Repost – Abstract Photography – Ep. 3

Driving force behind a project

This is the third and last in a series of reposts on the techniques and processes that I use in creating abstract photographic images; these posts were originally published in February, 2016. Hope you enjoy them!

Gold and Green Composition
Gold and Green in Motion

Over the pass couple of days I have covered concepts and techniques, and I promised to do a bit of a deeper dive into what lies beneath the surface of the process of capturing these images.

In terms of photographic technique, the ideas are rather simple and mastered relatively quickly.  Most of my personal photography projects tend not to last very long, as quickly I start looking for novel ways to capture and present material; at such a time, I usually put the project aside for at least a year or so, waiting for it to feel fresh again when I go for the next image in a series.  This project has been different, in that I have been shooting in this genre for more than 4 years thus far, and it has not felt stale to me yet.  As this surprised me somewhat, I started looking into the how and why this project is different.

There are several elements that I uncovered, which make the Kryptomorphaics project different from prior efforts:

  • on-going discovery
  • emotional connectivity
  • re-examination
I am certain that there are other elements that I may uncover, as I push forward in this project, but these appear to be the drivers at this time.

Discovery – photography is a journey of discovery for just about all of us, who have picked up a camera and started shooting in earnest.  This project has afforded me continual discovery through opening up all senses and taking input from all of them in the process of capturing content that is not just visible to the eye.  This deeper sense of uncovering this cryptic that lies hidden within the world around us has opened my mind’s eye to further explore these scenes in new directions.  These include examination of the scene not only in its current juncture within the space-time continuum, but also past and future lines that may be occupied by the players on stage within the scene.  This has opened up some connections that I had hitherto not observed, some of which demonstrate how universal forces flow through the quotidian.

Berries in Motion
Berries in Motion

Emotional Connectivity – as I deepened my exploration, part of which included opening up all senses to the environment in which I found myself, I started noticing a sense of emotional connection to what I found within the scene.  In a manner, which can be likened to meditation, a more complete sense of the image, as it should be captured, is refined by opening up the senses to subtle emotional triggers.  It can be described as opening oneself up to a feeling washing over the entire being and letting that guide the decision making process for how to capture the image.  This feeling is more pronounced for certain images that others.

Re-Examination –  upon capturing an image, the next thing I do is a taking stock of how it felt to capture the image.  I take sensory stock of the image rather than examining it visually (I am not a big fan of chimping, but one could say that this is a sort of sensory chimping).  Without looking at the image, I will then make a decision to either shoot the scene with some adjustment, which can be slight or radical, or if it feels just right, I then walk away from it.

Mystery in Green
Mystery in Green

I find that the success of the process depends more on my ability to quiet all my senses and open myself up to my surroundings; this is where the simile with mediation extends, as I will use meditation techniques to improve my feel for the environment.  In this process, I do not over-analyze how I might be able to capture the feeling that lies before my lens; a couple of rough guesstimates guide my camera settings adjustments, as I let intuition be my guide.

This wraps up this 3-part series on abstract photography, but, fear not!  From time to time, I will feature an image from my Kryptomorphaics collection to discuss it in more detail.

I sincerely hope you enjoyed this introduction and look forward to hearing what other topics might interest you.

Repost – Abstract Photography – Ep. 2

Playing with fire

This is the second in a series of three reposts of blog posts that I wrote during February, 2016, about process and techniques that I use in creating abstract images.

Looking into the fire on a summer night
Playing with Fire

In yesterday’s post, I touched on some of my motivations that have driven me to start experimenting with my photography: looking to differentiate my photography and provide a creative outlet.  In another post, I will explore these more deeply, as there are several other aspects that have led me to evolve a deeper connection to these images.

As a number of photographers have asked me how these images are created, this post will describe some of the techniques that I use.  This is by no means an exhaustive treatise on experimental photography, but rather is intended to lay bare some of my basic approaches to a style of photography that has allowed me to reveal some new imagery.  If I inspire some people to go out there and play with their cameras and lenses to produce some images that they had not thought about previously, my goal will have been met!

The Equipment – it is pretty basic, but not to be overlooked: a single lens reflex camera with a zoom lens.  There are no special requirements of the camera other than that it can be put into a manual mode; most any DSLR will be ideal for experimenting, as you get the opportunity to get a feel for the results on your camera’s LCD panel.  As for the lens: a zoom lens with a reasonable medium range of focal lengths works well.  Most often, I use a 24-105mm lens for most shots (on a full frame sensor camera).  I have tried out some different zoom lenses, such as a 17-40mm and 70-200m, but have not been as pleased with those results.

Explosion of fire
Pyrexplosive

The Process – in the age of achieving a specific image look in post-processing, we are going back to the days of doing everything in-camera.  And, no, we are not going to use some fancy setting of the camera or a high-end software component within the camera.  We are going to do the entire capture the old-fashioned way: manually.

First: set your camera to manual mode.  It is possible to create the image in another mode, but I have found it easier to work this in manual mode, as shutter speed is eliminated as a variable; in all honesty, I have not tried any captures with shutter priority mode, as I want to make sure that I know what my aperture is beforehand.

Second: take a test shot to get a feel for your composition.  The test shot should be taken at one end of the zoom range you are planning to use or the other; more about zoom range in a bit.  This shot is to get a feel for how you may want the dominant elements in your image to look, as in the example sequence here: Playing with Fire shows the test shot, which led to Pyrexplosive as the final product; note that the wood in the fire remained in the same location in the second shot.  As one gets more adept at visualizing the desired shot ahead of time, it may be possible to skip this step.

Flowing fire through the night
Pyroplasm 3

Third: decide on the effect that you want to portray in the image and how much you want to emphasize the effect.  In early attempts, it may be best to try a couple of different effects, in order to get a better feeling for how each looks.  I categorize the effects in the following manner:

  • Zooming from tight to wide – this creates a look as in the above image Pyrexplosive.  Smearing of light in a radially outward direction; note that light trumps dark, so that the light overlays any dark while going outward.
  • Zooming from wide to tight – this does the inverse of the above method and causes more light to be brought to the center of the image.  The radial smearing is similar with the key differentiator being the concentration of light.
  • Camera rotation around fixed axis – this can be achieve on a tripod (or with steady hand) and causes circular light patterns, such as in the image Portal in the previous blog post.
  • Camera movement – movement of the camera can be done in several ways.  Either treat your camera as a videocamera and write with the points of light that you see or use linear or non-linear motion to create patterns, banding, etc.  An example of the former can be seen in the image Connections in the previous post.
  • Combination – any of the above.  Your imagination is your only limitation in what you create here.  Pyroplasm 4 is an example of a zoom/rotation combination (mostly zoom with a little rotation).
With each of the above effects, one of the key decisions is how much and how long to expose and use effects.  The images in this blog post range in exposure times from 0.5 second (Playing with Fire) to 8 seconds (Pyroplasm 3), with varying degrees of movement.
Flowing fire through the night
Pyroplasm 4

Fourth: experiment, experiment, experiment!  I simply cannot overstate the importance of experimentation in your endeavors and pushing the envelope of experimentation as you become more comfortable with controlling the effects.  With enough trial and error, you learn to control the image and ultimately will achieve the images that you visualize.

Yes, there is more to this…  As with most of our photographic exploits, there is more than just great technical execution to create an image that speaks to you and, possibly, others.  My first forays into this area of photography were driven by an innate desire to experiment with my lens and camera and to see what would come out of it.  This helped me work on my technique, so that I have developed a feel for how fast and how much I want to zoom in or out or rotate or move the camera.

As I learned technique, I started exploring emotional content of the image and started pre-visualizing scenes or items in front of me, and how I could morph them into a completely different scene.  These explorations have led to my acquiring a sense of deeper content, which may be hidden when viewed from the surface, but is looking for a means of materialization through the morphing process.

In a sequel to this blog post, we will explore the process further and look at what is brought to the surface.  That post will be published some next Tuesday.

I hope you enjoyed this post and will be back for more.  Of course, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

A Weekend Retreat

A wonderful, creative weekend!

As many of you are aware, last weekend I was at a guitar workshop for the entire time.  Even though I have only been playing for about 3 1/2 years, I wanted to see what the experience of focusing on guitar playing for an entire weekend would bring.  It was truly enjoyable, as well as educational!

The weekend started on Friday, as the five students gathered at a wonderful location near the coast of Massachusetts in Essex; after a wonderful dinner (the chef did a great job all weekend), we gathered for some informal jamming, playing an assortment of classics ranging from Tom Petty (what a loss) to the Beatles.  This was a great way to start and Janet, our teacher, talked about her plans for the weekend.

20131001-IMG_2273
Early Autumn

On Saturday, after a jog and breakfast, we started on songwriting skills with an excellent variety of exercises to get our minds engaged and open to writing lyrics.  With a bit of time spent on song structure and the narrative of songs, we created some rather interesting songs by writing a line at a time and passing the task on to the next person in line; this underscored the benefit of clarity in getting the idea across in each line.

The second part of the morning, included an exercise in co-writing, which was highly enjoyable.  In this exercise we first wrote the lyrics, after which we worked on the melody; melody is best worked on without the guitar by singing the song in an effort to find what sounds good.  Once we had the basic melody, we worked on the chords that would support the melody.  A great exercise, and even though our song is not likely to be a hit, I felt pretty good about my first song, and really excellent about the process and interaction.

In the afternoon, we focused on performance skills, which was in preparation for open mike in the evening.  Set structure, audience interaction, how to start that first song in your set and others were the topics of this session.  The level of this session was likely to be a bit too advanced for where I am in my guitar development, but still had a lot of valuable learning in it.

On Sunday, after another light jog and breakfast, we started on voice maintenance and development; as I’m one of those people who were told that they couldn’t sing as a kid (and told to mouth the words), this was very interesting and probably most useful of all sessions.  This led us to singing harmonies and playing together as an ensemble, in which we played different voicings on our guitar to create a more interesting palette within a song.  After a number of exercises, and lunch, we took what we learned to play and sing a number of songs together.  My favorite among these is Crosby, Stills and Nash’s Helplessly Hoping, in which our harmonies came together pretty nicely!

All in all, this was a great weekend!  If anything, I would have liked to have worked more on guitar playing skills, which is something that I will look at more closely with any future workshops.

Sunday Morning – Vincent

Starry, starry night!

It’s a beautiful morning this Sunday, as we’re enjoying a long weekend in the United States with Labor Day giving us Monday off.  This morning is starting with watching the Italian Grand Prix at Monza for breakfast, and then doing a bit of yard work before tomorrow’s expected rainfall; as Hermine makes her way up the Atlantic coast and depsites a bit of leftovers in New England.

After all that, I will focus on spending some quality time on guitar practice and working on a new song to learn.  Today, I have selected Don McLean’s wonderful song, Vincent, which should give me plenty of challenges.

This song should be a lot of fun to learn with the help of Justin Sandercoe, whose Justinguitar videos are a boon to learning guitar.  I will be using his video on learning Vincent for this effort:

Have a wonderful day!

TTT – Abstract Photography – Ep. 3

Driving force behind a project

Gold and Green Composition
Gold and Green in Motion

Over the pass couple of weeks I have covered concepts and techniques, and I promised to do a bit of a deeper dive into what lies beneath the surface of the process of capturing these images.

In terms of photographic technique, the ideas are rather simple and mastered relatively quickly.  Most of my personal photography projects tend not to last very long, as quickly I start looking for novel ways to capture and present material; at such a time, I usually put the project aside for at least a year or so, waiting for it to feel fresh again when I go for the next image in a series.  This project has been different, in that I have been shooting in this genre for more than 4 years thus far, and it has not felt stale to me yet.  As this surprised me somewhat, I started looking into the how and why this project is different.

There are several elements that I uncovered, which make the Kryptomorphaics project different from prior efforts:

  • on-going discovery
  • emotional connectivity
  • re-examination
I am certain that there are other elements that I may uncover, as I push forward in this project, but these appear to be the drivers at this time.

Discovery – photography is a journey of discovery for just about all of us, who have picked up a camera and started shooting in earnest.  This project has afforded me continual discovery through opening up all senses and taking input from all of them in the process of capturing content that is not just visible to the eye.  This deeper sense of uncovering this cryptic that lies hidden within the world around us has opened my mind’s eye to further explore these scenes in new directions.  These include examination of the scene not only in its current juncture within the space-time continuum, but also past and future lines that may be occupied by the players on stage within the scene.  This has opened up some connections that I had hitherto not observed, some of which demonstrate how universal forces flow through the quotidian.

Berries in Motion
Berries in Motion

Emotional Connectivity – as I deepened my exploration, part of which included opening up all senses to the environment in which I found myself, I started noticing a sense of emotional connection to what I found within the scene.  In a manner, which can be likened to meditation, a more complete sense of the image, as it should be captured, is refined by opening up the senses to subtle emotional triggers.  It can be described as opening oneself up to a feeling washing over the entire being and letting that guide the decision making process for how to capture the image.  This feeling is more pronounced for certain images that others.

Re-Examination –  upon capturing an image, the next thing I do is a taking stock of how it felt to capture the image.  I take sensory stock of the image rather than examining it visually (I am not a big fan of chimping, but one could say that this is a sort of sensory chimping).  Without looking at the image, I will then make a decision to either shoot the scene with some adjustment, which can be slight or radical, or if it feels just right, I then walk away from it.

Mystery in Green
Mystery in Green

I find that the success of the process depends more on my ability to quiet all my senses and open myself up to my surroundings; this is where the simile with mediation extends, as I will use meditation techniques to improve my feel for the environment.  In this process, I do not over-analyze how I might be able to capture the feeling that lies before my lens; a couple of rough guesstimates guide my camera settings adjustments, as I let intuition be my guide.

This wraps up this 3-part series on abstract photography, but, fear not!  From time to time, I will feature an image from my Kryptomorphaics collection to discuss it in more detail.

I sincerely hope you enjoyed this introduction and look forward to hearing what other topics might interest you.

TTT – Abstract Photography – Ep. 2

Playing with fire

Looking into the fire on a summer night
Playing with Fire

In last week’s post, I touched on some of my motivations that have driven me to start experimenting with my photography: looking to differentiate my photography and provide a creative outlet.  In another post, I will explore these more deeply, as there are several other aspects that have led me to evolve a deeper connection to these images.

As a number of photographers have asked me how these images are created, this post will describe some of the techniques that I use.  This is by no means an exhaustive treatise on experimental photography, but rather is intended to lay bare some of my basic approaches to a style of photography that has allowed me to reveal some new imagery.  If I inspire some people to go out there and play with their cameras and lenses to produce some images that they had not thought about previously, my goal will have been met!

The Equipment – it is pretty basic, but not to be overlooked: a single lens reflex camera with a zoom lens.  There are no special requirements of the camera other than that it can be put into a manual mode; most any DSLR will be ideal for experimenting, as you get the opportunity to get a feel for the results on your camera’s LCD panel.  As for the lens: a zoom lens with a reasonable medium range of focal lengths works well.  Most often, I use a 24-105mm lens for most shots (on a full frame sensor camera).  I have tried out some different zoom lenses, such as a 17-40mm and 70-200m, but have not been as pleased with those results.

Explosion of fire
Pyrexplosive

The Process – in the age of achieving a specific image look in post-processing, we are going back to the days of doing everything in-camera.  And, no, we are not going to use some fancy setting of the camera or a high-end software component within the camera.  We are going to do the entire capture the old-fashioned way: manually.

First: set your camera to manual mode.  It is possible to create the image in another mode, but I have found it easier to work this in manual mode, as shutter speed is eliminated as a variable; in all honesty, I have not tried any captures with shutter priority mode, as I want to make sure that I know what my aperture is beforehand.

Second: take a test shot to get a feel for your composition.  The test shot should be taken at one end of the zoom range you are planning to use or the other; more about zoom range in a bit.  This shot is to get a feel for how you may want the dominant elements in your image to look, as in the example sequence here: Playing with Fire shows the test shot, which led to Pyrexplosive as the final product; note that the wood in the fire remained in the same location in the second shot.  As one gets more adept at visualizing the desired shot ahead of time, it may be possible to skip this step.

Flowing fire through the night
Pyroplasm 3

Third: decide on the effect that you want to portray in the image and how much you want to emphasize the effect.  In early attempts, it may be best to try a couple of different effects, in order to get a better feeling for how each looks.  I categorize the effects in the following manner:

  • Zooming from tight to wide – this creates a look as in the above image Pyrexplosive.  Smearing of light in a radially outward direction; note that light trumps dark, so that the light overlays any dark while going outward.
  • Zooming from wide to tight – this does the inverse of the above method and causes more light to be brought to the center of the image.  The radial smearing is similar with the key differentiator being the concentration of light.
  • Camera rotation around fixed axis – this can be achieve on a tripod (or with steady hand) and causes circular light patterns, such as in the image Portal in the previous blog post.
  • Camera movement – movement of the camera can be done in several ways.  Either treat your camera as a videocamera and write with the points of light that you see or use linear or non-linear motion to create patterns, banding, etc.  An example of the former can be seen in the image Connections in the previous post.
  • Combination – any of the above.  Your imagination is your only limitation in what you create here.  Pyroplasm 4 is an example of a zoom/rotation combination (mostly zoom with a little rotation).
With each of the above effects, one of the key decisions is how much and how long to expose and use effects.  The images in this blog post range in exposure times from 0.5 second (Playing with Fire) to 8 seconds (Pyroplasm 3), with varying degrees of movement.
Flowing fire through the night
Pyroplasm 4

Fourth: experiment, experiment, experiment!  I simply cannot overstate the importance of experimentation in your endeavors and pushing the envelope of experimentation as you become more comfortable with controlling the effects.  With enough trial and error, you learn to control the image and ultimately will achieve the images that you visualize.

Yes, there is more to this…  As with most of our photographic exploits, there is more than just great technical execution to create an image that speaks to you and, possibly, others.  My first forays into this area of photography were driven by an innate desire to experiment with my lens and camera and to see what would come out of it.  This helped me work on my technique, so that I have developed a feel for how fast and how much I want to zoom in or out or rotate or move the camera.

As I learned technique, I started exploring emotional content of the image and started pre-visualizing scenes or items in front of me, and how I could morph them into a completely different scene.  These explorations have led to my acquiring a sense of deeper content, which may be hidden when viewed from the surface, but is looking for a means of materialization through the morphing process.

In a sequel to this blog post, we will explore the process further and look at what is brought to the surface.  That post will be published some next Tuesday.

I hope you enjoyed this post and will be back for more.  Of course, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

How did you learn photography? (finale)

Some of what I have learnt that helped improve my images

Developing an approach

Thus far, we have journeyed through some of my early photography, how my interest got rekindled and blossomed through lots of learning methods and activities.  In this final episode, as promised, I’ll go over some of my approaches and methods for getting the images that I do.

p21-20130813-IMG_1880
The Alley

The first item I want to clarify is that everything I do to get an enticing image can be learned and practiced until it becomes second nature.  There is no denying that some people will learn quicker and develop their abilities faster, which is often referred to as talent.  However, talent alone is not enough to produce great results in any field.  There is no substitute for making bad photos and learning from your mistakes.

So what are the not-so-magical steps to my process for getting the images that I want?  No surprise, but they are pretty straightforward:

  • Find something that is interesting to photograph
  • Have an idea of how you want to portray what you have found
  • Decide what steps in execution get you that result

Like I said: it’s pretty simple, when you break it down this way.  So let’s take a look at them in a bit more detail.

Discovery

It is pretty self-evident that without finding something interesting to photograph, there is no photo.  While this may be obvious, how often do you drive or walk by some place without noticing that there is a photo there?  Of course, all of us know how to recognize lots of photogenic subjects, such as El Capitan, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Great Pyramid, or the leaning tower of Pisa and the list goes on and on.  However, most of us don’t live right by these locations or have the budget to go travel to these places on a whim; so what to do?

Boxborough-Pond_MG_5254_12x18
Blue Pond

A significant amount of my landscape photography is done during my commute to and from work.  As I look to vary my route, so that I don’t get into the same rut day upon day, there are a number of spots along the drive that have become some of my favorites to photograph.  The key to finding those special locations is awareness of your surroundings.  Don’t be afraid to stop on your way and check things out!

Another key item in finding that interesting shot is that sometimes your best shot is behind you rather than in front; such was the case for Blue Pond, which you see to the right.  I stopped to photograph the marsh and passing train, which didn’t really impress me, so I turned around and noticed how I could get the sky to play off the pond; a much more pleasing shot!

The skill needed to find images everywhere can be developed through exercises that challenge your vision to explore scenes in new ways.  Always look for more!

Visualization

Now that you have found that really cool subject that you can’t help, but photograph, it is time to decide how you want to show it to your audience.  It is all too easy to shoot a beautiful subject in a way that detracts from its brilliance; I’m sure you have seen snapshots from friends of that amazing waterfall that is so poorly composed that it’s lost its power.

20150813-Maine_57A2658
Bath Harbor Light

So how do you go about ensuring that your shot doesn’t suffer the same fate?  The first step is to frame a picture in your mind that brings out the exact sense of beauty that you feel from what you see.  Look through your lens to see what it shows you; if it is a zoom lens, see what zooming in or out presents to you.  Change your perspective by moving around or lowering your vantage point (this can be particularly effective when looking at a reflection).

The image of Bath Harbor Light demonstrates this principle.  If you have ever been to Acadia in Maine, you may have vistied this sight and you’ll see lots of photos of this particular lighthouse.  Most of these photos do not show it from this angle, but rather from a vantage point that eliminates the trees.  The rocks were filled with photographers looking for exactly that angle (it’s a ways to the left and lower, if you ever want to find it).  As the light was not ideal on this day, I decided that framing the lighthouse between the trees provided context and more visual interest.

Again, this is a skill that can be gained through ample practice!

Execution

Naturally, all your work to this point should not be allowed to go to waste with a poorly exposed image.  Therefore, the final step is to decide how you want your camera to read the light (assuming you’re not going 100% manual), the depth of field that gives the right feel, what shutter speed might work best.

Bianca-Babine_MG_10186
The Lady Gazes

Even if you use a 100% automatic, such as an iPhone, which I often do, there are still ways to control exposure; good material for future posts, maybe.

In your visualization, you may have given thought to what parts of the image should be sharp, while other parts should blur somewhat.  Think about what F-stop will give you what you’re looking to portray.

If your camera is even in partially automatic mode, you will want to make sure that your exposure reading is not fooled by bright white or very dark colors.  Learn to adapt for that by using pre-exposure compensation (DSLRs will have this, but not all point-and-shoots do).

When this all comes together, you get to express your vision and amaze your friends (no guarantee of that!).

Where to go next

Development and continuous improvement are a never-ending mantra for anything, about which you are truly passionate; once the bug bites you, you’ll spend countless hours improving.

There are two things that you should never stop doing in your photography:

  • Study, not just books, but learn from every photo that you like by determining what you like about it and why it works.
  • Stay inspired, both by what others do and what you do!

This is the last in this series, but I think there may be some follow-on posts from this.  Of course, I love to find out what you like to read more about.

P.S. yes, I left out post-processing…  I will do some posts on how I like to tackle that.