Thursday, November 16, 2006

Controversy means great things are afoot

Lately there have been a series of heated debates in print, blog or other forum regarding silver vs digital imaging, and horrors~ use of computers by photographers. The really ugly stuff starts when the whole "digital art" thingy gets into the equation.

Purists moan regarding the loss of film and silver based paper...yes its happening but manufacturers do that when the market changes. ITs one of the consequences of a free market system, get a grip and deal with it. The manufacturers, Japanese in particular continue to invest tons into silver based product for the professional market. Makes sense put your efforts where the money is.

I bailed on silver based when digital was able to rival the quality and beat it at price. Let's face facts your 4gig CF card pays for itself the first time you fill it up...'cause if it were film for those 1000 images the processing bill would have killed you. I switched as I am cheap and can get the same image for less dineros. Simple as that.

Today after reading a few blogs and a letter to the editor on one of the photo magazines I subscribe too I got to thinking. What irked me was this photographer pontificating out in the sticks in "conker creek, TN" who made the switch from digital as there were no labs around. Fine can live with that. The she wrote "I have found the beauty of actually learning to use my camera - not Adobe Photoshop. I use my Cannon EOS 20D (a little elitist snob appeal??? my comment not hers) as I did my 35MM, and my work is wonderful. The best part is that it's "mine"..."

So while on my walk and enjoying the beautiful weather I thought a lot about this debate. A good image is one that has good composition, if that isn't there no amount of fiddling in an editing program will change that. You can't mask bad composition.

No program will ever let you doctor a bad image where you can call it "pseudo art" as she termed it. An image works or not based on the skill of the artists using their medium of choice. Painters do it, graphic artists do it and now digital artists do it. IF the image can't stand on its own no amount of effect can fix it. You can't apply filters without an understanding of why it works, what you want to convey with it. Couldn't do it as a painter underpainting, can't do it as a photographer for the same reasons. There has to be a method to your madness with an understanding of the final result....that comes through education, experience and practice. And in the end if the composition sucks so will the final product.

I love the realm of digital art. IT allows me to take photographs and do things with the image that it took me ages to do in the old world of dip and dunk in the lab.

So while enjoying a glorious sunny, 85 degree day in November along the San Gabriel River I broke out the Che-ez Snap digital camera and filled up its little 25 image card with these fun little .3 mega pixel images. As I've said before...contrast control is poor, sharpness is poorer, color rendition is sketchy on a good day. It does however make you focus on composition. Which has been a theme of review and focus for me lately.

Add in the camera's artsy fartsy recording of the world as I meander through it, those images are ripe for conversion into purely "impressionistic" pieces. And that I did...

Enjoy "Bike Path" and "Duarte Bridge" for what they are. Exercises in impressionistic focus on pure composition. One works because of the sweeping lines made by man (man vs nature theme snuck in too) that forces your eye to meander through the image. In the Bridge its hard edge of man vs soft of nature forcing you to look into the image. Different composition techniques making images work. Digital art with a camera works, now leave me out of the silver vs digital debate. Here's the final Images "AND THEY ARE MINE"!!!
(If I could blow out a raspberry right now I would)

A composition is all about the flow

Working out some images I shot in the Bishop Creek Canyon area of the Sierra's I thought a lot about texture and energy flow. Of course this time of year there is color, lots of it which makes it even more fun to wander about and just shoot.

Autumn is a fun time to shoot as you have big bold blasts of yellows and red to create contrast and visual tension in an image. Add in natural movement of water, clouds etc., and you can set up an image that has a lot of tension and movement to stimulate your brain. How you funnel that energy is only part of how you convey what you saw at the time to the viewer.

Another factor you have to look at really closely is how you expose your image. The color of light changes during the day, if you want your yellows and reds to really pop shoot early morning or late afternoon. Where possible back light those trees and let them take on a glow that really makes them pop.

Exposing all of that is where skill comes in. Sure, you could just let your camera take an average meter of the scene and your image will more often than not be acceptable. I shot a lot of the leaves and trees bracketing 1/2 to 2/3 stop over/under what the meter said to make sure I kept detail in both highlight and shadow. I metered off the leaves themselves as I wanted to ensure maximum detail and saturation, bracketing to get the other parameters with in reason.

The end result..."Bishop Creek" which I shot later afternoon as the first winter storm (yes it snowed that afternoon) was crossing up and over the mountains around me. I got an energetic composition due to the rushing water and contrast between the cool blues of the clouding over sky against the vibrant leaves of the aspens. Even the few lone sequoia's added in contrast with their dark greens and stout upright thrusts. Am happy with the result...enjoy!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Framing elements make the composition work. Whether deliberate in a studio or in the wild a composition has many parts. Its how these work together determines whether your final image stops people in their tracks and draws them in or they simply skim it over and move on.

How you use negative space, shadow vs highlights, textures impact the final product. How it all balances to create tension or relaxation are in the photographers control. Ansel Adams took balancing those items and by manipulating first in the camera, then later in the printing process adjusted how the elements within the final image he shared with us.

The subject matter often gives you ways to "frame" it with the elements around it. On a walk through the forest its the dark shadows that make the brighter elements stand out more. Contrasting texture in nature is there to help frame as well...rough edges of a stream bed vs the soft curves of the water tumbled rocks, the soft waves of grass in a field against jagged peaks in the hills on the horizon. In our cities its the hard edges of the building framing off a garden or contrasting with the flowing curves of the clouds above. So many ways to bring visual excitement to the viewer.

Of course its this excitement to the brain that brings the viewer into your image. My exploration of man vs nature continues. Elements of man framing those of nature, man's tension added to nature, the largesse of one against the other. It is all about how you compose that makes the image work and what element becomes the star.

A couple from the Santa Monica Pier exploring the relationships with different approaches to composition. First is "Watchers" which explores the steady hard edges of manmade elements against the flowing energy of the waves and weathered wood. The other is "Pier Shops" which explores the color and texture of some elements against a flawless blue sky. In the latter the natural elements add texture even though the construction created hard edges. One is an example of relaxed composition, the other of an energetic composition. Both work just for different reasons.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Relationships matter

Today at Santa Monica Pier I continued my exploration of manmade vs nature. What better place than an amusement park at the ocean (especially on an 80 degree day in November...Had to rub it in a bit as most of the US has winter this time of the year).

Seriously an amusement park is an terrific place to go for comparing what man does vs nature. In this environment structures take on extreme form and color creating drama. This is done to make things look faster and more exciting than they really are. Compare it to nature. Here there is sublety in the mid-day sky.

One such area that contrasts man and nature is at the roller coaster. There is the soft form of the flag being blown by a soft breeze against a brilliant sky contrasting these incredibly strong forms and vibrant colors on the coaster track. Its this contrast that intrigues the eye and gives me fodder for exploration.

For your viewing pleasure...."Flag"

Size Matters

Or at least it does to me these days. Its about exploring shapes and sizes comparing man to nature. Who knows where this theme came from but it has been fun exploring on both levels.

An interesting theme of late is returning to a few of my older themes. Back in my college days there was the whole "full frame" shooters going on in the fine art side of the photo department. Even though I was a "commercial" track student I still enjoyed what they were doing and used it for myself.

Essentially the only rule this group worked on was that the whole frame from your negative had to be printed. It forced you into clean compositions. No cropping was allowed...ever. Several of my friends were very involved in the "full frame society" which was an informal club, more like an artistic movement within the department. The negatives were never printed using the metal masks, but in hand made cardboard masks that included the surrounding information from your negative on the final print. Those gobbly gooky numbers and letters became graphic elements in their own right as part of the final image.

It was something that appealed to me then and applied it to how I started shooting. Only on the absolute rarest of occasions will you ever see me "crop" out anything. To paraphrase a popular ad theme these days "what's in the frame stays in the frame". Without realizing it until recently I still shoot and print full frame.

On a recent walk about I stumbled across a school yard scene. It had the elements that struck me...size and man vs nature. So I shot it, and with the help of photoshop removed elements, add some impressionistic touches to others then melded it all back together again. The result...exploration of large vs small, man vs nature in "Schoolyard"

Today is shooting at the beach. Next week if I get my living room painted....up onto old Route 66 between San Bernardino and the Cajon Pass.

Friday, November 03, 2006 Aztec through 12/31/06

Oops...I almost forgot. I still have 3 pieces hanging at the Aztec Gallery located at 311 W Foothill Blvd, Monrovia. The gallery is open 5PM-9PM on Friday and Saturdays 12PM-7PM.
The gallery is a co-op so the artists showing all take turns staffing the gallery and answering questions about their art and those others showing there.

During the other days of the week you can call the Monrovia Art Festival Association at (626) 256-3124 to start making an appointment for a private showing that fits your schedule. The answering service will put you in contact with one of the members on the Executive Committee who will help arrange for an artist to open up the gallery when you can come in to the the art there. (It will likely be me as I am most flexible and closest to the gallery).

I have 3 pieces there. They represent a few of the themes I've been exploring for a while. They are "Shropshire Lass" a traditional photograph, "Half Dome" in an impressionistic watercolor photographic style, and "Alexander Rose" a hybrid watercolorphotograph and digital image.

Until then I promise to get out and explore the old route 66 relics, and not just those local icons here in Monrovia.

Great Art, Free food and booze....

OK..I had to get your attention somehow. Beyond art the usual big draw seems to be free food and booze. (We can hope that Trader Joe's, corporate hq here in Monrovia comes through for us again).

The Details....Focus One Gallery, 404 E Huntington Drive, Monrovia, CA. Thursday November 9 from 5PM to 8PM. (Sorry its not later but this Monrovia and early bedtimes are the rule). It is located at the SE corner of California and Huntington Drive. From there exit either Mountain Avenue or Myrtle avenue and head north about 2 blocks to Huntington Drive. From Myrtle the Gallery is 4 blocks east on Huntington. From Mountain the Gallery is 6 blocks west. Really easy to find. Ample free parking. Did I mention Free food and FREE booze?

Anyway, my newest piece, "Bodie Blue Window" will be hanging at the Gallery through December 31, 2006.