Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Fascinating Talent

As I mentioned a few days ago, I do not wish to be the only source of information here in this blog.  There are so many amazing talents I have had the good fortune to come across over the last few years.  I wish to share them with you so you might be as inspired and challenged by their insight and wisdom as I have been.

Today I am interviewing my friend Jill....or borealnz as she is known on Flickr.  I have been admiring her images for quite some time now and she has kindly agreed to answer a few questions here.  
So, here we go.....

1.  How long have you been involved 
with photography?
If you mean photography as in taking photos, well I’ve been doing that since I was about 10, but photography as art; I’ve only been doing that for the past 4 or 5 years. 


2.  How long have you been doing the type of photographic work you do now?
I’ve been using textures for about four years –texturing was virtually unknown when I first started. 


3.  What or who most influenced you to change to your present pp style?
It was the work of Linda Plaisted (  That was the inspiration that made me start using textures.  Nowadays it’s Paul Grand ( and Flypaper Textures ( that are my main inspirations.


4.  What do you feel your images communicate now that they didn't before you went to your present style?
They’re definitely more painterly and rich and they often have a more illustrative look to them.


5.  What main idea do want to come across with your images?
Not so much an idea but a “look” and it depends on the image but on the whole I want atmosphere.

6.  Could you explain a little about your work-flow?
I always take Raw files, so my processing starts in Camera Raw. I process each image individually and often use some of the Raw presets I’ve created to get the toning that I want. That done, I open the photo in Photoshop and usually start with cropping an image square, then it’s just a matter of trying textures and blending modes until I come up with something I like or something that works with the particular image. I know my textures fairly well now so I have a fair idea what will work with a photo. 


7.  How did you learn to do the things you do in your pp work?
I’ve mostly learned how to do things by trial and error as there weren’t many others using textures when I started. Online tutorials and books have also been helpful.


8.  When you go out to shoot....roughly how many shots do you take?....and how many of those become a finale image? 

I’d probably take 20-30 maximum on a shoot, though of course this varies. Of those I may use 5 if I’m lucky or more if I’ve struck gold. With my “studio” type still-life of floral shots I take a few then check the photos on the computer to see which compositions/light works the best and then go back and take more. Strangely it’s often the photo that on the surface is perhaps the most unpromising of the shoot that I choose to work with, I guess this is because it’s “different” and I want to avoid the contrived look.

9.  Your work has a mixture of outdoor and macro shots. Do you have a favorite?
I think I prefer my indoor/studio shots at the moment because I like setting up a controlled shoot and even on cold damp days I can still take photos, but having said that, you can’t beat a stormy day on the beach for atmospheric photos :-) 


10.  What would you say is the main reason you decide to capture an image?
Hmm...not an easy one to answer. Perhaps it’s a need to share and then show it in an original or different way so I usually shoot with the thought of adding texture in the processing later.

If you have never had a chance to see more of Jill's work, please visit her site ( 

Also, take some time to look at her blog page...Flypaper Textures (  which she co-produces with another amazing artist, Paul Grand.  They have a wonderful and affordable selection of textures available for purchase with detailed tutorials of how to use them.

Well, that is about it.  I hope you have enjoyed this installment.  Keep shooting and never stop exploring.




Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Making the Cut

Today I would like to look at the idea of "the crop".  How do you decide what to cut out and what should stay?   There are loads of wonderful articles out there via the internet or your local library which will help teach the "rules" for cropping, so I will not go over those here.  My intention for this blog is more to help give some understanding as to my particular methodology for creating an image. A number of the traditional "rules" are observed ....some are broken....but there is always A REASON for what I have done and why.

Recently, I was inspired by a friends' capture of a "big top tent". I loved the look of the undulating curves and peaks.  The picture was taken looking down the the length of the tent so as to capture several of the peaks across the top.  As well, I found it quite interesting that focusing only on the top details of the tent took nothing away from my imagination for what the remaining unseen portion of the tent looked like.  My brain understands there is a whole tent.  But as in real life, when we look at something dramatic, there tends to be one piece of the drama that captures our attention more than the whole.  Cropping helps to pull out this element and expand on it.

The show "Cavalia" is currently playing here in Denver in this remarkable and dramatic tent.  With the idea of the tent tops in mind,I went to shoot knowing I was looking to come away with a series of captures I could work with.  I wanted different configurations of peaks as well as different amounts of sky showing. 
This is one of the shots I came away with.

Now, I had already created one image of "tops" from another shot taken early one morning incorporating three of the tops of the tent.  I didn't want to duplicate that idea, so using this shot with the late afternoon sun, I looked for another way to express the beauty of the structure.  There are a number of things I liked happening in the image....the glow of light hitting the left sides of the two right tops.....the look of the flags on the two right tops....the soft glow of the canvas across the foreground.  However, the most important feature for me in the scene was the glow of the sun coming from behind the left side of the tent as a whole.  As much I hated the idea of losing those beautiful details happening on the right side of the scene, I wanted to focus on the MAIN drama.....the interaction of the tops of the structure and the time of day.....and that was clearly happening on the left side of the scene.

I still struggle at times when I'm cropping an image with..."but this part is so beautiful"....kind of thoughts.  But I have to force myself to go back to the question of what do I want to communicate most?  The pretty scene of light and canvas was not ultimately my goal.  The goal was more about expressing the dynamics between  the curves of the structure and the drama of the sky.  So, when I found my eye jumping back and forth between the things I like within the scene as a whole, it alerts me to understand at times....something is probably going to have to go.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What's in a Term?

I have on a few occasions now used a term "story" and I would like to give a little more understanding as to what I mean.   First, let's look at the literal definition of the word...
An account of an event or a series of events, either true or fictitious.....a narrative intended to interest....romantic legend or tradition.

While working on a image I find I have a continuing narrative that seems to run in the back of my mind asking the question...."what is this saying to me?"  Textured images have become a passion for me for translating in a visual narrative  a story of emotion...of drama....of mystery.  It allows me an opportunity to combine what is true (the original photograph) with fictitious elements (the multiple overlying textures) to create a feeling of history and imagination.  

A good starting point with an image might have something to do with the light.  Does it seem bright and glarey, making me want to squint my eye's?  If it does, I find myself remembering moments in my past of when I was in the same kind of situation and recalling how it felt... was I anxious, annoyed, relaxed, nostalgic?  What ever the answer....which of these feelings best matches up to the current image I'm working on?

With this image, I knew it brought back memories of childhood.  Playing outside on a early summer morning while dew still hung on the grasses.  There was a sparkling quality to world around me and feeling of freshness that filled my imagination with wonder.  
I liked where I felt the "story" of the image was heading so, everything I did from that point on had me evaluate...does this add to the story....change it in some way....or distract?....and I made my choices from there.  

If you've never thought of looking at your images in this way....try it.  I think you will find if makes them far more personal to you.  Be willing to go beyond simply struggling to give an accurate account of a particular moment or event. 

I would like to let everyone know I will sharing with you the insights of other photographers it has been my good fortune to have come across and learned from.  Their skills and abilities far surpass my own and I know you will gain immensely from them.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Gaining a Fresh Perspective

Continuing on from my last post, I want to look at the value of "scene" and "subject".  Notice I didn't write "or"....but rather "and".  Now I know....a scene certainly has a subject or a main focusing element (or at least I would hope it does).  The thing I would like to look at has more to do with thinking about gaining a fresh focus on what you want to express.

I took the image above while driving up to capture some of the fall color.  Now, this is just your basic HDR shot and has had no other "tweeking" going on with it yet.  I will probably do that at a later date, but sharing it, helps to explain what I'm getting at.  

The rail fence is certainly my main subject.  But equally important is the overall scene....foliage full of color, leaves on the ground, dried and dieing grasses and so forth.  As I looked at the fence I kept thinking...."how can I say this better?"  How can I capture the character of the fence, with this interesting rail wrapped in wire, in a way that makes it feel more....interesting?  There are loads of old fence shots out there, so what perspective will make this one fresh?

So, if you want the subject to become more up close and need to get up close and personal to shoot it.  So that is what I did.....

Please notice that pretty much all of the elements that made the first shot "autumn", are included in the sceond image....or at least you are aware they are there.  But the complete focus is entirely on the fence and that interesting top rail.  The focus of the top image is of an autumn scene.  The focus of the bottom image is all about the fence.  I think both images have a "story" (a term I will explain in more depth at a later time for those who aren't quite sure what I mean)...
but the "story" the second image has to tell was a more interesting one for me.

I have  often found it necessary to get a little dirty to obtain something fresh.  If you are more in the habit of capturing a scene as demonstrated in the first shot, experiment with the idea of pulling your focus even tighter into that most important part.   If you are in the habit of always being nice and tight....maybe it's time to step back a bit to loosen your gaze.  I have found that both perspectives gain a freshness when we learn to spend time expressing them both.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

What's in a Picture?

I suppose one of the most obvious things you have to decide about an image is having an image.  I mean, how do you craft something if you haven't captured it first? 

I was speaking to one of my contacts w/in the Flickr community a while back and realized during the conversation that while out hiking, he wasn't in the habit of taking images of things along the way, only of the destination.  The hassle of  taking out his camera gear or setting things up kept him from thinking about capturing images along the way.  Then, once at the destination, if the weather had become bad or some other factor occurred that turned capturing that image into a "less than ideal" situation, the whole trip felt like a bust.  The only thing was, it was obvious from his descriptions of the trip, he was observing things all along the way he appreciated..,,,the light in the trees, the shadows across the trail, the look of light across the water, and so on.  I challenged him "Why aren't you capturing all of these things along the way?  They obviously capture your just don't realize they do." 

This would be one of my first challenge to you as well.....what I would call "learn to give yourself pause".   For some, this will come more readily, and others, it might take some time.  But whether out hiking through the woods or window shopping down a crowded street, different things capture our attention for one reason or another.  I would say each time this happens.....that can be a picture.  Maybe not something everyone is going to appreciate or even needs to be captured.....but  it is a picture.  As an artist and a photographer we learn  how to frame that to cut out all the extraneous  other information and give focus to that one important thing that captured your attention in the first place.

This ability is so wonderfully demonstrated in the beautiful photo streams of others I have contact.  It is a wonderful thing in this day and age we now have the ability to gain inspiration from such a huge population of gifted and talented people.  Looking through the eyes of other creative individuals gives new "sight" to your own.  Take some time to really look through the images of people whom you admire.  What angle or level of sight do they tend to use?  Is their view very wide or very close and focused?  Is there only a portion of an object of thing in the image but it is clear in your mind as to what the remaining unseen portion is?  Then, think about these things  the next time you are out and that "moment of pause" happens.  Allow the new vision of others to be seen through your own eyes as you look.  Begin practicing capturing these things in a new way.  There may still be more cropping for that finale image to make sense....but you will be on the path of giving focus to the things that capture you.....and that is a very good thing.