Straight Shots

Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) growing at the edge of small river, with sunlit highlights from the river water.

Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) growing at the edge of small river, with sunlit highlights from the river water.

I love making abstract, interpretive, impressionistic images with my camera. It’s satisfying to be able to create these types of  images, straight out of the camera. They are less documentary and in some cases inspire ‘what is it?’ comments. These images emphasize colour, texture, shape and line. They convey feelings of delicacy, fragility, lightness and euphoria or spirituality. It is possible to achieve these types of images without the use of image altering computer software. All it takes is careful observation and imagination along with a good knowledge of how the camera captures images.

Here are some recent images that illustrate some techniques I like to employ. I include some tips and advice to help you produce your own interpretive images, straight from your camera.

  1. Shallow depth of field- I begin by setting the lens to f4 or so (wider aperture) with the intention of selectively focusing on my subject. I scout the composition  while handholding the camera to give freedom of movement and then when I find the angle and focus point I desire I mount the camera back on a tripod for a more careful composition. This is often called ‘selective focus’ because something will be in focus while much of the subject will be rendered as out of focus colourful blobs.
Birch trees in spring. Selective focus. f 5.6 210 mm

Birch trees in spring. Selective focus. f 5.6 210 mm

One subject I tried this spring was a birch woodland with emerging (backlit) leaves in birch saplings nearer the camera. I was fortunate to finally notice an excellent example below me as I stood on a hillside rock outcrop. My original intention was to climb the hill and photograph emerging foliage in distant trees on a hillside. I still photographed that hillside but I spent most of my time on the hill photographing the birch tree trunks and fresh new leaves.

Birch trees in spring. Selective focus. f 5.6 320 mm

Birch trees in spring. Selective focus. f 5.6 320 mm

This technique also works well for flowers especially with the camera set low to the ground and a focus point set on more distant blossoms. You can even try it with super telephoto lenses!

Texas wildflowers, telephoto lens, selective focus 300 mm @ f7.1

Texas wildflowers, telephoto lens, selective focus 300 mm @ f7.1

Texas wildflowers, 80-400 @ 280 mm f8.

Texas wildflowers, 80-400 @ 280 mm f8.

  1. Macro lens painting- This is a technique I tried after reading a posting from US photographer and photography educator Janice Sullivan. The technique employs long exposures (5 seconds or so), the camera hand-held on colourful subjects such as garden flowers. I started the exposure on a blossom and then pointed the camera at nearby colourful displays, all in the same exposure.
Macro lens painting in a flower garden. 5 seconds @ f18, 105 mm

Macro lens painting in a flower garden. 5 seconds @ f18, 105 mm

Macro lens painting in a flower garden. 5 seconds @ f18, 105 mm

Macro lens painting in a flower garden. 5 seconds @ f18, 105 mm

  1. Camera movement/panning- This is a tried and true technique for creating impressionistic images of subjects like woodlands. I use it extensively in spring and fall. For the images below I moved the camera up and down during a lengthy (5 second or so) exposure while I was photographing a pine woodland in fog. The vertical lines certainly suggest I should use a vertical composition but I often do this horizontally to include more Vertical lines- tree trunks. Telephotos work best but I have tried this technique with wide-angle lenses too with interesting perspective results.
Red pine woodland in morning fog- camera movement, 5 seconds, f20, 125 mm

Red pine woodland in morning fog- camera movement, 125 mm, 5 seconds @ f20

 

Red pine tree trunks in morning fog- camera movement, 3 seconds, f20, 34 mm

Red pine tree trunks in morning fog- camera movement, 34 mm, 3 seconds @ f20

  1. Natural distortions- I often like to photograph the reflective surfaces of lakes and ponds, in spring, summer and fall, concentrating on the gentle distortions of the reflected shoreline features created by the water. In the examples below however, I was stuck in my car, waiting out a thunderstorm. I left the wipers off and decided to photograph the distorted autumn woodland through the rain-soaked windshield. I hand-held and used my 105 mm macro. Focusing on either the subject or the windshield yielded different results and these can be evaluated immediately by reviewing images in the camera monitor. That’s the beauty of digital photography- being able to see the results in real time so adjustments or refinements can be made!
  2. White birch tree woodland in autumn colour at Lake Laurentian Conservation area as seen through a rain-soaked windshield. 105 mm lens f 3.5

    White birch tree woodland in autumn colour at Lake Laurentian Conservation area as seen through a rain-soaked windshield. 105 mm lens f 3.5

     

    White birch tree woodland in autumn colour at Lake Laurentian Conservation area as seen through a rain-soaked windshield. 105 mm lens f 3.5

    White birch tree woodland in autumn colour at Lake Laurentian Conservation area as seen through a rain-soaked windshield. 105 mm lens f 3.5

     

Rainy Day Photography- 2

In another life I taught High School Science. Biology was my specialty. One of the topics I presented was ‘water- it’s special properties’ something that all Biology students need to understand in order to study Biology at any level of Biology, be it biochemical or ecological.

Raindrops collect on the waxy surface of a fallen leaf

Raindrops collect on the waxy surface of a fallen leaf

Safe to say this was not the most exciting topic for biology students, especially at the start of the semester but I endeavoured to make it as interesting and applicable as possible using some simple but very cool demonstrations that always captured student interest and helped make them appreciate the topic.

Raindrops cling to a garden flower stem.

Raindrops cling to a garden flower stem.

Water molecules are peculiar and one can demonstrate their fascinating nature by observing the behaviour of water drops. I sprinkled some water on a sheet of wax paper placed on an overhead projector. With a toothpick I towed water drops around on the slippery surface and the students could watch them merge when they got close together- always retaining their round shapes. Terms like hydrophobic and hydrophilic could be introduced. In another demonstration (which needs low humidity btw!) I combed my hair to put an electrostatic charge on the comb and then used it to attract a thin stream of water from the faucet.

Interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana) fronds with raindrops

Interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana) fronds with raindrops

Canada blue joint, Calamagrostis canadensis. Raindrops on leaves

Canada blue joint, Calamagrostis canadensis. Raindrops bead up on the waxy leaves

Living things take advantage of these peculiar properties in many ways and it was then my task to try and make those connections over the course of the semester.

Yellowing garden iris leaves and raindrops in autumn

Yellowing garden iris leaves and raindrops in autumn

These days I am a photographer, but still fascinated by water drops clinging to stalks of grass, glistening on spider silk or beading up on the waxy surfaces of leaves. To photograph these phenomena I need a macro lens, tripod, calm conditions and preferably soft overcast light, but backlighting could work occasionally too. Shallow depths of field and careful framing are important factors to achieving success. Keywords such as ’round’, ‘fresh’, ‘delicate’, ‘reflections’, come to mind when photographing. I like soft backgrounds achieved by using shallow depths of field. Keeping the raindrops in focus requires careful camera position, parallel to the main plane of the drops or sometimes I use Helicon focus stacking techniques to merge different areas of sharpness.

Raindrops clinging to strands of hairgrass in late summer

Raindrops clinging to strands of hairgrass in late summer

Raindrops on grass spider web with red blueberry leaf

Raindrops on grass spider web with red blueberry leaf

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) Autumn leaves with raindrops

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) Autumn leaves with raindrops

After a light rain I hope for calm conditions and then venture out. Normally I do not need to go far.

Brenda and I will be away for over a month, exploring the Northwest Territories to Wood Buffalo NP and up to Yellowknife, with another tour in to Arctic Haven Lodge in Nunavut included. I won’t be blogging until after I return but until then good shooting!

Rainy Day Photography- 1 ‘no wipers please’

I began thinking about photographing in the rain as I was editing a batch of pictures from Nunavut. On the day in question our weather forecast was deadly accurate as a spectacular sunrise heralded the approaching system. It started gently allowing me to make images of raindrops on rock formations along the lakeshore but quickly morphed into a driving rainstorm that left our group lodge-bound for more than a day.

Ennadai Lake at dawn ''Red sky in the morning, sailor's warning'

Ennadai Lake at dawn ”Red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning’

Ennadai Lake shoreline rocks with first raindrops.

Ennadai Lake shoreline rocks with first raindrops.

Subarctic taiga as seen through rain-soaked window. ⅛ @ f16 ISO 1600

Subarctic taiga as seen through rain-soaked window. ⅛ @ f16 ISO 1600

Subarctic taiga as seen through rain-soaked window. ⅛ @ f16 ISO 1600

Subarctic taiga as seen through rain-soaked window. ⅛ @ f16 ISO 1600

Still, when it comes to photography I have a ‘glass half-full’ attitude and while the rain pelted down I decided to photograph the landscape through the lodge windows. There was plenty of room to set up a tripod in the lounge area. I used an aperture of f16, expecting the water on the window to blur the terrain in impressionistic ways and distort the scenes outside. As I thought about these images I realized that I had others, taken years ago at home and in Algonquin Park.

Algonquin's highway 60 seen through a rain-soaked window. 1/15 s @ f11 ISO 800

Algonquin’s highway 60 seen through a rain-soaked car window. 1/15 s @ f11 ISO 800

Autumn trees as seen through a rain-soaked window. ⅛ s @ f16 ISO 800

Autumn trees as seen through a rain-soaked car window. ⅛ s @ f16 ISO 800

A little rain has never stopped me from photographing scenes in nature. Most experienced outdoor photographers recognize that rainy conditions offer wonderful opportunities to make distinctive images, so long as they and their equipment are protected from the elements. A quick internet search will reveal a myriad number of gadgets designed to make photography doable in wet weather. But it can be as simple as a clear plastic bag with a couple of carefully placed holes for lens and eyepiece or a plastic shower cap from the motel room covering the camera body. I like to attach a polarizing filter to the lens when it rains as it is more easily wiped with paper towel if rain drops accumulate (watch for fibers if it gets wet). Your lens hood should protect against raindrops accumulating on the filter and the polarizer offers the added advantage of saturating colours and removing glare and reflections from wet surfaces. The recently released Flex Lens Shade can provide additional protection to the front element of your lens

Garden flowers through wet window. Not rain. Brenda was watering the garden outside this window. I stayed dry indoors.

Garden flowers through wet window. Not rain. Brenda was watering the garden outside this window. I stayed dry indoors

Today’s professional and semi professional camera bodies and lenses are well sealed against water and can stand a little rain without damage. I try and towel off my camera body under the hatch back of the car when necessary and I sometimes use the hatchback as a rain shield if I can photograph a scenic close to the car. If the rain is pelting down I look for interesting images through the windshield while I wait out the downpour. Of course the wipers have to be off and the camera will likely have to be hand-held so higher ISOs will be necessary.

Subarctic taiga as seen through rain-soaked window. ⅛ @ f16 ISO 1600

Subarctic taiga as seen through rain-soaked window. ⅛ @ f16 ISO 1600

In a follow-up post I will present some close-up images of raindrops on vegetation together with technical notes and the best conditions for capturing similar photos.

On and off the deck

 

Male ruby-throated hummingbird perched on a branch on the deck, near the nectar feeder

A male ruby-throated hummingbird perches on a branch on our deck, near the nectar feeder

 

Brenda and I are about to hit the road again and I thought I had better get in a blog post before leaving for the Northwest Territories and Vancouver Island. We usually stay home for the summer, preferring to avoid the crowds, traffic and higher prices.

 

A male goldfinch forages among the goldenrods behind our lawn

A male goldfinch forages among the goldenrods behind our lawn

Brenda enjoys her gardening and we tend a vegetable garden and milkweed patch that was finally visited by monarchs. It has been a cool summer thus far, perhaps following upon the very cold winter and its lingering effects. Blueberries were late this year but the crop was quite good in places. Nonetheless birds, small and large mammals, insects, snakes and spiders continue their seasonal rituals around our property.

 

Geranium flowers in a basket after a morning rain

Geranium flowers in a basket after a morning rain

During the summer I stay close to home with the camera too. Not surprisingly, if I am ready and the equipment is at hand there are photo opportunities awaiting in Brenda’s gardens, on the lawn and on the deck.

 

A moth rests on red flower petals, chilled by raindrops

A moth rests on red flower petals, chilled by raindrops

Here is a collection of examples from the last couple of months. Please enjoy!

This red squirrel has mastered traversing the clothesline to venture out to a hanging seed feeder

This red squirrel has mastered the art of  traversing the clothesline to venture out to a hanging seed feeder

On the way out to the seed feeder

It swiftly moves out to the seed feeder

Sheep laurel and birch near a blueberry patch behind the shed

Sheep laurel and birch near a blueberry patch behind the shed

Raindrops on fern fronds at the edge of the lawn

Raindrops on fern fronds at the edge of the lawn

Swallowtail butterflies visit a patch of hawkweed I leave un-mowed on the lawn

Swallowtail butterflies visit a patch of hawkweed I leave un-mowed on the lawn

Butterflies are attracted to Brenda's flowers too

Butterflies are attracted to Brenda’s flowers too

A patch of summer flowers with camera movement during the exposure

A patch of summer flowers photographed with camera movement during the exposure

After a bear left a 'calling card' on our lawn the chipmunk moved in and scavenged the seeds in the flop

After a bear left its ‘calling card’ on our lawn this chipmunk moved in and scavenged the seeds in the flop

Photoshop’s Oil Paint Filter

Summer wildflowers Multiple exposure

Summer wildflowers Multiple exposure

While I enjoy winter photography in Northern Ontario there are stretches of time when the camera remains inactive. We have been experiencing a ‘normal’ winter this year and there have been periods of extreme cold, snow and overcast conditions. These conditions, together with a winter lethargy contribute to staying indoors a lot. One of my winter projects, apart from catching up on backlogs of recent material, website work, marketing etc, has been to comb the extensive file of transparencies, looking for hidden nuggets worth scanning and digitizing. While optimizing the raw scans I wondered whether some images might be suitable candidates for the Oil Paint Filter now available in CS6.

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Summer wildflowers Multiple exposure- Oil Paint Filter

Summer wildflowers Multiple exposure- Oil Paint Filter

People sometimes ask me ‘Is Photoshop CS6 worth getting?’ and I answer in the affirmative (although I am certainly not a Photoshop expert). I like some of the new tools such as the improved content aware fill, the crop tool plus the way pallettes and layers are now organized. One of the new filters in CS6 is the Oil Paint Filter. Generally I avoid gimmicks such as these types of filters, but sometimes it’s nice to fool around a bit. It’s hard enough overcoming the skepticism inherent with viewing digital photography these days- ‘C’mon, that’s photoshopped….right?’, but I subscribe to the notion that we are making pictures and not always making a purely documentary image of nature.

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For that reason I do enjoy camera movement photos, lengthy time exposures and variations of in-camera multiple exposures. See my blog post on Interpretive Images. With the current crop of Nikons (actually in-camera multiple exposure has been around for a few generations of Nikons) it is easy to create multiple exposures. It was possible to perform multiple exposures with film cameras too. It was just a bit more complicated.

As I processed my slide scans, I wondered whether an application of the Oil Paint Filter would produce pleasing variations of some of my multiple exposures and other impressionistic images. If I thought I had a candidate image I would optimize it, save it and then Save As xxx_V2.tif. Below are a couple of before and after examples to consider.

Spring Forest, multiple exposure

Spring Forest, multiple exposure

Spring Forest, multiple exposure, Oil Paint Filter

Spring Forest, multiple exposure, Oil Paint Filter

I thought the Oil Paint filter might also produce nice variations of abstract reflection images, such as the examples below. This filter can aslo be used to rescue otherwise hum-drum images that might be consigned to the trash. Images with cluttered detail, boring skies, etc. might be candidates.

Spring reflections

Spring reflections

Spring reflections, Oil Paint Filter

Spring reflections, Oil Paint Filter

Autumn reflections

Autumn reflections

Autumn reflections, Oil Paint filter

Autumn reflections, Oil Paint filter

If you are interested in trying the Oil Paint filter, there are a number of ‘how-to videos available on the net available through a Google search or a U-Tube search. Below are the settings that I decided to use. As always the on-screen preview gives you an accurate rendition of the final result, which can be tweeked and saved and then re-saved using the history pallete. The filter remembers the last-used settings. In future versions I would like to see Adobe add ‘save custom settings’ to the filter window.

Oil Paint filter settings used for image examples

Oil Paint filter settings used for image examples

Autumn forest, multiple exposure

Autumn forest, multiple exposure

Autumn forest, multiple exposure, Oil Paint filter

Autumn forest, multiple exposure, Oil Paint filter





Impressionistic Photography at Tourist Hot-spots

While my first love is nature photography I will venture into the city and urban areas to make photos of other types of subjects. Sometimes I employ a version of my drive-by-shooting technique, this time on foot. Some of these urban subjects have been done a billion times and done very well. Victoria BC attracts a lot of tourists and visitors are drawn to the downtown Inner Harbour where there is an excellent view of the Provincial Parliament Buildings. One particular location, near the tourist bureau overlooks the boat basin, offering the best view of the Parliament Buildings with their lights reflected in the waters of the Inner Harbour at dusk.

After photographing the traditional version of the Parliament Buildings and their reflections I decided to see what else I could do. I walked with my camera among the tourists, horse-drawn carriages, street vendors and buskers.  I adjusted aperture, ISO and shutter speeds to make exposures of four to eight seconds in length. I checked my histogram and review screen to see if I was in the ballpark with exposure. For composition, my method involves walking but keeping the camera loosely trained on one central point in the scene- say a set of lights, while I walk. I don’t put my eye to the viewfinder, I simply check the review screen to see if I have captured an interesting version of the scene. Sometimes I need to repeat an exposure, raising or lowering the camera a bit, to improve the balance of abstract lights in the capture. I don’t delete much, in-camera. I wait until I am back at the computer to eliminate the more obvious weak images.

Abstract imge of Victoria street lights near the Parliament Buildings

Abstract imge of Victoria street lights near the Parliament Buildings

Impressionistic image of Victoria street lights near the Parliament Buildings

 

Alternatively I enjoy photographing reflections of vessels or buildings in the boat basins. The wharves are usually sturdy enough for a tripod and I am often free to wander almost anywhere. In this image, the famous Empress Hotel, warmed by evening light, is reflected in the Inner Harbour waters.

 

The boat basin at Nanaimo BC offered me similarly exciting subject material before and after dark. Not as famous as Victoria but there were some lovely colours and exciting images created by my ‘walk-about’ technique.

Night time view of the Nanaimo Boat Basin. Nanaimo BC.

Nighttime abstract views of Nanaimo boat basin and the performing arts center. Nanaimo BC.8 sec exposure.

Pedestrian bridge at night in Maffeo Sutton Park. Nanaimo BC. 5 sec exposure.

Boat and wharf reflections in Nanaimo Harbour water. Nanaimo BC.

Photo Techniques- Documentary to Interpretive

In this section of the blog it is my intent to share, not preach. These are techniques I like to perform in the field (or at the computer) as I pursue my photographic vision.

When I stop for a photo opportunity my first instinct is to produce documentary photos. These could be landscape, intimate environmental portraits or close-ups. One of the beauties of digital photography is knowing that I have bagged the shot according to histogram and review screen so I am often left with the question ‘what else can I do?’ Usually my answer  (apart from trying different angles and waiting for changes in light) is to try interpretive approaches with my camera. Here are some examples.

This photo is a documentary landscape image of autumn colour. Documentary images tell stories and describe scenes, perhaps providing some insight into ecological or behavioural relationships in nature.

Using in-camera multiple exposure I then treated this scene with an interpretive approach. One frame is exposed in focus followed by five frames out of focus (shallow depth of field) with a bit of zooming thrown in. It creates a dreamy, Orton-like effect. If you don’t have in-camera multiple exposure it may be possible to shoot 5 or 6 separate frames and then combine them later. There are a number of possible variations but I find that 6 frames is a nice starting point for satisfactory results.

Something else I like to do, if I can produce long shutter speeds, is walk with my camera while the shutter is open. Long shutter speeds can be achieved with neutral density filters as well as low ISOs and polarizers.

I try this technique on little-travelled back roads. I call it ‘drive-by-shooting’. I try to set the camera controls to produce a shutter speed around 1/8 s, f16, auto focus and aperture priority exposure. As I drive by colourful subjects, I point the lens out my window, one-handed, and loosely try to stay with that subject as I fire the shutter.

Camera Movement is a tried and true interpretive technique that works well for fall colour, especially if I have tall tree trunks. I like the technique for horizontal as well as vertical. I try to use shutter speeds 1 s and longer and I keep my camera on the tripod, with the ball head loose. I tend to use telephoto zooms for this technique (70-200 mm) but some neat results can be produced using wide-angle lenses, since these lenses exaggerate perspective.