Aimlessly Pontificating on Photography

Posts tagged “aesthetics

The making of . . .

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

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 🙂 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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Composition.

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

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.


Editing a photograph.

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

NOTE: This is republished from a note I posted on Facebook on April 22, before I started this blog.

People are always asking me if I edit my photos. The answer is a qualified “no”.

To a photographer, editing a photograph means altering the image to either put something into it that was not there, or removing something that is in the scene, but unwanted.

Even then, it is a matter of degrees. Famous portrait photographer Ann Leibovitz (pregnant Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair) often produces composites.

She takes the photo of the person in front of a neutral background while her assistants look for and photograph suitable backgrounds. The portrait of the person is then placed on the background. There are opinions that while the result might be art, it is not a photograph. Opinions are divided.

The vast majority of my photographs are processed, but not edited. The images that are produced by my camera are in a special format called “RAW” or digital negatives.

Digital negatives, like negatives from a film camera, cannot be used as is. They have to be processed, like a photographer would have to process film from a film camera.

Serious photographers, in the film days, would have had their own darkrooms (and there are still a significant number of photographers who still use film and have darkrooms) and done their own processing and printing.

I use software to process my digital negatives (called “Lightroom” in a brilliant bit of naming by Adobe). The process is entirely analogous to the “washing” of film to produce negatives, and subsequent printing of the negatives.

A modern digital cameras, that you might carry around in your pocket is more like a Polaroid instant camera than a regular film camera. The processing of the image to produce something you can put online, on facebook or print is done within the camera. So you have a usable image milliseconds after releasing the shutter.

All the things that I might do in Adobe Lightroom or a film photographer might do in his darkroom are done for you, by the camera itself.

Because all the decisions as to how to process the image are done by the camera itself a lot of the flexibility is lost, but you get an image that can be used immediately. The convenience of having the usable image immediately, outweighs the processing flexibility of having the digital negative, for most people.

Even professional photographers, sports photographers or photo journalists, often prefer to have the finished photo straight out of the camera as deadlines have to be met, and the subtlest nuances of a scene are not of great import. Their need is to have a usable image as quickly as possible.

When I photograph a scene I will often take a significant number of photographs that have only the subtlest differences in composition and lighting. I then take all the images into my lightroom see which one(s) I think is best. If more than one I then process them to see which looks best as representative of what I want the photograph to say. And it is that final selection that I might print or put online.

Processing decisions I might make include adjusting the contrast, cropping the image, changing the white balance (if the camera got it wrong, or if for aesthetic reasons I prefer the image warmer or cooler), sharpening the image (this is a requirement for digital images because of the way the sensor captures the image) or converting colour to monotone.

I’ve seen negative reactions when I have tried to explain this to people in the past. But what I do is no different from what the average camera does automatically in order to produce a pleasing JPEG. The difference is that I make all the decisions myself for reasons of control, whereas most people prefer the speed of allowing their camera to make the decisions automatically for reasons of convenience.

I’ve had people look at a monotone image of mine (black and white) and commented favourably, then looked at a nicely saturated colour image and asked if I’ve “edited” the image. I’ve always wanted to ask if that person sees in black and white and how come I didn’t get the dreaded “edited” question when they saw that photo?

Most, or all of the processing that I might do in lightroom were (and still are) done by film photographers save that film processing is a lot more difficult, time consuming and expensive.

I do edit (by my own definition) my photographs from time to time. I have no easy way to check, but by recollection, of the fourteen or fifteen thousand images I’ve taken over the last four years I’ve edited less than five. The edits usually consisted of removing (cloning out) electrical wires from a scene.

Unedited

I’ve put two versions of a photo I took yesterday, below. The first one [to the right] is the original straight out of the camera without any additional processing by me. The top of the image is overexposed because I exposed it for the reflection in the water. You can see the result of the overexposure in the City Hall tower. It is very white and little detail of the windows or the wood can be seen (its “blown out” in the parlance). The white balance is also incorrect. This was after 4 p.m. so the light was very warm, golden afternoon sunlight. What is white in the image, should really be yellow.

The second image results from my processing [below right]. I’ve applied a -1ev gradient (graduated darkening, more darkening at the top, less darkening towards the middle), raised the black clipping point (made the deepest shadows pure black rather than just shadowed, very subtle) and some slight sharpening. This processing was done in less than a minute and the result more closely matches what I saw through the lens.

Although the white balance is inaccurate (the camera made the wrong choice), for aesthetic reasons I’ve not corrected it.

Edited

I’ve also edited the image. I cloned out the electrical wire at the top right.
I take photographs for strictly aesthetic reasons, I am not an archivist and not overly concerned with accuracy. What I want to achieve when I take a photograph is to convey the impact that the scene made on me. Usually, in order to convey that impact it is necessary to compose and/or process the image in creative ways.


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 the  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.