C.P. #5: Something Different

In focus, glowing brightly!

In any creative endeavor, we can find ourselves in a proverbial rut sometimes. This has happened a number of times during all the years that I have dabbled in the photographic arts; across nearly 50 years of photography, one looks to learn and improve. When I struggle to see improvement in my work, I tend to question the why behind my photography, which might lead down a couple of rabbit holes!

Luckily, photography is not a one-dimensional means of expression, as there are lots of choices to make to get that image you might be after. Aperture, shutter speed and composition are starting points. Of course, the equipment we use for a particular shot matters, as it did in this image from 2009…

Zone Plate Yellow no. 1

At first glance, you might ask what is so unusual about an image that is out of focus? The catch is that this image is not out of focus. It was captured with a Lensbaby Composer using a zone plate lens. You may ask what all this means, unless you too have dabbled with this kind of lens.

A zone plate lens is effectively a series of rings surrounding a center hole with each of the clear zones of these rings equalling the area of the center hole; thus each zone gets thinner as you move away from the center of the zone plate. You may still be scratching your head, and I could tell you that the zone plate uses diffraction for focusing rather than refraction, the way a standard lens works. Based on analysis by French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel, the lens was constructed with the spacing of zones to create constructive interference of the diffracted light, thus producing the image.

This might still sound a bit odd, so let me share that one of the effects is that the detail of the image is given a surrounding glow, as you can see in the above shot. This might be an effect that one tries to achieve in post-processing; for me, it is enjoyable to capture this intent right in camera. The post-processing that I applied consisted mostly of raising contrast and bumping up saturation to create a more vibrant image. There also was a bit of retouching of dust spots on the sensor, as the zone plate has an effective aperture of f/22.

I’m curious to hear what type of photography equipment options you use to boost your creative juices. Let me know.

C.P. #4: Seeing and Framing

The walking photographer

First things first: I’ll be using the abbreviation C.P. to shorten ‘Creative Process’; titles of posts were just getting a bit long!

In today’s post, I want to share a bit about how I shoot when I’m just walking around and some of the thoughts that I put into my snapshots. Even though my photography brain isn’t constantly scanning for the next ‘amazing’ shot, there is a level of awareness of how the world around me might look through the view of a lens. Here’s an example of this…

Prins Hendrikkade

As my wife and I were walking around during our afternoon of free time before our ship’s departure, I became aware of the view ahead of us. The combination of architecture, modes of transport, sidewalk, signage, traffic light and bicycles outnumbering car, it all screams something that is very Dutch in our minds.

After that initial assessment, the creative process part of the brain kicks in, as I looked on how to capture this scene and produce the right guidance for our eyes to allow our mind to process parts of this image step by step.

The first decision was to ask my wife to stop walking for a moment, so that I could have the less-lighted space create a set of leading lines into the main parts of the image. You’ll notice that by default our eyes will start in the lower right hand part of the image and then quickly move more toward the center of the image (for an experiment, try starting your eyes in a different part of the image and notice what they do).

As I composed this shot with my iPhone, I moved to the left and right to see how the lines would lead toward the Basilica of Saint Nicholas in the background. You’ll notice that I settled more toward the left side of the sidewalk, as that enabled me to use the shadows of the building to my left to frame the image and not have the eye go all the way left in the image. Similarly, but less pronounced, the tree on the right helps frame that side.

Taking the couple of seconds to make these decisions, allowed the bicyclist coming towards me to be in the shade, and not be the subject of the shot; it helped that the traffic lights for bicyclists and pedestrians had just turned green!

Of course, I did shoot this image with a bit of safety, as you can see from the original…

iPhone original for above image

You’ll notice that there is quite a bit of extra margin, so that the crop can create a suitable image. I chose to use the iPhone’s 4:3 aspect ratio for the final image, as it felt pretty natural for this scene.

I hope that this quick overview of some of what goes on in my photography brain when I walk around. Please feel free to comment, share your process or ask questions.

Editing Mood (creative approach – part 3)

Dark moods may be useful!

Sometimes on a nice sunny day with an interesting cloud cover, you see a scene in front of you and photograph it. However, in your mind’s eye, you know there’s more to this landscape that you just captured than what you saw on that day.

If this ever happened to you, we have that in common, as it’s occurred numerous times to me. An example is this shot of Nubble Light on Cape Neddick, Maine, back in June of 2013.

Nubble Light

This lighthouse has been photographed by many, which had caused me to not ever shoot it until this day; the simple reason was that I hadn’t seen anything different from what I’d seen in all the wonderful photograph created by others of this lighthouse. That day, I felt that there was something a little different, so I got clambered down the rocks to get a lower vantage point and shot several exposure bracketed sequences. Overall, not a bad shot, but nothing especially outstanding.

It really was a nice day, as my mother and sister were visiting us from the Netherlands and we were showing them some of the sights in the area. When we got home that evening, I offloaded the images and took a quick look at them.

Over the next couple of weeks, there were a couple of times that I thought about editing the shots, but every time I started I got stuck, as I didn’t quite ‘feel’ it. Approximately 6 weeks after I took the shot, I finally sat down to create the following end result…

Nubble Brooding

What was different about this editing session? For one, I was in a somewhat darker mood, which allowed me to connect to a heavier cloud cover and the idea of a roiling sea; also, at that point my mind’s view of what the image could hold, had time to articulate itself. The resultant image is one that after almost 10 years, I still enjoy seeing, and I have resisted the temptation to re-edit it to make it ‘better’ (as our skills improve and we learn new software, this temptation is real).

The lesson I learned at that time was to allow myself to recognize when it’s not the right moment and/or mood to edit a certain image, as our creative selves may need some hidden inspiration.

The images were captured using a Canon EOS 5D Mk III and a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens. Back in 2013 I used Photomatix Pro for my HDR processing.

There be Dragons! (creative approach – part 2)

There be dragons!

In last week’s post on My Creative Approach – part 1, I talked a bit about the impact of the inner vision in shaping the image; steering the edit of an image definitely is one way for me to get to what I’m trying to express. In this post, let’s take a look at another way to find that expression.

Last week during the walk on the beach at Meigs Point, one of the pieces of driftwood caught my attention…

Driftwood on the Beach

This beach always provides some interesting subjects for photography, and when I saw the shape of this jetsam, my mind’s eye started putting together a concept that might be possible. Using the available light and shifting my perspective, I opened up my imagination and let the shape speak to me.

At these times, it is important to use one’s feet and view your subject from multiple angles; as part of this process don’t forget to vary the height of the camera…

Vikings’ Dragon

Using height and composition to my advantage, the head starts to articulate above the landscape and one can almost feel there is something waiting to arise from this ancient head; could it be steam or fire? Letting our imagination do its duly appointed work, I can almost see the ancient Viking longships coming to the coast of the New World with their dragon-shaped figureheads; as the settlers left their beached ships behind, weather chipped away at the details over the centuries, leaving behind just enough to remind us of the way they once graced the oceans’ waters.

Part of the creative process here was in the selection of composition and using the camera’s aperture to set the subject apart from a more dreamy backdrop. Allowing the viewer’s eye to travel across the image helps establish a connection to their imagination from yours!

This image was captured with a Canon EOS R5 and Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens. Aperture was set at f/5.0, at 400 ISO and 1/1250s exposure. Minor touch ups and a bit of contrast was provided in post-processing.

My Creative Approach – part 1

A view of the beach stretches back

For me, photography is about more than capturing the scene that we find in front of ourselves. Granted that there is a lot to be said for great photography technique, so that the capture truly represents said scene and highlights the subject(s) in the best way possible. I enjoy that part of photography and particularly like a good lighting challenge. The aspect of photography that keeps me challenged mentally is the creative process. In this series of blog posts, I’ll try to share a bit of this process.

In this first post, let’s take a look at an image that I captured yesterday while exploring a beach in southern Connecticut with great friends of mine.

Meigs Point Beach Scene

As we came upon this section of beach by Meigs Point, I thought that the piece of driftwood across the seashells made for a great bit of counterpoint to the rocks in front of the sky. Overall, I was happy with this view of a bit of beach life, but there was something more that could be done with this.

17th Century Beachscape

A bit of creative exploration brought the idea of taking this image back to the golden age of Dutch seascape masters. As part of their Seaside Artistic Collection for Luminar AI, Skylum provides the sensibility of various seascape painters in a series of templates. Testing some of the treatments, I selected the Rotterdam template, setting it to approximately 1/3 opacity to allow for a blend of captured scene and Dutch seascape that my mind’s eye perceived.

Next steps were very much about bring the age of seascapes in with subtle adjustments, such as film grain, details, contrast aiming to get a sense of the present of the driftwood reaching back to the 17th century of the sky. Taking a bit of a meandering walk through creative options enables me to connect to the points that resonate with what I’m feeling about the scene.

I love to hear what creative approaches you take to your photography. Please let me know in your comments.

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