Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Assignment 4 : feedback

This assignment did not hit the spot and I have just spent 3 days rewriting it. Much (All) of what was wrong was of course entirely of my own doing. I had (without going into all the detail) some plus points but they were not enough, and what I had in fact written was a "Historical Review" rather than the "Critical Review" that was required. My tutor has been good enough to say he will look at it again when I submit Assignment 5 to him, which by the way is almost ready to go, for once ahead of schedule.

On reflection I think there are lessons to be learned here that need recording. As a mature student it has been many years since I had to write an essay and never before had I written a critical review. My career is in Civil Engineering and we tend to write quite a bit but it is all based on factual evidence, often using data to justify an opinion. As a photographer I am aware of my skill base and while not highly skilled it is not as low as my writing skill, by any means. For a few weeks I need to look at less photography and read a book I have had for some while." the arts - Good Study Guide" by The OU (ISBN 0 7492 8745 4) deals with writing essays and good writing techniques by looking at some student work and challenging their methods and techniques. 

Monday, 21 November 2011

Project 34 : graduated filter

I am a regular user of the ND grad. and while this project asks for certain photography to take place it will repeat much of what has been done, and probably gone unnoticed elsewhere. ND grad. filters come in a number of guises, some with more ND and others with varying amounts of graduation. For the landscape photographer using of a DSLR and wanting to include any sky that has clouds, it is tool that will save the highlights and make the processing simpler. I do not believe though that it saves everything and there are issues with metering that need careful use. My filter (Lee System)  is the 2 stop soft gradation and is mainly used with my 77mm filter lens. The 100mm x 100mm size is too small to cover the front of the larger fast telephoto glass and for those there is no solution, and probably no need.

The course notes ask us to experiment with maximum and minimum apertures. This is probably meant to demonstrate the visibility of the graduation step. I would expect f/16 with its wider depth of field to show this step but in my testing against f/2.8 I could see no difference. I suspect this is due to the soft gradation against a hard, and while I would like to see the effects I have no need for a hard grad, so this will have to go undemonstrated.

An excursion into The Fens of North Cambridgeshire one evening provided a good opportunity to use the ND grad in a overt situation that will demonstrate how well or otherwise this filter will hold some detail in a bright sky. WE need not limit ourselves to the sky, equally valid use of the ND grad could hold detail in water. Waves breaking into white water in a seascape often suffer from over exposure due to dynamic range and the filter used upside down would deal with this.

No 1 - No Filter 

No 1 - No Filter  is typical of a scene where the DR is too wide for the camera sensor. I knew when shooting that the sky was at least 2 - 3 stops too bright. The exposure has been set to under expose the shadows and recover them later in CS5.

No 1 - No Filter - Modified in CS5

No 1 - Modified in CS5 has taken me from the Raw file towards an image that is more acceptable. The shadow detail in the stubble has been recovered and the sky has also been manipulated with some burning and selective colour. The disappointment is that there is too large an area that is white. I think a small area of white would be acceptable. However, this is about as far as we can go with the file.

No 1 - With ND Grad

No 1 - With ND Grad has taken me closer to solving the burnt out sky that the Modified in CS5 could do. The basic file is still not unpleasant but the foreground and shadow detail can be improved.

No 1 - With ND Grad and modified in CS5

The last image in the set is the combination of the ND Grad and post processing in CS5. There is still a small potion of the sky (back lit cloud) near the sun that cannot be retrieved.

Conclusions for No 1.

The use of the ND Grad (Soft 2 stop) has improved how we can process the sky while retaining enough workable detail in the shadow. The option for further improvement would be to shoot the scene with HDR in mind. This would require 5 or 7 bracketed exposures form -3 stops to + 3 stops and some experimentation with combining the ND Grad.

Example No 2 is of a similar shot and included to demonstrate the technique.

No 2 - No Filter

No 2 - ND Grad and modified in CS5

So far I have looked at the effects of using a 2 stop graduated ND filter. In addition I will show the effect of using a 10 stop ND filter. The 10 stop filter is used exclusively with a tripod and long exposures. Typically a normal exposure of say  1/60 sec will become 15 seconds. If the lens is stopped down and the exposure is 1 sec, then 10 stops of filtration will require 16 minutes. During this time any movement with the frame will become blurred.

No 3 - 10 minute exposure f/32 - 5x4 Field Camera

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Assignment 5 - Making Images - Making Prints

The assignment requires 12 photographs in the style of Edward Weston. Most of the images were shot during the summer and autumn of 2011 on the island of Menorca, around a small piece of coast at Cala de Sant Esteve and near Favoritz lighthouse with two from other locations. These quiet areas on the South East and East corner of the island are regular places for me to photograph when I am on the island as they provide some unique opportunities. While there I constantly quized myself about Weston and how would he photograph here. There are some similarities with Point Lobos, California although they are tenuous. They are by the sea, there is rock, the sun in the summer is high and intense. Weston's style had changed during the pre war years. He became interested in shape and form within the landscape, looking closely around his feet with the occasional vista. I needed to find images at these locations through the eyes of Weston. Technique was an issue. Weston used a view camera, which gave him movement of the lens and film plane. I have a 5x4 field camera but the logistics of getting film through x ray machines at airports makes it too difficult to use overseas. I had part of the solution with a 24mm tilt/shift lens for my Nikon but this looked too wide for Weston, and I was conscious that the 1:1.5 ratio of my camera was wrong for Weston as he worked with 1:1.25 using either a 5x4 or 10x8. Cropping to 1:1.25 would take place later in processing. I am wondering at this stage, while standing on a rock in the baking heat of mid June whether I am taking some of this too far. To work in the style of Weston ?, does that mean go back to the 1940's or bring Weston to today, would his style be different because he has a Nikon in his hand ?.

However, images were taken and back in the UK, editing, selection, processing, printing has to take place. My first hurdle is to remove my style for the output and final set of prints. This posting is being written during the processing (hence the rather fragmented words) and I am constantly finding myself selecting files that I think will work, only to question, would EW pick that one, I doubt it and move on.
As an example:

Old Army Building - La Mola - Menorca - 2011

Old Army Building at La Mola is the type of photograph I am happy to make. I like the shape of the building, how it sits within the rather barren landscape, its isolation ( it may have been an explosives store) and the cloud shape. I have gone towards Weston in changing the aspect ratio and I have toned it with a tritone, to mimic the colour of the prints that the chemistry of 1940 produced.

But, I don't think it is a "Weston".  There is shape (the building has symmetry and perspective), texture (in the sky and the building) and the foreground is strong and supportive, but for Weston I think it would be a tadge superficial. Weston is more intimate with the landscape, he wants you to feel as if you can touch it. The generic style of Weston at this time is Modern Realism, he had met Alfred Stieglitz in 1922 and had joined Willard Van Dyke and Ansel Adams and others in the infamous Group f/64 during 1933 and all of his work in the 1940's is of that style. Modern Realism and Group f/64 wasn't only about "realism" it was realism with a style, not relying wholly on technique.

Another example: slightly darker tone.

Log on Rocks - Favoritz - Menorca - 2011

Log on Rocks is a probable for selection into the 12. There is more of Weston in here by way of texture and shape and its intimacy. The light is soft and allows me to see all the detail among the rock, its angularity and its roundness. There is a lot to look at and it engages the eye at many levels while the viewer can explore. The geology is interesting and varied and the log is clearly driftwood, so contextualises the scene as being near the sea. Weston was a craftsman in the darkroom. He would spend hours retouching and it is clear from his daybooks and his images that his skill with dodging and burning is a contribution to his style and his success. My work here does not include that much using of the dodging or burning tools within PS. I prefer to make layers with lasso area adjustments and use curves, selective colour, levels and vibrance.
For local small areas the history brush, with a tablet and pen using various blending modes. In particular for this image, Colour Dodge, Colour Burn and Soft Light.

During the processing constant reference is made to the Soft Proof image. For the paper I am using this tends to lighten the image very slightly and reduces the contrast.

Prints for my tutor are being sized at 12.5 inch x 10 inch.


Now on the second set, first set were oversharpened and the tone was poor. They are printed from a roll printer and this induces a slight curl. They need to be mounted on some light card (lucky that my office / studio is next door to a office supply company). Freeman suggests this assignment should take 60 hrs, well maybe it could but I seem to have entered an iterative state and cant get the result.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Assignment 4 & 5 plus other updating.

My desertion (no, its deferment) has ended and I am back in the system. Assignment 4 has been emailed to my tutor and assignment 5 is well under way. I am able for the time being to spend 3 or 4 days a week on photography due to a bit of time rearrangement with workload, so progress is brisk. A number of projects are being held in draft while I complete the processing and gather my words into some order. The next assessment slot is March 2012 and hopefully without the benevolence of clergy or police I will make it.

Monday, 7 November 2011

5x4 update

Not much in the way of activity with the 5x4 recently, mainly due to the need for speed to get projects moving forward again. Apart from the issues when using the Wista (bulk, no metering, dark cloth, tripod, dim image, inverted image, no depth of field preview) there are problems scanning film that still need ironing out. Film selection (for me) is random. Ive tried some Provia and wow, when seen on the light box they are yummy. Delta 100 is miles cheaper if monochrome is the final output and I have tried that too. The last to be tested (sounds posh) is some Portra 160 colour neg. I am led to believe that Kodak have made their new films with a eye on scanning and that sounds promising. The scanning problems so far have been the lack of dynamic range in the Provia and the grain in the Delta 100. The Portra will perhaps overcome these problems and give me a colour output if needed, but more importantly a better route to monochrome. A few scanning technique problems have been ironed out in the past. Firstly, switch everything OFF that the scanner thinks it can do best, especially the sharpening. The scanner will pick up the grain structure and when compared with digital images it is either loved or hated. I don't mind it at all, but being able to control it is where I need to be. Research suggests that wet scanning would reduce it ( a technique used in drum scanners where the film is mated to the glass drum with special fluid) and I could try that with my scanner, but at a last resort as its very smelly and a bit toxic. The alternative answer lies in the post processing in Photoshop. Grain reduction/control can be applied by using an adjustment layer of Gaussian blur (small amount) and a blending mode of Darker. A few tests shows its promising but the amount of blur and the opacity of the layer are variables that I need explore.

Just need to load the dark slides and get moving again.

Project 23 : soft light

The notes by Freeman confuse me here because while he talks about the benefits of soft light in the landscape, he illustrates his point with an image containing harsh side lighting and the use of a graduated filter. I prefer to think of soft light as that similar to a studio soft box producing small soft shadow or an overcast sky.
I enjoy the use of soft light, in any circumstances and especialy here in landscape. I am drawn to detail within any image and soft lighting is always going to allow me the opportunity of finding it. Harsh directional light blocks up shadow detail, and while not difficult to modify with fill lighting and process manipulation, it is a compromise.

No 1
Photograph No 1 shows soft light provided by an overcast sky that is slightly directional. Here the thicknes of the cloud is weak (due to the low angle of the sun). The unlit background provides an interesting alternative to a sky and holds sufficient detail in the receding tones of the slight haze.

No 2
Photograph No 2 uses typical flat overhead bright light from an overcast sky. The softness of the light compliments the softness of the tone within the landscape. A harsh high contrast light would reduce the shadow detail, produce unwanted reflections from the river and reduce the saturation in the colour.