Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Georgetown Runner
The set of photos I will present in this post is focused on the idea and my interpretation of solitude.  The first photo “Georgetown Runner” gets first position because as a runner, I always enjoy the peace, solitude and meditative nature of running.
As we browse through the remaining photographs, something to keep in mind is that other than the obvious, “what makes these photos consistent with the idea of solitude?”  For example, the Georgetown Runner is obviously related to the idea of solitude because he is the only person in the frame.  But what else about this shot enhances the idea of solitude?  I will let you think about it, and I will give you my answer at the end of this post.
The second shot, “Waiting for the Camels” shows one of the camel handlers on a foggy morning at the Al Wathba camel races just outside of Abu Dhabi, UAE.
A day at the (camel) races (8 of 14)
The “handlers” at the camel races are responsible for leading the camels to the starting gate, managing the start (a story in and of itself) and then retrieving the camels at the finish.  This handler stares off into the fog waiting for the camels to finish the race and retrieve his charge.
This shot is also a good representative of a basic photography standard of composing a shot – the rule of thirds.  Without getting into the details, photographers frequently divide the scene into thirds (both vertically and horizontally) and line the subject up with these imaginary lines.  This method of composing a shot leads to greater visual interest in comparison to centering the subject.  Try it and see how your shots gain greater appeal.
The next shot, “Sleeping in the Park” portrays the essence of solitude.  I do not know the story behind this man, but I imagine a homeless man, and all the difficulties of his life that includes the loss of family ties and friends that most of us take for granted.
The next shot, “Sailing Can Be Lonely” is a completely different perspective on solitude.  Unlike the first three photographs, the subject is not a person, but a thing.  Even though there is no person to represent solitude, the idea fits clearly.
Sailing can be lonely - small
Continuing with the nautical theme, the next shot “Crab Boat on the Potomac” represents the solitude of life on the water.  Anyone who has worked on or around the water knows that being underway is often a lonely business.  Whether it is tending to crab pots, or sailing across the ocean, there is ample opportunity for time alone lost in thought.
Crab Boat on the Potomac
The crab boat picture leads me to answer a question posed by a friend over a glass of wine just last night.  As he was looking through my photos, he commented that I have a preference for black and white.  While true with respect to my bias toward black and white, he went on to ask a very good question; “how do you decide whether to shoot black and white versus color?”
I have a number of reasons for choosing black and white, most of which I leave for another post, but for now I will give you my primary criteria.  When I consider this choice, my first question is always “does the color information in the shot add value to the final composition?”  The crab boat shot is a great example; blue/gray water, gray sky, and white boat.  The sparse color in the shot adds very little.  In this case, the choice is clear.
The final shot “A Lonely Sailor” rounds out the nautical theme.
A lonely sailor
As I look at this shot, I see something reminiscent of Norman Rockwell – a man reliving his youth – sitting on the end of a dock with his toy boat.  Even if we were to expand the view and see that a crowd were standing about watching the boat sail along under a brisk breeze, he is completely alone and intent on nothing more than his boat and executing a flawless tack into the wind.
So, have you thought about the solitude of the first picture of a runner under the elevated Georgetown highway?  For me, the solitude is not only in the photograph, it is how I associate with it.  The photograph encourages me to engage in memories of long runs – alone.  Lost in thought, reflecting on the day, just enjoying the surroundings.  If the photographer is able to engage you in such thoughts, it becomes much more than a picture – it compels you to engage.  I hope you have a similar experience.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Into the Sun

National Gallery of Art Water Sculpture
All photography is about light.  Understanding light is fundamental to good photography.  Most photography is comprised of light falling on your subject which is then reflected back to the camera.  But what happens when the light source is on the other side of your subject?  The answer is simple…a very difficult shot to do well.  However, I hope to show you it can be done well, and that developing this skill is worthy of you time.
Back lit shots can be characterized by what the light does with the subject.  There are two options – the subject is transparent and the light flows through the subject, or the subject is not transparent, and a silhouette is presented to the observer.
The following shot of the Washington monument with one of the adjacent flags in Washington DC, provide an example of the transparency version of backlit photography.
2 Washington Monument and Flag
The next shot of a windmill relic in the Arizona desert near Tucson is an example of the silhouette form of backlit photography.
3 Windmill Silohuette on Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Sometimes you can combine the two and get both elements of transparency and silhouette in one shot as is the case in the next shot…a cigar and a scotch can truly inspire your photography!
4 Cigar and a single malt
The next two shots break the rules a bit.  They are both backlit shots that should have resulted in a silhouette.  However, with a little help from Lightroom and Photoshop, we get more of a hybrid version.  The silhouette still exists, but both of theses shots bring out some of the details that would normally have been lost.
The first shot is the Air Force Memorial standing just behind the Pentagon.
5 AF Memorial sillouette
The next shot is of a Mosque in downtown Abu Dhabi.
6 Mosque in Abu Dhabi
As you can see from these shots, and know from my previous posts, I have a natural bias toward black and white photography.  For backlit photography, I believe that black and white is particularly appropriate.  However, there certainly are exceptions.  For example, the shot of the flag next to the Washington monument at the beginning of this post would not be the same without the vibrant colors highlighted by the sun’s backlight.
The next two shots are also shots I chose to keep in color.  However, both are somewhat de-saturated or have a severely limited color palette.  This limited palette gives them a feel of a warmer version of a black and white.
The first shot is of the U.S. Coast Guard Barque Eagle at dock in New London, Connecticut.
7 Eagle Silhoutte
The next shot is of a couple of fisherman casting from a jetty near Bridgetown Barbados.
8 Barbados Fisherman sillouette
For the last shot, we return to the Air Force memorial.  This shot still falls within the bounds of discussion regarding backlit shots, but it is a unique application.  It is kind of a throw-back shot that ,thanks to the world of bits and bytes, allowed me to do something with a digital camera that can normally only be done with a film camera.  So the keys to this shot were 1) backlighting, 2) taking two exposures, 3) converting both shots to black and white in Photoshop, 4) blending the two shots (by way of layers) into a double exposure.
9 AF Memorial double exposure
In the days of film, it was possible to take an exposure, then take a second exposure without advancing the film; thus a double exposure.  Digital cameras do not offer this possibility, but with a little bit of creativity, you can achieve the same effect.
I also wanted to include this shot as a contrast to the first shot on this post.  The water sculpture shot at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, is very sharp and includes a lot of detail.  The Air Force Memorial shot is not sharply focused, lacks a great deal of detail, and could even cause many people to wonder “what is it?”
I hoped you enjoyed these photos.  All of the photos on this blog are available for purchase.  For pricing, send an e-mail to craigcorl@yahoo.com

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Hugo Chavez

Chavez Waves to the Crowd
This posting is dedicated to Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela.  Why President Chavez?  Well, I have two reasons.  First, because of the work I was doing at the time, I had great access to take some photography normally reserved for the press corps.  Second, these shots represent a specific form of photography that is intended to tell a story; photo journalism.
I am not a photo journalist, and have an immense level of respect for the work done by this group of highly talented professional photographers.  Of all the manners by which photographers are able to earn a living, I often wish I could join this esteemed group.
Chavez waves to Chavistas from Bolivar State
There is no doubt that President Chavez is a controversial figure.  There is also no doubt that he has a loyal following in Venezuela as we see in the second photo as he waves to a crowd from Estado Bolivar.  This photo highlights a common scene in Venezuela; Chavez supporters, commonly known as Chavistas, dressed in their hallmark red t-shirts.
Chavez Contemplating his Innauguration
The next two shots, both head shots of President Chavez, tell another part of the story.  Apart from his support that comes principally from the large population of low income families in Venezuela, these shots leave one with the impression that behind the public face of a skilled politician waving to adoring crowds is a man under great pressure to live up to grand promises of 21st “century socialism” (his words).
Chavez Profile
As I look at the last two photos, three years after they were taken at the 2006 inaugural proceedings, I see him as both contemplative, and concerned about his position of meeting the expectations of a large populace left out of the benefits from a large petro-economy.
Chavez Salute
The shot above was taken at the 2004 Naval Day Parade in Maracaibo.  While both of these shots are typical of President Chavez’ public persona, the real story behind these shots is the improbability of me holding the camera sufficiently still to take the shots.  I was sick as a Caracas street dog.
Viva la revolucion
Maracaibo is located in the far western region of Venezuela.  A friend of mine and I decided to do a “road trip” from Caracas to the Navy Day celebration in Maracaibo.  On the way, we stopped at a small roadside restaurant (ok, maybe I am being generous in calling it a restaurant) to eat lunch.  I decided on the goat stew, while my more seasoned companions had the grilled fish.  To say the least, I reacted violently to the goat stew and was teetering on the edge of consciousness for the remainder of the weekend – in spite of a host of home grown Amazonian remedies.
Chavez Salutes the Crowd
I leave you with the final shot of President Chavez, who, regardless of what you may think of his policies and politics, is a skilled politician.  He is probably one of the most hard working politicians I have ever observed.  Of course this hard work is necessary; he has a strong and vocal opposition in Venezuela as well as a healthy group of critics throughout the world.  While I certainly hold a distinct view based on my experience, I will leave it to the political blogs to resolve the vices and virtues of President Chavez.
I hope you enjoyed these photos, and for the real photo journalists, please accept my apologies for for inadequately representing your profession.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Urban Portraits

This entry is inspired by my son Ryan.  After reading the first couple of entries, Ryan requested that I feature some photography from the “Urban Portraits” theme I have been developing.  In requesting this, Ryan motivated me to talk about two things.  First is the idea of selecting a photographic theme, then pursuing it.  Second, I have employed some specific composition and editing techniques to get the results I envisioned for the theme of Urban Portraits.

All of the shots in this entry are building on the theme of “Urban
 Portraits” I began pursuing in 2005 – roughly four years ago.  Clearly, I am in no rush.  The relevant aspect of talking about urban portraits is that I have selected a theme that interests me, and I am pursuing it – and, as we say in Spanish – poco a poco.
Little by little I am adding to this collection.  I find that selecting a theme for a project, whether short term or long term, helps focus attention, energize creative processes, and always provides an answer when you find yourself asking “what should I shoot today?” Selecting a theme also highlights the value of planning your shooting.  There is a significant difference between planning a shoot and simply waiting for lighting to strike.  Don’t misunderstand me; I have plenty of spectacular shots that resulted from nothing more than the luck of being in the right place at the right time.  However, planning to get the shots you want can be an invigorating challenge.

The first two shots in this entry feature my son Ryan.  He gets top billing in this entry as a nod to his request for the urban portraits.  We had a great time setting up these challenging shots, and I had an even bigger challenge in post processing.  Both of these compositions involve multiple shots.  To get these shots, I set the camera on a tripod, set the ISO to the lowest setting, and used a very aperture.  The result was exposures of up to 2 seconds, and the “ghost” images of passersby as Ryan held his breath and kept completely still.  To get the right mix of “ghosts” I took several shots and then combined them in Photoshop to get a good balance of people in motion.

The second shot involved additional post-processing to keep Ryan in color and add even more of a ghostly effect by converting the rest of the photo to black and white. Which brings me to a second theme among my urban photography shots; by keeping the subject in color and converting the balance of the composition to black and white, you bring clear focus to essence of the shot while introducing a bit of impersonal grittiness often associated with the urban environment.  The Chicago sax player and the Quito street juggler are good examples.  
When I say “street juggler” I mean it literally.  

It is common for street performers to practice their talents in the middle of the street while lights are red in hopes of getting a donation for their public service.  When you look at the picture, where does your eye go tend to settle?

The next two examples take this a step further.  By de-saturating the color, increasing noise, increasing sharpness, accenting highlights, softening the area away from the subject, and deepening shadows, you can add another level of urban grittiness.  “Orange Beard” and “Jose Tucson” are two examples…which is which should be clear.

The next two shots of a man and a woman on the streets of Quito, Ecuador, are similar in the approach taken, but without the color de-saturation.  One of the common photography practices used in both these pictures is limiting what the viewer can see and allowing the mind to complete the image.  In the case of the man, you can see a very shallow depth of field that includes little more than his face.  Much of his hat is out of focus and out of frame, and his shirt and jacket are not in the focal plane.  In each case, this leaves a number of holes for your mind’s eye to complete.  Although you are not “seeing” a full image, your mind is completing it and therefore not confused or unsettled about the missing pieces.
Man in Quito:

The Woman in Quito shot takes a similar approach with a shallow depth of field, parts of the hat and shoulders out of frame, and her head is tilted down so the eyes are not visible.  Like the “Man in Quito” shot, your mind automatically fills in the holes.  The point I am trying to make is that it is not necessary, and frequently undesirable to have the entire subject of your photograph well within the bounds of your shot.  Engage the interest of your viewer by letting them do some of the work!

Woman in Quito:

The final two shots, as most good shots, have a great story behind them.  We will call the subject of the shots Pedro.  Pedro is a very interesting man that tells a great story.  Pedro is in his 90s and is a neighbor of mine.  I first met Pedro as I sat one night on my front porch having a cigar and a scotch…I heard love ballads sung in Spanish drifting through the night air of my neighborhood.  As time went on, I spent time chatting with Pedro…fortunately I speak Spanish, because Pedro does not speak English.  Pedro is Cuban-American and came to the U.S. some 40 years ago.  Pedro is still on his game and willing to tell stories of Cuba and his experiences over his last 40 years in the U.S.

From a photographic perspective, these shots are all about the years of experience revealed in Pedro’s eyes and even more so in his work worn hands.  Like the Quito shots, both of these shots employ a very shallow depth of field limited to little more than Pedro’s face.  Looking at the second shot, you see how the background is completely blurred, while the foreground, as close as his hands, is also blurred.

As always, I hope you enjoyed these photographs and in the process learned something.  If you have any requests, or questions about photography, please send me a note.  I will be happy to share my opinion and the benefit of my experience.