Aimlessly Pontificating on Photography

Posts tagged “choices

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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Shooting with Primes.

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

 

My main reason for buying a Pentax DSLR when I outgrew the previous camera was the value it represented. Compared with the equivalent Nikon or Canon models it was significantly cheaper. And, according to the many reviews I had read, there were a lot of little features that were useful that weren’t present in competing models.

One of the things that I have now learned is of significant value is the number of fixed focal length (prime) lenses that are available for Pentax SLRs. Lenses that were made decades ago for Pentax SLRs can still mount the new digital SLRs that are available now. The Pentax “K” mount is well known and popular and has been around for over 30 years. And lenses from the preceding M42 mount can be fitted with a simple adapter.

The point of this is that, more than any other manufacturer, there are hundreds of cheap, excellent lens available for the Pentax DSLR. Most of them prime lenses. Having such an abundant resource is a major selling point for a manufacturer that always seems to appeal to the hobbyist, rather than the pro.

Zooms have become the pervasive standard but t wasn’t that long ago when the lens you got with your SLR would have been the standard 50mm lens. The ubiquity of the zoom lens sees most DSLR kits being sold with what is now called the “kit zoom”; a lens covering a reasonable zoom range usually from a wide angle to a moderate telephoto. These tend to be made as cheaply as possibly and, though competent for what they are, are not considered “good” glass. These kit zooms tend to be fairly slow also, having a fairly narrow maximum aperture.

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Shooting a wedding.

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

I came across an interesting acronym the other day, FDLFSW (Friends Don’t Let Friends Shoot Weddings :)). Unfortunately, if any of us used to listen to good sense there would be no need for priests or lawyers (good riddance to both?). Well thank goodness for me good sense has to be the least used product on sale since the birth of humanity or I’d never have been able to afford my hobby.

Well I am, if nothing else, a man of my species, so when my good friends asked me to shoot Joan & Gerard’s wedding as a backup to her brothers, Mike and Andre it took me a very short while to say yes. They are no longer my friends.

Mr. & Mrs. DeFreitas

Nah, I’m just joking. It did teach me a valuable lesson though. Although I had accepted intellectually that weddings are challenging to photograph, it is different to actually do one and realise it for yourself. I did something right at least, I realised right at the beginning that it would be difficult and that I really didn’t know what I was doing.

Key to doing an acceptable job in these situations is to understand your limitations. Without a keen understanding of what you can and cannot do you, are quite likely to make a mess of things. Getting a shot of an important moment, even if not technically skilled (poor choice of exposure, not properly sharp/focused) is better than missing the shot altogether. And while a technically inferior shot is permissible when you are a backup, it is completely unacceptable when you are the primary photographer.

If you take on a wedding and you don’t know what you are doing you are not merely risking losing a client or friend, you are spoiling the memories of what is likely to be one of the most important events in the lives of a number of people.

My favourite photo to date with the 31mm

Knowing all of the foregoing I still decided to confine myself to two lenses (no zoom; gasp!). The first is the Pentax 31mm Ltd which has been described by some as one of the best 35mm lenses ever. What I like best about this one is the absolute pin sharpness and resolution. It is a very fast lens too (f/1.8), and works well in a dimly lit cathedral. This lens is a favourite because it gives a “normal” field of view on a camera with an APS-C sized sensor (smaller than 35mm full frame). This means that it approximates the angle of view of normal vision.

One of my preferred images with the Vivitar.

The other lens I used is the Vivitar Series I 105mm Macro lens. A mouthful of a name for a lens that is far bigger than its name implies. There is very little formal information available online for this lens because it was last manufactured sometime in the 80s! You can find some specifications, if you are interested, here (Kiron made the lens for Vivitar). I got mine as part of the close out sale of a camera shop that had a set of them new in box and paid less than half of what they are going for now, used. It is also a relatively fast lens (f/2.4) but manual focus. And not just any manual focus either; the precise 6 turns infinity to close focus that you need for macro focusing.

Another “difficulty” is that Guyanese are generally very conservative, and change or the unusual is not welcome. Anyone who has looked at my photos realises that I tend not to like the normal viewpoints for most subjects. I had visions of some low to the ground shots of the bride entering the church and something from a high vantage point obscuring by distance everyone but the bride who would stand out in her gown (since the wedding was at Brickdam Cathedral, I am not sure where I would find this vantage point).

I also wanted to get some photos of the bride getting ready and confusion in the house, the groom stepping out of the car that brought him (car door open, interior obscured by shadow, groom’s foot about to touch pavement :), etc. In other words I had a lot of ideas. Unfortunately, reality conspired to knuckle me in the head and things moved quite a bit faster than I had anticipated. I was quite shocked that they wouldn’t stop the proceedings to allow me to get THE shot 🙂 And no matter how accommodating my wife and the bride, I doubt that either of them would have allowed me to start taking photos from the time the bride started brushing her teeth for the morning.

 

Wedding Music

I digressed a bit, but the point I was trying to make is that had I the opportunity and time to do what I wanted to do there is a good chance that the bride and groom would not have liked the result. So perhaps a good thing since the photos were not for me, but for the bride and groom.

The challenge of using the two prime lenses was mitigated by the location. The church allowed me to make quick changes in perspective, so if I needed to quickly get a closer view and had the 31mm lens on the camera, I could quickly move closer. And likewise, if I had the 105mm lens on and needed a wider view, I could quickly move back. This works only within limited parameters as the switch was between a wide angle lens and a telephoto lens, but was sufficient if I didn’t have time to switch between them.

At the doorway

The wedding reception after the ceremony was a different situation. No wide aisles and seating arranged in a grid. No space to easily move further away. Plus I got tired and lazy. Too much work to get a good composition with prime lenses, too much work to keep changing lenses. So I switched to a wide angle zoom; the Pentax DA*16-50mm. This is Pentax’s pro level wide zoom and as fast as a zoom gets (f/2.8, but very soft wide open).

 

Panning shot.

One of my favourite photos of the entire day was taken with this lens. A panning shot of the bride and groom making their entrance across the room. Someone asked me why I used a blurred shot. This one isn’t blurred, at least the bride and groom are sharp, but the background is blurred as I was panning the camera. I like these types of shots because they give a strong feeling of movement. This one came out better than I expected.

I did use an actually blurred shot also. Once again because it imparted a feeling of movement and action to the scene. But the very fact that I was questioned for these choices make it clear how conservative Guyanese viewers are. Aesthetics are bright colours and sharp focus; things like creative composition and unusual angles are frowned upon.

I did assert my own sense of aesthetics to some extent with the processing of the images. Although they appear to be monochrome, they are actually significantly, but not completely de-saturated. The contrast is very soft (although the images are sharp, the sharpness isn’t emphasized) and the tones soft also.

I came away from this experience with one abiding vow. I won’t do anymore weddings. Plus I gained a whole new respect for people who do this for a living (at least the conscientious ones). If the bride or groom flubs a line during the ceremony, they get to do it over. If the photographer fails to take the right shot at the right time, no do overs + very annoyed client. Not an easy job. But looking back at the photos that I consider good, I can see how it can be very fulfilling.

Michael’s photos are here; and Andre’s are here. My full set is here.

P.S. If you want a complete set of applicable acronyms, have a look here. Quite an amusing article.

 


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.


Five Best, Part 3 – My Top 5.

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

This will be the last of my five best of series to mark my passing the 6 month point of my project to take a picture every day for a year. This one was actually the hardest of the the set to choose. To pick a five best in a specific category was not difficult because the potential choices were fairly limited.

Choosing a five best overall though was difficult; in part because there are so many I really like and there are also quite a few that even if they aren’t very good, have an interesting story to go with them.

Anticipating

Only one part of judging a photo is assessment of outright technical merit. Often the photo taken with consummate technical perfection is the least likely to please viewers and obversely a photo which is technically flawed will win compliments.

Far more important to judging whether a photo is good or not is the viewer’s own preferences and prejudices. The photo of my wife (on the right) was taken just 2 days before she delivered our daughter, Mira. Any expectant mother will know that look on her face and will probably like this shot.

I deliberately boosted the contrast in this photo to give a harsh feel to the photo and accentuate Sharon’s distressed and uncomfortable look. The blown highlights are mostly deliberate, but degrade the technical aspect of the photo.

She was very annoyed at having to pose for me when she was so uncomfortable, but I expected that and used it to my advantage. I didn’t really want a photo of her where she looked comfortable and relaxed.

Shelter on a rainy day

Next up is the best shot in this post. On the left is an image that won a challenge on DPReview (one of the premiere camera review websites). Nothing major, but gratifying nonetheless.

I reached to work a little after 7 a.m. on a rainy day. There were several large puddles of water and I went out to try and get some nice reflecting shots. On the way back to the office I spotted him out the corner of my eye and stopped and asked to take a picture.

He was reluctant at first, but eventually obliged. I was in two minds about stopping and asking, not really an easy thing to do, but I am so pleased I did.

Because of the soft, even lighting resulting from the heavily overcast sky, the colours were very saturated, almost cartoonish. I did like how it looked initially because I like bright colours. But the bright colours didn’t really suit the mood of the image. One of the largest changes I made was to reduce the saturation of the image.

Brothers

If you have had a look at my photographs you might notice that I really like to take photographs of people. It doesn’t really matter much to me what situation they are in; posed, candid, street photography or any other situation you might find people.

I think there are cases where people can be intrusive; landscapes and architectural for example. And there are specific types of photography which cannot include people. But I think almost any scene can be livened up by having some people in it. One of my favourite albums to post to is my people album. I am always happy when I have an image to post to that album.

The point is, of my top five images for the past six months three of them are of people. It is no coincidence.

In this case I tracked the brothers for a while, as they were walking down the sidewalk. When I saw them about to cross the street I was almost hopping up and down in anxiety hoping for them to cross where I wanted them to. The next issue was for their steps to synchronize. I must have take a dozen photos of them in the 10 seconds or so it took them to cross the street.

Knotted

I had to include this image (to the left). Quite apart from the fact that I do think it is one of my best for the year so far a lot of thought went into constructing this one. I am certain that I would not have been able to take this photo had I not started this photo a day project.

I did a comprehensive “making of” post on this image a short while ago and don’t propose to repeat that.

I didn’t find the scene having looked specifically for it. I just saw the juxtaposition of the knotted rope set against the diamond pattern lattice wall and recognised the potential.

It is an enhanced ability to recognise this potential that taking a photo per day for a year has brought me. I started taking photos seriously early 2007 when I got a new camera. I had that camera for nearly 3 years and took about 8,600 pictures in that time. Since I sold that camera and got the new one (and thanks partly to my photo a day project) I have taken over 11,000 in nine months.

This quantity comes not only because I have to take at least one photo each day, but because I am recognising more interesting scenes and actually stopping to take a picture, when in the past I might have moved on.

Taking on passengers

With respect to this final image of my top 5 I think I may be biased because it happens to be one of the more recent of my favourites. There is a good chance that it may not survive in my top photos list, but at the moment I really like it.

At least part of that liking comes from the fact that it is an accidental photo. I had intended to take a photo looking up the street. I set my tripod and carefully waited until the traffic lights at the corner (out of frame) said go, so that I would get some light trails as the vehicles drove past (see here for an example).

Unfortunately (or fortunately) this minibus pulled up right there to offload his passengers. At the time I thought it was a disaster. Had he moved off quickly enough the bus would have faded to a ghostly shadow as he would not have been in the scene long enough to firmly expose on the camera sensor. I was so annoyed when he refused to move.

It was not until I got home late that evening that I decided that this totally accidental shot was the one I liked best. It just goes to show that in photography, as in anything else, luck can often play a big part.

Given the difficulty I’ve had picking my top five for the last six months I am not sure I am looking forward to repeating the exercise at the end of the year to chose my top ten.


Five Best, Part 2 – People.

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

Today is the 183rd day of the year, there are now 182 days left to go. I am officially past the halfway mark of my 365 project. As the project has continued I have been finding it harder and harder to continue. While everything was new, there was an excitement to getting a good photo in a category I had never explored before. Now, although I am producing consistently better photographs than I was before I am feeling a sameness to my photographs which is not motivating.

Anyway, one of the areas I have been exploring significantly more since this year started, is photography of people. Not only posed portraits and semi-casual portraits, but street candid photos or candid photos generally. By “candid” I don’t necessarily mean photos taken surreptitiously (although that is a part of it) but photos where people continue what they are doing even though they know they are being photographed.

Birth

The first of what I would consider my five favourites is this image (to the left) of my daughter, minutes after her birth under the warming lamp, being examined by the doctors.

There are a lot of things I like about this one; firstly I did a decent composition considering the circumstances, it was fairly well planned. Everything from the suction machine in the lower right corner to the silhouetted doctors on the right were intentionally in the scene.

Secondly the intensity of the light on her pushed everyone else (except the doctor who delivered her) into deep shadow. It is fitting that she should be completely the focus of everyone, including the camera.

Midday in the Arcade

This (image to the right) is one of my absolute favourite photographs of people. My friend Michael and I went to the new vendor’s arcade on Water Street (opposite Republic Bank). I had been refused permission to take a photograph by one pavement vendor, but others had seen us. One vendor from the arcade asked us to come take some photos and this lady added her consent to take photos of her also.

This scene is so typically Guyanese that the second I snapped it I knew I had a winner. The place was very dark the exposure was fairly long, so I crossed my fingers all day hoping that when I saw it on the bigger screen I wouldn’t see the dreaded blur of hand shake.

I was so happy that I printed her picture and a couple other people who I had photographed distributed the photos to them. They were so pleased that I have a standing invitation to return and take more photographs of them. I fully intend to, but haven’t gotten around to it as yet.

Kite Vendor & Child

Another favourite is my photo of a kite vendor set against her wares. I actually intended to take photos of the kites only and asked permission to do so. But after taking the kites, she was rather taken aback when I made no move to photograph her also. I was all too pleased to mollify her by taking her picture. She is very photogenic and what I had initially assumed was shyness was just her trying to be unobtrusive.

The photo is surprisingly contrasty considering the very bright midday sun directly overhead. Usually in these circumstances, everything is washed out and flat. I did help thing along is post-processing, of course. I am no great believer in either “natural” results or in true from the camera results.

Just the conversion to a monotone completely subverts any argument about natural results. I’ve never met anyone who sees in black & white. But you can see surprisingly passionate arguments on the internet on how “right” the rendering of a particular black & white film is.

Longing for Home

The next of my favourite people shots is not quite candid, but not quite posed. The gentleman was among a group of friends/acquaintances on the pavement on Water Street, just in front of Guyana Stores.

They were waiting to make delivery of rice loaded on their trucks. I think the wharf was not ready to take the rice so several heavily laden trucks were parked on the street waiting.

I asked if I could take a picture and initially several of the men, who were all sitting next to this one, or congregated in the same spot, initially said yes and as soon as I raised the camera they scooted out of the area. Mike and I are often taken for newspaper reporters/photographers. After all who else in their right minds would be walking around in the hot midday sun taking pictures?

So he didn’t pose, but he knew his picture was being taken.

Finally, everyone knows that Guyana is a country rich in colourful characters. This is one of the main reasons it is so enjoyable to photograph people here. In fact, I think you would be hard pressed to avoid meeting someone on the street who isn’t worth of a great photograph. If I were restricted from every taking anything other than photographs of people, I can make a decent go of it here.

Stepping Orange in the Afternoon

I took this photo from the top of the new Chief Office of the New Building Society, currently under construction. I was on the rooftop, about 6 or 7 stories above the street and one glance spotted this goodly gentleman. He was impossible to miss in the afternoon sun.

I promise I have not altered the saturation or colour of this image in any way. In fact, I used a colour calibrator (X-Rite Colour Checker Passport) to make sure that the colours are absolutely accurate for the light conditions.

It is fairly heavily cropped because I was so far away, but no other work done on the image. Another technical flaw is that the bright sunlight on the back of . . . suit, cause the orange to overexpose. I rather like it though, technical perfection does not necessarily a great photo make.

Like I said, I could happily photograph Guyanese for the foreseeable future.


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 🙂

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 . . .

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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 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.