Last night I went downtown with friends to shoot cityscapes in a city considered by many to be “ugly”. Its home to me. Not a perfect night for shooting as there were no clouds to enhance the sunset. It was a great evening though with friends.
Heres and interesting way to “turn on the lights” in the city when its still too early for them to come on. Take two photos. The first image you capture earlier as the sun sets to get the pretty color in the sky. When you do this it is very likely that the city lights haven’t all come on yet, so you get a nice sky and visible foreground, but no lights. Leave your camera alone on the tripod for 20-30 minutes and allow the scene to get darker and the lights in the city to come on, then take another picture of those lights. Now you have a great shot of the lights, but you’ve lost the color in the sky. Now bring both pictures into Photoshop as layers. It doesn’t really matter which picture is the top layer, either the darker of lighter one. Change the “Blend mode” of the top picture to “Lighten”…Bang! The lights come on in the city. Now you have a nice sky AND city lights, and everything is right with the world again.
(click the images to enlarge)
I tried something new (for me) on this shot. I set my Nikon D810 to a two second delay (tripod), to then to multiple exposure mode…10 exposures. The idea was to simulate what I’d get by using an ND filter to blur the water. I thought the effect was interesting. I didn’t get the same sort of blur I’d get with an ND filter, but rather more texture in the water…almost “bumpy”. The image was processed with NIK software to improve contrast (Pro Contrast filter), and add a Sunlight filter effect. Buy the way, the river really was yellow against the white snow due to minerals in the water. Click to enlarge.
My last post was on the importance of story telling in photography. This one takes that theme and asks what is art? I believe the two are related.
Occasionally I’ll take a topic for a workshop then push myself to come up with content. That may sound backward, but I’ve found that it helps me get in and study topics in more detail. My latest workshop for next month is “Creating Art”. Late last year I did a basic session on getting to know your camera and getting technically great shots. This workshop is about moving beyond technical perfection.
As I’ve read and thought about the current topic I’ve distilled it down to the simple statement that visual art is about creating an emotional reaction in the viewer. Webster defines art as, “something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings”. While true, there is a lot of redundancy in that statement. Imagination and skill are givens. The artist without imagination and skill will rarely elicit the emotional response he or she desires, except by accident. Beauty is one form that elicits an emotional response. There is art though that does not rely on traditional forms of beauty. I would argue strongly that a lot of journalistic photography, done well, is art. The core of the definition is that true art MUST express and cause the viewer to experience feeling and ideas.
How does this tie in with my previous post on story telling? The story behind the picture is it’s message. What is it telling us? How does that make us feel? Stories are not simple narratives with beginnings and endings. They’re descriptors “about” something, not “of” something. For example a landscape photo “of” mountains, should be “about”more than mountains if it is to rise to the level of art. If the photographer doesn’t feel anything taking that picture of mountains, then it will turn out to be a simple “snapshot” of mountains. If the photographer is awed by the experience and consciously attempts to communicate that feeling in the image, he or she stands a much better chance of creating art from that image. The bottom line is, as a photographer, allow yourself to feel something, and make a conscious choice to express that feeling in your work. That doesn’t guarantee you’ll produce art, but not doing that guarantees you’ll fail.
What is that special quality in an image that makes the viewer look more than once? Why is it that some images demand more attention, while others don’t. Both may be beautiful, visually. Both may have an interesting subject, but the image that stands out goes beyond all that; it makes you feel something. It tells you a story about the subject. That story may or may not be exactly as intended by the photographer, but it’s there.
Whether we know it or not, if we work at our craft long enough, and take it seriously, we usually end up developing a certain “style” and set of favorite subjects. Certain subjects capture our imagination. We frame them in a certain way, and we process them in certain ways. What drives us is that inner need to tell the subject’s story, and tell our own story though that capture. We want to convey that feeling that drew us to take the image. When we get back home and begin processing the image we recrop, lighten and darken, and do our best to bring out that story.
Excellence in photography comes from being self-aware enough to understand this process of story telling. Think about your best images. What do they say? When you stop to capture an image, what is it about that subject that made you look? How can you capture that aspect of the image? When you process the image, what can you do to help the viewer see and feel what you saw and felt? To do less than that is to take “snapshots”; brainless, thoughtless, images with no feeling…no story.
Try this exercise. When you post and share your images, give them a name; not a name describing the subject, a name describing the story. Instead of naming a scene “Yosemite Valley”, name it something like “Where the earth meets the sky”. I know for myself, I love landscapes and have great awe and respect for nature’s majesty and power. I strive to have my images convey this quality. Give it a try…name your images.
Helen and I joined the Kingwood Photo Club group for a trip to Yellowstone in mid-January. For a couple of warm weather people, this was a huge step. We read about surviving in cold weather and planned clothing for months. Reading up on how to stay warm at -20 degrees, and finding cold weather bargains consumed us for months before the trip. We didn’t want a bunch of expensive clothing that we’d use only once. Then of course came the camera equipment, and getting all that clothing and gear packed into a reasonably sized suitcase. We surprised ourselves. We were able to go for a week with one suitcase between us, and my camera case/backpack….and we survived. In fact we enjoyed it tremendously. It was cold, but somehow we managed to make the right clothing and photo gear choices. Great trip.
In my bag:
- Two Camera bodies
- Nikon D7000
- Nikon D810
- Nikon 70-200, f/2.8 lens
- Nikon 16-35, f/4 lens
- Nikon 2x Teleconverter
- Tripod, Monfrotto, Aluminum with ball head
- Assorted cleaning gear, rocket blaster, etc
- Two chargers, 4 batteries
- WD MyPassport wireless pro 2 TB hard drive for backup
- Ipad Pro 128MB, for additional backup and editing/sharing on the road
- 2, Circular polarizers and 2, 4 stop ND filters
Helen’s equipment: Helen got a new camera for the trip, and it worked out very well. Many of the pictures in this gallery were taken with the Sony.
- Sony A6000 mirrorless camera with two kit lenses
- 18-50mm lens
- 55-205mm telephoto
- Charger and extra battery
I work with a number of websites so I like to stay up with functionality like integrating social networks with websites. Write one post, and have it show up in locations where others can see it. To be clear, this is nothing new, but I’ve not found any reason to use it for the sites I developed. I use my own site a a platform to learn. With a little time on my hands, I thought I’d try this out. This post is my first attempt at this connection.