Sunday, March 30, 2008

Cows can Fly

Well almost at least with the help of a giant dragon. This photo was taken inside the enclosed streets that surrounded one block near the centre of Brussels. During the summer of 2003 Brussels was having a Painted Cow festival similar to the 1999 Chicago Cows on Parade festival. Throughout the city there were many full-size fiberglass cows by painted local artist. Each artist decided on their painting scheme and some were strange and weird. Even a coupe of the artists decided to cut up their cow and then recombine the pieces into one of kind groupings. I now wish I had taken more images, but at that time I was a tourist and only had one memory card.

I now no longer worry about the amount of images I take when I travel, as I make sure that I have more than enough storage and batteries.

The above image was edited to create and even stronger feeling of absurdity. I removed the microphone (see original below) to make it appear that the Jazz singer was waving his hand and laughing because of the flying cow. The image was also straightened and cropped with a slight increase in colour sat for the soft pink walls. I wanted the wings of the dragon to glow more and therefore the saturation and contrast was increased.

Di Booth has some interesting images of these painted cows on his web site.

Brussels has many unique statues throughout the central downtown district.

If you monitor is not set to WB of 6,000K and is also set to high contrast the blue will look a bit too strong.

With the old P&S camera I was using, I had to repair some blown gold highlights on statue. I also decided to darken and increase the blue contrast in the sky, as I wanted this complementary colour to yellow, to better balance in weight of the yellow. The sky was also darkened to keep the viewer’s gaze from leaving the scene with the normal bright shy at the edge.

I find this image interesting because, while almost perfectly symmetrical (each statue is different) around the center vertical axis, it is not till you look around that you realize that there is a missing statue in the central niche. Well it was near lunch time and I guess after a few hundred years of standing around you might get hungry.

If this image was cropped at the rooftops it would make a normal and colourful streetscape and maybe a better image, but I found the rising church spire in the background created an effect like those old “B” grade horror movies were the person grows to become a giant. Well, we each have our own strange way at looking at things.

As an artist and photographer I find the most important ingredient to growth, after learning the basic elements, is to enjoy the images you create. Do not be concerned what others think. Do learn about how you might improve it in the future from other fine photographers, but still enjoy what you create, even if others don’t.

Niels Henriksen

As a change from quoting a Photographer’s Adage, I thought this week I would highlight a fellow photo blogger A Jesse . I enjoy her writings and she has a good collection of horse images on her website. Jesse is participating in the SoFoBoMo project, which I have been debating with myself about participating, but sometimes I feel that I take on too much work. It starts 1 April and with all the snow we still have around, I am not sure I can find an interesting theme. I seem to have my own creativity rut at the moment.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Simple and Complex - A Roof Photo Project

I was reading an article from one of my favourite Bloggers George Barr at Behind The Lens who regularly produces great thought providing ideas. There was an article about what are “Meaningful Photographs” and in summary, how to find that special insight that drives you to produce great works of art. Do read it to fully appreciate the message.

In this article I will explore some ideas and with an example theme that will hopefully help shape an approach that will take you down a path of excitement and discovery.

I think as artists, who use the camera to create, it is important that we have projects that at first challenge us and then allows you to explore and develop new ways of seeing and transposing to your visions.

To truly create great works, you need to dig deep into your core. To explore that urge to create a visual emotion, because at the basic level, we, as photographic artists, present to the world our feeling about what we see.

National Art Gallery, Ottawa Canada
The softness of the cool blue sky set against the rigid lines and the red fire within.

How do you find a photography project that is right for you? I really can’t answer that for you, but may I suggest some ideas or methods that might give you a start in the right direction. In reality there is no right or wrong direction, only your journey and what you can accomplish along the way.

If you are looking for a great project idea or purpose, first start by not thinking about photography. Try to list 5 or 10 passions you have. These can be both physical items, such as trains, snowboarding, old buildings, special natural locations or it can be more internalized such as friendship, love, joy. Try to define some qualities and emotions about the subject. Not the standard terms used by media, but your impressions.

Snowboarding (my impressions as I never quite left the bunny hill)
Crazy, Fast, Wild-eyed, Scary, Acrobatic, Curves, Edgy.

This might take a week or a month to accomplish, as it is important that either a memory or feeling emerges from within the core that has defined you. From your list, one item may appear to have a special meaning for you. Select this and then decide how you would go about translating your emotions about the subject into a series of photographs. Mostly likely at first it may seem hard or even impossible. This is actually a good thing as now the journey of discovery begins. I also recommend that you keep a journal as the project mostly will take months or even years to complete and your views and impressions will change over time as you explore your theme in all its facets.

As an artist who may be presenting a project later on, this journal or diary will help you contextualize your photos to viewing audience later on. Most visitors do read the writings that go along with the images.

As an example, I am using the idea of roofs as a project. While it may seem very obscure and you might wonder what kind of meaningful project could be accomplished on this subject, it allows me to explore how you could think about this as a possible project.

This is the meaning of the title, as roofs may seem too simple to be meaningful and complex as how do you take something so boring and have people enjoy the finished works. Through these images, I will explore how a photographer might find meaningful views.

Unless you are a wildlife photographer, you might find yourself not using your zoom lens as much as you’d like. Roofs do require the use of a zoom.

Almonte, Ontario. Cropping allowed me to position the white pigeon on one of the power points to create a focal interest.

Roofs of buildings are things that most people take for granted, unless the winter snow load or water leaks make you more aware of its presence. I do not think that many people really look at all the different type of roofs and even when visiting other countries, only as a different topping on buildings with its unique broad expanse of texture and colour.

Roofs are made from many different materials and can be low-tech like mud huts with stick and grass roofs, to beautiful glass domes. They can have many colours, shapes and textures. Some are solely for protection and use standard materials, some are integral to the design of the building and becomes a work of art.

Almonte Ontario. I did remove a small structure at the peak, as I did not want the eye to be lead away from curved top. The shadows across the tiles add more depth and interest.

A photo of a roof can create a sense of place and lifestyle as with the rooftop from Paris, France below. Who could not see themselves standing on the balcony below and gazing over the bustling Paris nightlife or in the morning sitting by the window having espresso with an assortment of bread and cheeses.

Some are grander like the great roofs found around the main square of Brussels, Belgium

The one dominant feature about roofs is that there tends to be repetition of features and many lines. By focusing on small sections and their complex patterns, abstract images as with these tile roofs from Skagen, Demark can be created.

Even conversion to B&W can create very dramatic and powerful abstract images.

Taken at the entrance to the Hase temple in Kamakura just south of Tokyo, Japan

By combining 2 roofs into a scene, a story of old and new can be created as with these roofs from 700 year old farm buildings near Hillerod, Denmark. (my ancestral farm)

You can focus on historical structures, such as this old Viking long-house at the historic site near Hobro, Denmark. The roof in this photo is used to unify the image and bring all the elements together.

Or this side building that is set in the ground.

Niels Henriksen

A Photographer’s Adage

As far as I am concerned, I can only say how much I regret such an admirable discovery should have come so late ! The possibility of studying such images would have had an influence on me that I can only guess at from the usefulness which they have now, even in the little time left me for more intensive study. It is the tangible proof of nature’s own design, which we otherwise see only very feebly. - Eugene Delacroix - quoted in "French Primitive Photography", Philadelphia 1969[cited in "From today painting is dead – The Beginnings of Photography" (catalogue of exhibition in The Victoria & Albert Museum 16 March – 14 May 1972 p. 48), caption to item no. 532 showing photographs of nude models taken from an album belonging to Delacroix. The models are said to be in poses arranged by Delacroix.]

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Shoot Wide – Very Wide – Pano Images

The article is about creating High-resolution panoramic images and therefore the link to the title. But first I need to go deep, very deep as I show an image taken from across the street at my neighbor’s house.

Shot at eye level (6’) but photo drama for effect

With the amount of snow we have received in the last week, combined with the amount already on the ground, I am starting to feel penned in. Getting a bit stir-crazy as it seems like this year’s winter will never end. The snow banks are getting, seriously, way too high and while normally in winter my photography is a bit constrained, this year I feel like I am chained to the house.

High-Res Panoramic Images
If you had ever had the opportunity to take large format images (4x5, 8x10) or even view them when printed very large, you will appreciate how you can almost walk into the image with its grand scale and subtle fine detail. My B&W ISO 25 - 4x5 negatives are scanned to produce an image about 12,000 x 9,600, which when printed a 240 dpi gives me a print that is 50x40 inches. When you stand in front of such a large and detailed image, it is almost like walking into the scene. You can spend a great deal of time walking around the scene with your eyes.

240 dpi is an acceptable print setting when the image has been sharpened for both printer and paper settings. Larger prints tend to be viewed further back, but with this setting people can still get as close as they like. With the software program available, it is easy to increase print size by a factor of 4. That’s huge!

My Nikon D70 (6.1mp) camera could only print (at same print res) an image that is 12.5x8.5 inches. The D200 will only give me 16x11 inches.

By using a tripod and taking overlapping images you can, with software, stitch them together to create beautiful and very large pano images. Stitching several rows can also create large format type images. There are a few basics about panos, such as camera level, constant camera settings for exposure, focus, scene stability, accurate overlap, no polarizer. The software can, within reason, take care of the film no-parallax point, but do try to get close. As always the camera settings need to be adjusted to the actual scene in front of you or creative vision.

My preferred software to stitch images together is A Autopano Pro , which cost about $150 US. (99 euros). It is hard to beat the power and functionality for that price.

All panos have been set to a width of 1200. Do click on any images below for the larger version.

The image below was created using Photoshop and layers to method only to show another approach. The rest was created using Autopano pro.

Original image 10,300 x2240 or printed at 43” x 9.5” (240dpi)

For the Photoshop method, I did embed each image as a smart layer. This permits me to fine-tune the exposure for each image using Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) to best match the other images and thereby getting a smooth transition in sky tones.

reduced to 75% of full resolution

This is one of my favourite panos below and as yet I haven’t worked it to make a print. I am just not sure where to crop the scene, if I even need to. I have visited this place so often that each element has a memory. The path, which is barely visible, at the very far right, coming through the trees and the lovely dark forms on the far left. This was taken near sunset and there is steam rising from the water, which is hard to see in this image. I know I will have to enhance this to make it more visible in the print.

Original image 11,000, 14000 or printed at 46” x 8”

Can you guess which part the below image is located. Hint: look at the log at the edge of water.

Full resolution, vibrancy added

The pano pro software uses the best stitching algorithm and will auto detect pano images in a folder and combine them to present its interpretation, also auto correct for colour and even remove ghost images (people moving) and now even HDR stitching.

For scenes with strong detail and good contrast such as buildings, a 1/3 overlap is sufficient. For a scene with fine detail such as these landscape shots, I recommend a ½ overlap.

This image was taken in early fall and I just loved the yellow colours in the field.

Original image 6,500x1,900 or printed at 27” x 8”

reduced to 50% of actual size

The high-resolution images are difficult to appreciate on a monitor, as it has nowhere near the resolution to fully view the detail and they are just begging to be printed and viewed.

Most images can be printed on 12 in. wide printer with roll-paper feed but it is more expensive to print than your normal print. If you can’t print it yourself, do find a good local printer who can handle these different formats. Some friends have had difficulty with the standard online prints trying to get the sizing right. They tend to default to standard formats.

There is even a manufacturer that makes an attachment for your DSLR to connect to the back of a 4x5 camera. With the aid of the sliding mechanical grid, you move the camera over the full glass plate in small increments, pano-stitch and voila! A 4x5 field camera image.

Solution for Hint above: The left edge of the image is almost center in the pano image.

Niels Henriksen

A photographer’s Adage

A very fine photographer asked me, "What did it feel like the first time you manipulated an image?", and I said "Do you mean the first time I shot black and white instead of color, do you mean the first time I burned the corner of a print down, do you mean the first time I 'spotted' a dust speck on my print, do you mean the first time I shot with a wide angle instead of a normal lens, I mean what are you referring to? Where does it stop?" - Dan Burkholder - From a Lenswork Digital Output workshop, 10/97.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Photo Creativity Experiment - A Walking Stick Camera

In a previous article here, I suggested some creativity ideas to help you shake up your photographic style with a view to seeking and exploring new venues. I thought it was important that I should be able to “walk the talk’, in this case literally with my camera, to test a new method that I had not perused before.

One of reasons that I like to call this an ‘experiment’ is that it permits me to not have a perfect outcome, at least with stellar images and then beat myself up because of this. If I could learn something, then it would be a success and any decent images a bonus.

I received for Christmas one of the ‘Gorilla Zoom’ flexible joint tripod legs that permits you to almost attach your camera to any railing, pole or even use as a tabletop tripod.

I thought that if I attached my camera with the wider angle of the lens (Nikon 18-70mm) to the lower part of my monopod I could walk around the market area of Ottawa and capture some unique perspectives of people in their daily routines within the gritty winter environment. 18mm equate to 27mm for a 35mm format camera on my camera (D200). I used a wireless remote to trigger the camera shutter.

Being winter, cold and with people dressing accordingly, I felt more comfortable using a camera at such a low angle.

I thought people shots would provide a few interesting photos but overall I was disappointed with most shots and that is one of the reasons I have waited so long to post them here. Most of the images were just too jumbled with people, legs and other distracting elements and I wondered if any of you would even find them interesting.

Of all the shots taken, about 50, the image below is the only one that I find has some potential.

As with most photos, simplicity in scenes is a strong design element as it makes it easy for the viewer to focus on the subject. There is some added mystery with the person’s legs going down the stairs and the slight bit of motion blur, creates action in a frozen moment and makes you wonder where he is headed in such a hurry.

The next image of snow mound, which is actually only about a foot high, appears larger due to the low angle.

There was something interesting about the bottom of ‘X” forming a peak that re-enforced the peak of the snow mound, but it would have worked better if the snow peak
was more centered under the triangle.

The lower angle does provide some unique vantage points and with the wider angle you are able to capture more as people walk by. The image below has some potential as the green and yellow create strong graphical elements and the jumble of legs makes you wonder more about the setting.

These images could be achieved by squatting down low, except I am sure that many people would give you a wide berth as they would probably figure you were shooting something in the distance.

One of the better jumbles but definitely not a great image and from a design perspective the repeating circles add unity to the image. Here is an opportunity to go back and with better framing isolate these circles.

Having the camera on a stick and firing the shutter with the remote control, you are never really sure how the camera will determine focus. This is one outing where I should have gone to closest focus setting as set by the camera or set lens on manual at the hyper-focal distance

Still a few interesting shots can be obtained, but I was very glad I was shooting digital as only about 5% of images seemed to work for correct focus of near subjects.

This image was taken when I turned around on the top of the steps that are shown below. I like how the couple in the background compliments the couple in foreground. The red door unfortunately becomes the first focal point and detracts from the overall scene. This would be a good case to change the red colour to grey.

I did decide for this image to enhance the darkness and contrast of the one dark brick, which is nicely positioned on the lower rule-of-thirds grid. The top left corner was darkened, as this was brighter being more exposed to the sun.

There is something peculiar about a person jaywalking and then having to look out for cars coming.
As you can probably see we had a bit of a mild spell in Ottawa in early January, but winter has now made up for this with a vengeance and we have had since then almost constant snow fall and we may be on to setting an all-time record.

These are few images from this adventure, nothing stellar, but I thought it was important that I show how things went. I just couldn’t bring myself to show you the real crappy images.


Efficient time wise with remote.
No need to physically get down.
Quick to take a shot as people pass in front of you.


Not a high accuracy rate of reasonable photos.
You wind up with a lot of crotch shots, while fully respectable/ they are still not my cup of tea.
While nothing happened I think there is a greater chance of camera damage even though I would pick up while walking to other locations.

You need a remote to trigger shutters release.

In Summary

It was fun to try this once inside a cityscape, but I don’t think I will do it again. May try in a rural-wooded setting. It would in some locations allow you to take a shot from a position that you might not be physically able to position yourself.

A wider angled lens would work better, but you need to be closer to items to have visual impact.

In reviewing all the images, it did provide me with ideas for shots that might work in the future, but I will need to properly compose and therefore actually get down low to shoot.

A fellow blogger, Brian Auer at Epic Edits, wrote an article The Lowdown on Getting Down and Low if you want to see another perspective of low angle shots.

Another blogger, Neil Creek, had the l PROJECT: The View From Below - Results with his readers.

Niels Henriksen

A Photographer’s Adage

I only know how to approach a place by walking. For what does a street photographer do but walk and watch and wait and talk, and then watch and wait some more, trying to remain confident that the unexpected, the unknown, or the secret heart of the known awaits just around the corner. - Alex Webb

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Moonlit Night on a Late-Summer Evening

In this week’s photo article I am going to discuss the image I had planned to use last week where I examined specific colour enhancement methods. The original photo is actually not a very good capture. It was taken with a 2MB Point and Shoot (P&S) camera and was very under exposed. It was inside a forest canopy with the small Pinecrest Creek running by, but it was broad daylight so there should be way more light available.

The processing of the image could be what is called ‘Day-into-Night’ for which there are many images on the web, especially with streetscapes. I like how the light reflection in the water with the interesting textures of the ripples leads the eye to the quiet spot in the background.

This is Final Colour version of the image

Once adjusted to a normal brightness level, the image had the saturation and lightness on central area set to the more extreme settings. I wanted to create a surreal deep forest opening almost like out of one of those hobbit books. On a new layer I added black brush strokes to re-darken the out edges of the image. I also added a Hue/Sat layer to reduce the saturation of the leaves in the foreground water.

The image below is the original image in jpeg format straight out of the camera. The camera was being fooled by the white specular highlights on the water and therefore tried to not blow these and in the process underexposed everything else in the scene.

With the use of an image-editing program I was able to bring the scene lightness back up to normal levels. Even in the daytime this is a beautiful quiet secluded spot and when you think that this greenbelt area is with the Ottawa Central core, quite a treasure of a find.

It wasn’t until I played around with the B&W version that I saw another potential for this image. While the top image is fun this B&W version seems to better fit my memory of the creek.

It’s with time like these when I am able to recover good images from shots that upon first though, you might delete, that I almost never delete any of my images.

Here is another image that I had worked to create the light tunnel effect on the pathway being lit by light green leaves around the opening. This is the entrance to the pathway that lead to the water image above.

The original image below is a lot plainer and ordinary.

The layer steps below show the process to achieve the final image.

I did use a software filter by NIK software ‘sunshine filter’ to create the glowing effect.

The darken layers uses a black brush set to darken mode and the lighten layer a white brush set to overlay. I add some better sky colours and a gradient layer to better match the rest of scene. The masks were created using the Replace Color technique described in last week’s article.

Image editing programs allows you to rework your photos even when poorly taken to create a better vision for you image. I hope these examples provide some ideas for you to try with your photos.

Niels Henriksen

A Photographer’s Adage

Reality offers us such wealth that we must cut some of it out on the spot, simplify. The question is, do we always cut out what we should? While we’re working, we must be conscious of what we’re doing. Sometimes we have the feeling that we’ve taken a great photo, and yet we continue to unfold. We must avoid however, snapping away, shooting quickly and without thought, overloading ourselves with unnecessary images that clutter our memory and diminish the clarity of the whole. - Henri Cartier-Bresson - on photojournalism. "American Photo", September/October 1997, page: 76


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