A Fresh Perspective
Photography is more than just a vehicle for capturing the world around me; it provides me with a palette and a set of brushes, with which I paint not only what I see, but also look to express the emotions that are evoked by the scene in front of me in that moment.
Growing up in the Netherlands exposed me to a wide cross-section of visual arts that laid the foundation of my photographic view of all that surrounds me. Early influences were the Dutch Masters of the 17th century, to whom I was introduced by my grandfather during museum explorations; favorites among them are the scenes of quotidian life depicted by Jan Steen and Frans Hals and the vivid landscapes of Jacob van Ruisdael.
My classical high school education was supplemented by the Boijmans Van Beuningen museum, where I spent many a lunch hour exploring its great collection. Here I was introduced to surrealism with a particular love for the approach taken by Salvador Dali; Dali also rekindled my appreciation for the work of Hieronymus Bosch, who often showed the folly of us mortals.
My approach to any photographic subject is to look for understanding first; in this I look to establish either a connection between the viewer and the subject or capture the connection of the subject with its surroundings. The captured image then aims to portray this connection from a perspective that is part of my personal interpretation.
This interpretation is often a form of externalized introspection, which may alternately display the connection of isolated beings and items with their environment or highlight the whimsy of the profound world, in which we find ourselves. The universe is full of connections, many of which are waiting to be discovered; part of my journey as a photographer is to document these connections.
Any assignment, be it an event, a product shoot or a portrait session is always approached through communication with the client; this is where the first connection is established. Ideas are exchanged and a collaborative plan of action forms, ultimately resulting in a set of images that aim to exceed the expectations of each client.
And, lest we forget, it is important to have fun while practicing the serious business of photography!
Page 8 displays an image that was captured on April 7 in East Haddam, Connecticut. The location is in Devil’s Hopyard State Park, which is a great spot for hiking and interacting with nature; the small cascade is called Chapman Falls.
I was visiting friends in East Haddam for the weekend to explore some photography opportunities, help with a web-site and do some off-roading with my newly acquired FJ Cruiser. On this beautiful Sunday, a bit of exploration along a tricky bit of trails (great boulders and such) led us to the vicinity of Devil’s Hopyard State Park.
As we were all ready to stretch our legs a bit and new there would be a bit of scenery, I parked and we started following trails. The trail that took us down to Chapman Falls provided access to a bit of clambering over a couple of rocks to get a seat right across from the falls. The falls feature potholes that have been created by stones that were caught in eddies and spun to wear holes into the rock; as these holes formed, larger stones would get stuck in them and continue the process by carving a deeper hole.
The origin of the name ‘Devil’s Hopyard’ is not entirely clear, but there is folklore surrounding it. One of the more believable accounts is that hops were grown in the area by a man named Dibble; maybe not as fun as a supernatural dance location, possibly.
This image is a bit unique in the collection resulting from the 365 Day Instagram project: shots of trash are pretty rare among my images, unless I see something unusual about the particular trash item. On July 22nd, something caught my eye about this little tableau, as I was driving along my morning commute.
It is not every day, that I see a red couch, albeit dilapidated, framed by a bit of greenery next to the road. The couch looked a bit forlorn and disheveled, as if it was having a rough morning following a long night of rowdy partying at the local fraternity. To add insult to injury, trash was stuffed under the cushions in a futile attempt to make the most of this act of brazen dumping.
What adds a little bit of irony to this situation is the fact that just to the left is the entrance to the local town transfer station (aka dump); the couch almost made it, but was left in clear violation of local rules: the transfer station fence bears a sign that expressly forbids dumping!
The first image in my book ‘Instant Grammar 2013’ was captured on January 1, 2013; a very nice day with snow left on the ground from a weather system that came through earlier in the week.
My good friend and fellow photographer, George, was visiting from Connecticut, so we planned to do a bit of wandering around on New Years Day and explore the area for some photo opportunities.
I had some locations in mind from my daily commute to the high-tech part of my life. This commute used to take me through various small towns with lots of interesting older architecture and locations. The Squannacook River Dam in this image was one of the locations on my list, as I enjoy water in my images and I knew there was potential for a good image.
It took a bit of clambering down the embankment to get the angle and framing of the image that is shown here. I wanted the house to rise above the dam and falls and use the sky and snow to complement one another, so as to provide a combination of the majesty of nature and structure, along with a sense of peaceful coexistence.
Hope you like this one! More can be found in the book at
During this past week I spent a good amount of time going through all the images from last year’s 365 Project that I described in a previous post (365 Projects – What’s Next? ). After gathering all the images, the task of culling them to a number that would produce a reasonably priced book was harder than I expected, but nonetheless gratifying even in some unexpected ways.
There may be some good reasons for all of us to go through a process like this once in a while. It’s healthy to go back through a body of work and make decisions about what we’re going to include for publication in print (I gently put forth the concept that having photography in print is a different level of visceral connection to a work than on a computer screen; I may have to write a blog post about that concept). It certainly felt like a cleansing to me with a much more positive outlook on my work as a result.
First to describe the process that I used. I took the 365+ candidate images (there were some days, where I had several interesting images, so I included these for this process rather than prejudging). I assigned rating stars to all of the potentially publishable images, which wound up ranging from 3 to 5 stars. Including all the extra images, this resulted in 229 images at 3+ stars: too many! At this point, I did a quick re-scan to ensure that non of the 3-star images should have a change in rating and set the cut-off at 4+ stars: 164 images! Still way too many, as my target was slight less than 60, so that I could publish it in a 60 page book.
Another quick scan allowed me to get the number of potential images down to about 130, which was moving in the right direction.
Rather than continuing to pare down the number of images through this methodology, I decided to start formatting the book, which gave me the opportunity to get a sense of how the various images would work together on facing pages. As I did this, a sense of flow and story was developing, which resulted in a very satisfying end product (I’m still writing the afterword, but that’s a matter of another 30 minutes max) that will go out later today for production. I’m psyched!
Oh, almost forgot: go out and do something likes this for one of your projects and you’ll appreciate your own work a lot more!
A week or so back, I wrote about this year’s 365 Instagram project, which focuses on capturing skies on a daily basis; it is still going strong, as I captured Sky #42 today for the year. In that blog post I also mentioned that I completed a 365 Instagram project in 2013.
The big question after completing a project is what to do with that completion? My decision around the end of 2013 was to pull together a book of the images and publish it (at least electronically, and possibly, if there is enough interest, in print format).
With a wealth of new images, albeit in Instagram format and size, I figured there would at least be some among them that are worth sharing with the general public. Therefore, I have started the process of pulling all the images together in LightRoom and picking my favorites from among them.
Of course, it is easier said than done to cull the entire year’s worth of images to the top 60 or so that will fit nicely in an 8×8 Blurb book and provide a reasonable representation of the year’s catch.
As I also mentioned in the prior post, there was clearly a bit of development in my Instagram skills, as the year progressed, which, when coupled with an increasing amount of inspiration resulted in some very acceptable images (acceptable is a high level of self-praise among photographers 🙂 ).
There were also some themes that evolved, some of which shouldn’t be a surprise to me, if I took the time to listen to my own skills: lots of rather cool landscapes and the odd bit of dramatic sky. A new area of interest that snuck in somewhat unanticipated was that of graveyards; there are lots of interesting graveyards in the New England area and some were clearly worth capturing on days that I passed them during my commute or other travels.
More than anything else, last year’s project taught me to keep my eyes open at all times and be aware of my environment with a keen sense of curiosity. It is rewarding to see a subject, such as a tree, on different days with varying light and atmospheric conditions and capture some of this variety during the year. Trees have always had a lot of power for me, as they remind me of endurance and perseverance despite the best efforts of the elements and time. Some of their shapes can be nothing short of spectacular, such as the ‘Yogic Tree’ in this post (expect more about this tree, as I have visited her many times).
Work on the book is progressing nicely and will complete within the next week or two; I will provide an update with a link to the electronic version when complete. I know that finishing the book will give me a sense of accomplishment and closure on last year’s endeavor.
Over the past number of years a tremendous amount has been written about HDR imaging and the state of the art has evolved at a rapid pace. This blog contains some of my thoughts about this topic, some of the work that I have done in HDR and a tip or two.
First off, what is HDR? High Dynamic Range photography is a combination of photographic and editing techniques for extending the dynamic range of luminosity of an image. What this means in real-world terms is that some of the darker parts of a scene can be treated with more light and some of the brighter parts can receive a bit less light, so that the overall effect results in a more complete viewing experience of the scene when processed.
The concept of extending the dynamic range covered in an image is not as new, as you might think: in the 1850s, French photographer Gustave LeGray combined multiple negatives of sea and sky to create seascapes that are stunning to behold with dramatic skies. Significant additional developments were made in the 1930s and 1940s through manual dodging and burning (increasing and decreasing of exposure) of areas in a negative to create a more dramatic print; Ansel Adams was a true artist in this process, as can be seen in many of his famous landscapes.
The advent of massive processing power in desktop computers combined with Digital Photography has created a new level of interest, which has allowed many photographers to capitalize on some of the algorithmic advances that have been made in the 1980s and 1990s in image processing.
At this point in time, there are also numerous cameras available, which do the HDR processing on-the-fly, taking multiple images and combining them into a single HDR image with preset processing settings.
As touched on earlier, the HDR process extends the dynamic range of luminosity in an image; this enables us to bring the range of image capture somewhat closer to that available in the human eye. Camera sensors have gotten better over the past years, so that the range of the camera’s sensor starts to rival that of the human eye, which may lead one to think that the need for HDR is diminishing. This definitely is true from the perspective of being able to ‘see’ as much as the human eye with the camera.
From my point of view, there is no diminished reason to use HDR imaging, as there are several benefits to working with HDR that cannot be achieved easily through other means, such as:
The setting of very specific moods within the image.
Creating that dramatic sky, which Gustave LeGray was after
There definitely are other great reasons for HDR, but these are some of my personal favorites. I have included a couple of samples from my work with HDR in this post to give a bit of flavor.
I mentioned tips in the beginning of this post, so here are a couple from my experience with HDR:
Bring a tripod! It will make your processing work that much easier later – the Cape Neddick image was shot free-hand with the camera on HDR, so it is possible)
If possible, meter the light, so that you can set your bracketing up correctly for a good range. As a rule of thumb, I use -2, -1, 0, +1 and +2 for my exposure values in a range of 5 shots; more or less will work, depending on the scene.
Have a vision of what you want to achieve with your shot, before you process it. Aimless HDR processing is never very fruitful, regardless of the quality of the software; with a vision in mind, you will know when you have arrived at the sweet spot of your endeavor.
Experiment! Not every image will make a great HDR image, which can only be found out through experimentation.
And, of course, most importantly, have fun when working your images. You’re not going to convince everyone that you did the right thing when processing your ‘killer’ image, but, if you’re happy with the end result, you can smile despite what someone else says about it.
Many of us have looked at means to keep our photography fresh throughout the year, particularly those of us who suffer from one or more of the following symptoms:
not enough hours in the day
perfectionism, perfectionism, perfectionism
chasing the ideal shot
and many other maladies that get in the way of what we might term our creative muse. Of course, most of these are self-inflicted, except, possibly, needing more than 24 hours to accomplish everything that we would like to do. All of these are a matter of priorities, some of which you may say are outside the sphere of our control.
One of the crutches that many of us photographers will use is to undertake a longer-term, simple project to give us at least the feeling that we’re accomplishing something along the lines of our craft (dear reader, there is a hint of sarcasm there….more on that later). Two years ago, I made the decision to grab a crutch and start a 365 day project, which went pretty well for a while, until I missed a day. The project was to simply take a photo every day, which seems simple enough, but wasn’t simple enough for me to complete; I think I lasted about 4 or so months.
Of course, the failure to complete this project had the opposite effect of the intended one: I was disappointed that I couldn’t complete something this simple; the cause of this failure was not my inability to perform simple tasks, but rather my failure to plan ahead, or, to be more precise for this case, to set the right criteria for success.
Nearly all of us enjoy the accomplishment of reaching a goal that we have set for ourselves or that we have accepted as a challenge from someone else. That being the case, why do so many of us fail to reach goals that we set for ourselves? I’ll admit freely that this is not the first ‘self-imposed’ photography project that I failed to complete (there are even some non-photography projects on this list).
The good part that came from this failure is that I spent a little bit of time mulling over the reasons that I didn’t complete this project; a little time, but not much, as there were other shiny objects to attract my attention in due time. Before I really understood the cause of my lack of success, I started another 365 Day project on January 1, 2013.
This project had a slightly different scope than my previous attempt; rather than leaving the project without any constraints, I decided to take a slight different strategy by setting the following constraints:
Each image was to be taken and posted on the day it was due
Each image was to be an Instagram
I will grant you that this is not very different from the previous attempt, as there was no constraint on subject matter, so the resultant images started all over the place, raining from items on my desk to flowers, cows, display cases, landscapes, what have you!
The initial foray into the 2013 project ranged from mildly inspired to uninspired photography, but at least lived up to the constraints that I set. Clearly, uninspired photography is not what the goal is of a 365-day project, but it often comes with the territory, as we don’t always see things that inspire us in our daily journey through life.
What was different this time around, is that I started recognizing that there were opportunities for some inspired photography along the way, as I started seeing things in ways that I had not before both in terms of noticing items and being forced to think in a square format. The other side effect is that I was reminded that there is a particular set of subjects in photography, for which my eye has a natural affection and I tend to photograph pretty well (even, if I say so myself – of course, we tend to be tough self-critics, which is one of the other things I learned to let go.
You can guess that there is a happy finish to this tale; I completed the 2013 365-day Instagram project with enough images of sufficient quality that I am putting them together in an 8×8 book (more on this in a future post), and, on the heels of rampant success, I have started my 2014 365-day project: 365 Skies. What you will see posted for the year in this project are all Instagrams, but I am also taking the same scene with my DSLR, so that I can produce high-resolution HDR images of each day’s sky. The reason for this is that I want to build my own library of skies to use in images in another series that I am slowly putting together: Surreal Tales (yes, you guessed it….there will be a future post about this).
My apologies for this long-winded post, which I hope you enjoyed. If this reminds you of something that has been challenging for you, I’d love to hear about your experiences.