Monthly Archives: October 2013

On Taking Fewer Photographs

_DSC0018Last weekend, I went with a group of photographer friends, mainly from my camera club, to photograph the Rockville Antique and Classic Car Show.

This is one of my favourite events to photograph, as there are more than a hundred American and European cars on display. Those I like best are the American cars from the 50s and 60s, with their arrogant tail fins, brash chrome and bold colours.

Although I was at the car show for four hours, I took fewer than twenty photographs. I find that, as I work harder at improving my photography, I am taking fewer and fewer photographs, rejecting more images at the visualization stage, holding out to take only those photos which say something meaningful about how I felt about the subject.

With these beautiful cars, the greatest temptation is to take a photo of the entire vehicle, simply to show how beautiful it is. That’s a perfectly valid approach and I like to look at those kinds of photos. But I think that I proved to myself a while ago that I could take that kind of photograph.

Nowadays, I am looking to make a more individual statement about a subject such as this, to find a usually unseen angle that shows the car in a different way, to use colour, line and form to represent the age of classic American automobile design.

Here is an attempt from the classic car show.

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Hanging with the Zen Master of Infrared Photography

2013-Oct-New River Gorge-590nm-Faux Color-0412In April 2012, I went on a photography workshop with a professional photographer whose work I greatly admired.

She told me she has seen several of my photos on the web and had concluded that I was wasting my money paying for workshops. That, at the level I had reached with my photography by then – I had been shooting for about three years by that point – the only way I was going to develop from there was to get out and shoot frequently; shoot at every aperture; shoot at every shutter speed; shoot at every ISO setting; shoot at every white balance temperature; shoot with every focal length lens I could lay my hands on.

I haven’t taken a photography workshop since – until last weekend.

In the meantime, I have continued learning but by many different means: books, online tutorials, reading the blogs of pro photographers whose work I admire, participating in my camera club’s monthly competitions and benefiting from critiques of my images by visiting judges.

Through reading so widely, I happened upon digital infrared photography and was immediately seduced by it. I loved the contrasty look, the succulent, other-worldly vegetation, the dramatic skies. I bought a used Nikon D200 with a standard IR conversion (720nm) from Tony Sweet and started taking infrared photos.

At first, I was thrilled with the images I was able to produce. But, after a couple of months, I hit a brick wall: I didn’t have a clue how to post-process IR images. White balancing IR is tricky because Photoshop doesn’t recognize IR WB settings and just produces a pink image. I fell into the lazy habit of circumventing this difficulty by simply converting all my IR images to black and white.

_DSC0287vivezaI quickly became frustrated with this approach, bought Deb Sandidge’s book on IR, started reading IR blogs and joined the IR Photography Group on Facebook, where I saw all these stunning IR images produced on cameras not dissimilar to own but which, in terms of their post-processing, were light years ahead of what I was producing. It was on the Facebook IR Group that I saw, for the very first time, something called “faux color infrared” images that had been tinted in post-processing to produce the most extraordinary shades of blue, green, yellow, pink, orange and brown.

Almost everything I read about IR post processing led me to one name: Mark Hilliard.

I started reading Mark’s “Infrared Atelier” blog, which was extraordinary for its level of technical detail (not all of which I understood), not to mention Mark’s breath-taking IR images, produced with a level of artistry and post-processing sophistication of which I could only dream.

At this point, I realized that reading books and blogs was only going to get me so far and that, if I really wanted to learn how IR post processing is done, I would have to learn it from the man who knows – Mark Hilliard.

2013-Oct-New River Gorge-590nm-Faux Color-BW-0412So, last weekend, I headed off to West Virginia to take a Fall Foliage Workshop which Mark runs jointly with Jamie Konarski Davidson. Over the course of four days of shooting, I got to ask them every question I had in my head about IR photography and, in two intense post-processing sessions, I finally got to see for myself the previously mysterious methods used in faux color IR processing. Mark even helped me to process two of my own images in faux color IR and B&W.

Mark has been a photographer for forty-eight years, forty of which he spent working for Eastman Kodak, travelling extensively, designing and setting up their film processing plants all over the world. He is one of those rare people who is a true master of his subject and who has earned the title “professional photographer”.

The images on this blog are all images which I shot and which Mark helped me process. Or, more precisely, he instructed me on what to do and I entered the keystrokes. I learned so much from shooting and processing with Mark: the level of care and attention to detail that he puts into processing each image was a revelation to me. And, having just gotten hold of his recently-released post-processing videos, I am continuing to learn from those.

So, sometimes, it really is worth it to spend the money and go on a workshop: when there is a specific subject that you a want to learn about or a particular photographer whom you believe can teach you something new.

And, of course, it’s always a thrill to meet one of your heroes…

Mark-Hilliard-and-SM with names

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A Different Face of West Virginia

_DSC2203_HDR1croppedAlthough I visited West Virginia last weekend primarily to photograph the fall color, my eye kept getting distracted by a very different face of The Mountain State.

_DSC2041AJohn Denver famously sang that West Virginia is “almost heaven” and it can certainly look that way to the casual visitor, down from Washington or Baltimore for the weekend to enjoy the transient beauty of the autumn foliage, resplendent in its yellows, reds and golds.

The face of West Virginia that I could not ignore was there in the decline of its traditional industries – rock quarrying, mining and coal-fuelled power generation, such as at the satanic Mount Storm power station (pictured) – and in the resultant hollowing-out of old, rural communities.

The 2010 census found that West Virginia is 93% white. The five largest ancestry groups are English (35%), German (17%), Irish (8%), Scots-Irish (5%) and Italian (5%). The main religions are Evangelical Christian (36%), Protestant (32%) and Catholicism (7%).

_DSC2186_HDR1In short, these were white, Christian, working-class communities, built on the firm dual foundations of hard work and strong faith.

_DSC2213AThis is not the modern, diverse America, familiar to a Washington resident, but an older, more traditional America, a country that feels closer its 19th century self than to 21st century America. This is unmistakably old Appalachia.

As I drove from town to town, I came upon long-abandoned homes, farms and work trucks. Many of the homes had been little more than wooden shacks.

Whenever I spotted one, I would stop and poke around for a few minutes. Many of the old homesteads have collapsed roofs and are unsafe to enter.

Yet, the few I visited contained a wealth of memorabilia of the people who inhabited them.

It felt as if the people who once lived here had walked away just yesterday.

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“We may reason till our heart’s content, the fog won’t lift” Samuel Beckett

_DSC2264AI hope the fog won’t ever lift.

Why do photographers so love fog? I cannot think of a reason. As a driver, I hate it. It slows me down. It makes my way unclear. It delays me from my destination.

But the minute I raise a camera to my eye, I fall in love with fog. In fog, colors are softened and contrast muted by the scattering of light through a million tiny droplets of water. Familiar objects – trees, rocks, flowers – lose their everyday shape and take on a dreamy mystery. Seen through fog, everything is reduced to simple, featureless shapes.

When photographing in fog, accurate exposure is critical to capturing all the subtleties of tone and soft, fragile colors. I deliberately underexpose in order to capture deep, saturated colors and because overexposure has the effect of penetrating fog.

Composition is best kept simple. A single, easily-recognizable shape looming out of the fog will add definition to such a soft scene. Complex shapes will tend to get lost. So, I find it best to pick one dominant shape, say, a tree or a pathway, and build the composition around that. While most of the composition may fall to softness, it is essential to give the viewers’s eye a recognizable shape to anchor the image.

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The second image was shot early in the morning, at around 7.00am, at Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virginia. The sun had not yet broken the horizon, the air was cold and fog lay heavy over the landscape. I could take my time photographing this scene because time itself seemed frozen by the fog.

By contrast, the lead blog image was shot much later in the morning, at around 9.30am, in Canaan Valley. The sun was already warming the atmosphere, drying the last vestiges of moisture from the air. What little fog remained was vanishing rapidly.

I dashed off two exposures while a passing cloud obscured the sun, working fast to make the most of the rapidly-changing conditions. Suddenly, the cloud cleared and a ray of golden sunlight side-lit the tree, setting the grasses ablaze and striking a delicate balance between subdued, fog-laced background and bright, sunlit foreground.

A few seconds of sunlight later and the fog had, indeed, lifted.

 

 

 

 

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