Friday, July 24, 2015

Pausing for just a moment...

I tend to push myself.  Hard.  Seldom do I feel my work is "good enough."  Good enough for what? you might ask.  Well, good enough to please me.

MotoGP Le Mans ~ 2015

The benchmark of excellence are published images in major media journals (of course) as well as, and more importantly, coming from a carefully honed sensibility that I have developed over my 50 years of pushing the little shutter release button.  Er, am I really that old?  I guess so.  Nevertheless, I have what I feel is a very clear idea of what's "good" and what most definitely is not.

So when I stop just a moment a take a look back I'm sometimes surprised.

Take, for example, my recent trip au Mans to try taking a few photos of the Grand Prix de France MotoGP.  I went equipped with all the things I felt were needed for successful image making.  My little sweet Sony A6000 shot in RAW on Continuous AF flipping along at 10fps was the foundation.  Add to this a Tamron 150-600mm SP superzoom and a Sony adapter with translucent mirror (which gets the AF speed up to "acceptable") and a very sturdy (good enough for 8x10inch large format film cameras) Manfrotto tripod.

MotoGP Le Mans ~ 2015

My hope/desire was to make the kinds of images I drooled over in Cycle magazine in the decade before they went suddenly and very sadly out of business.  Cycle World took over, if memory serves, but the articles and photos were never ever the same again.  There was a certain panache about Cycle that I dearly miss.  There are certain articles about a Kawasaki 550cc GPz motor'd Bimoto as well as a very lovely Ducait 851 that stand out in my mind, even after all these years, as truly outstanding articles illustrated by equally fine photographs.

I'm not sure where to find these kinds of images these days.  The old magazine publishers have different goals these days.  Instagram, Tumblr, and Flickr don't seem to carry the kinds of reportage images of major sports events I like, either.  The on-line sports outlets offer mainly videos to illustrate and report on events.  The format of those sites isn't suited to the need/desire for high quality stills.  Yet, in my Mind's Eye I can still see and clearly (hopefully) remember how things Used To Be.

MotoGP ~ Grand Prix de France ~ le Mans ~ 2015

I thought a lot about how to proceed once I was track-side.  I had no special Press Pass, so I needed to shoot from the spectator's areas.  These tend to be a long ways away from the action, which meant the Tamron super-zoom would be pressed hard into use at the long end of it's focal length range.  This would be a challenge as AF speeds tend to slow at smaller (f/6.3-ish) apertures and the bikes would be circulating at a great rate of knots (as Henry Manny was known to write in Road and Track during the 1960's).  I needed to think carefully about aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, too.  I didn't want too much "noise" to show up in the shadow areas and I knew that I'd be working under a thick cloud layer (it even rained for a short time), but there wasn't much I could do about that, other than to rely on careful image processing.

Of the thousands of images I took that day in le Mans only a few are sharp enough to express the kinds of things I wanted to say.  At first I was disappointed at the "hit rate" being so low.  Giving the whole experience time to unfold, however, I've come to realize just how happy I am with the results.

MotoGP ~ Grand Prix de France ~ le Mans ~ 2015

Gods! many of these are critically sharp and would print very easily to 30x40inches.  I'm not sure how much better I could get.  Well, perhaps with a little faster AF capability (PDAF on a future Sony A7000 comes quickly to mind) I could improve my "hit rate."  But as for basic, solid images that give me pleasure and might "stand the test of time", my current setup and the images I now have in hand are just fine.

When I review my work now it's easy for me to remember the sights and sounds of the whole experience of being at le Mans to watch one of my favorite pastimes; motorcycle racing.

This was a dream come true.  I have a few photos that go some ways to sharing this experience with others, too.

MotoGP Le Mans ~ 2015

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Working backwards...

Laying in bed the other nigh musing my typical musings I thought how nice it would be to emulate the old Pictorialist's work.

On our last visit to the Orsay Museum I found a copy of the Taschen published complete series of Camera Work.  In the check-out line there were two people in front of us.  We waited and watched as a tourist had their credit card several times rejected, followed by a long conversation of how the purchase could be completed, with even more tongue wagging, and I could feel my impatience rising like a bonfire.  I put the book back on the shelf and my wife and I walked out leaving the tourist and the vendeuse to work things out.

The images in the Camera Work publications are beautiful.  Well, they are to me, at least.  I may have a copy of the Taschen re-release some day soon.  I've seen it on sale around the city this year.  Until then I can simply "use the Force" (Google) to find examples of the Camera Work photogravures.

Today before lunch that old Wild Hair hit me hard.  We had pears.  We had a little light.  I had my really inexpensive photo-setup (250Euro Sony A5000 + 100Euro Sigma 30mm f/2.8 EX DN E).  So, why not try my hand to something?  Anything.

Here's the image I chose to emulate.

Here's my original straight out of the camera image.

Passing this through the Gimp - Colors - Components - Channel Mixer, I played with the RGB channels to get a set of tones similar to the inspirational photo.

Looking at the target image you can see a texture that looks a lot like paper.  So I opened a photo that I'd taken of a page I found in an old book, put it in a layer over my work in progress, converted it to pure black and white and set the Blend Mode to Grain Merge.  Using the Opacity slider I tried to find a "nice balance" between the texture intensity and my work in progress so as to not hide the details I wanted to retain.

Then I opened the Gimp - Colors - Curves and looked at the target photo's tonal range.  Returning to my image I matched as closely as I could the inspirational photo's curve.  

I worked deliberately in this order so that the textured image tonal range could be made to match the inspirational image in this early step.  As I take further steps I'm able to re-match the inspirational images tonal range by making small Curves adjustments.

I felt my work in progress was still a little to modern and sharp.  So I passed it through the Gimp - FX_Foundary - Light and Shadow - Gothic Glow filter.  I again chose different opacities for the various filter layers so as to not overpower my base work in progress.

I checked the softened image's tonal range against the inspirational photo and made what I'll call minor tweaks to bring it into line one last time with the target result.  Then using the Gimp - Color - Map - Sample Colorize I "borrowed" the inspirational image's tones and put them on my work in progress.

My work (top) and Ed Steichen's inspirational photo (bottom) -

With this I was able to declare victory and look forward to the image next project.  The total project time from image capture through to final product was less than 5 minutes.

Looking critically at the inspirational image and you'll see that my photos' tones contain just a little too much micro-contrast in the shadow areas and the highlights are not quite as muted as the inspiration photo, either.  Still, I'm very happy I was able to get as close as I could to the original.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Vividly - II ~ portfolio release

Colors ~ Paris

A month ago I released "Vividly", a portfolio of dramatic color.  Since then I have made additional expeditions around the city and found color waiting for me nearly everywhere I went.  So, I am releasing a second body of work.  It's called, naturally enough, "Vividly - II".

Additionally, the first version of "Vividly" has been very slightly re-worked.  I wanted to bring some of the text forward on the page, so I changed the background images.  I also made minor tweaks here and there and re-released the work (quietly) to Dropbox.

You can find "Vividly" the first (now slightly re-worked) portfolio, here.

While working on "Vividly" I realized that much has changed in my technical approach to image making.  For years after first entering digital photography I used big, heavy image making tools from the then leading manufacturer of such things.  I used their big, heavy, and hugely expensive lenses, too.  I would carry perhaps 10 or more pounds of camera gear.  Yes, I was pleased with the results, but the dent in my shoulder from hauling all that stuff around grew rather deep and tended to ache as I aged.

Times change.

I now find myself using small, very light weight tools.  Shooting "Vividly" consisted of a single camera and a single lens. The kit weighs less than 1 pound and the dent in my shoulder has gone away.  No more aches and pains after a day spent searching for artistic opportunities.  More importantly to my viewers my images are now crisper and sharper.  This improvement in image quality comes as a direct result of continued research, development and application of sensor technologies.

The new tools allow me greater flexibility than my old technique.  This frees me up to concentrate on the final image by more fully experiencing the world around me.  The changes in photo-technique allow me to enjoy the city and to concentrate on life, the universe, and everything (thank you, Douglas Adams).  And to think that back in the Age of Dinosaurs, long before digital photography, I used to pursue my art with very large format film cameras that weighed up to 60 pounds.

Yes, times change.

I enjoyed creating the first "Vividly" portfolio so much that as I discovered more bold colors around here I knew I had to create a second portfolio.

This second work seems to me to be a slightly stronger than the first as there is more consistency between the images, composition, and subject matter.  While some of the colors are not quite as bold as in the first portfolio, the details and tones still seem to nicely fit the overall structure of the work.  To me this second portfolio "flows" better than the first.

As always, I appreciate feedback.

With that, here is a link to my latest 44 image portfolio entitled "Vividly - II".