Photoshop Seminar April 29, 2017

A reminder that next Saturday, April 29th, 2017 is the Photoshop Seminar at the Hershey Public Library, in Hershey, PA. Doors open at 9:30. The seminar is three hours and will cover a number of Photoshop techniques for enhancing images including blend modes, selection techniques, and creating and modifying masks.

The library asks that you sign up and pay in advance. The fee is $45. Hope to see you there.

The abstract image above has been selected for inclusion in the online gallery of images by the Cultural Center of Cape Cod. It was selected from 711 entries from the US and Canada. I am delighted to be included.

Information on Photoshop techniques are always available on my Learning page at my website.

Resolve to make better images in 2016

You are the first obstacle to better image making.

All of us make New Year’s resolutions, and they usually involve something like “make better images”, lose weight, stop smoking, etc. I will give you better odds on the images if you approach the issue as a problem to be solved and work methodically toward a goal. There are several steps to image making and you have to break your photography into those steps to find the weak links and repair them.

The Photographer: Yep, you are the first obstacle to better image making. You need to analyze the images you are making and attempt to understand the weaknesses. This can be difficult depending on the amount of experience you have and how much time you invest in the process of looking at images, shooting, and processing. One aspect of this we can analyze is the mechanical process of capture.

Not everyone’s photography is suited to a tripod, but no matter how you shoot you need to fully understand certain physical limitations that might influence your image making. Images that are unsharp from camera movement are common with hand held shooting. Often there are mistakes made in decisions of shutter speed, choice of ISO, aperture and the physical way you hold and fire your camera.

The Hardware: The camera you own, the lenses you use, the flash, even the tripod you thought would solve the problems can all be a plus or minus in the capture. You don’t want the equipment to be in the way of a good outcome. If the camera can’t make a good image, you will not overcome that primary step in the image making. This doesn’t mean you need to own the newest, best, most expensive equipment. You do need to be aware of the ability of the camera system to make a good capture. Yes, good images can be made with small point and shoot cameras and mid-level equipment if properly used. But there is a lot of “junk” on the market and careful attention to competent reviews can mean a lot.

The Software: This should not be a problem as the processing software that came with your camera or a move into good quality software like Lightroom should mean that processing the image has the potential to produce a quality image. Secondary finishing in Elements or Photoshop is another level of control and refinement. The software available today is way more powerful than anything in the past and the biggest obstacle here will be the learning curve. There is more to processing than most people realize. Here again, you become a limiting factor and better processing means better images.

The Print: Print quality is essential to a good final image. Making the prints yourself sounds like a good idea until you realize that the printing process is anything but a button push away and you are back to a steep learning curve and the possibility of a lot of questionable decisions. Good printing is an art form.

Whether seen on a screen or printed the final representation of your vision very much depends on you. The processing step in digital image making is both a difficult task and a very important part of the process. It is a challenging part of better image making. If you have ever heard a piece of classical music performed by a junior high school orchestra you know that the performance is the issue, not the composer. If your captures are good and you see well, your images deserve the best possible performance. Training yourself to perform well is the hard part.

I will be speaking on these issues and detailing many of the aspects of shooting and processing at a meeting of the Hershey Camera Club this coming Thursday night, January 7th, 2016. The meeting is at the Country Meadows Retirement Community room on the second floor. The doors open at 6:00. All are welcome.

New image galleries are almost ready. I hope to have them on line in the next day or two.

Lenses and Perspective

Photography and Perspective

As a photographer you should realize that perspective is not a function of lenses. The “wide angle perspective” we talk about as photographers is an effect that is simply an exaggeration of the relationship of a foreground object to the background or other parts of the image.

Perspective is simple. It is the relationship of foreground to background objects based on the position of the photographer relative to the scene. If you want to change the perspective, you have to physically move in relation to the subject.

Lenses simply allow us to include (wide angle) or exclude (telephoto) parts of the scene in front of us. The misconceptions of distortion come from the peculiar “effect” that we see in the two dimensional representation of the subject if it is different than what we normally perceive. Our eyes are essentially fixed focal length lenses. What we consider “normal” is simply based on the way we perceive reality. Get close to a subject with a wide angle lens and you create a distorted visual relationship, but not a change in perspective.

Architectural photographers do this with buildings as the spacial relationship creates dramatic receding lines. If the subject is far from the camera as in a landscape, the effect may not be noticed. Using an object close to the lens in a landscape image can be used to dramatic effect as the near to far relationship helps the three dimensional feeling.

Ansel Adams illustrated this in “The Camera” (Previously “Camera and Lens”) photographing a fountain with a building in the distance. The relationship between the two is not changed with a change in focal length which is essentially cropping the image at the capture stage. To change the perspective you need to physically change your position in space relative to the closer object. The difference in perspective then appears as a change in the relationship to the background regardless of the focal length used.

This is pretty easy to learn. Choose two objects with a distance between them and make some photographs with different lenses or both ends of a zoom. Do the same at a closer distance to the foreground subject. With changes in focal length the relationship of the foreground subject and the background will remain the same. When you change your position in space relative to the foreground the perspective of the images will change compared to the first position. The foreground to background relationship in each set of images will remain the same regardless of the focal length.

To further illustrate the point, crop your wide angle lens image to match the amount of the scene captured with the longer focal length from the same position and you will see that the final image is identical. The lens focal length is simply including or excluding a portion of the scene. It does nothing to change the perspective.

In practice this becomes important as the first thing you should do when deciding how to photograph a subject is to determine the perspective or “point of view” you want or need based on the foreground to background relationship of the subjects in the image. Then the focal length of the lens is simply how much of the scene to include in the capture.

Intersection: Painting, Drawing, and Photography

The exhibition “Intersection: Painting, Drawing, and Photography opened yesterday at the Suzanne H. Arnold Gallery at Lebanon Valley College, and will run until October 12th. There is a special opening reception next Friday September 5th, 5-7 p.m. Admission is free to gallery members and $10 for non-members.

This exhibition will examine the history of the complex intersection of painting and photography. In particular, the genres of portraiture and landscape will demonstrate how the two mediums have impacted each other from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. In the nineteenth century, artists such as Fitz Henry Lane, Thomas Eakins, and Edgar Degas used photography to support their painting process, while photographers such as Peter Henry Emerson and Edward Steichen attempted to elevate photography to an art form. In the twentieth century photo-realists such as Chuck Close and Ralph Goings were directly inspired by the unique vision of the camera.

Lecture: Dr. Sarah Gordon, American University, ” ‘The rich gifts it bestows’: Exchanges among Photography, Painting and Drawing,” Wednesday, September 17, 5 p.m., Zimmerman Recital Hall. This lecture is free and open to the public.

20th Anniversary of the Suzanne H. Arnold Art Gallery: Please join us as we celebrate the Gallery’s 20th anniversary at Lebanon Valley College.

Reception: Friday, September 26, 5 – 7 p.m., Zimmerman Recital Hall.

Improving Your Photography – Review Your Work

Some of you have heard me talk about my yearly review process. Each year as the weather turns cold and the temptation to be outside shooting is tempered, I review images made in the past year. There are two purposes for the review: one is to see what I have accomplished that I can be proud of, and the other is to find weaknesses in my performance or techniques that need attention. The “good” images might be added to the portfolio or used for promotion, but the really important images are the weak ones. 

While it is always easier to think about what you would have done after the shoot is over, the point of the review is to make yourself more aware of areas of your process that can be improved. That might be closer attention to composition at the time of capture rather than in post production, or refining your lighting or the consistency of your exposures. In recent years, and I suspect this year as well, my attention has consistently gone toward refining my lighting. I light well, but too often play it safe rather than pushing the envelope. I have often said to others that making sure you have something usable should be your first concern. But it is too easy to stop there and not make a few changes that could take your work to a new level, and improve the value of your stock as a photographer. 
Some of these changes are simple enough to implement, perhaps as easy as dialing back the fill light at the end of a session and shooting a few extra frames to see what effect that has on the final image. This can be done with a minimum investment in time, and often without your client ever knowing it happened. It is easy enough if you are working in the studio on products and not dealing with people, but still possible in the studio or on location if you plan ahead. If you work with an assistant, you can have them power down a light for you and you can fire off a few shots before you give the client the big grin and handshake. 
Another possibility is a change in your style by adding a light to your traditional setup. By planning ahead you can implement this with no interference to the subject at all, and as you shoot, you can always turn that extra light off to revert to your safe zone, or not turn it on until the end for those extra few shots. As the results prove to be fruitful, you can decide whether or not to incorporate the extra light into your normal shooting. A bit more challenging may be removing a light that you considered important in the past to see what your images look like without it. Over the past several years I have reduced the number of lights on my business portraits without a compromise in the final quality, just a slight change in the style of my work. Who knows, I might be tempted to add one of them back in this year?
How much do you rely on ambient light? If it is the only light in your images, have you considered what adding a supplemental light might do for you? What do you need to know to be able to do this, control it, and get results that are not only different but a lot more interesting? How much do you know and understand about adding a light, what its character needs to be, and how it will affect your exposure? How much effort are you willing to put into making images that are not like what you already do? These are not things you do on a whim, these are things you test and modify until you can do them with confidence and control. These are things you must know and do to make yourself a better photographer this year than you were last year. 

The Value of Critique

Watching a program on N.C. Wyeth, I was struck by a comment by his son Nathaniel about a miniature he had made of a chair. After looking at the model, Wyeth quietly told his son that the work was not really very good, and that he needed to try harder. After his initial emotional response (crushing the model beneath his feet) he started over again and created a far better model than he had the first time. I was reminded of a story told to me by a friend who took his portfolio to a photography workshop where he had an opportunity to have it reviewed by a well known photographer. After looking at the images the photographer asked, “do you want me to say something nice, or do you want the truth?”

Grand Canyon View
Grand Canyon, Arizona

The importance of the critique over simple praise goes to how much you care about advancing your craft. Praise can lead to complacency, stopping you from making the refined corrections to your images that may make them break away from the simple capture handed you by the camera. Therefore, criticism can be constructive in that it gets you to pay attention to aspects of your images that you may have overlooked, or ways to polish your images that go beyond your initial reactions. It is easy to look at your own work and have the pride of creation blind you to details that someone else may see as they do not have the disadvantage of having created the image. The emotional distance of a viewer compared to your own has value.

In addition to the reaction of a viewer to a particular image, you need to learn to watch for signals about the conceptual aspects of your image making. Ignoring image content, are there reactions to your handling of tone, contrast, sharpness, and composition that you should take into account in a more general sense. Composition, for example, is an important means of leading the eye of the viewer to where you want them to look, and controls the balance of the image. Minor refinements can make big differences, and paying close attention to the edges of your images as well as the areas of primary interest can strengthen the final impact. How does your control over contrast or color add to or detract from the message of the image and how the image is perceived by the viewer.

While not all criticisms will be helpful, depending on who they come from and the spirit in which they are given, all criticisms come from a point of view other than your own and should be considered simply for that reason. At the same time, praise can be both valuable in boosting your ego, but dangerous if it gives you too much comfort. Creating photography, or any other art, is a process which should be constantly refined and polished.