Monday, February 28, 2011

Assignment 3: Hofgarten

I am now at a stage in my thinking about the 3rd assignment such that I have decided upon a theme, but not yet upon a subject.  The theme will be to take 8-10 photographs within a very finite space, each no more than 100M or so from a central point.  The photos should convey something of the sense of the place and the people or structure that occupies that space.  My first set I blogged a couple of days ago, the Friedensengel, although at the time this was not specifically for the assignment.

This weekend the weather was kind again, providing a bright blue sky and cold crisp weather, ideal for the creation of high contrast B&W.  My study this time was the Hofgarten, somewhere I go back to time and time again.  I spent 3 hours just walking around absorbing the atmosphere and trying a number of different ideas.  I started out with my 24mm TS-E mounted on a tripod, and then switched from a 100mm prime to a 70-200mm telephoto.  The clear skies meant plenty of light so although I continued to use the tripod for most of the shots hand holding was not an issue either.   I prefer to use a tripod for this style of photography because it helps in the composition and slows down the thought process.  I am using a tripod head with individual screw adjustments for each axis which combined with a spirit level enables very fine adjustment of the horizon.  My biggest issue is now aligning the camera exactly perpendicular to the subject - I am getting really fussy about parallel lines in images.

From the 264 photos I took that day, these are 10 that I think make a balanced group, a mixture of subject and style:

The first few images are very architectural:

I very much like this one, the shadow of the surveillance camera nicely breaks the rhythm of the columns

This is the Munich war memorial to fallen German soldiers from the last two wars, a very heavy structure. I have darkened the shadows to black so that the space under the slab looks very heavy with dread.  I could not eliminate the trees from the sky line without a very weird perspective, I like them as they imply life after death, but my tutor may not be so keen, so might take them out later.

The steps to the court house.  The sun was just turning the corner, creating deep shadows.  I have chosen a very pyramidical comp here, emphasizing the shape of the stone.

As this is designed to be a set describing different aspects of the location, the massive number of trees is a key feature.  This heavily pruned tree has a wonderful structure.  I have heavily processed this image to try to create separation from the background, colour channels adjusted up and down.  I have added a vignet to the image to darken the corners and a slight sepia tone to remind the viewer that this is organic.  When shooting I tried to ensure that there was little or no evidence of buildings behind the tree.

Not sure on this one, I like the repeating shape of the arch but the cyclist?  Maybe.

A popular activity on the gravel lined paths of the Hofgarten is Boules.  I thought this group made a good study, it talks about the use of the space.  I have two versions, one with their faces this one without.  Somehow the fact that they are turned away works as it places the attention on what they are doing, not on who they are.

Both of these photographs are in the same place, but with very different treatments, one is very much a study of the lady enjoying the winter sun, whilst the second is a study in perspective and shadow.

These last two images, speak to the space and structure of the garden.  I have many like this, it is difficult to know quite what to choose.  I suspect that if I use any of this set for the final submission I will struggle to make a final choice.

This is a start, but also not far from a finish.  I am surprised at how happy I am with these images, B&W is much less of a mystery now and a medium that I think I can be creative in.  So far this is the real learning from DPP.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Ex. 17 Colours into tones - 1

Having read ahead a little I have already started to use these techniques on my current B&W work, and find them very powerful (see my last blog entry).  For this exercise I have tried to select an image that contains a broad range of colour, but that will also be very amenable to the treatment suggested.  This was taken yesterday in the Hofgarten on a cold but very clear day, beautiful colour and excellent crisp shade for B&W.

For the colour version I have cropped, sharpened and increased the saturation.  This picture has 3 basic colour groups:

  1. Red - The roof of the building and the brown in the bushes
  2. Blue - The sky and the domed roof of the foreground building
  3. Green - The grass
A basic desaturation produces a very uninteresting image:

In Lightroom there are 8 sliders and typically colour modifications are best done moving 2 adjacent colours at the same time, but by differing amounts.  My first tone adjustment is to greatly brighten Red/Orange and reduce Aqua/Blue.  This really deepens the sky and also darkens the roof in the foreground, whilst greatly brightening the roof in the background.  As I have left the Yellow and Green at 0, this does not greatly change the middle ground tones.

Doing the opposite totally changes the character of the image reversing the toning of the roofs and sky.

Both of these images are much bolder to the eye delivering more punch.  I prefer the middle image with the darkened blues, however, darkening the sky with a tree in front of it has created some visual artifacts which detract from the image.  An "ideal" conversion would be a little less aggressive.

A useful technique and one that I am now using on many of my latest images

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Black and White Progression

I find myself consciously buying into the concept of B&W photography, not universally, but selectively.  For subjects possessing little colour to start with or where the colour is incidental to the image, B&W enables much greater manipulation of the image before a transition to a visually "wrong" image.  Clearly subjects lacking colour need to possess other properties such as strong form or texture.

Aside from the exercises I have taken a look at a few recent architectural photos and done B&W conversions

The colour version of this image with the brilliant blue sky is one of favorite recent captures, however, converted to monochrome it takes on even greater power.  In the conversion I have almost completely darkened the blue, yielding a very dramatic black sky contrasting with the strong geometry of the building.  In this case both images have merit, I have no preference.  Another similar conversion is of an image of the Bavarian State Museum, again with a very strong blackening of the sky

This is less successful, the more complex structure of the museum is less amenable to the conversion, plus I have lost the rather marvelous colour in the image.  I think I have also overdone the darkness in the B&W image.

Other than some work on the computer, I have also been back to the Friedensengel to reshoot some of the images I created for Exercise 15.  First of all I took my 24mm perspective control lens to try and get some better structured images of the architecture of the monument:

A big change in how I look at photographs that B&W has driven is a step change in framing, somehow B&W works very well in a square or near square frame, I think this is because the square frame better supports highly geometric shapes.  After this I switched to a 100mm Macro for some details and telephoto shots, first the telephoto:

I particularly like this perspective with the staircases overlapping and the light at the bottom, however, the shot needs to be re-framed to bring the light lower and separate it visually from the balustrade behind it.  For that I will need to step back and use a longer focal length, 200mm will probably do the trick.

I then got in closer to the steps and starte to think about shape and form, in particular how the shadows cast by the buildings interact with the structure of the buildings:

The next shot is a simple attempt at a still life style composition, carefully composing the different elements of the image - not sure that this works?

Finally I have used the 100mm as a true Macro and moved in very close to some of the details in the iron work associated with the lamps.  B&W is very effective at revealing this detail without the confusion of the background.  In the first image the backing is a series of trees, the colour totally changes the impact of the shot.  I have also framed this as a classic 8x10, again I am finding that framing is flexible but also critical in the success of a B&W photograph, much more so than in colour.

Finally I got in very close and created this abstract, compositionally OK, but technically wrong.  I have shot at f/2.8 far too large an aperture at this range.  The diffused background is great, but the lack of focus on the loop of the iron work is distracting and spoils the image.  With a close up such as this even at f/8-f/16 the DOF will be very small and retain a diffuse background.

I am beginning to think about my goals for Assignment 3 and this study is a part of that process, my thought is to create a series of 8-10 images all in the same relatively small area say 100x100m, trying to capture the essence of a location.  I would try and vary the subject, scale, framing, and processing options to show the versatility of B&W and of course illustrate my learning. 

This is really scary stuff, B&W is beginning to weave its spell!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Reading: The Camera by Ansel Adams

Before commenting on this book, I must state that I find Ansel Adams' work to be very impressive, even awe inspiring, however, it is not really my gig and I am appalled by the virtual deification of the man.  He is, on the other hand, a master of the art and craft of photography.  Most people appreciate the art, it is ubiquitous in posters, calendars and books, however, it is the craft that he tries to share in this book, the first in a series of 3, the others being "The Negative" and "The Print".

From the very outset his position is quite simple, if you cannot perfect the craft of photography then how can you possibly move onto making art .  At  first I struggled with this point of view, I am now firmly wedded to the Digital world of point, shoot, review, shoot again, share, print...  However, the more I think about his stance and my own capabilities, the more I come to agree with his view. Without mastery of how a camera works, how it captures light, and how that capature is transfered to a final medium, how can we have the confidence to be free to consider the question of art or if we do will the results have any value.  This series of books provides a distillation of his knowledge of how to make photographs.  He provides many examples of his own work to illustrate points, from which one can gain inspiration, but this is not a book that sets out to explain his artistic vision.

The other aspect of the book that is at first rather daunting is that it was written in 1980, in the hey day of film and the dialog is primarily about the arcane processes involved in operating a view camera.  He does discuss 35mm cameras, and whilst he does not dismiss them, they are clearly considered to be second class citizens to medium and large format.  At its most basic this book is about developing the ability to visualize an image and then setup a camera to capture that visulization.  He starts with how lenses work and finishes with view-camera adjustments, a good technical overview of how a camera actually works.  He even goes into the simple mathematics of calculating magnification and hyperfocal distances, useful background info even if not something I plan to keep in my head.

So, how does this relate to my world of digital capture? Analog and Digital are completely different media requiring a different skill sets, however, the basics of getting what you want into the frame in a way that you want does not change. The discussion of the view camera is very pertinent to me, I bit the bullet some time ago and invested in a tilt-shift lens, turning my DSLR into an albeit simple view camera.  The workflow and thought process are almost identical, the key advantage of digital is that I do not need to shoot a polaroid to check exposure!  However, even without that lens, this book is worth a read if only to appreciate the need for a careful and measured approach to image making.  The ease of use of a digital camera, can if permitted, speed up processes too much and prevent a measured thoughtful approach to each image.  My take away from this book is both pholosophical and practical, take more time and learn the craft.

In some of my recent imagery, in particular assignment 2, I have tried to develop ideas of art that sacrificed quality, my tutors comments brought me back to ground.  Ansel Adams has now placed that in context and provided a new basis from which to work - "SLOWER".

Finally, whilst he sometimes comes across as the aging master speaking down to a junior apprentice, he was also quite prescient about where things were going, in 1981 he wrote the following in the Introduction to the second book in this series:
"I eagerly await new concepts and processes.  I beleive that the electronic image will be the next major advance. Such systems will have their own inherent and inescapable structural characteristics, and the artist and functional practitioner will again strive to cmprehend and control them."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ex. 16 Strength of interpretation

Although the rubric only asks for 2 photographs, I have selected 6 for this exercise.  Why, because I wanted to spend more time on this exercise than suggested and also select a broader range of subjects.  I have chosen two photographs from my catalog and processed them in pairs for High Key, Low Key and Strong Contrast.  I have not shot new images as the weather is lousy and for this activity I wanted to experiment with quite different images, in terms of tone and content.

In each of the following I will start by presenting the 3 versions of the image, the raw unmodified file, then the Black and White processed image, and finally the Colour processed image.  This is not quite true, the one modification to the starting image I have permitted is to crop it if needed.

High Key

Snow is an ideal subject for high key lighting.  The raw file is flat and needs some oomph.  A high key treatment was obvious due to the existing tonal structure, however, I was able to push the process far harder with the B/W version.  With the colour image the wooden bench started to take on a very unatural hue as I pushed the exposure and contrast upwards.  As the image was already very monochrome it has significantly benefited from the removal of what colour was present.

The second image is also one dominated by the snow, but also includes a washed out overcast sky.  By increasing the exposure by just over two stops, the building now merges into the sky creating a much more atmospheric scene.  In the colour version I have achieved the same thing, however, the trees are not as dramatic, the colour takes away some of the form that is visible in the B/W image.

Low Key

Moving from the cold of Europe to tropical Indonesia, I have taken this dusk image and tried to create a more moody view suggestive of night rather than evening.  Doing the same with the colour image created a very unnatural colour cast preventing me from going much darker, it simply no longer looked like real lighting.

Changing subject to a portrait session I completed just before Christmas, this photograph was taken using artificial strobe light against a black cloth.  In the B/W version I have significantly darkened the shadows at the expense of losing some facial detail creating a deeply shadowed image.  This is quite extreme and perhaps taken too far.  With the colour image, I could only change it slightly without the skin tones become far too dark.

High Contrast

Once again the B/W image was easier to process allowing far more latitude in modification before becoming unconvincing.  The colour photograph started to look like a bad HDR conversion and no longer a believable scene.

My final shot was taken in a shopping mall in Singapore and rejected as being too confusing.  The B/W conversion has reduced but not eliminated that confusion.  The contrast changes allowed far more play, in the colour version the pink shirt and green banister became overwhelming.

In all of these cases I have been able to make far more aggressive processing choices with the B/W image than I have with the colour one.  With the colour images the hues became unrealistic very quickly, whilst with the B/W images similar adjustments simply added to the visual texture of the photograph.  I am starting to see some of the advantages of B/W as an art form, it permits far greater manipulation by the artist freeing up a number of creative options that are simply not available in colour.  With B/W the eye looks at shape and form, extreme contrast is accepted as part of the very concept of B/W.

One question that immediately comes to mind is whether our tolerance for extreme B/W is a cultural outcome of historical exposure to large amounts of B/W imagery in the press?  Do the younger generation brought up almost exclusively with colour imagery see B/W images with the same eyes that older people do?