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.