Thursday, April 13, 2017

OK. Reset. Explanation.

Yesterday I wrote "I've been taking photographs of people for nearly 50 years and I just realized exactly how I could've done better than I have. It's a deflating feeling, actually.  All those missed opportunities and all those wonderful people with whom I could've done so much better.  Bon.  On y va!  Thus begins a massive reset.  I hope to find wonderful people to work.  Again.  Anew."

Here is the explanation.

I've been a slow and stubborn learner.  When I was young I thought I knew everything.  When I was in middle age I thought I could buy the right gear to "get me there."  As I grow older, I realize how little I know.

The details are simple, really.

Starting with lighting, it's taken me 20 years of fiddling around with things to get to where I'm happy with what I know.  Rembrandt lighting?  Understood.  Chiaroscuro?  Understood.  William Mortensen's "Basic", "Dynamic", and "Contour" lighting.  Got it.  Know it.  Nailed it.

Moving to processing and coming into the Digital Age I've learned a lot about processing images.  I think I understand how and when to apply textures and when to manipulate a "straight shot."  I understand Edward Weston, Morley Baer, and Ansel Adam's imaging and processing techniques and can apply them at will.  I feel I can even digitally simulate wet plate collodion (which is not really all that easy to do correctly in the digital realm - Apple Apps don't really get it right).

Working with people has been difficult for me.  I'm an introvert and it really stretches me to reach out to people and to ask them if I can take their photo.  I feel a strong responsibility to them as I don't like wasting people's time (which is what I feel if I screw things up).  Yet, I have worked hard to overcome my shyness.

Looking at my portfolio I see many things that give me pleasure.  I feel I've been fortunate enough to have done things that remain perhaps uncommon.

So what's the problem?

Well, the problem simply is this.  Take a look at the following video and pay close attention to where M.Gimes places the lens.

Now Google any of the Old Masters and select "images".  Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, and Vigee LeBrun.  Do you see what I mean?

The effect may at first seem subtle, but it makes all the difference in the world, and I feel I've missed this one single thing.  Joel Grimes does not give lens placement the emphasis I am, but he does talk about it.  He clearly understands and has understood the importance of lens placement for a rather long time.  I have him to thank for helping improve my understanding of image making.

So.  I feel the need to hike up my Big Boy Pants and get on with it.  Hopefully my images will improve.  Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

OK. Reset.

I've been taking photographs of people for nearly 50 years and I just realized exactly how I could've done better than I have.

It's a deflating feeling, actually.  All those missed opportunities and all those wonderful people with whom I could've done so much better.

Bon.  On y va!

Thus begins a massive reset.  I hope to find wonderful people to work.  Again.  Anew.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Going Soft ~ yet another look

In the last post I shared a few images of a wonderful bottle of wine.  I wanted to see how aperture affects the "feel" of an image and I used Sony 50mm f/1.8 SEL OSS and an old manual focus Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 to make the comparison.

In this post I would like to share images of a different subject.  Each year in February la porte de Versailles Parc des Expositions plays host to an old car show called Retromobile.  This year I found a wonderful old Bentley and, well, I wanted to see how images of it "feel" with and without the Nikon Soft number one filter.  I also want to see how processing affects the final outcome.

Take a look at the following.  If you find something you like, please take a moment and leave a comment as to which image you like and why.  Thank you.  I appreciate the feedback.

Bentley ~ Retromobile 2017 ~ Paris, France 

Bentley ~ Retromobile 2017 ~ Paris, France 

Bentley ~ Retromobile 2017 ~ Paris, France 

Bentley ~ Retromobile 2017 ~ Paris, France

Again, thank you for your time and comments.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Going Soft ~ another look

I think I like the Nikon Soft filter number one.  The effect seems to achieve the right balance between softness and sharpness.  After realizing this I wanted to see what effect aperture setting had when combined with the filter.

Dinner one night called for a new (to us) kind of bird and a new (to us) vineyard's wine.  Before opening the bottle I took out a couple lenses snapped a few images.  Here was the setup:
  • Sony NEX-5T
  • Sony 50mm SEL OSS f/1.8 at f/2
  • Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 at f/3.5
  • Tabletop tripod - to get as low as possible
  • Bottle of white wine (cepage chardonnay) from Beaune
Here is the test subject, which, by the way, is quite good.

Jacky (a good friend of our's) and I found this vineyard after tromping the aisles of les vignerons independent and sampling only white Burgundian wines.  If you know white wine, you know of Meursault, Chassagne-Montrachet, and Pouilly-Fuissé.  At the salon we sampled everything we could, including wines from bottles costing well north of 50Euro.  Nothing came close to this little no-nothing-name vinters products.  Follow this advice with caution since I'm a beer drinker and really can't be trusted on things wine.

Oh.  Yes.  This image was made using the Sony 50mm f/1.8 SEL OSS at f2 (I must've hit the dial by accident as I wanted this shot at f/1.8 - by the time I found the error my wife and I were well into the contents of the bottle).

The evenings libation...

Here is a quick look at the label photographed without the Soft filter.

Sony Nikon Comparison - no filter

Here is the very same scene shot with the Soft filter.  I snugged up the highlights and shadows to match the scene contrast of the images made without the filter.  The Soft filter flattens the image contrast pretty dramatically.  In the future, when using the Soft filter I will try to remember to overexpose the scene and to do so without clipping the highlights.

Sony Nikon with Soft Filter 1 ~ Comparison

As you can see, the Soft filter really does the trick it's supposed to do.  There is the softness it's famous for, but there's also something else.  Looking at the light to dark transitions (such as in the lettering) the Soft filter retains a surprising amount of "sharpness."  The effect is nothing like one gets with a nylon stocking over the front of a lens, nor is it anything like a shot made with petroleum jelly over a UV filter on the front of an optic.

Looking specifically at the Sony and Nikkor images shot with the Soft filter, you can see the edges of the bottle from the Sony 50mm falls off into a blur more quickly than the Nikon 55mm.  This should be expected as the Sony lens was shot at f/2 and the Nikkor was set to f/3.5.

The Nikon Soft filter seems to provide an interesting tradeoff between sharp and soft.  It could be interesting to use when deliberately attempting to recreate a late-1800's Pictorialist style.  I feel yet another project coming on.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Going soft...

I've been for a rather too long a time considering softer images.  I've owned a Portland, several Fuji SF large format film lenses, and enjoyed using the interesting Mamiya RB 150mm SF with softness control disks.  I'm not sure why, but I like the effect, but only when "done properly."

My wife and I visited d'Orsay Museum and had the unexpected opportunity to look at a few late-1800's, early 1900's Pictorialist style photographs.  There were three images that really caught my eye.  One was a page straight out of Stieglitz's Camera Work publication.  It was George Bernard Shaw's "Portrait of Alvin Langdon Coburn."  The online versions of this simply do not do the original justice.  The way Coburn was clearly, but softly in focus and the way the background dropped away into a subtle scene of the path overhung with branches of trees really pleased me.

Another wonderful image was a cyanotype of a woman in shadow that I'd never seen before.  The image was "Florence Peterson" by Paul Haviland.  How the photographer used light and shadow, combined with softness in transition areas was really quite nice.

However, the image that really took me by surprise as Paul Haviland's "Catherine Haviland".  The optical effects were subtle.  The depth of field was unexpected.  In current photographic practice wide aperture lenses are used to separate a very sharp in-focus subject from a very-blurred background by using exceedingly narrow depth of field.  The details of the Paul Haviland scene, again by comparison to current practice, were quite remarkable and extended across the image.  I'll say it again; online copies of these images, to me, fail to share the depth of beauty of original prints.

Back at the apartment I did (yet again) some research into soft focus effects in photography.  An article on Nikon's website told me something that I'd not carefully considered.  It was that early soft focus designs allowed for an optical effect that included sufficient depth of field to keep the important parts of the subject in focus.  This was exactly what I'd seen in the "Catherine Haviland".

I've avoided soft filters like the plague, feeling that they weren't somehow pukka to the craft.  But after reading the Nikon article I found one each Nikon Soft Filter numbers one and two on eBay.  They've arrived and, well, here's yet another comparison.

Using a subject that doesn't move very quickly on it's own, I set up a Sony NEX-5T with Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 non-AI on a tabletop tripod, set mode to "A", set the ISO to 100, set the self timer to two seconds, and took three images.  Here is the effect of the filters on one of my favorite subjects.

As always, pop on over to this image hosted on Flickr and take a look at the 100% file size version to see the subtle and not so subtle effects.

Belgium Beer ~ soft focu comparisons

Thinking a bit further I realized I'd failed to see how the current state of soft filters might act on the same subject.  So I took the sharp image and passed it through the Gimp and several different softening effects.  All filters were left at their default settings.  No attempt was made to normalize the contrast ranges between images, nor was any attempt made to get the highlight/shadow tones to match.  While  I'm not entirely sure how close I could get to the Nikkor Soft Filter effects, I'm fairly certain I could sort it out quickly enough.  Having said that, the G'Mic Blur Glow filter at it's default settings is really quite nice.

Belgium Beer ~ soft focu comparisons

Saturday, January 07, 2017

John Berger on art and how we humans see things...

I've written many many posts about cameras, lenses, and on technical details of resolution and how the human eye interprets what we call sharpness.

I've also written about how image making has moved beyond traditional methods and on how cameras have quickly disappeared from our consciousness as imaging tools have become well integrated into networked platforms.

I've been reading Sally Mann and Susan Sontag to see if I can't understand their points of view on photography.  This is quickly followed by an artist friend's sharing of John Berger's "Ways of Seeing" series of early 1970's TV broadcasts.  These are, for me, significant enough that I'd like to share them here.

Thinking deeply about these kinds of topics helps sharpen the mind and, hopefully, leads to stronger, clearer, more dynamic image creation.