Motivated with new tools

A mantra I’ve often said is “I Love Digital I Hate Digital!” It’s as true today as when the phrase first entered my mind. (Click on any image to see full screen.)

One street lamp 40,000 ISO

If I capture something with my camera like my eyes saw I’m quite happy. Noise/grain that accompanies low light is a side effect of the digital settings necessary to capturing dark environments. Although I accept noise as part of the feel of that environment it’s a distraction I’d be glad to eliminate.  

Nicole Ivan REALLY?! Bodiography Contemporary Ballet Choreography Maria Caruso

Images from a production of the Bodiography Contemporary Ballet motivated me to do a test drive of noise reducing software. I was very happy with how the blacks surrounding Nicole’s form became transparent. The software did indeed reduce grain but added what I describe as a “painterly look.” I kinda liked it! Since I also like what 40,000 ISO can do, I recognized this software would allow me to experiment more in low light situations.

A preset “look” look dramatically improved the spectrum of blue.

After exploring the noise filter for a trial period. I added the entire Topaz collection to my editing toolbox to see what else I might use. As learning by trial & error will do, I found interesting tools.

A light touch softened the harsh elements that had overpowered the main subject.

Finding the images that benefit most from my new digital tools is a learning curve. I realized some filters have the ability to take “so-so” shots & improve the basics of form, light, color or texture. The right tool for the right job is where decision-making is important in achieving an image that correlates with my vision when I snapped the shutter. In doing this, I contemplate the Ansel Adams quote “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” I often wonder how he would embrace digital tools.

The result of digital manipulation added to my appreciation of the strength of the form.

This result, in my mind’s eye, crossed over into a different dimension. Not a photograph but not a painting. In some respects filters made elements more natural while making others bizarre. It seems like I found some handles on mood & emotion. I soon saw a use for these tools with some specific images in my archive.

My 1st reaction was a feeling of summer. (The sails are masked from the effect.)

In previous attempts at chasing sailboats with my camera I was less than thrilled with the results. I had a few not-to-bad images but weather had an impact, as did my learning curve on my overall satisfaction. I liked the form within many of the images but they just didn’t “pop.” Using Photoshop I removed some elements I wasn’t happy with but nothing reached a level of  “Nailed It!” These images became my guinea pigs for venturing into artificial intelligence in photo software.

My next step may be trying to remove all the sponsor text on the hull & sail.

As is often the case “Less is More.” A slight use of a “designed look” diminished the visual strength of the bridge in the background while giving energy to the boat. That is more like what I envisioned.

My”old school” roots make it easy to reject this & other effects.

As with any effect, it’s easy to get ridiculous. But I did find “looks” I thought added a layer of enrichment not just change.

The elements in this image never did balance to my liking.

From what I know about AI using that term seems to be more hype/marketing than actual operation. The “looks” I felt had the most impact on improving the images fell into one category…dead painters with names like Degas, Van Gogh, Monet & Renoir.  However, with some images no amount of important artists do more than make a mediocre image more mediocre.

Over saturation is a common technique to grab eyes. I prefer a powerful subject.

Not surprisingly adding a filter does not rescue a shot that really doesn’t have much going for it. An effect just for the sake of an effect is only a crutch supporting a problem.

In the “before” image on the left, Empire Sandy lacked wind in her sails making her look flat & lifeless. Running the image on the right thru a few “looks” gave me something a bit more interesting. In this case the software added a classical feeling to a subject with historic roots. This effect works with this image.

Re-cropping to 30% of image gave better balance to elements that caught my eye.

I’ve overcome my “journalistic” concerns about altering an image. Now, reducing/removing visual distractions or enhancing details are things I routinely do in Photoshop. I especially enjoy how a simply re-crop gives a shot more emphasis.

From a sophisticated perspective I would critique this as just yukky!

I find myself in digital conflict again. Some of these clicks in Topaz software take an image into an entirely different cosmos. These images are far from a painting & my eyes don’t see a photograph. Frequently, like the image above, results scream NO! It feels disconnected from what inspired me. Occasionally, I discover a layer of emotion or mood that’s in sync with my original motivation.

LOST POND by J

My visual perception has yet to fully integrate how all the aspects of digital editing can assist with realizing that vision. I am continuing to learn the appropriate situation of what & when to dig into my digital toolbox. To ensure I don’t go to far I went back to some of my favorite shots. LOST POND is one of my few landscape captures I really like.  Could I make it better? The results…different yes better no!

I’m sure Monet himself could do better.

I love much of Monet’s work & I thought simulating his style might take the image to a higher level. Nope! The good photo, with some enhancement in Photoshop, is much better than the “Monet look”. Learning what I don’t like is valuable to me. It gives me incentive to pursue the vision of my mind’s eye with new tools, new perspectives & new failures, at my fingertips.

Athletic Artists

Integrating movement & emotion with music is how dancers turn their athleticism into art.

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet
Led by Light
Choreography & Costumes by Maria Caruso
Music by Zoe Keating
L to R – Principal Artists Kaylin Treese & Bethany Schimonsky

The foundation of my interest in dance goes back to the 1st time I saw West Side Story on TV circa 1966. Over the years my primary exposure to this art form was via cinema. Later, musical theater gave another venue to experience talented artists in live story telling. On stage or on camera, dance is a very powerful & memorable component of entertainment.

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet
Intimate Liaisons
Choreography & Costumes Maria Caruso
Music by Kronos Quartet
Top to Bottom Principal Artists Kaylin Treese & Nicole Ivan

In ‘02 I saw the Alvin Ailey Company perform their signature work Revelations. The overwhelming emotional power of that performance impacted me in a way no other production has ever done. It motivated me to explore the world of dance beyond the supporting role it had in film & musicals.

Christina Lindhout Verb Ballet Cleveland

Even though dance is best suited to the stage or the screen, as I got back into photography I realized that still images of dancers are dramatically powerful & beautiful.  I also recognized that capturing those decisive moments was extremely challenging.

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet
  Mother’s Prism
Choreography & Costumes by Maria Caruso
Music by Arnald Olafur & Dustin O’Halloran
Principal Ambassador Artist Amanda Fisher

To try to learn more about what I considered good dance photos I looked at thousands of images to establish ground rules for pictures I liked. Lighting, form within the frame, costume, environment, foreground, background, expressions & occasionally shadows were important. I also was determined to always be head to toe. Recent dance films or shows feel the need to cut away from the dancing. Show me see the dancers dancing!

Christina Lindhout Verb Ballet Cleveland

In reviewing so many images I soon discovered that not unlike accomplished sports figures, the dancers muscle tone/tension highlighted an athleticism that in my mind’s eye had been subtle. The lighting & costumes are the most critical factors in capturing this detail revealing the unseen elements of power & strength. The images I liked best made great use of theatrical, studio or natural light & fashion.

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet
Led by Light
Choreography & Costumes by Maria Caruso
Music by Zoe Keating
L to R – Principal Artists Bethany Schimonsky & Kaylin Treese

I recognized that unlike those that compete in sports, dancers are athletes that create art with their athleticism. For me, this was a new perspective of how their talents are perceived.  Blending this with the ability to layer emotions onto their movements elevates the viewer’s connection to the drama. Capturing that moment on a still camera is an ongoing challenge I find rewarding.

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet
Vespers
Choreography and Costumes by Maria Caruso
Music by Aix Em Klemm
From Left to Right – Company Artist Derrick Izumi and Founding Director Maria Caruso

Head to toe is usually the best way to see the complete visual story. The space around the dancers is critical to emphasizing the form. I also prefer an odd number of dancers providing asymmetrical balance. However, two dancers can provide a balance I like. Also, I can crop tighter than head to toe to create a better image. I made those rules so I can break them!

Christina Lindhout Verb Ballet Cleveland

With almost any image, red can be a dramatic addition if not overwhelming. Beyond that my “fashion” opinion is shallow. I quickly recognized that for me controlled lighting had the most impact on images that inspired me. Moving into a position for strong backlight helped to provide the silhouetted form of her legs.

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet
Life Force
Choreography and Costume by Maria Caruso
Music by Garth Stevenson
Founding Director Maria Caruso

One of my biggest peeves is the unavoidable horizons in photos of stage performances. While stage lighting is often less than perfect from a photography perspective I recognized that environment & look is part of the visual story. Also, don’t sweat things you can’t control. In my mind’s eye the black stripe across the lower third of this image adds strength to the base of the picture. The consistency of the lighting in this performance was a big plus.

Christina Lindhout Verb Ballet Cleveland

During my initial exploration of dance photography the leaps & jumps with the dancer suspended in midair caught my eyes. While this type of image is indeed sensational, I found that it could easily become unimaginative. I do like non-traditional locations of dancers. Photos showcasing the talent of these artists outside of the rehearsal studio & off the stage add drama.

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet
Really?!
Choreography and Costumes by Maria Caruso
Music by Quixotic
Principal Artist Nicole Ivan

As I am learning, it is crucial to the dancers that all of the details of their lines are precise. I am extremely grateful for the critique & education that Maria Caruso Founding Director of Bodigraphy has given me. I have photographer eyes & she is helping me understand dancer’s eyes. Having respect of the dancers perspective & approval of my images is critical. Details are extremely important!

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet
Rehearsal of Billboards
Choreography and Costume by Maria Caruso
Principal Artist Nicole Jamison

In addition to her personal review of my images Maria Caruso has allowed me to shoot a rehearsal at her studio & a live performance. Without getting to geeky…the low light sensitivity of the camera sensors along with a new software programs are wonderful tools.  Since I got camera geeky I will get history geeky. Bodiography’s studio is Gene Kelley’s old studio!

Christina Lindhout Verb Ballet Cleveland

In my quest for doing more/better dance photography I signed up for a workshop entitled Dancing in the Dark. I looked forward to an opportunity for some control of lighting & more direct input to the dancers posing & movement. Unfortunately I was disappointed with the way the lighting was handled & less than thrilled with the locations. On the positive side Christina Lindhout of Verb Ballet was a very easy model to work with. I appreciated the way she could very subtlety change her form while understanding what myself & others photogs were trying to capture.

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet
Rehearsal of Mother’s Prism
Choreography and Costumes by Maria Caruso
From Top to Bottom – Principal Artist Kaylin Treese and Principal Ambassador Artist Melissa Tyler

I’m extremely grateful for the support & opportunities Maria Caruso Founding Director of Bodiographics has provided. It is likely in the near future I will do a photography workshop with a recognized dance photographer. (Work I enjoy the most is predominately from Eastern Europe & naturally St. Petersburg Russia.)

My heartfelt thanks to Amanda, Bethany, Christina, Derrick, Kaylin, Maria, Melissa, Nicole & all the talented dancers at Bodiography Contemporary Ballet. I believe everyone dreams they could do what you do!