When Your Photography Surprises You

Have you ever ventured out, armed not only with your camera but also with some preconceived notions of the images you want to make? It happens to me on week-long visits to New England as well as on half- or full-day trips closer to home. And does it then also sometimes happen that you end up with images radically different from what you thought you were setting out to take — perhaps because the lighting wasn’t what you expected or that tree wasn’t there anymore or etc., etc., etc.? Sometimes that’s a fun part of the game.

And then there are times I go out with no specific ideas for images but just respond to what’s around me. Again, I like the element of surprise.

Here I want to share two images from my recent trip to the northern New England coast, both of places I’d been and things I’d photographed before.  Each had its own unique element of surprise.

The Sunday I decided to drive along the Maine coast toward Ogunquit was sunny and quite windy. After stopping along the coastal road (Rt 1A) to photograph buildings that took my fancy, I ended up, as I knew I would, at the famous Nubble Light. Nubble is probably the most photographed lighthouse in the USA (if not possibly the world, though I wonder whether Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia might be a competitor) because it’s so accessible — you just walk up to it. No boats, no sneaking onto private property, no long hikes on soft sand — just drive up, park, and get out your gear.

As you well know, ease of access doesn’t guarantee ease of getting a great photograph. For one thing, it was midday, usually not the optimum time to chalk up any photographic masterpieces. Also, on a Sunday afternoon in early spring chances are quite good of getting people wandering into your otherwise perfect composition.

DSC-5979 Nik Viv and TC s

Well, out of the several images I took, here’s the one I think was best.  What made it work? (1) The clouds. Thank you, Mother Nature. As famed New England foliage expert Jeff Folger observed when he saw it, it looks as if the clouds are emanating from the lighthouse. So, yes, while I did get closer-up images, this with the clouds was “the” image. (2) No people. There was a person off to the left, but I was cropping that side of the image anyway since it had too much superfluous “stuff.”

Photoshop processing, after my usual preliminary moves with the Raw file in Lightroom, was relatively minimal.  I took the image into Nik Viveza, moderately cranked up the Brightness and Structure, and brushed these settings onto the lighthouse and the foreground rocks to make them stand out from the blue water and sky. Back in Photoshop, a very slight degree of opening the shadows in the Shadows and Highlights. And there you have it: my surprise that any of the images taken under less than optimum conditions would be successful.

The second one contained a surprise of a different kind. This is a well-known tree on the New Hampshire coast at Great Island Common (a.k.a. New Castle Common) near Portsmouth.  I first shot it a year ago while out with New England photographer Jeff Sinon, and that time we had the sweet evening light in our favor. This time I was there midday because it took me a good while to find the place due to the weird location of the sign. Actually, I considered this trip a “study” for, hopefully, a revisit later in the day under better lighting conditions, and I used my Olympus SH-1 instead of my Nikon DSLR.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

First, here’s the original. A nicely composed image of this venerable tree, but what boring light! What could be done?

On my way to and from this New England trip I stopped for lunch at the same restaurant. Each time I was seated in a different section, and each of those sections had old oil landscape paintings on the walls in which the colors were not natural but nor were they monochrome. They were sort of a tint. I stared at them and thought there must be a way to recreate this effect in appropriate photographs. Information tucked away in my brain for later use.

Screenshot 2016-04-09

With a completely open mind I decided to take the image into Nik Color Efex Pro 4 and see what the different presets would do. (Remember my post about letting limitations work for you? My current limitation is that my Topaz plug-ins aren’t saving correctly and so I’m making the best of the Nik Suite.) The first preset I clicked (they’re listed in alphabetical order) was Bi-Color Effects.  As you can see from the screenshot, there’s an extensive selection of color combos, and each of those can be tweaked still further.  I tried them until I came to Moss 4. That was it. And — not that I was consciously looking for this — it somehow approximates that effect of hovering between not-quite-natural and not-quite-unnatural that I had observed on those oil paintings.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Please — let me know what you think! I appreciate your comments. Click here or here if you would like to order a print or other product.

Growing Your Photography: Imposing Limits

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Wonderful coincidence that led to new discoveries in my photographic journey today: It was Drop-Off Day for artwork to be exhibited in next weekend’s annual Exhibition and Sale at St. Catherine of Bologna Church in Ringwood, New Jersey. With my car duly loaded with my three for-sale photographs plus one for the Silent Auction, off I went down Route 17 and into beautiful Passaic County to relinquish my work into the loving hands of St. Catherine’s volunteers. It happened to be a beautiful day, and though I didn’t have much time to spare for a photo shoot, it was impossible totally to pass up the opportunity.

As it happened, en route to and from St. Catherine’s I had to pass Ringwood Manor, the scene of many of my recent photo shoots and the subject of two of the images I was submitting to the show (there’s a Bonus Tip for you: When deciding what to put into a show or sell at a fair, remember that people like to buy images of their own local region). Fine, I didn’t have to go out of my way; how could I ensure that I wouldn’t get carried away and spend more time there than I ought to?

The two-part solution: First, don’t take a lot of gear. In fact, don’t take the DSLR at all. I opted for my little Olympus Stylus SH-1, which with its zoom that maxes out to 600mm has served me well for  many a travel situation (read: taking on airplanes). Second, limit the pictures I would take to only one of the “Art” presets — the Pinhole, which, obviously, lends itself well to photographing subjects like old buildings.

That limitation — any limitation you choose to impose on yourself (some suggestions you’ll frequently read involve taking along and using only one lens on your DSLR; if you really want a challenge, make it a prime or fixed focal length lens) — will help to free your mind from all your usual presuppositions about what you expect to photograph. Instead, aware that you now have limited options, you will mentally narrow down your options in accord with the limitation you’ve set for yourself.

And so, despite the countless photographs I’ve taken at Ringwood Manor, I was able to find a number of brand new (for me) compositions that worked well with that Pinhole setting. (As an added bonus there’s the physical freedom afforded by toting a small compact instead of a DSLR and tripod.)  Here are a few of them for you to see. And if you’re in the neighborhood, why not stop by and see all the amazing work on display at St. Catherine’s Art Exhibition?  For the images I’ve submitted to the show, click here, here, and here. Thank you!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Kerry Drager’s Coastal Visions Delights the Eye

Coastal_Visions_Cover_Kerry_Drager s

A couple of years or so ago, California photographer Kerry Drager moved from an inland part of his state to a coastal area in central California. And much to the benefit of those of us who follow Kerry’s photographic work, he not surprisingly fell under the spell of the California coast. The spell has drawn him back again and again to photograph the beauty of Cambria, Cayucos, and San Simeon, and some of the results can be seen in the exquisite little book Coastal Visions recently published on blurb.com.

Kerry has infinite patience. You can see the results in this book: waiting for that wave to break just right, for the seagull to position itself in the optimal spot; working out the optimal composition, waiting (or returning again and again) for the sweetest light.

But not all the images are strictly of waves, rocks, gulls, and other things that one readily associates with coastal places. No, there is more to a coastal vision than that.  A stunning backlit group of daisies; an abstract of rock and lichen – Kerry  is renowned for his close-ups both as photographer and a teacher; a fence –what fellow Californian Ansel Adams would likely have called an extract, a portion of a fence in an image composed so as to get the maximum effect from minimum subject matter.

Kerry Drager’s Coastal Visions can be purchased from blurb.com.

And as if the book weren’t enough, Kerry currently has a show running at The Photo Shop in San Luis Obispo until March 14. The show features prints from the book, so it must be quite a treat to see these beautiful images in large format on the wall. Do go and have a look if you live in the area or are passing through.

I eagerly await more publications from Kerry; he is working on other projects and in his own good time – Kerry is methodical, he doesn’t rush impulsively into things (which is why he excels at what he does) – he will show us further products of his creativity. Coastal Visions promises much, and much will certainly be delivered.

 

When the Light Isn’t Cooperating

DSC-5595 cr two toned s

It happens. From your window very early in the morning you see a glint of red beginning in the sky, and you grab your gear and hurry out to your favorite place to make some photos. Maybe you’ll finally get that moonset you’ve been trying for, or catch the sweet light glinting off the top of that mountain.

So you get there and that glint of light is gone, leaving you with nothing but overcast. A rather dull overcast, at that. What to do?

This happened to me on the day after Christmas at Cooper Lake. Sometimes I’ll simply chalk it up to the luck of the draw and look at the positive side: at least I’m out where I can enjoy a nice walk, even if I don’t have any pictures to show for it.

But on this occasion there were several other factors in my favor, too good to be passed up. First, despite the late-December date, there had yet to be snow or a freeze, so that reflections were visible in the lake and not the sheet of white that one expects at this time of year. Second, those reflections were perfect and undisturbed due to the wind being absolutely still. Third, there was great composition potential, especially now that my favorite tree was completely bare of leaves and made a striking foreground element for the lake scene. And related to this, the lack of strong light revealed some compositional ideas I might otherwise not have seen.

And so the camera came out of the bag, the tripod was set up, and I set to work. Except for the less-than-good light, I was pleased with the results.  But what to do about the boring light?

I began experimenting with some of the plug-ins in my processing software. And I mean experimenting. In some cases I ended up with two or three different results that I’ve saved. In some cases I added filter layers, deleted them again, modified the images in other ways. The end results, with which I’m pleased, are what I prefer to call “photo art.”

I want to stress that my idea of photo art is not the same thing as “improving” a boring photograph by bumping up the saturation and other sliders so that the end result is simply an oversaturated, overprocessed image that screams “phony.” Rather, to make photo art a photograph — a good photograph — is my starting point, but the end-point image, while respecting the integrity of the original, doesn’t necessarily look like a photograph — perhaps not at all. (Some viewers of such an image I made a couple of weeks ago on a foggy day thought it looked like a Japanese painting; OK; but I don’t make such claims for myself. Judge for yourself — it’s the image at the top of this blog post.)

Here are two images from last week’s visit to Cooper Lake, one of the images in two different versions.

DSC-5702 med pop grg s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here you see the above-mentioned tree. When it’s covered with leaves you have to somehow work around it so that it doesn’t obliterate some interesting parts of the mountains, but when it’s bare like this, it’s perfect. On this occasion it even helped to fill in some of the “empty” sky space that didn’t have clouds. In this version I used Topaz Adjust’s Medium Pop Grunge preset in the HDR Collection. (In all cases this “finishing touch” is preceded by basic processing in Lightroom and then usually some further processing in Photoshop, especially increasing the contrast and often the details or structure. Nik Viveza is an especially powerful tool for this.)

DSC-5702 Top BW Ef s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Same image again, this time processed with the Cerulean Tea Rose preset in Topaz BW Effects Cyanotype Collection. Here I went into the Creative Effects and increased the Feature Boost, since I wanted more detail than what the preset on its own was giving me. Then, back in Photoshop, I lightened the shadows very slightly.

DSC-5711 Viv 2 lyrs Top BW s

I always knew that something could be made of those branches sticking up out of the water, and ironically, the poor light this day facilitated that. I played around quite extensively with this image and came up with three similar versions, the chief difference being the amount of pink tint, ranging from none at all to more pronounced. This is the middle one on that spectrum, and I think it’s my favorite of the three. It took two layers of Viveza plus a layer from the Topaz BW Effects palette. I especially like Viveza for the ability to select  adjustments and then brush them on to only certain parts of the image, and I often use this to accentuate something in the image to which I wish to draw attention, such as the Brightness and Structure in the two trees here.

Which version of the wide-angle image do you prefer? Please leave a note in your comments; I’d like to hear from you.

All images in this post are for sale. Please visit my new Photo Art Gallery at my FAA website.

 

In the Steps of Jervis McEntee

Do you go into mourning once the fall foliage season has ended? Is that it for photography until next summer mercifully cools to an end or, at best. until a blanket of snow adds some brightness to what’s often referred to as “stick season”?

That needn’t be the case. I’ve contended that “there is beauty in bleakness” ever since my trips to Arctic Sweden in the 1990s, and that includes the bleakness of November par excellence. One of my most enduring and endearing photographic memories is of a shoot at Copperas Pond in the Adirondacks a number of years ago. The subdued, diffused light provided by the pale sun made the delicate red berries — I’m not sure what they are, but here’s a photo of some similar berries from last winter in the Catskills — stand out.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But what about the wider landscape? Is it possible to extract a usable photograph out of the vast, brown sea of bare trees that confront us as we survey a wide-angle landscape during that time between the colorful leaves and the white snow?

I found the answer in two exhibitions of Jervis McEntee, the 19th-century landscape painter who worked mostly (if not exclusively) near or in New York’s Catskill Mountains. Even McEntee was unusual in admitting that November was his favorite time to paint. Fortunately, both exhibitions — one in Kingston and the other (open until December 13) at SUNY New Paltz — and their catalogues carried examples of the works he created at this visually challenging time of year, so I was able to study them before going out on my own November shoot.

The secret, I think, is to work with the bleakness, not against it — that is, to accept it and decide how to make it an advantage rather than try to “correct” it by (for example) enhancing the values of your Vibrance or Saturation slider or going too heavy with filters. For illustrations, here are two of the images I made from my November shoot at Ringwood Manor in Northern New Jersey. Ringwood is one of those places that offers photo opportunities in every season and in almost every kind of light. What could I do with it on a late, rather heavily overcast afternoon in November?

DSC-5443 ed BuzSim s

The first thing the above image needed was a dialing down of the green grass; having been a loyal Fuji Velvia shooter back in the film days, I tend to keep the setting on my Nikon DSLRs on Vivid, which gives that characteristic saturated green. Then, the browns in the image needed the reverse: a bit of enhancement. Finally, to get a hint of a “painterly” look I used the BuzSim preset in Topaz Simplify 4 and increased the detail just a bit.

DSC-5464 BuzSim s

This image also benefited from BuzSim and an increase in the detail, as well as an overall dialing down of the saturation.

I think I succeeded in getting what I wanted from these images. I learned from McEntee’s paintings, not because I wanted to “imitate” them and turn my photographs into paintings but because I wanted to see how I could produce what are still recognizably photographs, but ones that show the November landscape to its best advantage and that it is possible to do this.

– – – – – – – – – –

SPECIAL OFFER Limited Time!

If you’re looking for a special holiday gift for a friend (or for yourself!), I have photographs of Woodstock (NY), Cooper Lake (NY), and a vintage general store in Rhode Island available on canvas at a special price of only $35.00 and Free Shipping. Each canvas measures 8 x 10 and is ready to hang. This offer is good until Friday December 18. To see them, please visit the Special Offers Gallery in my Etsy shop.

PhotoPlus Dazzles New York City

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

October is about fall foliage and about Halloween, but for the thousands of photography enthusiasts who descend on the Javits Center on Manhattan’s West Side each year, it’s also about the grand PhotoPlus Expo. Sponsored by PDN, the PhotoPlus Expo, which comes to New York every October, is nothing short of Photographer’s Heaven for anyone who owns a camera. It offers seminars, workshops, portfolio reviews, and, for those who want just “the basics,” an amazing array of exhibits by vendors of everything a photographer needs, from the highest-end DSLRs to postprocessing software, file storage, books, and lens tissues–plus anything else you can imagine if you’re a photography professional or enthusiast.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn Friday October 24 I took a quick swing through the exhibits to see two of my favorite photographers — local New York guys at that! — who also happen to be outstanding teachers, each in his own way. Robert J. Rodriguez, Jr., who is known especially but not exclusively for his work in the Hudson Valley, was there in his capacity as ambassador for Canson Infinity, the manufacturers of high-quality (to put it mildly) photographic paper. Read his recent blogpost to see how Robert came to represent Canson Infinity. I took a quick photo of him posing next to two of the images he had chosen to exhibit at their booth this year.

Then I caught Rick Sammon while addressed a crowd of people at the Canon exhibit. One of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACanon’s renowned Explorers of Light. Rick was also, I believe, signing copies of his latest book, Creative Visualization for Photographers, during PhotoPlus. I’ll be featuring reviews of Rick’s book as well as of Robert’s e-book Insights from the Creative Path in this blog soon.

If you live in the New York area and have never attended PhotoPlus, I recommend you give it a try. It’s always on the last full weekend in October.

Fall Foliage Questions? Ask Jeff Folger

The Old Barn

The Old Barn

It’s getting to be that season again: fall foliage, when we head out with our cameras to capture nature going out literally in a blaze of glory. Due to the unseasonably warm weather we’ve had in the Northeast, the foliage in the New York and New England areas is on the late side this year.  My friends from the New England Photography Guild are reporting the colors slowly and gradually developing, and Dr. Robert Kozlow, who has just published his third book of photographs of New Hampshire, tells me it may well be mid-October or later before the colors peak there.

17 - Autumn Color Splash

 Autumn Color Splash

If you want literally up-to-the-minute information on New England foliage, you should be following photographer/blogger Jeff Folger, who with good reason is nicknamed Jeff Foliage. Come this time of year, he hits the road to drive everywhere and report on what he sees. And Jeff reports not only on the status of the foliage itself — he’ll also recommend places to stay when you’re in the area, always places where he himself has stayed, no guesswork here. Check out his blog here.

During the non-foliage season (notice how fall foliage is so important that the other times of yearDSC-2678 s are referred to in the negative), Jeff is busy monitoring all sorts of meteorological reports so he can offer educated prognoses on what sort of a foliage season will await us in New England.  And not only does he offer the information on his blog — he also replies to personal questions, including requests for recommendations for driving tours, etc. (always with the disclaimer that this is not scientific but educated guesswork based on years of experience and research).

Jeff is also a stunning photographer. You can view his work on his Fine Art America website and purchase not only prints but also a wide array of photo products. Click here for a look.

Another disclaimer: The photos in this post aren’t Jeff’s but mine, taken, of course, last year or earlier. (And they’re for sale; click on the image for information.} This year’s burst of color still awaits the attention of my camera.