Beauty is in Details

I’m still experimenting with this technique of multiple exposures over long period of time combined in one image and I like  results better and better. I think I’m onto something. Look at this image. Pretty trivial and  obvious composition. The first thing to note is that clouds look like they are painted.

Then I looked closely at different elements in the image and liked this technique even more. Here is a fragment of a field on the right:

And here is the tree enlarged:

Both elements look like painted. The road is the only element that remains looking as a photograph. This combination of photographic look and painting look creates quite an interesting effect. I’m eager to start printing this to see how it looks in full detail print.

Make Photo

Rick Sammon likes to say “Don’t just take photos, make photos”. It is a great advice. And the photo in this post is a great example of that.

I had photographed this tree a few days before and came back to Kubota Gardens that day with a single goal to make more interesting picture of this tree. I got “inside” the tree. It was cozy and warm inside under the canopy of red and yellow leaves. I started with the same kind of photos at before. They were typical photos of branches with fall leaves.

Then I noticed a single leaf caught in the middle of a tree where many branches were coming out from the main trunk. Now, that was interesting. I took a few photos.

The single leaf did not really stand out it was blending in with the branches. There was a simple solution to that. I grabbed a bunch of leaves that were already on the ground and dropped on top of the single leaf. Now they had a party.

I took a few images again. It was nice but it was plain. The image of something mystical started brewing in my head. What if I make an image of a Heart of Autumn. The heart of autumn would be glowing. And a flash light could help with that.

Fortunately, I had a powerful spot light in my car (well, I always have several flashlight in my car). I overcame my laziness and packed my gear, went back to the car, grabbed the spotlight and went back to the tree.

Now I was shooting with a spot light. It took a few iterations to get light spot right in the middle of the pile of leaves. I still did not feel like I got it. The leaves in the background were as bright as those I was lighting up. it did not feel like leaves at the heart of the tree were glowing. The solution was to make reduce overall exposure of the image, while get more light on the leaves that I wanted to glow.

The end result:

Heart of Autumn
Heart of Autumn

A Dream About Water

I’ve wrote about light painting before and I’ll likely write more again as this really fascinates me in photography. For me it is a lot of fun playing with lights, a lot of creativity as I create something that was not there in the first place, and a lot of surprise as most of the time what I get is unexpected.

Here is an image that got me very excited about light painting again. I spent a day photographing fall foliage in Kubota Gardens in Seattle (I’m still working on post-processing those photos). At dusk as it got dark enough for exposures to go up to 30 seconds I started playing with light painting with two waterfalls I found in the gardens.

I found the upper waterfall to be more interesting of the two because it had red leaves caught in the stream and I could get a more dynamic image with foreground and background.

There were two new things I played with this time. First, I brought two different flashlights: one had cool light and the other one had warm light. So, I could do not only light painting but also color painting. The other thing that I played with was focus, shifting focus in the middle of light painting. This created dreamy effect.

For those interested in more technical details here is how I took this image. The camera was on a tripod, aperture wide open (f/4 for the lens that I used), shutter was 30 seconds. It was pretty dark already, my camera was not able to focus just using ambient light. First I would use very powerful warm flashlight. I would point to a rock in the middle of the frame and focused the camera using auto focus. I would turn off auto focus then. Turn off the flashlight, so it does not light up something accidentally, and release shutter. Then quickly with the same powerful warm light I would trace the waterfall and the creek back and forth a few times to ensure that individual spots or streaks of light a now visible. That was taking me about 5 seconds. Then I would turn off flashlight and defocus the lens. The rest of 25 seconds I was using weak cool flashlight to light up sides of the frame while the camera was out of focus. I did this ten times or more, every time getting a different image – I love the element of surprise. This I think is the best out of the series.

A Dream About Water
A Dream About Water

Path of Light

Photography has been and hopefully remain as much about playing and experimenting. One of such fun things is to introduce an artificial light sources in a landscape. The official term for it is “light painting” but for me it is just playing with flashlights, imagining what a landscape can be, and then getting a surprising result.

Like in this photo that I took at the Second Beach in Olympic National Park just after sunset, when it was dark enough for a long exposure and dark enough for a flash light (actually 3 flashlights) to make a difference.

Path of Light
Path of Light

Image vs. Print

This question bugged me for a while: is an image an ultimate goal and result of creativity or execution and presentation are important as well? And I came to conclusion that execution and presentation are important.

Let’s talk about paintings for example. I think of paintings not only as two dimensional images. There is a third dimension – brush strokes. They capture artist hand motion and his emotions as much as color, composition or subject. When I look at those strokes I can imagine how the artist hand was moving, and that passes artist emotions to me. The brush strokes can be powerful, forceful, angry or they can be casual, light and soft. A reproduction of a painting can have accurate representation of an image but does not capture the brush strokes as well and in some sense erasing that third dimension.

I grew up in a fairly provincial town seeing only reproductions of paintings in books. Seeing them later in museums changed my perception of them completely. I remember how seeing one of van Gogh’s self-portraits in Seattle Art Museum (in a temporary exhibition) made unforgettable impression on me. Much of van Gogh’s face was not painted. Either skin-toned paper was used or paper was covered with skin-toned paint. And then on top of that van Gogh painted his beard, eyes, hair. It was like the face was already in that skin-toned paper, van Gogh just helped me to see it in a few brush strokes. No reproduction has been able to show that.

Now the paintbrush strokes can be meaningless too. For example, I have some cheap painting hanging in my house. It may have been produced by printing on canvas first and then laying paint on top to make it look like painting, the paintbrush strokes just random and “don’t fit”. That’s kind of example of good image bad painting. Another example of good image and good painting but where strokes don’t mean much [to me] is Pointillism which branched off Impressionism. In paintings that I’ve seen in museum executed with this technique application of dots looks very mechanical. While technique is interesting it did not give enough freedom to artist hand.

Same goes to photography but in photography it is a matter of technology and not directly related to us. Platinum-palladium print has incredible tonal range and looks like the image is in paper, where print from inkjet printer looks like image is coated on top of paper, like a polaroid emulsion transfer (in some sense). All that is left to us is to choose what matches what we want the best. And don’t get me even started on paper, I have ton of paper samples at home and I just enjoy looking at them and feeling their texture.

Is this important to most of people? No. Paintings are not much of importance either. And even famous ones. Have you been to Musée du Louvre and saw Mona Lisa? Have you looked at the crowd? How many people were looking at the painting and how many were actually with their backs toward the painting taking infamous “hey, I’m 10 feet from Mona Lisa painting” photo? And using flash despite all “no flash” signs? I like this statistic from Wikipedia: “Visitors generally spend about 15 seconds viewing the Mona Lisa.” Is it really worth only 15 seconds? (Granted it may have lost its value as painting and has become something else. Sadly.)

So what can we photographers do? We can do our best explaining this and teaching everyone to see this. Even if the rest think we are a bit crazy.