Saturday, September 26, 2009

Focus Pocus (part II)

 Staffer at the Capitol
Earlier this month I posted an entry (Focus Pocus!) that was inspired by a conversation with my good friend John Downey (Far Out Photographic) on the subject of sharpness and focus.  At the end of that entry I presented a short list of conclusions, one of which was “There is some very good photography to be had that is not in the sweet spot of focus (the real question is “how far can we go and still get something pleasing?”  I may just test that).”
Bike at the Library of Congress
This week lived up to the challenge and began work on a project to create a body of photography that is not in focus.  Yes, I am intentionally “un-focusing” the shot.  The other constraint I put on this project is that all the shots will be taken with my 50mm lens.  I imposed this constraint for two reasons; 1) I wanted to face the challenge of working an entire project with one lens, and 2) I believe the single lens will bring a more consistent look throughout the project.
Union Station Calling
After a couple of shoots worth of completely out of focus photographs, the answer to my original question became quite clear – it is possible to intentionally stray quite far from a focused shot, and still make good photography. 
First Street NE
The real challenge of this type of photography is that counter-intuitively, rather than take the pressure off the photographer to make a tack-sharp photograph, it applies new and greater challenges.  I quickly found:
  1. Out of focus photography concentrates the viewer on light and form.  If you have bad lighting, or are not able to capture the essence of form, you have nothing.
  2. Composition is king.  Any flaws in composition are exposed dramatically.  Because the typical details that draw attention in a photograph are missing, the eye becomes more critical to the composition.
Motor Cycle on H Street
I will have more thoughts and more photographs comprising this collection.  I will be sure to share them as it proceeds.  In the mean time, I would like to hear your thoughts on the photographs featured in this post, and the concept of this project.  The photographs featured in this post were all taken in the Capitol Hill area of Washington DC using a Canon 50mm f/1.8 II mounted to a Canon 5D.
Have fun, and go make some great photography!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Southern Maryland Farm at Sunrise

Farm on Indian Bridge Road
I had a great weekend of shooting.  My subject of choice for the weekend was the Southern Maryland waterfront.  The title photograph was an exception so I decided to post a quick entry featuring this shot.
As has been my recent focus, this is an HDR photograph.  I find this shot appealing for several reasons.  First, with the exception of the central subject, the farm buildings, the colors were muted and were made even more so after a bit of post-processing desaturation.
I also like the composition which takes the corn rows, starting from each of the lower corners, and uses the lines to lead you to the subject.  I like the texture and detail of the corn, and finally I like the “S” curve of the corn that leads you to the subject.  This is another form of “leading lines” that draw the eye to the principal subject of the photograph.
As you likely know, I am predisposed to process photos in black and white.  However, in this case, the colors are useful in directing your eye to the subject, are not distracting, and do a decent job of adding information to the composition.
The final point regarding this photograph is that it was taken in what I consider some of the best light of the day…right at sunrise.  The corn had not yet been kissed by the rising sun, but the farm buildings on a bit of a rise were glowing with the morning sun.
If you want some great light for photography, find time at sunrise or sunset +/- 1 hour.  This is the period of beautiful soft light that makes colors burst, brings out long and soft shadows, and is very peaceful.
Have fun, and make some great photography.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Patuxent Naval Air Museum – Extreme HDR

Lockheed Martin X-35C PNAM
You may have been following my recent adventures in exploring High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography.  This post is a continuation of that theme.  As promised, I am posting the good, the bad and the ugly.
Boeing X-32B PNAM
This group of shots certainly fall in the category of pushing HDR to the extreme.  I will let you be the judge of good, bad or ugly.
NA-7A Corsair II PNAM
I shared these photographs with several friends and received two classes of responses; 1) Wow…very cool…they don’t look real, and 2)  Wow…how did you do that?  I’m guessing the second response was a less positive one.
NA - 6E Intruder PNAM
My personal assessment is that the photographs are visually interesting and draw you in to examine the details.  They are not shots that will find a place on my walls, but they are fun to explore.
RA-5C Vigilante PNAM
As I mentioned in my preface to exploring HDR, my intent was to explore the mild to the wild.  These shots clearly fall on the wild end of the spectrum.
The real value of pressing the envelope of the possible, is that I am progressively bracketing (both a photographic and military artillery term) the target.  I would guess that within the next month, I will be in a position to publish a solid list of my rules of thumb for using HDR photography.
NFA-18a Hornet Tail PNAM
As with everything else I publish in this blog, my rules of thumb for using HDR photography will be exactly that…MINE.  I share such things as a starting point, or point of comparison for you to consider; and to develop your own if you choose to do so.
NFA-18a Hornet PNAM
Have fun, and go make some great photography.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Unfamiliar Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi Bus Station-6
This will be a quick post.  I am sitting at the airport in Abu Dhabi waiting to board a plane back to the U.S. and have just a few moments.  I thought to make good use of the time by posting short entry.
Abu Dhabi Bus Station-7
The photographs featured in this entry are of the part of Abu Dhabi many people do not get to see.  Particularly those who only see the UAE through their televisions.
Abu Dhabi Bus Station-2
There is nothing derogatory or inflammatory about these pictures…just a different perspective.  These shots are inspired by a good friend who asked for some photographs of “the real Abu Dhabi.”  Her meaning was along the lines of describing life in Abu Dhabi that is not part of the tourist books.
Abu Dhabi Bus Station-3
I thought this was a wonderful idea, and am intending to build a portfolio of the unfamiliar Abu Dhabi over the next year.
Abu Dhabi Bus Station-5
The first group of shots come from the Abu Dhabi bus terminal.  The next group are from a construction site on 4th street in downtown Abu Dhabi.
Fourth Street Construction Site
All the photographs featured in this entry were taken with a Canon G10 (yes, I am still out to prove something) and are 3 to 5 exposure HDR compositions.
Fourth Street Construction Site-2
Fourth Street Construction Site-3
Mosque Crain
The final shots look into a Mosque just after evening call to prayer (Iftar) when the Ramadan fast is broken.  The mosques provide water, milk and dates to the poor each day during Ramadan at Iftar.
Iftar Prayers
Both shots show the a group sitting in the center of the mosque eating dates and drinking water or milk.
Iftar Prayers-2
As promised, short commentary and more photographs.
Go make some great photography!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wrestling with HDR – Another Walk Around the Neighborhood

Union Station Rail Yard-3
Over the last few weeks, I have been shooting almost exclusively tripod based shots intended to be processed as HDR photography.  I am shooting a bunch to explore HDR in every imaginable way, and to find what is comfortable for me.  See these posts for other HDR photography I posted.
H Street Liquor
The real challenge I am finding with HDR is matching the processing with intended feel for the final photograph.  HDR, and tone mapping in Photomatix specifically, present the opportunity to simply draw the details out of the highlights and shadows (on the mild end) to completely surreal imagery on the opposing end of the continuum.
H Street Sunset
In general, I am learning to use the surreal end judiciously and am tending more toward the “mild” part of the spectrum.  I am not eliminating the “surreal” end because I am finding there are some situations or subjects that are suitable for more aggressive processing from an artistic point of view.
Phoenix Park Hotel
Over the next few posts, I will be showing the full spectrum of mild to aggressive processing.  Some of this will be great photography, and others will be the metaphorical equivalent of hanging the dirty laundry out for the neighbors to see.  I’m ok with this.  We learn from doing and we learn from observing and analyzing.  It is ok to look at the bad stuff too…and understand what went wrong or where our preferences are not.
Postal Museum
The photographs featured in this post were the result of another walk around my neighborhood (Capitol Hill area of Washington, DC).  If you mouse over the photo, you should be able to see the photograph name (which is hopefully descriptive of the subject).
The Irish Times
So as you look through these photographs ask yourself what you like and why.  What do you not like, and why?  Where do your preferences lie with respect to HDR color vs. HDR B/W?  Which photographs were over processed?  Which photographs could have been processed more aggressively.
Union Station at Sunset
The final two shots are similarly composed shots of the Union Station rail yard.  One is color and the other processed in black and white – a good opportunity for you to compare the two.
Union Station Rail Yard
Union Station Rail Yard-2
Standby for more HDR photography.  I hope you learn something as I continue on this quest to find my preferences for HDR processing.  I know my friend John at Far Out Photography is going through a similar exploration of HDR.  Check his blog frequently to read his thoughts on HDR.
Go make some great photography!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Focus Pocus!

Reading on the Steps
My good friend John at Far Out Photographic recently wrote a blog about getting intimate with your subjects titled “Ditch the Telephoto and Get Closer.”  I completely agree with John, and his post motivated me to go make some photography with only one lens.
FDR Soup Line
Shooting with only one lens is something I will occasionally do because it is fun, challenging and helps to further your mastery of the chosen lens.  So following Johns post, I grabbed my Canon 5D,  my 50mm f1.8 II, and went for a walk around the U.S. Capitol building and the Eastern end of the National Mall.
Flag Ring at Washington Monument
This blog is not about my walk with the 50mm lens.  I will get to that soon, but for now we will let the 50mm subject be the launching point for the real story.  The day following the 50mm walk, I made a similar walk around the Western end of the National Mall with only one lens.  This time I used the Lensbaby 3G.
Kite Man
The Lensbaby is a unique lens that “bends” giving the photographer selective focus (one area of the composition remaining in focus and the remainder is blurred quite dramatically).  The lens is terrific fun and presents an enjoyable challenge for making truly unique photography.
I had a fun afternoon taking the shots featured in this post.  But yet, we have not broken the real story that instigated this post.  Following are portions of an e-mail conversation I had with John.  This conversation is the motive for the entry.
Vietnam Memorial
Took this yesterday at a birthday party.  I've been using Silver Efex Pro (which now has a LR plugin version) to "hide" the 20D's noise (think I used ISO 800 on this one).  Would like your opinion.  It looks a bit too soft to me - I may be able to go back to the original and mask the eyes and mouth for sharpening.

Headed out to some festival in Adams Morgan - should be a lot of characters there to photograph for sure!

Curly Smile

First, let me say the shot is spectacular and not just from a technical standpoint.  The little girl has a direct connection with the's all in the eyes.  If there were technical flaws, they would be completely obliterated by the connection with her smile.

As I was processing the shots from a recent outing with the Lensbaby(and very happy with many of them), a lightbulb went off.  With all the great camera bodies, lenses, sensors, software, etc., we (as photographers in general) seem to be obsessed with capturing the elusive super tack sharp shot (that happens to include a cool subject, blurred background, perfectly distributed tonal range, a "decisive moment", yada, yada, yada).  As I evaluated my lensbaby shots, I saw that this pursuit of non-soft perfection is misplaced.  There are a whole host of attributes that happen to trump "tack sharp."  Take a look at the photos attached, and make an argument otherwise.

As you look at these shots, you will find that even the parts of the shots that are in clearest focus, are still out of focus.  But when you look at the picture as a whole, it works.  There seems to be some jedi mind trick going on that deals with "relative focus."  In other words, when parts of the shot are way out of focus, those that are close to being on the focal plane, appear to be more in focus than they really are.

Bottom line:  you are being way to critical of your is great, and the subject/composition/exposure/timing outweigh your concerns by a long shot.
Good luck shooting today!


Vietnam Memorial-2
Whoah!  I really like the one of the kid sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Mem!  …Still, I think a really good portrait needs sharp eyes and mouth to work for me, unless the shot is so [intentionally] blurry, then having an entire soft image works fine…
Washington Monument - blur

OK, I concede that good portraiture is all about the eyes.  To nail it, the eyes, if nothing else, need to be in super sharp focus.  I don't so much need the mouth in focus...the story is told in the eyes.
Washington Monument - blur-2

So what is the bottom line?  Here is what I think:
  1. John totally rocks portraits!
  2. Good portraits mean getting the eyes right…the eyes must be in focus.
  3. There is some very good photography to be had that is not in the sweet spot of focus (the real question is “how far can we go and still get something pleasing?”  I may just test that).
  4. Go challenge yourself by taking just one lens…it will force you to be creative, and you will have fun!
I hope you enjoyed the story and the photography.
Go make some great photography.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Motivating Creativity - A Walk Around Capitol Hill

Canopy at Eastern Market
Have you ever had one of those days when the fountain of creative juices ran dry?  If you are like me, you have probably had this experience.  Hopefully this does not happen often, but even for the rare occasion there are a number of remedies for this sad state. 
Dogs Playing in Lincoln Park
This entry focuses on one activity that can get you shooting when you can think of nothing other than “what should I shoot?”  I suggest that you simply take a walk.  Sure, we all love photographs of exotic places, interesting people, and unique things; but you live in the midst of all these, so what is stopping you.  Have you shot everything there is to shoot within walking distance of your home?
East Capitol Street NE
What may seem mundane, routine, and uninteresting within the sphere your life touches, is likely distinctive or possibly even striking to someone else.
Eastern Market Main Door
We can extend this recommendation of taking a walk, to photographing your life.  Not necessarily a self portrait of you eating cornflakes for breakfast, but photographs of the things you know.  The places you go.  Things you do.  The “stuff” that is a daily part of your life.
Flag over Eastern Market
In making this recommendation, I frequently get the response that the “stuff” in my life is pretty boring.  I respond “GREAT!!”  If the things you see and do every day do not appear worthy of your photography, you have the best of all challenges…making them interesting through a creative approach.
Immancipation Statue Lincoln Park
This challenges you to see the ordinary in an extraordinary way.  It challenges you to see the things in your life from a new perspective.  Try a different angle, a different time, different light, an innovative lens selection.
Ninth Street NE
All the shots in this entry are from my neighborhood…the Capitol Hill area of Washington DC.  I am fortunate to have an unending supply of great photography opportunities within walking distance.  I took each of the shots while on a jaunt around the neighborhood.  I intentionally limited my boundaries…it is very easy to stray out of the immediate neighborhood and find yet another way to shoot the Lincoln Memorial (and yes I do have several ideas in my back pocket!).
Ninth Street NE-2
Finally, I want to reinforce a maxim stated frequently on this blog.  The best camera to have, is the one you have with you.  None of the shots made for this post were the product of a DSLR.  These photographs were all made with my pocket camera; a Canon G10.
Seventh Street SE
I left this little revelation for last so you would not be biased as you viewed the photographs.  I think you will agree that this non-DSLR camera holds up pretty well against the rest of the photography in this blog (typically taken with a Canon 5D).  In the interest of full disclosure, all the photographs are three exposure HDR shots processed in Photomatix Pro and Adobe Lightroom.
I hope you enjoyed the photography and I hope you are not feeling creatively mired.  But if you are, go take a walk.
Go make some great photography!