Posted on March 1, 2016
Arriving at my shooting location at James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area, I could see that photographing the moon over the barn was not going to be an option this morning. Well, just have to make the best of it. Truth is, often what I expect or set out to photograph does not entirely work out. But most often I still come away with some success and at times even more so than I had hoped.
Given my situation, I decided to photograph the old, mostly abandoned, farm structures making the most of the light I had. In any case I knew that the sky conditions could change in a hurry as sunrise approached, offering additional options.
My approach on the fly was to combine images to suggest a story about what once was, even as nature begins to reclaim what is left of this old farmstead. I held no expectations of producing fine art prints from my efforts. It had really become an exercise in trying to make the best of less than ideal conditions. This forced me to explore various compositional arrangements, given less than ideal light when I started.
As I framed one of my first images of the barn, I could see partial breaks in the clouds at the horizon line and some red glow from the rising sun. The texture in the lingering overcast added some drama to the scene. This image was my favorite of the morning. Other shots of collapsing or run down structures help build the story.
What’s the take away? Often times you will venture out hoping, maybe even expecting, optimum conditions. We know we are going to catch that perfect shot, right? Well, most often it just doesn’t work that way. But regardless of the conditions, if you just “endeavor to preserver” (as said by Chief Dan George said in Outlaw Jose Wales), we can usually come away with a few good shots while exercising our photographic eye. If you’re really lucky you could even exceed your original expectations.
Posted on February 10, 2016
My wife insisting I needed to get a few things organized, prodded me into some house cleaning in my basement storage area. In one section I had some boxes holding some old photographic prints and other items from my film days of years ago. Quite surprisingly there were some prints I had saved, but properly packed, which I had long since forgotten. They were in great shape and I enjoyed reminiscing the times hiking and traveling around searching for photographic subject matter with my pack of Zone VI 4×5 camera and lenses. It’s rather interesting how I could remember some of the smallest details about when and where some of these images were taken. As I reviewed the prints with fresh eyes, I could better understand why I preserved these, even though in some cases I was not entirely sure at that time long ago. In the feature print here, “Ohio Forest”, I used a green filter and processed to lighten the green foliage. The result was a pleasant interplay of the light and darker tones, giving this image a sense of depth.
In this next image, “Window and Pickets”, I was attracted to the rough and worn wood patterns, and the play of the contrasting horizontal and vertical lines. I believe too that I may have been somewhat inspired or attracted to the pickets based on an image of Ansel Adams “Barn, Cape Cod, Massachusetts“, that I had seen in Ansel’s Guide, “Basic Techniques of Photography“, originally published in the early 90’s.
Another time while hiking in Ohio, I came upon this American Beech tree. It was along the side of a trail and the forest was well shadowed. One characteristic of this tree is the persistence of its leaves during the winter months. You easily spot these trees in the winter forest because they tend to retain many of their leaves, which have turned a light amber color. Taking advantage of the soft light I sought to contrast these characteristics against the shadowed background. I likely used a yellow or red filter to further enhance the luminosity of the leaves. Of course today it is much easier by adjusting color sliders in B&W conversion software such as Silver Effects Pro 2.
“Waltzing Trees” was taken in the Red Rocks hiking trails just outside of Denver, Colorado. I struggled for some time as to whether I liked this image. My son did however, and insisted I make him a print, which he still has on his wall. After I recently scanned the negative, I did some additional cropping and enhancements to the luminosity and have finally concluded that I do in fact like this image. I believe for me it is the diagonals in the background with the opposing leaning angle of the darker trees. Also the interplay of the dark and light tree trunks as if they are waltzing about. There is a lot going on here which just seems to hold my interest.
For the image “All Saints of St. Peters”, I use a wide-angle lens to really take advantage of the headstones in the adjacent cemetery. It was a late afternoon sun, which brightly reflected off the face of the church and really illuminated the cross on the steeple. An added compositional element was the band of sunlight shinning diagonally across the grass and lighting headstones in the mid-ground. I exposed for the highlights using a zone system modified Pentax one-degree spot meter. Exposing highlight for about a zone 9, I let the shadows fall because I wanted the keep the brilliance of the cross and the face of the chapel without blowing out too much detail. Keeping most of the cemetery in shadow help with the mood I wanted.
The last image here, “Hell’s Gate”, was taken while hiking in central Ohio. Maybe an interesting but unintentional counterpoint to my All Saints image. I was attracted to how the rocks encircling this small cave opening tended to almost ominously draw you toward the opening, inviting you to a place you don’t want to go.
I guess the lesson here is that it often pays to revisit old images (or negatives in this case) with fresh eyes. Acquiring new skills, experience, and technology, as well as a more developed vision, can bring new life to old forgotten images.
I am very much interested in your thoughts and comments. And of course feel free to share this post with others.
Posted on January 23, 2016
Now that the hustle and bustle of holidays are over I hope all had a wonder holiday season and are now ready to break out the cameras again for a new year of creativity and fun. January is usually a month often not conducive getting out of bed early and venturing out in freezing weather, at least not for anyone but the true hard-core. Even I have to work up the motivation at times.
This month though I am featuring an image taken a little farther south. Maybe I am just trying to warm up a bit. Anyway, this old river dock is located along the St. Johns River in Orange Park, Florida, just south of Jacksonville. Taken just before sunrise I wanted this shot to take advantage of the soft morning glow and the still air to create a simple image that communicated the solitude of early morning along the river. I knew that soon after sunrise the light would change drastically and morning breezes would quickly churn the waters of the river. The mood would quickly fade. Using a small aperture in this case was not needed to gain maximum depth of field. But I wanted to smooth out as much of any movement in the water as possible by lengthening the exposure time so I went for f/22 and left my polarizing filter on to force another 1 ½ or 2 stops of exposure time. This combination gave me a 25 sec exposure, enough to gain most of the effect I was looking for.
Just a note, I could have added a neutral density filter such as the Lee Big Stopper to force even a longer exposure (should have) but of course I was without it that morning. However, using the polarizing filter for this purpose helps and this filter can be very useful for other things than darkening a blue sky. These two other images captured during this same morning walk made getting up early worthwhile. At least I had my Starbucks.
Posted on December 19, 2015
Having grown up in Jacksonville, Florida, I have the occasion to return to visit my mom and sister who still reside in the area. Too darn hot for me these days for fulltime. Once again though, I just returned from a semiannual visit. This time for my mother’s 90th surprise birthday celebration. It was a grand time.
Regardless of the occasion, anytime I return I always have to make a pilgrimage to an old favorite restaurant, Singleton’s Seafood Shack. Singleton’s was once featured in Food Network’s Guy Fieri Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. I would say it fondly falls in the category of Dives. Singleton’s is located near the mouth of the St. John’s River in the village of Mayport, Florida. It is truly aptly named, as you can feel the creaky plywood floor give slightly as you walk by the display of fresh oysters, shrimp, crab, and various local fish selections that have likely come off the boats that day. I’m usually quick to check out the fresh oysters before proceeding across the sagging floor directly to the bar. After being served one of their ice-cold beers, I might briefly wander to the back room to gaze at the vast display of the late Capt. Ray’s models as I await my lunch order.
Captain Ray Singleton and his wife opened this unique restaurant in 1969. He had built scale models of shrimp boats for decades and come to display them in a cement block annex of the restaurant. Captain Singleton died in 1996 but the restaurant is still owned and run by other members of the family and they have preserved the finely detailed boat models, which remain on display today.
Some of the images you see here I captured a few years ago during one of my back home visits. While taking pictures of the restaurant and its surroundings, a gentleman approached me and wanted to engage in conversation. He appeared to be a local, probably in his late 50’s, and I quickly realized he was deaf and he communicated with a combination of sign, gestures, and oral sounds. Nonetheless, we were able to communicate fairly well. He was telling me about the shrimp boat models and referred to another model of a light house, which either he had done or maybe that he had at his home. He pulled out his driver’s license to show that he was a Singleton, I believe maybe a son of Ray’s. After a few minutes he said his good-bye and went on his way. He was clearly proud of his family’s restaurant. I was so fascinated by his story that I never thought to ask permission to take a few pictures of him to go with the other images I captured at Singleton’s. Maybe another time.
If you are ever in the area and want to experience some great seafood with a unique out-of-the-way experience, give it a try. I would love to hear what you think.
Posted on December 4, 2015
One challenge we as photographers have in creating images that really engage the viewer is often related to our ability to convey a sense of depth in a medium that is only two-dimensional. That is not to say that a two-dimensional photograph cannot be effective. But often such images are intimate landscapes, or studies in patterns, lines, microcosm in nature and even some grand vistas. But in many cases creating depth is an effective way to engage the viewer and guide them through an image, holding interest and in many ways providing context for your subject.
We actually borrow many of the same techniques artists have used for centuries in painting and drawing. In photography while our tools to accomplish this are similar, our methodology is necessarily different because of our medium. The photographer must arrange existing elements within the frame of a photograph in a somewhat symbiotic fashion to create a sense of depth. This is often critical to the success of many landscape photographs. So what are some of the techniques we should consider as we create images?
Including Foreground Element
Use of a supporting foreground element in your photograph is a favorite technique I try to use quite often. This in part is based on my earlier days using 4×5 view camera and the influence of one of my favorite landscape photographers, David Muench, whose work I believe in part guided the development of my personal photographic style.
While a foreground element adds to the complexity of a composition, you should not pick any foreground element. Ideally, it should help support your main subject in some way. Also, take the time to fine tune your composition. What I mean is consider how close you should be the any foreground object. Sometimes I will tell a workshop student that when you initially think you are close enough, move still closer. The closer you are the larger the object appears in relation to the background element. This forced perspective cue helps create depth.
Don’t however forget the mid-ground. This is another factor that supports the importance of fine tuning your composition. Sometimes the height of your camera is vital to effectively guiding your viewer into the image. While getting low can be quite effective in gaining a desired perspective, it also minimizes the mid-ground. The mid-ground is often important to provide a visual progression or stepping stone toward your background element. If you are too low, you might eliminate the mid-ground. If too high, you may end up with too much dead space in the mid-ground, hence the importance of fine tuning.
I think most everyone has heard the mantra about leading lines. When you think about it, everything in nature is made up of lines. A meandering stream is actually comprised of two lines, one on each side of the stream. A tree is defined by two lines, one on each edge. Lines can be vertical, horizontal or diagonal. Nature is replete with lines and other geometric forms. So in the case of lines, they are often easy to find but be careful in how you use them. To be used most effectively, they should lead the viewer into the image, and in some cases toward the main subject. But most importantly they should support engaging the viewer to explore the image entirely. One mistake photographers make is choosing leading lines that lead the viewer right out of the image.
Of all leading lines, the diagonal line is by far the most powerful. They convey a sense of power and motion. By far they are more dynamic and can give a sense of motion, either upward or downward. When used in conjunction with vanishing point perspective they can be quite effective in directing the eye toward a certain area of the composition and providing that sense of depth.
Choice of Lens
Often someone will ask me what my favorite lens is. After the quick response “the one on my camera”, I go on to say really it is my wide-angle, particularly my 16-35 mm. This ultra-wide angle lens is really great for emphasizing a foreground and using a small aperture to amplify the sense of depth. So I am always looking for opportunities to pull it out of the bag. However, often my 24-105 at the wide end is sufficient in a lion’s share of cases.
One thing to remember when using wide angles is to resist getting too much in the frame. Often times when first getting use to wide-angle perspectives is to include far too much in the composition. After all, by its very nature it includes more and you may have a tendency to want to include as much of the beautiful scene in front of you in the shot. Resist this temptation. A wide-angle lens stretches perspective making objects seem farther apart, while a telephoto will compress elements. As such you should strive to fill the frame when using your wide-angle.
Shoot Vertical Orientation at 45° Downward Viewpoint.
I really don’t mean exactly 45°. The point though is that if you turn your camera to a vertical orientation with a wide-angle lens, tilted slightly down, you can often use this wide perspective to really maximize foreground and leading line techniques while filling the frame. It also alters your focal plane in a way that somewhat mimics a tilt function utilized in large format cameras or modern tilt-shift lenses. This will help get the most of your depth of field and help give prominence to a foreground element, increasing the three-dimensional feeling of the image.
Depth of Field
Appropriate depth of field is critical in landscape photography. If you have a foreground element, taken the time to ensure your composition had a good combination of supporting elements, waited for the right moment and light, it all could be for naught if your depth of field was insufficient to provide sharpness, or apparent sharpness throughout your image.
Selecting the proper aperture and focus point is a key process in preparing to take your image, once you have determined your composition. In fact I suggest to my workshop student that when they have decided on a composition they should first ask themselves, what aperture do I need for this shot? Why this question first? Well, your
aperture governs your depth of field. So, if your shot has a prominent foreground element, for example, you know that you need a lot of depth of field to maintain near/far sharpness. Knowing that a smaller aperture (larger f-stop number) will give you this, you decide on say, f16. The next questions is where do I need to focus.
On the focus point, many will say focus 1/3 into the scene. This is based on the point that when you are focused at the hyperfocal distance, your depth of field will extend from half the distance to your focal point to infinity. Personally, while the “focus 1/3 way into the scene will work at times, I find it better to determine the closest point you must have in focus ( near part of your main foreground element) and focus at a point twice that distance. Now, among other things that affect the depth of field is how close you are to the foreground element.
If you are extremely close to your foreground and your background is a distant mountain, you may find that the mountain, even with an aperture of f22 may be a little soft. However, this would likely be acceptable in most cases because with a wide-angle shot, the perspective will still provide enough apparent sharpness for the distant mountain. But you cannot usually get away with a soft foreground element in a landscape image.
Layering and Overlapping
Layering or overlapping can also aid in guiding the viewer through a scene, often encouraging one to view from bottom toward the top. Often you see this in aerial perspective where more distant objects take on a lighter or hazier appearance with less detail. Our mind tends to translate this as those objects being farther away, aiding in feeling of depth.
Use of vanishing points to direct the eye is somewhat related to scale. It is a linear perspective in which the point in the distance at which objects become too small to see. Think of railroad tracks that seem to come together in the far distance. We often us vanishing points in
photography to help direct the eye, using the diminishing scale effect. Vanishing point perspective naturally forms a triangle, which is one reason triangle shapes in nature can act as elements to direct the viewer.
Considering some the techniques listed above, as well as others, there is additional value in adding that sense of depth and guiding the viewer through your image. You will find that you are not merely “taking a photograph” of a tree, stream, mountain, waterfall, etc., you are adding the context to support the story or feeling you are trying to convey through your final image.
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