Sunday, November 25, 2007

Hidden Gems in the Open Woods

For a lot of us, when we think of fall photography, we tend to think of those spectacular 2 or maybe even 3 weeks of panoramic rainbows covering the landscape like a painters palette. The enormous abundance of deep, fully saturated reds, oranges and yellows almost burn our brain with what we expect to see when we talk about fall.

When the leaves are just about all scattered on the forest floor, the fall landscape at times can seem pretty dreary but in small pockets can surprise you with unique insight into the forest.

While driving along several blocks of forest early one morning I noticed how the forest floor seemed to glow in the low sun and at the same time create strong shadows of the trees adding texture to the forest bed. I grabbed the camera and headed into the wood area.

The low light was causing the leaf-covered floor to appear alive and the singular trees, now stripped bare of their leaves, were standing as dark sentinels to the last gasp of summer.

Your eyes have the ability to ignore extraneous detail as we gaze about, but the camera sees all and therefore we tend to have too much small-branch detail in the foreground to create a gripping picture.

This happened for me at the edge of the forest, so I decided to walk along some of the paths in the woods to see if there were better vantage points for less cluttered shots. I came upon this tree, which still had the vast majority of its leaves and with the sun almost coming directly from the side, these leaves radiated against the blue cool morning sky.

Through the wooded areas there are many pathways that wind through the area. The image below was taken of a pathway that went along a small ridge. The foot trail seemed very evident while I was standing in the woods. Later as I was reviewing the images, these pathways did not jump out as much as I remembered. That is one of the difficulties with a 2 dimensional object trying to truly reflect what our three-dimensional eyes capture.

With this image, increased the saturation in the fallen leaves was needed as the eye remembers them being more vivid. I then removed some of the colour (saturation) in leaves just on the trail, since these tend to loose some of their colour as people walk along the pathway, naturally. It was necessary to further darken this pathway, as it still wasn’t standing out as much as I remembered. This is partly due to the fact that the camera is not quite able to capture the complete vibrancy of the leaves and therefore the slight muted tones of the pathway are now not as much different in tonal qualities. The image was then cropped to remove some of the trees that did not really add to the scene.

The above file sequence shows some of the enhancements and editing I did to produce the final image.

Further along within a bed of leaves there was this small moss like plant that still had a bit of the morning frost along its edges.

With a lot of landscape scenery and even more so when the forest has completely shed its green canopy, our eyes tend to focus on, and even remember more vividly, those small changes of tones in the forest. This compounded by the fact that our visual absorption is over a period of time and as our memory records these multiple exposures that only capture the best part of the scenery. That is why when we look at our captured images, they never seem quite as bright and vibrant or shimmery.

With the use of photo editing software we are able, with the use of selective techniques, to bring back into the print with some of what the mind retains from our visual journey.

While there may be a need in many images for overall brightness, contrast and colour saturation improvement, it’s by the selective use within the image that our greatest benefits occur. Only by adjusting brightness or reducing tones in those primary elements that can we trick the mind into seeing with the single snapshot, a time elapsed event.

Because film and digital camera are never able to render the full range of tones and colours we see, we can, by reducing these in other areas of our image, make those parts appear brighter in relation to the duller parts. Or if a central object does not jump pout enough we can achieve the same by darkening and reducing saturation with the bordering areas.

Niels Henriksen

A photographer’s Adage

While there is perhaps a province in which the photograph can tell us nothing more than what we see with our own eyes, there is another in which it proves to us how little our eyes permit us to see. -Dorothea Lange

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Night Lights – Slow shutter

There is always something magical about a city at night. The darkened tones, the mysterious shadows and flashes of light are what gives these evenings its special vibrancy.

I decided to head out on Halloween evening just after sunset to get some long exposure street scenes. As with most of sunset or sunrise scenes there tend to be only a few minutes of great evening sky for the chosen time exposure setting. Therefore it is important that you have some sort of plan for the sequence of the photos you will be taking to ensure there will be just the right sky when you kneed it. My plan was simple, I would just walk down to one of the main 4 lane streets, where there was an on-ramp to the parkway and a bridge with gave a good view of the bust station.

I figured that I would have about half an hour of sky before it would become too dark for scenes that needed the sky But I found that I spent a little too long with the on-ramp shots and the sky was already starting to get very dark before I explored across at the bridge. A half hour may seem like a long time but unless your are only at one location it sure slips by fast. These images were all taken with a shutter speed from 5 sec to 10 sec and about f/22.

In the image below the slow shutter captures the interesting curved lights created by a bus entering and a bus leaving the Lincoln Fields Bust Station in Ottawa. The sun had been down for about 45 minutes, almost the maximum time for skies, but at 10 sec you are still able to see detail in the night sky.

I am standing on the Carling St Bridge taking the photo above and when I turn to my right there is a street-level bus stop connecting to the transit station. This is also a 10 sec photo, but I wanted to capture a faint outline of the bus, which was obtained by anticipating the bus departure and trying to get a few seconds lead-time before the bust head out.

Any long time exposure image is difficult to get just right. this is even more so at night due to the low light background and the extremely bright nightscape.

With longer shutter speeds a tripod is a mandatory item unless you have arms of a statute or something rock solid to lean on. But even then blur creates in.

It is often desirable when taking night photography to have detail in the sky as it gives more interest and fill in what would normally be a big black void. For each different shutter setting there is about only 5 min of good light.

Even when it’s completely dark there are some interesting shots that you can capture as with a car swerving just as it was coming of the on-ramp.

And since it was Halloween there just seems to be a need to get a shot of the pumpkins.

Niels Henriksen

A photographer’s Adage

A snapshot steals life that it cannot return. A long exposure [creates] a form that never existed. -Dieter Appelt, "1000 Photo Icons" by Anthony Bannon (Foreword), George Eastman House , ISBN: 3822820970, page: 708

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Vision – An approach to a B&W Composite Image

With photography the creative process of discovery is what truly excites me. It starts first with the discovery of a hidden image and then being transformed by the rendition captured in the camera. Then creative process to bring to life the final print, either through the wet or the dry darkroom process is a wondrous journey.

This journey normally starts with a mix of inspiration and some vision and sometimes a bit of luck and good timing.

I believe it is important in our approach to taking photos that we have a vision, not necessarily grandiose or all encompassing one, but some basic concept or idea of the images that we are trying to achieve.

In the previous photo blogs I have written, there have always been a drive, a passion and a vision as to what I was trying to achieve. This vision and purpose is what gets me out to try new ways of seeing the world around me.

For the final version of B&W photo ‘Weed on the Rock Face’ above, I had a specific vision or a conceptual image that I wanted to capture. The inspiration was easy as it came from a B&W photo competition with the theme of ‘Rocky’ that I was entering. It did win an ‘Award of Excellence’ when printed and matted.

Not living in a mountainous area with grand vistas, I knew that I wanted rock formations to dominate most of the image but not to the point that the rocks would overpower the whole image. I also wanted some other parts of the image to provide the contextual background to help situate the viewer.

At my best friend’s house, who lives out in the countryside, I knew there was this large rock outcropping all covered in moss and lichen at the back of the house. Any image that was not cropped to just the full rock would also show part of the gravel laneway and the back of the house. Not normally stellar compositional elements but further down one of his fields there was a large pond with rocky shores, well lined with trees. I figured that if I could get a well-paced shot of the rock, I would then replace the background with the scene from the pond.

I decided to use my 10mm to 20mm lens as I could most likely find some interesting elements on the rock face that would be warped larger if I got in really close because of the effects of a wide angle lens.

The delicate leafed plant grasping for its foothold out seemed to convey a presence well. This can be seen in the photo below. Notice the angle I tilted the camera to get correct angle for final combined image.

I liked all the detail in the rock face but I found it was taking up too much scene real-estate area and since I did not want to crop any out I decided to compress horizontally as you can see in the lower image with background removed.

A few shots of other angles of the rock face

I then proceeded down to the pond and faced the same way in relation to the sun to ensure that the shadows in both images would be harmonious. I took several shots, as I was not quite sure which image would merge well and not require significant blending effort.

These are some shots of the pond.

With a wide angle lens and a large f-stop the background would still have too much detail visible and it therefore would clash with the rock for attention.
I used a 2-stage approach to blur the background. I first isolated the far shoreline and blurred this a little. I then selected the closer tree on right and once again the background and blurred again to give the impression camera DOF blur increasing with distance.

In the conversion to B&W, the central focus of the plant was not prominent enough. I then used the dodge tool to lighten the leaves and some of the lichen to provide contrast interest.

While traveling to my friends place as I crossed a bridge I just could not resist the image on a rock outcropping in the water and I knew I could achieve something with the reflection in the water. I converted this to B&W to only focus on the shapes and rotated to 90 degrees to give an impression of an abstract totem pole mask.

While I will be away a few days any questions about techniques or other comments will be answered when I return.

Niels Henriksen

A photographer’s Adage

To convey in the print the feeling you experienced when you exposed your film - to walk out of the darkroom and say: "This is it, the equivalent of what I saw and felt!". That's what it's all about. -John Sexton

Saturday, November 3, 2007

A Photo Walkabout – A Low Cost Method

A few days ago I was walking around downtown during my regular routine of getting out at noon hour and enjoying some fresh (relative) air to that of the office environment. The city of Ottawa is quite fortunate in that since it is the capitol of Canada there is a large amount of greenery through the downtown core.

This year we did not have our first frost until the end of Oct and therefore, while the maples had all lost their leaves, (they seem to be on their regular schedule for colour) the other trees such as elms and willow were much later with their leaves turning yellow.

When I returned to the office I wished that I had brought my camera with me. It was a bright sunny day and now with the sun a little lower on the horizon the yellow leaves seemed to glow, even though it was at noon hour and the shadows were now longer.

I then realized that I did have a camera with me, as I had previously bought a Sony Ericson K790 that includes a Sony Cyber shot 3.2 Megapixel camera with auto focus.

It’s amazing how at times we seem to get set in our preferred methods and forget how useful improvisation can be.

I decided that the next day, I would take a similar route and shoot only with the cell-phone camera during my stroll.

I liked how the brightness of the yellow leaves contrasted with the colder blue shadows on the concrete terrace and walls. In this image your eye is first drawn to the brilliance of the leaves and then moves downward on right to the yellow flowers in the pot and then to the person sitting on the bench. The stone triangular rock helps to move your focus back up to the yellow canopy. There are many places in the image where the colour yellow is kept as the dominant theme.

It is hard to believe that you can find such tranquil forest like setting in an urban environment.

With the wide-angle lens in the cell-phone and standing further along the street in order to remove the street post, it becomes tricky to get the perspective perfect. I kept the main horizontal line of the building level and let the remainder lines fall where they may. In this image I used the 2 smaller yellow shrubs to both compliment the colours and provide a visual route around the photo as we travel back up the dark tree trunk and branches. I also like how the blue reflection in windows provides the contrasting colour to yellow.

In this scene, the 2 small trees and the dark bottom frame of the skylight and far building create a frame around the reflection of the green copper roof in the glass. The 2 other clusters of green leaves helps to create the compositional element of 3 to anchor the image. The analogous colours of the yellow leaves, the browns of building and tree branches and also orange in the rust all re-enforce each other.

The copper clad building panels have a bluish tint because they are in the shade and pickling up the colour of the clear blue sky and this is used as the complementary colour of the yellow flowers to add dynamic contrast.

The red-orange leaves on this tree become more intense when contrasted with the colours of green from the other shrubs and the blue green reflections in the glass panels. The vertical line on the right, along with the evergreen topiary and then the walkway light helps to create the visual movement around the image. The image was cropped on the right to remove the distracting streetscape.

I like this image because of the strong opposing colours of red and green and the fact that each colour is contained within a specific grid and almost divides the image in two. Due to parked cars and road traffic it is not always possible to get just the right angle to crop distraction out.

Sometimes the local businesses provide good ready-made graphic patterns that are almost begging to be photographed.

I cannot emphasize enough that take whatever camera you have access to and take it often with you and capture images as soon as your eye catches a glimpse of something interesting. Don’t wait for the perfect shot as these you may already have, after a re-visitation to what you have already created.

Niels Henriksen

A Photographer’s Adage

I prowled the streets all day, feeling very strung up and ready to pounce, determined to 'trap' life - to preserve life in the act of living. Above all, I craved to seize the whole essence, in the confines of one single photograph, of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes. -Henri Cartier-Bresson


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