2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 5,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 8 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Photographing an Intimate Snowy Landscape

snow & light Old fire resting under the snow Snowcovered beast

The sun was out in a clear, light blue sky, the snow was deep, and the temperature was moderate at -8C. When the snow gets deep I’ll usually wear snowshoes, however, on this excursion I wanted to isolate and create from the intimate parts of the landscape. The usual large open scenics were not what I was looking to photograph, so that meant I would be kneeling, sitting, and lying in the snow. This would be that rare winter occasion when snowshoes and a tripod would just get in the way.

I crossed the unplowed road in front to my home and stepped into the familiar woods.  I began by kneeling deep in the snow to photograph a branch poking out of the snow, hoping that some future viewer would enjoy the same surrealistic elements of clashing shadows, and white highlights on the frosty branch that I was photographing.

The landscape was covered with deep, powdery snow and I had to be careful not to get a cold surprise down my neck as I trundled along, camera in hand, searching out intimate possibilities the snow, shadow, and light.

As I surveyed the scene I thought about a book I had just started reading, “Sketching Light,” by photographer, and author, Joe McNally. In it he writes, “As it always has been, light remains the language of all photographers, everywhere.”  What I was searching for really depended on the light. Too harsh and directional, or too soft and flat, or too dark, and everything would be lost. McNally is right. I needed just the right amount of light for my visual discussion.

I chose low angles, and had to be careful of the background influencing my subject. My lens choice was a short focal length 24-70mm and because allowing the camera to select the exposure with an automated mode would have taken the control away, I choose the manual exposure mode. Manual exposure meant I could determine how the bright high lights and how dark the shadows were.

I wanted graphic depictions that depended on the tonal elements more that the actual subjects. I will comment that getting back up after lying in the deep snow is easier said than done. Remember that the camera doesn’t like to be covered with wet snow, so with only one hand for support in the soft and shifting mass the word support doesn’t really apply.

I do like walking through a quiet, snow-covered forest because all sound is muffled. I couldn’t hear the distant highway, other people or even neighbour’s dogs. My boots made the only noise, although every now and then I would mutter some off-colour word as I struggled to regain an upright position after another prone camera angle. I expect some silent listener would have wondered at the sound of grunting, and then an exclamation that usually was followed by laughing, coming from the snow covered forest.

Photographers, except those macro enthusiasts, aren’t really interested in what I’ll call the intimate aspects of a landscape. They position their tripods for wide scenics or choose larger subjects like river valleys, waterfalls, meadows, and mountainscapes. After all, those are the scenes from the natural world that capture our imagination.

The vast and unending spaces shown in photographs by the greats like Ansel Adams and Galen Rowell are inspiring and I’ll admit to the lure of a mountain ridge or waves crashing along some sweeping ocean beach. However, every now and then I find myself seeking out shapes created by shadows and light that are easily passed by in the quest to artistically document open spaces and convey our appreciation of some expansive environment.

Snow & Light Sculpture

Those that don’t mind kneeling, sitting, or laying on the ground (or in my case deep snow) might enjoy looking closely into the landscape to photograph sculptures created by how the shadows and light changes an otherwise unremarkable subject.

I do appreciate your comments, Thanks

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

Photographers and Christmas Pictures

tree 2  presents Xmas Cat

Christmas is only a couple days away. Gosh, that was fast! Oh well, I like Christmas with all its trappings. I’ve been listening to Xmas music, watching plenty of not-so-great Xmas TV shows, attending both my granddaughters’ Christmas concerts, decorated our tree and most of our house and I have already been eating candy and lots of holiday snacks.  It’s Christmas.

This time of year is filled with photo opportunities. Yes, pictures of our home and the landscape covered in snow are great, and I have been having a great time wandering around in the fresh snow, but the unique opportunity I am writing about is the pictorial story of everything that happens around us during this holiday season. I have years of film slideshows and digital CDs of my Christmas’ and plan on continuing for many years to come.

Photographers might try to tell a story and take pictures of everything.  For example, the decorated Xmas tree and house, even that Christmas Eve dinner table, and maybe the morning breakfast with the family on Christmas. Then get the camera ready for the gift opening. Yep, photograph it all and approach every photograph as if it’s the most important you’ll make. It doesn’t matter whether it’s for a client or for family archives, all pictures should be printable and viewable. I prefer a DSLR camera and every image gets post-post processed before anyone sees it.

Not one for the point and shoot style, I usually think a bit about how I want to make each picture and I take lots of pictures while things like opening presents are happening. I always use a flash and shoot wide with the intention of cropping for the most dramatic effect later. I sometimes think setting up a couple lights on stands would be great, but my family will only put up with so much, and anyway a stand might get knocked over in all the excitement.

Always use a flash for family stuff and go for as much depth of field as possible. My lens of choice for the past few years has been either my 18-200mm or 18-70mm, either one works fine in the confines of my house. They both focus fast and close and that’s all I need.

My family is used to my photographic demands as I expect most photographer’s families are. When we are at the table there isn’t a bit of hesitation when I get up and move in with my camera, everyone knows what to do. Even my son’s young daughters pose. Please don’t embarrass people with pictures. Good photographers shouldn’t be the kind of picture taker that crouches down in everyone’s face as they eat.

My family and friends know that I’ll delete those that don’t live up to my personal expectations. Well, I think they know. Maybe my family and friends think I only take good pictures. Yes, lets go with that. They don’t need to know how long I spend editing in post-production.

As I began, Christmas is only a couple days away. Give that camera’s sensor and lenses another cleaning and make sure flash and camera batteries are charged up.  Yes, I am already having a good Christmas and that’s going to continue with lots of holiday picture taking that I’ll extend into the New Year.

From my wife, Linda and me, have a great Christmas and take lots of pictures.

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

A photographer’s musing on Black and White photographs

beach fog Chase Falls Coast silhouette

This week there were two things that made me start thinking about black and white photographs. The first was a discussion with a fellow that stopped by my shop, a film shooter, who announced that, in his opinion, the only way to get high quality photographs was to use black and white film and to make prints with chemically processed, black and white photographic paper.  The second was a notation in facebook advertising an exhibition that for some reason selected out black and white photographs as their own medium separate from photography, i.e., two exhibitions – a black and white exhibition and the other was photography.

I don’t agree with those long time photographers’ that belief that only film produces high quality images. That is now a discussion long past its time, the technology has changed, and in my opinion, for the better with improvements in camera sensors and programs like PhotoShop.

When I used to spend hours in my black and white printing lab I had the best enlargers and enlarging lenses that I could afford, and searched and researched the different manufacturers’ chemicals to obtain the most control I could get over contrast and density of my negatives (film) and printmaking paper.

I would work for hours in a darkened room to make the final images more than they would be if I just printed the straight negatives, as they were when they directly came out of the camera. These days I search out computer programs that give me the most control over my digital files and instead of expensive enlargers and lenses, I have a computer and 30 inch monitor. And I still work, although no longer in a darkened room, to make my final images more than they are directly out of the camera.

I know most modern photographers like to talk about cameras, lenses, and of course sensor megapixels. Not much has changed. It seems like only a few short years ago that photographers were talking about cameras, lenses, and film. And many of those that I spent my time with were discussing how to get the best image out of a black and white roll or sheet of film.

A few short years ago I thought all this had been lost.  Digital technology arrived and with it a new and exciting way to produce my personal photography, but I was disappointed with the quality of printmaking, especially black and white.  I believed that manufacturers were only interested in selling mega pixels and cheap inkjet printers.

Colour photography was getting better and better, but not so with black and white. I was disappointed with the in-camera presets for B&W images.

Many photographers, and I include myself in that group, wanted to produce black and white photographs that matched those we used to print in our chemical based darkrooms. That took a bit of time for software makers to catch up, but these days I am seeing lots of excellent black and white photographs.

An understanding of PhotoShop is important, and with program’s like NIKsoftware’s Silver Efex, producing those film-like black and white images of time past is relatively easy and if one has a pigment ink printer, making a high quality B&W print, once only available in a chemical lab, is now absolutely possible.

I like black and white photographs and to me there are some pictures that just look better that way. When asked, I’ll say something like, I like the mood created by processing this image as B&W.  Now we can look at different versions of any picture and choose the one we think says the most about our personal vision and has the best impact on viewers.  I think a photograph is a photograph and don’t agree with those trying to describe B&W as a different medium than colour. I suspect those may be the same people that like to say any image that has postproduction work is not a “real” photograph.

Some pictures look better as B&W and some look better as colour. It depends on what the photographer is trying to say about the subject. As for B&W, I admit that lots of my images end up as B&W.  I’ll finish with a quote by famous Canadian photojournalist, Ted Grant.

“When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls!”

I always appreciate your coments.

my website is at www.enmanscamera.com

Photographing models at a Strobist meet.

Stephanie4 Molly 2 Monica 1 Stephanie 2 Molly Monica3 Stephani 3

Last Sunday I joined six other photographers and three models at photographer, Dave Monsees’, rural studio for what Dave organized and referred to as a Strobist work session.

The rustic studio, nestled beside a stream in a picturesque treed valley, is a short ten-minute drive from city center to the rural community of Cherry Creek, British Columbia. I had heard about it from other photographers and was looking forward to his Strobist session so I could check the studio out, and, of course, spend the afternoon with like-minded photographers. Now what could be better than that?

This Strobist get-together was the third held in my area that I have been fortunate enough to attend, and as with the first two, it had its own uniqueness.

Some of the participants had experience using off-camera lighting and got right to the business of arranging lights and posing our three models for the day, Molly Lampreau, Stephanie Johannesen, and Monica Nicklas.  I had agreed to begin with a mini lesson and to be available to answer questions for those invitees that were just beginning to enhance their portrait photography with artificial light, and with a few minutes of instruction and a bit of prompting before long everyone was in the act of portrait photography.

The word, Strobist, and gatherings like the one I was invited to have become popular because of American photographer, David Hobby’s, Strobist.com lighting blog that promotes off-camera lighting techniques among photographic enthusiasts, with an emphasis on the practical knowledge rather than just the gear. Those that think our meets in Kamloops are unique should try searching Stobist meet on the Internet. There will be page after page featuring Strobist meets all over the world.

My regular readers know that I rarely make a photograph of people, indoors or out, without using a flash. So getting together with other photographers, experienced or not, that like to use off-camera light for their portrait work is fun. The studio was jam packed with lighting equipment set up with wireless camera connection. There were two different backdrop set-ups and we had our choice of several larger studio type lights in the larger space, and some smaller hotshoe flashes on stands in the more intimate space. There were also lots of light modifiers, softboxes, umbrellas, snoots, barn doors, and so on for us to employ.

How a person in a portrait appears does have a lot to do with how the subject(s) are posed, but I think light and how it is applied is just as important. Using flash, on or off camera, to modify light gives a photographer more control than just using the sun, or relying on a high ISO.

In addition photographers always need to explore and experiment to learn how to balance the background, or ambient light, with flash, and get-togethers like a Strobist meet are perfect for practicing off-camera lighting in a studio, with willing subjects without the pressure of actual clients, and watching other photographers work is always fun.

I was in a hurry to download my images from that day and began sorting, editing and optimizing as soon as I got home. As I opened PhotoShop and began, I thought of a quote by American supermodel Tyra Banks that fit the day of photography from beginning to end, “There are three key things for good photography: The camera, lighting, and…PhotoShop”.  In my opinion there might be a few more important things for good photography, but to a model the final picture is everything.

I appreciate you comments.

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

Printmaking – 10 Tips to Make Better Prints

Last week a previous PhotoShop student of mine stopped by my store to discuss printmaking. We talked about a lot about techniques, papers, and one of my favourite topics, how to make black and white prints.  Consequently, for this week I decided to pass along a summary of that discussion in the form of 10 tips for readers that should help them to make better prints.

1. I’ll begin with the most important tip for getting a good digital print, which is a good quality image. You will need a good original image in order to get top quality digital photography printing. It’s like the old saying, “garbage in, garbage out.”

2.  Learn to white balance your camera. Proper camera white balance means the camera’s sensor reproduces the “colour temperature” of a light source, or the relative warmth, or coolness of white light. Setting the camera’s white balance corrects all the colours in your pictures, taking into account the light in which they were shot.

3.  If you are using a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera be sure to clean the sensor regularly. Even if you never remove the lens, dust will get in and show up on your prints.  Some cameras have self-cleaning, but that doesn’t remove all the dust from the camera, it only shakes it off the sensor and it will eventually find it’s way back, so to make sure I regularly clean my sensor with a clean blower.

4.  Calibrate the computer monitor. Do this about every two weeks with a new monitor, and then every month or so after it is a year old.  Adobe Photoshop provides the Adobe Gamma Wizard or use a more a specialized product by Color Vision, Monaco, Digital Light, or other manufacturers.

5.  Choose a colour space for the camera’s image files.  The two most common with digital images are sRGB and Adobe RGB 1998.   Check the camera’s menu for that initial selection.  If you are making enhancements to your images in PhotoShop you will do better with Adobe RGB 1998; it covers a wider colour gamut.  Wider range of colours mean more precise colour adjustments. These are subtle.

6.  Improve contrast.  Photographs from digital cameras are sometimes pretty flat and lack the contrasts that were once provided by films like Velvia and Ektachrome VC.  If shooting JPGs learn how to use levels and curves. With RAW it’s easy using the sliders in Adobe’s RAW converter.

7.  Resize your image.  Choose a resolution from 250 to 300.

8.  Sharpen.  All digital images whether scanned, or direct from the digital camera, require sharpening for a satisfactory print. I leave my camera at normal and do the real work in PhotoShop. Sharpening isn’t all that hard, there are many ways. Just spend some time searching the Internet and choose a method that isn’t complicated. I like sharpening to fit easily into my printmaking workflow.

9.  Choose the right paper.  Just like traditional photography, the paper you choose to print with will make a big difference. In Photoshop select print with preview and choose your surface – matt or glossy.  Be sure to go on-line and download the correct profile into PhotoShop for the paper you are using.

10.  Set your printer’s driver.  To maintain the colour accuracy of your image, it is essential to set your printer driver correctly. When you are ready to print, select the print preview option in your file menu.  There are several steps – you should learn them by reading your instruction manual for your printer.   It is important to let your printer know the amount of ink for the type of paper and surface.

And lastly, after printing save those images on archival CDs, DVDs or on external hard-drives. Don’t make the mistake of leaving all those image files on your computer, that’s the best way to loose everything.  Cheap bargain discs will degrade with time. Don’t store them in the sun and don’t write on them.

I really appreciate your comments.

And my website can be found at www.enmanscamera.com