A place for me to share my recent work, random musings on photography and reflect on my thoughts, experiences, ideas and revelations.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Different Strokes, etc.

My #1 artistic goal for 2009 is to develop my printing knowledge and ability, from a technical standpoint but primarily from an aesthetic perspective. With that in mind, a month or so ago I suggested to Joe Ciarlante , a local commercial photographer, Photoshop Jedi and fine-art printing Master that he should do a fine art printing workshop. He agreed, and said workshop was this past weekend.

I’ve not historically placed a lot of emphasis on printing, and although it's always been something I've wanted to do I've seen it as such a huge undertaking that I wanted to save it until I "had time." I’ve never even been in a darkroom, let alone made a wet print, and until just the last 5 years or so I had never really spent much time looking at or thinking about “good” prints. I’ve had pretty good success coming up with files that look pretty good, and have done most of my printing through an online lab. For special occasions I have gone to Charles Johnson, a local custom printer, and he has done prints for me that are absolutely beautiful, but never really felt like they were “mine.” As I’ve learned more about photography and began to develop my own vision I realized that learning to print, even if I never got as good as Charles or anyone else, was for me the completion of the circle. An electronic file sitting on my hard drive or on a website somewhere is just a sample, but not the real thing. Right or wrong that’s where my vision is taking me and I’m anxious to follow.

I bought a used Epson 1800 about a year ago, and while it’s not a printer usually associated with Serious Printing I have made some prints that are fairly decent. I know that printing is one of those areas where “the more you know the more you realize what you don’t know.” I had made one print about 8 months ago that I thought was pretty nice, struggled to make it look even better then took it to a meeting of a photo group I belong to. The feedback I got, while helpful and constructive, made it clear that I had a lot of work to do.

I had put that particular print aside since then, thinking that “one of these days” I would get back to working on it, and that eventually I would come up with something I could be proud of. I managed to do that this weekend. I came up with a print that I am happy with, and I am looking forward to working on it some more with my own printer, and now have the confidence to move forward with other printing projects to see what I can do and how much more I can learn in the process. But that’s another story for another day and another essay.

In the course of the workshop I was struck by the different approaches of the attendees. My primary goal going into this workshop was to come out with one good print. My expectation for the class was that we would all work at our own computers, make a print, get feedback, make another print, get more feedback, etc. I foolishly took about 20 files, thinking that depending on my inspiration at the time, I would maybe print 3 or 4 of them. As I mentioned above however, I knew that if I spent the entire weekend working on one file but came out with one good print I would consider it a success. I did and I do.

What I found amazing and amusing was the number of people who treated this class as sort of a “Photoshop Speed Dating” experience, like they had never had a chance to make a print before and likely never would again. They printed the same print on different types of paper, and printed as many prints as they could but never really spent any time looking at them or trying to make them better. It got to the point where there were so many people waiting for a printer I almost gave up. There were three workstations set up, but one of them was “only” printing to an Epson R800, and I don’t think anyone ever used it because it would not print larger than 8 ½ x 11. Everyone wanted to use The Big Dog, the Epson 7600, so it was heavily used. A few folks worked with an Epson 4000 but it was having issues and ended up not producing too many good results.

There were a number of nice prints made, but it seemed to me like everyone sort of missed the point. Instead of learning how to look at their work, evaluate their prints based on their intent and vision, using the software to make their prints better and generally mastering the process, they just ended up with nothing more than a bunch of Costco prints on nice paper. And that’s OK if they’re happy. But what a shame.

This photo is my labor of love for the weekend. It was taken in August 2007 at a water garden at Raffaldini Vineyards in Ronda, North Carolina. The image is a bear to print, especially for me, because the water is reflecting the clouds overhead but there are bits of blue sky in the bottom corners that make it look like a botched burn job. And there are places where the stems of the lilies are showing through the water, so getting that detail to show is really tough. I managed to get a pretty decent result and am looking forward to printing it again on my own printer. It looks really nice on paper, and I even have a black & white version that has potential, too. More to come!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

More Stitching!

I decided this past weekend to add more memory to my computer. I had 2GB of RAM and upped it to 4GB. Not a lot by some people's standards but quite a lot for me. I ordered the memory from OWC, it came today and computer guru Kevin installed it for me tonight. He then took the old RAM from my iMac and put it into Kathy's PowerBook, which upped hers from 512MB to 2GB. Now we both have screamin' machines with the substantial increase in memory. All for under $50!

To commemorate the occasion I've been playing around with things that use memory-hawg processing like panoramas. This one is a 15-frame stitch made at sunrise at Pounding Mill Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway last fall. Click on the image to see larger. It looks pretty nice on the screen. I may have to try and print it!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Long Weekend

Those of us in the financial industry get a long weekend this weekend, and I'm trying to take advantage of it and get some work done. Kathy & I went to a little doings last night at the home of Nanine Hartzenbusch and her husband Bert Fox. Most of my usual Photo Buddies were there, and I met a number of interesting people whose work I have seen but didn't know personally.

Gary O'Brien is a photographer for the Charlotte Observer and does fantastic work with panoramas, for his own portfolio as well as the Observer and for charlotteobserver.com. I'll be interested in following his work to see what I can learn about panorama photography.

Although nothing like Gary's panoramas, today's photo is a measly 14-frame stitch panorama from last November's Chincoteague outing. I've posted it a little wide, and you should be able to see the full-size image by clicking on the photo.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Don't Make It About the Technique

I've been experimenting with impressionistic motion blur techniques on land and on water as inspired by William Neill and his recent book Impressions of Light that Kathy happened to buy me for Christmas (thanks!). I have been following this work on his website and on his blog for quite some time and find it really appealing. I really like some of the results I have been getting, especially on water, and have made some prints which I'm really, really happy with. The thing I like the best is that Neill's work has inspired me but I don't feel like I am just copying someone else's work or style. I feel like it is very personal and allows me to express myself in a personal way.

I belong to an informal photo support/print review group that meets a couple of times a month, and I took some of my prints to our meeting this week. I got a number of favorable comments about the work, partly because it is a real departure from my usual landscape work, partly because it is - not just in my opinion - pretty nice work and partly because everyone is being polite. But not too polite because it is a pretty tough crowd!

Among the many comments I received was one that went something like "you need to do more of this, but don't let it become about the technique." After additional discussion and conversation, and some subsequent thinking on my own, I think that comment summarizes in a lot of ways what I am trying to do with my work. It's so easy to get hung up on the gear, the software, the technique that for many people creativity becomes about the "how" and not the "why." When I see some bandwagon that everyone is jumping on, whether it is some new selective-focus lens, special effects plug-ins or some special filter, I tend to run the other way. There's nothing wrong with using the tools, but we don't go around wrecking the furniture just because we got a new hammer.

I need to explore this further, as I'm not sure where my head is going with it. Not every scene or subject is appropriate to photograph with motion blur any more than it is appropriate to use a Lensbaby to photograph everything we see. I think I need to do more of it, with different subjects and under different conditions to learn more about where it works and where it doesn't, what I like and what I don't like. And I probably need to get back to the beach. Kathy will hate that!

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy 2009!

"Beamies," as I like to call them, have become somewhat of a trademark for me. I like finding them and they make dramatic subject matter. Sunbeams are rays of hope and provide encouragement in the face of a new year.

One morning at Chincoteague this past November was a day with high Beamie Potential. As I often do I took off with just one lens, in this case my 70-200 which turned out to be a little long for this scene. What to do other than to try a few panoramas? This is just a 2-frame stitch but was all I needed to catch both ends of the rays. A wider lens would have given me more foreground and sky, which I would have probably cropped out anyway!