Spring redux

Summer green has set in strongly now, replacing the spring flowers with lush foliage.  Saw some flowers at the store the other day and decided to capture some of the seasonal color.  Tried a little light painting to give the look I wanted.  Technique works really well on these type flowers with all the textures and bold colors.

Camera adjustments

Most semi-serious photographers love their gear, love playing with their gear, love talking about their gear.  Usually the trick is to get us to stop talking about it all and show some pictures.

I use a lot of digital equipment but when I’m interested in really controlling the look of the image I get under the hood behind my view camera.  Being able to “disconnect” the plane of the lens from the plane of the film provides opportunities for images that are practically impossible with a regular camera.  Our brain does such a great job of interpreting what we see into the “correct” viewpoint that we’re generally surprised at pictures coming out of a regular camera.  Oddly, it takes a view camera with all its adjustment capability to deliver a photograph that looks “normal.”  The following three images are examples of what I’m talking about.

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Snap this shot with a regular camera and you’ll get something that might look similar.  Depending on where you stand the corners of the building might be vertical or slightly slanted, the near part of the curved wall at the bottom might be in focus or not, along with the trees in the distance.  It depends on the lens being used, the tripod setup and aperture selected.  For a view camera, making sure all these elements are exactly as desired is simple.  A little front tilt of the lens to “see” the foreground and an aperture stopped down to increase depth of field.

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This one would be harder for a regular camera.  The sign is about 5 feet from my camera where as the tower is about 50 feet away.  My camera is set up slightly down-hill from the tower and sign.  And the sign and tower are at different perspectives.  To make sure everything is in focus, and that the vertical parts are really vertical while the horizontal parts stay that way required using most of the view camera’s movements.  The lens and film plane are swiveled enough to get the focus for the tower and sign in the same plane, the lens has been lifted higher than the film to keep the perspectives the same while being tilted forward slightly to “see” the path in front of the sign, and the aperture is stopped down to f/64 so that everything is in focus.

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This was the simplest shot to make.  Level the camera, tilt the body down slightly to “see” the ice triangle in the river, tilt the film plane to vertical to keep the trees straight, and tilt the lens forward enough to put the foreground and distance in the same focus.

Setup and adjustments like this usually take 15-20 minutes per shot – definitely not a candid image.  Staring at the image developing on the glass screen under the hood is worth it, though, as you see how the adjustments render the shot just as you want it and just as your eye sees it.

One of the definitive books on this subject is Ansel Adams’ The Camera, which provides instruction on using the adjustments to get the image you want.  There are other sources out there but Adams writes well and serves up sound advice from years of experience crafting images exactly the way he wanted them.  It’s fun to read, and who knows, might encourage more people to try out a view camera for a different perspective on photography.

It’s hard being green (apologies to Kermit)

Weather here has been what passes in Wisconsin as a heat wave, with the usual warnings about high heat indices and drinking enough water.  When the humidity builds and the sun shines freely it means just one thing to me – infrared and clouds!

All that water vapor rising from the ground to hit the cooler air up high makes for wonderful big puffy cloud days.  Combined with all the full foliage, the still air and bright light, infrared is the tool of choice for strongly contrasting and dramatic images.

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ISO 100, 20 sec., f/8, Hoya R72 filter, 14-54mm lens

Think of the first photographer who took out a film traditionally used for more utilitarian purposes, made some landscape images on a sunny day, and then processed them just to see what came out.  What a great surprise that must have been, to see what’s around through a different set of eyes.  And then to offer the world an expansion of photography tools to enable us to see the world in an alternate fashion.

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ISO 100, 15 sec., f/8, Hoya R72 filter, 14-54mm lens

Some may argue that digital is not the same, that “real” infrared film is only sensitive to those wavelengths whereas the sensor is sensitive to a wider band but has the greens and blues filtered out.  My approach is not that of a purist.  I’m looking for interesting, novel and unique images that are recognizable as infrared and give the high contrast and detail I’m fond of portraying.  I will use infrared film at times, but not that much.  It’s more fun to process a digital image to make it appear just the right way rather than “guessing” how to expose the film and then waiting to see if it was correct.

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ISO 100, 25 sec., f/6.3, Hoya R72 filter, 14-54mm lens

What’s surprising is you can’t always tell how the luminosity will appear.  In the picture above all the leaves on the trees are green, as is the surface of the tennis court.  Yet the trees all appear to be different tones, and the court surface is darker than most.  Funny – we see green but in the infrared there are a myriad of shades of which we aren’t aware.

ISO 100, 20 sec., f/5.6, Hoya R72 filter, 14-54mm lens

ISO 100, 20 sec., f/5.6, Hoya R72 filter, 14-54mm lens

Again, except for the sky, clouds, tree trunks and service lines on the court, everything in this picture is green.  For infrared, not all greens are created equal.  Ain’t that cool!?

Seeing what isn’t there

One reason I enjoy working with infrared is that I’m really not that good at composing very interesting photographs.  I look at a scene, see something appealing to me, make an image and then get back to my computer only to discover the image does not portray the scene I saw.  Something is usually wrong about the depth, the color, the lighting – the image just doesn’t equal what I saw.

Some photographers advise you to make images that embody the feelings you had when looking at a scene.  In other words, the image doesn’t have to be a faithful reproduction of what you saw as much as eliciting similar feelings in the viewer.  I have a hard enough time recognizing the emotional appeal of a great photograph, much less figuring out how to embody that in a scene I’m standing in front of.

Hence, infrared.

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Sure, standing where I was to make this image you would see all the elements here – the stream, the grass, the trees, bridge and clouds.  But with infrared you couldn’t stand there and see this image, no matter how hard you tried.  Our eyes and brain prevent us from seeing infrared directly.  We can only see it after some tool that can see infrared processes the image for us.  And that means I can make it look anyway I want just to satisfy the way I “feel” about the look of infrared.

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Infrared images don’t care what colors you were looking at (OK, they do care but the final viewer is hard pressed to reverse engineer the image to know which colors make which “look” so really colors don’t matter), they don’t care about the soft quality of the light, they don’t care about pin-sharp details.  It’s all about the unearthly look, the glow of the foliage, the darkness of the sky and water.  The extreme contrast makes the image seem to have depth in a way the color version wouldn’t portray.  Getting rid of the color enables the photographer to draw attention to the tones; getting rid of most of the spectrum enables the photographer to point out a new world within the one right before our eyes.

Sunny fun

Now that the leaves are all back and the sun is high in the sky, it’s time to get out looking for strong contrasts to create some infrared!  Yeah – no more getting up at the crack of dawn to chase wonderful light.  Let it pour down in all the brightness and harshness possible.

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Winter greys

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Duotone images are simply those with only two tones.  Tritones have three.  Instead of lots of greys or colors, you can boil down an image to simple expressions of two or three forms of expression.  Sometimes the effect gives a better image.

The images above use only three tones – black is not one of them.  Essentially I’ve selected three versions of grey and Photoshop has replaced all those RGB or B&W pixels with some form of these three.  If color gets in the way of an image then why can’t the almost infinite range of tones from black to white?  How about just eliminating all that and use just the bare minimum needed to display luminance, contrast and shape?

This is not to be confused with toning an image.  There are selenium tones, sepia tones, cyano tones, colored tones, etc.  Doing that essentially drapes that tone over the whole image and the colors (or greys) showing through are influenced by it.  A duotone or tritone doesn’t drape the tones over the image – they become the image.

I’m sure there are lots of sites giving technical background on this and I could be totally wrong about it.  The idea goes back to graphic arts and halftone printing; it’s been upgraded to the digital world.  I’m sure experts in the art can turn a drab image into a spectacular one – I’m just playing around.