Saturday, March 22, 2014

Endless Winter


Long time, no post. This has been a tough winter and I haven't been doing a lot of photography. Today is the 3rd day of 'official' spring and the photo above of our old apple tree is the view we had this morning. The good news is that the snow stopped early in the afternoon and 5-6" short of the 7 PM and 8" that was forecast for last night and today combined. It was a strange day. In the photo the wind is driving the snow right to left which is South to North. A few minutes later I was looking out a window on the opposite side of the house and it was also blowing right to left but that is North to South. Another few minutes and it was coming straight down.

I hope this is the last serious snow storm. We had one earlier in the week that dropped about a foot of snow, the most in one storm all winter. Like this one the wind swirled it around a lot  and it sculpted some interesting waves in the driveway that I couldn't resist photographing before plowing them away.



All the photos were made with a Canon G11, shot in RAW mode and processed in Lightroom 5.

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Visual Poetry?

I read a number of other blogs on a regular basis. One is an artists hosting site that frequently posts things from member blogs. Today I read an article about painting by Doug Hoppes that fits very well with the topic I have been discussing in other recent posts, seeing and translating what we see into images that communicate what we see to our audience. In it he quotes one of his teachers, Stapleton Kearns, as saying "The arts are purest as they approach poetry". For the curious the article is at http://doughoppes.com/blog/67282/how-to-fix-that-%93something%94-that-im-missing.

I'm a believer in the idea that artists of all mediums have a lot in common and can learn from one another. The techniques to represent what we see and try to represent may be different but the core of what we do is the same. The ideas that Doug Hoppes expounds in that post can just as easily apply to a photograph. Where a painter may take a certain amount of "artistic license" buy leaving out distracting elements or emphasizing others to direct the viewer's attention in a representational work, so may the landscape photographer use both in camera and post exposure controls to impart the "feeling" of a scene.

In the case of the image above I used an exposure that left detail in the brightest portion, the sky. But even then the sky was basically a flat grey with little variation. My eye which has the capacity to see a much greater dynamic range than the camera and thus differentiate the subtle shadings in the sky had seen more. In order to make the image closer to my vision of it I selected the bright areas and applied a curve that translated the subtle differences into a range of tones that a computer can display. That left the line of mist behind the islands and some other foreground details too dark so I dodged them on a merged layer in order to bring them back up in relation to the surroundings. The result is how I remember the scene, how it felt. Hopefully it is a poetic representation.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Is Renown an Aesthetic Trap?

Brooks Jensen writes today on Lens Work Daily that he got a copy of the new SabastiĆ£o Salgado book Genesis and expressed dismay at the grain that is apparent in the photographs. As a landscape photographer Brooks likes smooth gradations of tone and wonders aloud why Salgado chose to make the images so grainy and choose to do so he did. An earlier discussion of DXO Film Pack on The Online Photographer revealed that Salgado now shoots digital but runs the images through DXO Film Pack to simulate Tri-X 400 or T-Max 3200 and then prints the images to 35mm recording film from which he makes prints. He does this complex process to make the look like they were shot on aforesaid films as he feels that is part of his style that makes his work recognizable.

If you have been following this blog you may remember that I did a review of several B&W conversion plug-ins and that DXO Film Pack was among them. I commented at the time that I did not purchase the DXO offering after using the trial copy because its primary aim was to simulate film (including the characteristic grain) and that was not my objective so I suspect you will not be surprised that I tend to agree with Brooks Jensen's puzzlement and dismay at Salgado's decision to deliberately degrade otherwise beautiful landscape images solely to conform to the look of his more renown street photographs which were made in the decades before digital photography came of age.

Like Salgado I began photography well before digital and like him I shot a lot of Tri-X  and T-Max 400 35mm film. Unlike him I did not and do not regard the grain pattern as part of my "style". It was simply a by-product of the technology available at the time. Whenever I could I tended to use larger format and slower (smaller grained) films which I then developed to minimize the grain. What I regard as my style is the subject matter I am attracted to and the particular way I see and photograph it.

The photograph above was made on film some years before I switched to digital, probably in the early 1980s. Even with medium format there is considerable grain in both the snowy foreground and the sky. While the grain does not necessarily detract from the image I don't feel it really adds either. Had I shot it with digital I certainly would not choose to add imitation grain. I suspect Mr. Salgado's desire to make it look like his earlier images derives for a need to have a consistent "look" with those for which he is known.

As technology improves so can the work we produce with it. To tie one's style to the limitations of an earlier era so that your audience will recognize it seems sad to me. We are in a changing world and we should all be growing and changing with it. I want to make it clear that I have no problem with modifying images for aesthetic effect when the image calls for it but going to great pains to tie a new and unrelated body of work to an earlier body by imitating the earlier technology suggests that Salgado feels trapped by the earlier work, that he has to create an artificial connection to his earlier work for the new work to be accepted by his audience. Of course he may simply like the look of grainy images but, like Brooks, I wish he had chosen to take full advantage of the capabilities he had available for the new work.

The photo above is of a barn in Gabriels, NY in the northern Adirondacks. It was made with a 645 camera on T-Max 400 and has been cropped top and bottom. I don't know the date. I'm a lousy record keeper and unlike digital, film cameras didn't record such things. I couldn't make this photo today. Although the barn is still there a number of trees have grown up in the foreground and there are the beginnings of a housing development behind it. The world moves on and we have to move on with it.

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Monday, January 20, 2014

Oh Deer!

We have several apple trees in our yard and there was a bumper crop of apples this year, so many that we couldn't give them away much less use them all. Surprisingly a lot have hung onto the tree well into winter and the local deer find them attractive. We've had anywhere from two to eight deer at a time feeding under our trees for the last several days. It's fine with me. I won't have to clean the dropped apples out of the lawn come spring. I don't consider myself to be a wildlife photographer but these deer are making it look as if I know what I am doing. In reality what I am doing is shaking the tree to get apples to drop and then when the deer come around I park myself in an upstairs bedroom window that overlooks the yard and snapping photos with my Canon SX50 HS. Today seven deer came around just before sunset.
They are fun to watch. They usually come in pairs, a doe and a smaller one, probably a yearling fawn. Sometimes a fawn gets a bit too frisky and the older deer nips the fawn on the hind quarters. I don't think they can see me in the window but they seem to sense that they are being watched and frequently go on alert like the young one above. Sometimes one seems to be looking right at me. On the other hand cars can go by and they don't get spooked enough to run away.
Occasionally one of the older ones will decide to pick an apple that is still on the tree by rearing up on their hind legs to reach it. That's a bit tricky to catch because it happens so quickly. I have to anticipate it, be already focused and aimed when it happens.
The nature show in our yard is turning a winter that started off rather unpleasantly into a much more enjoyable season.


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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Getting Better


Winter that is. Winter in the North Country has not been fun so far this year. We started off with a couple of snow storms which isn't unusual but that was followed by alternating freezing rain & sleet storms that left 7 to 8 inches of ice on our roof and on the fields. Immediately after that the temperature dropped below zero F and I could walk anywhere with out falling through (provided I managed to stay upright on the ice). Finally we've had two days of thaw, the first at almost 60°. That took the accumulated Ice and snow down substantially.

I took a walk on snowshoes back to out woods today. The ice is no longer strong enough to hold me but it still bears marks of the sub-zero spell. There are cracks all over the yard, the meadow and the woods from the frost quakes (cryoseisms) that we experienced. When water freezes it initially expands but as the temperature continues to drop the ice starts shrinking again. If it is in large sheets the strains of shrinking can make it crack with a popping or booming sound. Frozen saturated soil can do the same thing. Sometimes it can mimic an earthquake. We didn't feel any significant shaking but there were several booms and the back meadow has the long cracks that caused the sound. Some run for hundreds of feet. Below is a photo of two intersecting cracks. It has begun to melt and is wider than it was when it first formed.


Back in the woods I found more cracks and these prosperous fungi growing on a fallen tree that is "hung" at a 45 degree angle. It broke in a wind storm, Next spring I have to figure out how to finish felling it.


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Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Some Thoughts about "Seeing"


This post was prompted by Guy Tal and Dan Baumbach’s inter-blog conversation on the role of seeing in photography. In my youth I enrolled in the Famous Photographers Course which was a part of the Famous Artists School. They also ran a Famous Writers School as I recall. All three were based on lessons prepared by or under the advice of well known practitioners. The group behind the photography course consisted of Richard Avedon, Richard Beattie, Joseph Costa, Arthur d’Arazien, Alfred Eisenstaedt (one of my heroes at the time), Harry Garfield, Philippe Halsman, Irving Penn, Bert Stern & Ezra Stoller. Needless to say the course had a distinctly photojournalist/commercial bent. There were no art photographers on the list, indeed at that time (1963) photography as art was still a debatable topic although it was making headway.

The reason the Famous Photographers Course comes up now is because of one of the beginning lessons which talked about seeing, a lesson that immediately came to mind when reading the above mentioned posts by Guy and Dan. The lesson began by defining “seeing”. They said (paraphrased) that most people only “look”, they don’t “see”. Looking will show you where the door knob is so you can open the door, it helps you navigate your way through the world but you don’t truly see what is around you. Looking does not help you relate to your surroundings in a deep way. That lesson has probably been the most influential force on my photography in the ensuing 50 years.

I have learned (and taught) a great deal about photography, mostly of a technical nature, since then but technology changes, sometimes subtly as with the development of newer films like the tabular grained B&W films, to the more radical switch to digital. And the technology is important as a tool for translating what you saw into an image. Likewise the aesthetics of composition (leading lines, “S” curves, the so-called “rule” of thirds, etc.) are tools, but none of that is the message. The message is what you “saw”, the experience of the subject, the vision that impressed itself enough on your consciousness to inspire you to photograph it.

Even experienced photographers and artists spend a lot of time looking but not seeing. It is a necessary function of life. Not just “where’s the doorknob” but where is my fork, where is my coat & hat, etc. A generalized awareness of your surroundings is necessary to daily life and survival. Seeing is a kind of concentrated attention that deliberately shuts out the non-essential of a specific experience. If you have ever fallen in love you have done it (beauty is in the eye of the beholder). For the photographer/artist it is a practice similar to meditation in which you consciously devote your attention to the aspect of the subject that has inspired you to make a photograph (or draw or paint) and what needs to be done technically and compositionally to force your audience’s attention to that same aspect of the subject. This is true whether you are trying to show an object itself or the way the light falls on the object or some other aspect to tell your ‘story’ of the subject. The techniques you use should support what visual aspect of the subject inspired your vision of it. For me seeing is the core of photography. The rest is details.

Although I have been photographing for more years than anything else, in college I studied fine art, courses in drawing, painting, printmaking and ceramics (my major). Those who draw and paint do essentially the same thing in terms of visualizing their subject matter that photographers do but I have to say they have a distinct advantage when it comes to creating their images. If something detracts from the image, the draftsman/painter can simply change it or leave it out entirely. The photographer has to figure out how to work around such things, minimize them visually, find a different viewpoint, etc. The details of photography.

Of course in Photoshop we can eliminate such things but those of us who come from a photo journalistic background have a tendency to avoid major alterations in post exposure processing. I guess it’s partly that old habits die hard but it is also true that I tend to relate to things as they are. I know artists who can paint abstracts from nothing but a concept or fantasy images of things that exist only in their mind but I am fascinated by the world as it is and when I edit images I try to do it in a way that accentuates the particular aspect of the subject that attracts me.

I have often been asked by students “What should I photograph?” and have even read where some teachers have told students of landscape photography that to get good photos they have to go to where the good landscapes are, the Western National Parks. That advice might get you a remake of some of Ansel Adams photos, or some other more contemporary photographer but it won’t give you your photographs. You need to develop your own vision of the landscape. I used to show a lot of well known images in my classes and encourage the students to look at images they like while asking themselves why they are attracted to those images, why the images ‘work’ visually. It might be partly the subject and partly the composition but frequently an image grabs the viewer even though it violates “the rules”. The trick to making good images is to look deeply and deliberately until your looking evolves into seeing. Technique will help you render an image that communicates your seeing but only if the seeing was there first. And those occasions when you see something that you can capture with little effort?  That does not diminish the quality of the seeing or the image. Just say a quiet thank you for the gift.

Links to the posts by Guy and Dan are attached to their names above.

The photo at the top was one of those fortuitous images that presented itself to me and, with nothing more than judicious framing, I was able to capture exactly what I wanted, the diagonals of the individual lines and the overall shape against the reflection of the evening sky on the gently rippling surface of the pond. Plants emerging from the earth through water reflecting the heavens above. 

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Happy Holidays

It's that time of year again. I'm happy to see that there is less rancor this year over how we wish one another peace and good will, which after all is the main theme of the season regardless of your religion or lack thereof. I considerably less happy with the recent weather which delayed the arrival of our holiday guest and is eating up our wood pile at a frightening rate. All said though we got less ice & snow than some. We lost power briefly during the night last night but many others have been without it for 2-3 days and some of those won't likely get it back until the coming weekend. That will certainly dampen the holiday spirit for them and the crews that will be working straight through the holiday to get power restored. It does give us cause to remember how much we depend on each other for the things that make life easier.

The photo is of decorations on our back porch. The lights on the trees are enhanced with Topaz Star  Effects. The text overlay is standard Photoshop technique using a bevel (contour & texture) with added satin effect. None are at the default settings. I played to get the look I wanted.

Wishing you all a great holiday whatever your reason for celebrating even if it's just because you enjoy it. After all, you don't need a reason to be happy.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Snow!

We had our first heavy snowfall of winter last night and this morning. It isn't actually winter yet according to the calendar but mother nature isn't much for calendars. She prefers to be spontaneous. As I age I have mixed feelings about winter. For one thing it's a lot of work in the cold. I spent several hours today clearing 7-8 inches of snow off our driveways and paths to the barn & bird feeders. It was cold enough that even with Hot Hands in my gloves my fingers got cold.

Snow does simplify things visually and the longer I photograph the more I like simple uncluttered images. Before I started my snow removal project I went out in the yard with my camera. This is a shrub that grows by one corner of the front porch. The snow caps on the dry flower heads were appealing to me and I made several exposures. This one is the best with a nice clean background of snow as well as the crown of snow on each flower head.

Canon 7D with 18-135mm EFs lens. Please do not re-post or use the photo without permission. Share by giving the URL to this page.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Karsh & Heisler - A Review

I bought two books on portrait photographers recently and because of the similarity I decided to review them together. Although the Karsh book is sub-titled "A Biography in Images" that could describe both books although the Heisler book would more aptly be called a retrospective. The format is similar in both, a series of photos with text about the image, the person photographed and the making of the photograph although not technical information (Camera used, f/stops,film, etc.). There is some casual mention about lighting or other aspects of the shoot for the photos but if you are looking for a "how I shot this" book you will be disappointed. I wasn't looking for that and wasn't disappointed in either book.

I bought the print versions. The Gregory Heisler book is also available for Kindle but in my humble opinion the photos need a large print book for their full impact. Both are printed well on high quality paper and nicely bound coffee table sized volumes.

I read one criticism on a forum that the Greg Heisler portraits were too editorial and not a personal expression or "art", an unfair criticism I think given that Gerg Heisler's portraits were in fact editorial assignments. He brings to them a degree of art but working within the constraints of a client always brings some level of expectation from the client as well as the constraints of the sitter. The story of the cover image (Muhammed Ali's masseur) in particular demonstrates Greg's ability to deal with such constraints and still get a powerful and revealing portrait.

Yousuf Karsh was a commercial photographer as well and many of the portraits in his book were also made for magazines although I personally see more of Karsh in his portraits than I see of Heisler in the Heisler book. It's a matter of degree and is subtle, varying from image to image but overall Karsh seemed to transcend the 'assignment' to a greater degree than Heisler. The Karsh book also includes a brief biography and some non-portrait photos at the beginning which helped give context to the portraits that followed. I came away from the Karsh book feeling like I had met the photographer rather than simply going to an exhibit of his work.

If you are interested in portraits of (mostly) famous people and learning a bit about what it was like to encounter each of their personalities as a photographer I highly recommend both books. I don't have links to Amazon and don't get any 'affiliate' fees from them if you buy either book. In fact, although I got them through Amazon, if you are fortunate enough to have a local bookseller who stocks them I encourage you to buy them there. As much as I like Amazon they have killed off many local bookstores to the point that there aren't any near me who carry this sort of book.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

First Snow

We had our first real snow of the winter last night and today. There have been a couple of half-hearted attempts previously, one resulting in a dusting that didn't last but this is the first that required clearing the driveway. The forecast was for 8" to a foot but we ended up with only 4" by late afternoon and that was more slush than snow since the precipitation was a mix of snow and rain.

Of course I'm a sucker for snow on trees and two of our apple trees still retain part of the bumper crop of apples from this summer. The combination makes for great subject matter, a contrast of seasons, the color of apples against the monochrome of winter. I was after the overall impression so I added a digital filter to emphasize the pattern and color while reducing unnecessary detail.

I'll be reviewing a couple of books on portrait photographers soon. I have to finish reading the second book so it will be at least a day or so. Stay tuned.

Update 11/28/2013 Thanksgiving Day bonus photo.

Canon 7D, Photoshop and Topaz filters.

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Working in Layers

I've been spending my evening working on some photos that I shot earlier this fall. I have a treatment of layering 2 or more filter effects and altering the blending mode and transparency to emphasize the qualities that attracted me to the subject. I won't go into detail because there are a lot of variables in what I do depending on the image but if you haven't tried working in layers with different filters on each layers I suggest you experiment with it.

If you are a "get it right in the camera purist" please don't comment how I could avoided processing in Photoshop by doing "X". After 56 years of photographic practice I'm well aware of how to do all sorts of things in camera but I happen to enjoy using Photoshop. If you don't that's fine. To each his/her own.

These two images are processed more heavily so that they don't look strictly "photographic". I doubt the full effect will be visible on the small JPGs I am posting here but if you click on the image you'll get a larger version that will give you a better idea of the effect.

The top image was shot on a walk near my home. The second on is at Mountain Pond in the Adirondack Park, one of my favorite places to visit in the Adirondacks.

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Mini Exploration

I went to Catamount Lodge today to a workshop and arrived early. I had never been there before. There is a very nice small stream flowing through the woods between the highway and the lodge. Because I was early I decided to poke around for a few minutes looking for photo possibilities. I found some in the stream including the photo above. I have made a number of images in this vein of the years, images that look below the surface of water but including surface detail and reflections of the sky above.

Photographed with a Canon 7D and an 18-135mm EFs lens. Please respect my copyright and do not re-post elsewhere. To share refer to the URL of this page.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

No Excuse Part II

I heard that autumn color was at peak in Keene Valley so I headed down that way. On the way I stopped between Upper and Lower Cascade lakes where I found these lovely birches and young Mountain Ash. A bit further on I found a bright red vine over light grey rocks. I'm a sucker for anything that is red.
From there I went on to climb Owl's Head Peak and was rewarded with some good color if somewhat dull light.


Finally I came home via Wilmington Notch where I met this fine pine on the banks of the Ausable River.

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No Excuses

It's been weeks since I posted anything and I have no excuse. I'm not even sure why except that I've been preoccupied with chores. This will be a 2-in-1 day set of posts to catch up.

The first set of photos are from my final lean-to hike of the year. My friend Rick Reed went along and unlike the first trip this year we had a dry day. On the way to the trailhead we were greeted by a beautiful sunrise along the Loj Rd. There wasn't as much to clean up as last trip and I left a box of crayons with the register just for fun.

Heart Lake was smooth as glass when we hiked by on our way to the lean-to.

On the way out we climbed Mt. Jo which overlooks Heart Lake. Although he has climbed all 46 High Peaks Rick had never climbed Mt. Jo before.