30 November 2006

The faith of a child

I witnessed this scene in the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe (more famous for its miraculous staircase than its statuary). I was struck by the boy's rapt gaze at Jesus, oblivious to the major tourist attraction. "Unless ye become as a little child...." My photos of the staircase were interesting, but nothing like this. Sometimes if you take your eye off what everyone else is looking at, you'll end up capturing the better photograph. It's related to a well known strategy of some photojournalists: rather than pointing the camera at the spectacle, focus on the people watching the spectacle, and you'll get some wonderful shots like this one by famous photojournalist Harry Benson, of Coretta Scott King and her children watching her husband's funeral procession.

I should point out that I asked the boy's mother for permission to photograph her son. And, in fact, I asked his permission, too. I hadn't been quick enough with my camera when I first saw the scene, and he moved away. But I asked him if he'd go back and stand there gazing at Jesus as he had been before, and he obliged. So it's a staged photo, but it's exactly what it would have looked like if it hadn't been staged. This relates to my post from a couple of days ago on Iambic Admonit about photographing vs. taking photos. While it might have been more natural to take the photo before the boy knew he was being photographed, I'm at least glad that I got to speak to him and his mother about it, and they were pleased to cooperate. I would have felt equally fine about the photo from an ethical standpoint if I'd gotten the permission after I tripped the shutter, and sometimes that's what you've got to do. I'm also not opposed to intentionally (and even mischievously) setting up situations that will result in a great candid photo, such as this one by Harry Benson.

28 November 2006

Winter Wonderland

The storm from a couple of days ago continued and broke a 50-year-old record for snowfall this early in the season. Here's my street. This photo makes use of the element of line, which is important in composition. Also, the vanishing point is on one of the imaginary vertical lines dividing the photo into thirds. I experimented with flipping the photo to make the diagonal line go from lower left to upper right, generally a stronger composition leading the viewer's eye into the photo (because we Westerners are used to reading from left to right), but (a) it looked awkward to me because it's not how my street looks, and (b) there is some sense in having the diagonal go this way, because it creates tension in a photograph, and that is somewhat consistent with how some people might be feeling about having all that snow on the roads. It is still a peaceful scene (undisturbed snow on trees and cars is inherently peaceful), but I wanted to convey that it's more complex than that. These roads are pretty treacherous. They don't plow or put salt on the minor roads in Vancouver.

27 November 2006

Humor in timing

Here's another of my humorous juxtaposition photos. The timing is everything. I just happened to snap this shot of a statue of William of Orange on "Het Plein" (what an original name for a city square; it means literally "the square") in The Hague, right as a seagull was flying past. I do remember trying to make sure the seagull was in the picture, just for scale, but didn't know how well positioned it was until after I saw the resulting photo. Not only is William pointing to the bird, but his dog is looking up at it, too. It's as if they were out birdwatching together. This is what I was talking about in my comment on my November 22 surreal photo (in the comments section) when I said sometimes it seems as though God has a sense of humor. You could call this photo the result of chance in the timing, but I choose to believe there is divine intentionality behind much of what we call "coincidence."

26 November 2006

First snow of the season

This is more along the lines of the "one photo a day" project I initially thought this blog would be about. I realize I've strayed away from that due to my love of teaching, and my desire to show off my best photos from the past here. A photo a day won't always produce framable wonders. But it is a great form of documentary photography. See my discussion of that on a recent post over at Iambic Admonit, another blog I write for occasionally. Don't worry, I will continue to "stray" into showing off great photos as long as I don't run out of them. But I want to keep doing some new work as well.

I took this photo last night as the first snow of the season was coming down. It was pitch dark out, but I used flash and was thus able to freeze some of the falling snowflakes in mid-air. The black blotches on the ground are a stone pathway in my back yard. Interesting how the stone holds onto its heat from the day long enough to melt the snow falling on it. This looks black & white, but it is a color photo.

24 November 2006

Bleeding heart detail

As promised, here's my choice for the best couple of blossoms from yesterday's bleeding heart photo, close cropped (notice the "rule of thirds" at work here), with a bit of Photoshop action on the far right to remove the edge of another blossom that was showing. (I didn't want to simply crop it out because it would have made that edge too close to the subject.) The clone stamp tool and spot healing brush are amazing! With all my talk of Photoshop, I need to emphasize that you've got to begin with a good image and have some skill and a good artistic eye in order to use the software successfully. Photoshop is not the idiot's way to make a bad photograph good.

This is an image I'd consider using for a card, maybe for Valentine's Day, though I'm not sure whether that might give the wrong impression (bleeding heart = broken heart?).

23 November 2006

Bleeding heart

As I was saying yesterday, I like repeating patterns or shapes. This time it's from nature, in a bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) that I came across on the campus of Seattle Pacific University this past May when I was there for a meeting. You never know when you might see something of such exquisite beauty. So it's always a good idea to bring your camera everywhere.

I used a wide aperture, namely f/4, for a narrow depth of field (the smaller the "f-number" the larger the opening and the smaller the depth of field), otherwise known as "selective focus" -- to throw the background out of focus and draw attention to the flowers. Even so, that one leaf at the bottom is too close to the focal plane of the bleeding hearts, so it isn't blurry enough and is a bit of a distraction. Using a blur filter in Photoshop on that section of the image is one solution. But I chose a different one for my final image, which you'll just have to wait until tomorrow to see.

22 November 2006

Experimenting with avant garde photography

OK, this is really wonky, but I just wanted to try something surreal to see how I liked it. And it was a way to learn another technique in Photoshop.

I don't normally do still lifes, unless the main element is repeated patterns, which the superimposed image qualifies as. I shot this setup of a bunch of safety pins this evening, thinking I might do something interesting with it and then title it "Safety in Numbers." The fun part was selecting just the safety pins and none of the background, turning that into a mask, making the background transparent, thus making the photo mergable into any other photo I chose. But what photo to blend it with? I figured one of another herd of "somethings" that might be seen as attacking the safety pins might do the trick, so I pulled up this one from my trip to New Zealand last fall. Yes, while I was driving down the road (on the left side, you'll notice -- they drive on the "wrong" side of the road down there, to us North Americans), a herd of cattle came right at me and stopped me in my path. I had my camera handy on the passenger's seat next to me, because there were so many things I wanted to stop for and hop out of the car to photograph. This one just had to be done from inside the car, though.

Safety pin silliness aside, the main picture here is another example of one of my favorite genres of photography, which is the humorous justaposition (the "Jesus of the Hoops" from last week was another example). I'm talking about natural juxtaposition, not doctored up in Photoshop. Things I come across which make me laugh, and which I hope bring a smile to the face of the viewer. You'll be seeing more of those here in the coming days. As well as more of my nature shots, etc.

So what's my verdict on whether I like surreal photography? I need more practice if it's going to be successful, and I probably need to study the genre some. It's never been a genre I've appreciated looking at, so why I ever tried it is beyond me. Well, I guess the medium is the message, as Marshall McLuhan said, and Neil Postman latched onto. In other words, a medium shapes what we communicate with it. Because I could do this in Photoshop, I wanted to try. Not necessarily a good reason to keep doing it. I could wax philosophical about technology and whether we should do things just because we can, but I'll stop there. What do you think -- about the photo, surreal art/photography in general, and this philosophical question? I know I've picked up a couple of additional readers lately, so I'd love to hear your comments.

21 November 2006

Sheep in the woods

I'm back. I promised a photo from Galiano Island. It was pouring pretty much the whole time I was there, so once again this one is from my archives: a couple of the sheep from Hunterston Farm. They graze freely between meadow and forest and are often seen hanging around among the trees. I did some dodging and burning in Photoshop on this one, as the foreground sheep was in shadow. I used this photo for the front cover of our guest book at the cottage.

18 November 2006

Partial eclipse, later phase on same night

Well, you were probably expecting a close-up of that total eclipse, if you're following my pattern. But I surprised you. This time it's another photo taken on the same night, from the same vantage point, with the moon looking altogether different because it had passed most of the way out of the shadow of the earth by this point. This one was taken at f/1.7 and 1/30 sec.

I'm going to Galiano Island for a couple of days, so no photos until I return on Monday. I might just have a photo from Galiano to post when I get back...

17 November 2006

Total lunar eclipse

Today it's still pouring out (we've had nasty water conditions in Vancouver because of it -- the reservoirs got contaminated by flooding). So I haven't been out photographing at all and am pulling another image up from the archives. This is the total lunar eclipse that was visible in Western Canada on October 27, 2004. It's the first of the two best images I got that night (if you're picking up on my style by now, you can guess what tomorrow's photo is going to be). This was taken on slide film (Fuji Provia, ISO 400) before I switched to digital. I was shooting a Yashica 230-AF with a Tamron 500mm lens, on a tripod. Exposure was f/1.7 at 1 second.

16 November 2006

Roadside Jesus Art in New Mexico

We're departing from the theme of autumn leaves for the time being. Today's photo is one I took on my trip to New Mexico in early August. We just don't get that kind of public piety up here in the Pacific Northwest, apart from a few white cross shrines near the side of the road where people were killed in car accidents. This "Jesus of the Hoops," as I call it, is somewhat tacky at one level, but there's also something beautiful about it. The basketball hoop is like a second halo, echoing the yellow painted halo and the shape of the crown of thorns, which is in turn repeated in the stack of old tires. This is an everyday Jesus. He's there in the midst of the sweltering heat, while you shoot hoops behind the garage, carry a load in your wheelbarrow, work on your beater van with the missing bench seat. And yet he's somehow otherworldly, painted with saintly aspect, eyes averted, blood trickling down his face, shoulders and chest. You probably can't see it in the low-res version of this picture, but the painter signed his work with his initials and the date: "** - 77" (the initials had been blacked out; perhaps he was embarrassed by his work or wanted it to remain anonymous). This isn't art photography per se as much as it is a photograph of art. But I've taken it in an artistic way, framing it to emphasize the jarring juxtaposition of Jesus and junk, and the repeating halo shapes.

It was a very bright day, so parts of this photo are washed out (overexposed). Nothing Photoshop could do about that. One of these days I'll get on the ball and do some HDR (high dynamic range) photography, where you take two different exposures of the same photo (using a tripod of course, to keep the composition exactly the same), one properly exposed for the shadows and one for the highlights, and then, using some fancy selection and masking and layers work in Photoshop, you merge the shadows of the former with the highlight areas of the latter for a perfectly exposed photo from bright to dark. No camera has the breadth of dynamic range that the human eye has, but with the magic of technology, you can make it look like it does. This process can be quite time consuming, but the results are stunning.

15 November 2006

Leaf pattern detail

Here's a closer look at those interesting patterns on the leaf from yesterday. One friend suggested they might be some kind of blight or disease, but I'm not so sure. Given the time of year (leaves are turning brown anyway) I think it's probably just that the leaf was dying from the inside out. I did find another one with a similar pattern on the ground the next day. This photo was taken with a +4 diopter macro filter at f/16 and 6 seconds, with a tripod of course. Even so, the edges are a bit blurry. A macro filter is essentially magnifying glass, and it distorts things around the edges. So it's nearly impossible to have the entire image in focus. Unless you crop out the fuzzy bits. Still, I kind of like the dreamy quality to this photo. Again, no color adjustments at all. What a brilliant red-orange leaf!

I have saved the leaf, pressed between two pieces of wax paper under a phone book. That's what the lady at the copy center suggested when I brought it in to them yesterday to have it laminated. She said she'd tried that with a leaf she found, and it rotted. So she recommended that I let it fully dry out before laminating it. I hope it doesn't lose some of its color in the next day or so while it dries.

14 November 2006

Amazing leaf

Continuing on with the autumn theme, today's photo is one I took yesterday of a leaf (one of the same kind as in my first post, still to be identified) with an incredible pattern of dead brown patches against the red background. I found it on the ground near where I found the other one with the droplets a few days ago. I did not touch up the colors on this photo (other than to remove some distracting glare from the flash on the white background -- I brought the leaf inside to photograph it on a white shelf from my Ikea bookcase). I have never seen anything like this before! I could not stop gazing at it, it's so beautiful and fascinating. One of the things I like about exploring God's creation with my camera is there is no end to the surprises and marvels I discover. But this leaf, small though it may be, is way up there on my all-time list of amazing natural wonders.

13 November 2006

Unidentified moth

Today's photo is of a moth I saw on my sliding glass door last night. It's taken from inside, so it's the underside of the moth. A good nature photographer should always identify the species of the subject, but I was unable to, even with the use of my loupe to study the moth's markings (yes, the moth allowed me to get that close from the front), and the help of the amazing BugGuide.net.

I took the photo at a focal length of 120mm (on my 70-200 zoom lens) with a +2 macro filter. Because of the difficulty focusing in macro photography, I used a tripod, an aperture of f/10 to maximize depth of field, and ISO 400. I had to underexpose by 2 stops from what my meter read, to compensate for the almost entirely black background. So that meant I ended up having to use a shutter speed of 4 seconds. I also used a black cloth (actually a black dress of mine) to cover myself and the camera (except the end of the lens) so that there would be no distracting reflection in the glass. I felt like one of those old-time photographers who covered themselves and the camera in a cloth to prevent light from contaminating the negative. Finally I cropped and touched it up in Photoshop afterwards, removing out-of-focus glares and smudges on the glass. Overall a satisfying specimen photograph. I'm going to submit it to BugGuide.net to see if any of the folks there can identify it.

12 November 2006

Droplets detail

OK, as promised, here's what I ended up doing with that photograph from yesterday. Using Photoshop, I rotated it 28 degrees counter-clockwise, cropped it in close, leaving the vein on the diagonal and a curved line of droplets for the eye to follow, and then played with the levels a bit to exaggerate the red-orange color. Let me know how you like this image as compared to the other one. Does the fact that it's not "natural" ruin it for you as a picture of beauty in the world?

The title of this blog, by the way, is taken from Don Postema's book Space for God: The Study and Practice of Prayer and Spirituality. I first discovered it in the library at Rivendell, a retreat center on Bowen Island, near Vancouver. I've since used it in teaching a class on prayer. Doing photography as an art form helps me to be more attentive to the world around me, and thus more aware of God's creation. I have to slow down necessarily in order to do this, and that makes space in my otherwise busy life for God to reveal himself to me.

11 November 2006

Welcome to my photo blog!

I'm going to attempt to post one photo a day. This will force me to slow down and make space for God in my day, and be disciplined about doing some regular creative work. It's also a nod to photographer Jim Brandenburg who first gave me this idea with his Chased By the Light project. See also Photojojo's article on the benefits of taking one photo a day throughout the year.

Today's photo is one that I took for a Fall Photo class hosted by Van Dusen Botanical Garden last month. I took it on Oct 26 out in front of the house where my apartment is. It had been raining (one of the rare days of rain in what was a glorious October), and I liked the pattern of droplets on this leaf and its curved outline against the criss-crossed lines of the walkway. I shot it with with a 55mm lens; ISO 800; f/4 at 1/400 sec; handheld. I showed this at our critique session, and classmates suggested that I rotate the photo so the leaf vein is along a diagonal for a stronger composition. I tried that, but there isn't enough of a rectangle around the leaf in that case to make a good image, and I still kinda like it this way. I tried something else with it, though, which I'll post tomorrow.


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