Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I remember visiting this spot as a kid - it seemed both impressive and extensive. I visited it again last year and couldn't believe how small this particular feature in the badlands was and how few of the standing stones there were.

This year, I decided to check around the area to see if there was anything else to photograph but took one more walk through the display, and when I got above the display, looking back to the road, found some lovely lines worth exploring. I had to wait till well after sundown before the tourists thinned out and there are so many scuff marks on the rocks that they actually blend now and don't show as much as when there were only a few.

By isolating the features from the background road (even at the cost of losing a couple of features, and by doing extensive burning to darken shadows and increase the three dimensionality of the surfaces, I'm quite pleased with the result.

On the whole, I find it easier to add dimension in flat lighting than it is to try opening up shadows in harsh lighting.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Thoughts On Creating/Cheating/Modifying Images

I have the attitude that if you do a little cloning in Photoshop to clean up an image, that's just fine, and I have often removed an errant twig this way. I don't mind stretching an image to distort perspective and get the composition right. In my film days I even showed an image which stole a sky from another image - involving a little darkroom trickery.

For some reason I object to wholesale alteration of an image - moving a major object in the image to a different location, adding elements other than sky from another image.

I don't think my attitude makes any sense at all - why should one manipulation be any more acceptable than another.

I guess that I have a built-in meter for manipulation which says something along the lines of "if the image is fundamentally the same, then it's ok, if it is radically changed but still looks real it's not ok, and if it's radically changed to look unreal, well that's just fine again.

Not very logical, and I'd hate to have to defend my instinct in court. I have absolutely no feeling that your attitude should be the same or that I should somehow persuade you to mine, no desire to become evangelical = it's simply what I notice about myself.

Take the flower photographs/paintings of Huntington Witherill, which are clearly manipulated.

So, if I am not trying to force my opinions on you, what's the point of even raising the subject? Well, I suppose as a reminder that each of us has our own ideas of what is right, and it works for us, but we DON'T have the right to dictate to others what they should do, other than to not purchase prints if we don't like their attitudes. Just as there are people who only appreciate and purchase images made with film and printed on silver or platinum or whatever, you and I can vote with our wallets, but I don't think we have any business criticizing them.

I might think that it's silly to not remove a small pop can from a digital image being used for the cover of a book, but Stephen Johnson did it and I don't think he's silly and in fact one could argue that it says much about his character that he is a stickler for honesty and realism.

Work like Huntington's obviously blurs the line between photography and painting but so what. Rap music has more to do with poetry than music in my opinion - that doesn't create problems for me. It might for a cataloger or historian but too bad.

The Right Weather

Not a very original photograph but it does illustrate a point. When I left Calgary about 90 minutes before, there wasn't a cloud in the sky and I doubted I'd get much photography in before sundown, but weather often changes and staying home because the weather isn't right can be a mistake.

The second image is of a thunderstorm that blew in only 30 minutes after leaving Calgary.

Monday, July 28, 2008

What's The Point?

In these days of internet fame and exposure, we forget that in previous generations, people typically worked in isolation, rarely if ever sharing their work with anyone, yet they seemed to enjoy the hobby. Certainly they went to great efforts, building darkrooms, developing prints in less than ideal circumstances and living with the limitations of the wet darkroom, all apparently for nothing.

Let's look at that nothing, because I think it can teach us some things about our photography which might have become lost in the age of sharing our work.

So what could possibly entice someone to put all that effort into images which no one will ever see?

For some it is the satisfaction of solving a problem - whether it's to make clean negatives or large prints or a richly toned image. For others it's the need to create - the value lies in the prints made, even if in the end they sit in paper boxes, rarely if ever to see the light of day. Others did share their work with family, occasionally with friends and more often within camera clubs but with meetings once a month and limited exposure of your work, it typically could not be thought of as fame.

It's more than possible to be proud of the work you do without needing to receive affirmation from others. Many the serious amateur photographer worked away in isolation, producing bodies of work of significance and depth, knowing only that it was worth doing for itself.

Perhaps we need to remind ourselves now and again that while fame is nice, it's quite possible to feel good about your work without involving anyone else.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Landscapes In Photography Vs. Art

John had severals suggestions for topics and I thought this might be worth consideration.

In painting, the artist can place objects wherever he wants. The only option for a photographer is to use his position, left, right, to, fro, up and down to control placement of multiple objects in an image.

The painter adds only those details to the landscape necessary to the painting. The photographer struggles to simplify the composition so the viewer can concentrate on the important elements. This is a major cause of walking away from otherwise good images - just too much stuff, especially bushes and branches and so on.

The painter can (and usually does) soften the lighting, open the shadows hugely and choses the warmth of light to match the mood he wants to create. The photographer can do some of this in Photoshop but it often requires photographing in the early morning or evening light for best effect. Even HDR techniques can't turn mid day lighting into interesting landscape images.

The painter can add clouds as needed while the photographer must either wait or cheat - funny that it isn't cheating in painting.

Canvases come in all manner of sizes and length ratios though it's interesting that typically a painter will chose a canvas first, then paint to suit the canvas. You don't see cropped canvases. Of course, heights of trees and rocks and the width of rivers can be adjusted to suit, so perhaps it's more sensible for photographers to vary the ratios of their images to suit the particular subject, rather than to fit the paper they happen to print on or the sensor size of their camera.

Painters have complete control of the colour of objects - no yellow rocks next to pink ones, unless they want it. Of course, it's possible to do this in Photoshop and I have made subtle changes to fit in better, but in general photographers live with what nature provided. It does mean though, that we have to work extra hard to be selective in our compositions.

Painters have the choice of infinite or limited depth of field. Often backgrounds are hinted at with fairly large brush strokes which are themselves sharp where the photographer has a choice of blurred or not, and limitations within those. Helicon Focus has allowed us in some landscapes to increase depth of field - but it doesn't work in wind or with water that's moving.

Painters can control the sense of depth and distance through fading colours where photographers have to live with the light and atmosphere present. No wonder that photographic landscapes on a bright sunny day with little haze don't portray the sense of distance seen in paintings. We need weather and the right atmospheric conditions. On the other hand, cameras do great fog.

Perhaps most importantly, painters can paint the landscape as any degree of abstract they care to make it. Photographers rarely have that option with grand landscapes, though with close up details we can often approach abstract.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Photography And Painting

While I have no desire to carry on a philosophical discussion which doesn't lead to better photographing, I do think that taking some time to consider the world of painting can be useful.

The world of painting goes through phases, styles and techniques. Typically the first few who introduce a style become famous while those who follow don't. At the same time there are literally millions of hobbyist painters, some of them extremely talented, who pain in the styles of those who went before, typically the more conservative styles, usually literal or at most semi abstract paintings of an identifiable subject.

It is these painting which are affordable enough for the general public to be able to buy and attractive enough to use as decoration in a home.

Andy Warhol may be famous for his Campbell's Soup Can painting, but the number of people who want to display that artwork on their walls for months or years is pretty minimal.

Often there are huge public outcries when a local museum spends (sometimes millions) on a painting which looks like it could have been done by a six year old or just about anyone for that matter.

This is analogous to the rude comments I have repeatedly made about Camera Arts magazine. Truth is, it's the role of pioneers to shock us, to rock our foundations, change our understandings, redefine what is art or photography. Nowhere does it say that their role is to be appreciated by the masses, even the semi educated masses like myself, and certainly no one suggested it should be pretty or suitable for hanging over your newly recovered sofa.

On the other hand, every time I go to Swiss Chalet for chicken soup, I admire the Group Of Seven paintings they have throughout the restaurant. These paintings have meaning for me - firstly they are Canadian painters, second, they painted the Canadian Landscape that I can relate to. that they are very skillfully done and have a very definite style to them throughout is part of what I like about them. They aren't your simple Sunday afternoon dauber kind of paintings. These paintings are not the equivalent of calendar photographs - pretty scenes captured in standard ways and presented realistically. Instead they equate to photographs which interpret rather than illustrate the landscape.

Reproductions of these famous paintings are found decorating many the office and home across the land. Some are no doubt attracted more by the reputation of the painters than the actual quality of the painting but that's o.k. How many photographers have an Ansel Adams poster hanging somewhere, or a print purchased while at a workshop? These are usually pretty normal photographs, ones that the spouse would approve of for decoration.

So what does this mean for our photography? Well, if it is your goal to be cutting edge, leader of the pack, an instigator rather than a follower then either you are incredibly talented and you will pull it off, or you aren't, and you will fall flat on your face, to be forgotten in the dusts of time, remembered, if at all, as odd, weird, gimicky or quirky. They risk their motives being challenged - is it about money or artistic expression. Time will sort it all out. The number of people who will be successful in this arena are probably only a few in every generation so don't count on being one of them.

Picasso may have been the first cubist painter, actually I don't know. Certainly he was the most famous and if he built cubism on the shoulders of those who went before, well that's only natural. Should we discount all other cubist painters because they weren't first?

If we go back to impressionism, do we reject all but the first to use this style? What does that say about someone who paints in the impressionist style these days?

Georgia O'Keefe was famous for her exotic and erotic paintings of flowers. Many have since painted in the same style. Would I purchase a really gorgeous painting done in her style - darn right - I know I can't afford any of hers and if I found one I liked as much by a modern painter, for a fraction of the price, I'd hang it happily and wouldn't feel hard done by that I couldn't get the 'real' painting by O'Keefe.

If you could purchase a gorgeous black and white grand landscape image, with tones deep enough to dive into and highlight subtlety to make you weep, but it isn't an Ansel, would you refuse to hang it - I think not.

If you purchase a large and fairly comprehensive book on the history of art, you will find that for any period in painting, there are dozens if not hundreds of painters remembered for the quality of their work, and only a handful who are know for their innovation. It is interesting to look back from more than 100 years and to realize that fame for innovation is largely fleeting, that what people are remembered for is the quality of their work, not the uniqueness or the 'I was here first' status of their work.

Think of it this way, would you rather have the first painting of a particular style, or the best, Hmmm? So, should photography and photographers be any different?

Monday, July 21, 2008

More On Seeing Images

Probably the single biggest problem for photographers is seeing something interesting to photograph. I have written about this before. Much of my first book was dedicated to the problem, yet the problem persists and the following feedback to requests for ideas for topics is pretty common.

Frank E has left a new comment on your post "Suggestions for Future Topics?":

l have a suggestion, but just so you know "where it is coming from" let me talk about myself first:
-have been shooting seriously (as a hobbyist) for about three years now
-shoot with a Canon 20D with enough glass that takes me from 10mm to 400 but no fancy TSE equipment etc, but do have a macro
-use PS CS3 but am far from an expert
-am reasonably pleased with my progress (have won a number of camera club awards)
-but still get frustrated that I am not progressing more quickly
-try to look at other people's work, buy alot of books (including yours), and also take them out from the librarry

My question/suggestion for a topic is to talk more about how you "find" your images. I know that "text book" answer to the question. Look around for lines, texture, colours, shapes etc. Then simplify, simplify etc. But I still find that I walk around and the muse doesn't strike me. What are the techniques you use (mental conditioning, triggers you look for etc) for finding images. What helps your "seeing"

So what more can I say without repeating myself?

Perhaps telling the story of how I came to photograph the turbine might be helpful to some of you.

I was on the way to photograph Ghost Reservoir Dam (didn't see an image there). The turbine was sitting in a field, looking more like something you'd use to feed cattle than create electricity. The top part (the blades) was a uniform dark brown from the road and I passed it without much thought. After turning the car round to leave the dam site, I decided to at least take the trouble to look closely. I didn't even unpack the camera, but did walk over to find that it was a lot more interesting close up. Instead of an even brown rust, there were streaks and curves, varying tones and hues and those lovely curves of each blade. It mushroomed out at the top and had some spots that looked like welded repairs here and there.

Let's stop for a minute and think about what has happened.

I saw a subject and didn't see anything worth while.

I didn't find anything better to photograph so I looked at the subject again.

I decided that even though I couldn't see anything worth photographing from the car, it was at least worth the trouble to get out and investigate.

Upon investigation, it turned out to be a lot more interesting than anticipated.

What can we deduct from this experience?

Well, finding photographs is about possibilities, not probabilities. If you only ever explored the things you were fairly sure would make a good image, you'd be narrowing your choices severely.

"Check it out" could be your mantra.

O.K., so I have walked up to the old turbine and see better shapes and textures than expected and I'm thinking there's a good chance of an image here - in fact I'm quite excited by the possibilities. I go back to the camera and get my gear. I return to the same spot and it's time to work the scene.

I start with a straight horizontal shot of the turbine blades, including some distracting background at either side that I will likely crop out. I then start to work with the parts, moving in, replacing my long lens with a wide angle so I can get really close to the blades and accentuate the curves and capture texture.

I'm having trouble getting an image in which both left and right sides are strong so I start circling the turbine, looking for a better angle.

I decide that the original position was best and now it's time to make small refinements - up and down, to and fro, left and right. I'm using a zoom so I can adjust the focal length too - is it better to be wide and close or far and long - I try both because I'm not sure.

And another pause to reflect on what's happening.

This "intermediate" stage is about finding the most interesting part(s) of the subject and the best position from which to view said same.

And back to the search. What I haven't done is to "compose" the image. I haven't defined the boundaries of the image. This isn't just a matter of framing, I also have to reconsider position to best strengthen the composition, without moving to a position which compromises presentation of the main subject matter. If I move six inches to the left, I can use that other blade to frame the edges, but how will that affect the streaks which are my main focus?

So stage three is about fine tuning and framing.

For further help with the art of seeing, I recommend the books of Freeman Patterson. He includes a number of exercises.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Turbine Abstract

Takkakaw Falls

Near Field, B.C. on the TransCanada Highway, I have never before visited Takkakaw Falls. A real treat and more spectacular than I had been expecting. There was a tricky switchback on the way up (how the heck a full sized bus made it up I'll never know).

I had doubts about the image since, veiled by mist, there isn't anything darker than about middle gray, nor much lighter than light gray. I could easily have restored the full range of tones, totally destroying the dreamy effect of the original. Portraying atmosphere effectively is not easy, whether it be fog, snow storms, heavy rain or as in this case, spray. I don't have any answers for you - I'm learning as I go.

It's a bit like sculpture - take a rock and remove anything that isn't David (or whatever you aimed at). Here you adjust to produce a good print, while not taking away from the atmosphere.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


I've just spent two days in the mountains and the best image I found was this old turbine sitting in a field near a dam.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Friend and Fellow Photographer

You might wonder what the point is of taking a snapshot of the fellow you are out photographing with - I can't sell it, except possibly to Robin's wife - and I would give her a print, I am not likely to include it in a portfolio or exhibition, normally I'd not even put it on my blog, but it does make a point.

Any photograph you take is worth doing well, and if the photograph serves no more purpose than to please the spouse of a friend, well that's more than many photographs do. So why not shoot the cat, the kid, the friend. Robin was changing film (yes, he's one of those dinosaurs - and happily so - he's even into pyro). I couldn't quite get his eye enough for a good image, so I simply asked him to look up. I don't usually shoot portraits with a 300 mm. lens, but it worked very nicely to blur the background, and damn, that 300 mm. f4 L lens is sharp!

Suggestions for Future Topics?

I'm looking for some ideas for future blog entries, to continue on the theme of the ART of photography rather than technical stuff. Suggestions?



Monday, July 14, 2008

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Don't often get a chance to use my 300 mm. lens, but with a bit of image blending for depth of field, it worked well with this scene on a local farm this morning. We'd left our primary site of shooting and with the sun high in the sky and not a cloud anywhere we weren't optimistic about finding anything suitable to photograph.

Still, if you don't try, you don't get, so...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

On Not Seeing

I have been thinking about my experience in San Francisco, not so much about teaching the workshop but about the walk abouts we scheduled as part of the workshop. While spending much of the time helping others see, I was on the prowl for images too.

In hind sight, two things have become apparent.

1) I saw all sorts of images in this foreign city (to me) that I don't see at home, and

2) In San Francisco, I had absolutely no hesitation in asking anyone if I could take their picture, where here I'd feel foolish and shy.

It's all very well saying that San Francisco was full of lovely 1890's houses well preserved and beautifully painted - but I saw images in ordinary houses, like the one above, and in routine details. At home, I am so used to seeing these and accepting them as background to my life, I don't in fact see them as subject matter.

As a tourist, I had no issue with asking to take a picture of someone. I suppose it's that if I made a fool of myself I wouldn't be around for long - but that certainly isn't what I was thinking - it just seemed like as someone visiting the city, I could play the tourist and happily snap away.

Calgary has a population of 1 million, so it isn't likely I'd meet someone I know while out shooting, but somehow it feels more intrusive at home, turning on one's own.

Does anyone else find that being elsewhere changes the way you see and photograph?

Monday, July 07, 2008

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Steps Explained

I was asked about how I took and processed this image, so here goes.

To start, we see a set of stairs. But we know that wide angle lenses aimed up cause converging verticals and can make for some interesting shapes. I could see that the brick had both texture and sufficient reflective properties to shine a little in some places (eg. the top of the banister).

If you followed the blog you know I first shot it hand held, ei. 400 with the 40D and 18-55, and after seeing the crop that Chuck recommended, came up with my own crop based on keeping the point on the right by cloning out the distracting light fitting.

Back the next day with my 1Ds2 and more importantly, with a tripod, I was able to shoot multiple exposures to contain the huge dynamic range from reflected sky in the glass to darkest recesses of the stair well.

I found that I could capture this in two images, one for the dark areas, using Recovery in Camera Raw to keep the banister from blowing out (the brightest bricks in the image. I used the second exposure for the windows and reflected clouds. I did some individual colour adjustment (page 3 of Camera Raw) to darken the blue sky and increase saturation of the blue a little.

Once in Photoshop, I copied the sky exposure on top of the bricks exposure and using a black mask, I painted into it so the windows and sky and clouds would show up. At this point they were rather anaemic despite the camera raw adjustments. Once I had the exposures suitably blended I flattened the image and sharpened.

I converted the result to black and white using Photoshop CS3's black and white adjustment layer, lightening the bricks via the yellow and red sliders and darkening the blue via that slider.

I now had a black and white image in which the clouds were quite easily seen. There was too much light on some of the banister, not enough on other parts and it was necessary to use a couple of curves adjustment layers black masked and painted into to even things out.
I used a couple more curves to darken the sky while leaving the clouds light. Some additional work was done on the ceilings via more curves adjustment layers.

Once I had the image more or less where I wanted, I used Akvis Enhancer on a copy layer but then faded the enhancement back to about 25% effect. The image was again flattened.

Some final touch up was done on a copy of the image in a second layer with the dodge highlights (set at 5% opacity brush) and I was able to pop the clouds out even better.

And More Badlands

Back In The Badlands

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Oriental Poppy

Do consider black and white for your flower pictures - green backgrounds are no longer distracting and you can see the shapes and tones and textures of the flower where in colour everything takes second place to that.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Steps Revisited

I liked Chuck's crop enough to consider reshooting, however, I was disturbed by the loss of the point made by the lower roof on the right. He'd cropped it to lose the light, and I decided that I wanted the point enough either to downplay the light or to Photoshop it out entirely - I did it both ways but preferred the lamp gone entirely. I used a two image blend to keep detail in the clouds while minimizing noise in the shadows - this after also trying image blend in Photomatix.