Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Black and White Project

Trinity Church



I am starting a new project of Black and White images and here are two of them.  The first one, Johnsville, is a new image shot recently in Johnsville, California.  Johnsville is a tiny little town up in the Sierra Nevada mountains, about 45 miles north of Truckee, CA and about 50 miles due west of Reno, Nevada.  Besides being a somewhat abandonded lumber town it has one of the best restaurants in the area; a favorite of ours called The Iron Door.  The town has some very photographic old buildings, if you're into that sort of photography.  In this photograph, the small building on the left is the old firestation and houses a horse-drawn fire truck from the early 1900's.

The second photograph, Trinity Church,  was taken several years ago while my wife and I were visiting her brother and his family in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.  Shepherdstown is a fairly small community located right across the Potomac River from Sharpsburg, Maryland.  It is also home of Shepherd University, a small liberal arts college. We really enjoyed the town and the area, and since I am a big history buff we visited nearby sites, including Harper's Ferry, Antietam battlefield right outside Sharpsburg and even travelled into Pennsylvania to visit Gettysburg.  The Trinity Episcopal Church sits right in the middle of downtown Shepherdstown.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Moon over Mill Pond

It's amazing how lazy I can be sometimes.  In mid-October, my wife, Michele, and I spent 10 days up in the Sierra Nevada mountains in a little town called Graeagle.  We own a condo up there and spend a couple of weeks a year in this beautiful mountain community - lots of golf, hiking around and plenty of photo ops. I specifically wanted to get some fog shots since there was a good amount of morning fog, at least the first few days.  I dutifully rose with the dawn, looked out our 2nd story bedroom window and there it was: Fog! Cool.  But hey, I'm on vacation and want to sleep in a bit.  And of course an hour later it was gone.  Did the same thing the next day, but added it will probably be foggy tomorrow as well ...so ... snore.  But no more fog all week.  What a dope!

But I didn't miss this shot.  The old Graeagle Mill Pond is not far from our condo and we often stop by after crusing around the area, just to see what's up.  And this time the moon was up.  How great is that!  I had my camera and tripod in the car, so I set it up and took several 5-7 image bracketed shots to make an HDR image.  The lighting wasn't anything to get excited about, it being the middle of the day.  But I had no idea where the moon might be as it got closer to sunset, so I thought I'd better get what I can.  However, the processed HDR image was a bit dull, really.  So I made some image layer adjustments with layer mode and added some contrast to get this final result.  Which I'm happy with.  But, jeez, Mick, get out of bed and go get the shots!  Lazy bum.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Pick-up or Delivery - Before and After

Sometimes the simplest subjects can be transformed into amazing pieces of art. Look what a portrait of a 16th century almost smiling woman did for the world of art (not that anything I create would measure up with this master, but a guy can dream, can’t he?). It’s fun to work on good, sold photographs and make them something more. After all, isn’t that what art is all about? Every one of us can see beauty in the natural and man-made world, but few of us can turn what we see into an image we want to hang on our wall and look at it over and over again. That to me is the real challenge in creating art. It’s also the great reward; creating something others enjoy and want to have in their home.


Here are before and after versions of a fairly simple scene I found in Florence, Italy. The before was processed in Photoshop CS5 with several adjustment layers, including two layers using Topaz Adjust, and a composite layer with the layer Mode set to Overlay. And I liked it. But since I can rarely leave well enough alone, I thought this image was a good candidate for a “painting” look. So using Corel Painter Essentials (which is a very cool painting program once you get the hang of it) I created 3 different hand painted versions. I then combined those in CS5 as separate layers and blended them to create this final version. I’m really into this kind of effect because, like many photographers, I am a frustrated painter. And not being able to paint at all, I love that I can experiment with digital painting.


Monday, September 27, 2010


I love black and white photography. This is where I started; shooting with a old Nikon F camera and an older Nikkor 50mm lens on Kodak Tri-X film, developing negatives in the bathroom darkroom and trying to create good tonality and decent prints with a cheap enlarger. Didn’t always work out – surprise! Ansel Adams I wasn’t. More like Charles Addams with the flu and a dried up inkwell. But what a great way to learn the photographic process. It also gave me an appreciation for those who can create the tonality and balance that make for great BW images. There is something magical, even surreal, about BW photography. For me the mood, tones and textures of light and ability to focus attention with black and white has a power that color simply does not. Since we see in color, a monochromatic representation of the world changes everything. Without color to lean on, the focus is on structure, form and light. It also dramatically changes the relationship between the different picture elements. The challenge is to create artistic, compelling images using only grayscale tones. Which is why I love the process of digital black & white. In my TV production work I gravitate toward the editing part. That’s where everything comes together to create a cohesive whole. It’s the same creating still images. I shoot in color to use those colors for their grayscale tones, and love futzing with tonal compositions. It’s great fun trying to create compelling B&W images. After all, black and white is the historic habituĂ© of, quote, fine art photography, unquote. La-de-da.

This passageway is just outside the hotel I stayed at in Venice, Italy. I shot this scene several times with different light; seeing it as a B&W pretty much all the way. It was already somewhat moody and I liked the light spilling in from the left, giving emphasis to the rain wet cobblestones and some pop to the white door. I take a look at many of my shots in grayscale to see what might be possible. My favorite finishing tool for B&W conversion is Nik Silver Efx Pro , a PhotoShop plug-in with amazing controls – dodge and burn in the digital age. It changed my life! Oaky, not all my life. I’m not expecting delivery of a yacht on the French Rivera anytime soon. But still...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sunday in Venice

I don't always know how an image will turn out when I first click the shutter, and this is one of those images.  That happens to me often.  I'll see  composition, or colors, or balance of picture elements or maybe all that and start moving around and shooting a scene; up, down, left, right, changing the placement of elements in different parts of the frame.  Basically exploring the area and what it has to offer.  Then it's off to the computer and the digital darkroom where I may see exactly what I want,  or it may take more time and more exploring before I see the image I want.  I have great respect for those photographers who take their images right from the camera and keep it "pure".  But most of the time I want to do more, instilling my own vision and creating my own interpretation of the original capture.

This was shot along a side canal in Venice, Italy, in late May (we went to Italy in May thinking we would avoid the heat and crowds - think again!).  I very much liked the serene stillness of the water, the colors and texture of the walls and the composition of wall, boats and bridge leading left to right through the image.  But for several months I could not pull the colors, textures and emotion I wanted from the photograph.  So I started futzing around with some of the different PhotoShop plug-in filters I have, most notably Topaz Adjust, and removed some of the details in the image (called "simplifying")  and made color and texture changes.  And this is the final result.  I am often amazed at what can be done in the digital darkroom and am very happy with these results. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Home in the Valley

This is a High Dynamic Range (HDR) image.  It doesn't look like a lot of HDR work you see out there.  It doesn't have that grunge look that many photographers produce and has been fairly popular for awhile now.  After a pretty short time that look gets a bit old for me, though it depends on how well the artist uses it and to what end, I guess.  I work in TV and video production and have for over 25 years.  HDR reminds me of what sometimes happens in TV when a producer falls in love with effects.  Like this:  One of my business partners was producing a marketing video and pretty much lost the audience because attention was lost to the anticipation of the next effect.  Wow!  What a ride!  What was that about, again? Some HDR work seems overcooked and I lose the subject, comp, colors (literally, sometimes), etc., to the effect.  I don't mind a little cooking, mind you, but I think many times a little goes a long way. 

In this image I was going with a more natural look from the HDR process, pulling in some of the shadows and highlights.  As a bonus I got that sky, though I did a bit of work on it to optimize the gradation.  I've shot this scene several times at different times of day with varying success.  For me, this version works.  The little valley and house are located just outside the town of Graeagle, Calif., in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. 
Just so happens I have a home in Graeagle (actually a townhome in a mountain vacation-type development overlooking a beautiful valley near these mountains).  The place is lousey with photo ops, I just have to remember to get up earlier or party later, if you know what I mean.