How did you learn photography? (part 2)

After a number of years without much photographic activity, the bug slowly started coming back during the mid to late 1990s

Early Renaissance

After a number of years without much photographic activity, the bug slowly started coming back during the mid to late 1990s.  The advent of the digital camera era got my curiosity aroused, but the high price of the cameras kept me off the playing field.  That is until Kodak came out with a reasonably priced 1MP camera, the DC20, which retailed for $299.  Yes, times have changed!

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Halloween 2000

The DC20 was capable of taking either 8 shots at full resolution or 16 at half resolution and had a fixed focal length lens.  To get the images off the camera required attaching it to a serial port and waiting for the bits to flow!  It was fun for experimenting and some very basic shots, but produced horrible artifacts.

The Olympus C960 (IIRC) came next in 2000 and it allowed me to start doing some actual photography with a digital camera, such as the Halloween shot of my daughter Teegan (left) and her friend.

During this time, the volume of my shooting went up dramatically, as the results were a bit more controllable and pleasing to the eye.  My education in photography was getting back on track, as I started paying closer attention to composition and light conditions; a lot of this was still trial and error, but if I look back at my images over these couple of years, there is a progression.

In 2003, I needed a camera upgrade and found the Minolta Dimage 7i, which was a big step up at 5 MP and much more control.  The improvement in image quality and the added control with the optical zoom enabled me to start exercising more control over the final look of the image.  This accelerated my learning and provided the stepping stone to the next level.

Going to the dogs

In 2004, my wife, Kris, started competing in agility with on of our Cardigan Welsh Corgis, Darwin.  Going with Kris to these competitions, I brought my trusty Minolta with me to get some shots of Darwin in action.  Of course, I would get in a couple of practice shots of other dogs, so that I had an idea what I could expect and where to get the best possible shot of Darwin.  And, because during these competitions most of your time is spent waiting for the next time Darwin gets to run the course, I got bored and started photographing other dogs’ runs.

Pretty soon, people started asking me, if I would consider selling the pictures I took of their dogs to them.  I wasn’t ready for that yet, particularly since my camera had a slight problem: shutter lag.  If you’re familiar with the Minolta Dimage 7i, you might know that there is about 1/3 second between pressing the shutter and image capture; not bad for photographing a posed group, but tricky when you try to get running dogs at just the right time.

You get the idea: upgrade time to my first Digital SLR, the Canon 10D.  This immediately solved the shutter lag problem and gave me full control over all the functions of the camera.  Now the learning had to go into high gear, as my plan was to pay for this camera with photo sales from agility competitions.  I convinced a couple of clubs to let me photograph their agility trials and found something out very quickly: people love photos of their dogs in action.

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Buford, Superdog

Looking back at the images from the first couple of trials, I have to admit that they were pretty rough.  The first step was to learn what the limits of my camera and lens were in terms of the exposure triangle.  Stopping motion of a dog in mid-flight requires a reasonably fast shutter speed.  And with this camera, I couldn’t push the ISO too high, as color cast would appear due to the graininess.

By early 2005, I had a decent handle on my camera and was able to produce shots, such as this Basset Hound doing a superdog flight over the final jump (there is a story behind this shot…).  The key learning piece was all about learning to master the equipment, so that to a casual observer it would simply look like all these shots required was a simple press of the shutter.  I learned to estimate exposure values, adjust for the difference in reflected light off different colors, compensate exposure depending on the color of the dog, and anticipate what the dog would do.

During this time, I did start buying photography books to accelerate my learning.  One of the books that I found invaluable is Brian Peterson’s Understanding Exposure, which covers much more than just exposure, as he spends quite a bit of time on composition as well.

What’s Next?

In terms of learning, photographing action was an excellent school, as the goal is to not miss any great shot and be prepared for anything.  I learned to shoot with both eyes open, as my non-dominant left eye can pick up on what is outside the right eye’s field of view through the lens.  I studied a tremendous amount about exposure, and learned how to look at a location to quickly analyze where the good vantage points are.

What was lacking from the dog-sport and other action photography was a sense of artistic expression.  The next step was to expand my range of photography and skills, so that I could take on new challenges.

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Rose Particle

In the next part, we’ll go over the range of skills and artistic expansion exercises that have led me to where I am today.  Hope you’re enjoying this little journey along my photographic path.

How did you learn photography? (part 1)

As a photographer, there are a number of questions that come up with some frequency.

Common Questions

As a photographer, there are a number of questions that come up with some frequency.  Some of these questions are rather mundane, such as ‘Your camera must be really good.  What model is it?’, while others are interesting, but not always answered in the short amount of time that is available in today’s busy lifestyle.

From my perspective, the interesting questions tend to center around the following areas:

  • Artistic choices made in shooting, editing, printing, etc.
  • Learning the technique and art of photography

Certainly, there are other topics that are fun to discuss, but these areas are the main ones.

As I tend to focus on artistic choice questions as they relate to specific images, I will defer that topic set to those posts, which focus on a single image or a set of them.

In this post, I’ll start the exploration of the approach that I have taken, both consciously and unconsciously.

First Steps

As is the case for many photographers, my first interest in photography was kindled by a family member; in my case, it was my stepfather who was an occasional photographer on vacations.  But the real mystery that intrigued me came from a set of photo developing and printing supplies that I found in our apartment’s storage locker; the unusual apparatus made me wonder what that was all about.

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Kodak Pocket Instamatic

I got my first camera around age 16 or 17.  It was a Kodak Pocket Instamatic, such as the one in this image.  It took C110 film and the flash cube that old photographers can tell you about.

Despite the diminutive size, it took reasonable photos, including a bunch that I took in the British Museum, much to the amusement of the guards, who wouldn’t believe that such a little camera could work; now, if I only still had the prints from that era!  It traveled everywhere with me and even came to college with me.

These first steps were very much about exploration, and, in all honesty, I don’t think that I learned much on a conscious level, as I didn’t give much thought to composition or the exposure triangle.  Unconsciously, this did start the process of learning to see what I liked in a photo, which is a start.

The Next Level

Leaving the Netherlands to go to college, I arrived in the United States and travelled to Granville, Ohio, the site of Denison University.  As an incoming freshman, I was assigned an academic advisor in the Physics department (I knew what my major was going to be before I arrived); as luck would have it, Dr. Grant, my advisor, was an avid photographer and an Olympus OM-1 shooter.

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Plan C – Rotterdam

I distinctly remember examining the prints of his work that hung in his office, which were mostly of flowers; there was something that struck me about the quality of the composition of several of them, as I noticed that I was drawn to those images again and again.

After saving up for a while, I did acquire my first SLR, an Olympus OM-1, which I still have, and switch to shooting slides; the color saturation and the ability to see the positive image were what pulled me away from print film.  Additionally, slides are much more portable than prints.

During this period of my photography, I was very interested in examining structure, form, color, light and shadow; thus, a lot of my photos (technically, slides) from that period show architecture, such as the image here of a housing development in Rotterdam, which are usually referred to as ‘Cube Houses’.

When I look back to the images from this period, there is a slow maturation of my vision, but it was not at a level where I could explain why I shot an image in a particular manner.  As I didn’t pick up an instructional guide or take any course, that wasn’t surprising.  My learning methodology was purely trial, error and slow improvement.

The Dark Ages

After college, my photography activities diminished slowly until they were usually practiced only during vacations.  There was no real attempt on my part to improve my skills or acquire a better understanding of what I was doing to create either good or mediocre images.

Of course, we know from history that after the dark ages there will be a Renaissance period; this is where the learning and skills expansion gets serious.  More about that in the  next post in this series.

Learning Style

Shot of the Week – vol 2

Nothing like starting a series of weekly posts and immediately breaking the rules…

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Resisting Escape

Nothing like starting a series of weekly posts and immediately breaking the rules that you set for them!  I posted a photo that I took yesterday, which was definitely my favorite of this week, so I thought that I might go to the archives for what actually is a work in progress; but more about that aspect later.

This week’s image is titled ‘Resisting Escape’ and it is part of a series of surreal images that I am putting together over the next couple of years.  I shot this during a workshop taught by the wonderful, giving Brooke Shaden (Promoting Passion is Brooke’s inspirational blog).  As you might imagine, this image was not captured in a single shot, but rather took a bit of visualization, planning and post-processing to make it come to life.

Brooke Shaden’s workshops give an in-depth, hands-on look into how she creates her amazing images; Brooke takes the participants from inspiration and techniques to set up the shoot all the way through post-processing.  For any photographer who is looking to expand the artistic side of their craft, I wholeheartedly recommend Brooke’s workshops.

A little about the process that I used in creating this image.

We were in an old, dilapidated mansion in New Jersey for the shooting segment of the workshop.  All of us took a tour of the mansion, so that we could decide on the rooms, in which we wanted to shoot.  Each of us got to pick one room for each of the three shooting segments.

When I saw this bathroom, I immediately had an idea about how I wanted to put together the shoot, as I visualized the struggle against being pulled into the hereafter, even though it might be a release from an abysmal existence.  The stark red served to me as an immediate indication of something wrong that affected the woman’s existence in this plane of reality.  To enhance the effect of moving into the menacing sky, the shooting angle had to be low, so this is where I set my camera on its tripod.

After some test shots and locking in the exposure, I shot the master image, which serves as the background image for the post-processing.  I explained to my awesome model what I was trying to achieve in the shot, so that I could get the right posture from her, as she was propped up in the air.  As you can understand, hand position and body angle were key to get the desired look of fighting against what is pulling her into the sky.

The one element that I did not get at the time of the shoot, is the sky.  It took me several months to find a sky that provide the kind of menace to fit the overall feel of the image.  As there were many photos that came together in creating this overall image, the post-processing took a bit of work, about 8 hours of work.  Even then, it was not until I started looking at this image a couple of weeks ago to consider it for a large format print, that I noticed a slight bit of imperfection, which is still to be edited.  Extra credit, if you find where it is…

Feel free to ask further questions about this image or the process, as I’d welcome your comments.

The Fires of Friday

It’s weekend time, so let’s get some work done!

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Pyroplasm 3x

At last, the workweek is over and it’s time to unwind and put together some plans for the weekend!  Great time to catch up on a whole bunch of things:

  • Get some playtime with the blog and catch up reading a bunch of cool blogs
  • Install my new iMac
  • Work on some Rolling Stones songs on guitar
  • Further cleaning and organization of the basement
  • Finish putting together my pedal board

Blog playtime will result in the final tweaks and some beautification, as suggest by Josh, our Happiness Engineer, who teaches the Blogging101 course I’m taking.  I like the basics of my blog, but want to see, if I can take it up to the next level.

Reading some of the awesome blogs that I follow, such as Project Relish, which not only has lots of great articles about food and travel, but also features great photography and a layout that is simply fantastic!  Expect to see some posts about some of the blogs over the weekend.

My 7-year old iMac still works, but due to its thermal sensors dying a month or so back, the fans now run at top speed.  Not a bad thing for most uses, but not ideal when you’re working with music 🙂  So I waited for a sale on the iMac I want and scored one today.  I’ll kick the process off overnight and should have everything set by the morning.

As some of you know, I’m learning to play the guitar (2 years of playing this week).  A couple of months ago, I joined a Meetup group that gets together once a month to have an acoustic jam.  The first Saturday in February, we’re getting together to play Rolling Stones songs; during this week’s guitar lesson, my teacher and I worked on 4 different songs, so I’ve got some work to do.

Ah, the basement!  We have a mouse issue, which we discovered when my daughter, Teegan, stopped by over the holidays and went through some of the boxes she has stored in our basement to take things back to her apartment.  In the boxes we found cat food that had been stolen by mice out of the cat’s food dish.  The cat got a stern talking-to, but is clearly not a mouser!  Traps (humane ones) are now addressing the rodent issue (12 caught and counting).  To store things better, shelves and better, plastic containers will be the solution.

Guitar pedal board should be a breeze, but has a challenge or two.  One of the pedals doesn’t like the connectors from my new 8 outlet power supply.  Might take a bit of customization!

Other than that…did I mention the New England Patriots are playing?  That will be multi-tasking time 🙂  And I might try to catch a Premier League match, as Liverpool v. Manchester United has potential.  Additional guitar time will be cool too, and possibly some photo editing.

Free time is great!  That’s the time to do what fuels our passion, such as the fires in today’s image, ‘Pyroplasm 3x’.  A couple of notes on this image; the image was captured as shown in camera; the streaking effect was not added in post-production.  Photoshop work on this was a matter of a bit of sharpening, lifting the color a smudge and a crop.

Wishing you a great weekend!!

A Sign of Hope

Spring will come, but let’s have fun with Winter!

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Spring Thaw

Things have gotten a little chilly in New England, as Winter has made her entrance with customary aplomb blasting arctic winds into the area.

Of course, people’s reactions to the influx of frigid air are rather predictable: When does it end? When does Spring start?  Personally, I embrace Winter with all its stark beauty and snow-drifted landscapes, so I look forward to the month of February, which usually can be counted on to deliver.

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Ice Anyone?

Last year, I went on a short tour of the Northern Massachusetts and New Hampshire coast with John Slonina Nature Photography ( Slonina Nature Photography Blog ) at the end of January.  The weather was bitter cold with quite a bit of wind and bright sun; in other words, it made for fantastic photography and even a couple of amusing little snaps, such as ‘Ice Anyone?’.

I’ll be sure to share some of the images from that day in upcoming posts, and, hopefully, some from this year; after all, I invested in a heated fleece that will keep me warm for 6 hours…  It will be used!

For those souls, who are asking about the onset of Spring, I offer the main image with this post as a sign of hope.  Taken a little less than five years ago at a point when the ice was almost all gone and the first notes of green started returning to the trees.  Yes, it shall return, but for now let’s really enjoy Winter!

All who wander…

While lost, something new is found

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Exit

Urban exploration aka urbex has become immensely popular over the past decade to the point that it is mainstream photography.  When increases in processor power made HDR processing available to every photographer, dilapidated buildings could be made to look interesting in completely new ways.

Of course, I have been guilty of a little exploration myself, as I love wandering through old, abandoned sites and checking for some unique vista that speaks to me.  When moving through a building, I let my mind wander and lose itself within the possibilities of transformation through fantasy.

Part of my process relies on visualization of the alternate spin that I can put on the image, so that viewers can feel themselves transported into an alternate reality.  Allowing my imagination to roam free across the landscape of my mind is an enjoyable, stimulating aspect of photography, which is very much enabled by HDR processing, about which I will write more in a future post.

The site of this image was the farm for a state hospital; the structure has been razed since I captured this image.  On the day that I captured this image, the outside light was extremely bright and harsh, giving enough light to get the great definition in the floor and walls.

We’re looking past the animal stalls toward an open door, a possible exit from the dark, stark area, where we find ourselves.  Is it a safe exit, or will it lead into a dimensional trap/