Showing posts with label portraits. Show all posts
Showing posts with label portraits. Show all posts

31 October 2009

Long time no post

It's been a busy summer and early fall, and I haven't had time to post anything in a while. So here are a few of my best shots to catch you up with what I've been doing photographically (and otherwise) for the past three months. I'm now storing photos on Flickr, so clicking on these images will take you there and you can browse at some of my other work.

After being inspired by some of the reading I was doing for the Food Course, I bought a share in a CSA farm called Urban Grains, which grows organic wheat; well, UG partners with Cedar Isle Farm which actually grows the wheat. The shareholders took a field trip in July out to the farm in Agassiz, BC, to see the wheat fields and meet the farmer. The setting was stunningly beautiful, in the Fraser Valley with the Cheam Range of the Canadian Cascades off in the distance.


In late July and early August I went to Santa Fe for the Glen Workshop, put on by Image and CIVA. I also did some touring around that part of New Mexico, visited several cousins, and saw a lot of great Spanish Colonial art and stunning landscapes. No wonder Georgia O'Keeffe and others have been so inspired there.

New Mexico

In August I went back East for my family's annual vacation at our summer cottage in Vermont. The highlight of the week was of course getting to see my nephew Isaac again. He seems to get cuter every day, if there were any possibility of ever being more cute than he already is. Sorry no public photos of him. Friends can see them on my Facebook page.

In August, and late September to early October, I had visits from two dear old friends, spent time with them at Galiano Island, and did some fun things in Vancouver. Here's a B.C. Ferry, all repainted in preparation for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, going through Active Pass as seen from Sturdies Bay on Galiano Island. Man, if only I had the new "content-aware fill" feature that Adobe Labs has been working on for some future version of Photoshop! I'd get rid of that light post in front of the ferry. Too time-consuming otherwise. But take a look at a cool demo here.

B.C. Ferry repainted for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics

I'm taking a portraiture photography class at Focal Point, the photography school which is a block from my house. (I'm so lucky!) Our teacher is Alex Waterhouse-Hayward, a well-known Vancouver-based commercial and fine art photographer who has photographed famous people including Bob Hope, Douglas Coupland, and Annie Liebovitz. He's also an avid gardener, so he likes to have us use plants as props in some of our photos, and he is teaching us to recreate certain historical styles in portraiture. He also sometimes is wacky and suggests amusing poses with props. Here are a couple of my best shots from a studio session.

This first one is heavily color adjusted in Photoshop.

Katie Johnson with Hydrangea aspera var. villosa

Jesus and Mary Magdalene

We've had the most glorious October for fall colors this year. I went out shooting some of the leaves in my neighborhood a couple of weeks ago, and this is my favorite one. It looks like they're floating on water, but they are on the hood of my neighbor's car, with reflections of the trees overhead.


Finally, I got to attend the U2 360 Tour concert in Vancouver the other night. It was a great experience. Took my trusty G9 along with me and didn't see any signs or hear any announcements about no photography allowed, so I went for it. The stage was set with this giant space ship on it. Apparently it takes so long to set up (8 days) that they had three identical sets so they could be working ahead setting up the stages for the next two concerts while performing one. This tour cost them about $750K per day! Hmmm, you wonder how many poor children in Africa Bono could have fed or given AIDS medications to if they'd kept the budget to...oh, maybe $300K per day? Still, I know he inspires many and is very generous, so I don't complain too much. It certainly was quite a spectacle.

U2 360 Tour @ BC Place, Vancouver

U2 360 Tour @ BC Place, Vancouver

29 March 2009

Back from Boston

I had a wonderful visit with my nephew Isaac over the past week. There's nothing like spending time with a baby to bring you back in touch with what is fundamental about being human. All other things fade in importance when you're looking into his eyes and babbling back and forth with him. I could sit with him on my lap for hours mesmerized by his little movements, his attentive looks, and his adorable smiles and coos. It was very hard to tear myself away to go to the airport. Here are a few choice photos.

14 July 2008

Life mimics art

I was working on a film shoot for the past couple of weekends, doing the production stills photography. At one point, someone noticed the resemblance between one of the lighting guys and a painting on the wall in the home where we were shooting, so I shot this photo of him posing beside it. Jean-Sebastien wanted the make-up artist to do him up in green and blue like the painting, but she never got around to it (or was joking when she promised to do it for him). So I took care of it in Photoshop.

01 May 2008

Meeting my hero

Unfortunately this can't be included in my SoFoBoMo book, because I didn't take the picture. But it does go down as one of my favorite photos taken on my camera.

I was visiting my brother in Atlanta for a few days last weekend. I drove three hours to Plains to attend Jimmy Carter's Sunday School class at Maranatha Baptist Church. I've been wanting to do that for years, since I found out his classes are open to the public, but this was the first time he was on the schedule to teach when I was in the area.

Carter is one of the people I admire most in the world. Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, he continues to be involved in peacemaking and humanitarian work even into his 80s. He recently returned from a trip to the Middle East, where he met with Hamas leadership in the hopes of moving things further along towards a peace agreement with Israel. He faced criticism from Washington for his overtures, but I believe his approach is more likely to win lasting peace than what we've been doing for the past few decades.

The Carter Center which he founded is involved in peace negotiations, human rights, and global health (they have almost achieved their goal of the complete elimination of the horrible guinea worm disase, which would only be the second ever disease eliminated from the face of the earth). Jimmy and his wife Rosalynn (which he pronounces with a long o: ROSE-a-lynn) have also worked with Habitat for Humanity, actually on the ground building houses with them.

In spite of his world fame, Carter is a remarkably down-to-earth and humble man. He would not allow any applause for him in the church. He would not sign autographs there. He wanted us to remember we were there first of all to worship. (All of this was announced to us ahead of time by a member of the church, so that he could just come out and be himself.) Yes, there were secret service guys protecting him, as well there should be (we had to get wanded down and have our bags searched at the entry). But he came across as just a normal person teaching in his home church. Which of course he was.

He taught a real Bible lesson, on the book of Daniel. His message was about sticking up for what you believe in, even in the face of opposition (which is what he does all the time with his peacemaking work). He walked us all the way through the major parts of Daniel's story, which was the text du jour in the teaching materials he was using (Adult Uniform Series from Smyth & Helwys). He spoke from his heart, with hardly a need to refer to the notes on his podium. Jimmy Carter is the only president to have ever taught Sunday School while in office (he taught some classes in Washington and back in Plains on visits), and to the best of anyone's knowledge, the only one to ever teach it after leaving office.

President Carter has been a hero of mine for years. His election was my political awakening. I would have voted for him if I'd been old enough (I was 13). I remember getting permission from my parents to stay up late and listen to the election returns on the radio in my bunk bed, and it was very exciting that he won. To have met the man in person is one of my greatest joys.

12 April 2008

SoFoBoMo: The halfway point approaches

Well, I haven't taken any more photos since the Texas trip. Perhaps I should have arranged a hiatus from all my other responsibilities for the month. (Yeah, right. Tell that to the IRS!)

Here's a photo of my friends' sons (ages 7 and 5) sitting outside the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, looking at a fountain. Smart, thoughtful kids. I have never seen kids behave so well in an art museum. They were actually interested in stuff! I remember back at that age, and even older, my siblings and I were bored silly in them. The only fun times were when my brother set off the alarm once by touching a painting, and when he and I rearranged the letters on a sign to spell naughty words.

11 March 2008

Piano (four) hands

This photo, titled "Piano Hands" is currently one of two photos that I have in the (almost) Annual Regent Community Exhibit at the Lookout Gallery at Regent College in Vancouver, BC. When I title a photograph, if I think it's likely to be a one-off, I just give it an obvious title like this. But if I think I'm likely to do others which would naturally have the same title, I will title the first something like "Orchids I" (in anticipation that there will be an "Orchids II" someday).

However, what to do when I've already titled one "Piano Hands" and then along comes another nice photo of someone's hands at the piano? Do I rename the first one "Piano Hands I" and call the new one "Piano Hands II"? Or once I've titled a photo, should the title remain forever? Should I call the second one "Piano Hands II" without having to have a "Piano Hands I" (the "I" is implied)? Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, I know, but it has me wondering.

Actually, fortunately (or not), it's a moot point for now. The resolution of the latest one is so bad that it will only ever see the light of day on this blog (I took it from a distance with my Canon G9, handheld, at 24x zoom (6x optical + 4x digital), at ISO 800. So it had all things going against it. The only way I can get away with it not looking like crap is to show a very tiny version of it here.

Update: It just dawned on me that if this latest photo were exhibit quality, of course I'd title it "Piano Four Hands" (for obvious reasons). In case you're not a music afficionado, "piano four hands" refers to works written for two pianists to play on the same keyboard (as opposed to a piano duet with two players at separate pianos).

17 January 2008

Scanning and restoring old slides

I have a big project I've been working on in dribs and drabs, and that's to scan a whole heap of slides that my grandfather took back in the 1930s and 40s, get rid of scratches and dust specks, and restore them to their intended colors. Most of them were taken on a Kodak Bantam Special on 828 slide film. It's hard to find anyone who will scan that stuff anymore these days, since it is larger than the standard dimensions of 35mm film (28x40mm as opposed to 24x36mm) and doesn't fit slide scanners. I bought the top of the line, a Nikon Super Coolscan 9000, thinking that would allow me to do them at home, but even that doesn't have a large enough opening in its slide holder. So I'll have to try to rig something up with one of its larger transparency holders, or else do them on my Epson 4870 flatbed scanner in transparency mode and manually crop them to the right size and rotate them slightly if I didn't get the orientation lined up just perfectly with no tray to hold them in (and that won't be ideal, because the focal distance of the scanning beam will be slightly off). For now I'm working on the few 33mm slides that are in the collection.

It's a labor of love, I tell you. It takes nearly an hour to do each one if there is a lot of color distortion and hundreds of noticeable specks. Photoshop can do a pretty good job of dust and scratch removal on sky, but on other things it sometimes adds too much blur which I don't like. So I'm going through and doing them all painstakingly with the spot healing brush tool. Even though it is time-consuming, I'm quite pleased with the results. Here are two of the ones I've done so far. One is my grandfather with his uncle and the other is his wife, my grandmother, with her aunt-in-law (the wife of my grandfather's uncle), with my dad as a little boy in the background. I love how vivid the reds still are in the flowers (I really didn't have to restore that at all) against the still somewhat muted rest of the photo of the women. Did their dresses have more blue or green in them? I can't tell. I got the skin and hair and grass colors looking right, and that's about all I can hope for. I have chosen to keep the slide mount backgrounds on, to reveal the origin of these photos.

10 January 2008

Singing off the same hymn sheet

That's what they say in the UK when people are what we in North America would call "on the same page" (or "wavelength"). These lovely sisters in my church gave me permission to post the photo I took of them in one of our services. We are one of the few churches around which still sings in four-part harmony. It's wonderful -- like being part of a heavenly choir! Congregational singing has been a big part of my faith over the years, and like a friend of mine once told me, hymns are part of my prayer language. I've been invited to document our church's worship through photography on a couple of occasions. All the photos in the mini slide show that flips by on the home page were done by me. If you're in the Vancouver area and looking for a church that seeks to integrate faith and the arts; peace, justice, and biblical truth; heart and mind; spiritual formation and mission; people of all generations; lay men and women in ministry...come check us out: Point Grey Inter-Mennonite Fellowship.

17 November 2007

[Italy trip] Prayer

Old monk praying during the Vesper service at San Miniato al Monte, in Florence.

04 October 2007

Portraits of children

Yeah, I know this photo isn't exactly about the culture of Italy, but I did take it while I was over there. My little Italian cousins have provided wonderful subjects for me to photograph (see also this one from Milan last year), perhaps because they can't communicate with me and yet are fascinated by me, so they are ever so slightly suspicious and shy or impish when they are around me.

Photographing children is hard. Someday maybe I'll do a whole series on portraits of children, but for now just a couple of reflections. First you've got to get down to their level. That means squatting or crouching. Photos looking down on children aren't very good, generally, and besides, you'll be more likely to gain their trust if you are at eye-level with them. Second, you cannot -- must not -- get them to pose. They are naturally squirmy and can't sit still, usually. But even if you get one who can, children become extremely self-conscious when they are posing for a camera, even more so than adults. They will either be nervous about it and act stiff and unnatural, or they will think it's all a big game and paste on a huge fake smile. Either way, you'll end up with a lousy, uncharacteristic picture. Third, you've got to be patient and take tons of photos. Candid ones, in all sorts of positions and engaging in various play activities of their choosing, preferably in their own home environment, without their parents looking on. The more comfortable you are around children in general, the more comfortable they will be around you. If you can't seem to get a natural shot close up, use a long lens and stand far off so the child isn't quite as aware that you are photographing. Finally (and this goes for animals and adults, too), pay attention to the eyes. Children's eyes are very expressive. Focus on them. Catch spectral highlights in them from ambient lighting. Soft, natural lighting is best with kids. You might not have total control over all of these issues when a kid is running around, but that's why you take a lot of photos and weed them out ruthlessly, down to the two or three that are outstanding. The parents will thank you forever and tell you they've never seen such a wonderful photo of their child, and ask you if they could please have a copy of it.

I shot this one with my 70-200mm lens set to 130mm, at f2.8 and 1/60 of a second. My cousin's eyes are sharp, with focus falling rapidly away closer to the camera, so the sofa is not a distraction from her face. Nor is any of the background. She was playing hard to get, because she knew I was trying to take a picture of her. So she kept running around the house, hiding behind furniture, and popping her head out every few seconds to see if I was still there. I was, and I was ready with my camera for this one.

13 June 2007

Being "in the zone"

I read an interesting post on creativity today on Doug Stockdale's Singular Images blog. Some key excerpts:

…from Octave of Prayer, Minor White wrote “Intensified concentration is common to all creative people…philosphers name this concentration Creativity; the devout call it Meditation”.

[H]e describes different ways of artists getting into what I call the ”zone”. Time seems to drift. There is an intensity to the moment as the concentration seems to increase almost on its own. You seem to flow effortlessly.

I remember an old adage; try to make at least one exposure within the first 15 minutes of arriving at the area you are interesting in photographing. Now I understand that this is a methodology to engage me and my vision, increase my concentration and make a quicker transition in to the “zone”.

I long for that experience. I'm not sure I've ever had it, or if I have, it has been so long that I've forgotten it. I usually have no problem making an exposure within the first 15 minutes, but I think I usually make one too quickly, without taking the time to size up my surroundings and engage in meditation. Thus I usually get tired of an area quickly and move on, or stop shooting. That's not entirely true when I'm somewhere that totally takes my breath away. But I think that's different than being "in the zone" as Doug describes. When rapt by the sheer beauty of a place, I sometimes don't even think about the process of creating my art. I also do it too quickly, since I'm more interested in simply absorbing the experience of being in that place. Not that that is a bad thing, mind you. If I were incapable of appreciating beauty except by making art about it, I'd be impoverished as a human being, I think.

It seems to me that being "in the zone" can be independent of the level of ordinariness or beauty of the subject being photographed, however due to the spiritual atrophy most of us suffer from, we usually need beauty to kickstart the experience.

One experience I can remember that comes closest to being "in the zone" was when I was visiting some relatives in Italy and I accompanied a cousin and her granddaughter to the playground. As we were walking home, I saw the little girl catch a glimpse of a water fountain up ahead and run towards it gleefully. The lighting was perfect, my camera was in hand, and I was alert to the moment. I ran ahead of her and reached the fountain before she did. When she got there, I just started shooting, enjoying watching her delight in how the water felt on her hands, recalling a lost childhood of my own, etc. It was positively magical. This all happened in a matter of seconds, perhaps a minute and a half at most. Here is the prize photo that came out of that.

I have just discovered Picasa Web Albums. A great way to share a series of photos from a trip if you just want to upload them and not bother with blog commentary. Free, easy to publish with, and the nicest viewer UI of any web album product I've seen yet. All you need is a Google account, which all of us Blogger users have anyway. In fact, if you have a blog on Blogger, when you sign up on the Picasa website, it automatically makes an album of all the photos you have posted in your blog, and keeps adding new ones automatically as you post more to your blog. However, it seems to put them in random order initially (though you can reorder them however you like afterwards), and it only goes back so far. In my case, 83 photos, back to December 2006.

24 April 2007

She's got that Mona Lisa smile

Here's what I've been learning how to do in Photoshop lately. That's my sister, peering at us from a Leonardo da Vinci canvas. Over the next couple of posts, I plan to explain how I did this, for all you budding Photoshop enthusiasts. Until then, just gaze at her and admire.


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