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.

Revisiting Motivation

I’ve taken shots that caught me eye with no real idea why I snapped the shutter. Examining these shots I’ve not looked at for a few years was an interesting self-critique.  The close ups, details & perspectives are examples of my evolution with a still camera giving me clues to understanding my personal vision.

01By reviewing this shot I realized the fractal forms on this rooftop is what originally grabbed my eye. Recognizing my attraction to the pattern of the subject created an inspiration to explore the world of “Digital Art” Although this isn’t a genre I wish to spend much time with I did realize more about my initial attraction to the subject. This modification retains the strong structure while the added color & highlights have added a dimension non-existent in the original.

02 Bubbles.2I’ve always liked this shot as just a snapshot. The abstract quality disappears when your mind interprets what you see. The ½ sphere shapes are clues to realizing you are looking at bubbles on the surface of water. My latent photojournalist ethics of Photoshop no longer keep me from modifying an image. Enhancing the red & blue reflections added a separation creating a subtle juxtaposition while emphasizing the forms.

03How close is to close? Originally I was looking at the bees as the subject. But, as I was slowly approaching this nest to get my shot I was fascinated with the detail of the hive. Realizing that I didn’t want to be close for an extended amount of time I recognized a medium close up showing the bees & the contours of the structure they created was a more interesting image than just isolating the hole with the bees.  I’m slowly realizing a wider shot can be better story. I admire the collective ability & dedication of these sometime annoying creatures.

04 old oakUnless you are aware of the Fibonacci Equation or The Golden Spiral, this image of a 600 year old oak log is not all that interesting. Wandering thru the boatyard at Mystic Seaport the form in this cutaway screamed at me. If you take the time to look you can see some amazing things created by nature.

05 iron workHuman beings can also do some amazing things. The smelting of metals is ancient. Centuries ago the structural strength of iron was formed into security for doors & windows. Past generations have enjoyed the artistic as well as the pragmatic function of this medium. I suppose that somewhere a 3D printer is in the process of producing 21st century wrought iron railing. I’m not usually a fan of symmetry but this work is an exception because of the seemingly soft details on a hard material.

06North MeadowThe most challenging previsualization for me to grasp is with my wide-angle zoom. A close-up/wide shot is not something my mind’s eye can easily envision. This is one of the few times I did indeed make the most out of the optics. Lying on the ground in the North Meadow of Yosemite I was thrilled to find this back-lit flower & create an image I had seen in my mind. I was also pleasantly surprised to see the distant mountains softly out of focus since I was shooting at f16.

07 coat of arms montenegroThis 2-headed eagle is a symbol of Montenegro on their flag & coat of arms. We mostly think of crests like this being from centuries ago. It is an ancient visual representing  power & dominance. This version was formally approved by this Balkan nation in 2007. The 2 eagles holding religious symbols in their talons symbolize the close connections between church & state. The detail of the work enhances the power of the image.

08 rails londonAs a visual metaphor, train tracks have a history as an example of A Vanishing Point as well as Leading Lines. In my mind, the curving merger of 2 primary tracks is not as cliche. My initial reaction was the foreground flora interfered with this somewhat distinct view of a common subject. However, the color & the organic structure are a juxtaposition to steel rails which I now feel are an important part of the image.

09 Blood ChainI have seen a lot of rust which has interesting texture with deep brown blended with dark orange. This “Blood Rust” chain I saw really caught my attention. Could it be minerals in the rocks or salt from the ocean or a combination of both created this uncommon color in the old chain? Or is it because of the chemical make up of the steel that gives it a unique hue? It was with further examination I understood it was the hue that drew me to snap the shutter.

10 grasshopper

In my opinion, the challenge of getting a close-up or macro shots of insects usually is not worth the effort. When I saw the grasshopper on the stark background I was motivated to try.  It was also convenient that I had my 100-400 on the camera.It also is a reinforcement of the need to look down at the ground for interesting subjects & angles.

11

I was on a location scout for a possible documentary about a historic Federal style home. It would have been a nice project but never moved forward. Initially, I was just looking for window lighting & backdrops for interviews. Then I noticed the wallpaper.  Alice in Wonderland gave a clue to the last time this room had been redecorated becoming a visual part of the historic story of this home. Details can be enlightening.