Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Photography as painting

One of the things I had thought about when I started this hobby was to produce actual art that looked more like a painting than a photograph. There are all sorts of tools to digitally manipulate images, and I'm gradually learning about them. Everybody knows about Photoshop of course, but I know very  little about how to use it. I figured that learning to actually use a camera to reliably produce good images was a start to produce 'paintish' images.

There's an old joke where the punchline is "I know it when I see it." Probably many jokes, come to think of it. Looking at and appreciating images I like is easy. What I'm trying to learn is to look at images that don't strike me the same way, and appreciate them for what they are. I suppose if one wanted to get technical about it one could graph one's feelings about an image onto a grid. One axis is  'how much do I personally like an image regardless of it's artistic merits,' and the other is, 'Would this be generally considered a good image?' The quadrant of good images you don't like is where you're going to learn the most.

I'm gradually building a style of my own. Generally I slightly underexpose my photos in camera. Lightroom makes them brighter than I'd like so I usually tone town the exposure a bit, then tweak the other settings. Mostly I aim to make it look like I saw it, especially with things like flowers, which can be really tough. We all know what a pink or red rose looks like, and if you push the colour so much you blow out the texture it looks weird and people know it. Red is hard.

Other things have quite a bit more latitude. A particular landscape scene can look dramatically different depending on the time of day and the quality of the light. One can take a drab scene and dress it up the way you think it ought to have looked, and it will still look natural. Or you can push it a bit further, or tweak HDR settings to match a vision in your head. Some people might like it, others not.

Then we get into all the other stuff that makes a good image, composition, balance, lines, shapes, textures, and everything else. One element might catch your eye, then it wanders around the image and you gradually come to appreciate how good it is. Sometimes everything comes together and you're just gobsmacked from first sight. Or you look at it and shrug. Just because the photo is of something pretty, doesn't mean the photo is pretty.

Even in my own work I look at some images and know they're good. It's instantly obvious, and the number of likes and comments on social media indicates I'm right. But sometimes I look at an image and wonder what on earth I was thinking when I aimed the camera.

The below pair of images are a good example. They're from a mid October walk in Fish Creek near bridge 3. It's a bit of a swampy area, so not what you'd normally think of as photogenic. Still, I got some nice shots out of it, but this one I completely passed by during editing.

Then I looked at it again for whatever reason. I think it's because I was specifically looking for images with strong leading lines, and I realized this one has them. Lots of them. Maybe too many, who knows. In the original image they are hidden because the photo is so dark. Trick is, that's the way the real scene looked. It was an overcast day, I was in full shade, and I probably underexposed it.

Then I dropped it into Photomatix and just about lost my mind. So far this comes closest to one of my photos looking like a painting. The bright colours in the background look like splotches of paint rather than leaves. Parts of the image look like they have a bit of canvas texture, especially when you blow it up or look closer. (more so on the upper left.) I like how the green tree reflection isn't quite in focus, yet we know the image is in focus from what we see of branches and bark.

Of course what I saw wasn't quite as bright as this first image, but it could have been, and it was certainly brighter than the first camera image. This is what is fascinating me more and more, is trying to understand the choices I'm making when I edit a photo. How bright? How sharp? What emotions am I trying to evoke, or what story am I telling?

When I started looking at it with different Photomatix filters I quickly narrowed it down to about 4, and there I was stuck for a while. As I looked at the subtly different images flicking from one to the next, I began to appreciate it more and more. Usually there is only one obvious filter and I go on from there.

I've only had one other photo where I was stuck on which filter to choose, only for this one I was cycling between all of them, including the black and whites. It looked equally good. In the end I went with a particular evoked emotion. Some of you might remember it from about a year ago.

Tell me if you agree about that first one being a painting, almost. Could that last one be a painting?

Monday, October 30, 2017

Macro Monday 10, in vino veritas

The camera sure has been getting a workout lately! Saturday was a mostly macro photoshoot day, getting subjects for the next couple of Macro Mondays. Did you miss the Sunday Roundup? It wasn't top of the list very long.

Here's the first subject. The pattern of lines is of moderate interest, but I was really thinking about texture.

1. 2x

2. 4x

3. 4x

4. 5x with all the extension tubes on, so in real life this photo is about 3mm across.

I tried playing with these in Photomatix to make them more abstract, but they didn't come out as I had thought.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Sunday roundup

Keeping track of images can get confusing. I need a better system. I currently post images on my blog almost daily, and periodically on my Facebook wall and two closed Facebook groups, plus Instagram (I'm keithcartmell there if you want to follow me). The best images go onto my photoblog, updated when I have some images worth adding.

Sometimes I lose track of where I post what, and some escape being posted at all. Right now I have no way of looking at my folder of edited images and knowing which have or have not been posted. I could start adding tags to them, I guess, but I wonder how well that would work out? Let's try it and see what happens.

Here's some images over the last week or so that I don't think have appeared anywhere else public, are not not in a blog scheduled to be published (right now I have 2 queued up), and yet I think they have artistic merit enough to be published.

A sunrise last week. It went to a closed group on Facebook, but I know some of my readers will have seen it there. So you see it twice, life is hard all over.

And a sunset the same day, also posted to that closed group.

We had a good week for sunrise and sunset shots, and I posted a bunch here, if you missed them.

These are from the photowalk in Fish Creek, you can see part 1 and part 2 if you missed those.

From our front garden yesterday, a rose leave. These two are actually macro shots, since they were shot with the 100 mm lens with all the extension tubes. In fact, they were the only two shots. I was disappointed that I'd missed the other shots by just that much.

It's been a productive week for photos. Stay tuned, I've got a photo related contest coming up. I'm still working out the details, but it should appear Nov 6. Mark your calendar!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

A Fish Creek reflective walk, part 2

The first photos from yesterday's walk were posted here, check them out if you haven't seen them. Here's some more of them. No feet got wet during this walk.

You could be forgiven for thinking this is an iceberg.

Bridge 10

Bridge 11

Bridge 11 again, slightly different vantage point, different lens. Which do you prefer?

Friday, October 27, 2017

A reflective walk in Fish Creek

The delights of Fish Creek are never ending. I love it. It goes on forever across the south end of the city, and there is everything in it a photographer could love. A creek with both little rapids and calm pools for reflections. It meets with a big river. Several different kinds of bridges. Steep hills with evergreens. Cliffs, even. One of the hills is named 'The Hill of Death'. Flat plains with grass. Gnarly trees, no idea what kind they are, sorry. Trees at every stage of life from just starting, to rotting away, with some blown over by the wind as a bonus. Trails of the paved, shale, established, and stealth varieties, ranging from flat to scramble. All kinds of people on the trails on every non-powered wheeled vehicle you can imagine. Yes, once I've seen a unicycle. Overlooks to see the mountains, sun/moon rise, and sun/moon set shots. I don't have even the first idea how many different kinds of flowers and plants grow there. If on any random day throughout the year you can't find something to point your camera at, you need a kick in the tail. Or head.

Anytime I'm wondering where to take the camera because I don't have anything in particular in mind, I head for Fish Creek. Today was over sort of between Sikome and Bow Valley Ranch. I haven't been in that little chunk of woods in a really long time. There was no wind at all, and the light was nice for reflections. I strolled along for a couple of hours and a few kilometres.

It was a beautiful day to be outside walking in the park. Just the right temperature, not too many people around. Shooting reflections is always a reflective state of mind for me. I couldn't help thinking about how I see the world differently now that I've started carrying a camera around.

You are not going to get all 18 that I edited all at once. I'm going to spread them out a bit to keep from overloading your brain.

Bridge 11, if you were wondering.

This is bridge 10. Yes, there really is a reason for the bridge.

There is a reason Alberta is called Big Sky country.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Book, movie, movie, new, old, old

Once upon a time, I read a lot. Recently, not so much, for lots of reasons that seemed good at the time. Maybe things are picking up again on that front, for I've just finished a new book the old school way. Hardcover, actually bought in a book store.

A History of Canada in Ten Maps by Adam Shoalts. The maps part caught my attention. Maps are fascinating. It doesn't matter if a book is fiction or non-fiction, if it has a map that's the first thing I'll look at. Often I'l refer back to the map as the book goes along. That's what pissed me off with a particularly bad fantasy novel. The idiot-hero had to go from A to B along one side of a triangle, and for no good reason went via C which happened to be the bad guy's castle of ultimate darkness or something like. Bah.

Many people, but not all, know the first Europeans in what is now North America were the Norse. The book starts there. Along the way we visit Cabot, Champlain, Bellin, Pond, Hearne, Mackenzie, Thompson, and Franklin.

If you remember your grade school Canadian geography these will be familiar names. There's a bit more background, and the maps, of course. I gobbled it all up quickly, and only then realized in a lot of ways it was pretty superficial, an easy read. Big on the various privations suffered by almost all involved, some of what drove them off the map, but light on the maps. Seeing the historical map is interesting, but it would have been better with the various journey's placed on an actual modern map as best as possible. The maps are on different paper in the middle of the book, leading to a lot of flipping back and forth. Plus some of the maps are spread across two pages, making it hard to look at the middle of the map. A fold out page would have been better.

Was it worth the price? I had a few enjoyable evenings reading it, but I'm not likely to pick it up again. Anyone want the gift of a book?

We like getting movies from the library. The price is right, as in free, though some days I wonder what other people are doing with the discs to get them looking like that. One appeared to have been smeared with peanut butter, and given to a small dog to chew.

I picked up American Graffiti on a wave of nostalgia. I saw when it first came out, and maybe again when it was re-released a few years later, and not since. Now it's been remastered to blue ray, and looks fabulous. It's fun looking at the old cars, and the young version of what are now old stars. There are a bunch of extras about the making of. All in all a delightful evening.

The flip side is a 1971 version of MacBeth. I'd seen a version in high school, and it nearly put me to sleep. This one got a bit tedious and bloody in places, which wasn't a surprise. It's been remastered as well, and looks pretty good. Still, it's culture, with a capital K, so I suppose it's good for me or something.

Somehow I missed putting this photo on the blog, though some of you may have seen it on Instagram. I love the soft orange and green blur in the background, with the remains of the mint blossom in focus. Exactly what I had intended.

Swim still sucks, but after 1.5 hrs of my massage therapist working on my shoulder it feels better. Run and bike are feeling pretty good, for those that want to know.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Sunrise, Sunset

Yesterday was a big day for morning and evening photography.

Calgary sunrises are often pretty to look at, but don't photograph particularly well because there are no clouds. There is a beautiful colour gradient, but it never looks quite right in a photo. Unless you've got something dramatic happening in the foreground, it's actually a pretty boring shot.

Sunsets usually have cloud, but are placid ho hum affairs much of the time.

Every now and then either can be beautiful and you wish you had a camera. A bit more rarely you get spectacular and you grind your teeth with envy when your photo buddies post their awesome shots. Even more rarely is the morning and evening of the same day, AND be there with a camera.

I just made it for the sunrise, having to forego coffee, grab the camera, and run. This is one of the 'reject' shots. I don't have many to choose from since I got there late.

Here's a 4 shot panorama you may have seen on Facebook, though that's a bit misleading. The proportions are almost exactly 16:9, which I can get from an individual photo. The difference is there is far more detail, since I was shooting the individual shots as portrait. It turns out to be 9936 x 5802 px.

Sunset I saw coming in plenty of time to be out and waiting. First, here's some of the 'reject' shots over about a 10 or 15 minute period. They start looking more to the south, as the colour gradually arrived from the east. I love the delicate texture and curlicues of cloud here. They show up beautifully on my version, not sure how well they'll show up in the blog version.

Off to the west, colour developing.

This is looking north west.

This is looking almost due north. I'd say that's lots of colour.

I was walking back to the house when I realized if I stood on the street and played chicken with a bus, I could get this nice silhouette of the tree.

Here's the sunset 8 shot panorama taking up about a quarter of the sky. It turns out to be 14978 x 5963 px. Or in print terms, about 48 x 20 inches at 300 dpi, meaning extremely high quality print. For something like this you could double that size and still look great.