Sunday, July 09, 2017

WayBack Sunday: I have been looking over my Lightroom catalog from when I first began using digital regularly with a 4MP Olympus camera. This is from the spring of 2002, a photograph of Roaring Brook Falls as seen from Rt 73.
The original JPG color version was never printed because it was flat. I realized looking at it today, that at that point I was still shooting as a B&W photographer, which was the way I had seen the world up until then, but I didn't know then how (or have the tools) to manipulate digital images the way I did with film. This morning I changed it to monochrome and then modified the tones that way I would have a print from B&W film. Then it came to life for me.
I tend to keep exposures that a lot of photographers I know would delete in a first edit of a shoot but I find that some images require a second or even third look with fresh eyes, even if it is years later.

Click on the image to see it larger. I plan to continue my review and updating of old images from 2002 forward. I will post them here as the review continues.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Automated Photography?

Tamarack seed cones

In a stark contrast to my June 6th post I saw a crowdsource ad a couple of days ago that was promoting an artificial intelligence add-on for your camera. It is supposed to connect to your smartphone via Wifi or Bluetooth and control the camera remotely. Not unusual. There have been devices to do that for some time now. In fact, one of the earliest has folded due to the increased competition.

But this one is different. *You* don't control the camera via your phone, the AI does. Apparently, it is programmed with what a good photograph of each type looks like and uses AI to make whatever is in front of the camera look like that 'ideal' photo does. If you are shooting a still life, you choose "still life" from the menu, the AI sets the exposure, DOF, etc. to the formula and takes the photo. It requires neither technical know-how nor creativity on your part. You just have to point the camera, the AI does the rest. I didn't read it all. Maybe it even advises you on where to point the camera.

This trend isn't new of course. George Eastman started it with the Kodak Brownie, "You trip the shutter and we'll do the rest". And I'm not opposed to advancement. I was a fairly early adopter of digital, jumping on board when 4MP came out but I do think this is carrying things too far. When we surrender the technical decisions that determine the way our images look to a computer that simply applies a formula we will get nothing but imitations of someone else's photos from the past. It is bad enough that some photographers flock to 'the iconic locations' to repeat photos they have seen in Outdoor Photographer or other publications, now they can take a tool that will remove the variable of their own skill and personal vision.

How to take really great photographs in a nutshell:

  1. Learn how photography works, the nuts and bolts of it, shutter speeds, f/stops, etc.
  2. Learn how your camera(s) work. Read the manuals and practice using the controls.
  3. Spend time "developing your eye", your personal way of seeing the world around you.
  4. Find subjects that interest and excite you where you are.
  5. Make photos, lots of photos, hundreds, thousands. Examine them critically. figure out what works for you, don't copy others and don't get caught up in other people's formulas for what makes a good image. To paraphrase Duke Ellington "If it looks good, it is good."
  6. Have fun!
The photos with this post are from the Paul Smiths Visitor Interpretive Center of Paul Smits College AKA "the VIC". It was originally built by NY state but was turned over to the college (a forestry and hospitality school). It is about 45 minutes from my house and I go there several times per year to photograph and participate in the art shows that are held there. On this trip I was doing what is lately called a "forest immersion", just walking the trails and experiencing nature and of course, making photographs of the experience.

Pitcher plant flower

Insect trails on a standing dead tree

Deadwood on the ground

Lady Slippers AKA Moccasin Flower

Dragonfly on the boardwalk over the marsh

Tamarack greenery in the sunlight

Pitcher plant flower

"Something" growing through the boardwalk

New ferns in the woods

I enjoyed my morning in the woods and the marsh. I hope you enjoyed the photos. As always the contents of this blog are copyrighted. Do not repost or reuse without permission.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Flowers - I Love Flowers

Orange Hawkweed

Every year about this time I go out and wander the back 40 (it's really only about 6 acres) and photograph whatever I find that inspires me. When I finish the tour the flower beds in the yard (I am an amateur gardener) and photograph my successes there. The wildflowers are gifts. The only credit I get for their presence is that, unlike my neighbors, I don't brush hog the field every June and I allow the flowers to grow and go to seed.

After an hour or two or three of rambling about the field and yard reveling in the floral  beauty, kneeling, lying on the ground, fussing with the tripod to get the best angle on each bloom, I come into the house, download the 50-100 files, cull the exposures that don't satisfy me and adjust them to share my "beauty break" with others. This is yesterday's 90-minute break from the news cycle and whatever personal concerns that would otherwise have occupied my mind, a nature meditation of sorts. Enjoy, linger and take your own break as you view them. If you click on a photo, you get a larger view.

Common Pinks 

Red Clover 

Japanese Iris 

Pink Peony 

Japanese Iris - Two Colors 

Iris Closeup 

Peony and Opening Bud 

 Potentilla - Yellow Cinquefoil

Miniature Lilac - Late Blooming 

Columbine - A "Volunteer"in my Flower Bed 

 Chives in Bloom

I hope that was as nice a break for you as it was for me. All were made with a Canon EOS M3. I used a 24mm macro lens on a few. Most were made with extension tubes and either the 18-55mm zoom or the 55-200mm zoom. Editing was done in Adobe's Lightroom.

Please remember that all the photos are copyrighted. If you wish to share them, share the link to this page

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Large Format

Over the years I have shot photos with cameras all the way from half-frame 35mm to 8"x10". This is one of those 8"x10" photos. The subject is LeRay Mansion on what was then 'Camp' Drum, now Fort Drum. I believe the year was 1966. While rummaging around in the storeroom I found an old wooden 8x10 camera. One of the routines we did in the Army labs was to 'exercise' the shutters of stored equipment to keep the springs from getting weak. I decided to exercise this camera by photographing some scenes around the post.
The mansion was the home of the LeRay family, early settlers to the area, long before the army built the camp (initially named Pine Camp) to train troops for WWII. In the '60s the mansion was guest housing for visiting brass and dignitaries. There was a dammed stream in the yard that was stocked with brook trout and the post commander held an annual fishing derby with barbless hooks and catch/release for the children of officers.
Judging by the photo, I think it must have been orthochromatic film because of the blank white sky. Orthochromatic film was not sensitive to blue, so skies photographed with it were almost always white. As I recall the shutter had limited speeds, T, B, 1/4th, 1/10th, 1/25th, and 1/50th second. The lens was a monster but gorgeous glass that produced contrasty crisp images. I have done no digital sharpening to this scanned copy of my contact print. Needless to say, grain is not an issue in that print. Exposure was by rule of thumb. We had no light meters. I wish I had that camera and lens today. I don't recall what happened to the others I shot with that camera. There weren't many and they probably stayed at Camp Drum but I made a print of this one for my personal files.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Off Topic - Kickstarter Project I have supported

A while back (2013) I did a review of "Small Island, Big Pictures" by Alexandra de Steiguer. She is now doing a new Kickstarter project, a CD of her music. Based on the samples on the Kickstarter site this promises to be as wonderful as her photos. Here is a link: Check it out.

BTW The last time I saw a copy of "Small Island, Big Pictures" on Amazon the price was $320. There are none available now.

I have been lax about posting again. Sorry. Spring is finally arriving and hopefully, my inspiration for posting will be blooming along with the flowers.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Perception and Reality

Over the past year, I have repeatedly encountered the notion that our perception ‘creates’ reality. The idea is based on the fact that in addition to the empty space that separates the stars and planets, there is a lot of empty space even inside things we think of as solid. Essentially everything that exists is made up of energy and its solidity is an illusion according to this view. Those things we perceive as solid are actually made up of atoms that have a good deal of space between them relative to their size and even within the atoms which are made up electrons, protons, and neutrons which in turn, it is argued are actually energy, not “solid”. From this, some writers, notably Robert Lanza author of Biocentrism, conclude that it is our perception of energy patterns that brings things into existence. The idea is that before we observe them, objects are merely potential and that when they are removed from our observation, they recede to being mere potential again.

Lanza’s book is not the only place I have encountered this idea. It also appears in the writings of Eldon Taylor and in at least some strains of Buddhism. It is an extension of the old question “if a tree falls in the woods and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?”. To those who believe “perception creates reality” the answer would be “no” but I believe that is a semantic distinction. What we perceive and interpret as sound is a series of waves in the air and vibration in the ground and those would exist whether any sentient being that had ears was there to hear it or not. A blind and deaf person could still be aware of the tree falling by sensing that ground vibrations through their feet or even their skin from the changes in the motion of the air as the tree fell if they were near enough to sense the resulting draft.

But this notion carries the idea even further to suggest that even the tree does not exist (or the forest or anything else) until we observe it. That strikes me as a rather egocentric view. Obviously, you exist whether I am actively observing you or not, and I exist whether or not you are observing me. Likewise, the tree had to exist as more than just potential before it could cause the sound (vibrations and waves) that alerted us to the existence of the tree and the fact that it was falling. If you were deaf and had your back to the tree as it fell on you, you wouldn’t be any less dead for not having observed or heard it as it fell. Thus the distinction of what is reality is a semantic debate over what constitutes “sound” rather than a question of the existence of the tree as more than just energy that is a potential tree unless it happens to be observed. One only has to look at archeology, geology or cosmology to realize that lots of things existed as more than just potential long before human perception was around to ‘create’ it by observing it.

In reality, all of these things exist in potential simultaneously with the physical existence that our limited senses allow us to observe and even the physical existence has aspects that we are unable to see or that we routinely overlook. An insect or a bird or other creature with a differently constructed sense of vision will see the flower very differently than you or I but they are not ‘creating’ the flower by their observation of it any more than we do. The totality of the flower is greater than we are able to perceive. Our “creation” upon observing a flower is not the flower itself, but merely our limited impression of the flower and, if we photograph it, an artifact of that impression. This is what Minor White was referring to when he said “Don’t just photograph what it is. Photograph what else it is.”

The role of the photographer (and other artists) is to stretch beyond merely seeing the obvious and to present in their creations an impression of the greater reality of the subject. So how do we do that? We must cultivate a mode of observation that does not merely see and label what we see but sees beyond labels. As Shakespeare said "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” We cannot show the smell in a photo, but there are many other aspects to the rose that we can relay to our audience. That is our goal.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Double Self-Portrait

I shot this yesterday morning as part of a series I am working on. For the purpose of the project it wasn't intended as a portrait but in retrospect, I decided that it is (in a sense) a double portrait. Not only do I appear in the mirror, but I am the creator of the mirror. If it is true that an artist reveals himself through his work, then I am in this photo twice.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Favorite Images

I'm borrowing an idea from William Neill and posting my personal favorites from the photos I made this year. At least they are/were my favorites when I made the choices. Since there is no particular rationale for the choices I might choose differently tomorrow. I'm posting them in chronological order because that is how they appear in my Lightroom gallery. The one above is from the East Stone Valley Trail which is just down the hill from my house. a tiny hemlock struggling through the winter.

The next four are all from a very frosty morning (-15°F) on the West side Stone Valley Trail.

Next is a stitched panorama of ice covered Barnum Pond along Rt 30 in the northern Adirondacks with Jenkins Mt in the background.

Just down the hill on a foggy spring morning, this lone birch in among a pine plantation stood out.

Spring is an on again off again affair here and during another cold snap, I spotted this ice pattern.

The lone patch of ice clinging to a fallen log was at the Paul Smiths VIC (Paul Smiths College).

This pair is from Greenwood Creek, a day use state park area near Pitcairn, NY.

And this one was made from my driveway looking back at our woods with the moon and clouds.

This group is selected from a three day "Shootout" I participated in at the Paul Smiths VIC in September.

And last are two photos from my last lean-to adopter hike. The first is at Heart Lake on the Adirondack Mountain Club property and the final one was at Scott Pond just upstream from "my" lean-to. Next year it will be someone else's lean-to to maintian because I retired after 25 years of adopting (11 at Feldspar Lean-to and 14 at Scott Clearing).

I have other photos from the year that I like and I may post more in between other posts.

As always, the photos are copyrighted. Please respect my copyright and do not copy or repost elsewhere. Give the URL to this page if you wish to share them so that your friend(s) can see them here. Happy New Year all!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

I'm Baaack! Thoughts on Portraits

Mark Kurtz - Photographer

After a full year of not posting, I am back at it. Why did I stop? I just tired of posting and then inertia set in. I posted photos to Facebook in the interim <> but that isn't a good forum for lengthy posts IMO. On my personal page I have a lot of friends who are not interested in photography and my Jim Bullard Photography page is more a gallery and marketing venue. Why am I back? I've been playing with some portraits lately and I decided I wanted to talk about portraits at a length that I think is more suited to the blog.

Portraits have always been part of what I do, but a minor part after I left the army. In the army, we shot a lot of portraits from the ID photos for ID cards (shot in a photo booth machine minus the curtain and coin slot) to chain-of-command photos from which we printed hundreds of 8x10s to be hung in every building on post. The lighting for all these was simple and uniform, two flood lamps placed high (above the head) and equidistant from the subject at 30-40 degrees on each side and two more at or slightly below the head directly below the higher lights. In other words, FLAT LIGHT!

Hey, the military has never been known for creativity. This was in fact, the same lighting we used for copy work and well, everything we shot in the studio. Basically, the lights rarely moved. Occasionally they were pushed closer to the backdrop when we were doing copy work but otherwise it was two lights high and two lights low, all equal in intensity.

I have been looking at portraits lately, both mine and others and wonder if the sort of photo we made of commanding officers can fairly be called "portraits' or whether in fact, they are really just large ID photos. I'm going to get myself in some hot water here and suggest that a lot of "portraits" shot in commercial chain studios are pretty much in that same category. Yes, they have a bit more imaginative lighting that reveals the contours of the face better, but they are basically formula portraits. It doesn't matter who is in front of the lens, this is how they do it. It is photographing bodies rather than people.

To me, a portrait is more (or should be) than just a "photo of" the sitter. It should reveal something of the person beyond 'he/she looks like this'. I tried to do that with the portrait above of Mark Kurtz, a fellow photographer in Saranac Lake, NY <> during an open studio event when I stopped by to see him. We had talked for 15-20 minutes about current affairs before I asked to shoot his photo and it was done with available light and handheld. The light was more harsh than it appears. I had to open up the shadows considerably in Lightroom.

For those interested in technical information, it was shot with a Canon EOS M3 and the 18-55mm Lens at 55mm and f/8, with auto ISO (6400). With the APS-C sensor, 55mm is an 88mm equivalent (to 35mm full frame) which is a good focal length for head shots. The perspective at that length neither flattens the face too much nor distorts features like a shorter lens would. The subject appears much as he/she would at normal conversational distance.

Mark didn't automatically smile and commented after, so I shot another with a smile (below) but when I am shooting portraits I never ask the subject to smile. I prefer to spend some time talking (as we had) to put the person at ease with me and the process and photograph their 'natural' expression. Some people smile often and easily, others not so much (me for example). If, when I am making the photos I feel that the subject needs to 'loosen up' I may ask them to think about think about someone or something that makes them happy. The last thing I would consider is asking them to "say cheese". That IMO is a guarantee of a 'cheesy' portrait. Maybe that is where the expression "cheesy" comes from?

Mark Smiling

My preference is for the unsmiling image of Mark. From the limited time I have spent with him, I think of him as a fairly serious guy. OTOH the current events we had been talking about were enough to make anyone serious. I haven't asked Mark which one he likes better. I did ask permission to use the photos here and he agreed so I don't think he dislikes them. The ones I sent him though were in color. For this series of posts, I am converting the portraits to B&W. Did I capture him? Is it a true portrait rather than a glorified ID photo? I am not unhappy with it. With more time and as I get to know Mark better perhaps I can improve on it. More on 'why B&W' and the connection between photographer and subject in future posts.

As always the photos are copyrighted. Mark is free to use them as he wishes but anyone else needs to get permission from both of us for specific usage. Aside from copyright, it is just the polite thing to do.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Waterlogue for Windows 10 Again

I should call this Waterlogue Plus. I'm revisiting Waterlogue to correct a few things and to show how it can be integrated with other filters as in the image above.

In my previous review, I complained that I didn't get the controls other reviews mentioned (brush size and lightness). With further exploration, I find they are there. The problem is one of clear menus. Many years ago I took a course in web design. One of the things that stuck in my mind was the admonition to avoid "mystery meat" menus. Mystery meat is the meat you get in a high school cafeteria line that is drowned in gravy so that you can't tell what it is. The authors used that as a metaphor for 'clever' menus that require the user to figure the menu out in order to do something. There was a trend toward image mapping on websites at the time and on some sites it was necessary to  move the cursor around an image to find the mapped parts for navigating the site. Waterlogue's menus aren't that vague, but the sideways scrolling of the bottom eluded me until I accidentally discovered that rotating the mouse wheel up and down moved the panel left or right. I have a mouse that I can scroll sideways with by pressing the wheel left or right and that didn't work so I had missed the scrolling before.

Aside from that I have to say the brush size control really makes only a minor difference anyway. For example here are two conversions of the same image, the first at the Giant setting (which should be more detailed) and the other at the Small setting (supposed to be less detailed) (the border effect is turned off in the Small version and the lightness had reset to medium).
I don't see much difference. Of course, I'm accustomed to Photoshop controls that have a huge range and this in only a 4 step scale, but I expected to see a bigger difference between the extremes.

Remember that the Small vs Giant does not refer to overall image size. Rather, it refers to the "brush" size with Small being more generalized and Giant being more detailed. As painting term however, they have them reversed. A painter uses bigger brushes for broad generalized areas and small brushes for details.

There are several image size settings, small, medium, large and original, but original will be the same size as the original only if the original is no larger than 3584 pixels on the long side. That makes it awkward to integrate Waterlogue filtered images with images processed in other filters. It becomes necessary to resize the other images from the real original size to the Waterlogue "original" size before layering them The image at the top is such a layered image. I really like the way that Waterlogue imitates watercolor but the detail part (underdrawing) leaves a lot to be desired so I created a new layer using Topaz Detail 2 (lithography) and layered it over the Waterlogue image with Luminosity blending mode and slid the transparency back to 60% in order to add back in a bit more detail. This layered filter effects technique is something I use fairly frequently. I think it adds significantly to this image.

The Waterlogue App was originally designed for iPhones and iPads so I understand that the developers are designing for devices of somewhat limited memory and processing power compared to PCs but when they jumped to the PC version they missed an opportunity to increase the usability to match the new platform. I'm hoping they upgrade it to a real filter, perhaps even a Photoshop plugin.

P.S. 12/14/15: The diagonal white line problem seems to have resolved itself. I didn't do anything to fix it, but they aren't appearing on any of the new images I've made. How, why, what fixed it? Your guess is as good as mine.