There’s nothing great about this photo I took in Mexico City of the view from the Museo Tequila y Mezcal. It’s a snapshot. It was taken in passing as I walked down a hall on my way out of the building. But I like it. I like the apricot highlights in the sky. The imperfect sun rays struggling to cast themselves on the dense and dark grey clouds, or the asphalt streets below. I like the little tufts of tree tops pushing past the old and weathered buildings. I like how it’s horizontally split in the middle by those trees, and that the cars look like miniature models (and I didn’t do any tilt shifting).
Something I’m starting to understand about myself is that I’m okay with okay. I’m okay that I’m not the best at any kind of style. I’m okay if I get stuck in how I’m drawn to darkness and how light plays on things. I know what works for me. I know what excites me about photography, and that’s what I will continue to share with you. Likes or no likes, this is for me.
In high school, before digital, we shot black-and-white film. It was a meditative practice. Five years ago I took some photography classes and one of my instructors was an incredibly passionate and experienced photographer. No-nonsense, hard-core, bad-to-the-bone master printer, Jhanavi Lisa Barnes taught us the zone system and helped us understand highlights and shadows. How to accomplish these things in-camera (film), and later on in the darkroom. There is nothing like a print that comes from film and developed on paper. I do miss the luxury of it, and have a total respect and appreciation for the process. (Alas, I’m an impatient type. Also, the cost of purchasing film, paper, facilities rental, gas, parking, etc. just isn’t economical or convenient).
So, how do you visualize, take, and process an image so that it looks like it imbues the tonality and contrast of black and white film? I continue to hone and refine my skills in digital photography, and feel I have a good grasp on how to adjust tone, saturation, and highlights through the various color channels and tone curves. I push myself through the grey of an image. With the Zone System in mind, I work to keep, but not blow out, my highlights. I nudge my shadows, blacks, and exposure sliders to keep the shadows from becoming too muddy. However, if I’m going for a specific style, I will push the highlights and/or muddy the contrast if it communicates the feeling I want for it to radiate. Finding balance in the light is something I love to work with.
Here’s a little slide show of people and places where I’ve worked the light to suit the image captured; keeping in mind the feelings I remember having when developing black and white prints.
The Fremont Sunday Market in Seattle is a fun place to walk and peruse art, crafts, vintage goods, and wares. On a hot sunny day, sun blazing overhead, I was feeling experimental. Here, I had fun with exposure. I felt like shooting like how it felt – white hot. I think these would be fun as easy poster prints to hang in a bright kitchen.
I jumped into the car this morning and headed for the local beach. I’d been inspired by a friend’s recent post of the grove of trees that sit in the middle of the Golden Gardens park. I wondered what I could capture on a cloudy grey morning, a lot different from the blindingly blue 70 degree days we’ve had over the past few days. While I was out there, I was thinking of a lesson I’ve been taking on Fine Art Photography by Brook Shaden (via Creative Live).
One thing she talked about was self-critique. After visualizing an image, photographing it, and processing it, think about what worked. What didn’t work? What could you have done better? What did you learn? Today was definitely a learning experience. Below is a selection I feel good about with some notes about why I like them, why they could be better, and what I feel I could do better next time, etc.
Note: Click on the titles to see bigger views of these on my Flickr site.
Things I like about this image: I like that I saw the shape of a whale. The trees, to me, look like a whale or fish’s skeletal structure. I took this with a tripod. Something I’m still not used to doing, being more of a spontaneous street and abstract kind of shooter. I also like that the clouds cooperated and I was able to draw their shapes out in post.
Things I don’t like about this image: The shed and basketball hoop. I really liked the tree on the very left and didn’t want to crop it out, so I had to sacrifice leaving the shed and hoop in to get that full shape.
Things I like about this image: I thought about my depth of field. I took a few shots at different f-stops. I wanted the focus to be the mountain peak and thought about the idea of looking through the trees. I didn’t want the trunks super sharp, nor did I want them so fuzzy that they lost the definition in their edges. And again, I love the cloud coverage.
Things I don’t like about this image: This image is cropped quite a bit. Looking back, I should have zoomed to get this crop in camera.
Things I like about this image: As soon as the sun started to shine through and the shadows came out I already had this image titled. I saw it, I pre-visualized it and processed it how I wanted. I also like the sense of movement going from bottom left to mid right. It’s like the trees are walking slowly toward the horizon.
Things I could have done better: Shot in JPG. This entire set was shot in JPG and I didn’t realize it until I uploaded them (it happens). I could have had a better file to work with to get the texture I wanted in the ground. I mean, I’m pretty happy with it, but I think finer adjustments throughout would’ve made this a stronger image for me.
What I like about this image: How the trees and the bird look like they are standing at attention. Like the bird is directing the trees somehow.
What I don’t like about this image: Another big crop. This was something I liked after reviewing it and wasn’t sure what I expected while shooting. In this case, I was not totally pre-visualizing in the moment while shooting it.
What I like about this: The creation of triangles by tilting the camera. The texture from bottom to top.
What I don’t like: The poles in the sand. The poles were actually what drew me, but then I didn’t like them, in the end. Overall, not a great image for me. The boats look like they’re slipping out of the frame, but the masts are small and I think I’m reaching with this. Meh.
What I like about this image: Not too much. I like the birds flying around and the edge of the beach.
What I don’t like about this: I had trouble editing it to make it look more dreamy and dreadful. And I think it would have been better if there were some birds at different distances from my camera to show more depth. That said, I’m smart enough to not get that close to crows!
What I like about this image: I do not consider myself a strong landscape photographer, so the fact that I actually got out of the apartment to shoot this this morning is amazing to me. But seriously, I like how the clouds were blanketing the mountain range at different depths and that the sun was highlighting the clouds in different shades. The choppy texture of the water adds to the overall feel of a blustery morning.
What I struggled with: I was using my kit lens to take this photo. Originally, I wanted the water to look more smooth, but I couldn’t settle into the settings of my camera and was impatient because it was really windy, cold, and I had a trouble seeing the screen on the back of my camera. Also, while editing I noticed lots of dust that probably came from the filter that I grabbed out of storage (dusty), so I edited a lot of those dust marks out. I also think I would define the edges of the range more, but still preserve the nice dark grey that separates each mountain from the other.
Overall, I had a decent time out in the cold and getting the chance to take advantage of a near-empty park on a weekday morning. I’ll keep learning and critiquing and giving myself the time to digest and understand why I make the images I do. The takeaway from Ms. Shaden’s lesson was that the better you understand your inspiration, motivation, and why you like an image, the better you can take negative feedback. That way, when you share your work, you can defend your work conceptually and technically to others. This way of thinking may come naturally to some, but it has completely given me a new way to look at what I do and why, and I’m so glad I found it! I think this advice is great for those starting out in any creative endeavor, when you feel art is an extension of yourself. Build your confidence. Understand your inspiration and motivation. Self-critique before letting others critique you.
Today, I felt inspired to either sketch or paint. I’m not really any good at either. When I opened up my pad of newsprint. I found some cutouts I’ve used for collages, and one was sitting on top of some ink marks (I think I was trying a pen nib). I thought it looked cool and wondered if I could play with integrating a sketch with a cutout. I came up with some ideas, and photographed them.