Saturday, March 31, 2007

Blind To Our Faults

One of the problems in photography is that unless we have a frame of reference (better looking images), we often can't see the faults in our own images. It's rather like that image I showed a week or so ago and some 'nice' person pointed out that he could see a pig in the rock formation - prior to his comment I'd seen nothing, now I can't get past the pig image - thanks again, by the way!

Similarly I have been at workshops where photographers show images which are grossly oversharpened - it's the first thing you see, and you wonder how it was that they didn't.

The good news is that like the pig, once they see flaws for themselves, they will never forget and future images won't be oversharpened.

This logic applies to a number of areas in photography, whether it's compositional faults or subtle highlights (or lack thereof), to colour balance and saturation issues, to print darkness and too much contrast, in fact to all aspects of imaging. Often we are stuck because we haven't seen and we need someone to point out where we are wrong and perhaps too what we could do to fix it.

I think that more often we suffer from not seeing the problem than we do not knowing how to solve it.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Have You Done Your Backup Today?

At the beginning of the year I wrote about New Years Resolutions, one of which was to back up all my raw files. I'd made DVD backups of all the processed images but not the original files, and with technology improving, it made sense to back up the original data. It was fairly simple to purchase an external firewire 500 gig drive, plug it in, connect it and simply drag all the folders across to the backup drive. Before I did that I actually attempted to do a search for all the CR2 and CRW suffix images thinking that I could do the backup in one step - for some reason my Mac wouldn't let me do that. After I realized that having thousands of raw images, none with any tag explaining which shoot they came from, would have been a nightmare. Now they simply reside in the folders which are labelled with the shoot - even this could be problematic and I look forward to using Lightroom to edit the metadata so I can also do a search by keyword.

Anyway, the drive is now unplugged. 4 years of raw files took up less than half the drive, and even lightning isn't going to damage it. As a physician with an electronic medical record - I get information about destroying old computer drives containing patient records - it's not enough to erase the drives, they want holes drilled through the platter, and not just one. I suspect that even if the drive fails, the data could be ressurected by a data retrieval company, all be it at considerable cost. I understand that the magnetic data on the disk will last many years (but not forever) and that unplugged and unused, it isn't going to deteriorate like DVD's and CD's seem to do. Also, it took a hell of a lot less time than burning dozens of DVD's.

Of course, I also have a similarly unplugged hard disk containing backups of my processed images, as well as DVD's of those in a different building - so I figure I'm reasonably safe. Fingers crossed!

Working On Images

Rather like those drawings in he newspaper which ask kids to spot the differences between two almost identical drawings, the two images above are the latest version (I hate to say final, since I don't know what I might do to the image next week), and below it what I had previously thought of as the final image. See what you can make of the changes and what you think of them. Don't forget you can click on the images to open the image in a separate window, much larger and easier to inspect.

Michael Reichmann in a comment about workflow mentions that sometimes he needs to work on an image in Photoshop. As Lighrtoom has no local controls other than spotting, the implication is that often he doesn't need to 'work on' his images. The other day I was talking with Uwe Steinmuller of OutbackPhoto and he mentioned that I did a lot more work or local editing on my images than he did.

It's true that I probably don't have any images that haven't had some 'work' applied to an image. I mean by this that rather than applying global changes to curves, levels, colour balance, hue/intensity or whatever, I have used masks to apply these effects locally (thus the need for Photoshop). My normal practice is to make dozens of changes to an image, and sometimes hundreds, over several weeks and many hours.

This isn't all that different from my work in the wet darkroom in which I used recipes for burning as recommended by the late Fred Picker, so that I could repeat the recipe or modify it in the next print. These recipes quite often had six or more steps to the making of a print.

Now that effects can be made much more precicely and repetitively over smaller areas of the print, I make even more adjustments. That these effects are transparent to the viewer indicates that with practice (ok, lots of practice) I have learned not to go over the top (most of the time).

The image above is one I worked on for several weeks and thought I had it right, but one minor thing bugged me (the upper left looked dodged), so I brought the image back into Photoshop and made that correction, then looked at the whole image and noticed a number of other flaws. The white beam on the left edge (1/3 from the bottom) seemed rather glaring. Rather than burn it down I decided I could get away with a crop. Then I decided that the diagonal beam on the bottom of the image (middle) was spoiled by the second plank, and that this too could be cropped to make a tidier image. Then I noticed a hot spot in the other diagonal beam running from middle bottom to middle right side, so I darkened the hot spot (it was real but didn't look it, so it had to go). I decided that the vertical posts in the bottom right of the picture weren't quite bold enoough, so a bit more work was done in this area. A couple of the really light parts of wood seemed glaring, so I darkened them - in all I probably made another 20 changes to the image, one which had already had close to 100 changes made already. I'm guessing that by end I had created and subsequently flattened around 30 layers, each masked and the effects applied to various parts of the image.

You might think I'm crazy to put that much effort into an image and perhaps you are right, but as one of the things I am known for is the quality of my prints, I have to think that this has been important to me and to my work.

One could, of course; reject all images which are less than perfect, but I'd cut down my good images to less than a 10th if I did that - I for one can't afford to throw away that much good material and would probably have become so discouraged by my photography I'd have quit (again).

If you are someone who doesn't do much local work on your images, you might want to live with an image for a few days, then decide what further changes you could add. This cycle could then be repeated. Will you go overboard and spoil an image - sure - I have lots of images which went way past ideal. That's why the image above is labelled version 2 - I can always go back to the first version. There are times I have saved up to 7 versions of an image, knowing that there were so many changes between each version that undoing wasn't possible. I also sometimes use 'snapshot' in the history palette to record a spot I'm at, but generally prefer to save the file, avoid risk of losing it if the computer crashes or there's a power failure, and keep the image I'm working on from getting too huge.

Seem like way too much work? Think of it this way - you probably have 20 - 30 images which are your best work and by which you are known, or by which you represent yourself - aren't those images worth this much effort?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Who Are The Greats?

I have asked in the past for recommendations on who the great photographers are, but this time I'd like to know who have proven through time to be the greatest photographers. In North America we think of Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, etc. as being the greatest - but I have no idea for example who over time has proven to be the top fine art photographer in Germany, or Holland or all manner of other countries. We are remarkably insular here in North America. I wonder if that is true of most parts of the world. Is Edward Weston as well known elsewhere - and if so, why don't we know of greats from other parts of the world.

You'd think we'd want to know the work of the top photographers of the world from the 90+% that don't live in North America.

I'm aware of the position of Charlie Waite, Joe Cornish, David Ward, and of course Fay Godwin in Britain, but who are the the ones mentioned in the history books in your country?

If you can point us to online examples of their images, even better.


The 10 Most Important Events

Here's a list of the 10 events in my photographic life that most affected the quality of work I do. If you have had something profoundly affect the quality of your work, please let us know in the comments section.

Here they are, in no particular order - just as I think of them:

1) holding Edward Weston prints in my hand at University of Louisville Library - there was so much more to a print that wasn't visible in reproductions of the time. Printing is better these days, but original prints are a whole other world.

2) taking a photograph appreciation course, hating it, and finding out that it forever changed the way I look at photographs and vastly increased my appreciation of them. Sometimes things take time to gel.

3) Reading 'The Zone VI Workshop', this little book and following it's advice did more to improve the quality of my prints than anything else. I'd still recoommend it for anyone working in a darkroom.

4) switching from 35 mm. to medium format - the tonal qualities of the bigger negative, the square format.

5) Discovering that with dedicated monochrome inks from MIS, I could convert an old Epson printer to make lovely black and white prints different from but every bit as nice as the silver prints I used to make. With the advent of pigment inks and dedicated monochrome drivers I now use the normal pigment inks to make my black and white prints - though were I a dedicated black and white printer (instead of routinely doing both), I'd probably still be using that system for it's ability to print with zero metamerism and lovely warm tone inks which could be warmed or cooled as desired.

6) Discovering stitching images for increased quality (not just panoramas) from Max Lyons site at Max Lyons. His images were lovely and made with inexpensive equipment - that was the real start of shooting digitally for me.

7) Going to a workshop and having Bruce Barnbaum compare a couple of my images to work by Jay Dusard, mind you he also told me some of my other images were complete crap and spoiled the good ones, but hey, it's good to know you are heading in the right direction.

8) Selling my first print, getting published for the first time, being part of a gallery show - they don't directly affect the quality of one's work but they so profoundly affect confidence in one's work that in the end it is a very important step.

9) Having my first real darkroom, with lots of room and running water - 8X12 feet and a huge wooden sink, sealed with expoxy paint - a joy to use.

10) Discovering the work of David Plowden - lovely images with medium format, sometimes industrial, none glamorous subjects.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

You Need A Library

Do you have an idea of how much you spend in a year on photography? Yes, I thought as much! If you take your photography really seriously, I would suggest that you divert at least 10% of that amount to education - that's to say, workshops, courses, magazines and books, and I don't mean technical books, I mean books of good photographs, and mabe a few books on being creative in photography.

Here's an author I think you should know about, Freeman Patterson. He has a series of books and they are much more about being creative than technical, are full of his own very nice photography (he can hang them as well as teach them), and they have a lot of useful advice and ideas. They are largely about colour photography but the techniques can be applied to black and white as well. Here's a link to Freeman's Website.


Two people go out photographing - one finds lots of stuff to photograph, the other can't find a thing, yet they both like the same kind of photographs, and in fact the one admires the images of the other and bemoans why he can't see these possibilities.

So what if you are the fellow who didn't see any images?

Is it blind luck, is it a learned skill, does it take talent, are there particular skills you should practice in order to improve your seeing?

It's my observations that:

1) it doesn't seem directly related to the length of time one has been a photographer - there are people who 'see' as soon as they pick up a camera, and others who have been photographing 30 years or more who don't. There are even people who don't photograph who 'see' better than many hobbyist photographers.

2) the more artsy and creative in general the person is, the more likely they are to 'see'.

3) The more rigid and linear the thinking - the harder it is to 'see'

4) as a doctor, I see a lot of people with ADD, and as a group these people who find linear thinking nigh impossible, frequently are especially creative (even if they never finish any of their projects).

6) Becoming a photography expert (with lots of technical knowledge) isn't helpful.

7) Reading texts on photography is generally not helpful.

8) Looking at good photography is very helpful, the more the better. It takes effort and possibly outside help to appreciate styles of photography radically different from your own, but is rewarding if you persist.

9) looking at art makes you a better photographer.

10) looking for great images to take is a mug's game, instead look for great subject matter from which you might be able to find a great image.

11) be curious - explore the scene - open your mind to new possibilities - try taking pictures that are as far removed from what you'd exect would work as you can. Photographing a pretty scene, how about trying to make it look menacing.

12) Instead of railing against the quality of the light, or the telephone poles in the background, see if instead you can take advantage of what is offered. At the very least recognize the limitations that the conditions put on you and think about how best to work round them, even if you don't embrace them.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Image Autopsy - Water Tank

I thought this time I'd describe a recent image - in fact shot yesterday afternoon - that way I could better describe the efforts to find a good image. I'm also including a series of unedited images below showing the general approach to the scene and my gradually working round it.

This water tank was a complete fluke. I'd visited the farm to photograph the horses and some old carriages, but it was the 'lucky' find that got me most excited. There's a lesson here - always keep looking, even when you think you have your shots litterally in the bag.

So, having spotted this old disintegrating water tank, on my way off the property, I stopped, hauled out my equipment and set up (ie. mounted the camera on tripod with the most likely lens - 24-70), to start with. I laid down the tripod and held up my viewing rectangle (plastic with a 2:3 inch cutout for framing). The splayed staves and curved hoops were wonderful and my first reaction to the scene was this was a guaranteed photo.

As soon as I put up the viewing RWECTANGLE though, I realized that with a round object, I was going to have to deal with corners exending beyond the tank, or I was going to have to severely crop - neither of which appealed to me. I had approached the tank from it's top as it laid on the ground so I wandered round to check out the other side, thinking I'd be able to look inside the staves - but this was the bottom of the tank and was both solid and ugly - no shot there.

I tried a series of shots from the left of the tank but there was a 'bunghole' in one plank and the plank had broken off at that point, leaving a large gap in the wood, rather like a 5 year old with a tooth missing. I didn't like this solid black area. Eventually I gave up on that side and moved round to the right of the tank and things looked a lot more promising from this direction. Unfortunately almost as soon as I moved over, the wind picked up and the freestanding hoops of metal started shaking in the wind.

I still had the problem of a round object in a rectangular field to deal with, but felt I could probably use a square image and avoid losing too much of the hoops in cropping. Any time I'm thinking square image, I immediately think of stitching and in fact that is what I did with the image above - it's two images, 70-200 lens at 70 mm. using the tripod bracket on th lens to mount the camera and to swing for stitching. Perhaps not exactly the nodal point, but close enough for a good stitch as it turned out.

Even here I took several images, some of them for stitching, others for focus blending and all the time trying to include as much of the tank without messing up the corners of the image.

To stitch these two raw images, I used command (control on PC) click to select the two images, then command -O to open them in Camera Raw. I clicked on select all (upper left) and synchronize then synchronize all so each image would be processed identically. This isn't the end though because if your camera was on auto white balance, the white balance of each image is different and chances are Camera Raw is still set to maintin original white balance. In fact, even though you have synchronized all the images, you don't want them all to have 'original white balance' you want them to have the same white balance. This is easily achieved by adjusting the white balance slider on the right in Camera Raw. Even if you end up putting it back to where it was to start, you now have 'custom white balance' and therefore the same white balance for all images - exactly what you want.

As per usual, I adjust the exosure slider to as far right as it will go without blowing the highlights - if the exposure was right in the first place, this isn't very far. I take advantage of the show highlight and shadow clipping boxes in Camera Raw to make this obvious. I do the same adjustment for the shadows - worrying more about preserving details in the shadows at this point rather than keeping them nice and deep - if this means the image in camera raw looks dull and muddy, that's ok, I can correct in Photoshop.

I don't often adjust the contrast but usually adjust the brightness slider after nailing highilghts and shadows to make the image look overall right.

At this point I save the two images into a folder I reseve for stitching images. PTGui can't deal with PSD Photoshop files so I save in 16 bit TIFF.

I now opened PTGui and loaded the two images for stitching, clicked on Auto Align and it as usual did an excellent job finding the matching points between pairs of images. I then went to Create Panorama and adjusted the image size to maximum, output to 16 bit PSD. I created the panorama, saving it to my current images being worked on folder (documents 13 as it happens).

Editing in Photoshop was fairly straight forward. First I cropped the image, I took a little off the left because it was distracting to include the background trees. I was able to include a small amount of the background in the upper right because it wasn't distracting. The lower corners were cropped to within the staves.

The image was nearly black and white so I simply added a hue saturation layer and turned down the saturation to zero - instant black and white image. Next I pegged the highlights and shadows using a curves layer. Further editing was done with additional masked curves layers to work on various parts of the image - darkening corners, increasing contrast locally as needed. I cloned out a blade of grass in the way.

Sharpening was with smart sharpen 300/.6 for settings.

I didn't use any fancy filters on this image, preferring to maintain detail and not add any artifacts. I could have increased local contrast with Akvis Enhancer as I often do but didn't feel the image needed it.

The image isn't quite square but I don't feel any need to make it perfectly square. If I did, I'd crop off the bottom so I can maintain the metal band reaching into the upper left corner, but I'm happy not to have to.

There were a total of about 15 layers to the image by the time I was finished.

Printing is with the help of Photokit output sharpening for 300 DPI.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


Damn It's Nice To Be Out Photographing Again...

After a three week period of not photographing it was nice to get out this afternoon to the small farm of some friends today who have a herd of Fjord horses. The best part of the day though was after I packed up and was driving out of the property when I spied in the trees an old water tower, lying on it's side, the staves splayed out, the metal hoops hanging loose, the boards nicely weathered.

This is only the first version - a 5 image blend with Helicon Focus for depth of field (no way was it going to be covered by any camera movements - the hoops were quite a bit closer than the wood.

I also shot it with some stitches and hope to make a square image - probably in black and white, but it will take time.

My next entry should be shots of the horses.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Hot Springs Version II

I was quite excited about the cropped version of this image I showed last night, but when I printed it (all be it bravely 24X36) it wasn't painterly, it was garish. Perhaps I'd oversharpened, perhaps it was the use of Akvis Enhancer when not appropriate, but I think it simply didn't work in a big image - I'd thought you'd move in to see brush strokes but the fine detail was visible across the room and the overview was missing at any distance.

I therefore started over tonight with the original three image stitch. I did crop a bit off the left to clean up the upper left corner, then stretched the upper left corner to eliminate even more and am happy with the result. I didn't oversharpen, I didn't use Akvis Enhancer this time. I did darken it considerably and the 'ice flowers' were lightened to make show a bit better.

Next Level Article II Published

Michael published article two of my three article series on taking your photography to the next level. It can be found at Luminous Landscape.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Hot Springs

From Cave and Basin Hot Springs, Banff, Alberta in May of 2005. This is actually a crop from a three image stitch with my 90 ts-e - using the tilt to get sharp focus from near to far despite using the very sharp f11. I like the full image too but it's a bit too much like some previous images from the same shoot. Don't forget to click on the image to see a bigger easier to see image.

Even the crop is 5600X4000 pixels and with luck will make big prints (like 3X5 feet I hope). Click on the crop of the crop below to see an accurate appearance of the image at 100% - quite fascinating - like brush strokes.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Shooting For Self

I had liked this image but realized it would never sell so didn't do anything with it - pouring through old shoots tonight I rediscovered it and decided 'what the heck', since I like it, why not show it. It points out that something is lost when too much emphasis is placed on making shots to suit the market, or to please someone else, whether it be a gallery owner, art critic, paying public or members of the local camera club.

Next Level Articles

Article 2 of the series (still waiting on Michael Reichmann to publish at Luminous Landscape) discusses how to go about getting some outside hopefully unbiased advice on your skill levels.

Article 3 written in rough discusses what I think is the one thing that would be most productive to do to move beyond a given level, both technically and aesthetically. While completely subjective, and certainly not the only way to move on, I wanted people to get 'the biggest bang for their buck', both money and time wise.

If you are interested in seeing the second and third articles, perhaps you should let Michael know.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Need To Create

This is what I was doing for those several years I didn't photograph. The HO scale Kananaskis And Elbow River Railway, since destroyed to make room for more and bigger printers - oh well.

Kananaskis Country

Shot west of Calgary a couple of years ago, late Spring, lush growth, still plenty of water. All it needs is a moose.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Taking Your Photography To The Next Level Articles

I'm not sure when Michael Reichmann plans to publish the next article on Luminous Landscape. With his trip to Antarctica and then releasing his excellent Lightroom tutorial videos, I think he's been a tad busy. He had originally hoped around the Antarctica trip, but... I checked with him a couple of weeks ago - 'hopefully next week' was the answer, if I've not head in a few more weeks I'll gently remind him again.

By the way, I have been thoroughly enjoying the Luminous Landscape Lightroom Tutorials - a bargain for 10 hours of instruction - this is the first time I have a sense that I really understand what Lightroom is for and can see using it.

The third article is written in rough and I was simply waiting to see the response to the second before polishing it and sending it off.

If worse comes to worst, I'll publish them on my blog or my website.

How Perfect Does A Photograph Have To Be

Let me state outright that perfection and greatness have very little to do with each other. Dorothea Lange's 'Migrant Mother' image is miss-focused (the shirt is sharp and the face isn't) but it's not noticeable from normal viewing distances and small prints and is completely irrelevant to everything the image means anyway.

Perhaps this means that the greater the image, the more we are likely to forgive lack of perfection in the image. Maybe that explains why boring photographs need to be shot with a 4X5 - if they aren't very interesting, they'd darn well better be real close to perfect.

Could it be that we are spending too much time working on perfection, and perhaps not enough on greatness?

After the fact, what is the impact of flaws in working with images - are there flaws, damn flaws and fatal flaws?

Let's describe a theoretical picture - it's a rock formation that is rounded and smooth and sensual - the image makes you want to reach out and hug the rock, to stroke it and caress it. You are proud of the image, excited to be working on making a good print which will show off this image to it's best.

In working on the image in Photoshop at 100%, you notice that the top of the rock is out of focus - when you print, if you look carefully you can see that you didn't quite get the depth of field right. In every other way the image is gorgeous - when shown to non photographers, they think it's great. When you point out the lack of sharpness at the top of the rock they have no idea what you're even talking about.

When you show the image to other photographers, they like it. They can see the lack of sharpness if you point it out and may commiserate with you. Problem is, you know the rock is out of focus slightly and it bugs you. You think of it every time you look at the image.

So, do you reject this image from any submissions, portfolios and shows? Do you tell yourself to get over it and enjoy the image?

Seems to me there are flaws which are minor and don't weaken an image and while they might generate some wishfulness, don't detract from the enjoyment of the image, nor magnify in irritation the longer you spend with the image.

Other flaws could be small but they niggle - the irritation only gets worse the longer you try to persuade yourself the image is ok. It might be that a flaw that drives me batty doesn't bother you at all, and the other way round too.

Well, so perfection and greatness are not the same and perfection is relative and is pointless without greatness but the opposite is not true - you can have greatness without perfection. Hmmn...

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Hornby Shore

I have shown this in colour, in this image I have cropped out (and cloned out) a log in the upper left and present it in black and white. I think this is the best image of my trip out there.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Big Shoot:Slow Develop

It's taken six months to make sense of the images I shot on Vancouver Island. In the last week I have found half a dozen images that were definitely worth working with, even if no masterpieces. This, despite numerous poring throughs of the thumbnails in the past.

I suspect that what happened was:

1) I photographed for 10 straight days and unless the images looked great on the camera LCD, there was no way to remember which should work out and which I didn't expect to yield anything.

2) I remember having difficulty finding images - too much pretty scenery - where I had to work hardest to find images, I generally remembered them, where there were a surfeit of scenes to capture, I was less sure of my composition.

3) Since I shot 1500 images, going through them all requires considerable time.

4) a number of images did not match the format of the camera (3:2) and so required cropping to look good, meaning that thumbing through the images they woudn't necessarily jump out.

5) there are a fairly high proportion that work best in black and white - further removing the thumbnails from good prints.


If you received a blogfeed without an image this afternoon, it was because I had inadvertantly published without uploading the image (pressed the wrong button). I immediately corrected the problem but I have a sneaking feeling that those of you using blogfeed (such as RSS) will have received the blank version. Anyway, the image will have shown up in the next feed.

In the mean time, here's another image from Vancouver Island - if I remember correctly this huge tree (12 feet across) was on an island just off the Tofino Harbour and accessed by water taxi. Shot with a 17-40 lens at 17 mm. I was only a few feet away from the trunk. Despite this, and the receding top of the tree perspective, it does give the impression of soaring height.

It might be tempting to burn down the leaves but I wanted the impression of strong light in the upper tree.

Another Hornby island Shore Image

Abnother Rock Abstract

Another feature of the shores of Hornby Island.

Too Complicated?

When I went to bed last night, I left the colour version of this image on screen and so it was the first thing that faced me this morning when I came downstairs to check my email. I was disturbed by the clash in colour between the rocks and the green reflections in the water, and decided it was time to see if it would work in black and white. I'd worked with a similar image and decided it was too cluttered in black and white - the blocks of colour which simplified things were missing, now it was just a mish mash of stuff - definitely fiting my 'complicated doesn't cut it' entry in my blog of a couple of days ago.

This time I'm not so sure - I can 'sort of' justify it all to myself, but am I pushing it? One of the problems of blogging is that in an attempt to produce new material for entries, images are often displayed before I have a chance to live with them - thus eliminating an important editing step - still, your feedback would be helpful. In the past you have provided excellent advice on cropping, on image worth, and other aspects of the image.

So Whadda ya think?

Friday, March 16, 2007

More From Hornby Island

Cracked Rock

From our trip to the west coast, this image was on the outer side of a small semi-island - surrounded by water at high tide but accessable otherwise. The other rocks were all black with white 'crap' on them - completely unphotogenic, but I did find this one area...

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Mark Hobson - Recommended Photographer

I was asked to suggest photographers whose images impress me. Check out The Landscapist, Mark's blog. I love his images. Not sure of his technique and while curious, it doesn't really matter - quiet subjects, sublime colour, superbly composed, not a grand landscape to be seen, very ordinary subject matter, superb eye!

Photoshop Filter Use

This was a colour digital file. I used a combination of Photomatix Tone Mapping, Akvis Enhancer and conversion to black and white by Russell Brown, then used various curve layers with edited masking to produce this result.

The original file is below.

Complicated Doesn't Cut It

I've written about subtle photographs and how it can be difficult to separate those from almost good enough images. Today I'd like to point out some observations about the top images from the best photographers.

Almost invariably these are images which have a simple design - it doesn't take work to appreciate them - they may well have hidden depths but they are hidden under a bold simple design which is easy to recognize. Of course, one could argue that since more people are capable of understanding a simple image, it's obvious that these would be the most popular images - yet critics, museums, publishers and photographers themselves seem to consider these same images as the great ones.

Go to Masters Of Photography and look through a good number of the famous photographers represented and their classic images - I think you'll find that the designs of the images are elegant and simple, easy to understand at a glance, while offering more for the person who stays with an image.

This has implications for our own images. We may choose to balance half a dozen different image elements, but for the image to have widespread appeal, the image better have two or three main elements which are easily apparent and which aren't disguised by the other elements. Those three main elements better take up most of the picture unless they sit on an uncomplicated background.

For example:

last fall I was photographing a series of small falls and pools, carved rocks and reflections. An image which has three main elements (say three small reflecting pools) better have them balanced throughout the picture - if the bottom right part of the image is a bunch of jumbled rocks, then i's going to distract from the three pools. If an image has six features going for it - that gorgeous curve on the left, the light stone half out of the pool on the right, the fall of water in the top, the shadow on the bottom, the reflection in the other pool... well you get the idea - with that much clutter, the odds of making something out of it is poor.

I think many photographs fail because they aren't simple enough. You'd think it would be easy to make images simple, but it isn't!

George Lange Photography

Reading The Online Photographer and linked over to The Strobist and found this link to a flash slideshow of George Lange's work - thought you might enjoy it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Commments on 'Nothing To Photograph'

I particularly want to draw your attention to the three comments made. Kjell talks about assigning himself an exercise to photograph a limited area, Julie talks about photographing with others and realizing they can see things she can't (and visa versa) and Paul talking about finding nothing because it doesn't match preconceived ideas of what a good image from this location would look like - all excellent points and well worth reading in the original.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

There's Nothing Here (To Photograph)

I suspect it's universal to sometimes go out photographing and in a particular location find nothing to move us (except to a different location). Nothing photogenic, nothing inspiring, nothing interesting. We pack up our bags and head off somewhere else.

Many times this is exactly the right thing to do, but what about when you know there should be something to photograph, you just can't see it.

You might know because it looks photogenic or because you've had success here before, or someone else has.

Oh, sure, you might fire off some images, with little hope of getting anything (you know you wouldn't even have bothered unpacking a 4X5, but with digital, perhaps a miracle will happen and the pixels will magically align.

So, the question is: if a spot should or could make good photographs and you can't find them, is there anything that can be done to salvage the situation and before you pack up your gear and move on?

The answer to this question could turn into an entire course on photography, but; here's some questions to ask yourself before you pack away your gear.

- have I explored the scene from every angle, including low and high? Recently I shot a tiny ice covered waterfall - don't suppose it was even two feet high. From front on it didn't amount to much, but when I waded through the snow to get above the fall, lovely arcs of ice appeared - the difference been failure and success. My friend, who photographed the scene 10 minutes after me, didn't think to check above.

- did I show up with a wide angle frame of mind and miss the telephoto shot, or the other way round? Preconceived ideas of what will work best for a scene can hurt you.

- if there are issues which prevent the scene from being workable at this time specifically - light, wind, clouds, could I either take advantage of what I thought was a problem or simply work around it. So the sky is boring - who says the picture has to include the sky? Photographing at noon with harsh shadows - what about actually making the shadows part of the picture - noon shadows on flatland are short, but on vertical surfaces they are long, hmmm...

- if there's material there, and you just can't see how to put it together. Stop searching for a few minutes and think about what makes the scene pretty or interesting or moving? Ask yourself how you might go about showing that within the limitations of what's available. So often we run around without much thought, looking for things to fall into place, when if we gave some thought to why we are here, we might better make use of it.

- consider treating the location as an assignment - you HAVE to get the best possible photograph in this 'bad' situation. Sometimes just simply starting to photograph will break you out of a slump and the first pictures which really are poor will lead to better pictures not very many minutes later.

- try and treat the scene in an abstract way - instead of photographing the rocks and trees, try photographing a mood or emotion

- make a picture of the light rather than what is lit.

If this doesn't do it for you, probably time to move on.

For Whom Do We Photograph?

If we truly photograph for ourselves - then we have no need to show anyone our prints, we don't have to please anyone else, we can choose what to photograph with no thoughts of market or gallery owners etc. If I were one of these photographers, I wouldn't be writing this blog, displaying my pictures, submitting them for publication and generally getting my images out there.

A commercial photographer has only one goal in mind - pleasing the client - the photographer's own desires, goals, and interests matter not a hoot other than how they affect his creativity and presenting ideas to the client.

Somewhere in between lie most of us - choosing subjects to photograph based on personal interest while being aware that if we want fame and fortune we are going to have to show photographs people want to buy or publish. The market for messy basement pictures is probably fairly narrow, that for cute cats is huge, yet we are not prepared to sacrifice our own identity to accommodate the neighbor's pets - even though it is far more likely to bring us fame and fortune than whatever else we do like to photograph might do for us.

I want to submit for publication - I know that the editor will want lots of images to choose from and should I be lucky enough to be accepted, will ask for even more images. This means I have to make an effort to go back to this project and make more photographs 'whether I want to or not'. Being 'forced' to go take more photographs of a subject I find interesting is hardly punishment, but perhaps I have moved on to other interests now.

Bottom line is that few of us are completely free from outside influence or pressure, and that if we want to get our work out there, we have to accept that this puts both demands and constraints on our work - demands to do more, to do particular types of work, to get into production mode re making prints, to delay easier or more attractive projects or simply to put off relaxing.

The willingness we have to work hard and to put up with these demands and constraints will largely determine our success in getting work out there.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Image Autopsy - Forked Tree

Welcome to the second of my series on looking at one of my own images, how it came about, the technical details and what I think works (or doesn't work) in the image.

Circumstances - it was about 1977 and I had some holiday time during my residency in family practice and we drove 1500 miles from Edmonton to Vancouver Island (ok, so we had to take a ferry). Cathedral Grove is a preserved area of old growth forrest with some of the largest trees in Canada and was then (as it is now) a popular stop on the way across the island to get to Tofino and Long Beach on the west coast. These huge Douglas Fir and Cedar trees are up to 15 feet in diameter at the base and 250 feet tall. Sunlight makes it to the ground in splotches but fortunately this was a dull day.

I'm lucky I have this photograph because only a few hours later I tripped as I hopped and jumped around a lovely waterfall, falling forward and very cleverly just stopping the tripod and mounted camera from hitting the ground. The force however of stopping suddenly ripped the tripod socket out of the bottom of the camera and it proceded to bounce down the rocks.

I'm not sure if this huge tree even exists today - though it had been growing for 700 years when I photographed it the first time, a huge wind storm came through a few years ago, knocking down many of the trees including some of the giants.

The Search - I've been back to Cathedral Grove last Fall, and frankly it isn't easy to photograph. There's no way to capture the majesty of the trees when you are only 30 feet away at most (and you can't see them if you are further). At best you are only going to capture part of the trees. I was lucky to find trees that weren't simply vertical, that offered some diagonal lines.

The Setup - Nothing complicated here, simply a matter of manouvering around until a pleasing composition could be seen.

The Equipment - The Ikonta is in fact a very nice camera - one of few which can allow you to slip a 6X6 cm. camera into your pocket. It's manual focusing but with landscapes that's often not a big issue as in attempting to get adequate depth of field, we are using hyperfocal distances and simply guessing the distance to the tree trunk then stopping down to f22 or 32 is all you can do. Framing with this camera is a nightmare as it has to have one of the world's worst view finders, even 'more worse' for those of us with glasses. Lets's just say that framing with this camera is not n exact science.

The camera's Tessar lens is extremely sharp in the centre, slightly soft in the corners, uncoated (in my version) and produces a lovely tonal palette. Of course the lens isn't interchangeable (no decisions to make there) and square format (so I don't even have to decide which way to mount the camera). Winding on film is a matter of using the little red window in the back to observe the frame counting numbers roll by on the film paper backing (oddly, I have a new Shen Hao 6X12 cm. back for my 4X5 that works the same way - completely reliable if you aren't standing in the sun). The simplicity of my Ikonta has resulted in a number of good images over the years and I have since replaced it on ebay, though largely for nostalgic reasons as I now shoot digitally).

The film was Ilford FP3, the exposure long forgotten. Though the camera only went to f22, the f stop ring actually went past and produced a creditable f32 without enough diffraction to negate it's advantage.

Post Processing - Can't remember the developer for sure - I switched to HC-110 around that time on the advice of Fred Picker. The negative is quite thin (I have a sneaking suspicion that the smallest aperture might actually have been smaller than f32). It has been difficult to print, requiring all my skills to bring out good detail in the tree bark. The advent of scanning and digital printing has made my life a lot easier. The negative was scanned with my Epson 4870 flatbed and with various masked curve layers in Photoshop I have been able to produce a print (on matte paper) which exceded anything I was ever able to produce in the wet darkroom. This is not an uncommon phenomenon - people rescueing marginal negatives through scanning and computer work.

Image Analysis - note the splayed vertical lines caused by the small tree in the bottom left, the two big trunks, and the smaller branch on the ground angling up and right in the bottom right of the image. This fanning of lines is visually attractive, but normally runs the risk of simply allowing the eyes to wander out the top of the print, never to return. In this image, we have the matched downwards angling branches on both left and right keeping one's eyes within the print. The fallen log that runs low right to upper left behind the two big trunks counters the verticals of the two large trunks. I like the cross made by the twigs in front of the right trunk, though the twig to the left of them is less than ideal. It doesn't bother me enough to warrant removal in Photoshop, though it would certainly be an option. The foreground objects are not within the depth of field (one of the joys of using medium format is a lack of depth of field even when stopped down) but despite being out of focus, it doesn't jar the eye and frankly has never bothered me. Note that using a tilt - shift lens wouldn't help in this situation.

Despite the deficiencies in the negative, the image has rich tones throughout and the distant upper forrest is light without being glaring (the joys of a dull day).

All in all, the way the varioius parts of the image come together pleases my eye, whether they follow any compositional rules is of no importance to me. It's been 30 years since I shot this image and it still holds together for me and other people like it too so it isn't just me falsely ascribing elements to the image which are remembered from the occasion but not actually recorded in the picture - always a risk when you are in a place that really moves you.

Sales - as indicated last time, I'm making prints from these 'image autopsies' available inexpensively for purchase ($40 incl. shipping for 8.5X11) - order them as for the print of the month and specify which image it is you want. I suspect this image would look good on the new inkjet papers which mimic glossy dried matte and will experiment accordingly and sell using that which works best.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Badlands Digital

More from the badlands, this time three horizontal shots from a 10D, stitched with PTGui. Although there were parts of the image that worked, the dark grass in the upper right, and the rocks in the lower right didn't balance what was on the left.

A combination of cropping and 'filtering' and lightening the grass with an extreme curve and dodging the rock highlights gave things better balance. Akvis Enhancer seemed to further balance tones while increasing local contrast.

From The Badlands, Alberta

Shot in Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta - one of my favourite locations and good for an annual trip. This is an older image, shot on 4X5, scanned with my Epson 4870, and edited and cropped in Photoshop.

Below is the first upload and after previewing the blog I was unhappy with how light the left hand side was in general and in particular in comparison to the right. Three curves layers later I'm happier with the result. It would need fine tuning for printing but for on screen presentation, I like the adjusted version better.

Canon iPF5000 Printer update


the canon 5000 wiki does not recommend the purchase of this printer until and if major issues of ink cartridge failure and lack of replacement are resolved. Currently you have one month to install and use a cartridge - any failure beyond that is not covered - I have $1000 worth of replacement ink cartridges waiting for use, all of them over a month old - so presumably if any fail, I am out of luck.

This MUST be resolved before considering purchasing this printer (and you have to wonder about the advisability of purshasing any canon printer at this point.

My status is as follows:

- none of the starter cartridges is anywhere near empty after making about 75 8.5X11 prints and about 25 13X19 prints - boy does it use less ink than my Epson 4000!

- none of the starter cartridges have failed - fingers crossed.

- using this printer has been an absolute pain in the ass - before upgrading the firmware (took several attempts), sheet after sheet of manual feed was rejected for being skewed - not that I could see.

- lining up paper to the right edge is easier than with my Epson 4000 but that micky mouse sliding left edge holder for manual feed is almost useless - too tight and it binds, not tight enough and as paper moves back and forth in the loading process, the paper can become skewed (enough even I can see it - so even with new firmware which is more tolerant of skewing - I run into trouble often).

- having to press buttons on the printer several times for every sheet of paper is outright silly - someone needs their wrist slapped. Bad programmer! Bad programmer!

- updating the firmware was in no way obvious - you have to install the installer - but that doesn't do the update, then you have to install the update, then you have to perform the update - ridiculous!

- in black and white, you have no profiles - because you have no colour - what this means though is you are totally on your own to develop custom curves for each paper you use - I'm not clear on why we can't have icc profiles for black and white too - which would set the tonal curve. Fortunately you can save curves and the Photoshop 16 bit print utility saves the last curve used anyway.

- the updated software at least lets you use most of the manual feed papers print surface - the old version didn't let you use the last inch and a half of paper in each side - so you lost 3 inches of paper each way - but now when I specifically set manual 3 mm. I'm told it won't work with the paper choice I made, but that was critical for matching my paper choice - round and round we go!

Does this sound like you are ready to fork out $3700 Canadian for this printer (printer plus one full set of replacement inks)? I thought I had waited long enough before purchasing it to avoid teething problems - sigh.

-Oh, by the way, when you can get it to work - it does make nice prints.

Friday, March 09, 2007

'It Looks Like A Painting'

More than occasionally someone will comment that one of my colour images looks like a painting. As I never did colour work until I switched to digital, this leaves me a little uncomfortable. Are they telling me that the images don't look real, or that they are too manipulated, or that the digital process has for better or worse added something to images that wasn't there?

After 40 years of dodging, burning, bleaching and generally manipulating black and white images, it never occurred to me to not do the same thing in colour so it was certainly possible that these comments were 'fair'.

Oddly, though, the comments weren't necessarily directed at some of my more manipulated images or my more abstract images. They used comments like this at images which had little done to them and were fairly normal looking landscape photographs.

Could it be the matte paper - after all people are used to glossy prints - but they make these comments about images behind glass too so that wasn't it.

It's quite possible that I'm completely missing the boat - but given the wide range of non painterly images to which they apply this comment, my suspicion is that they make this comment using as a frame of reference their own colour snapshots of similar scenery.

They don't take into consideration (they simply don't know about)the effort we go to to pick lighting which will best show the subject, or the amount of work on the image to open up shadows and control highlights.

Their snapshots have black shadows and pure white highlights, haze obscuring anything distant and colours that come from shooting at noon.

Perhaps I'm completely deluding myself. Maybe digital is doing something to the images that didn't happen in film days. Michael Reichman has addressed this issue by simply defining the 'new' real, suggesting that digital is capable of doing things film was not and that the images more closely match what he 'saw' but in the past could not have recorded, putting the issue squarely back in the lap of the viewer.

Anyway, I'm interested in your experiences, your theories as to the explanation, and how you deal with such comments (assuming you get them).

Goals, Expectations, Predictions, and Hopes

I had written about negative thinking and it's costs and had casually mentioned that assuming you were going to shoot a masterpiece today was at least marginally better. G Dan Mitchell made the very sensible point that photographers have to believe that they can and will shoot a masterpiece - that we need to believe that to keep shooting.

I'd like to expand on that a bit. I think it's important to recognize the differences amongst goals, dreams, aspirations, expectations, standards, and intentions.

I intend to shoot a masterpiece today. I hope to succeed, I expect to be disappointed more often than not, but am aware that if I don't try I certainly can't succeed.

It's also important to note that it's one thing to believe that I can create a masterpiece but that it's destructive to expect that it's got to be today and that if it isn't I'm a failure.

I remember from my film days shooting 4X5 and developing film but not proofing or printing for several weeks, the anticipation building, the expectations rising, only to make prints and find out that I had way oversold myself. Cycles like this were responsible for me buying a lovely new 4X5 and never using it or any other camera for 15 years.

More than likely you aren't that dumb but failure to meet expectations can be pretty darn expensive.

I hear of photographers who shoot for an entire year before hitting the print darkroom - I admire their confidence and know I could never ever do that - in fact one of the joys of digital is I can head out again the next day and reshoot something if what I find isn't quite right. Perhaps I'm kidding myself but I do feel that rapid feedback is helping me improve my skills. When image problems don't show up for months, it's pretty hard to relate them back to issues of technique, when it's only two hours later, the lesson tends to be pretty powerful.

Dan is absolutely correct - we have to believe we have great images in us, that we are capable of producing them any moment now. It's helpful to feel confident enough to predict that we will be a success, but putting a time frame on it might not be helpful.

Seeing Things In Photographs

How do you deal with people who see animals and such like in your landscape photographs? Do you deliberately search them out? Do you typically see the same things your viewer does - and before they commment? What do you see in the above image? Do you care?

For myself I note that I can see something in the image when I see it small, and nothing when it fills at least half the screen. This makes you think about relationships in images - how close they have to be to each other to have meaning. I wonder if there is something to be learned here?

Thursday, March 08, 2007

If There Were A Prize For Negative Thinking...

Ever talk yourself out of something by convincing yourself beforehand that
a) it's a dumb idea
b) it won't work
c) others have done it better
d) my camera equipment isn't good enough
e) there's too (much/little) (sun/wind/cloud/etc.) for good photography
f) not enough time
g) I've been shooting crap lately so this will be crap too.
h) I've tried my best and it just isn't good enough.

or any number of other negative self talk messages.

Arguably negative self talk like this is marginally better than the opposite - today I'm going to shoot a masterpiece, a photograph to transcend all others I have ever shot.

On the one hand you set yourself up to fail or not bother, on the other you set standards so high and unrealistic that meeting the standard is unlikely in extreme.

Perhaps more realistic thinking somewhere between might be best. Even better is to go out with the attitude that 'I'll make the best of what I find', I may not make a masterpiece, but I know I won't if I don't go out and shoot.

Here's some observations:

1) Most photographers get better with time - I have a nice book of Ansel's early mountain work - but frankly, it would never have seen the light of day if he hadn't already been famous - trust me - he got better with time.

2) The only way to not make progress is to keep screwing up the same old way - so get creative - find some new ways to screw up (and more to the point - stop screwing up the old ways).

3) Most photographers fail for lack of effort or skill, not talent. At workshops, most of the prints fail for pretty basic reasons - technical glitches, poor printing, weak composition - it's unusual for them to fail because the photographer had a dumb idea or couldn't find anything interesting to photograph. This means that any lack of perceived success on your part is overwhelmingly likely to be from fairly simple errors of insufficiency of skills, which with a bit of work could be overcome.

4) There are more photographs out there waiting to be taken than you have time to shoot - lack of something to photograph is really just laziness or pessimism or discouragement - just get out there.

5) failure to find anything worth shooting is fairly common, but often it's because we have preconceived ideas of what we are looking for - and on being there at the wrong time or under the wrong conditions to find that, we can't change gears and look at what is there. If it's February in Inuvik, perhaps wild flower photography isn't your ideal objective. On the other hand, snow drifts, ice crystals, northern lights, and day long low sun might be the order of the day.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Favourite Books - Examples - Ansel Adams

Examples : The Making Of Forty Photographs
Ansel's discussion of the making of each of the images is well worth reading, the images themselves are both good and varied, close, far, grand landscape, buildings, portraits. My copy has excellent printing quality - definitely one of the books I return to.

The images are of course all black and white but I think any photographer in any medium would benefit from this book. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


Just spent some time looking through 7 years of photo of the week on and was very impressed with some of the work - sure there were the miracle shots, the dramatic colour shots, the pets and so on, but there was a significant number of really good images, often taken with inexpensive cameras, putting those of us who spend thousands on equipment to shame. Well worth a gander through. I checked out the 'best photos' and wasn't as excited - more cliches and bright colours, but a few really nice images too a few pages down.

Getting Tough, Getting Smart

You know that little flaw in the image that you want to overlook because otherwise it's a great photograph, hate to tell ya, but it's only going to get bigger, stick out more and bug you much more.

The odds of an image weakness you can see now somehow fading from your consciousness is near zip.

Either fix it or throw it - some image flaws can be reduced to the point they do really fade, but if that's not possible, better to chuck the image now and move on - the time you spend working around the flaw could be far better spent.

That said, here's some things I have done successfully in the past.

- the darkness of one corner is completely out of balance with the rest of the image. A good job with curves and a mask might be enough to make the corner match. Just because you know it was a darker material than what was in the other corners doesn't mean it has to appear that way in the photograph.

- the lovely lines and curves of an image are spoiled by, say a branch. I think it's entirely reasonable to take out dead branches with some Photoshop cloning, unless you don't think you are creating art, in which case leave the branch or the pop can and hope people buy your 'authentic' argument.

- things don't quite line up in the corner - consider using a free transform and slightly stretching the image - watch for odd distortions if you do it too much.

- something really distracting in an image - could it be the colour - would a black and white conversion with appropriate filtering make it fade from view? I'm not above some subtle colour changes with a mask in a colour image to save an otherwise nice image.

- skilled work on local brightness and contrast (by whatever method) can not only save an image - it can literally make an image. You thought Ansel's contact proofs looked even remotely like his final prints - I'd bet you'd be hard pressed to even recognize the images when you flip through the proofs - he made This from That? Yup!

Tripod Centre Columns

Photographers tend to either be strongly for 'em or not.

The argument against centre columns is that it encourages the use of an essentially unstable camera position - at the end of a long pole.

I see things this way. I buy a tripod which can go to eye height without any use of the centre column - I think this is very important - odd when so many reputable tripods don't. I then use the first two inches of tripod column for minor height adjustments on occasion (perhaps 5% of my photographs). I figure this much column isn't a big deal.

On rare occasions, I use the full height of the column to get past an obstruction - significantly less than 1% of my pictures - but the only way to get an image sometimes.

On my Gitzo 1348, there are no stability issues with the existence of the centre column, only it's use - on those rare occasions when I use it more than a couple of inches, I need an absence of wind and give the camera longer than usual to stop vibrating.

The only real downside to the centre column has been the fact that the camera can't get as low to the ground as I'd like. I have even considered cutting the column short (exc. that I do use the full height in rare cases).

As my routine is to set up the tripod so the camera is at least at eye hight without any centre column application, I'm not tempted to rely on the centre column to do things I should have done with the legs.

So: buy a tripod that can go to eye level without help from the centre column, then it's your choice whether to use one or not, for special occasions only. If you do a lot of low work, I'd not have a centre column - eg. someone interested in flower photography (not unless it was one of those tripods which can mount the centre column horizontally). Find yourself standing on 45 degree slopes, you might just want that centre column.

Camera Height

I still remember reading Ansel Adam's Basic Photo series and seeing a picture of Ansel standing on top of his International photographing from a roof platform. So, just how high should the camera be and are there implications for various heights.

Eye Height has the advantages of convenience, especially if hand holding. It could be argued that it's the most natural position to view the world, but alternatively one could make the argument that serious photography is about showing people things they hadn't seen or didn't notice before - so perhaps anything but eye height would be best.

We are used to looking at faces from eye height, yet many of the great portraits were photographed with a waist level finder and position. Such a position shortens the chin and nose and presents the whole body in correct perspective - not leaning back if photographing from the floor, or looming forward, if shot from eye level.

A low position tends to emphasize foreground which is ok so long as you have the depth of field to use it - perhaps a reason why most low position shots are made with a very wide angle lens.

Low tends not to work well when there are tall grasses or small bushes in the way. If the path is clear though and if you can tilt the camera back or lens or have enough depth of field or are using Helicon Focus to blend several shots at different focus points, then it can be dramatic.

You could of course shoot from low but aim high enough to avoid foreground but you need to be aware that from this position everything is going to look like it's falling backwards unless you have lens shift. I'm quite happy to make the correction in Photoshop. I know many people don't like the additional processing and the throwing away of some pixels that this engenders, but they are the same group who when shooting large format were happy to use the unsharp edge of their lens coverage to get the same effect - bottom line, I'm quite impressed with the results of perspective correction in Photoshop.

What about higher than eye height? It's a bit of a hassle. Either you can't see the viewfinder or you have to bring your own step ladder. I have a few times needed to get over something in the foreground or had to eliminate something in the distance. As I don't normally carry a step stool with me, I have been known to rely on auto focus and used the fact that my tripod does have a centre column which won't rotate to set everything up, then raise the camera a foot or so and take the picture, re-aiming as needed after checking the LCD.

I have shot from the roof of a suburban but as I typically don't shoot grand landscapes, don't often have a need for a high position and when I do, I'm off in the boonies with no vehicle in sight.

More From Fall

Monday, March 05, 2007

Suffering For Your Art

The best view of this small fall was right in front, a view only possible via being in the pool below. Actually, it wasn't as bad as I'd expected and I quite enjoyed myself being right next to the fall and the wonderful ice patterns.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Ice Forms

More from yesterday's shoot.

Breaking The Composition Rules

Not only is this image way too tall and skinny, it isn't divided into thirds, and the left side is white, the right black, the trees are chopped off near the ground. That said, it works for me.

Ice Wave

It's after midnight so this was a shot from yesterday morning. I'd already tried the more standard shot taken from below the 'fall' and looking straight at the ice formation, but I decided it might be worth checking from above and found these lovely curves. There was a lot of the image off to the right and while it had some interesting features, I found that keeping the rest of the image in weakened the best part which you see here.

It doesn't matter how good the material is, if it doesn't strengthen the image as a whole, it has to go.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Misery Loves Company

I was supposed to go out photographing this morning with a friend. Last night I walked the dog and it was pleasant walking but cold enough I thought standing around photographing was going to be less than fun. I checked the weather and it was forecast to be windy - we were shooting landscapes.

Had it not been for going with a friend, likely I would have slept in this morning. Because I was going with a friend, each of us encouraged the other and the net result is we got up early and headed out in the dark.

At one point the wind was blowing about 60 klicks (40 mph). the snow was blowing hard and had I been on my own I would have headed home. Instead we stopped the car and attempted to photograph the blowing snow - no great shots, but we felt good having done it. At one point my hat blew off and half a mile later I found it at the bottom of a hollow.

With considerable misgivings we drove on to Big Hill Springs Provincial Park, fully expecting the wind to put the brakes on any photographing. To our surprise, we turned the corner, dropped into a ravine - no wind. Not only that, the weather warmed up and we have a lovely morning photographing an icy stream.

About half way through the morning I decided to get brave and enter the water to photograph the ice from a better angle - must have been a warm spring feeding the stream because it wasn't that bad. I spent the next two hours wading around in foot deep water having a blast.

Point is, there were several opportunities to duck out of this shoot and decide it wasn't worth it - too cold, too windy, but because we were going together, there was no question of letting the other fellow down - and off we went.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Image Autopsy - Tree Reflection

I am about to start a new series. In it I am going to pick one of my images that means a lot to me and explain the circumstances of shooting it, what I was trying to achieve and what I did to the image(s) to get there. I'm going to talk about the elements of the image which are important to me. It will be up to you to decide if they work but I'm not looking for feedback on whether it's a nice image. Rather, what I hope is that you may get something from my own struggles, sucessful or not. I definitely want feedback on whether the whole autopsy idea is worth while.

Some time ago I did a series on dissecting classic images but difficulties in getting permission to reproduce the images meant only that I could provide a link and any comments I made about the images were largely speculation about the intents of the photographer. Time has shown that such analysis may explain why an image is good but may be completely off the mark in explaining what the photographer was doing and why. This time I have an intimate understanding of the photographer and the only limitation is my memory, faulty as it can definitely be.

Circumstances - I was looking for interesting patterns in the thawing ice of the Elbow River near downtown Calgary (pop. 1 million). My back was to the bus barn and across the river was Inglewood, an old and now artsy part of town with quaint shops, live theatre, galleries and restaurants. It was January during a warm spell and about 10 degrees C. (50 F.), brilliantly sunny with a strong blue sky typical of Alberta. There were a couple of clouds hanging around.

The Search - I didn't find any really strong patterns in the thawing ice. A number of shots were taken, none have seen the light of day. As I worked my way along a bicycle path next to the river, I came across a very slight inlet in the river edge. Itmade a sweeping curve which could be accentuated by use of a wide angle lens. At this time of year, multiple freeze thaw cycles had given the ice at the edge of the river a large crystaline structure, easily visible. I looked both upstream and down for intersting patterns in the ice leading away from this foreground curve but nothing struck me. Then I realized that water running along over the ice in mid stream was reflecting the few clouds. Further, by positioning myself I could get the water to reflect the upper part of a tree on the opposite bank.

The Setup

I set up my tripod and moved it around to fine tune the image. I was already into stitching and it was a simple matter to use my zoom to frame the image vertically, then simply create however many images I needed to set the horizontal boundaries of the image. As it happened, this meant only two images and a square format, largely determined by the limits of the curving inlet and overhanging bushes to left and right of me. As I like square pictures, this was no problem.

As I was setting up the shots, the sun went behind one of the few clouds. This resulted in better control of contrast, avoided harsh shadows and unbeknownst to me at the time, gave the image a blue cast since the scene was now lit entirely by a deep blue sky.

The Equipment

At that time I was shooting with a Canon 10D, using my new 17-40 mm. lens, set at 27 mm. (don't forget the 1.6 X factor for the small sensor, more or less cancelled out by stitching).

A similar image before any manipulation looks like this:

You will note the really subtle colours, also some telephone wires needing cloned out. Still, you can see the blue tones of the blue skylight.

At that time I was using a wooden Berlebach tripod with built in ball joint centre post combination. This tripod served me very well for several years for both 4X5 and digital. I was already using a Really Right Stuff L Bracket and with a purchased RRS lever clamp and a piece of oak, I fashioned myself a nodal point arm which would let the camera body sit behind the rotation point of the ball head. The ball swivel/centre column fitting on the tripod meant that I could level the centre post and rotate a real ball head (Arca Swiss B1) perfectly horizontally, even if the camera aimed up or down. In this case the camera was aimed down - the horizon is slightly above the top of the image.

It's important when stitching with the camera angled down this much to note that your carefully found nodal points are no longer accurate - the rotation point moves back to the camera body as you tilt the whole mechanism down. The resulting images have angled edges and you need to be absolutely sure you have enough image at either end to end up with a proper rectangular image (unless you are into trapezoidal prints - a limited market).

I subsequently lost that home made nodal point slider and have since replaced it with a RRS one.

To take the picture, I used mirror lock and cable release. Exposure was 1/15 at f11, ei. 100.

Post Processing - Camera Raw, whatever version was extant at the time. A number of images I have reprocessed with more recent versions. The first big step was going to 16 bit and subsequently better sharpening algorithms. I'm a great fan of smart sharpen but I have never reprocessed this image so suspect the original camera raw output was 8 bit.

Once in Photoshop, I applied a series of curves layers to increase contrast, get some dark tones and most importantly reveal the ice crystal pattern. it is in the nature of Photoshop to increase colour saturation at the same time as increasing contrast with an S shaped curve. This gave the image it's dramatic blue colour. While the original blue was real, it wasn't seen by the eye which rapidly cancels strong colour hues (try wearing orange coloured sunglasses for a while). In the end I probably had more than 20 such curves, gradually increasing the contrast, in each case locally only through the use of black masks and painting white into the mask with assorted levels of opacity.

The near ice received the greatest changes and in fact I had to tone down the colour saturation several times as I worked on the image, because of the increased contrast. At that time I didn't know about the luminosity setting in the layers palette which means that saturation doesn't increase when you increase contrast.

The image isn't in fact super sharp and it took some work with creative sharpening with Photokit Sharpener to ge the ice crystals sharp. In hind site, f11 wasn't enough depth of field for such a near far composition. Nowadays I'd shoot multiple images and blend with Helicon Focus, having determined that f16 is the smallest f stop on my current 1Ds2 which actually increeases sharpness in the out of focus areas. A smaller stop just makes the in focus bits fuzzier while not sharpening the out of focus bits any more (diffraction).

This is, however; one of those images which doesn't need to be super sharp and I actually like a 3 foot square image I have at my office.

The telephone wires were cloned out as was a very sharp straight line of bubbles in the water which looked more like a negative defect than real. A single dark coloured leaf had started to melt its way into the ice and was cloned out.

The End Image - this is one of my favourite colour images, and that the colour is exagereated doesn't bother me one whit. I like the centering of the tree while the curve of the near ice on the bottom isn't centred (enough is enough). I love the clouds reflected in the water and the brush stroke like effect of the melting ice on the far side of the river. Note how I darkened the two bottom corners to keep the eye within the image - too much? - perhaps, but it doesn't bother me.

I'm not one for rules but certainly this image is very much divided into thirds vertically.

There is a consistency of colour throughout the image - given that the reflected sky is part of the image and the rest is lit by sameself sky, this isn't too surprising, though I did have to do some subtle colour balance work for the real image to look this way.

It's really important to have a profiled monitor for this image as subtle changes can make the blue look purple or turquoise, neither of which works.

If you go back to the original image file shown near the top of the article, you will get a sense of the amount of work done on the image. This was done over half a dozen different sessions complete with about three total restarts from scratch. Total time working on the image was probably about 20 hours. Who says digital is easy?

To many people the image is very disturbing because of it's upside down nature. At the time I was completely unaware of this aspect of the image and it has never looked upside down to me. It gets a lot of comments and some sales, but not as many as my more conventional images. People tend to 'get it' or not. Those who have to work to see it right way up typically don't buy it, but a small number of people absolutely fall in love with it.

About 5% of the public see it as a reflection immediately and about 30% never get it, even after having it fully explained to them.

Sales - I'm a little uncomfortable tying sales hype into what is supposed to be an information and discussion blog, but what the hey - I'm going to sell prints of each image discussed in this series (if it's popular). Prints on 8.5X 11 (approx. 6.5 inches square) will be $40 Can., regular postage included, anywhere in the world. Prints on 13X19 (approx. 10.5 inches square) will be $69 Canadian. Both will be shipped flat and well protected and guaranteed to arrive safely. Prints will be on whichever archival paper and made on whichever archival printer/ink which seems best suited.

The series are open, prints are signed.

Payment can be made by Paypal using my email address george dot barr at shaw dot ca and specifying which print it is.

You can also send me your visa or mastercard number and expiry date. I would suggest spelling it out - eg. two four nine... just in case someone is trolling for entries with the word visa and a 16 digit number in the same email. Alernatively you can fax your request to (403) 256-4852 and address it to George Barr Fine Art Photography, so my secretary doesn't throw it out as a junk fax.