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.

Repost – Abstract Photography – Ep. 1

Opening a view to alternate realities.

As one of my recent posts, Temporary Passage, generated some questions around the technique that I used to generate the image, I thought that I would repost the series of 3 blog posts that I wrote about this topic in February, 2016.  Here is the first one, the other two will appear in the next couple of days.

Zooming abstraction of a brush pile
Brush Abstraction 1

A significant amount of photography attempts to capture the reality we see around us, often in the best possible light.

As a result, most of the advances in photography have been aimed at achieving ever higher fidelity in capturing this reality.  In digital photography, sensors have become more sensitive causing ISO ranges to expand, white balance is corrected ever more accurately and many other innovations have been programmed into the complex computers that we call digital cameras.

Of course, this is a good thing, as it has allowed photographers to get much more satisfactory results in capturing all matter of subjects under a wide variety of conditions.  Moreover, today’s digital cameras provide their users with a sense of instant gratification well beyond that of even the near-instant output of Polaroid cameras.  The added bonus of being able to delete a poor image has brought many people to photography on a scale that dwarfs the success of even the legendary Kodak Brownie camera.

Butterfly uncovered in variegated ivy
Cryptomorphosis 1

One side effect of this renaissance of photography, is that the digital diluvium of imagery may give one the impression that everything ranging from the mundane to the sublime has been recorded by someone somewhere.  How many times have you heard someone say, as you proudly show them your work, “I have a photo of that, let me show you!”, and they bring forth their smart-phone to show you their record of what you thought you were the first to see through your viewfinder?

I have to admit that there have been numerous times that I looked at a scene in front of me, weighing how I might want to photograph it, and felt the pressure to come up with a novel approach to creating the image.  Yes, each individual photographer views the world in their unique and personal fashion, but is it enough differentiation to satisfy our creative urge?  Personally, I refrained from photographing certain scenes that might be considered over-photographed.  Nubble Lighthouse on Cape Neddick, ME, comes to mind; this may be the “most photographed” lighthouse on the East Coast of the US.  It was years before I came up with a treatment of this lighthouse that told a story that I saw.

Light painting of intersection scene
Connections

Rather than replicating the great work that has been done by many photographers before me, I started looking for an alternate take on the world around me.  Yes, I still photograph what all of us see around us in the standard manner of faithful reproduction of the scene.  However, from time to time, I have been doing some experimental photography to try and reveal some of the things that our eyes don’t see, but that are still there.  After a little more than a year of experimenting, and learning some new tricks that can be performed with a zoom lens or through camera motion and careful timing, I have started to pull things together into a more unified portfolio of abstract photography.

Rotated columns with night traffic
Portal

The goal of this portfolio is to show some of the layer underneath the immediately visible; a layer that I see from time to time, when I look at the world through more of a mind’s eye.  This view is exposed only when I manipulate the camera or the lens, and never through post-capture processing; also, no special camera software or firmware is used.

These images come to me when I am on location and are inspired by the sense of mystery that I derive from that location.  What first started as pure experimentation has evolved into a new set of skills that uncover previously hidden insights.  An image unfolds in front of me as I visualize it, and I plan an approach on how to capture it.  The success rate is not 100%, but the results are interesting and encouraging in exploring new avenues of creativity that may otherwise remain cryptic.

The subjects that I have approached with this experimental methodology have ranged from fire to flowers and urban landscapes.  Each set of subjects evokes their own, specific set of moments in the space-time continuum that ask to be recorded in a particular fashion; some have rendered surprises and few have been disappointing.  There have been times when several attempts were needed to find the right balance that extracts the correct alternate sense from the subject; each subject has a series of alternate views that can be uncovered through opening up to the flow of energy that emanates from it.  Many more await discovery.

In next week’s episode of TTT, I will describe the details of the process that I use to create the images seen here and in my abstract images portfolio.  I hope you don’t mind waiting until next Tuesday for that post.  In the mean time, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask them.

As always, thank you for reading my blog!

Keeping Time

At regular intervals

The WordPress Daily Prompt is always a lot of fun to check out, as one never knows what kind of inspiration will be drawn from it.  Today’s prompt is Timely, which reminded me of an image that I captured almost exactly 5 years ago…

Keeping-Time_MG_4127-11x14
Keeping Time

This is not a multiple shot image, but rather a single shot (and a bit of practice).  Using strobe flashes one can get as creative as your mind will let you; as I had experimented with multi-mode exposures before, I thought it would be interesting to do this with a metronome.

The biggest task in creating this image was to build an environment, where I could reduce ambient light to almost nothing in my studio, so that I could get a perfectly black background without resorting to post-processing.  After that, the rest was a matter of some test shots and getting in sync with the metronome.

Technical Data

This image was captured with a Canon EOS 5D MkII, using an EF24-105mm f/4L lens.  Exposure settings were at 1 second, f/11 and 400 ISO.  The flash used is a Canon 580EX II in multi-mode; IIRC I set the frequency to 8Hz.

Warped Wednesday – pt. 7

Warping techniques

Last week, the focus of the images was on the various states of water and how its abstract views come into play.  This week, I’d like to talk a little bit about experimenting with techniques.

Early on, most of my abstract captures were achieved through various adaptations of a zoom blur using various twisting techniques.  After lots of experimentation with this method of abstraction, I decided to start exploring a number of different approaches, which opened up some interesting looks and images.

These images highlight some of my approaches.  Faerie Loops was inspired by the light playing across the long grass; I immediately envisioned luminous faeries leaping through the grass, as their terpsichorean tribe passed in front of us.  This gave me the idea of using a slight hop movement with my camera, providing the jumping effect.  Impressions of a Tree came about from closing my eyes to slits while looking at the light playing through the canopy; you can see the simple movement in the light traces.

Oaken Falls 2 was the result of the tree giving me the sense of a cascade of light playing through the leaves; a bit of experimentation led to this image with a waterfall of light in it.  Texture of Leaf and Light is more a study of what is felt through the mind’s eye rather than the physical eyes; I wanted to capture the feeling of the leaves and their interaction with the light rather than their physical shape and being.  A slight bit of playing with the focus and its exact depth worked well in this case.

Lastly, the Maze was all about creating the sense of being surrounded by grasses.  To get the desired effect, I got down rather low to the ground (the grasses were about 30 cm tall) and experimented with a slight bit of rotation of my camera, rather than zoom blur.  Shooting upward toward the sky gives the feeling of entrapment among the tall grasses.

I hope you enjoyed this bit of exploration of different techniques and the results that they can provide.  Remember to have fun with your photography and keep experimenting!

The Craft Rest…

With today’s WordPress Daily Post prompt of Craft, my first thought was certainly one of talking about the craft of photography, but as I looked for an image to go with that I came across different craft!

As a matter of fact, this image works well with both aspects of the word, as my photo of these craft on the beach during low tide on the Bay of Fundy had originally failed to impress me enough to make it part of my regular rotation of images that I didn’t mind displaying.  When I captured it, the weather was kind of overcast with a low cloud cover and lots of gray tones.  I decided to take the shot anyway, as the contrast between the height of the pier and the boats on the beach was so striking.

Craft at the Bay of Fundy

It wasn’t until several years later that I decided to try some different processing of this image.  Using HDRsoft’s Photomatix Pro, I tried some different processing to get the sky to speak a bit more… and I like the end result.  Of course, I also realized that I should have shot this as a 3 or 5-shot HDR series 🙂

Do you ever have a photo that you breathed new life in with a bit of processing?

TTT – Creative Juices

Bend a wire to your will

All of us get caught in a not-so-creative rut from time to time, which may be tricky to escape.  It has happened to me plenty of times to the point that I started questioning my own abilities.  And then when you’re under pressure to come up with something creative, it becomes even more difficult.

Today’s post is about what I do to get out of that rut; there are a couple of simple steps that I take that usually work for me.

1. Keep Shooting!

No matter what, do not stop and start over-analyzing!  Analysis-paralysis has never gotten anything accomplished, but action does get things done!

2. Try Something New!

This is the step that usually gets me moving forward, as shiny new things are a lot of fun.  Whether it’s a new lighting accessory that you haven’t unpacked yet, or something new that is around the office that you can use for a shoot (see below…)

3. Take On a Challenge.

There are lots of things that lie outside my comfort zone, which makes them a definite challenge for me.  Additionally, it’s not a bad idea to challenge a fellow-creative to a bit of friendly competition.

4. Reward Yourself

When you do that task that you have set for yourself, remember to reward yourself, as positive reinforcement keeps you going.

Paperclips_MG_5025
Just Paperclips…

This shot came from an exercise that I did to come up with something completely new using a rather quotidian object: the lowly paperclip.  Doing something creative with paperclips required me to think differently, to change my angle of approach from what I had been doing.

Literally, I tossed a handful of paperclips on a black surface, and looked at them for something inspiring.  Playing around with light helped me uncover something of interest and worth shooting; it took about 20 or so attempts to really find an angle that worked well for me and provided some cool, harsh light and shadows.

As a reward, I printed this off on 17×22 paper to get the full effect!  It made me smile!!

Technical Details

This one was all about the lighting, as I wound up using a single Canon Speedlite 580EX with some black cinema-foil to control the spillage of light.  My lens choice was a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 macro lens, so that I could get these paperclips nice and large.