Sunday, December 30, 2007

Star Burst – Photo Zooming

I thought that at this celebrative time of year I would find an appropriate festive image that might capture some of the excitement with the starting of a new year.

The image below was photographed using a twist and zoom technique on your telephoto lens. You zoom in or out on the lens, while you are pressing the shutter.

Depending on the length of the shutter speed and how fast you rotate the lens, you will get different patterns. A tripod ensures that all radial lines are straight, but especially if handheld, as the images below will attest to, strange patterns can emerge.

If you are wondering what the original image looked like. Below are 2 hints from cropped areas.

When capturing zooming images such as these, there are a few simple premises that help you to influence the final outcome.

All bright objects will produce the streaking light effect. Therefore darker backgrounds and having the lights being the source of interest, produce more dramatic images.

When holding handheld, do first try and find something to lean on, and then begin the telephoto-zoom rotation before pressing the shutter to reduce camera shake.

The slower the shutter speed the greater the effect, but then more difficult to handhold.

The images where taken inside the main lobby of the Tokyo National Theatre of Japan where we had gone to see a wonderful Kabuki play.

This is from the top floor walkway.

Niels Henriksen

A Photographers Adage

Photography, as we all know, is not real at all. It is an illusion of reality with which we create our own private world. - Arnold Newman

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Not Quite Steamed Christmas Pudding

First of all and most importantly, I want to wish you a Merry Christmas or whichever holiday celebration that is significant to you at this time of season and a truly great upcoming New Year. Also a thank you to the readers who drop in to read some of these articles, as this is what keeps me excited about writing more.

Not all my photographic shooting is well thought out and planned, sometimes I am just a tourist with a camera, as an example with the following image.

This image was captured outside on one of those crowded and uniquely interesting side-streets in Chinatown in Yokohama on the outskirts of Tokyo. This is such a visually rich and vibrant area with brilliant colours, great people and interesting food, which I hope you all get a chance to visit.

This photo was taken without use of flash, as I wanted the local street lighting to naturally highlight the image. I had to crank the ISO up to 800 to still be able to get a decent shutter speed of 1/30 at f4.5.

This is one of the times I am so thankful that I shoot in RAW format. The image on the left is the default RAW setting, which would be the result if I shot in jpeg mode. Terrible tungsten (red) colour cast and the red channel of the dumplings is almost completely clipped. The image on the right is corrected for White Balance but as you can see it is still a bit dark in many areas and yet the dumpling in some sections are a bit blown out.

When working on a photograph, it is easy for your own biases, from memory of when you where there, to influence how well the image appears. There are several techniques I use to examine an image for strong compositional elements to help me focus better on these areas. Below I used 2, one to apply a steep curve to drastically increase contrast and the other, ‘find edges’ on this darken version to really see what stands out.

It becomes apparent that the dominant elements are the diagonal lines created with the hand, the tilted steamer and also by the tongs. There is also the re-enforcement of circles throughout image from the steamers and dumplings.

The image below identifies the changes I decided to undertake to keep focus on those primary elements.

You can see from the image of the layers palate that there was a lot of effort that was needed to make all the changes.

This image was made a few years ago before a very useful feature, found in Photoshop CS3, was made available. This is the smart object layer. The old method was to create a separate file and reduce the exposure to get all parts of the dumplings from being blown and then copy and paste it into the working file. If there was something off with this copy, then you were required to try again. With smart layers, I just open this smart layer and then I am presented again with the camera RAW setting, which I can re-tweak over and over again, and mask out the parts I don’t want.

For some of you, this may seem like too much work however, for those images that you plan to print for yourself or plan to sell, it is important that all the details in the image are corrected.

This is an image of a great buffet where the food goes around on a 150 ft conveyor belt and you just take those items which you desire.

More food available on the street.

And now, a restful place to sit after all that eating!

Niels Henriksen

A Photographer’s Adage

Basically, I love photography - and travel. You could say I travel to take photographs and take photographs to travel. - Rick Sammon - Vision - Lowepro 2004/2005, page 37

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Oooops! Inverted and Upside Down

I few weeks ago there was B&W print competition at my local Camera Club, with a topic of ‘My Backyard’. I only had one photo that I thought might win and I was trying to find creative idea for another entry that would be of sufficient caliber. I have learned over the years entering competitions that, while judges do rate on the technical and compositional elements, they also seem give a special emphasis for not-your-everyday-image found in your locale. Visual repetition even with great images tends to not quite cut it.

I therefore decided to experiment with a colour image of ornamental grasses that I was fond off. A negative B&W version was created and was also turned upside down to give the appearances that the light was falling correctly on the subject. While this was not my favorite of the 2, it did win an ‘Award of Excellence’

I find that for fine details or subtle tones, the web version, can never quite create the same visual impact of a well-printed image.

For the strip-line version, please click on the thumbnail image below to see the larger (1500x 450) version were the details will be more visible.

I had such fun creating the examples that I may have gone overboard in showing too many in the blog, but I do hope you enjoy them and importantly can see the potential for creative ideas by experimenting. In all cases I like the inverted version the best, but you will have to decide for yourself whether it works for you.

One large benefit with creating a inverted tonal version whether in B&W or colour is that it helps you to see the compositional elements in the image separately form the normal and how they are balanced throughout. This is because with a regular image it is too easy to focus on the image itself because you understand it within it own context. When it is inverted it is harder to figure it out and the compositional elements now becomes dominant parts.

In the above image, I also used a steep tonal curve just on the curled banana leaf tip and added some darkening to give more of a 3D effect as the inverted version below I though was a little flat.

I thought the tulip version created a more dramatic, mysterious and magical version.

Sometimes completely different image will emerge as shown below. This image for me appears almost like a star going nova with its explosion.

As I stated earlier I almost couldn’t stop doing these and have included a few more of these progression series below and one with just the final versions.

It can even work for colour-inverted image but becomes a bit harder due to the wonky colours you will get. In the final colour I used an inverted B&W set to darken mode to punch up the colour more and tweaked the Hue/Sat to my liking.

Do take the time to experiment with your photography, whether with your approach to the subject or through photo-editing techniques. It will help you in the future to visual new subjects that may not have caught your eye under normally .

Niels Henriksen

A photographer’s Adage

Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I'm going to take tomorrow. - Imogen Cunningham, Interviews With Master Photographers : Minor White, Imogen Cunningham, Cornell Capa, Elliott Erwitt, Yousuf Karsh, Arnold Newman, Lord Snowdon, Brett Weston by James Danziger

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Lily and the Dancing Stamens

With the snow season finally settling in, it becomes harder to capture interesting shots every week. It is more physically demanding and you start to see a repetition in snow themes. Therefore this week I thought I would focus on a singular image and describe the photo-editing approach I took to enhance it to match the vision I had.

When it comes to your personal photography I find that there are no right or wrong approaches. There is your vision and what excites you. Now if you are a commercial photographer or if you want to make a living selling your images, that’s different. It’s the client that decides what works, unless of course you are such recognized brand that your work establishes the standard.

While I use Photoshop for my photo editing, I will try and keep the processes generic so that the same techniques can be used with any photo editing software.

The title for the image is the Lily and the dancing Stamens and as you can probably guess, the main focus will be the stamens with a secondary focus being the petals of the lily.

Whenever I work on an image that I will take to the print stage, I always like to mark-up the photo with the editing that I plan to undertake. I will at times use layers to keep notes as I am working through the image, which becomes a good reference tool later when re-visiting an image and figuring out why you took that approach.

The image below shows the planned changes on the original RAW version from the camera. The thinner lines are used to show less effect needed.

The anther parts (wow! some biology too) of the stamens are normally very monochromatic and uniform in tone and I needed to enhance these to make them jump out more from the very vibrant colours in the background. Pollen by nature is very soft, unless you are looking through an electron microscope. I applied a little sharpening to bring out some detail in the anthers but no other parts, as I wanted the soft focus of the background to remain.

Using a mask to just apply changes to the anthers I also increased contrast by using an ‘S’ curve. Then, on a new layer, copied only the anthers, converted it to B&W and inverted to create a negative and set the layer to colour dodge. This will make any subtle yellow tones on the sun-lit side of anthers a very strong yellow. The opacity was reduced until it appeared that the left edge was receiving a low horizon sun effect. A very steep ‘S’ curve adjustment layer to fine tune effect was added.

This image shows part of the colour dodge Layer from the B&W inverted anthers.

The second part of the stamen, the long green filament, needed to also stand out more. By using a colour saturation layer and only targeting the yellow channel I was able to make these filaments glow a bit.

This zoomed image shows in better detail the changes performed.

The diagonal petal behind the stamens was not very vibrant, which is fine, as I did not want it to detract from the stamens. The far right petal, I thought, was too light especially since it was near the edge of the image. I needed to increase the colour saturation and at the same time darken the overall colour. I used a black layer set to Overlay, which causes the colours to be very intense. A Hue/Sat layer was added to reduce a bit the strong red intensity.

I found the edge where the 2 petals joined needed to be a little darker on the right petal and I darkened this just a bit.

This is an image of all the adjustment layers. I take the time to record information in layers should I, at later date, decide to fine-tune another way.

Here are a few more images of the lilies from the days shoot.

If you have any questions about the processes I described, please feel free to ask me.
I can even send you a scaled down version of the Photoshop ‘.psd’ file so you can better see the effect, if you send me your email address.

Thanks for reading.

Niels Henriksen

A Photographer's Adage

It fascinates me that there is a variety of feeling about what I do. I’m not a premeditative photographer. I see a picture and I make it. If I had a chance, I’d be out shooting all the time. You don’t have to go looking for pictures. The material is generous. You go out and the pictures are staring at you. -Lee Friedlander, "Documentary Photography - LIFE Library of Photography" , page: 178

Sunday, December 2, 2007

My Winter Snow capped Friends

As some of you may have been aware, at least from my previous blogs, is that Fall and those parts we associate with the pleasant memories is slowly ebbing away. There are those other periods when it becomes a precursor for the hardest season of all - Winter.

I truly enjoy being outside, even when the weather may not be at its best, because there are so many changing elements and other obscure things to observe around you.

During the night the temperature was just right that, when it snowed a couple of inches with large and delicate snow flakes they just hung perfectly from all the tree branches, shrubs or anything else that was outside. It was then I noticed some interesting patterns that played with the diffused light. There were a few remaining garden plants, although dead, were still standing into late fall season and providing some interesting textures in the backyard.

These plants with the large dried flower heads and snow-covered caps gave me the impression of a group of dwarfs sitting together. I was never quite able to capture that impression.

I thought that I might be able to somehow capture this on film and went inside to get my camera. In hind sight, even though being so close I should have also grabbed my snow clothing as I was not quite able to get down as low (lay flat on the ground) as I wanted to. I find once you are out shooting, it becomes harder to go back and adjust other thing.

In the image above, I embedded 2 RAW files as ‘Smart Object’ layers in Photoshop. This allows me at anytime to go back to the RAW settings and fine-tune them just for that layer. One layer was set to a cool temperature to best bring out the blue in the snow. The other smart object layer was adjusted to the correct white balance setting to permit me to give the plants a more vibrancy in their colours. I decreased the orange saturation to make the main stalks appear more woody and then increased saturation and luminance in the yellow channel to make the leaves pop more. Masks to just let through each of their own main features.

When there is a lot on snow or other broad monotones, it make it easy to quickly bring out the creative elements by being able to colour control only a few elements in the image.

This is the version I selected mainly for the contrasting greens and reds. The image below shows the other colour variations I made on the same image.

Photographing snowy objects under overcast conditions is a difficult task to be able to bring out the rich tones, at least in some parts that most of us are familiar with. The camera will, in auto mode, try and set the exposure for the snow to mid grey when snow fills most of the frame as opposed to pure whiteness.

All cameras try to set the exposure so that the majority of pixels fall around the mid grey point. This is because most of the time the useful information falls around the mid grey tonal range, except for black cats and snowy landscapes or bright white sandy beaches. The camera doesn’t know, unless you have program setting for snow and black cats, what the image is about. It just likes mid grey.

To solve this, increase the exposure about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 stops. The histogram is a very useful tool that can help overcome this auto over compensation by showing you where the lightest points fall and thereby helping you to fine-tune the compensation changes. Always try to expose to the right by keeping the lightest pixels with any information just starting at the left edge on the right side of the histogram display.

Whenever you have a chance, change the colour in some parts or all of your images. It helps to increase the creative mind by just playing around. Who knows what will turn up.

Niels Henriksen

A Photographer's Adage

I have been frequently accused of deliberately twisting subject matter to my point of view. Above all, I know that life for a photographer cannot be a matter of indifference. Opinion often consists of a kind of criticism. But criticism can come out of love. It is important to see what is invisible to others. Perhaps the look of hope or the look of sadness. Also, it is always the instantaneous reaction to oneself that produces a photograph. -Robert Frank, Page 115 of U.S. Camera 1958. Published by the U.S. Camera Publishing Corp. in 1957.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Hidden Gems in the Open Woods

For a lot of us, when we think of fall photography, we tend to think of those spectacular 2 or maybe even 3 weeks of panoramic rainbows covering the landscape like a painters palette. The enormous abundance of deep, fully saturated reds, oranges and yellows almost burn our brain with what we expect to see when we talk about fall.

When the leaves are just about all scattered on the forest floor, the fall landscape at times can seem pretty dreary but in small pockets can surprise you with unique insight into the forest.

While driving along several blocks of forest early one morning I noticed how the forest floor seemed to glow in the low sun and at the same time create strong shadows of the trees adding texture to the forest bed. I grabbed the camera and headed into the wood area.

The low light was causing the leaf-covered floor to appear alive and the singular trees, now stripped bare of their leaves, were standing as dark sentinels to the last gasp of summer.

Your eyes have the ability to ignore extraneous detail as we gaze about, but the camera sees all and therefore we tend to have too much small-branch detail in the foreground to create a gripping picture.

This happened for me at the edge of the forest, so I decided to walk along some of the paths in the woods to see if there were better vantage points for less cluttered shots. I came upon this tree, which still had the vast majority of its leaves and with the sun almost coming directly from the side, these leaves radiated against the blue cool morning sky.

Through the wooded areas there are many pathways that wind through the area. The image below was taken of a pathway that went along a small ridge. The foot trail seemed very evident while I was standing in the woods. Later as I was reviewing the images, these pathways did not jump out as much as I remembered. That is one of the difficulties with a 2 dimensional object trying to truly reflect what our three-dimensional eyes capture.

With this image, increased the saturation in the fallen leaves was needed as the eye remembers them being more vivid. I then removed some of the colour (saturation) in leaves just on the trail, since these tend to loose some of their colour as people walk along the pathway, naturally. It was necessary to further darken this pathway, as it still wasn’t standing out as much as I remembered. This is partly due to the fact that the camera is not quite able to capture the complete vibrancy of the leaves and therefore the slight muted tones of the pathway are now not as much different in tonal qualities. The image was then cropped to remove some of the trees that did not really add to the scene.

The above file sequence shows some of the enhancements and editing I did to produce the final image.

Further along within a bed of leaves there was this small moss like plant that still had a bit of the morning frost along its edges.

With a lot of landscape scenery and even more so when the forest has completely shed its green canopy, our eyes tend to focus on, and even remember more vividly, those small changes of tones in the forest. This compounded by the fact that our visual absorption is over a period of time and as our memory records these multiple exposures that only capture the best part of the scenery. That is why when we look at our captured images, they never seem quite as bright and vibrant or shimmery.

With the use of photo editing software we are able, with the use of selective techniques, to bring back into the print with some of what the mind retains from our visual journey.

While there may be a need in many images for overall brightness, contrast and colour saturation improvement, it’s by the selective use within the image that our greatest benefits occur. Only by adjusting brightness or reducing tones in those primary elements that can we trick the mind into seeing with the single snapshot, a time elapsed event.

Because film and digital camera are never able to render the full range of tones and colours we see, we can, by reducing these in other areas of our image, make those parts appear brighter in relation to the duller parts. Or if a central object does not jump pout enough we can achieve the same by darkening and reducing saturation with the bordering areas.

Niels Henriksen

A photographer’s Adage

While there is perhaps a province in which the photograph can tell us nothing more than what we see with our own eyes, there is another in which it proves to us how little our eyes permit us to see. -Dorothea Lange

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Night Lights – Slow shutter

There is always something magical about a city at night. The darkened tones, the mysterious shadows and flashes of light are what gives these evenings its special vibrancy.

I decided to head out on Halloween evening just after sunset to get some long exposure street scenes. As with most of sunset or sunrise scenes there tend to be only a few minutes of great evening sky for the chosen time exposure setting. Therefore it is important that you have some sort of plan for the sequence of the photos you will be taking to ensure there will be just the right sky when you kneed it. My plan was simple, I would just walk down to one of the main 4 lane streets, where there was an on-ramp to the parkway and a bridge with gave a good view of the bust station.

I figured that I would have about half an hour of sky before it would become too dark for scenes that needed the sky But I found that I spent a little too long with the on-ramp shots and the sky was already starting to get very dark before I explored across at the bridge. A half hour may seem like a long time but unless your are only at one location it sure slips by fast. These images were all taken with a shutter speed from 5 sec to 10 sec and about f/22.

In the image below the slow shutter captures the interesting curved lights created by a bus entering and a bus leaving the Lincoln Fields Bust Station in Ottawa. The sun had been down for about 45 minutes, almost the maximum time for skies, but at 10 sec you are still able to see detail in the night sky.

I am standing on the Carling St Bridge taking the photo above and when I turn to my right there is a street-level bus stop connecting to the transit station. This is also a 10 sec photo, but I wanted to capture a faint outline of the bus, which was obtained by anticipating the bus departure and trying to get a few seconds lead-time before the bust head out.

Any long time exposure image is difficult to get just right. this is even more so at night due to the low light background and the extremely bright nightscape.

With longer shutter speeds a tripod is a mandatory item unless you have arms of a statute or something rock solid to lean on. But even then blur creates in.

It is often desirable when taking night photography to have detail in the sky as it gives more interest and fill in what would normally be a big black void. For each different shutter setting there is about only 5 min of good light.

Even when it’s completely dark there are some interesting shots that you can capture as with a car swerving just as it was coming of the on-ramp.

And since it was Halloween there just seems to be a need to get a shot of the pumpkins.

Niels Henriksen

A photographer’s Adage

A snapshot steals life that it cannot return. A long exposure [creates] a form that never existed. -Dieter Appelt, "1000 Photo Icons" by Anthony Bannon (Foreword), George Eastman House , ISBN: 3822820970, page: 708

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Vision – An approach to a B&W Composite Image

With photography the creative process of discovery is what truly excites me. It starts first with the discovery of a hidden image and then being transformed by the rendition captured in the camera. Then creative process to bring to life the final print, either through the wet or the dry darkroom process is a wondrous journey.

This journey normally starts with a mix of inspiration and some vision and sometimes a bit of luck and good timing.

I believe it is important in our approach to taking photos that we have a vision, not necessarily grandiose or all encompassing one, but some basic concept or idea of the images that we are trying to achieve.

In the previous photo blogs I have written, there have always been a drive, a passion and a vision as to what I was trying to achieve. This vision and purpose is what gets me out to try new ways of seeing the world around me.

For the final version of B&W photo ‘Weed on the Rock Face’ above, I had a specific vision or a conceptual image that I wanted to capture. The inspiration was easy as it came from a B&W photo competition with the theme of ‘Rocky’ that I was entering. It did win an ‘Award of Excellence’ when printed and matted.

Not living in a mountainous area with grand vistas, I knew that I wanted rock formations to dominate most of the image but not to the point that the rocks would overpower the whole image. I also wanted some other parts of the image to provide the contextual background to help situate the viewer.

At my best friend’s house, who lives out in the countryside, I knew there was this large rock outcropping all covered in moss and lichen at the back of the house. Any image that was not cropped to just the full rock would also show part of the gravel laneway and the back of the house. Not normally stellar compositional elements but further down one of his fields there was a large pond with rocky shores, well lined with trees. I figured that if I could get a well-paced shot of the rock, I would then replace the background with the scene from the pond.

I decided to use my 10mm to 20mm lens as I could most likely find some interesting elements on the rock face that would be warped larger if I got in really close because of the effects of a wide angle lens.

The delicate leafed plant grasping for its foothold out seemed to convey a presence well. This can be seen in the photo below. Notice the angle I tilted the camera to get correct angle for final combined image.

I liked all the detail in the rock face but I found it was taking up too much scene real-estate area and since I did not want to crop any out I decided to compress horizontally as you can see in the lower image with background removed.

A few shots of other angles of the rock face

I then proceeded down to the pond and faced the same way in relation to the sun to ensure that the shadows in both images would be harmonious. I took several shots, as I was not quite sure which image would merge well and not require significant blending effort.

These are some shots of the pond.

With a wide angle lens and a large f-stop the background would still have too much detail visible and it therefore would clash with the rock for attention.
I used a 2-stage approach to blur the background. I first isolated the far shoreline and blurred this a little. I then selected the closer tree on right and once again the background and blurred again to give the impression camera DOF blur increasing with distance.

In the conversion to B&W, the central focus of the plant was not prominent enough. I then used the dodge tool to lighten the leaves and some of the lichen to provide contrast interest.

While traveling to my friends place as I crossed a bridge I just could not resist the image on a rock outcropping in the water and I knew I could achieve something with the reflection in the water. I converted this to B&W to only focus on the shapes and rotated to 90 degrees to give an impression of an abstract totem pole mask.

While I will be away a few days any questions about techniques or other comments will be answered when I return.

Niels Henriksen

A photographer’s Adage

To convey in the print the feeling you experienced when you exposed your film - to walk out of the darkroom and say: "This is it, the equivalent of what I saw and felt!". That's what it's all about. -John Sexton


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