Saturday, August 30, 2008

Another Fan

I was curious to see what happens to an image when you move the clarity slider to the negative numbers. Suddenly detail is suppressed and the image takes on a smootheness and simpleness which is quite appealing - almost a posterized effect but not quite as there are still subtle shadings and tonal variations. just not big jumps that would emphasize fine detail.

Click on the image to see it larger to get a better sense of the look.


Back at the field of machines again this afternoon and darned if there aren't a collection of poles inserted, ready to fence the thing off from nice people like me - looks like this will be my last weekend to play there.

I had noticed a collection of industrial fans on my first trip and hadn't yet found a satisfactory way to photograph them. Oddly, today the sun came out just as I lugged my camera to the car and to my surprise, the sun worked better for photographing this fan.

I like the high key look of this image though it certainly doesn't look real - it emphasizes the patterns over the technology.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I Missed It

I didn't notice till now that I'm at 1006 entries to my blog - my sympathies to any of you who have had to read all 1006 of them. I know when I took some blog entries to make the first book, I was horrified at some of the things I had written - of course what you may not realize is that many of them are written between patients - somebody's a few minutes late and I add another paragraph. So my apologies, and hopefully the meaning comes through even if correct grammar and spelling don't.

Racks In Black And White

There's nothing wrong with the originally posted colour image - the blue and rust go well together, but when converted to black and white one can concentrate on the lines better and I think this might just be the image that is the keeper.

This black and white image still needs some work - there is a band of low contrast across the image about 3/4 of the way from the bottom which needs a bit of strengthening. The bottom right corner might need a little help too - time to make a print and live with it for a couple of days.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

And In Black And White

Back At The Field

Yesterday I looked out the front of the house - good cloud cover, I grabbed the camera and went out the back - the sun was shining - it stayed shining through the shoot and definitely cramped my style.

Fortunately today the clouds were significantly more substantial and I was fairly productive. Here you have the first couple of images. I used helicon focus in both - with the steel racks it took about 9 images to get from near to far and is fairly typical of really wide angle blends - it was less than perfect with some "double exposure" in the background gravel. I think I can do some image resizing and try blending fewer images to get a better result. It seems Helicon Focus can tollerate minor changes in image size as you focus with longer lenses (say 50 mm. and longer) but with really wide lenses (17-24 mm.) there is enough change in image size as you focus for Helicon to struggle especially at the edges.

The second image required Helicon Focus because although only two images, I needed to select the sharp from each and Helicon could do this automatically for me, one focussed on the flowers, the other on the machinery in the background.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

More Rust, So There!

I went back to the field of machines tonight with my big camera and found a few more interesting things, not the least of which was this abstract in rust.

Reviews, The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

Can't remember which one of you warned me on completing my book to stand prepared to be shot down in flames in criticisms. For sure that has come to pass. Fortunately there are more comments that are positive and I'm coping just fine thank you - nothing like selling out the first run of 5000 to immure you from those who would put you down.

Still, it's interesting to consider the negative comments:

I did not see a single image that I thought "I wish I had taken that". I think this book is a waste of money.

One wonders what kind of photographs this person does like. Perhaps he only does sports or people or street photography but it's hard to believe that such a person wouldn't find something of interest, even if only to say, I could have done better with that subject.

The following two comemnts make an intersting pair:

The author provides no insight into his thought process in either composition or technique.

However -- that's all the book is about, HIS images. He does talk about inspiration -- HIS inspirations.

Some criticised the photographs while approving the text while others liked the text but didn't think the pictures were up to snuff.

Some thought my writing pretentious while others praised the relaxed casual and comfortable style.

The good news is that I also had comments like the following:

At first glance, I had a hard time learning to see the beauty in the art that is industrial photography. When I first got this book in the mail, I looked through its pages and was disappointed, thinking "how can I make myself read this if I don't even like the pictures?" Coming from someone that loves impressionism, this shouldn't be hard to understand.
But knowing George's writing already from the Luminous landscape site, I thought there must be something more to this book, and started reading. I'm so glad I did! The clear writing style kept me interested--and as a result a whole new way of making photographs has been revealed to me. He gives excellent advice and already my creative process has benefited from reading his book. This will forever be in my photographic library. I can't wait to re-read it when in need of inspiration and ideas.

As a side-note, I'm now hooked on the beauty and challenges of industrial photography. A whole new genre of photography has been opened up to me. I highly reccommend this book--its a gem!

And I received this email from Mark:

Hi George,

I was so impressed with the lines and corners part of your book 'Take your Photography to the Next Level' I went out and gave my self a project. Here is the result, if you are interested:
Exercise Images

I also showed an AV version to the folk at my camera club to illustrate the point.

It only lasted a few minutes and I asked them to see if they could detect what all the images had in common. They couldn't see it straight away but eventually it clicked. Some were so impressed they asked me for details of your book, which I gladly passed on. Look out for more book orders from Northern Ireland!

So thank you for your book, you have taken me to the next level and also introduced me to the Radiant Vista and so much more.

Best regards


Now I have learned some things from writing the book. It would have been better had we been able to include the classic images I refer to in the text however the publisher wasn't prepared to put in the time to sort that out, possibly delaying the book for months and I entirely understood. Given all the images are readily avaiilable on the net, this is not the problem it once was.

I should perhaps have put more effort into indicating that my suggestions were illutrated with my own photography, limited to rocks and rust - though anyone could have checked out my website before spending the money, so...

In my second book, I have included people pictures but the book will remain devoid of sports, nudes, advertizing, and product photography simply because I have neither experience or skills in those areas.

All in all, an eye opening experience.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Ah, This Is Better

Seems like a very odd thing to take a photograph of, even for me, but there's something about the shapes and the colour scheme and the background of gravel that works for me. I could of course be completely deluding myself - I have been known to come back to an image a few days later and wonder "what the hell made me think that is a good image?" but we'll see.

Industrial Wasteland

I was cruising around Calgary's industrial areas looking for something interesting - all too tidy, but eventually I found a field full of old stamping mills and various other equipment, not fenced off with barbed wire and chain link - an opportunity not to be missed. Some lovely colours of rust.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Photographing The Landscape, Part II

Having discussed the WHY of landscape photography last time, in this chapter, I want to address the question of what to photograph. That may seem self evident "whatever I can damn well find!" or words to that effect but bear with me.

A lot of photographers save up to photograph at famous and photogenic locations - Yosemite, the Rockies or the Alps, or famous sea shores. They do so in the thought that the scenery around their own home town is too flat, too ordinary, or too boring. Of course what actually happens is that lacking practice and working under the assumption that if the place is famous, the shots should be easy, they struggle to find images and come home disappointed with those they do capture. Given the investment in time and money, this is not a viable proposition.

The other problem with photographing the famous is that so have everyone else, which is fine if you want to see how you stand up, but it makes it really hard to come up with something new and different. If you like that kind of challenge, that's wonderful, but otherwise... Most famous photographers built their reputation photographing near by, what makes you think you should do differently.

Does the world really need any more Arizona slot canyon pictures?

It is virtually inconceivable that there is nothing to photograph near where you live and if you haven't found anything, the implication is that your seeing abilities need improvement. Sure there are no half domes in Kansas but there are small prairie towns, gorgeous prairie skies and there must be a hill somewhere. Instead of majestic mountains there are grain silos and windmills. It wouldn't be difficult to do an entire art photography book on corn alone. You might not think of a plowed field as being landscape, but it is your available land so be flexible in how you define landscape.

There are a number of professional fine art photographers who happily show work from city parks. This includes Bruce Barnbaum, John Sexton, Michael Kenna and Roman Loranc. Joel Myerowitz did an entire book on the the St. Louis Gateway Arch. If city parks are good enough for them, how come you turn your nose up at the thought. So what if there's a winding pathway through the picture or even a street lamp, it's the light and the tones and the shapes and composition, it's the story told and the ignored illuminated that makes a photograph. Oddly enough, more people have seen pictures of the famous locations than quality images of your own town parks so one can't even make the argument that you need to get away to find fresh fodder.

Landscape can be anything from inches to infinity from your camera, can include stormy skies or no skies at all. Landscape can be completely natural or totally urban, with no plants in sight. Landscape can be night time or any time.

It's true that finding something beautiful in the ordinary is challenging, just as it is to make something more than trite out of the famous, but frankly, photography is already too easy and the competition is pretty tough out there.

Some people are still reeling from the awareness that in the days of film, being a technical expert was enough to gain you credit, or at least to feel you accomplished something, these days the emphasis is very much more on your creativity and compositional skill, your eye and how you treat your subject matter.

You might think that without knowing what you plan to photograph - desert, forest, stream or urban, there would be nothing I could offer to help, but fortunately that isn't the case. In fact, wherever you photograph, the same issues seem to come up.

1) Separation - the important elements of the image need to be seen against other objects in the image - this can be by tone or colour (filtering can help in black and white). Texture is not normally enough to separate the main subject or to define shapes in the composition. Separation can be created through lighting, camera position and depth of field. It is possible that separation can be created in the editing process as you burn or dodge or the equivalent.

2) edges - in general stronger images have definite edges - some reason to end the image where you do - it's not essential, but if you don't have an end it can create problems of the eye wandering off or simply that you have to make up for this deficiency through some other strength of the image. Of course the classic strategy in landscapes is the overhanging branches but I know none of you would resort to that. Whatever you use to define the edges of the image needs to relate to the subject matter, whether it be harmonizing or contrasting.

3) backgrounds - the cleaner and simpler the better - nothing is worse than a bunch of small trees or bushes not far behind the main subject and with sky showing through. It really helps if you can get even a little bit higher than your subject so that the trees appear solid instead of speckled.

4) tonalities - much of what makes an image, especially in black and white, is the way that surfaces of your subject handle light. In general hazy bright or just after sunset when the lighting is soft but one part of the sky is substantially brighter than the others works best to define shapes and add roundness and a sense of the third dimension.

5) foregrounds - they function as a lead in to the main subject (a favourite strategy of Joe Cornish from the U.K., often combined with wide angle lenses, or as framing or even as contrast to the main subject. Depth of field is an concern because for the most part, blurry foregrounds don't work. Like all rules I can think of exceptions but that's the way it usually works.

6) connections - by this I mean that if an image contains a series of main subjects (even if they happen to be shadows), in good images they tend to connect with each other. They can do this by overlapping, or pointing to each other (via a shadow for example) or connect through an intermediary - say two rocks connected via a path or perhaps a log. It may be that the only connection is one of balance - ie. they balance each other in the composition and are sufficiently similar for there to be a relationship that is implied even though not drawn.

Too often people show me images of pretty scenes that simply don't make sense, they are missing the connections, the clarity, the framing or perhaps all of them and thus the image does not represent what the photographer saw. One of the nice things about a Holga image is that with it's vignetting your eye is automatically centred and the drop in sharpness to the edge does the same thing, you don't have to put so much effort into composing your edges.

And that's it for now on what to photograph. Next time I'm going to discuss the How in photographing the landscape.

Till next time

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Photographing The Landscape, Part 1

I thought I might tackle the whole concept of photographing the landscape from a creative, artistic and compositional viewpoint, in a series of articles, starting with:

Landscape As Subject


Landscape has been a subject for painting long before photography came along - though even in painting it has been a development of the last couple of hundred years. Prior to that, most paintings were of people or religious themes or at least people in their surroundings. The idea of pure landscape is in fact relatively modern. That said, landscape was in full swing by the time photography came along around 1830 so it was no surprise that landscape became subject matter for cameras too. Of course there were technical reasons - like it tends to hold still and lighting is provided (often lots of it).

There are practical reasons for photographing the landscape - typically you don't need permission, you don't have to have people skills, it gets you out in the fresh air and usually involves getting some exercise, besides, it's pretty, and clean, and smells good. Of course, it can also be -40 or raining, muddy or stormy. It often involves travel which can be a mixed blessing - you get to go nice places, but can make doing landscape work near home frustrating if home doesn't look anything like the mountains or the seashore.

For the serious photographer, landscape offers many attractions. The mere challenge of taking beautiful scenery and somehow translating into a piece of paper inches across is significant. Typically you don't have the option of moving things around to arrange them so the challenge is to work with what you find to make an interesting composition which is both simpler and harder - simpler because complete freedom to put things anywhere you want means the huge responsibility of designing the composition instead of discovering it, yet the frustration when things don't quite work out and you wish that rock were three feet to the left.

Landscape being one of the classic themes and very popular, it is quite possible to compare your results to those of others, to gauge your progress and to know where you stand. You can easily visit galleries and see what really good prints look like, and there are many books of landscape photographs to study from.

Landscape is relatively generic - you can hardly give a picture of your girlfriend to your boss as a Christmas present (well, maybe you could if it's racy enough - but would she want you to?). Landscape works well as decoration and for the intelligent but uninformed, it is easy to relate to. The sales market is certainly larger and your spouse is more likely to give up wall space to your work when it's landscape.

Landscape photographs can be truly beautiful. I am particularly partial to black and white landscape but there are some really talented colour landscape photographers out there.

I find the challenge of deciding on the right position from which to photograph, the choice for the edges of the image (ie. the framing) and the process of translating the landscape into a fine art image very satisfying, if at times frustrating too. If it was too easy, it wouldn't be as much fun.

Next time I'm going to write about what to photograph. there are many inexperienced photographers who bemoan not being able to visit Yosemite or Big Sur as a huge limit to their photography or who feel that only travel can produce satisfactory work, discounting their own surroundings as being too mundane, or too flat for satisfactory landcscape images. I have some thoughts on those problems - and they don't involve a bigger travel budget.

Monday, August 11, 2008

On A Personal Note

Don't think I said, the publisher (Rockynook) is sending me to Photokina next month. I'll be giving a workshop Friday afternoon and doing a video taping for foto TV as well as bringing along my wife for a bit of holiday for a few days before and after. We're quite excited. We are catching an overnight train from Cologne to Prague and staying there two nights before doing the same back again.

I purchased a Canon 40D before doing the San Francisco workshop and it has been performing very well for me - providing excellent images at ei. 400 and entirely useable images at ei. 1600. With some reservations I purchased it with the 18-55 IS lens and it has been performing well for me - it's tiny and quite sharp once stopped down at the longer focal lengths and even without stopping down at the wider lengths.

On the basis of that experience, I picked up the new 55-250 lens. I have not formally tested it but so far it seems to be doing the job and is ideal for traveling - it's black, small, light, won't break the bank if stolen and is quite unobtrusive for what amounts to the equivalent of an 88-400 mm. lens. I'm carrying the kit in a tramrac across the shoulder bag which if a bit slow getting the camera in and out, at least will make it harder for someone to help themselves as happened to a friend on a bus in Prague.

I have debated about the value of a tripod on a trip like this but I have found shooting without a tripod frustrating when I can't stop down for depth of field or can't use a slow shutter speed. I have a sneaking suspicion my best shots are likely to be at sunrise and sunset and possibly even at night so a lightweight tripod looks to be the answer. I have a Manfrotto 925B which is quite light - despite being aluminium it's about the same weight as a 190 fibre tripod and ball head so that's likely what I'll take. The idea of dropping $750 for an even lighter Gitzo seems a bit much.

I am working on a second book, whose format is more or less locked down - it will be a modern day Examples, the making of 40 images - stealing from the very popular and useful book of Ansel Adams. it was a book I found useful and hope that a modern day equivalent will also serve, though I'm no Ansel Adams. Segments vary from 4 to 8 pages and include either interim steps in the editing of the images or in some cases other images entirely that illustrate a point.

The first book is available in German and soon Italian.

I'm trying to move from old industries to modern and have checked at a couple of places to see I can get access - fingers crossed. It could be very challenging.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

More From The Back Alley

This is the inside of a metal garbage can - strange where you can find interesting subjects.

Sunday, August 03, 2008


On call and unable to leave town, I popped over to Heritage Park for the afternoon, capturing this image of the blade of a snow plow. Similar units are still in use on Canadian track to clear the line.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Cabbage II

One advantage of still lifes is you can go back and do it again. I liked the first image but thought I could improve on it - thus version 2 you see above. I'm not convinced that I have it 100% yet, but I'm liking the direction I'm going.

Perhaps I'll have another go at it tomorrow, wind and weather permitting.

Gardening Problem Pays Off

This Spring, I planted ornamental cabbage (kale) in half barrels on our back deck. I had successfully grown them in the garden before and anticipated lovely cabbages well into October as they are quite frost hardy.

Well, something went wrong - too much water, doesn't like tubs - don't know. All I know is that they went through a terrific stage, then went to flower and the rosettes of leaves rotted off.

I gathered up the rotted leaves, leaving a pathetic centre stump still alive. Out of my usual laziness, I didn't drop the dead leaves into the compost, and two days later, I noted some interesting patterns in the piled leaves. Well, why not take advantage...