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PIXelations 17

inspiration and creativity

by fotofinish , 08-16-2007 at 10:06 AM (311 Views)

Although I have another shoot coming up at the end of September in Rocky Mountain National Park, I really am at a loss to determine what my next project will be. Inspiration and creativity seem to have wilted under the summer sun in the Dog Days of August.

That is why Alain Briot’s new article “Exercising Your Creativity” has come at a well-timed moment. Toward the end of his article, he discusses some interesting exercises to try. His website offers plenty of motivational and instructive articles.

His article got me thinking (which was the whole point, afterall!) about how other mediums use inspiration and creativity to present their ideas. One medium of which I know very little, is sculpture. So I Googled and found this article. The subtopic categories offer a nice outline of the most critical areas of concern for not only sculpture but all art in general. Scale, Form and Composition, Content and Context are all areas which need to relate well to present a cohesive communication to the viewer.

My point here is that we can learn a lot from how other art mediums handle the challenge of inspiration and creativity. I have more to research…

As far as my quest for the ultimate clarity in my images, Glenn Cadwell offered me a different explanation for my recent troubles. Since I was photographing the massive granite features of Yosemite at the end of the day, he says that the heat radiating from the stone faces can interfere with image-taking much the same as looking down a highway surface into the distance with the heat radiating and distorting your view of the distance does. That at least made me feel better that my technique wasn’t completely at fault. Thanks, Glenn!

As I mentioned last time as well, I took a few pictures of my son, Josh, and his softball championship game. The shots came out OK, nothing special. Here’s an example:

The first baseman is not my son, in case you are wondering. The batter in the one below, though, is my son:

They won the championship!

Productive again

by fotofinish , 09-02-2007 at 03:21 PM (235 Views)

I have not had much time or energy to spend on productive and new captures recently. We had hardwood floors put into the three bedrooms, a composite floor for the Family Room, and tile for the two bathrooms. All these rooms had to be painted as well, fortunately not by me. All this activity wore me out, though, until this Labor Day weekend.

I made these while sitting poolside with tunes and brews. They are abstracts of the sun reflecting off the pool water:

Here’s one that moved me when I looked over at my wife, Jayne, sitting next to me:

Finally, I went back down to Hartford at dawn, as if I don’t get enough of that during the week, and shot some architectural stuff. I won’t show you those yet, but here are a couple more abstracts:

I did the last one as a four picture composite using Helicon Focus.

Unfortunately for me, I have plantar fasciitis in my right heel. It makes it difficult to walk around, especially when I first get up in the morning, or when I get up at work at my desk. Walking for any distance produces an annoying pain in my heel. The doctor says that it will take months and months to heal (no pun intended!).

But the good news is that I have two more trips coming up: one to Rocky Mountain National Park at the end of September, and one to Santa Fee during the first week of November. If I am lucky, I should come back with a few more interesting shots.

Inspiration and composition

by fotofinish , 09-12-2007 at 07:31 PM (240 Views)

Lately, I have been studying the processes of inspiration and composition. I have also been looking for a way to get feedback on photographic images. And since I have had limited access to resources of critique for my own work, I have discovered a resource of critique of other photographer’s work. That site is The Radiant Vista. The Daily Critique features a brief (usually 6-10 minutes) video of image analysis sent in by photographers of many different levels of expertise. The analysis takes the form of artistic composition rather than camera-specific techniques. The issues discussed lay the groundwork for your own self-analysis. The repetition for me in some critiques is essential to reinforce the new and foreign to me ways of looking at an image. The submitted images are usually inspiring in themselves and can give you something different from your normal subject matter as a means to further inspire you and give you reason to consider something completely different. There is also a lot of other content on the site which can help to inspire you artistically. Too often it is easy to get lost in the technical minefield which too often becomes a distraction to artistic inspiration.

Another source of “food for artistic thought” is the podcast archive of Lenswork Magazine. These brief (again about 5-10 minutes of sound files) topics by Brooks Jensen are enough to create that spark of artistic enlightment. (And no, you don’t need an iPod to enjoy them! ) What is interesting here is that not only is he a great photographer in his own rite, but he also brings the perspective of being an editor of a critically important, Fine art magazine. If you have any dreams of someday getting published, his podcasts can help you take your work to that level.

Time to get high…

by fotofinish , 09-24-2007 at 10:50 AM (323 Views)

Jayne and I leave in three days for the West side of Rocky Mountain National Park, specifically the Grand Lake area. We might get lucky with the Aspen color, but I’ll believe it when I see it. I’m hoping to do some sunrise stuff in the meadows near the Colorado River in the hopes of getting some wildlife shots.

Otherwise, it will be as much hiking as my right foot (plantar fasciitis) and my fear of heights can handle. If Trail Ridge Road is open (it’s the highest road in the country, some 12,000 feet!), I’d like to make it to Bear Lake on the East side of the park. So if you hear a refrain from John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High”, you’ll know it is my terrible voice echoing back at you!

Realistically, I don’t expect much more than “pretty pictures”, but at least I’ll leave my mark on those captures, and have them for my website.

But mostly I’m looking forward to the vacation time with Jayne and her sister and friend. We’ll be gone for five days. We’ve had an active care schedule lately in regards to my elderly parents, so it will good to get away and forget about the real world for awhile, and get high, about 12,000 feet!…

I’m back!

by fotofinish , 10-03-2007 at 02:15 PM (275 Views)

I’m back from our trip to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. What an experience! I took 700 pictures; 11 gigs worth. I think I have 2 or 3 I’m really proud of, and maybe 24 other acceptable images that might be just different enough from all the rest I took.

We encountered quite a variety of weather conditions: from sunny, blue skies and warm, to showery with hanging clouds around the peaks, to snow-coated conditions. The wildlife scene was very active, especially since it was the Elk rutting season with overcast and showery conditions. There were herds of Elk and several moose, and of course birds. There wasn’t as much fall Aspen foliage as I hoped, but there was enough!

Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved road in the country at 12,000 plus feet, was closed for the season the second day we were there, so we did not get to visit the Eastern and perhaps the most scenic parts of the park. We stayed near Grand Lake on the Western side of the park. Once they closed Trail Ridge Road we were left with only the Never Summer Range, roughly 16 miles of the park. So my pictures are specific and limited. That said, I couldn’t have dreamed of a better photographic trip than this one was. Even I couldn’t miss taking great shots with conditions and a location such as this!

Now comes the task of processing these images. I’ll start posting some here soon.

A busy time…

by fotofinish , 10-11-2007 at 05:56 PM (176 Views)

I’m back from my second trip now a little more than a week and already there is a lot of activity. I started taking an Advanced Photography class at a local community college. Here is the course description:

Advanced Seminar in Photography
Shooting People, Places and Things
This course is designed for photographers with intermediate to advanced
skill level. While studying the master photographers in each of our
subjects of people, places and things, students will shoot assignments that
will include landscape, night photography, people, and still life. Class
time will be a combination of photographic technique, discussion of well
known photographers, and critique of student work. We will work in both
color and black and white. Both digital and film cameras are welcome.

The teacher is a well-accomplished photographer Mallorie Ostrowitz whom I had already discovered a year ago. Our styles are very similar. So far, we had one field trip last Saturday, with another one scheduled for this Saturday.

During last Saturday’s shoot, I wanted to try some radical abstract photography. I had been thinking about this for a long while, but was inspired by the discussions in this thread. The easiest possible way to get into true abstract photography is to shoot water reflections which emphasize color, shape, and patterns. With my camera on Manual and with manual focus enabled, I purposely de-focused an image until I saw what I wanted and then shot the picture. Keeping it under exposed help saturate the colors and lend that sense of mystery and tranquility I wanted to add to my pictures. Here is the result:

I am really excited by these since they were exactly as I pictured them in my mind’s eye. And although this technique will not work for all abstractions, I look forward to using this technique where I can with future shoots.

In addition, I’m already in the midst of my first shooting assignment: Shoot some place important to you. So, of course, I chose Session Woods, the place where I frequently go to practice technique. Here are two shots of the same object. All I did was give the circular polarizer a slight twirl and I ended up with two dramatically different pictures:

So in the midst of all of this class shooting and having to print and mount eight pictures, I have nearly completed the first round of processing of my Rocky Mountain National Park pictures. From 700 pictures, I have worked this list down to about 40 pictures. From this list I should be able to select between 12 – 24 pictures to print.

Humbled: The Shoot of a Lifetime…

by fotofinish , 10-14-2007 at 12:13 PM (196 Views)

My shoot in Rocky Mountain National Park was the shoot of a lifetime. I knew it as soon as we arrived there. During our four short days, we experienced just about every type of weather condition there is: Rain, snow, sun, clouds, low-hanging clouds, fog. We also had stands of beautiful fall-colored bright yellow aspen.

And then the wildlife! We had herds of elk come down out of the mountains in late afternoon and graze in the expansive golden brown meadows of the Kawuneeche Valley. And moose! Probably the best thing that worked for me was being forced to concentrate on a 16 mile stretch of the western side of the park. This was because it snowed the night we arrived and Trail Ridge Road (TRR), the highest paved road in the country at 12,000 feet, was closed and never reopened while we were there. We stayed in a condo near Grand Lake. And although we did get up to the Alpine Center on TRR the first afternoon we were in the park, I just was not able to adequately capture the grand landscape to do it justice.

But perhaps all of this was for the best afterall. Although the eastern side of the park is what gets photographed the most, the western side for this trip was photographic nirvana! The weather conditions especially around the peaks of the Never Summer Mountains certainly made the trip. Then the wildlife added a second dimension.
The Technical Details
I used my 70-200mm 2.8 L IS for most of my shots. Most was done on a tripod and cable release. I prefer compressing the at times enormous distances with the use of a telezoom so as to emphasize the beautiful shapes, designs, and detail in the magnified views that only a telezoom can provide. I also kept the camera in Manual mode most of the time, unless I was tracking the wildlife. I even used manual focus a lot in my hope that I could blend a series of different focused shots in Helicon Focus. This, however, turned out not to work, except for one picture. Helicon Focus, or any blending, does not handle wind movements well.
But the biggest challenge I had was occasional gusts of wind in low-light conditions, especially in late afternoon during the first 2.5 days under adverse conditions. I actually used my Storm Jacket.The first time it started raining on me I let happen. I figured I now had a 1-Series weather sealed camera, so why not let it rain? Well, I “chickened out”.

Because of the low-light, moving clouds, occasional gust of wind, I felt obliged to keep my camera at as high a shutter speed to keep f16, regardless of ISO. Unfortunately, for as great a camera like the Canon 1D Mark III is for noise at high ISO’s, there is still noise and rapidly more once the exposure gets darker. I watched the Luminance histogram like a hawk and muti-bracketed as a result just about every shot I took. That was one reason I had 700 pictures! Even so, the noise problem forced me to use Noise Ninja, even at its lowest setting, which still softened the pictures beyond what Photokit Sharpener or Unsharp Mask could manage.

I changed to this high ISO/High shutter speed approach as a result of my Yosemite shoot this past June where I used low ISO/VERY slow shutter speeds in low light which also produced some soft results. I was given the miracle shoot only to suffer once again from user-error…
Sixteen miles of shooting space actually did produce a finite number of different shots. Having gone back to many of those locations several times over four days, there is only so many pictures of golden aspen anyone can endure, or snow-capped peaks, or wildlife. Selecting 40ish pictures from 700 was not as difficult as it sounds.
From a digital darkroom perspective, a.k.a. Lightroom/Photoshop, I used Shadow/Highlights adjustments, LAB mode curve layer color/lightness adjustments. The biggest “oh, wow!” came from using contrast sharpening before using UnSharp Mask for the final output sharpening. In Contrast sharpening, you still use UnSharp Mask but set Threshold to 0, and set amount to a low number, like 20ish, and the middle slider to a large number, like 50ish. All of this should be done on the image at 100% magnification so that you can see the impact of these settings and modify to suit your own taste.
I just bought a box of the new Harmon Gloss FB AL paper. I will start making some prints, maybe this weekend. If this paper is the “holy grail” that they say it is, my prints should really be something to see.

The rest of the gallery can be viewed here.

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