Structural age

Some say Art Deco is too much, overwhelming to the senses.  Some say it’s a throwback to earlier architectural fads, a melding together of many genres in an attempt to be modern for its time.  Some say it was before its time, a vision of the possibility of lines and curves creating depth on a surface.

And some say it was perfect for it’s time.  When the country was shouldering its way onto the world stage, becoming the industrial powerhouse it would peak as in the middle of the 20th century.  The designs, structure and flowing solidity of the style glamorized both the excess and excitement of its time.

I love photographing Art Deco.  So much detail, so much dimensionality, so much strength in the stories told by murals, pediments, statues and carvings.  Light and dark, shadow and surface, even the neon tubes fit with the crafted design.  It rewards the photographer who waits for the light, patiently watching the play of slanted light across the depth of construction, looking for just the moment when the balance jumps out for the viewer.

Look around.  Art Deco remains all around us, adding a little pizazz to the buildings and structures around us.

Winter on the central coast

Carmelite Monastery & Moss Cove - Pt. Lobos State Refuge

Carmelite Monastery & Moss Cove – Pt. Lobos State Refuge

There’s a picture by Ansel Adams that looks like this one hanging, I think, in the Carmel Mission.  It’s a big B&W hanging on a wall there.  It shows the building in the distance and a wave crashing on the rocks.  I stood in front of it and tried to figure out where he made his composition from and then checked a map of Pt. Lobos to see how to get to that point.  As you can see above, I managed to find a similar location and make a sunset photo with a nice warm vs. cool color contrast.

Problem is I can’t find Adams’ picture in any of his galleries online.  There is one image that comes up but the monastery is small and distant in the background, unlike the print I saw.  I guess it’s possible the image I saw was never digitized and thus inaccessible online but that would be surprising giving Adams’ popularity.  Anyone ever seen an image like I’m describing?  It exists in reality – I stood in front of it – but apparently not in the virtual world.

Sunrise,  Pacific Grove, CA

Sunrise, Pacific Grove, CA

Great thing about winter is the sunrise seems to last for a long time.  The shallow angle of the sun this time of year means it takes its time coming over the horizon instead of blasting up and glaring away like in summer.  I knew I wanted some sunrise images while in California and the clouds cooperated and left in the middle of the week.  A clear blue sky meant great color in the water in addition to the waves generated by the storm off-shore, and the nicely warm colored rocks gives contrast.  The low sun wraps around the curved rocks to give them dimension and show strength against the pounding waves.  The seagulls were all around, checking the tidal pools before they were flooded.

I keep returning to these locations, fascinated by the waves, colors, and wildlife.  It’s no surprise the number of people who want to live here or who find ways to return but only people who share an appreciation for this type of environment.  The settings draw you out to be a part of the scene; it’s practically impossible to sit inside around this place.  Simply sitting on a rock listening to the sounds and smelling the aromas enables you to immerse in the sense of place, a place that is unique and different.  Adding the visual element just rounds out the whole experience, especially with the ability to bring it home to see again and again.

Look up sometimes

A new location is so much fun to scout for new compositions.  And you find them in the most unexpected places.  Here we’ve got a place in the mostly rural area with a real forest behind, and I find this interesting repetition under the deck.  What caught my eye was the repeating trapezoid shape of the light coming through the spaces between the decking, and the random irregularities of the wood across the length of the boards.  Color was pretty much not relevant to this composition – the grey tones give all the contrasting light and dark needed to see the subject.

The new terrain

No, this is not Nebraska, although this scene of the new terrain looks very much like the previous state’s.  I wanted a rural scene as a foreground for the clouds, which were changing from big puffy versions to the more streamlined flat ones.  The sun cooperated and shone between the lines of clouds behind me to highlight the tops of the corn and the red barn.

Barns and silos are iconic in Wisconsin owning to the dairy farms dotting the southern part of the state.  A low flying plane would probably see them sprouting up regularly across the land.  The barns serve as shelter for more than expensive farm equipment – winter means putting the cows inside to protect them from the cold wind and blowing snow.  Hence, barns are bigger than in Nebraska, and seem to be more solid since they are called upon to protect more than just metal implements.

The main difference I’m finding here is the terrain changes more abruptly than the Great Plains.  Whereas you can travel for miles across eastern Nebraska across gently rolling hills or flat prairies, in this part of Wisconsin the glaciers left more sudden changes in topography.  A couple of miles on either side of this scene are sudden hills, round mounds of debris left behind as the walls of ice receded, now covered with topsoil and trees.  It’s nice to have them around, giving some vertical dimension to the landscape of cornfields, marshes and forests.

As you can see by the height of the corn, summer is receding and fall is almost perceived in the air.  The other season of color – I’m looking forward to it.

Posing the environment

Water and its reflection was a strong element in many Impressionist paintings because it was such a dynamic subject, always changing the appearance of light’s reflections from it by shape-shifting with the wind, current and tides.  Pay attention to rippling water on a bright day and notice how the colors change with the curvature of the waves, first reflecting the sky, then the shore, then other waves.  It was these multitude of small areas of color the Impressionists captured with their pigments, creating dimension and movement with their brush stokes.

Reflections even now help set the tone of an image, creating anticipation for the viewer even before the substance of the whole image becomes apparent.  Manipulating reflection is one way to change how an image is perceived and received.

Take this basic reflection image:

5 image HDR, ISO 100, 14mm, f/7.1, various shutter speeds

Calm for a Great Plains composition, it promotes a late afternoon stillness that doesn’t really convey the heat in the area right now.  All the cool colors counter balance the warm tones in the building and trees, suggesting a pleasant spot for a picnic or just to sit and watch the geese.  A fairly traditional portrayal of such a scene, rich in detail with emphasis on drawing rather than coloring.

This image of just the reflection is much more Impressionistic – less drawing emphasis and more on placing colors in conjunction to offer the suggestion of form.

ISO 100, 44mm, 1/100 sec., f/7.1

I wanted more of that effect for this image so I tossed a rock in the water just below the bottom of this image and then made several shots as the ripples expanded into the reflection.  By combining them in Photoshop I got this result.

ISO 100, 44mm, 1/100 sec., f/7.1

Probably more abstract than Impressionist as the form is falling apart but it nonetheless shows how reflection and movement can change the nature of an image.  Compare this to the first one above – do you not feel less calm and more “agitated”?

Periodically we outdoor photographers can actually manipulate our surroundings to deliver an specific mood.  Might as well take advantage of it when we can!

Just old fashioned

I’m not a Luddite opposed to new technology but I have outgrown much of my geek youth that reveled in pursuing the latest thing, be it hardware or software.  It’s marvelous to me the advances in digital photography.  Heck, going digital got me back into photography, giving me a way to finally realize all the mistakes I’d been making and how to use basic camera controls to stop making them.  If it wasn’t for digital my OM-1 would probably still be sitting on the shelf listening to me mutter under my breath about how it never delivers what I saw at the time.

With all the technological marvels in the past ten years of photography, though, the basics are still the same.  Light and how we manipulate it through lenses, apertures, shutter speeds continues to be the primary ingredient to begin a photograph.  Subjects, composition, perspectives, design elements and such continue to be important in creating images that capture attention and say something beyond documentation.  I think it’s great how photography connects the past with the future as we rely on 19th century basics to pursue 21st century image making.

As I learn more about photography it amazes me the efforts people put into it in the 1800’s – the equipment, the chemicals, the science.  Far from point-and-shoot the elements available to people then required effort to come together into an image.  The wet-plate photography of Jackson, Brady and other contemporaries of the time delivered amazing images but at the cost of dragging around everything you needed to each location.

I enjoy the physicality of large format photography, getting your hands on film plates, focusing on ground glass, calculating exposure.  But that’s an intentional form of photography I usually don’t have time for while traveling on other business.  So what to do?  Now we just drag around a few sliders in software packages and enjoy the look of the pioneers of landscape photography.

ISO100, 28mm, 1/1250 sec., f/4

Noon glare

Wow, time has really gotten away from me.  I knew the days were going by without posting anything new but I certainly didn’t mean to go this long.  Too much time on the road and not enough spent on photography.

Not that travel can’t include some time behind the camera; it’s just my schedule usually doesn’t allow for much of that early morning “beautiful light” you hear photographers gush about so much.  Invariably I’m wandering down the road on my way to or from some meeting and glancing around for something interesting only to find what I’m looking for in the middle of the day.  Right when the sun is supposed to be the worst, when all the landscape photographers are at siesta.

So  you work with what you find.  I’m a big fan of shadows as a way to show a different perspective on subjects so I was lucky a few days ago to see an old barn right by the side of the road.  A little exploring and I found this image:

I liked how the harsh, overhead noon sun gave me the chance to show two perspectives of the subject at once, providing a schematic of the nature of the subject that wouldn’t be immediately apparent from a heads-on photograph.  The angle of the sun was just right to cut across the top of the latch, emphasizing the front of the subject while leaving the screws holding it in place in shadow.  It would be an impossible composition using early morning or late evening sunlight – this one has to have overhead light to show this perspective.

Of course it helps that the harsh light works well for the old wood and that the metal is so worn it doesn’t have a shiny surface to glare.  As a rule to be broken, using overhead light is another tool to keep in mind for just the right circumstance to tell a specific type of story.