Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Funny Farm

Funny Farm-5
This was a great week for photography.  I have plenty of backlogged photographs to process, but I promised Dianna at The Funny Farm I would get this post up quickly (BTW, thanks for generously allowing me the time to do some shooting at The Funny Farm!).
Funny Farm-4
The Funny Farm is a wonderful roadside vegetable stand and gift shop in Callaway, Maryland.  If you are ever roaming the beautiful countryside of southern Maryland, I highly recommend a stop at the Funny Farm.
Funny Farm-2
Not only has it been a great week for photography, I’m having a great time experimenting with HDR (see several recent posts on the subject).  I have not fully formulated my thoughts on HDR, but I have discovered a few points regarding the kinds of shots that are good candidates for HDR.
Funny Farm-3
So far, I find the following conditions favorable for good HDR results:
  1. Situations with a range of light that cannot be captured in a single exposure (duh!).  In other words, under a single exposure, you would either lose detail in the highlights or the shadows due to the dynamic range limitations of the camera.
  2. Lots of color.  HDR does fun things with color.  The Funny Farm pictures are a good example.
  3. Shooting into the sun.  This is directly related to the first point, but is a specific application.  We have all seen the colorful sunset pictures…that largely turnout as a colorful sky and silhouettes or complete disappearance of most anything else in the shot.  HDR lets you recapture the missing details.  See the last photograph in this post featuring a beach in Piney Point, MD.
  4. Compositions that you want to result in gritty mood.  My recent post on skateboarding at the Bridge Spot is an example.
Funny Farm
I’m certain I will learn more as I continue to experiment.  In the mean time, I am having a wonderful time attempting to master this approach.
Piney Point Beach
Go make some great photography!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Bridge Spot – Collection 1

Bike Air
The Human blur
My son Ryan is an aspiring skateboarder.  One day in a moment of brilliance I recognized the obvious – why not spend some time with Ryan and his friends shooting some skateboarders.  Just this week, we made it happen.
Will Jump
Will Recovery
I had a small bit of trepidation about this.  Although I knew Ryan and his friend Will were completely onboard, I wondered how the other boarders would react.  I knew that to get the shots I wanted, I would have to get completely up in their faces…and possibly be ready to dodge an errant board.
Another Dance Move
I guessed right about dodging the occasional unguided missile, but my fears about being well received by the skate crowd were quickly dismissed.  After some quick introductions and a few shots, it shortly became a matter of competition for “air time” in both senses of the word.  “Dude, check this out.”  “Hey, over here!”  Their enthusiasm made my shooting that much more fun.
First a couple of photogeek points.  The shots in this collection were taken with three lenses; 70-200 f2.8L IS, 17-40 f4L, and a Lensbaby 3G.  The lighting for these shots was all natural (no flash) and was a bit of a challenge.  First, the shots were taken about two hours before sunset, and second, the Bridge Spot is a set of ramps and other props built completely by the boarders under a I-395 overpass in Washington DC.  Less than optimal lighting.
Defying Gravity
Slide Launch
Because I was shooting under an overpass, I lost a good deal of the increasingly limited light, but even more challenging was the big difference in the light under the overpass and the ambient light outside overpass that frequently became the background in a shot.  In other words, I was dealing with subjects in low light and a bright background – a tremendous range of light.
Light Board HDR
About the processing.  As I was deciding how to process these photographs I had two major considerations; 1) I wanted to maintain or enhance the urban grunge feel of the location and the subject matter, and 2) I had to deal with the difficult lighting situation.  It did not take long to conclude that processing the photographs as single image virtual high dynamic range (HDR) in Photomatix was the way to go.  This allowed me to address both constraints simultaneously.
GE Spot
Ryan at Bridge Spot-5
On the other hand, some of the shots I judged could maintain the feel I was looking for as black and white.  I was pleased with both approaches, but when viewed as a whole, the HDR shots and the black and white did not feel consistent.  For this reason, I will make two posts – one for each approach and let you be the judge.  This post features the HDR, and a second soon to be published entry will present a cohesive collection of the black and white.
Will Green
Segregating the posts speaks to the issue of how a collection of photos works as a whole.  In the case of Bridge Spot skateboarding, the subject matter is clearly the same.  But the look and feel of the two processing methods is very different and my opinion breaks the cohesiveness.  I would be interested in your thoughts once you see both posts.
Land it
Launch  On the Corner
Ryan at Bridge Spot-3
Ryan at Bridge Spot-4  Slide Sneaky
Wishing He Was Older
Will Will Land It
I hope you enjoyed these photographs and learned something along the way.  Stand by for the black and white collection.
Go make some great photography!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Teaser for Upcoming Posts

I have a big list of upcoming posts as a result of a great photography week.  The entries are currently in draft, but it has been a few days and I want to give a bit of a tease for the upcoming posts.
Bike Air
First among the upcoming posts I have the final in the series of my thoughts on organizing your photography (lots of good feedback on this, and I hope it is useful to many of you).  Second, I spent the weekend under severe discipline (for me); using only one lens…you don’t want to miss these posts that are limited to one lens for each entry.
Yesterday I spent the early evening with my son at his hideaway skate park.  What fun!  One of the upcoming posts will focus entirely on this shoot.  For now, here are a few shots from the “skate park.”
Will Green
I hope you enjoy these photos.  I will add the story shortly.
Go make some great photography.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Dialogue on Defining Moments

A day at the (camel) races (12 of 14)
On August 18th, Scott Bourne posted an entry on the PhotoFocus blog with his thoughts on “Defining Moments.”  I encourage you to follow the link and read Scott’s excellent thoughts on defining moments in photography.
I would like to thank Scott for making this post – it sparked a good conversation with a close friend and fellow photographer; John Downey at Far Out Photographic.
Just to set the context, Scott’s post was inspired by the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson who was known for capturing defining moments; in large part due to his 1952 book The Decisive Moment.  So what does a defining or decisive moment mean?  I would begin by referring you to some of Cartier-Bresson’s photography.  This site provides a only small sample of some of Cartier Bresson’s work, but for our purposes it will suffice (you can also find a good number of his photographs by doing a Google image search).  Study his photography for a bit, and look for what the photographs have in common, and how they differ from the work of other photographers.
Urban Mountain Biking at the Lincoln
Here are my thoughts.  Certainly, the body of work accumulated by Cartier-Bresson is characteristic of the idea behind a defining moment.  Whether it is an act, a historical moment, the look on a face, the convergence of forms, his work represents moments in time through which story’s are told…in a fraction of a second.
Part of Cartier-Bresson’s notoriety for the defining moment comes from his first book…The Decisive Moment (1952).  The title along with the body of work could lead one to believe that story-telling, the split second capturing the subject of a historic moment, is the essence of great photography.  In fact, many would argue he meant something very different; and his best work was remarkable for the way it ignored (pointing the camera in the other direction), rather than focused on the usual dramatic props common place in the world of photojournalism.  A blurred flag behind President Obama giving a speech, the crowds of protestors in front of a political poster, and so on.
If you look at the breadth of work by Cartier-Bresson, and not just The Decisive Moment, you will find that instead of photographing the historic event, he would often photograph the crowd watching the event or some other tangential composition at the event.  One of his best known photographs taken during the communist overthrow of China in 1948-49 shows agitated Shanghai citizens "like a human accordion, squeezed in and out by invisible hands." The photograph captures a run on a Shanghai bank, but there is no bank in the frame.  There are no clues about the presence of money, gold or other valuables, and there is no evidence of the presence of police.  Instead, we are led to concentrate on the faces of the people and the frame filling crowd; is this any less of a defining moment than that of an outstretched hand of Ghandi before a crowd days before his assassination in 1948?
Grandma Terwilliger's Funeral  (32 of 55)
Cartier-Bresson wrote that photography "is at one and the same time the recognition of a fact in a fraction of a second and the rigorous arrangement of the forms visually perceived which give the fact impression and significance."
I like Cartier-Bresson’s statement on photography for a number of reasons. 
  1. It frees us from the oppressive weight that we must capture historical events at a very precise and decisive moment in order to achieve truly great photography…as Cartier-Bresson’s first book led many to conclude.  Cartier-Bresson demonstrated that these defining moments happen all around us - all the time.  There are special and significant moments in the ordinary.
  2. Photography is story telling…a challenge to tell a story captured in 1/500th of a second.
  3. And finally, that recognizing how the arrangement of forms (composition) is responsible for establishing the significance of the moment, is a fundamental principle.
Here is where we get to the comment made by my good friend John.  John said “I can only pre-visualize in terms of pre-selecting technical aspects of capture and then the rest is up to what happens in front of the lens.”  This statement fits very closely with the position taken by Scott Bourne in the post I recommended to you.  Scott said that he has difficulty thinking in terms of these types of momentous events so instead, intentionally seeks adventure…an opportunity to put himself in challenging positions which will surely (or hopefully?) lead to the opportunity for great photography.
Jose Tucson
John, Scott and Cartier-Bresson are all absolutely correct in my humble opinion.  So Here I will offer the Cartier-Bresson-Downey-Bourne rules (well, not so much rules as really good suggestions) for good photography.

  1. Be prepared for the decisive moment - master the techniques of photography and know your camera (Downey).

  2. Put yourself in positions where the decisive moment can reveal itself (Bourne).

  3. Be patient and let something happen in front of your lens (Downey).

  4. View your composition from the perspective of “what is the story you are telling?” (Cartier-Bresson).

  5. Take care to recognize how the arrangement of forms is responsible for establishing the significance of the moment (Cartier-Bresson).

  6. And one bonus suggestion from me; find the extraordinary in the ordinary.  Defining moments are there for the seeing.
I have the greatest respect for both John Downey and Scott Bourne and I hope they both read my comments on their statements as the compliments they are intended.
A Camel was parked at a Mosque
Thanks for weathering this lengthy post.  If nothing else, I hope it motivated your thoughts on photography.
Go make some great photography!

Monday, August 17, 2009

HDR Comes to the Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi

Prayer Room at Grand Mosque - 5And1more
(NOTE: all the photographs featured in this entry are from the Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.)
Before I finish the ongoing discussion of organizing photography, I am taking a break to briefly look at some High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography.  HDR photography is a process that lets you reproduce all the detail your eye can see normally lost to the shadows or the highlights in photography.  Not surprisingly, your brain and your camera record visual information differently.  Your eye is a much more capable camera than your DSLR, and your DSLR is very handicapped at replacing the function of your eye.  The HDR process helps overcome the handicap or physical limitations of your camera.
As you look at a beautiful sunset, you are able to scan the scene in front of you – left and right, up and down – and your eye adjusts to the bright and dim areas allowing you to discern details in both.  With a single photograph, your camera cannot collect and ultimately reproduce all the information your eye can.  Thanks to HDR techniques, you can overcome this limitation.  To put the details of the highlights as well as the shadows into a finished photograph requires that we take and combine multiple exposures to capture the richness hidden in the shadows, the full breadth of mid-tones, and the fine details often lost in the highlights.
Here is an example of a photograph I made using my normal setup and post processing methods:
Prayer Room at Grand Mosque - 2
This is not a bad photograph.  It is well composed and relies on the symmetry of the columns and arches, repeating patterns and leading lines to bring interest and guide the viewers eye.
Here is the exact same shot rendered in HDR and composed of four separate exposures:
Grand Mosque Prayer Room HDR-2
The HDR image is more vivid, vibrant, colorful and detailed (for instance look at the difference in the details on the main chandelier and in the top of the blue dome at the top – center).  Many of the details lost in the first photograph leap out at you.  The HDR image draws you into the grand hall and begs you to explore all the details.
Composing a photograph such as this begins with multiple exposures taken from a tripod.  For me, multiple exposures usually means 3 to 5; one exposure as I would normally compose the shot, then by adjusting shutter speed only (maintaining ISO and aperture at the same setting), take one or two over exposed shots (consecutively by one f-stop each) and one or two under exposed shots (again consecutively by one f-stop each).
I have been making HDR photographs for quite some time.  But until recently I was making HDR images the brute force way.  Until the introduction of currently available high quality HDR software, these images were prepared in Photoshop using a bunch of layers to pull the desired details out of each exposure.  I won’t get into the details, but imagine having three shots of the same image at different exposure values.  In Photoshop you can combine the three photos and select the portions of each photo that are optimally exposed (bringing out shadow or highlight detail and combining these elements with the “spot on” exposure).
I was never satisfied with the results of the HDR function built into Photoshop so my work always relied on the very tedious process I just described.  With the advent of such specialized programs as Photomatix Pro (see, the tedium is gone, and the magic happens with a few simple slider bars to adjust the level to which the highlight and shadow details are balanced.
There are a number of people embracing this type of photography whole heartedly.  Personally, I love the added level of creativity and opportunity I now have at my disposal.  My only reservation is that too much of a good thing, can be, well, too much of a good thing.  With HDR, “too much” comes in two different forms:
  1. Shooting every shot in HDR – HDR is great, but “too much” in the form of quantity is something to guard against.  All things in moderation. 
  2. Pushing the software too far - The leading HDR programs give the user a great deal of flexibility to explore some extreme applications of the process.  Pushing the capabilities can yield some very interesting results.  Unfortunately pushing the boundaries can also lead to some very strange, even cartoonish results.  Again, I recommend restraint.
Here is an example of “too much” manipulation:
Grand Mosque Prayer Room HDR
While an interesting result, in my opinion, this has gone too far.  The next photograph, using the same original exposure set, is processed a bit more conservatively and reduces the surreal cartoonish effect while maintaining the details (likely appreciated much better in a larger view format).
Grand Mosque Prayer Room HDR-3
One of the fun things about the HDR software is that you can create virtual HDR images from a single exposure.  Like with multiple exposure HDR images, this can be accomplished through a great deal of tedious work in Photoshop – my preferences lie on the side of efficiency.  The following shot of a minaret with the sun in the background originally appeared (as I intended) as a silhouette. After processing in Photomatix Pro, we can bring back a great deal of detail as well as balance.
Minaret in the Sun
Here is the same shot that instead of being a single exposure virtual HDR, is a two exposure HDR.
Minaret in the Sun-2
As you can see, these are very different photographs with a great deal more detail exposed in the 2 exposure version.
The remainder of the HDR photographs are presented without comment…simply for your enjoyment.  They are HDR photographs of the exterior of the Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque.
Grand Mosque at Night HDR
Grand Mosque Corner HDR
I hope you learned something about HDR and enjoyed the results.
Go make some great photography!