22 December 2006

Christmas hiatus

Telus didn't get my phone/Internet service connected today as promised, and I'm off for a week for Christmas, so I will resume posting when I get back.

17 December 2006

Neighborhood glow

I've been influenced lately by Paul Butzi's photographs of the ordinary in the Snoqualmie Valley where he lives. I am trying to do a bit of what he does, to develop my eye. This is the view out my back window in my new house, taken at dusk. I look out on a rather unattractive alley, with telephone lines, dumpsters, the backs of the buildings on the main business drag one street over from me. And yet, some people have made this lane their home, and have made it look welcoming. And there's also the tip of a snow-capped mountain just peeking over the rooftops towards the left of the photo. I didn't edit out the telephone wires, as I could have easily with Photoshop. I wanted to show the realness of the scene, and how there can be a sense of warmth and comfort in the midst of what one might otherwise write off as ugly.

I like this photo for a couple of other reasons. First, the colors. Orange and blue are opposites on the color wheel, and their contrast is pleasing in a photograph or painting. Second, the composition. The central point of interest (the warm welcoming glow of someone's front entry way) is at one of the "Rule of Thirds" intersection points, and the "cross" of my window gives it some context. I could also give some trite theological interpretation of it, about how the cross puts a seal of God's blessing on the scene, as if to say "yes, Christ died even for these back alley dwellers." But I will refrain. :-) I don't like gratuitous theologizing.

No guesses on the mystery photo from Wednesday yet, so I won't give the answer yet. I don't have Internet access in my new house yet, and won't until Dec 21, so I'm limited to Internet cafes for the time being. I probably won't post again until I'm online at home.

13 December 2006

Mystery photo #2

Another abstract one. No special Photoshop effects; this is really what the image looked like on camera (though I did crop it). Post your guesses in the comments, as to what it might be or how I made it. I might be a bit slow on posting the answer, as today is moving day, and my computer is getting packed up in a box momentarily. But it will probably be one of the first things I unpack!

12 December 2006

Olympic mullein (verbascum olympicum)

Another close-up from that same day of shooting at Van Dusen Botanical Garden as yesterday's photo. This one demonstrates a compositional technique I like to use to make a photo more interesting. Most aspiring photographers already know that you don't just show the full subject dead-center in the frame. That's boring. The Rule of Thirds helps. But if it's a simple subject like one leaf, even that wouldn't quite give it the punch it needs. Framing it such that part of the object is cut out of the frame can be the difference between ho-hum and mmmm!!!

You might have noticed by now that I vary where I place the photo in relation to the surrounding text. My choice of layout is not random. I base it on the subject of the photo. For example yesterday's flowers were sort of "looking" towards the right, so I put them on the left of the text. Today's leaf is inviting you to think of what is outside the frame on the left, so I put it on the right of the text.

11 December 2006

Balloon flower (platycodon grandiflorum)

Just another pretty flower picture today. (From my archives, obviously. Spring does come early in Vancouver, but not this early.)

There are some photographers who consider themselves to have "moved beyond the pretty picture" (see, for example, The Landscapist blog). While I am learning to use my photography to communicate (an idea or emotion), to reveal a subject in a new way, or to accomplish something (raising awareness and money for nature conservation, for example), I don't see how I could ever abandon photos that "merely" showcase the beauty of God's creation. It is still a challenge to make them good. And people never tire of looking at them.

This gem was growing at Van Dusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver. I shot it back in 2002 on my old Yashica 230-AF, using color slide film: Fujichrome Velvia 50, known for its saturated colors and ultra-fine grain. I used both a macro filter and a warming filter, and a mini-tripod if I recall. I remember having to lie down on the ground and mess around with the tripod and camera and a reflector for quite a while to get the composition and lighting right. Scanned at 300dpi and touched up dust spots in Photoshop afterwards.

10 December 2006

Funny signs

Another of my favorite categories of photos is funny signs. I've been collecting them for years, and someday maybe I'll have enough for a book of them. Here's one I saw at a construction site near my house. Notice how enormous the sign is and how big the lettering? Now notice the small print at the bottom, which I've enlarged for you to see:

If you still can't read it (or this blog) and require this material in braille, audio cassette, or large print, please email me.

09 December 2006

Photographing art

Here's a photo I took recently of a wood carving I did last year of a dolphin. I used it to learn how to remove the background of an image in Photoshop -- a very useful technique which I applied to the safety pins in my "Safety in Numbers" photo. It was much trickier in that image, because of all the tiny places with background showing through between the metal bits.

One has to be careful in claiming artistic ownership of a photograph of another work of art (unless it shows that work in a new and creative way). I love photographing stained glass windows, for example, but mostly only as a document of what I've seen, since the real artist was the stained glass worker. In this case, though, since I was the artist who created the wood carving, I'm not plagiarizing. But it remains only a documentary photo, not a work of art in its own right.

Still, photographs of art, when authorized, can be a great way of making that art accessible to others. Thank goodness for good quality photographic reproductions of museum art all over the world, which otherwise would be available only to those who could afford to travel to Paris, London, Berlin, etc. My friend Bruce Jeffrey, a professional photographer in Vancouver, has done some stunning photos of the frescoes and sculptures of Benedictine monk Father Dunstan Massey, most of which are hidden away in the monks' private quarters in Westminster Abbey, in Mission, BC. The general public never gets to see this stuff, but it is amazing work. And Bruce's high quality reproductions allowed it to come out of the cloister and into the art gallery.

08 December 2006

Mystery revealed

The answer to the first mystery photo is snowflakes on my dog's back. Here is the original photo. I cropped it to the out-of-focus section in the upper left, which I thought made an interesting pattern, and was suitably mysterious. Sometimes throwing subjects way out of focus intentionally can be a useful artistic device.

Also, this rather boring original photo shows you that you can often find a hidden gem even in a throw-away shot, so don't throw any of them away until you've given them a closer look. When I first got my digital camera, I used to delete bad shots right on my camera as soon as I took them. But I read somewhere someone's philosophy that the record of digital photos you've taken should be no different than the strips of negatives we used to keep all of, even if only a few of the shots were worth printing. With a 1.5 terabyte hard disk, and cheap optical archival media (double-sided DVDs), I have no need to weed. So now I keep virtually all of my original digital images. I'll only ditch the really bad mistakes (e.g., a lovely picture of the inside of my lens cap) when there's obviously no material for mining of art.

A bird in the bush is worth...

Back to some nature & wildlife photo­graphy. This is a photo I took in New Zealand last year. It's a whitehead (Maori: popokatea), one of the protected species of birds on Tiritiri Matangi Island, a 220-hectare nature reserve with some of the best birdwatching in all of New Zealand, and of anywhere I've been in the world (I'm relatively new at birdwatching, though).

This shot demonstrates how lots of megapixels can compensate for not having as long a lens as one might have wished for with wildlife photography. A 400mm or even 600mm lens would be better for birds, but I'm still saving up for one of these babies. I was shooting with my 70-200mm lens, but I evidently didn't even have time to zoom it all the way out to 200. I shot this at 160mm, wanting to make sure I at least got something before the bird flew away, which indeed he did as soon as I shot it. Miraculously, I was able to focus quickly and get a good image. But I was at least 10-15 feet away from the bird, and he fills up less than 1% of the frame of my original photo. So I had to crop severely to make him fill more of the frame. However, thanks to the 12.8 megapixels of my Canon 5D, I could enlarge that tiny a portion of the photo, and he's still as sharp as can be. I cropped out everything that was not essential, leaving the bit of flax bush that he was perched on. It's quite characteristic of their habitat. At that distance, with that lens, and an aperture of f/5.6, my depth of field was less than a foot. This made for a good separation between subject and out-of-focus background.

I plan to make cards out of this photo and offer them to the gift shop on Tiritiri Matangi to sell, and will donate the proceeds to help with the protection of all these wonderful species of birds. That's one more way where my faith and photography can be integrated. I believe in stewardship of God's creation, and if I can use my art to help with that, what a privilege!

07 December 2006

Don't worry, be happy!

Today's photo was for an assignment that was given to me: to take a photo­graph in such a way that it expresses the emotion I was having about the subject. It was a very difficult assignment (you try it!). I spent the afternoon on Granville Island trying to find things to photograph that I had any emotions about whatsoever. There weren't many. My emotions aren't normally triggered that way, it turns out. This was the only halfway decent photo I got out of the assignment, and even it is a little bit cheesy. But cute. And it still makes me smile when I see it. Hope it does you, too.

The mystery photo from yesterday is still open for guesses.

06 December 2006

'Tis mystery all...

I like Admonit's idea of posting mystery photos here and leaving you all in suspense for a while. So, without further ado, here's one. Please post your guesses in the comments. Maybe this will lure a few of you lurkers out of hiding. I'll report the answer in a few days and will keep score of who gets it right. Hint: this one was taken on November 25.

To post a comment:
1. Click on the "COMMENTS" link below a post.
2. Type in your comment
3. Choose an identity. If you don't have a Blogger account, you can still leave a comment, either as your name or a pseudonym if you prefer -- preferably one that would let me guess who you are but you'd remain in cognito to the wider Internet world. For either of these options, choose "Other" and fill in your name or pseudonym (you can leave your web page blank if you don't have one). I'd rather you not post under the third option, Anonymous, but there's no way in Blogger to disable that option without also disabling people from posting who do not have Blogger accounts. If you do use Anonymous, you can always still sign your post if you like.
4. In the Word Verification box, type in the funny squiggly letters you see in the picture above it. This is to verify that you are a human being, to prevent automated spam from showing up here.
5. If you want to check out how your comment is going to look (good idea if you use any HTML code in it), click Preview and make sure everything comes out OK. Otherwise skip to step 6.
6. Click "Login and Publish" (or if you did Preview first, you can also click "publish this comment")

04 December 2006

Mystery photos

When I was growing up, the local weekly newspaper, The Berkshire Sampler, ran a mystery photo column. You'd try to guess what it was, and they'd announce the winner in the following issue. I always loved those, and am still drawn to that sort of close up photography where it's hard to identify the subject, but the photo is still interesting even if you don't know what it's of. From my memories of that fun challenge, I later developed the game of "mystery photo" which I recently introduced to the children (ages 9 and 11) of some friends of mine, as a way of teaching them about photography. We would take turns going around the house (while the others hid their eyes to the count of 100) and finding something to make a mystery photo of. Then the others would have to try to identify the subject of the photo.

I took this photo last night at the Regent College Christmas party. I'm not going to make you spend too long guessing what it is. It's a punch bowl, before it was filled with punch. It was taken with flash, f/4, 1/60 sec, ISO 400. The relatively narrow depth of field allowed me to focus on just the inside of the bowl and the ladle, giving a sort of mysterious haze to the near and far edges of the bowl. The flash gives all kinds of interesting highlights and sparkles on the glass and the silver ladle.

I love the shape of the bowl, how it takes hold of your eye and rolls it around centrifugally bringing it back again and again to the center at the bottom of the bowl, as a marble rolling around inside the bowl might do. I also like the way the wine colored tablecloth shows through the crystal. This is the kind of photograph that I could gaze at for a long time, almost mesmerized. It has deeper implications as well. It is somewhat reminiscent of a goblet, and the wine color together with that cannot but remind me of the cup of communion. The fact that it's a punch bowl at a party in a community I love also calls up warm thoughts of friendship, hospitality, good food/drink, celebration, and Christmas. Finally, it is an appropriate symbol of the mystery of Christ's advent: a womb-shaped bowl waiting expectantly to be filled with its liquid. Talk about Space For God!

01 December 2006

Integration of photography and life

A quote from Bruce Barnbaum, The Art of Photography (emphasis mine):

I have long felt that most people segregate their lives, putting their work in one place, photography in another, music in a third, other outside interests in a fourth, etc....Art, music, religion, food gathering, birth, marriage and death, are all intertwined. Each represents an essential part of life, and none can exist without support from the others. Why we have evolved into a civilization that segregates these aspects of life into essential and nonessential aspects could be a lifelong study for teams of anthropologists. But I feel that each of us who are seriously interested in making photographs could benefit greatly by trying to integrate the many facets of our own lives.
Are We There Yet?I have mostly been reflecting thus far on how photo­graphy integrates with my faith. But there are all sorts of other areas of my life that it touches on. I knew this blog couldn't go very long without including my black lab, Cricket, who is a big part of my life. She's also a great subject for photos. We'd just arrived in the parking lot for Cricket's canine water therapy appointment (basically underwater massage and swimming in a heated dogs-only pool; ah, what luxury!). I had brought my camera along to do a photo shoot for Cindy Horsfall for her La Paw Spa website. I happened to have it ready in hand when I turned around and saw Cricket begin to yawn, and I managed to catch her right at the curled tongue stage. I've titled this one "Are We There Yet?"

In animal photography, the key is to focus on the eyes. It's not such a big deal if the snout is out of focus, as it adds depth to the photo, especially with a solid colored pet. In this case, Cricket's eyes weren't open anyway, and her tongue was the point of interest, so I focused on that. Incidentally, dogs aren't the only animals who curl their tongues when they yawn. See this award-winning photo by Don Johnson.


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