - who would rather have Edward Weston's actual pepper # 30 vs. the image he made of it? The image is so much more than the vegetable. People have visited the spots that Ansel shot in Yosemite and been disappointed that the real thing wasn't nearly as gorgeous as the image.

The image above of ADM Flour Mill is I think more interesting than the silos it records. It's been published twice and sells well, yet I don't see lines of cars driving past the flour mill to get a glimpse of the silos.

Does make you think about what to photograph and what is the point of your photographing. Hmmn...

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Example Of Changing Subject

Oriental Poppies from my garden.

10 Suggestions For Getting Through A Slump

Shot last night after deciding I had to get out, no matter what - followed a lead someone suggested for a new location.

Ever had a period when you couldn't seem to create a good photograph for love or money - everything you shoot turns out to be crap and after a while you lose enthusiasm? Thought so!

My life in photography has been a series of ups and downs, sometimes fairly dramatic (I gave up for 15 years). That said, I haven't had a serious slump for the last five years and perhaps my experience can be of help to a few other 'slumpers'.

1) You may be a dedicated LANDSCAPE (substitute your own main interest here) photographer, but if you want to avoid slumps you need some other areas of possible interest - that's how I got started with bridges and industrial. They had a number of advantages to me - they were closer, were less dependent on weather, and are inherently less common. How do you find your 'backup' enthusiasm? You have to try a variety of subjects and styles of photography which have provided other photographers with lots of subject matter.

2) Change style - are you normally a wide angle shooter - then deliberately force yourself to use your longer lenses - perhaps you will start to see in a different way and add to your repertoire.

3) Change formats - this was an important one to me - no matter how I like to think of myself as a large format landscape photographer - the slowness and methodical nature of large format just doesn't suit the way I shoot - perhaps after 40 years of photography I should finally recognize that. That said, there may well be people who are frustrated with their small format work who would benefit greatly from going to a larger format. Some have found fun again by going to pinhole.

4) Change shape - this is somewhat tied into 3) above but you can of course crop or if shooting digitally stitch, so what about radically changing your images - normally shoot 2:3 ratio, how about cutting out a square hole in cardboard and use it as a viewing tool to deliberately look for square format images. Or go the other way and shoot nothing but panorama ratio images (at least 2:1).

5) Normally shoot for maximum depth of field, everything in focus - how about going out and shooting close to wide open with very selective focus - this will force a complete change in the type of images you take.

6) Change from colour to black and white or visa versa.

7) Stop photographing - give yourself a break, but spend the time (and money) adding to your collection of books of photographs, visiting galleries, swapping prints, and learning.

8) Take a workshop - you may not learn a lot but it's great for getting the interest back up.

9) Normally shoot everything from a tripod, then get rid of it and run around snapping things handheld, or if you don't know one end of a tripod from the other then buy, rent or borrow one and see if slowing down a little actually helps.

10) Regardless of trying to find other subjects to be interested in, what about giving yourself assignments. For example, how about giving yourself one day to create and print the best possible image of the contents of a drawer, of anything in the back lane behind your house, the best possible portrait of your dog (or borrow one). There are a million possible self assignments - think of Bill Brandt with his warped mirror images, Josef Sudek photographing from his window. Your goal isn't a great photograph. Rather the object is the best possible image within the parameters of the assignment - none of the images need to be keepers - but trust me, practising is better than not shooting, and making a rich toned image of a junk drawer is still going to help your other photography.

How about adding your own suggestions on how you get out of a slump in the comments section.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Work In Progress

Perhaps you are tired of looking at this image, but the iterations it goes through as I work towards what I hope is a good print, is, I think; useful.

I was very clever - I shrunk the image for web publication, then came back later in the day and noted the image hadn't been saved, so of course did so, thus saving the small version on top of the big, and losing the full size version. This kind of error is essentially terminal as once saved, the original is gone. Fortunately of course I still had the three images which had been morphed by the stitching programme and could be put back together, and even better, I had decided part way through editing the image to save an unsharpened version so that I could upsize if if need be for making a really big print - say 3X4 feet.

I started with this unsharpened version. Of course, I had made hundreds of changes since saving the unsharpened version - all lost to my carelessness. Still, with a bit of work removing hundreds of rain drops from the image as well as reinventing the cropping, colour balance, contrast, burning and dodging, I have arrived at this version, which fortunately I prefer.

Colin of Auspicious Dragon had suggested the reshot image was weak across the bottom so in recropping the image, I decided after all to include the grass and also the full depth of the interesting rock mid bottom. The grass does take away from the completely abstract feel of the 2005 image but I think does provide an anchor and I don't think it hurts to identify it as a real rockface. Besides, I still have the abstract version which I am not going to hide.

I wanted to warm up the image a little and used photofilter warming to achieve that end - not something I have ever done before but it did the job nicely. I desaturated the blues as being a bit over the top (a side effect of increasing the contrast in the image earlier).