Aimlessly Pontificating on Photography


The making of . . .

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Toddler Angst

My original intention when doing these “making of” posts was to present a tutorial, whether that tutorial gave the technical details of a particular photo, or how to achieve and effect, or even how to duplicate my results; it didn’t really matter. The point was to give a reader the “formula” of the creation of the photo.

What it has turned into instead is the recitation of an anecdote of how the photo came to be. I will eventually start producing proper tutorials, but the anecdotes are a lot easier to write and a lot more fun for me.

The headline photo has become one of my favourites since I took it. I suppose it doesn’t hurt that it is of my son.

We were about to head off to the wedding, Kiran was well dressed and becoming quite restive, he didn’t really like being dressed up but not going someplace. I couldn’t resist taking a few pictures of him, so I asked him to pose. This is often a hit or miss exercise. Sometimes he enjoys posing for the camera, sometimes he seems to feel an unwanted obligation. And sometimes he simply won’t do it.

This I think was one of those occasions where he felt obligated, but didn’t really want to oblige. I think you can tell from the expression on his face, he was quite annoyed at daddy’s request. I am pretty sure he was quite full of himself at being so dressed up too πŸ™‚ I certainly didn’t ask or encourage the specific pose, I just asked him to stand in the slightly ajar door.

I had done a previous shot in this spot and I liked the defining line created by the dark interior of the house and the largely negative space provided by the white door. I hadn’t gone quite this far with the previous shot though.

As far as post processing (I use Adobe Lightroom) goes essentially, what I did was to ramp up the exposure 1 3/4 stops, increase the brightness to 68 (out of 100) and desaturate the photo. I usually prefer to use Lightroom’s black & white process as it tends to produce a nicer tonal mix than simply desaturating the photo, but in this case I wanted just very high contrast black against white.

I also increased the blacks to 40 (out of 100) which is very high for an accurately exposed photo. I also used a lot of fill light to lighten the shadows. The final step was to crop the image slightly to get rid of the security grill. The high contrast processing hadn’t blown the grill out (like it did the white door) and I felt it unbalanced the image to have another evenly weighted element opposing Kiran.

The bottom line is, as you can see from the completely unprocessed photo below, I had something good to start with and made real drama therefrom.

Angst Begins.


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NOTE: This is republished from a note I posted on Facebook on May 20 (with minor edits here), before I started this blog.

Afternoon Repose

The picture on the right is a good one. No point in false modesty. It is good not only because the composition is good, but because the exposure is exactly right and the focus and sharpness are perfect. Seen full size it looks far better than the little thumbnail on the right.

How did I spot the shot? Most people (non-photographers) would just have walked past it. I spotted it because I have been working hard at improving my photography for the year so far. Not only actually taking photographs, but looking at photographs from good photographers and reading voraciously.

Do what I have been doing and the odds are, you will never walk past a shot like this; or an equivalently good scene for the various different types of photography.

There is an unending supply of talented photographers around and the ubiquity of cheap digital cameras has allowed a vast number of people to explore their talent. It is hard these days to make your voice heard in the huge volume of good photographers now trying to be heard at the same time.

There are a few things that are key; lots and lots of practice, lots and lots of superior photographs in your portfolio and knowing the rules (and when to break them).

This one photograph, good as it is, is not going to get me anything. A few people will see it, a smaller number will like it, and nothing much will come of it. This is the reality of competition.

What will get me recognition (and you too if you are interested) is relentlessly producing good quality work, recognising that any kind of success can take a while and lots of self promotion.

Have a look at my photographs here.

And while I consider my picture above to be good. Have a look here to see what I consider to be a great photograph (photographs that can change the world). The depressing nature of that scene and others he had to witness were thought to have contributed to Carter’s despondency and later suicide.

The making of . . .

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This is more of an anecdote than anything else, and just goes to demonstrate how much of a part luck or happenstance plays in getting a good photo, for me.

I made an unusual move on a Sunday, going with my parents to a memorial service for a former president. This is not the type of event that I would normally even think of attending.

On the other hand, it was being held in Berbice which is significantly off the beaten path for me. So this was more about a photographic opportunity, than the self-congratulatory and self-praising event that these memorials tend to be.

About 2/3 of the way there, in Corentyne, we stopped to have some lunch and relax for a while, as we were quite early. We found this open bar/restaurant called Future Line Restaurant and went in.

In these less populated areas of Guyana, far out of a town or heavily populated area, you can have either of two things happening; either there will be a significant number of very small “bottom house” rum shops, or what we had here, a big entertainment facility catering to be all things to all people.

This was a restaurant, nightclub, bar, pool hall and cafe. All things to all people.

So I walked around the place for a while taking pictures. Got some decent shots, but nothing special. I was quite disappointed as this was likely to be the last particularly interesting place I was going to be that day (“they” are so right about assumptions). After sitting down for a bit my son ran around and escaped the clutches of his handlers and ran into a closed off and partially hidden section of the bar. This as it turned out was the “bar” section of what I have been calling the bar.

Absolute beauty; green painted stools with multi-coloured leatherette covered seats, set against a partially red and partially green painted walls. But so dark, and there I was without a tripod. The entire bar, a very large space at least 1,500 square feet, was filled with photogenic nooks. But so dark.

As it turned out, none of my photos came out right except this one. Either I screwed up the exposure or I didn’t hold the camera steady. It was very distressing when I was reviewing images to see well composed images ruined by hand shake.

This photo (above) was taken in a shaded area exposed to the outside. Even so, it was also fairly dark.

The photo is cropped square. This is deliberate, and while I didn’t take the photo with this precise square framing in mind, I did intend from the beginning to have a square image and photographed the scene accordingly. I tried my best to cut precise diagonal across the tiles on the floor, while keeping the circular vent blocks visible in the image.

I believe in being honest about my photographs. I think if it is a good photograph, then it is so whether you arrange it or not. This doesn’t hold true for all types of photography, but I in cases where this is not true, then you shouldn’t arrange anyway. Anyway, I moved the yellow stool from the front of the scene to the back. It was between the blue and green stools in the foreground. I didn’t like the gap at the back. This was the only arranging I did.

In the end it worked out quite well, the square format was a good call as it maintains a fair bit of geometric tension with the tall rectangular stools and the circular vent blocks, while echoing the square tiles on the floor. And in addition to the angular tension, the image has a very strong colour contrast.

It looks good in a monotone too, but the colours were simply too dramatic to go that route.

The making of . . .

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Water in Egypt

I decided to chose an easy image to write about in today’s making of post. It isn’t a brilliant image, certainly not one I would count as my best, but a great deal of effort went into its creation.

Lots of people have taken these types of images before and you can find lots of guides online, but I thought I would add my bit to the tower of babel. I got the idea having seen this Shooting Challenge on Gizmodo a little while back and always intended to try it for myself.

If you have read any of my similar posts before you will know I don’t really give a tutorial on how to do these images yourself, I just give a description of what I did to achieve my photo.

If you do want a proper tutorial, this is the place to go.

Anyway, I decided that I wanted something more than simply a drop of water, and one of the images on the Gizmodo challenge was of water apparently on an exercise book. There were a lot of entries but that one really caught my fancy.

I have this framed image on papyrus, bought in Egypt a few years ago. I placed a dish of water on it and “borrowed” one of my daughter’s medicine droppers. The camera was on a tripod and I used an off camera flash placed on the side of the dish opposite to the camera. Unfortunately, the framed picture was so large that I was unable to place the lens at a shallow angle to the dish, at least not initially.

Because of the awkwardness of the placement of the camera, and the fact that I had to hold the medicine dropper it was necessary for me to use a wired remote to trigger the camera shutter. It would have been very difficult for me to press the shutter release on the camera itself. Had I set things up differently I may have been able to eliminate the remote. As it is, I am glad I had one.

After a while of getting fairly blurred drops I decided to switch to manual exposure so that I could up the shutter speed and hopefully “stop” the motion of the drop a little more effectively. In order to use the flash with a higher shutter speed I needed to use high speed sync on the flash. This allows you to use a higher shutter speed than the native sync speed of the flash. Unfortunately, you cannot use the flash off camera if you want to use high speed sync.

I placed the flash back on the camera, but since the camera had to be fairly close (I decided to use a fairly wide lens, a 31mm) the flash would no longer point directly to the water. So I pointed the flash to a white paper placed opposite the dish, in order to bounce the flash to the water.

I did get a few good shots that way, but curiously enough the shot I chose to put to upload is one of the first ones I had taken. The reason is that the drops were fairly even and well focused (plus no motion blur) and the lighting was a lot more even than in later shots. I did prefer the way some of the other drops were placed, but it would have taken too much work to even up the lighting satisfactorily. If this tell you anything, it is that luck has a part to play with these types of photos also

I’ve put some of the failures below, and you can click on the image above to see the larger version on my photo site. In all I must have taken 50 shots to get that one above. Like most other things you have to keep trying until you are happy with your shot (or too tired to try anymore πŸ™‚

Failure, fig. 1

Failure, fig. 2


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Den Amstel Quarrel


This is partially a follow up, or maybe follow on, to my post “the camera that took the photo“.

There are a lot of photographers taking pictures these days. And there are a lot of good pictures to be seen. If you are just taking photographs to please yourself, then read no further. If you want to do something more, well why don’t you let an expert like me provide some guidance. After all, one person actually bought a photo from me once πŸ™‚ And if that doesn’t qualify me as an expert, I don’t know what will.

Joking aside, you need certain things to take a good photograph. A good camera helps, a good eye (or two) is useful, practice is essential and a critical, but sometimes overlooked component, opportunity.

Venetian Shadow

A significant component of opportunity is the ability not just to look, but actually to see. I am not trying to be obscure or obtuse. I will elaborate. One of the questions I’ve been asked, by literally . . . one person is; “how did you spot that?” This was asked with regard to my take on a fairly routine scene (not the image above).

The answer is, I make a strong effort to see what I am looking at. My friend Michael in a recent post on his blog suggested that to gain inspiration you should change your environment a bit and see things with fresh eyes. I agree entirely, but that is not the only way I find something to photograph.

A significant part of my process is to simply look around me to see things that others may notice in passing but never glance twice at, simply because the world moves at such a speedy pace. I try to keep my eyes fresh even if I am in an environment that I see every day.

My approach then, is a contemplative one. To go somewhere different is to see a scene with fresh eyes, but I believe that the biggest gasp you will ever get from a viewer is to show them in a new light something that they have been looking at every day, but not really seeing.

The image posted at the top of this post is a classic example of the approach Micheal suggested. Going somewhere different, even if it is familiar, and looking around with fresh eyes. It is also an example of being in the right place at the right time, luck in other words (look closely at the window of the abandoned building). But Venetian Shadow (above) is the real example of what I am talking about.

Initially, it is a lot of work, this whole looking and seeing at the same time. At the beginning of the year when I started my picture a day project I was faced with an apparent dearth of subjects (suburban Scarborough in winter). It forced me to look and see in order not to break my project so early on. When I returned home two months into the year that practice stood me in good stead as it seemed I was spoiled for subjects. I was seeing interesting scenes everywhere I looked.

Within a couple of months that stopped and I had to start making an effort again to see what I was looking at. No bad thing really, but certainly challenging. The point of all of this is that with practice you can become skilled, with talent you can occasionally produce good images, but unless you see what you look at, you will never consistently produce good images. Each aspect of good photography is integral to the subject as a whole. Do one less well than the others and the whole will suffer.

Afternoon Light

The making of . . .

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Unlike my last “making of” post, this one wasn’t particularly complicated. Again, unlike the last post this one is a decent photo.

On Monday I went to some extent to explain what I though a photo should be, at least by my judgment. One of the consequences of my position is that I keep my eyes open for scenes which may not be inherently interesting to most people, but which I believe will make an interesting photo.

This is one such. Taken fairly late in the afternoon, I was fairly desperate for my photo of the day for my project. Curious how it seems like I get some of my favourite photos when I am taking a photo out of desperation.

There isn’t much complicated to this one. It is a knotted cord set against a diamond pattern lattice screen. The composition was very carefully done so as to make the pattern in the background as symmetrical as possible while simultaneously placing the very unsymmetrical knotted rope so that it would not obscure the diamond pattern behind it. It is entirely coincidental that it happens to conform to the “rule of thirds“.

I used my very, very sharp, but cumbersome to use Vivitar Series I 105mm macro lens. It is a manual focus lens, which also weights about 2 pounds and requires what feels like about 6 turns from infinity to close focus. It was made in the 70s or 80s back when lenses were made of metal and glass.

The fairly narrow telephoto field of view of theΒ  lens prevented too much of the pattern behind the rope from being visible, thereby reducing complexity to a pleasing level, while compressing the perspective to reduce the apparent distance between the rope and the background.

The other major aesthetic decision I made when taking the picture was to open the aperture to the maximum (f/2.4 in this case). The reason for this choice was to blur the background sufficiently so as to enhance the over picture and to avoid distracting from the actual subject.

Lest I give the impression that this all happened in one shot all taken by a flawless hand, I actually had to take about half dozen shots before I got it right. All part of the process.

This is only half of my process. The other half began after import of the RAW onto my computer system. I would say that I’ve done a moderate degree of processing to this photo. The first, and major process, was to convert the image to monotone. I never intended it as anything other than a black & white. For this photo it was always about form and not colour.

In addition, I added a significant amount of film grain. The original photo was quite smooth and detailed, and thanks to the lens, superbly sharp. A significant degree of sharpness was lost due to the addition of grain. As I said, this photo was from the time I saw it about form and composition.