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.

Challenges and Rewards

Empire Sandy

Capturing images of sailboats has many frustrations but also provides a level of enjoyment I find worthy of pursing. Geography in relationship to the ocean does limit my opportunities for capturing these classic boats. However, Tall Ships Challenge on the Great Lakes was not going to be a missed opportunity.  A stop of the tour in Erie PA in August was on my calendar for over 6 months.

Prior to the Parade of Sail at Presque Isle, I got a chance for one of my “Mind’s Eye” images. With nothing but sky, clouds & water, Empire Sandy is alone with her elements. The red Canadian Flag is an added bonus with the horizon line being about as unobtrusive as possible.  The one element lacking is sails full of wind. I’d like to duplicate this framing with a boat this size in 15-20 knot winds. The challenge continues with the reward of planning another day on the water!

Floating Photogs

I’m not usually the type of photog that participates in group shoots. However, to dilute the cost I reached out & found others that shared my exuberance for sailboat photography & chartered a fishing boat. This allowed us to get into a position with some control over background & lighting. It was an added bonus to be able to talk photography with a crew of wonderful enthusiasts. Of the 4 that reported, we shot a total of 1815 shots. I was the most conservative with only 281 snaps.

Flagship Niagara led the parade into her home-port. She served during the war of 1812 & is a wonderful example of the dedication to preserving a working example of history. Like many her age she had some nautical facelifts & now is a centerpiece of the Port of Erie.

For those who appreciate flag protocol, the flag on her stern is the only US Flag with 15 stripes & 15 stars. This version of old glory inspired Francis Scott Key. It replaced the 13 stars/stripes version in 1794 & was replaced in 1818 with 13 stripes & 1 star for every state format.

Appledore V

Appledore V is a sailing classroom with a homeport of Bay City, MI. As one of the smaller boats the light winds had more influence on her cutting thru the water. The wind shaping the jib with the shadows along the pleats of the sail is one of the many details of sailboat photography I love. My limited knowledge of the rigging on schooners makes me wonder if the name flag is on an extension of the main mast. I like the flag but question why it is so far above the top of the main.

Physics & Geometry

Far from pristine, this CU of the 2 jibs, the staysail & the foresail in the background highlight the complex fractal forms involved in capturing the wind. No mater the size of the sailboat the forces of physics on the geometric design can be seen in the fluid tension of the sails.

Picton Castle

The Picton Castle is not just a showpiece. Prior to the Great Lakes Challenge she was in the south Pacific. This 3 masted barque sails the oceans for training & educational voyages.

Look behind you!

As our boat was entering the harbor to find a good position to capture boats entering the bay I noticed 3 of the photogs on the boat with cameras pointing towards the shore. Keeping your head on a swivel can result in unexpected surprises.

Bluenose II

One of the aspects of sailboat photography I find compelling is that no matter the position of the subject or the sun you can find an interesting shot. As Bluenose II is headed to her berth, the view of her stern with the sun on her starboard bow creates a silhouette.

Lettie G Howard

Like many classic yachts the Lettie G Howard has been around. Built in 1893 as a fishing schooner in Essex, MA her home is now at the docks at the South Street Seaport In NYC. Believed to be the last remain ship of her type she is now a floating museum & a National Historic Landmark.

St. Lawrence II

One of the youngsters in the parade, St. Lawrence II built in 1953 primarily as a training vessel for those under 18. As one of 35 registered Tall Ships in Canada she spends most of her time in the fresh water of the great lakes. 

Dreamer

After a Coast Guard boat confirmed all of the parade had passed I saw another beauty following behind. Dreamer, from the Erie Yacht Club, decided to crash the party! The independent streak in me loves the fact that uninvited she joined the festivities. Maybe it was my mind’s eye reacting to the different rigging or the name but this boat may indeed be my the reward the day. She also inspires me to continue the quest for capturing these boats under full sail!

A Seed of Motivation

I can remember specifically the image I saw in 1977 that made me look at sailboats in a completely different perspective. It was a crossing of two 12 meter sailboats during the Americas Cup. The shot captured the perfection of the wind pushing the most elegant design of sails & boat I had ever seen. I have looked at a lot of sailboats since then. I’ve see many I like. For racing, catamarans are faster & foils make them look slow. However, 12 meter sailboats dance with the water & wind with a harmony not seen in other class of boats.

With a camera in my hand, the element of water adds a tremendous amount of opportunity for an image. The texture and the color have many variables to work with. When a sailboat is put on water I look for that elusive background with nothing but water and sky.

The primary draw of my eye is to the form of this subject.  The wide shot with multiple boats shows both symmetry & distinction. I like the idea of no logos on the sails but black isn’t my favorite hue. I learned the reason is the material…carbon fiber. Old school sails are better for the eye. Speed isn’t everything.

The hard diagonal of the mast is relative to the soft curves of the sails. To my eye this juxtaposition of forms indicates power. The power is reinforced as the bow slices the waves.

Having spent brief moments on a sailboat provides a respect for the crews of these boats. The grinders to the navigator the bowman to the tailers the skipper to the pitman must work with harmony in moments of near chaos all while bouncing along the ocean. I love the no-slip material sewn onto the butt of the pants. Function not fashion!

I met the uncle of the Captain of Onawa who asked me to try and get some pics of his niece Barbara Krasinski at the helm of the oldest 12 meter in the fleet. What an honor. Built in 1928 and still competing in the Vintage Division. By sheer luck it is one of my select images was of Onawa. I did get a better image of her at the helm leaving the dock, which her uncle loved.

Although the weather was  much much better than last years trip to Newport, The haze was a disappointment. However, I found that exploring more with my B/W knowledge I found some solutions to the haze with results I’m getting more content with. Tell me if you like the image in BW above or in color below.

From the bow to the stern interesting angles can be found. It truly is a 360 degree subject with many opportunities. Relative to the sun, when you are in a powerboat positions go from heavy back light to flat and everything in between. A shot that was just OK 15 seconds ago is now spectacular with the shadows of the sails and clouds. For someone like me that loves being around boats chasing these opportunities is indeed a challenge I have always wanted to do with my camera. The workshop by Onne Van Der Wal was indeed one of the most worthwhile opportunities I experienced.

One of those boats in the picture that inspired me in 1977 was Courageous. Seeing her on the water gave me pause to reflect on the influence one particular image had on me.  My tastes and interests are still evolving but the long ago seed planted by this elegant floating sculpture has grown to  fruition.  This year Courageous took 3rd of 8 boats in the modern division. In 1977 Ted Turner skippered her to win the America’s Cup. Each of us has gotten a bit slower in the 40 plus years.