27 January 2007

Black swans with cygnets

Another in the New Zealand series. I'd never seen a black swan before, but they were all over the place on the lakes in the Rotorua area. I took lots of photos of this family, trying to get one with the parents' necks lined up just right so they were in the shape of a heart enclosing their babies. I did get one like that, but in the end I liked this one better. Sometimes perfect symmetry works in a photo; more often a little asymmetry is better.

25 January 2007


Back to the New Zealand series after a couple of important interrup­tions.

I was taking a walk around the grounds before a farm show started, and I stopped to see the sheep. The farm let visitors walk in amongst the sheep as long as we closed the gate behind us when we went into the enclosure. This eager fellow couldn't wait for me to come in. He was probably hoping for a little more than a scratch behind the ears, but that's all he got, as well as having his portrait taken. I don't know how he could stare at me with such anticipation -- it looks like he hasn't got any eyes!

23 January 2007

Unethical photos

Parthenon StatuePaul Butzi has an interesting post over at Photo Musings on when not to take a photo -- when it would involve illegal trespassing, when somebody doesn't want you to take it, etc.

I agree with Paul for the most part. But I have a great story about this photo of mine that does involve doing something which at the time I was unaware was illegal. I've told lots of friends this story, but have never shared it more publicly in all these years -- partly due to never having had the platform before blogging came around. Now that I have a blog, I still considered whether it might not be a good idea to post this -- out of fear that I might be tracked down, and out of respect for the people whose rule I accidentally violated. But it's such a great story!

In 1993, I was on an organized tour which made a stop in Athens. At the Parthenon, I handed my camera to a fellow traveler to take my picture while I picked up a rock and posed as a discus thrower on an old statue pedestal (I'd just seen someone else do it, and it looked like a fun photo op). All of a sudden I heard a whistle blow and saw a guard running towards me shouting at me in Greek. He went for my camera and grabbed it out of my friend's hand. (Fortunately my friend had just snapped the photo a second before this happened. If you click to enlarge the photo, you can see the expression of shock on my face as my friend was releasing the shutter.)

The guard kept yelling in Greek and motioned to me to follow him (which of course I wanted to do anyway, because I wanted my camera back). I had no idea what I'd done wrong and didn't understand a word he was saying. I didn't know a word of Greek (well, not more than a few scattered words of ancient Greek which wasn't going to get me anywhere), so I kept saying "English, English, no Greek," hoping he'd feel sorry for me in my ignorance. He brought me back to his guard's booth and found another guard who spoke some English and was able to translate for me.

They explained that I what I had done was illegal. Standing on the statue pedestal wasn't the problem, but picking up the rock was. "All these items are archaeological finds. Didn't you see the sign saying not to take any of the 'rocks' from the site?" they said. I told them I hadn't seen the sign (which was true), and besides I wasn't planning to bring the rock home with me -- I was just having my photo taken. They were still angry and said I must give them the film from my camera. They didn't want me going back home and showing the photo to people and giving others the idea they could do this.

I told them I had other photos on that roll of film that I didn't want to lose. They said "well just tear that one off and give it to us, then." (Idiots -- didn't they know if I opened my camera to take the film out, it would ruin the whole roll?) Somehow -- I still to this day don't know how I did it under all that pressure with at least two guards breathing down my neck -- I managed to have the presence of mind to rewind the film in my camera first before opening the back, and then I fumbled around with the film roll, stalling for time, pretending I was trying to reach into it with my fingers or a paper clip or something to get the end of the film and pull it out. (Again, the idiots must have believed that the end of the film which would come out first would be the most recently shot photo.) Finally I dropped the roll of film into my camera bag (which I had somehow managed to pry open during all this fumbling around), fumbled again to retrieve it, and instead pulled out an unexposed roll. (They didn't notice that suddenly the end of film was sticking out whereas it hadn't been out when I dropped the film.) Once this was done, it was an easy task to pull out a few inches of film and tear it off and give it to them. They were happy and released me with a warning to never do anything like that again. And I have the photo to show for it.

So, folks, to assuage my conscience (which has been mostly obliterated on this matter by the years of laughter over this incident), I leave you with this disclaimer: Don't try this at home. Or at the Parthenon for that matter.


Rivendell PanoramaSmall detour from the New Zealand series, as I just have to share something fun with you today. I recently purchased a really cool program called PanoramaPlus 3. It automatically stitches together a panorama out of multiple photos of a subject, even if they are not perfectly aligned. (It uses software technology called autostitch that was developed at UBC. While PanoramaPlus is a commercial product, Autostich is free, if you want to try out the barebones tool to see if you like it.)

I spent this past weekend at Rivendell retreat center on Bowen Island, which gave me a perfect opportunity to take a bunch of pictures of an expansive view to make into a panorama. This photo is the result of running five photos (taken to roughly cover the whole view, with some overlap) through PanoramaPlus. I then did some touching up of the sky in Photoshop to fix artifacts from the multiple perspectives on the roof-line that were left marring the sky in the stitched-together result. Everything else was perfectly seamless!

Who needs to lug around a view camera when you can do this?

22 January 2007

Cymbidium Orchid: Keeping Notes and Trade-Offs

People are enjoying my New Zealand series, so I'm going to continue with it for a while.

I saw this orchid at Hamilton Gardens, in the Waikato region in the center of NZ's North Island. (That's where I photographed the mallard from the other day, too, BTW.) I had to go to my favorite plant identification forum to ask what kind of orchid this is, since I neglected to find that detail out while I was there. I was rewarded quite quickly with the info that it's a cymbidium of some sort. There are lots of different varieties and hybrids of cymbidium, but many of them are really hard to tell apart, so that's close enough for me. It's more than what I'd written down at the time I took the photo. (Aside: Always collect whatever identification information you can about your photos, especially flora and fauna, in case you ever find yourself wanting to publish them. Even if you never think you would do such a thing, note-taking -- and follow-up research if necessary -- is a great way to learn about the natural world, like the age-old practice of keeping a nature or field journal. I keep a small ruled Moleskine notebook in my camera bag to record such details, though I confess I haven't used it much since my New Zealand trip.)

This photo is an example of where I've had to make a trade-off in depth of field. I wanted the blossoms to stand out, which I would do by making the green background blurry to eliminate distracting detail. But narrowing the depth of field to achieve that selective focus meant that the flowers near the top (which were farther back from the plane of the camera) are a bit out of focus. The standard solution for this problem would have been to adjust my vantage point so that the blossoms were all about the same relative distance from the lens. But compositionally that wouldn't have been as interesting a photo, I think. In any event, the blossoms are close enough to the leaves, that with the lens I was using that day, it would have been near impossible to isolate them entirely with depth of field. So I had to choose a happy medium between having them all in focus and making them burst forth from the background. Photography is all about trade-offs.

19 January 2007

Another New Zealand bird

This one is a mallard, common throughout the world, not a particularly unique New Zealand species like so many of the ones I saw down there. But I like the photo for its colors and the ripples in the water. I wish I'd been able to crop it so the bird was just entering the frame rather than just leaving it. It is better to include the spot where your subject is about to be in a few seconds rather than where it has just come from. It makes the photo somehow more "readable" -- you can imagine lingering over the scene for a while. But if the subject is on the edge about to leave the frame, it's the end of a story.

However, in this case, the reasons I chose to do it this way were twofold: first there was some ugly stuff in the water directly above and to the left of the duck that I wanted to crop out; and second, the interesting colors and movement going on in the water were below and to the right of the duck. So I was stuck. To ameliorate the negative effect of having the subject about to leave the frame, I've placed the photo on the right of the text.

This one benefits greatly by being blown up, so be sure to click on it and view it "full size" (as full as I could make it on Blogger). I printed this at 16x20" and framed as a gift for a friend who had said it was one of her favorite photos of mine.

17 January 2007

"The one without the gannet"

Australasian Gannet. © Rosie Perera, 2005. Click to enlarge.Here's another of my photos from New Zealand, an Austral­asian Gannet (Maori: takapu) coming in for a landing at the gannet colony at Muriwai Beach.

I cannot think about gannets without recalling (with interior giggles) my favorite Monty Python sketch, "The Bookshop." A customer comes in asking for all kinds of weird non-existent books, including "the expurgated version" of Olsen's Standard Book of British Birds (the one without the gannet), because, as the man explained, "I don't like them. They wet their nests!" Well, I can tell you from having seen them up close that they do indeed "wet their nests." They cement them together with guano.

15 January 2007

New beginnings

I'm a little behind on editing my recent work, so today I'm going to post what is one of my all-time favorite photos, of a tree fern, taken in New Zealand in 2005. I've posted and commented on it before on the other blog I sometimes write for, Iambic Admonit, but here I'll say some different things.

This is the first photograph I ever sold a print of. People didn't start buying my photos until I started charging enough to be taken seriously. Interesting...

I've had people tell me this photo looks like an impressionistic painting, because the foreground leaves and background are out of focus (intentionally). This was taken with a 200mm lens at f/3.5, so a very narrow depth of field, to get that effect.

The unfurling fern frond is called a koru in the Māori (New Zealand native) language, and it is a major element in their art, symbolizing new life and rebirth. Different people see different things in it. Some see a fiddle head. Some see a fetus. Some see little creepy crawly critters all curled up. I love that it has so many connections for people. I have my own personal connection with the photo, since it encapsulates my whole trip to New Zealand, which was a profound time of renewal in my relationship with God.

The flora and fauna in New Zealand were amazing, so I'll probably be posting more photos from there in the coming weeks as I catch up on some more recent projects.

14 January 2007

Mining of Art

In a previous post, I was talking about why I don't delete any photos on camera anymore. I recently came across a series of three excellent articles at "The Online Photographer" that give even better reasons, such as avoiding data loss on compact flash memory cards. See To Delete or Not, That Is the Question (Carl Weese); To Delete or Not: Computer Expert (Dave New); and To Delete or Not: Photojournalist (Josh Hawkins)

Here is a photo that I took last summer in Santa Fe. I was playing around with long exposures in pitch dark night. They all came out pretty horrible looking on the preview screen, and I was going to delete them all, but something checked my impulse, and I kept a few of them (now I'd keep them all). With a bit of cropping and rotating, I was able to rescue the interesting part of this one. Notice how the bottoms of the clouds are at a 45-degree angle. Clouds don't slope that way in real life. Anyway, this looks like it was taken in broad daylight, or with a very powerful flash. But it wasn't. It was literally pitch dark out there. But there was enough light, barely imperceptible to the human eye (I had to use a flashlight to set the controls on my camera), that after keeping the shutter open for 10 seconds, there was enough of it to make an image. Pretty cool, eh? Not that this is National Geographic submission quality or anything, but it's not a throw-away either.

10 January 2007

Painting with Light #4

07 January 2007

Palm Pilot Photography

My dad recently sent me this amazing photo he had taken on his 1.2 megapixel Palm Pilot. It's called Wild Acres Marsh. Click on the image to view it at full size. I have not compressed it at all, so that you can see the quality of it. Not bad, eh? I was pretty impressed that it came out so well given the cruddy resolution of Palm Pilots. All the credit goes, of course, to my dad (who was, incidentally, my earliest inspiration for photography). The composition is wonderful. I love the use of line, both the vertical lines of the dead trees in the marsh and the curving lines of the field leading the eye towards the living (though denuded for winter) tree. The colors are rich, and the mist swallowing up the receding background gives the whole thing a mystical quality. The latter is why it works at a lower resolution, I think.

This just goes to show you that you don't need ultra-high resolution on a camera or lots of fancy controls (any controls, for that matter, other than a shutter release) in order to do great work. The eye of the photographer is more important than the technical gadgetry. Photographers often bristle when someone praises our artwork by saying "Wow, that's a great photo. You must have a really awesome camera!" The best retort (thought of no doubt in a case of l'esprit de l'escalier) was "If a chef makes you a fine meal, do you say 'That was delicious. You sure must have some great pots and pans!'?"

As I told my dad, this photo reminds me of some of Paul Butzi's work in his Snoqualmie Valley gallery.

06 January 2007

Art as a Verb

Paul Butzi has a great post over at Photo Musings on "art as a verb." He writes:

I think the vast majority of artists are better off having their goal to be engaging in the artistic process than having their goal be to make great works of art....

...[A]rtmaking is an example of something I think our society has drifted away from. In the past, if you wanted to be an artist, you got materials, and you sat down, and you made some art. Nowadays, if you want to be an artist, you’re expected to go to school, learn centuries worth of art history, art theory, and art criticism, and get a degree. After that, you can work on building a network of contacts with gallery owners, art dealers, etc. And when the art you make starts to sell, you can call yourself an artist....

I think our society is desperately in need of artmaking at every level, from preschool kids through the most senior of citizens. It’s not enough to have art, we need people to make art as part of their daily lives.... [M]y observation is that making art changes the way people live their lives. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the art is pencil sketches or playing music or writing poetry, photography or woodworking or metal sculpture. Engaging in artmaking helps people perceive things more clearly, helps them break out of the polarized thinking that plagues us so. Artmaking helps us figure things out.

I replied (in part): Amen! So well said, Paul. You actually caught me in the process of thinking about making a “professional” portfolio website. I began to question whether I really ought to do that if I want to retain my love of photography. I realized that you do sell your photos from your website in spite of your philosophy about art as a verb, so it’s still OK if I want to move in that direction. But I will definitely be thinking about your comments for a long time to come.

Painting with Light #3

05 January 2007

Painting with Light #2

This is the larger picture from which I cropped the mystery photo of Dec 13.

04 January 2007

Painting with Light #1

I'm preparing a series of photos for an upcoming exhibit in February/March, and thought I'd use this as an opportunity to give you all a sneak preview. The exhibit will be called "Painting with Light." It's from a group of photographs I shot of various outdoor Christmas lights, at night, handheld, with intentional camera movement. The mystery photo from a couple of weeks ago was one of those.

The technique known as "painting with light" is defined as "[using] a non-stationary light source (for example, a moving flashlight in your hand) as the primary method of illuminating your subject in a creative manner." Generally you've got a still subject in a darkened room (or outdoors at night), and you illuminate it (or parts of it) progressively with a moving (and possibly interesting-colored) light source during a long exposure. We had a session on this in a photography class I took. It feels kind of like painting in the air with an enormous paintbrush (e.g., a flashlight), except you can't see what you're painting until the exposure is finished (and developed, if you're using film). Here are some interesting examples from a digital photography contest on painting with light. My photos in this series don't technically follow the textbook definition of painting with light (if there really were a textbook definition), since my subject is the light source itself. But by moving my camera, I am painting an image on the film (or in this case the digital sensor) with light.

I will post a selection of photos from my exhibit as I prepare them over the coming days. Probably little or no commentary beyond this introduction.

In this photo, the original scene was a bush with a bunch of small colored lights strung in it. Each of those colored arcs you see is created by the path of one lightbulb (my camera was moving, not the lightbulbs, but relative to my lens, it was as if the bulbs were moving). It was a relatively fast exposure compared to most in the series (1/3 sec at F/16, whereas most of them were 5 seconds). So the lines are thin and well-defined (the fact that I focused directly on the bulbs first also contributes to that), and I had to move the camera extremely fast to get any interesting pattern at all. As you'll see, though there are similarities in the series, they are all quite unique. This is one of my favorites.

03 January 2007

Backgrounds and foregrounds

Hello to all you new readers who have started following my blog since my Christmas letter went out!

I'm back from my trip to New England, where there was no white Christmas waiting for me (Denver stole all the snow). I saw this scene on a walk along the road where I grew up. These "POSTED" signs (the small print essentially says "no trespassing; violators will be prosecuted") are common in New England private forests. We don't see them out West. Maybe it's because there's not much privately owned woodland out here, or maybe it's that the major land owners out here don't mind having strangers take a stroll through their property. What strikes me about this photo is the stark contrast between the hazy background -- a somewhat enticing path into the mysterious woods on an overcast day -- and the sharply-defined foreground -- in which every element (the fence, the sign, and the tangle of virtually impenetrable brambles) reinforces the message: "None shall pass!"

This is an appropriate time to make the comment that a good photograph should have something interesting in the foreground, even if it is primarily a photo about something off in the distance. Many a boring photo has been made of a lovely mountain or distant sunset because of neglecting this aesthetic guideline. The clichéd foreground "frame" around a photo's subject (a couple of dangling branches from a tree nearby) can sometimes do the trick, although it has been so overdone that it does often look hackneyed.

Do you see anything else in this photo that you like, and can you explain why you like it? Hint -- maybe something I've been commenting about before on this blog?


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