Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Rules are meant to be broken....

OK, I've always been one to break the rules. I of course never whine when I get busted and have to pay the piper for my little digression.

Today's rule breaking was pretty mild. (Mild as in a gorgeous day here in So Cal ~ low 70's and as good excuse as any as to grab the camera and go for a walk). The San Gabriel river was bone dry as whomever the powers that be are have decided to stop the flow of the river for a couple of months. Makes no sense but it gave me a chance to explore an area that has been underwater for a while.

No, the walk in a dried up river wasn't the rule I broke today. It applies to the images I was shooting. Common line of thought are that you place your horizon line, real or imagined either at the bottom third or top third of your image when working with landscapes. This adds the sense of depth and spaciousness (or lack of space such as compression).

Today I opted to position myself in a manner where the horizon line was more or less centered, but used man made graphic elements to create the movement and tension to move your eye from that to elsewhere in the picture.....something off center. In this case in the middle of the dry river there were 2 large pipes that created very strong hard edged lines. The angles they lie in takes your eye away from the center line and keeps your eye moving drawing you in. So there.....a rule broken but it works because other elements within the frame overrode the urge to drift to the center.

I also used to my advantage the shift in light color this time of year. With the sun lower on the horizon you get the warmer tones much earlier in the day. The low light skimming also creates some interesting shadow and contrast changes from the summer months. Shooting north this time of year gets light coming very straight on to a subject which more evenly lit. Also due to refraction, or how the suns light passes through the atmosphere you get much deeper blue skies. The warmer tones and more intense sky add to the energy your eye has to grab hold of when looking at the final image. All that plays into today's shooting and final image as well.

Enjoy "Pipes" shot only a few hours ago here in the San Gabriel dust hole....

Saturday, January 13, 2007

New Year and outta the 06 funk

Don't know who I should apologize to first, those who follow my blog or myself for putting my photography aside for the last couple of months. Good reason it happened...finished up the remodel of the house. This wasn't a little paint make over, rather ripped out the entire kitchen and new put in, 2 bathrooms gutted and new put in. Ditto the patio. Some pics so you can see what was done:

Finally last night I got to go out and do a bit of shooting. I chose night time streeet photography for a reason. Am off to London and Paris in April and really want to hone this skill. I spent many years doing night work and loved the quality of light so its a circle back to an love for me. Why I had to pick one that was very cold windy I don't know, but I did.

Wandering down Myrtle Avenue during the Family Festival and Old Town Monrovia when I stumbled across the Kettle Korn store front. This place is usually pretty pristine and it makes the most incredible Kettle Korn. The scene caught my eye and I started to shoot.

I knew when I first peered in the window it was something I'd more push towards the impressionist view with after processing. To do that, you still have to have a good exposure and this scene had its challenges. Dipping back into my bag of tricks I knew that the "Zone System" so beautifully designed by Ansel Adams was the way to go to make it work.

The Zone System is a theory that simply helps you break your scene down into blocks or zones of the shades of gray from absolute black to absolute white. It gives a 10 stop range of gray. The zone assumes that the perfect neutral is an 18% gray and from there you base your exposure. You pic the zone within your scene that you want to be 18% gray, meter that area and expose as your meter readout dictates and voila the area you wanted is perfectly exposed.

The problem with this theory is you have to carefully chose what you want to be the 18% gray. Of course you better know the contrast range your capture media can record. Regardless if it is film or digital sensors each has a range it can effectively capture. If you aren't sure find your self a preprinted (Kodak used to make a great one) gray scale zoned on one side and neutral 18% on the other and take some test shots. Knowing your media limitations help you get closer to the "right" exposure for the gray scale representation you want in the final image.

Back to the problem of picking the wrong gray for your metering for 18% gray. Chose an area that is too dark you have great shadow detail but leaves your highlights completely white and lacking detail. Chose an area too light for your metering gives you great highlight details with no shadow detail. Finding the balance is where the artistry comes in. Bracketing helps you with a range of exposures around what the meter recommended to get the final result you wanted.

Now on to todays image. "Kettle Korn" was an interesting challenge. The front of this store was not lit while the back was strongly lit. There was little light from the street leaking onto the front so I had to work with backlit dark objects and a white wall in the back. A stroke of luck was the fake slate floor was there and knew it was likely a zone V or VI, metered that, used the base "f-stop" down 2 stops and shot with 1/2 stop brackets from that starting point from 1 1/2 stops eitherside of the adjusted. Make sense, it did to me at the time. The 1/2 stop under the adjusted wound up giving me the balance between shadow detail and highlight I wanted to portray. Of course I still had a little of balance work to do with Photoshop to fine tune it for the final image that I ran through the "dry brush" filter for the final image I wanted.

So there you go, even digital art you need to know your capture tool and its strengths and limitations. Bracketing helps get you closer to the ideal you envisioned when you saw the scene, digital makes that cheaper. Enjoy Kettle Korn and forgive the long silence...