Category: Seeing Photographs

Woodstock next week!

On Wednesday evening next week, the 14th of November, I’ll be heading down the 401 to present “Creating Compelling Landscapes” for the Woodstock Camera Club.

As you may already know, I’m a “big picture” guy. I enjoy the details, but I’m always looking for context and perspective; trying to place those natural details in their larger habitat, preferably with a horizon and perhaps some of that big sky. So we’ll talk about how to do that, more successfully and more consistently. It’s all out there; sometimes it’s just a matter of being inspired to see the forest and the trees.

The meeting starts at 7:30pm at the Quality Inn and Suites, just north of Hwy 401 exit 232, on Bruin Blvd near Juliana and Norwich. See you there!

Brant Camera Club!

Yesterday evening I presented “My Own Backyard” to the Brant Camera Club in Brantford, Ontario.

Regular readers will know of my passion for shooting locally – starting literally right in your own backyard and using it as an exploratorium for testing new equipment, ideas and ways of seeing. Taking that one step further, you can explore local parks and conservation areas (or downtowns for street photography) throughout each of the four seasons, year after year. Over time, you begin to develop a deep knowledge of where potential subjects are and how far along they are in their annual growth, allowing you to predict just when to be out looking. As well, being nearby, you can become the “expert” and be on site when the light is spectacular.

Part of my presentation also dealt with The Nature Photographer’s Toolkit ©, exploring the four realms of the craft of photography: Ambient Conditions, Aesthetic Elements, Technical Controls and Post-capture Processing. As promised, here is the graphic I use to illustrate the myriad options available to photographers each time you consider setting up a shot. Going through, in your mind, this “Rolodex” of ideas and perspectives helps you to consider different ways of capturing subjects and scenes.

Thanks BCC for inviting me and I hope we can do this again sometime!

 

Miss the darkroom? There’s an app for that!

Apple’s App of the Day today (28 Dec ‘17) is Darkr. I don’t usually look too closely at the AotD, and sometimes not for days or weeks, but, as a photographer and former large format and darkroom enthusiast, this one certainly caught my eye.

Select your camera format or work in the darkroom

Darkr takes me back to simpler times, at least that’s what my heart is telling me. It is both a large format camera (and medium and “pocket” format camera) and a Darkroom all built into an app. What a thrill it was for me to lie in bed this morning and have an upside-down-and-backwards view camera image on my iPhone (also available for iPad, but my iPad Air has only a 5mp Camera), complete with etched grid lines and a loop for focusing. Anyone who has ever worked with a large format camera would appreciated this view.

When I say “large format, l’m referring to the old-style cameras with a leather bellows in front. For years, I used a beautiful Zone VI cherry wood field camera that made beautiful 4×5″ negatives. Yes, that’s inches – about half the size of the iPad screen I’m writing on right now. But 4×5″ was just the beginning; large format included 5×7″, 8×10″ (one of Angel Adams favourites) and 11×14”. There were even 16x20l versions that shot Polaroids! It was a huge industry through the late 19th century and right through the 20th century. I bought my “old-style” 4×5 camera in the 1990s! Working with negatives and transparencies that large meant the image quality was untouchable.

But alas, that era is behind us. My Nikon D800E captures more detail than my 4×5 could and my Sony RX-10iii isn’t far behind. The methods of working on a tripod may still be there, but the mystique of working under a dark cloth with a loupe around your neck and a pocket full of yellow, orange and red filters is gone, along with developing negatives, making test strips, changing contrast grades, and burning and dodging to make prints. BUT…

Darkr brings it all back again…

Yellow filter selected. Yes, it’s upside-down and backwards – it’s large format, after all!

…without the dark cloth and tripod, darkroom chemicals and water usage. As I said, as I lay in bed this morning, I set up my large format camera, selected ILFORD HP-5 film, put on a yellow filter, used my loupe to select the focus point, chose my shutter speed, tilted as needed, and “click” made my first exposure.

4×5 neg, complete with notches in top left.

This first exposure became a beautiful and classic 4×5 negative, complete with cut notches in the top left! From there, I entered the Darkroom where the immersive experience continued sans red light and chemicals. Honestly, I do miss the other-worldly experience of entering a darkroom with the acrid smell of stop bath and the earthy smell of developer (but not the mixing and washing).

In the Darkroom, I was presented with a series of horizontal test-

Test strips. Scroll up and down to change time; scroll left and right to change contrast.

strips. Swiping up increased the time, swiping down, the opposite. Swiping left and right changed the contrast, just like a multi-contrast head on an enlarger or multi-contrast filters. The filters are even coloured correctly – the level of detail the creators of the app have included is amazing, but not without some need for improvements (see below).

Toning options are available once you have a good-looking “print”.

Once you have a basic print, there are a variety of typical darkroom options: Crop, Dodge, Burn, Blur and Tone. The dodge and burn options take a little getting used to, but are great once you do. The best part, though, is how each option you use is stored as a layer. This digital advantage lets you revisit what you’ve done and change things about, although cropping really must be done first.

Final print – my first darkroom print in over 17 years!

So, why bother? As one commenter said, “I did darkroom processing for real…and I now realise I don’t miss it at all.” While I, too, am in this category, Darkr seems to retain well the methods and thought behind using film and darkroom processing, without the hassle of chemicals and water use.

Can you make “better” black and whites in other apps? Perhaps, especially with the near-endless sliders and options of apps such as Photos, Polarr and high-end apps like Lightroom. But there’s something about simplifying options that clarifies the process. For example, test strips: rather than constantly “playing” with sliders until things “look good”, going back and forth between whites and blacks and shaows, exposure and contrast, with Darkr, you are using a combination of exposure and contrast – two options – to attain your base print.

From there, you can apply dodging (selective lightening) or burning (selective darkening), just like using adjustments brushes in Lightroom. Lastly, you may (or may not) tone the image – selenium, cyanotype or sepia – in varying degrees.

Perhaps it’s nostalgia speaking more than practicality, but I feel apps don’t always need to be pragmatic and efficient to be useful. If anything, this simplification teaches one to be more observant. To the observant, the varying times of the test strips offer insights 8nto the relationships between light and dark, as does the switching of contrasts.

Perhaps this is my own darkroom experience talking and these nuances are not readily apparent to newbies, but I see this as not only nostalgic fun, but a good training ground of sorts, from the upside-down-backwards view presented by the Large Format  option to the selections of time and contrast. The limiting factor is the 12mp camera on the iPhone. If this system could be used with a 20mp+ camera, it would certainly be more enticing. That being said, you can import photos from Photos to work on them in the Darkroom.

The best part, though, is the price: Darkr is only $3.99. Actually, it’s free, but paying the $3.99 does two things: it supports the developers to keep refining the app (I have some improvements I’d like to see, and it unlocks some of the refinements that make Darkr so much fun.

Some of the improvements I would like to see include:

  • Spot metering – I would like to read my highlight and shadow areas to allow me to use…
  • Zone system placements; shadows with detail on Zone II – the “West Coast, Ansel Adams” way or highlights with detail on Zone VIII as Fred Picker invented on the East Coast;
  • Orange filter, for when yellow is too little and red is too much;
  • Cold and warm-tone papers options would be nice, even different paper bases;
  • Adding a cold-tone selenium effect of slight purple cast would be welcomed;
  • Vertical test strips are needed to accommodate checking different parts of a print. Making the print above would have benefitted from seeing the bright white of the duvet in the same strip
  • Lastly, the app needs a way to maintain the proportions when cropping (or select an aspect ratio).

I should note that these “improvements” may already be built into the app and I missed them. I’ll be spending more time with Darkr over the next few days and hope to discover more of it’s secrets.

KW-GRIPS: Monday, Nov. 13

Join me at the regular Monday meeting of the Grand River Imaging and Photographic Society where I will be presenting Shaping Landscape and Nature Photographs.

Much of the “shaping” of photographs begins in the field with the assembling of various compositional elements to take the scene from a simple snapshot to a thoughtful creation by the photographer. As artists, it’s important to at least take into consideration angle of light, perspective and angle of view, all the while making active use of visual design elements in the scene, such as leading lines and framing elements, to create dynamic compositions that guide viewers through the scene.

Shaping continues in post-capture processing with the use of selected processing adjustments including graduated masks and adjustment brushes. My sincere belief is that ¾ of the work happens before the shutter is released and ½ the work happens afterwards because every good photograph is, in fact, greater that the sum of its parts, the difference being the effort and visual skill the photographer adds in the making of each photograph.

I hope you can join me Monday evening at 7:30pm for some inspiration and perhaps a new way of looking at photography. Meetings are held at the Kitchener East Presbyterian Church at 10 Zeller Drive, Kitchener. I hope to see you there!

London Camera Club – Field & Screen

This past week I was in London, Ontario enjoying the hospitality and good will of the London Camera Club. This is a vibrant and welcoming club that successfully offers programs to a wide range of photographers from beginners to highly experienced shooters – a tall order, well-achieved. Have a look at their website for some truly excellent and creative photography.

On Thursday evening…

…I spoke about exploring “My Own Backyard”. Despite having travelled and lived in many exciting locations around the world, I always come back to the importance of each of us being “experts” in our own backyards. After all, we are surrounded by landscapes and nature here in southern Ontario and we have four seasons in which to make very different and unique photographs.

Photographed two weeks ago on my way in to work.

Quite literally, our backyards become our “playground” for trying new equipment, new techniques and new ways of seeing. One can dash out, take a few shots, with a new lens or trying focus-stacking for example, then head back in, upload and being working on images within minutes. Or, simply, spend a few hours exploring shapes and colours in the garden at various points through the year. But, your backyard can also be stretched, and should be, really, to local conservation areas, country roads and, if you prefer cityscapes in your city’s downtown. Every city now has a few dilapidated buildings waiting for an empathetic eye. Over the years, I’ve made some very memorable photographs on my drive to work and have been visiting the Arboretum at the University of Guelph for 30 years of photographic inspiration.

Saturday…

was devoted to a “Field and Screen” workshop: a few hours in the morning out at Westminster Ponds followed by a few more hours in the afternoon processing images from the morning. It was pleasing to see a number of photographers using tripods – cumbersome, but necessary, as we had a slightly dull, humid, misty morning with the constant threat of rain as well as some fall colours to accent our photographs. I was also encouraged by the comments from participants who had never explored close to home like this. So often, we get comfortable with the views and scenery around us and we stop seeing them for their uniqueness. We forget that although they are the “same old, same old” to us, they are new for others, especially when we apply our photographic eye to bringing out the details others have stopped seeing. This is the beauty of working close to home.

I’ve posted a gallery of photographs I made during the workshop. I’ve added a couple of Before/After screenshots to show the initial imported “from the camera” raw image versus the “finished” screen image. I’ve also included some “Detail” photographs; these are cropped portions of larger photographs which, in themselves are engaging views I would have liked to spend more time exploring.

Thanks to Matt Litwinchuk for organizing the evening presentation and Saturday’s workshop and to Bill Niessen for his technical troubleshooting duirng the afternoon Screen session.

If you have any questions about the shooting or processing – please ask! As well, comments are always welcome. If you want to keep in touch regarding workshops, just subscribe to my blog using the panel to the right.

Lake Superior VI: Chutes, again

I hate those shirts that say, “Been there. Done that.” That’s the problem with tourism these days – too many people choking up incredible places just so they can tick their list of things they’ve “done” – once – never to return, never to really experience the place. That’s not travel, it’s listing, like so many birdwatchers adding to their Life Lists.

My other peeve with this, is the word “do” in association with visiting a place. “Oh, we did Stonehenge” or “Oh we’ve done Machu Picchu”. Most of the time, they didn’t do anything but sit on a coach, get out, walk around for a few minutes, buy their souvenirs then off to the next place to “do”. Again, that’s not travel, it’s listing. Oh, am I repeating myself? There’s a message there!

Okay – rant over…

To break up the drive back to the hamster cage of southern Ontario, we decided to stop at Chutes Provincial Park again. Yes, we were there on the way up – what could there possibly be to photograph if we’ve “done” it already?!? 🙂 As a photographer, I know how important it is to return to places I’ve already visited. Things change: the light, the time of day, my frame of mind, my way of seeing; and, over a year or many years, the seasons. I can’t count how many times I’ve “done” the Arboretum at the University of Guelph over the 35 years since I first attended Uni, and I think I can confidently say, I’ve never come home without seeing something new and with a photograph I’d be happy to post or frame.

Having visited and experienced a place once, gives you “insider” information about what that place is like and where the light will fall at different times of the day. Hopefully, on your first visit, you consciously made notes (literally or figuratively) about what isn’t working that time and may work better in different conditions. Or, perhaps there’s a part of it you didn’t fully explore. These all factor into returning to places. This second time, Chutes proved to be well worth the stop.

The evening we arrived didn’t amount to much. We mostly scouted for the next morning. I felt moved to make one serious photo (right), but I knew it would be repeating the theme of a waterfall at dusk; a different waterfall, but nothing really new. However, our scouting hike gave us the opportunity to envision places to photograph tomorrow.

The next morning dawned clear and we headed straight out, each to slightly different locations. That’s one of the reasons I like working with Kerry: we are both independent in our thinking and our photography, rarely working the same scene or, if we do, usually from different angles. We can be on the same trail, yet not see each other for an hour or more.

In the gallery below are photographs from the three different set-ups I worked on in the morning; two are similar, from the same set-up; I just can’t decide yet which framing I prefer. I’ve also included the one from the previous evening.

Making Cascade was a lengthy process of working with different shutter speeds to get just the right flow of water. While “chimping“, I noticed this one photo had a wash of water over the foreground rock – the only one like it. I tried replicating this with a slightly longer shutter speed, but the flow of water only did this every 5 minutes or so and my timing just wasn’t as good as the serendipity of the initial frame like this.

The photographer Weegee is credited with the phrase “ƒ8 and be there” as the first rule of photography. I couldn’t agree more, because once you’re there, serendipity has a chance to play its role. As a family, we came to recognize the importance of serendipity during our travels when we lived in Africa. Going out on “game drives” was all about timing: a Cheetah on a termite mound; hyenas gathered at kill; a wildebeest giving birth; elephants wandering amongst our tents. So we’ve continued to be open to serendipity and, more importantly, being out there to experience it. You just never know when things might go from exciting to magical.

You can lview all the photos I’ve posted from Lake Superior 2017 on my Flickr account. Please share the link and this post, and feel free to comment, question and add constructive criticism.

Thanks for reading.

Lake Superior V: B&W

I love black-and-white. Perhaps it’s because, like every photographer of my age, I “cut my teeth” on black-and-white. Thank goodness digital has not changed that. In fact black-and-white is better now than it ever has been. We are no longer tied to using colour filters – yellow, orange, red – to enhance tones of the same colour over their opposites. Nor are we tied to buying, mixing, storing, using and breathing in the chemicals needed for a darkroom. Then, there’s the water use: hours of washing negs and prints with constantly running water? I can’t even conceive of it anymore.

Figure 1

The conceptual part of making of a black-and-white photograph is perhaps a bit more difficult today. As we live in a colour world and digital cameras produce colour files, I find it more difficult to switch my brain into “black-and-white mode”. As we no longer put a roll or a sheet of B&W film into the camera, and we no longer use the colour filters, there isn’t that physical “trigger” to ignore the colour and concentrate on the tones, the shapes, the textures. Having been schooled in B&W, I find I can make the switch, but it’s definitely more difficult. I imagine those who have never worked in a B&W world may find it considerably more difficult. Often, though, it’s the scene that tells me, “I’m a black and white!”

Figure 2

Without colour, a scene must speak through tones, textures and contrast. It doesn’t need to start off monotone, but the photographer must carefully understand how colours will translate to shades of grey. Two very different colours; the orange and blue in a sunset, for example, will often become a single or two very similar grey tones (Fig 1). Back in the film days, when colour filters were used, a yellow or orange filter would be selected to brighten the yellows and oranges and darken the blues. This is now done in the digital processing stage using an app such as Lightroom (see Fig 2). While virtually any scene can be photographed and processed for black-and-white, as was the case for decades before colour film was commonly available, some scenes “work” better than others.

More so than colour, light plays a key role in black and white. Under soft lighting conditions of an overcast day, it can be difficult to properly separate the middle tones to prevent them from becoming “muddy”. That’s where the “darkroom” work comes in. Previously, we would boost the film by giving it N+1 or N+2 development and, perhaps use a higher contrast paper. In harshly-lit conditions, we would process film at N-1 or N-2 and/or use lower contrast paper. Now, in Lightroom, we adjust a combination of tone curves, contrast, clarity, white and black points, shadows and highlights to recreate our vision from the field. We’re doing the same thing as before, but using tools that allow for finer adjustment.

Some of the black-and-whites below you may recognize from previous posts as colour photos. Try not to compare them to the colour photos as too often, colour “wins” if only due to familiarity. Try to see the B&W photographs as something different. Black-and-white photographs encourage you to look beyond the obvious to see the textures and shapes that create a scene.

After viewing the gallery, please leave a comment, ask a question or offer constructive criticism; and take a moment to share this post with others. Thanks for reading.

Summer Morning

On Tuesday, I set aside the early part of the morning specifically for photographing a field of summer wildflowers between Water Street and Municipal Street here in Guelph. My wife Laura and I walk by here regularly as we (mostly she!) completes our 6km loop from home to the Boathouse on Gordon Street (no, we don’t stop for ice cream!) and back again, along the Speed River for most of the way. It’s been interesting to watch how this field has evolved since, amidst much controversy, this forested area was razed by the Hydro One crews two years ago. They seeded it with a wildflower mix which, at this point anyway, seems to be successful. Right now it is ablaze with flowers: Queen Anne’s Lace, Rudbeckia, Evening Primrose, Mullen, various thistles, daisies, and grasses.

When I walked along the trail early Saturday morning, I was struck by the colour, the light and simply how “full” the field was with wildflowers. As I walked, I got thinking about returning with my 100mm macro lens on the D800E first thing in the morning, hand-held, just to see what I could capture, ideally at ƒ2.8 only. I specifically chose my full-frame camera because I wanted to minimize my depth of field, so ƒ2.8 was also my goal. This is a complete departure from my regular shooting style of using a wideangle lens, getting close and using a small aperture to maximize depth-of-field; this allows me to create the environmental portraits I love so much – putting the main subject in its natural context. When I began shooting, though, I quickly realized how shallow the DoF is at ƒ2.8; I just couldn’t come to grips with the limited depth-of-field, so I “slipped up” to 5.6 and even 7.1 for a few shots.

Here are six of the photos I made.

These photos represent another goal of the morning, which was to capture light. I was fortunate that it was cool enough overnight for dew to settle on the flowers, so at 7am they were sparkling, adding another dimension to the morning. However, I can tell I’m a bit out of practice. Some of the parts I wanted in focus are not and despite using shutter speeds over 1/250, my hand-holding is not quite steady enough with high magnification shots like these. The problem is, I’ve become too used to the excellent image stabilization of the Sony RX10iii. Next time, I’ll consider using a monopod, although, to be honest, for these more spontaneous shots, even a monopod would be a hindrance.

Please add your comments, questions and critique using the “Comments” below and be sure to share this post on Facebook. And get out photographing!

Marsh Reflections

Earlier last week I was up on the Rideau Lakes in eastern Ontario, part of the series of lakes created when the Royal Engineers built the Rideau Canal back in the early 19th century. Our family has been cottaging on Lower Rideau Lake for over 70 years; I think I’m on year 52 or so up there. Needless to say, it’s a lake I know well and have often photographed.

On my first morning up there, I was out before breakfast, canoeing in the marsh behind the cottage. I was glad to see (and hear!) how healthy the frog population is this year! We had been quite worried the last few years; last year, in particular, we didn’t really hear or see any bullfrogs. Well this year, there are plenty, and green and leopard frogs as well. It seemed to be an especially productive morning as I was able to photograph (again!) a great blue heron and a bullfrog in addition to watching and photographing a muskrat diving down to pull up the root of a cattail, peel and eat it.

After all these years, I was also able to photograph a bullhead lily flower. It’s funny because there are always thousands of them out in flower, yet I’ve never spent the time to photograph one. Often they are looking worse for wear and they are always covered in flies of some kind. Today was no different, but I spent some time cloning out the flies for a finished photograph (see below).

While photographing the flower, it occurred to me that it looks rather ‘textbook’, so I started looking for other ways to “see” the flower and came up with Marsh Reflections, the photograph you see at the bottom. I also learned, while looking up the actual species, that (as far as I can tell, anyway), this flower is, indeed, a Bullhead Lily, not, as I thought and grew up with, a Yellow Pond Lily. From what I can tell, the Yellow Pond Lily (Nuphar lutea) is the European equivalent of North America’s Bullhead Lily, Nuphar variegata. If I’m wrong on this, could someone please let me know!

What is especially thrilling is that all the photos were made at the 600mm (equivalent) setting on the Sony RX-10iii and were hand-held. I’m always surprised at how well the image stabilization works and the lens is beautifully sharp, even at f/4! For a couple of the shots, I used the pull out LCD and held the camera down near water level –a feature I’m using more and more, particularly because the image stabilization is so good.

This coming week, I’m hoping to get some long-overdue printing done. Perhaps I’ll have a report about that later this month. Then it’s off to Lake Superior and the north country!

“Before” – this is what the original photo looked like before I went to work on the flies.

Enjoy the summer, and get out shooting!

HCC – a great evening!

Last night I presented “Creating Compelling Landscapes” to a wonderful crowd of close to 100 photographers at the Hamilton Camera Club. It was also great to see a number of former students from my days at Mohawk College, as well.

Bucking what is often seen as a trend, the HCC is an active and growing club with members of all ages. With photography having become so ubiquitous, now that everyone has a phone in their pocket, it’s encouraging to see so many people dedicated to creating more than just snapshots.

I look forward to working with the Hamilton Camera Club in the future and, perhaps, seeing the results of my presentation in some great landscape work.