Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Final Print

Now that most of us are entrenched in the digital age some of us don’t think about our images final print. Instead we place it on the internet in facbook, blogs or our webpage and think no more about it. I have to say I have been guilty of this until recently when a video on platinum printing had caught my eye. This started me thinking about my prints and how I want them displayed. The internet is ok but there is nothing like a print, a great print on the wall

With a project I am starting this video could not have come at a better time. It has made me think beyond my image I took and how it looks in the camera. It is making me think of how I want to print it. The platinum process is not only a beautiful and the most archrival process but it is expensive. So any print that I did in this process would be limited and must be solid.

For the bulk of my prints I would like to find a way of printing them on so that they will display with longevity and brilliance. I want them to draw you in and pop off the wall. I want the viewer to look at them intently over details they did not see before or will again. I want the mundane to become the most interesting. I want all that in a print that I can’t take my eyes off and nether dose the viewer.

Personally I would love to go back to the darkroom and produce a silver gelatin print but most of my work at this moment is in digital form. Not easy to make a print the old fashion way. As it stands now instead of light sensitive paper you now have inkjet and different types of paper to print on. Or maybe print on light sensitive paper that is metallic, glossy, or matte. Or how about canvas? There are options but I almost feel divorced from my print when I can work it myself. There is something about working the paper and slapping it into the trays and creating a print that makes photography an art.

Well as I create my images I will also be looking for ways to print them up. I do want to do some of them in a platinum process, I just got to figure out how.

In the meantime here is the video that caught my attention.

Secrets of Platinum Printing by V. Tony Hauser from PIKTO on Vimeo.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Hunting Butterflies

When I was a kid I use to catch butterflies, kill them, and pin them up so as the corps dried they would be in the perfect display position. Back then there were so many butterflies around. You could not go a day without seeing Monarchs, Tiger Swallows, Cecropia Moths, and more. So capturing a couple for display did not seem to be a big deal, until now.

Now that the climate is going through a change (naturally with a little human push) and habitat is shrinking , butterflies seem to be disappearing form the cityscape. So instead of hunting butterflies with a net I pursue them with my camera. And let me tell you it is not easy. But with a little patience and determination you can capture great butterflies for display without taking a single one out of the environment.

First you need to know your insect. And I am not talking about knowing everything from genius name to the lifecycle of it. What you need to know is when is the best time to photograph them. Some butterflies tend to arrive early in the year and some arrive later in the fall. Thistle feeders like Buckeyes, Painted Ladies, and Red Admirals tend to be late summer and early fall feeders. I remember one year we had numerous Painted Ladies flocking to our Cadim which was in bloom at the time. For the bigger butterflies like the Monarch you will see them in Late May early June after their migration from Mexico. These Monarchs tend to be beaten up because of their long journey. You may wish to wait until the next generation come out in order to capture the idea butterfly.

The time of day can also be key to get a great shot. Butterflies can be jumpy and hard to get the perfect set up for the shot. To better your chances for a great shot go out and hunt in the morning. In the cool air the butterflies tend to be sluggish and cannot react as fast . As the day warms up the butterfly becomes more active and harder to photograph. High noon tends to be the worst time to hunt for butterflies. The butterflies are warmed up, really jumpy, and sometime drunk off of the nectar they had been drinking.

What to bring on the hunt? First bring a fast and good lens that can get good close ups. I use my 24-135mm lens. I can capture a good tight photo without being too close and spooking my subject. Macro lens are good and make sure you bring one on a cool morning, but with macro lens you have to be close to your subject and that will spook the butterfly away more often than none. So the longer zoom lens to help bring in the subject but not scare your subject is idea. And not only will it help keep your distance but the lens will help compress the background and blur it out because of the shallow depth of field.

I will also use a tripod on the shoot. It would seem that a tripod would slow you up. But if you keep the head loose enough you can line up your shot and still have a stable enough platform so there is no blurs caused by camera shakes. Anytime you can use a tripod is a good time to use it. For most of the photos you could be shooting around 60th to 250th shutter speed depending on ISO, light available, and f-stop your using. Those shutter speeds seem fast enough but I can tell you I have blown plenty of great shots do to the slights shake of my hand.

There are two types of ways to capture your subject. One is to actively spot and stalk your pray and the other is to sit and wait. Both have their pros and cons. Stalking the pray is the easy way to find and get your photo. You have to move with caution and have your camera preset to take that first shot, cause that maybe the only shot you get. Sometimes it is easier to just wait at a spot that the butterfly is flying around at the time. Eventually one will arrive and until they do you can get your shot set up for that quick shot. The draw back is that you could be waiting for a long time.

The best method is the combination of the two, stalk and wait. I have had more luck with that method. You get yourself set up around an area the butterflies congregate . Then I find an area, wide area where I can set up my exposure that I want. Then when a little beastie lands in the area you can pickup and move quickly to line up a shot. Because the exposure setting is the same around the area I have picked, I don’t have to worry about adjusting my settings. I can get that shot and maybe tweak the exposure for the next shot. Sometimes I can get three or four more photos before the butterfly takes off. And if they to take off, sometimes you can just stay still they may return.

Now that I have been shooting the butterflies for a while I have been trying to frame them in more of an unconventional way. What I mean is that I don’t want to just take the usually shot from above with the wings open. I am pushing myself to frame the butterfly in such away that the environment is as much a part of the subject as the butterfly. The photo below is a good example of what I am after. The butterfly is important so it remained in focus but I added the two other cone flowers and kept the out of focus. That way the two subjects do not compete for your attention. The butterfly is the main draw and the flowers are secondary.

So now it is your turn to try your hand at photographing butterflies. It is not easy but using the stalk and wait approach and a little patience you will be successful over time. If you want to see more of my photos of butterflies stop by my face book page. If you want post a photo or send me a link to your photo. I would like to see other photographers shots.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

An Experiment

Third photo shot black and white

Second photo shot black and white First photo shot in color processed to black and white

I have a Nikon D80 that I got for Christmas back in 2008. Like all new cameras I had not explored it’s possibilities of what it offered, well until now. Last week I had made it my mission to see if shooting in black and white then processing it in Photoshop would look better than shooting in color then processing it to black and white in the same program. First I did not know my camera has a black and white mode but to my excitement I did find it. The path is mode-optimize image-black and white-custom. At this point you can select your tonal compensation and filter effects. I chose 2 tone compression and a red filter. I also changed my type of file shot to RAW which increased my file size by a lot. I could shoot 250 frames not I am down to 150.

Yesterday was a good day to shoot because of the sun was out, a few clouds were there to make the sky interesting. I went out to the back second level of the house and shot off the porch. The subject matter was not of great beauty but there was a large tonal range that was represented there. I had the high key whites to the dark shadows that could go black. This was a good exercise in metering and controlling the exposure to keep get the best results.

I first shot 3 exposures in color. Using the matrix meter reading I shot the first exposure as the meter told me. Then I shot the next exposure so that I can bring the whites down for zone one to zone 3. This would leave them bright but began to pick up detail. Of course this made the shadows move from a zone 7 to a zone 10, black with no detail. This shift in exposure was 2 stops. Then I made exposure the opposite direction, exposing for the shadows and blowing the high lights. Again 2 stops over the first exposure. My intent is to combine these exposure to make one photo perfectly exposed and turn it to black and white.

Now I changed my camera setting to black and white. In the RAW mode it really just a preview mode of black and white. In RAW everything is collected in the exposure including the color. So even though you see the image on the display in black and white, you still have a color file to work with. I think it is cool to have this. Once again I used the matrix meter to give an average exposure for the scene and then exposed for the highlights and shadows. I did add a graduated blue filter for the sky to create dramatic sky.

Once I got the exposures I looked for another area to shoot. I found one that had even a larger range of highlights and shadows. For the highlights there was a white garage and in the shadows were cars both light and dark. Now instead of shooting it landscape I shot it vertical. I metered for the average and shot, then metered for the highlights and shadows and shot each. The interesting thing is that I know I got a better exposure overall when I metered for the highlights.

I pulled the files in and processed them. First it was the color files. Without going into great detail I merged the photos together using layer masks and only using the best exposure of each. Then I converted the color image into black and white again using the layer mask option. I tweaked the image in the channels and committed it to black and white. Then I processed it to make it look warm

Next I did the same process to the black and white versions (display files). I again combined the 3 images to get the highlights and shadows in the right zones. I then turned them into black and white and processed them to sepia and compared. I found that the files shot as black and white to have just a little more tonal range than the color. Each photo has details in the highlights and the shadows. If you look at the parking lot you will notice that you have more detail in the parking lot in the black and white version than the color version. Make since? I have posted each but because each monitor is not calibrated you may or may not see the difference. The print would be the best way to judge this difference. I threw in the garage shot for another example of black and white preview.

I have not drawn any conclusions yet. I believe that it is too soon to be absolutely sure that this is the way I want to shoot my black and white photos. I do think I am on the right path but I will be doing more of these exercises to refine the technique.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

What Moves Me

What motivates me to be a photographer and create the images I do. I do it for me. I shot what pleases me. I did not always do this, for a time I was a portrait artist and loved what I did. But as time when on I got burned out on it. I got thrown into portrait situations where I did not know the people real well and the photographs showed it. They like what I did but I was not happy with it and the more that happened the more I started get away from photography.

So what is drawing me back? I came across a few images that reminded me why I love photography. In this months Rangefinder I saw images by Mitch Dobrowner that capture the drama of a storm that rolled across the plain states. I live in such a state and have seen many of these formations pass overhead without taking the time to photograph them. If you want to see power there is noting like watching a wall cloud churn over a field or city accompanied by the wind, rain, lighting and thunder. In Mitch’s photographs you could almost feel that just by looking at them. The great detail of the updrafts caught in the clouds, the contrasts in the dark and light clouds, and how he was able to bring that in on one snap of the shutter.

This image reminded me that I wanted to capture that, to convey what I have experienced in my life and how powerful the storm is. I wanted all that in my images so I could share this event with everyone that had and had not shared the same experience. Isn’t that what photography is about, sharing the human experience? Isn’t it what makes a great photograph? The pictures that convey emotion and energy that touches us on some level to the point we can feel what the subject is feeling? If you don’t believe it then look at the real good human drama photographs and say that. Better yet look Mitch’s photo and say you don’t hear the wind blow or feel the dread of something big will drop out of the sky.

So this spring as the weather trends to the storms my goal is to capture all parts of the storm. From the flash of lighting to the wall clouds rolling across the fields. I want to capture that beautiful eerie dread a storm has on the plains folk that draws us outside when we should be taking cover.

Oh I plan to dive to the storm rather than bike. Although I do plan to bike and photograph a lot. I have to satisfy both passions as often as I can.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Photo Safari

Now that it is a little warmer and I am found my motivation I plan to do my Photo Safari exercises at least once a week. If you are not familiar with what a photo safari is, it is simply a time where you go out and shoot whatever comes to you. The photos safari gives you a chance to think photographically. The subjects are not particularly beautiful landscapes other breathtaking subjects. They are, however, simple subjects that you have to make interesting.

The photo safari gives me a chance to try new things like play with my white balance. The first thing I did was to take the white balance off of auto and put it on an extreme setting. This way the photo is very cold or very warm and in the right light that can enhance your final print. Sure can so this in Photoshop but for me to get to the final print I don’t want to sit in front of the computer for hours. Get the exposure right as well as the color the less you have to do in Photoshop. Besides the more you mess with it in any program the more you can rip out of the file.

Today instead of going out I saw a photo opportunity at home. We have a hardwood staircase that has two windows, one at the landing and one that is partly covered around the bottom. The sunlight was streaming through the lower window and bouncing around the walls. The direct sunlight was on the stairs and on the wall facing it creating a spot of bright and reflected light. Because the walls are a dark red the light bouncing around was warm. Thus creating a great photo opportunity with the right subject, which was the cat but I moved to much and spooked it off.

So in stood the dog. I had placed the dog on the second step and with the help of my wife, made it sit. Of course it looked staged but that is when the dog moved and I started shooting again. The second round went so much better. I shot this with my Nikon D80 at 50mm f/5 at 1/30th of a sec. With this exposure I was able to catch the details of the shadows while not blowing out the highlights. The dog moves fast so I just kept shooting as long as she put up with it.

Next took it into Photoshop and strengthen the curve in in the layer mask mode found in the layers pallet. I like to do this there because it is the closest to dodging and burning you can get digitally. Now strengthening the curve of the exposure is simply creating a slight S curve in the RGB mode. By doing this you get a nice contrast without ripping out a lot of info in a slider mode. After that I look at what I have done an if I want I can take paint out in the layer mask what I had originally. Like the dogs face got a little to dark and by painting it on the layer mask I can bring color and exposure back. I finished up the touchups, cropped it and saved it as a tiff and jpeg file.

There a few photos of what I shot before and what was done today. Enjoy.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

In the Beginning

Well if I can’t get enough of blogging about cycling, now I am blogging about my photography. I have started to sell my work on Image Kind. It is a community of artist who sell their work using this site. The nice thing about this site is that not only can you order prints but canvas prints as well. They also can frame the work you have bought which saves time on your home decorating time.

I am starting out with the free site but as my prints sell I hope to move up my membership to a more attractive website. I have seen some of the templates for the upscale website and they look very good. Most of the work that I have placed on the site has been shot more recently around the house.

As far as new subjects I am planning to shoot more landscapes of Iowa while I ride my bike. What I plan to do is pick up a rack for the back and a bag that will hold my camera equipment and just ride around. My first assignment is to photograph the storms of spring. I plan to use my car for this one for the bike would be too slow to get to places and too dangerous for an escape. I am looking to get shots of lightning and wall clouds moving over the landscape. I plan to do this all in black and white. In fact I hope to do the majority of my work in black and white. I like color but I tend to like color photographs that there is one or two colors only. Color is nice but can be distracting which can tend not convey texture or feel of the subject unless it is muted or almost monochromatic.

I love film and will shoot with it when I can but for the most part I have to shoot digitally and use
Photoshop as an alternate darkroom. So whatever limitations I have in the darkroom will be same limitation I have in Photoshop.

I shoot with a Nikon D80 with a 24 to 80mm and 70 to 210mm lens. I also have a Mamiya 220c in which I can satisfy my film needs. The nice thing about the medium format is that I can make really large prints once I can put my darkroom together. Until then this sight and my local photo lab will be my way of outputting my work.

So what was my first camera? The 35mm film camera I shot with was an Argus C3, the brick. This camera uses a range finder for focusing, a leaf shutter in the lens and had a range from bulb to I believe a 500th of a second. I got great photos from it because the lens glass was cut so well. The one thing it did well is double exposures. The shutter cock and film advance was separate from each other. With this combination you had to pay attention when you use this camera.

I love photography and the images I have produced over the years. Not only is my photography is about creating the images that please me but please others. I know I will not be around forever but I hope that if my prints are out there a little piece of me will live on.

Enjoy My images