Aimlessly Pontificating on Photography

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The making of . . .

My blog has moved, see the new site at http://blog.badlightgoodlight.com

Colour

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.

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So Far.

My blog has moved, see the new site at http://blog.badlightgoodlight.com

I’ve been at the 365 thing for 6 months now (just a few days shy) and it has been both hard and easy, disappointing and fulfilling. One thing it has not been: boring.

I’ll try not to be too tedious today, but having completely impulsively decided to take at least one picture a day for the year on the first January, I am now stuck doing this for at least six months more.

The First

I supposed that I had some vague and ephemeral idea that I would try to take good pictures everyday. Though surely not. It certainly hasn’t worked out that way, in any event. As you can see (to the right) things didn’t start off with a bang.

It was a scene I liked, with the backyard and snow through the sliding doors and the soft and dreary light in my aunt’s kitchen. But this gives an idea of where I was in terms of what I was seeing at the beginning of the project. Nothing much.

So it was hard at first, partially because there was a challenge finding something to photograph in dreary suburban Scarborough in the heart of winter, but also because I was (and still am) working on seeing when I look.

Returning to Guyana made things a bit easier at first. I had my own transportation and could get around to places whenever I wanted. But it also gave me a much wider range of subjects.

Urban Hurry

The suddenly easier hunting probably set me back developing that “eye” to spot the scenes that I would like to photograph. Because they were all around me, for a while it was less of a challenge.

On the other hand, what had been forced to develop in Canada stood me in good stead and I think the overall quality of my compositions went up noticeably after my return. So did the number of “good” images I was taking.

Like all good things, however, the easy run has been slowly tapering off. I have had to get back to being very determined and directed in my search for a shot.

Why is it worth all this headache? Because in six months so far every aspect of my photography has improved tremendously. From ease in composing, to control of my gear, to the ability to “see” a good shot. I’ve even gotten better at being in the right place, at the right time.

Right Place, Right Time.

Five Best, Part 1 – Landscapes.

My blog has moved, see the new site at http://blog.badlightgoodlight.com

It has been almost 6 months since I started my 365 project (about a week to go before I pass the halfway mark) so I thought for the next few Fridays I would post my five favourite photographs in a few categories for the preceding six months; along with a brief paragraph on each image.

Bel Air Beach

This week I’ve decided to start with landscapes. Landscape images tend to be the most generally appealing images for most people. Who doesn’t like a good landscape?

Unfortunately, in my case, landscapes are not a type of photography I find that I typically do well with. I haven’t yet been able to figure out why, but I find my compositions somewhat lacking in drama and interest.

The first photo (on the left) is actually the first landscape I took for the year in Guyana. It is here mostly for that reason, but also because I am pleased with the textures and earth tones that I got.

This was a snapshot more or less. I had returned to Guyana the previous day I think and was still getting things on track. I hadn’t take a photograph all day and was in a rush later in the afternoon to look for an appropriate photograph.

After having been house bound in Canada in winter for a while I was anxious to find something to photograph out of the house or yard so I went for a drive to the seawall and ended up having to be satisfied with this one as I’d taken only a few and didn’t have anything else.

There is very evident barrel distortion from the wide angle lens in the horizon. I can correct that, maybe at some later stage.

Birds in the Sunset

The next image is actually my favourite of my landscape shots for the year so far (on the right). It is an image of a flock of birds flying towards the setting sun. It is a very generic image though; generic in that it has been done many times before by many people, and there is nothing here to distinguish this scene from a similar scene in any other country.

I was driving on the west coast heading south to the Harbour Bridge when I saw the sun reflecting in the drainage canal. It was still relatively early in the evening, not anywhere near as dark as the photo makes it appear. But what caught my eye was the very yellow/orange sun and the green fields.

I crossed the road and probably annoyed the hell out of a number of people chatting by the corner, but standing up there taking pictures, walking around the place and generally getting in everyone’s way.

It was immediately evident that I had to make a choice between beautiful green fields and a blown out sky (all white) or a deep orange sun and no green fields. The dynamic range of the light, from brightest to darkest was too much for the camera to capture without a tripod and multiple exposures overlaid on each other (HDR).

The thing that made me decide was, of course, the birds in the sky. Without them, this image would never had made if off my computer. In order to get the birds and the nice orange glow I had to underexpose the scene severely. It is much darker here than it was naturally.

Secluded Grove

The third image in my list is on the left. It is a small area located at the Bounty Farms location at Timehri. It is a beautiful and restful spot. Verdant and cool and rich in Guyaneseness (believe it or not, I just made that up). When you stand there you realise why it is that migrants want to return home to Guyana and why some of us stay despite the hardships we may face.

It is by no means a unique spot in Guyana, they can be found in many places and guises, but it is quintessentially Guyanese.

At my friend Michael’s kind invitation the family and I went one Sunday. It was to have been an opportunity to take some photographs in a scenic location. But with spots like these to sit and relax, it would have been just as fun to drink a couple beers and talk nonsense.

The photo did present some challenges, it was quite dark under the trees and on an overcast day there wasn’t much chance of a steady shot without a tripod, particularly as I had to stop down to get a decent depth of field. Fortunately, luck played an important part and one or two of the photos I took here were reasonably sharp. It was a lesson I took to heart though. I have my tripod with me always now. I’d prefer not to need it, than not to have it.

It is a bad idea to rely on luck though, I highly recommend preparation instead.

Stormy Benches

My fourth favourite so far is of a scene that is very familiar to most Georgetown inhabitants. Coincidentally, it also happens to be to only one of my favourite landscape photos for the year so far that is also in landscape orientation (wide rather than tall).

People who regularly look at my pictures will notice that I have taken quite a few of these (and other) benches. Benches are a subject of fascination for some photographers, myself included. I could explain why they fascinate me, but this post is already too long πŸ™‚

This particular photo was taken just after a heavy rainstorm. As soon as I saw this scene I knew I needed to take a nice photograph, but I had no idea how to do it. Because the benches are in a line along the horizon it was difficult for me to visualize a composition which would show the reflections, the benches and the sky without overexposing the sky or turning the benches into silhouettes.

There is also a lot of background clutter in the vicinity that I didn’t want in this shot. As it is I think it turned out pretty well. I got another shot, very similar, that is actually one of my favourite shots of the year so far. But that is another post.

Burnham Memorial at the Botanical Gardens

The last of my favourite five landscapes for the past six months was taken at the Botanical Gardens about a week ago. It was very carefully composed to take advantage of the line of rocks leading the eye to the monument, while the monument is framed to some extent by the palm trees on either side.

There is also the white structure set below the warm blue sky (warmed and deepened by a polarizing filter). As far as these things go with me (which is not that far) I put a fair amount of effort into ensuring all the elements are where I want them to be. I am not always so planned in my compositions. It may not be the greatest photo, or even the greatest photo I have done in the last six months, but what it represents for me is important.

This is an image that results from a significant degree of practise and effort. I am sure others could do better, but I am proud of this one.

Hope you enjoyed the set.

The making of . . .

My blog has moved, see the new site at http://blog.badlightgoodlight.com

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

Opportunity.

My blog has moved, see the new site at http://blog.badlightgoodlight.com

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

Grandpa (via The Michael Lam Collection’s Blog)

My friend Mike, the artist:

Grandpa Alone I sit, I count the time passing things, never sublime. Seconds pass, minutes crawl hours move, shadows on the wall part of the scene, am I now sitting beneath the leafy bough warmth of sun, breeze so cool keep away, deathly ghoul strength me mine, time to rise, home I ride 'neath darkening skies. … Read More

via The Michael Lam Collection's Blog

OT: Road Users.

When crossing the road, look later.

My blog has moved, see the new site at http://blog.badlightgoodlight.com

I hesitate to suggest that Guyanese road users are a unique bunch, better to say in my experience they are a unique bunch. Just a few weeks ago there was a grizzly accident. A minibus conductor had the misfortune to have his head and shoulders out of the bus window when the bus was in an accident and rolled over.

Hard road, hard bus, not so hard head (except metaphorically), I think you can see where this is going.

This sticking the head out the window thing, is a regular practice of minibus conductors. Prior to the accident they all did it. No doubt, because I used the word “prior” you now think I am going to say they have stopped doing that. Nope, they have not. This is where the uniqueness comes in; they really do have hard heads. It does not appear that they can be taught a lesson.

They are not the only ones. I’ve had some degree of experience with road users in other countries and none of them share the apparent sense of entitlement and indiscipline with which Guyanese road users are afflicted. People will walk across the road in the path of oncoming trucks carrying huge containers without a look right or left. I see this everyday. Thank goodness for strong brakes.

I wonder if any of these people have ever seen a truck in the emergency section of the hospital? Or in a mortuary?

I hate to sound like an old fart, I am only 29 after all (maybe if I say it often enough the universe will make it so), but in my day road use was nothing like it is now.

Undoubtedly, a significant part of the cause is that there are more and more uneducated road users; both vehicular and pedestrian. But that cannot be all there is to it. Education first; I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t being told by a parent, or a relative or a teacher that I must look both ways before crossing a road. Apparently, the implication that you must not cross if there is a vehicle coming is no longer part of the lesson. But while educational standards have dropped, this is a matter of commonsense and no matter how uncommon it may be, I cannot believe that so little exists.

I saw an accident a few days ago; a lady was crossing the street between cars caught in a queue. She walked straight out into the path of a car that was attempting to “jump” the queue. She didn’t look, plus she was crossing in clearly dangerous circumstances and the driver was in such a hurry that he couldn’t stop. She was hit by his wing mirror and didn’t appear to be injured, but it could have been significantly worse had the timing of their meeting been just slightly different.

It may be cultural or a sign of hard times financially, but people genuinely don’t seem to care what may happen to them if they don’t use the roads properly.

I think the biggest problem is a sense of entitlement; that they are entitled to use the road and act in any manner that they please, and goodness help those who get in the way of their entitlement. This sense of entitlement either exacerbates the problem or causes the problem. I happen to think it is the cause of the problem.

Drivers don’t seem to understand that 2 tons of steel traveling even at relatively slow speeds will kill, and pedestrians don’t seem to grasp this basic concept of physics either. Speeding drivers invariably get the blame for collisions with pedestrians, but I have personally experienced pedestrians walking straight out into the road in front of me; and have seen it happen to other drivers.

When crossing at a busy intersection, look straight ahead.

I witnessed the death of a cyclist when he was decapitated after being struck by a truck. He (and his passenger) rode across first one lane then into the other lane of a busy highway from a small village street. He nearly caused an accident in the southbound lane which he crossed first (and in which I was traveling) and he crossed the northbound lane right into the path of a truck. I saw the truck swerve to try and avoid him and I also saw that the truck was traveling fairly slowly.

What could have prompted the cyclist to do something so obviously foolish and dangerous? And this wasn’t some youth who you might expect to act foolishly. This was a grown man with children. Fatalism? He didn’t really care what would happen? Or a sense of entitlement? Did he think he was entitled to use the roads in any manner he chose?

When stopping at an intersection, ensure you place yourself in maximum danger.

Drivers rarely extend courtesies anymore, minibuses certainly don’t save for exceptions that merely prove the rule.

I was being driven by my wife somewhere the other day (a fairly rare occurrence) when another driver jumped a stop sigh and crossed right in front of her. No accident, thank goodness. But when she had the temerity to toot her horn at him, he stuck his head out his window and launched a tirade at her. We couldn’t hear what he said, but he was clearly very angry. Why?

A lady traveling in the opposite direction to me, crossed into my lane to pass an obstruction in her lane. I had to reverse to allow her to pass. In passing, she told me I should have seen her flashing her lights and stopped earlier so she wouldn’t have had to wait on me to reverse. I didn’t know how to respond to that, I was so bemused.

I strongly suspect that many of the fatal accidents in Guyana can probably be laid at door of that sense of entitlement that Guyanese road users have. I once thought that this might be curable, but a quick look at our society as a whole reflects that this sense of entitlement and disbelief at the temerity of other to question this entitlement begins at the very top and works its way all the way down to the bottom.

Breaking the law and being road hogs, minibuses and private car alike.

The making of . . .

My blog has moved, see the new site at http://blog.badlightgoodlight.com

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.

Where to look for something to photograph (via The Michael Lam Collection’s Blog)

My friend Michael make a good point today on his blog on the way to find inspiration if your shutter finger seems a bit inactive recently.

Where to look for something to photograph Originally, I had often thought that to use a location or subject that you are comfortable with is the ideal thing if you are looking for something to photograph, but, for me, because of the familiarity with the location or subject everything looks "normal", nothing inspires you to take the photograph and you think to yourself, there's nothing here that interests me. It's always the same, you see these items or these scenes everyday and you are s … Read More

via The Michael Lam Collection's Blog

Shadows.

My blog has moved, see the new site at http://blog.badlightgoodlight.com

I was discussing with a friend a little while ago about what a photograph should be. This isn’t a new argument between us, it has been going in one form or another for years. As we have grown and talked more and thought about things our thoughts have matured but remained essentially the same at heart.

The issue is this; what should a photograph be?

Anyone who is passionate about photography will recognise this as the loaded question it is. To a professional the question likely doesn’t matter much. The question of what a photograph should be is usually answered by the parameters of the job.

An amateur (people like me), however, with nothing to do but talk about photography endlessly; about how bad their cameras are, how much better their photographs would be if they had better camera, how noisy brand x is, how much better than their own camera brand y is; in other words, anything but actually going out and taking photographs; relish these questions. Questions like what a photograph should be, are endlessly fascinating.

To my point: For my friend (with whom I always argue) a photograph should be representative of the scene in front of the camera and should only be taken of something that is inherently “interesting” (a nice sunset, for example). His position isn’t that simple, of course, but I have to simplify for the sake of illustration. My understanding of what my friend is saying is that a photograph should not embellish or represent the scene in any way, other than the way it is presented on the frame of a camera pointed directly at the scene. A forensic approach I call it.

I don’t want to give people what they expect, I want to give them what they didn’t originally think of. That way, after they have seen my picture, it will not be what originally attracted them to the scene that they remember. It will be my picture.

I believe that when people see a picture of a particular “feature” of what the scene originally was, as long as they recognise it, it will hopefully evoke the feeling that they originally felt (like a smell evoking a memory, for example). If my photograph is of something they have never seen before, then it should evoke an emotion which will cause them to remember my picture of the scene.

And that is the bottom line, people don’t remember something that doesn’t arouse a feeling in them. People remember the things that make them think. Whether it is disagreement, pleasure, puzzlement, anger or something else.

So all of that didn’t really answer the question I posed. Sorry. This is my answer, it may or may not be the right one and it most certainly is not the only one. Photography is an art form, it is what we want it to be. So even though my friend and I will continue to argue about this endlessly, I believe that even his forensic approach can be art. A photograph should be, then, whatever the photographer determines that he wants it to be.

So why did I name this post “Shadows”? I did mention that I have a different (not necessarily unique though) take on most scenes than most people. For me, this (and many other things) is what a photograph should be:

Or this:

Or this: