Composition has been a preoccupation for me lately, and I have been challenging some of the rules. The rule of thirds is being challenged in the photograph above. The vertical division is right down the center and may be considered a poor compositional choice from an academic stand point. Neither of the two footings on this playground climbing wall are positioned at the intersecting thirds that would be expected if following the rule of thirds. Again, academically a poor choice. When considering the painted background, the left hand side is divided horizontally one third from the top. Does this division comply with the rule of thirds, creating balance to the composition? Or is this a compositional fail?
Personally, I like the play of texture and color and I found the composition to feel balanced even though my initial reaction was that it was all wrong. I feel a tension to this photograph that resolves nicely as I explore the differences in texture and the subtlety of the blues and find my eyes circling around the image. I say this compositional violation works for me. What do you think? Is it compositional violation? Does it work for you?
I was recently in the darkroom making work prints. I generally make these as simply as possible manipulating only overall contrast. That means a base exposure is applied with no dodging or burning. Lately, I’ve found myself in the darkroom less frequently and I have begun changing this practice. The two photographs included here are from this last darkroom session and show a print with only a base exposure, and one that has been adjusted for local contrast. These were both printed with a 2 1/2 contrast filter and developed exactly the same. After making a test strip, I decided on a 20 second exposure. I liked the bottom two thirds, but I found the shadowed area to be too dark and the top to be too light. The simple solution here is to reduce the base exposure to 10 seconds in order to lighten the shadow, then burn in the lower and upper portions separately. I gave 10 seconds additional to the bottom to bring the exposure back to the original 20 seconds. I gave the top a 20 second burn bringing the exposure to 30 seconds. Now I have a good work print.
So, what’s next? I’m not sure yet, but the shadow looks a little low in contrast, so I may attempt printing the base exposure at a higher contrast. Or, I may use this one to practice split contrast printing. Then again, the whole image may print better at a higher contrast all together. I really don’t know yet, which is the point of a work print. I get to evaluate it and decide what I want the final print to look like and I get to decide how to accomplish it. It’s really great fun and I’m happy I decided to immediately make the second work print, it will save me time in the end. I was only able to print three negatives this time around because I ran out of paper. Time to reorder supplies!
Portfolios, for me, fall into two categories. The general portfolio is a collection of all of your work. This is what you have done and what you are doing. Each new piece gets added to the collective and, hopefully, it grows and grows. The second portfolio is the specific portfolio. It consists of a smaller collection of cohesive work that is produced with the intention of being displayed or published as a group. This post will deal with the latter and discuss its importance in the development of personal style, discovery, and growth of the artist.
The specific portfolio (henceforth just portfolio) comes about in two basic ways. The first is through studying your own work and seeing something emerge. It is similar to the way Lee Friedlander looked and his own work and discovered he was photographing monuments, so he continued to do so and completed a book. This kind of portfolio can take a very long time, even years, to complete. I personally have at least two such portfolios in the works. One of these is my work with frozen ice and snow on the river(s) banks. When I first began making these photographs, I had simply seen a river from the roadway and decided to check it out. The first discovery was on the ground glass ( I was shooting 4×5 film) when I began noticing shapes and forms I hadn’t seen with just my eye. I was not sure yet what I wanted this work to be about. The second discovery was in the darkroom when I noticed the abstract nature of some of the work. It became clear that some of the photographs were too literal and a bit boring, while others were exciting and successful. The more abstract work was fun because you could play with the orientation. Which way is up? What is this a photograph of? Is that part of a snow crab? A laughing man? Because the river work is largely film work and it relies heavily on the season of Winter, I expect this portfolio will shape itself slowly. I now know the importance of the abstract nature of the work, and the juxtaposition of frozen water with flowing water, as well as the fact that composition and form are the most important elements. This gives me a good foundation for future work.
The second way a portfolio shapes itself is like a slap in the face. You immediately know you have the beginnings of a portfolio, you just have to chisel it out. This kind of portfolio can take months instead of years. This is what my jellyfish portfolio is all about. While I certainly can photograph jellyfish again to include in this portfolio, one days worth of photography has given me enough to produce a finished portfolio. So, why then months to complete it? After all, I just said one days worth of photography has given me enough. Well, the slap in the face only tells you something is there. The hard work of determining that something is what comes next. Anyone one who has observed jellyfish in an aquarium has seen the undulating masses as they are propelled by the currents. Further this by the unusual lighting, in this case fluorescent green, and it becomes necessary to transform the subject and find a way to connect to it. I found these soft bodied creatures to be very difficult to photograph, they are in constant motion and the light continuously changes, and even more difficult to print.
It took many attempts to get the perfect print from the first jellyfish. At first, I didn’t know what I wanted. So, I just made a work print. An unedited print in color on glossy paper. I was very disappointed in this first print, and I waited several days before I attempted it again. I did not like the green glow, and some of the subtle details just looked unsharp. Of course, some of the details are seen through the soft bodies decreasing their sharpness, but I hated the way it looked. I eventually tried it in black and white and finally felt like I was on track. With careful conversion to black and white, I was satisfied with the details, but glossy paper just made the blackness of the background too shiny. The black background was fighting with the jellyfish and felt like it was on the surface of the paper. I wanted it to recede and actually expected that it would based on my experiences with darkroom printing on fiber based glossy paper. Being that I was wrong, I decided to try matte surface paper. I was surprised how the blackness just fell away creating an abyss for the jellyfish to float in. That was the winning combination, black and white on matte surface paper. Now for the disciplined part.
Creating a portfolio requires the discipline to present your work in a well defined manner. Each piece should have a matching , signature look. The pieces are being made to belong together and it is up to the artist to decide how to identify with the work. The jellyfish have become contemplative dancers to me. The frozen movements fail to give away the undulations and currents of the actual movement but instead suggest a different kind of movement. They are now gracefully moving toward and away from each other in a controlled dance. The jellyfish are no longer in water but rather they are in space. They are in their own abyss. So, editing requires that I create the same abyss, similar dance, adequate detail in each and every one of them. This is sometimes easy, an hour or so of work, but most often several hours for each one. And all of this can possibly lead to no one liking any of the work. To never displaying or showing the work together as intended. But, I have found a connection to my work and have grown through the discipline of creating it. I’ve currently reached number ten, and have much more work left to go. Eventually, I will be rejecting some of them, another discipline.
Please comment below. Tell me what you think, for better or for worse. What do you hate about the work? What do you like? What is your take on portfolios? I’d love to hear from you!
I have recently begun incorporating an Ipad Pro into my workflow. The jellyfish portfolio I’ve been working on has been a nightmare. Each photo requires at least two hours of post processing and I have avoided some of them because using a mouse has been horrendous. The current one is taking even longer than any I have completed. The problem is really due to how particular I am being about them all matching one another. I want the water completely blacked out and the fine details makes it very difficult not to obliterate anything. The Ipad Pro with the Apple Pencil gives me much more control and it is very cool to work directly on the photograph. Of course, there are challenges to using the Ipad Pro.
The first challenge is simply deciding what software to use. I need software that will allow me to import TIFF files and export them intact. The resolution must not be scaled down. I want the ability to work in layers and I especially like using layer masks. While the jellyfish don’t require layer masks, I have found them to be helpful. Some of my other work is made much easier by their use, however, and I find I must have access to layer masks. Well, so far I haven’t found software for the Ipad Pro that allows layer masks and retains full resolution, so the Ipad Pro can’t replace my computer for all editing, though it has proven extremely helpful.
I am using Pixelmator at the moment while I research other options and so far the interface works well. There is no option in Pixelmator for ios to export TIFF files, so I export PSD files and convert them back to TIFF in GIMP. The Ipad Pro, or Pixelmator(I can’t tell which), wants to embed an SRGB profile into the image, but if I convert the PSD to Adobe RGB before the TIFF conversion it seems to work well. When I tested converting to TIFF first then converting to Adobe RGB there seemed to be some loss to the color gamut. As I experiment, there are some things that are easier to do on the Ipad Pro, and some things that are easier on the computer. And, layer masks are still a computer activity. The Ipad Pro is still new enough that I expect improvements to available software, and layer masks with the ability to retain full resolution is probably not far off. Maybe I will get lucky and find something currently available that works. If you know of better software for the Ipad Pro that includes layer masks and high resolution, please comment and let me know.
I’ve been playing with cyanotype this week and having fun, so I have decided to post another photograph made with cyanotype. Last time I spoke about making a digital negative, and I tried out a few before learning how to make a good one. This photo was made by converting a color photo into a negative and then converting it to black and white. It was necessary to adjust the contrast using a very strong curves adjustment. The digital negative was further adjusted in the printer setting and finally printed onto film. It is approximately 8 1/4″x10 3/4″. I made the negative yesterday and printed the cyanotype today. The exposure was 30 minutes in the direct sun. It’s a fun photograph of a detail from a double shovelhead motor. That is two Harley Davidson motors pieced together to power one motorcycle! Very wild. This motorcycle was operated by Dave Campos and achieved the land speed record back in 1990. The speed of the record was 322.149 MPH. Dave Campos was at an event back in March when I had the chance to photograph the shovelheads. I really like this photograph and I hope you can enjoy it too.
I have been interested to try some alternative processes for print making, and I purchased a cyanotype kit back in December when I saw it on the shelf at the art supply store. Well, it sat on my shelf at home until today. I was not sure what I would print with it, and today I was bored and wanted to try it out. I’ve had so much fun with Laughing Man lately, and I have an alternate negative I had not yet printed, so I decided to make Laughing Man no.2. This negative is high contrast and covers most of the scale that darkroom prints are capable of. Cyanotype has a different scale and can take advantage of some really low tones, so I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I really like the result!
Cyanotype is a contact printing method. You place the negative directly on the material and make your exposure. The photograph is the same size as your film. In this case, the image is 4″x5″ on 8.5″x11″ fabric. The dark blue surrounding the photo is fully exposed creating a very large border. This process is super easy, and if you start with pre-coated material, you only need cold water to develop the photograph. And, this process is considered archival. It will last a very LONG time. All you have to do is place the negative on top of the material with a sheet of glass on top. Then place the whole thing out in the sun to expose it, then into cold water to wash it. This one took 15 minutes in the sun. I tried a second one for 30 minutes, and I prefer this one. Both are actually very cool.
So, what if you want a larger print? Well, you can use a larger camera. A larger camera is expensive and heavy, I’ll just stick to 4×5. You could enlarge onto ortho lith film then contact that positive onto another piece of film to make a larger negative. Kinda time consuming and a little tricky. Probably the most practical thing to do is to be satisfied with the smaller print or make a digital negative. I have not tried making a digital negative yet, but plenty of people have had good success doing so. Just take a digital file and invert the tones, then print it out on inkjet using transparent film designed for the printer. Now you can control the size of the photograph and even start with a digital photo if you want.
Cyanotype is just one alternative process, probably the easiest, and I will probably try out some others. Platinum printing is one of the most expensive, and most beautiful, alternative process. If I ever give it a go, I will write about it. For now, I am very happy to continue with cyanotype!
When I tell people that my favorite camera is my view camera, they ask “What’s that?”. I tell them it’s a 4X5 camera and I usually get a blank stare. So, first a small description of what a view camera is. A 4×5 view camera uses single pieces of film held in a double sided film holder giving two shots per holder. Each piece of film is 4″ x 5″ (really large) and the holder is inserted into the back of the camera just before making the exposure. It is a fully manual and mechanical endeavor and is the most pure form of photography that I practice. The image is formed on a ground glass, which is the same size as the film, and focusing is done by viewing the image and extending or contracting a bellows with a lens attached to the front. Setting the exposure involves selecting an aperture and choosing how long to expose for. I have lenses with shutters built in as well as a lens with no shutter. The photograph above was exposed without a shutter. After setting the aperture and installing the film holder, I covered the lens and removed the dark slide from the film holder. Next, I uncovered the lens and made the exposure. Once the exposure was complete, I covered the lens and reinstalled the dark slide. This is just a basic description of how it works. Now on to the magic!
The camera is large and requires the use of a tripod, so I always carefully look at the scene and position myself in the same position I plan on using for the camera. This allows me to see a similar composition as the camera will see and gets me into a great starting position for the camera. Viewing the image on the ground glass is surreal. The image is upside down and laterally reversed. I immediately see line and form and I mostly stop seeing the actual subject matter. I begin to see things I never noticed when first looking at the scene as I explore the beautiful glowing image on the glass. This experience alone is extremely fascinating and satisfying. Sometimes, in the case of abstract photos, after printing the photograph I like to flip it upside down and then right side up to compare the impact of the different orientations. Some photos transform when upside done and remind me of different things. One photo, for instance, reminds me of a snow crab when viewed upside down! Very cool stuff. In the photo above, when I viewed the image on the ground glass I began to see a man with his head rolled back and an arm flung high. When I printed it, I decided he was laughing. A very fun picture of ice, snow, and flowing water. This begins a long term project of photographing from river beds and creating abstract work that frees the imagination.
I am working on a portfolio of jellyfish from a recent trip to an aquarium. I have always been fascinated with theses creatures and I was very happy when realizing they were on exhibit. Jellyfish are very difficult to photograph, and even more difficult to print. Lucky for me, the jellyfish exhibit was not very popular. I had little problems with crowds and I was able to spend as much time with them as I needed. Part of the problem is dealing with reflections on the glass. Some angles were just impossible to shoot from without reflections. The tank was lit from above and towards the front, so the light intensity was variable both from top to bottom as well as from front to back. This variable light actually helped to isolate forward jellyfish from ones in the rear. Still, the light meant that exposure had to be frequently adjusted. Also, there was a current running through the tank keeping the jellyfish in constant motion. Trying to get interesting compositions meant taking many photos and being quick with the shutter. Often, the jellyfish would move too far to the edge or too far apart from one another before I could successfully make an exposure. There were also many out of focus shots due to their movement. It was great fun! I enjoyed it very much!
Now, printing them becomes a challenge because I wanted the background to be black, and to feel like it was falling back into the picture. Glossy surface paper had reflections in the black that made it feel as though it were on the surface. I finally tried matte paper and that gave the effect I was after. I have only finished printing two of them so far, and I hope to have a portfolio of about 9 or so jellyfish once I am finished. I cannot wait to visit another aquarium with jellies! These beauties are so much fun!
I wanted to get a very small, pocket size 35mm camera that I could rely on in those situations when an slr was too inconvenient to carry. Previously, I had used my iPhone when I didn’t have another camera available. I dislike using the iPhone and much prefer film, so a pocket size digital camera was out of the question. The camera needed to be light, small, reasonably good quality, offer some means to control focus and exposure, and it needed to be cheap. After some research, a rangefinder camera seemed to be a good solution. Most of the good quality rangefinders were expensive, but I stumbled upon the Olympus XA and it sounded good. And it was cheap! The Olympus XA is pretty cool. It has a 35mm f/2.8 lens, rangefinder focusing, film speed dial, plus 1.5 stop exposure compensation, and a removable flash. The aperture can be adjusted from 2.8 to 22, and it displays the shutter speed in the viewfinder. Speeds go as fast as 1/500 second. I’m not sure yet about the slow shutters, but it goes to several seconds or more. I removed the flash and threw it into my camera bag to keep the camera as small and compact as possible.
I took a trip with my family recently to Colorado and brought all of my gear. When we headed downtown to hang out, I decided to bring the Olympus XA. I knew we were going to go down to the river after shopping and eating, and I didn’t want to carry a heavy camera. Plus, this gave me the perfect opportunity to test out this little Olympus XA. The film I used was Ilford HP5+ to ensure I could achieve fast shutter speeds without having to constantly use a large aperture. The camera worked fantastic! It is very light and easily slipped in and out of my pocket. I had trouble focusing some of the shots, but mostly it was easy to focus. The leaf shutter is very quiet and the viewfinder is very bright. I had tons of fun using this camera and I could not wait to develop the film.
When I developed the film, I decided to reduce development because this film has had a lot of contrast in the past for me. I’m glad I reduced the development because the negatives look a little more fully exposed than I had anticipated. I wasn’t sure how things would look printed, and I became concerned that some of the negatives might be too dense. The negatives actually printed easily, though some took very long exposures to print correctly. The Olympus XA worked very well for me, and after I check it’s meter against my OM2 I’m sure I will be able to get even better results. And one of the best things about it was the price. $40 on eBay including the flash.
Not long ago, I was hiking and saw many cacti in bloom. The flowers look gorgeous, and I shot a ton of them in color. I had to stay on the trail, and some of the ones off the trail looked to be in larger patches, but I still found many on the edge of the trail. I would like to attempt them again with a faster lens so I can blur the background more. Right now I have only one lens for my dslr, and it is slow. I have ordered an adapter to use my 35mm lenses on it, and I will be playing with many lenses once the adapter arrives. I’m working on some black and white negatives right now, but I saw these cactus flower shot and wanted to share one. Every time I go hiking, there is something new to see and I try to shoot what is most interesting that day. I thought about going back and trying some of these on black and white film, but they were not looking as good when I went back. I will probably have to wait until next year to try these again, and I’m ok with that because I usually don’t shoot flowers anyway. Some of these had bees and insects flying around them, and I shot a few but found them uninteresting. This shot intrigued me because the flowers seem to be floating above the ground. I wanted to keep the background as simple as possible to keep attention on the flowers themselves. With the harsh sun, and not much greenery, it was difficult to get an interesting backdrop. If I had found a good landscape with a lot of these cactus flowers in it, I may have been a little happier that day. The cactus was just too spread out, so I focused my attention on close ups.
When I spotted my first iguana running wild in Puerto Rico, I was extremely excited! I love reptiles and did not realize iguanas were on the island. I later found out that they are not indigenous and are all descended from released pets. From my understanding, the iguana is a nonthreatening invasive species. Some of the residents view them as a nuisance and others love them. When I discovered an iguana feeding area and read the sign stating feeding time was 11 A.M., I was determined to come back the next day. There was a sanctuary for the iguanas, really just a fenced in area to keep out dogs. Apparently the dogs are the biggest threat to the iguanas followed by cars. When feeding time came, dozens of iguanas showed up. It was amazing! They left the caged area and crawled all around my feet, and of course it was a popular spot so they really crawled around everyone’s feet! I pet a couple of them even though we were all encouraged not to touch. But no one could really stop me because they were wild. I only had my iPhone with me, but I shot tons of pictures. This one is average size for the ones I saw, but bigger than almost every captive iguana I’ve ever seen. The largest male was really feisty and did not come to close. He stayed behind the fence, but people threw him lettuce and he ate plenty. I always thought iguanas are very cool, I just didn’t expect to ever see them roaming free. They all looked very healthy with no stuck pieces of shedding skin. The tropical environment is perfect for these beautiful lizards. I want to go back to Puerto Rico with a proper set of gear and capture more of these beauties, hopefully on film next time!
Here are a couple of views of the old fort in San Juan. It is an amazing place to explore, however, there was a wedding this day and limited access. I really enjoy how aged the walls look, and the massive feel. These were taken with an iPhone, the only camera I had available at the time. I’ve never considered an iPhone a great camera, but it will do in a pinch. The most important thing is to make images. I will be featuring more iPhone pics and I hope it will encourage people to make pictures no matter which camera they use. The iPhone is never my first choice, but it is always with me and has given me opportunities to create in situations where I otherwise would be unable to. Always have fun with photography, and enjoy!
Here is a landscape photo I made while hiking recently. I had intended to hike up Vulcan, the largest of three volcanoes at a nearby park. Vulcan has become one of my favorite subjects and I had begun work on a portfolio of images about Vulcan. Unfortunately, this day I discovered many of the trails are now permanently closed to hikers including the main trail up to Vulcan, so I found myself exploring a trail which I normally do not hike. I was hiking up a trail when I was struck by the subtlety of colors and an opportune sky. I moved to the side to allow other hikers pass, then began composing several shots. This was captured with my dslr in manual mode. I’m still experimenting with digital and I find it to be fun and easy. Film is still my favorite, but I enjoy having a new medium to add to my arsenal.
I’m not very pleased with this photograph, but I’ve decided to share my successes and failures on this blog. This photo is from a test roll and also a first visit to the trail in Rinconada Canyon. Most of the areas are closed access and had had brought minimal equipment that day making composing very difficult. The exposure and contrast are a bit off and I will be able to get better compositions out there with a longer lens. I definitely will attempt the trail again. This photo is a work print, and after viewing it I decided to go no further with it. I am actually very excited by the petroglyphs and think I may start a small portfolio of them. It is fun trying to find as many petroglyphs as possible while hiking the canyon. Some are very obvious and in large groups, while others are easily missed. Stay tuned for more.
I was playing around with my digital camera, testing it out, when I found this lizard out in the desert. These things are cool. They let you get pretty close and don’t seem as nervous as other lizards. I saw some that were more colorful and I will try to get more photos of them. On some days you can see a bunch of them. The collared lizard is more plump and larger than the other varieties around here and definitely one of my favorite reptiles I’ve seen around here. It was captured on my Canon dslr and I actually cropped this one. Usually, when I print film, I don’t crop, but with digital anything goes!
Here is a challenging picture. I was walking around with my camera and I had decided the roll was to be given normal development. When I came upon this statue of St. Francis, I had a decision to make. I wanted to give extra exposure to gain better detail in the plaques and bottom areas, but I would have to decrease development to retain detail in the statue and ruin most of the roll. I decided to place the brightest areas at zone VII and attempt dodging in the darkroom. Every attempt I made at dodging the left hand plaque resulted in a halo, and I finally gave up. I may attempt to print it again, but the real lesson is to make sure and bring an extra camera body the next time I visit. It sure would be nice to go back and photograph this with my view camera. Then I could take care of those converging lines. I still enjoy this photograph as is and I hope you do too!
I have been printing everything on 8×10 fiber based paper and find my working methods slow. Since using print drums is my preferred option due to ventilation issues and I want to proof more of my negatives, I thought I could increase my work flow and reduce problems with ventilation by printing small format prints in trays. A 5×7 tray will give off much less vapor than 11×14 or larger, so I may try printing on 3.5×5 in these small trays. The papers in that size seem to be exclusively resin coated, so processing and washing them will be very fast. This will give the opportunity to produce proof prints for much more of my work, and an added benefit is the paper is cheap. My fiber paper will be reserved for the best images and the smaller prints will probably scan just fine. For about $27 I can try it out. Stay tuned and I will let you know what I do.
It turns out my darkroom is large enough and my printing sessions short enough that fumes have not become a problem when printing in trays. I now comfortably print as large as 16″x20″ and find tray development much faster and easier than print drums. My sink is small, so 11″x14″ is easiest when it comes to washing and so far I produce few 16″x20″, though I like the larger size best.
If you read my earlier post, you know my hike was cut short 2 days ago. I went out and finished the hike today. I brought an extra lens this time to get closer to some of the cool stuff. Plenty of the areas are closed access and I wanted to get a few shots of the petroglyphs. I was using PanF plus, which I haven’t used in a long time. I decided to develop using ID11 diluted 1:3 for 15 minutes. That is the recommended time on Ilfords developing chart. The negatives are still wet, but the contrast looks a little higher than I want. I have a new batch to develop, so after I study these negatives more and print a few I may decrease the development time. Stay tuned.
I took the kids with me for a hike today. I only managed to make about 15 exposures before the little one got a really bad blister. We made it about a mile. I guess she has outgrown her boots! Time for a new pair. The children go back to school later this week, so I’ll be able to go back and finish the roll on Thursday. A few of the exposures are really exciting. I can’t wait to develop them. Hopefully there will be some new pictures to post soon.