breaking through

 

Those that have follow me for some time will know of my feeling that the very best images are those that as well as looking great evoke a feeling , en emotion that lasts and compels the viewer to revisit time and again. these are the types of images worthy of any wall or gallery.

Although i strive to capture such emotion in my own images, most cases result in failure. However, once in a while an opportunity comes along that screams atmosphere and begs the photographer to capture. Such was the case one foggy morning. After locating a suitable composition and shooting as the fog rose I was able to capture this image as the sun started to break through.

I love that the fog creates depth in this image and the way the breaking sun paints a gentle glow on the landscape below. For me this feels tranquil, perhaps replicating the calmness and sense of peace felt as the image was captured.

Feel free to contact me with your own perception - I always love to understand what others see in my work.

breaking through



 

feeling loupey

If you have been on the fence about purchaing a loupe look no further. I was in the same position and share my experience since making the jump (more like little hop really….).

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the ISO noise relationship - and why it doesn't matter

There has been a lot of buzz recently about whether ISO is meaningful or not in a DLSR world, and coming from a background in electronics this I’d like to add my own perspective. To explain how ISO impacts an image we have to look at the way the DSLR sensor converts light.

A DSLR sensor consists of millions of elements, each capable of converting light into an analog voltage output. This output, varying with light intensity, is then fed to an AD converter to present a digital output for further processing.

Let's look deeper at a single element. As light strikes this it will create an output voltage in proportion to the intensity of light striking it. As with any imperfect system there will be an added component of electrical noise introduced into this voltage. In most circumstances the voltage created by noise will be minor compared to that created by light but as the light intensity falls then the percentage of signal that represents noise increases when compared to that created by the light.

To visualize, let say on a scale of 0 to 1000 the brightest light the sensor can capture is 1000, and in an absence of light there is an average sensor output (noise) of 1. In a strong light scenario the signal to noise ratio is 1000/1, the noise being insignificant. However, in a low light scenario our comparable light might drop down to 10, giving us a SN ratio of 10/1. Obviously in this case noise becomes a more significant part of the image. So now we understand that the lower the light, the higher the impact of the noise component.

So what does this have to do with ISO? As a reminder of history in the film days ISO referred to the sensitivity of the film itself. In the DLSR world this is a throwback to those days and does not really relate. Changing the ISO on a DLSR does not change the sensitivity of the sensor in any way, but simply informs the processor how signal output should be multiplied (ie to replicate the effects in a film scenario).

Taking our low-light example above it does not matter whether we shoot the image at ISO 100, 200 or even 3200, the signal output from the sensor is the same. If we assume that the baseline for this example is ISO 100, what actually happens when we shoot at ISO 200 is that a multiplication factor of 2 will be applied to the sensor output. What is important to understand is that this multiplication factor will be applied to the noise also - the more we have to amplify the light/signal to get within acceptable range the greater the introduction of noise.

As pointed out in recent debates, image quality should not differ whether you shoot at a high ISO, or whether instead you drive up the exposure in post-processing to accomplish the same exposure (assuming that noise introduced in the post-processing process is so minimal it can be discounted which appears to be the case).

So if we are saying that ISO is somewhat irrelevant why should we consider it when shooting? Well all is well and good with the theory but we still need to see the histogram and the image on the LCD display - for both we need output so adjusting ISO (output multiplier) to get within desired range makes perfect sense.

At the end of the day the old story remains true; more and more noise will be introduced as you increase ISO (OR push in post-processing), and that for the highest quality image you have to have the highest quality light.

Nothing changes……..

tripod mindset

Most serious photographers are acutely aware of the key benefits of using a tripod. All should be aware that a good, sturdy tripod minimizes the effects of camera shake to help ensure sharpness. Most are also aware that this stability then permits longer exposures, allowing creative elements like the smoothing of flowing water, adding motion blur and night shots.

Beyond that, many photographers also see a tripod as an essential asset when it comes to taking macros, panoramas, HDR or focus-stacking images.

However, while reflecting my own work I have come to realize that a tripod offers much more. I feel that as soon as I attach my camera to a tripod both my mindset and workflow change.

The first change I see is a more critical view of the subject and the commitment of time. This leads me to pause and become more selective with what I choose to undertake from the outset..

The next benefit lies in visualization and capture of the image. I find myself more considerate of the composition, and more attentive to the technical aspects. Once camera and tripod are set I find myself more willing to wait for a change in the environment , patiently prepared to fire the shutter when the optimal moment arrives.

This leads to the final benefit, review and adjustment. Following each shot I always perform the regular checks (histogram, focal point etc) but using a tripod I tend to pay a greater attention to detail -checking for distracting elements, zooming in to ensure image sharpness etc.

For me the habit of using a tripod encourages this shift in mindset, ultimately resulting in higher quality output. Of course there are scenarios where the use of a tripod may not make sense, but I would recommend keeping one on hand for those moments where the luxury of time exists.

Get out, and shoot good light

shout out for Fstoppers

Fstoppers.com has become a favorite site of mine, describing itself as following;

“Fstoppers is an online community aimed at educating and inspiring photographers, videographers, and creative professionals. 

Where many sites offer interesting articles on news and how to’s Fstoppers rises above with the involvement of its “community”. As well as allowing artists to upload a portfolio of images, the community in general are encouraged to rate images within a sliding scale - the lowest (1) being what the community would feel was a snapshot (ie anyone could take, no thought put into the capture) to a high of 5, which would be world class (guidelines for rating is available on the site).

This, I feel provides me, the photographer with (anonymous) feedback on how an broader audience my view my work

In addition to this community groups are encouraged where the community can request/discuss the merits of posted images. As we are all aware of how I feel about the benefits of critique I find this a very useful tool. Whilst we may not always agree (this should be an expectation) I find it always insightful to hear the opinion of others, and there has been a number of instances where suggestions have resulted in noticeable improvement.

If all this were not enough the crowning glory for me is their ‘Critique the Community’ contests. Here a pair of judges (typically the founders Lee Morris and Patrick Hall) perform a video critique of submitted images, and rate them based of their own sliding scale. Whilst very entertaining in its own right I find these videos very informative and helping me assess my own images. One point of interest - the hosts often disagree. This tends to be entertaining and reinforces the fact that art is subjective and that we can’t expect everyone to like/dislike our work.

So make sure you get yourself to Fstoppers.com and check out what they have to offer.

Happy shooting!

the art of the critique

The Critique

The critique process is one of the most underestimated learning tools available to photographers. Coming from an original meaning of "critical examination or review of the merits of something," this provides and understanding of what makes compelling artwork attractive, both from the perspective of the artist and that of a broader audience.

However, the process may not be for the faint of heart; requesting a critique can leave an artist feeling vulnerable, the critic on the other hand may feel unqualified or afraid to face the possible disagreement of others. However I feel it important to overcome such reservations as the process provides so much opportunity for growth.

But what is the process of critique, and who should participate?

A good critique should provide an artist feedback on all aspects that strengthen or diminish a requested image, and include the emotion/story the artwork evokes. All of this is on the understanding that art is extremely subjective and that the contributor has the ultimate decision in following their own artistic taste.

The Process

First off I want to dispel any feeling that you have to be an expert to provide feedback on images. In my book as long as you have a set of eyes, an opinion and a willingness to help others that is qualification enough. In fact feedback coming from a perspective free of preconceived ‘rules’ can be just as valuable as that provided by a seasoned critic.

Following is my view on how an evaluation should work, and the feedback that should be presented to the artist. In ALL cases this should be done both with sincerity and with the intent of helping the artist.

Feeling

Enlarge the image to full screen - take at least 10 seconds to view and ‘feel’ the image (no analysis at this point). Acknowledge that initial reaction - describe an overview of what you see overall, how the image makes you feel.

Seeing

Start with identifying the positives in the image. What do you feel strengthens the image (composition/processing etc). Be sure to include a number of positive elements to balance the perhaps easier to spot flaws.

Move on to the negatives. Identify key elements that diminish the image. If these vastly outweigh the positives above focus on one or two of the most obvious flaws, consider those where you can offer correction steps. If in doubt show restraint with negative comments.

Thinking

What changes do you think can be made that might make the image stronger (eg cropping, color correction, removal of distracting elements etc)?

Closing

Finish the critique with an overview of the key points you have covered. Be sure to state that your critique reflects your own artistic taste and that this may differ to that of the artist/others. Other suggestions include thanking the artist for being open to critique, indicating that you are looking forward to seeing a re-edit of the image, or future works by the artist etc.

The Benefits

So now we understand the critique, where is the payback for the time that has been invested?

Benefits for the artist

  • like it or not, our personal images contain an underlying emotional element. They capture a snapshot of the environment and experience we felt at the instant the shutter was triggered and can have a strong influence on how we feel about an image. Other viewers are decoupled from this emotional element (unless perhaps captured adequately and included in the image) and are free to analyze on the basis of what is presented in front of them.

  • we learn how a broader audience reacts to our work, the resulting feedback can aid growth

  • through experience we become better critics of our own work, thus promoting growth both technically and in our confidence

Benefits for the critic

  • offering critique forces us to not simply react to an image. This require us to to pause and investigate, dissecting and understanding the elements that strengthen or diminish images.

  • performing critiques subconsciously influences our own work in a positive manner

  • we become better critics of our own images, resulting in a higher quality output

  • we learn the ability to decouple the emotional attachment to images, to stand back and view artwork as others would.

The Guidelines

With such growth potential I would recommend that all embrace the critique process. Here are a few brief guidelines to help make each participation successful;

  • respect the viewpoint of others and be open to disagreement - there is no right or wrong, only opinions

  • all comments should be well-intended, clear and sincere - remember the goal is to help one another grow

  • consider the feelings of those you are critiquing. If you are unable to comment on any positive aspects within an image then don’t comment at all.

  • invest the time into providing a meaningful critique. Help others understand what you feel and see in an image - brevity such as “I like it” is little help to anyone without understanding the ‘why’..

I guarantee that being involved in the critique process will result in significant growth and provide a better understanding of the diverse viewpoints we all hold.

truth in photography

A question that often comes up that I hear asks if a photograph is ‘real’, or whether it has been enhanced in any way. My immediate answer is “does it matter?”

Many look at photography and see it purely as a snapshot of reality, misunderstanding the art-form that it represents. Yes, in some forms (ie photojournalism, documentaries) a photograph needs to closely represent the sight as seen, especially so if the photographer identifies images as a true representation of fact.

However, in most cases images are created with the sole intent of providing visual appeal - in that respect then it is up to the photographer, to provide their own artistic impression to an image.

Is this cheating? Compare that to an artist - here a painter may perhaps paint a wonderful landscape, but do they paint exactly as seen, or do they leave out unsightly elements, add drams to a sky or make a sunset more vibrant etc to enhance the finished product?

Photography should be viewed in a similar light (excuse the pun) - in this case most often the ‘artist’ composes and captures a scene, having to remove elements that detract from the composition, and adjust other elements so they fall into the overall balance.

“But what about Photoshop?” I hear you say. Granted, the old masters did not have access to such digital tools, but do not think their images were manipulated any less. Yes, they could not merge images or add components, but every single print they made was adjusted heavily in the darkroom and before, starting with the choice of film and lens, the type of paper to print on and the chemicals to do so and the dodging and burning, all to create the desired look to the final image.

So again the question - if you see a wonderful image that takes your breath away, does it really matter that the photographer/artist worked creatively to produce such artwork? To me, that is the art of good photography.

Jamie Windsor covers this so well in his following YouTube video - view and draw your own conclusions;

Are these photographers CHEATING?

a need for inspiration

The early days of a New England winter can only be described as largely uninspiring, producing drab landscapes accompanied by increasingly shorter days. At this time I find it hard to get motivated, my creativity drifts into hibernation, craving for an environment that provides interest. This self-imposed hibernation ends as we enter the new year as winter storms start to become the norm, bland vegetation becoming covered by an accumulation of heavy snow and fresh wet powder highlights tree limbs.

Such was the case on this mid-January day. Following two days of perpetual snowfall the New England landscape was transformed from drab to fab, releasing the creative juices within and the desire to explore this winter wonderland. And although the lighting may not have been ideal for the most part that day it just felt so good to get out, to explore and enjoy a glorious day.

Are the resulting images world-beaters? Perhaps not but they are a true reflection the splendor witnessed at that time and a constant reminder to me of this enjoyable outing.

— click on images to expand —

abandoned - an adventure in old

Another wonderful find during a recent road trip. This abandoned home was discovered when driving across the back roads of Maine, and one that certainly caused me turn back and investigate.

The home has so much character, from the weathered exterior, to a partially visible inside and the irony of young trees growing against an aged wooden frame. Gently falling snow provided a challenge but resultant streaks add a sense of coldness and drama that I feel adds to the image.

— click images to enlarge —


'tis the season - a case for repeat visits

I was looking at the work of an admired photographer recently and was struck by the comment that he never revisits a scene. While I understand the view that a sole visit helps maintain focus and the need to get it right the first time I feel that attitude leaves so much on the table;

1) Planning. Even when paying the utmost attention to detail it can be extremely challenging to fully determine image quality from the camera LCD panel. The possibility for improvement may not be understood until the processing stage, and this may drive a plan for a return visit.

2) Timing. We are all aware of how lighting conditions impact images, but we also need to consider weather and seasonal conditions (does the weather reflect the mood of the image, do cloud details add/subtract from the image etc). With all things considered I feel a photographer would have to be extremely lucky to capture ideal conditions on their first visit.

3) Variation on a theme. Of course repeat visits are required if the photographer wants to capture a subject under varying conditions (before/after, time lapse, moods, seasons etc)

For my own workflow I like to scout and take test images, and use post production to drive decisions on follow up visits. This may not always be practical (eg when traveling) or even needed of course but I do try to keep my options open.

Following is a series of shots I took over the period of approximately a year. this is a place I have hiked on multiple occasions. The first image is one I took for reference - image #2 the result of waiting for the appropriate conditions (snowstorm) and #3 just because I thought autumn may provide a different perspective.

a state of disrepair

Throughout my travels I am struck by the number of buildings that are either in a state of severe disrepair or are abandoned altogether. Structures that are insufficiently protected can quickly deteriorate over a harsh New England winter and it is a fact of life that many are left to succumb due to the need for perpetual upkeep.

However, such objects can provide a wealth of character and interest. A project dear to my heart is to try and capture the essence of these beauties, whether abandoned or just in a state of disrepair, and before they disappear from the landscape.

I plan to add blog entries as I finding structure or objects of interest, so check back for updates.

car No. 707

This weathered train car was purchased and moved with the intent of opening as a diner, plans which unfortunately never came to fruition. Now it lies in a state of sad dereliction alongside a busy road in Grand Isle, Vermont.

According to research, the Rutland Railroad car No. 707 was either a parlor or a smoker car (not a passenger car) built by the Wagner Palace Car Company of Buffalo, N.Y., most likely in 1891. It’s 70 feet long, weighs more than 30 tons and has the unusual design feature of three — rather than two — six-wheel trucks, presumably to increase passenger comfort.