Friday, January 28, 2011

What We See

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.

– Henry David Thoreau

Today, I want to talk about the "simple scene" and  your imagination.  In the spring of last year I posted this image in my Flickr account.  And, as images go, would be considered a "dud" if rating purely on the amount of activity it received.  Understandable, for when sitting in a sea of thumbnails, why would you click on something like this unless it was purely out of curiosity for what you were looking at?  I have found though as I continue to grow in my expression as an artist and a photographer, I must explore ways of capturing visually this narrative that begins running through my head when I come across a scene like this one.  A simple scene that has caused me to linger but could be easily dismissed as too "uninteresting" to be photographed.   But if it were truly "uninteresting", what caused me to linger in the first place?  It suddenly dawned on me  I need to recognize these meaningful moments.  There's a beauty happening in this small sliver of a scene hiding in the midst of a larger perspective.  What is it?  How do I capture it?  How can I make these feeling come alive?

I sat by this little stream for some time wondering about these things.   I remembered countless times as a child by other streams, building bridges and roads along the shore.    Maybe it was something about the light.....warm and caressing in way as  it came streaming through the branches and caused the water to sparkle.  These was a softness to the elements that was bringing all these memories to life.

Or, as in this image.... I was kneeling in a field capturing some macro shots and when I looked up, this is what I noticed.   This glorious clean morning light igniting the dew and bright greens of spring.  It was magical and there was such a feeling of innocence to it I found myself mesmerized.  I thought again of childhood, squinting at the glare of the morning and the sparkle of little moist jewels on the grass.  Again, it was something about the "softness" in the light over all I needed to capture and then translate in a way that would "feel" like the memories it was igniting.

I debate at times of whether or not I can capture this "reality", this it possible?  Well, I'm not sure if it is or not, because no matter how progressed the skill might be, if I'm not looking for the scene layered beneath the image, I'm not going to see it.  Most will probably only see a small bit of stream, a hazy field of grass, or small waves breaking on a shore and, that's ok......that's pretty much what they are.  But hopefully for those who take the time, they will also see another place....another reality, and remember.  Remember their own places of wonder and imagination.   Be stirred to not allow these places to remain hidden, but look for ways through your post work to cause them to come to life.  Just be aware, they may only come "alive" for a small few, but that's ok.  It is not an easy thing to translate things like "emotion" and "memories".  There is no button in Photoshop or process action to download  which will magically bring this translation.  The things that move my emotions in an image will not be the same for everyone and the same will be true for you.  For me, it's a combination of a softness in the contrast, a faded quality in the color, and a glow to the light that with the simplicity of the scene bring the emotional element I try to express.  A feeling that years ago the picture was taken and then stored away in some cigar box with other treasures collected along the way.

The important things are these.....recognize, capture, and experiment.  The more you do these three things, the better you will become with expressing yourself in all of your images, much less the simple ones.  Just like the quote I had at the beginning suggests...."It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see".....and then taking "what we see", and helping others to see it.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

It's All a Point of View

Hi everyone.  I hope your week as been a good one.  Today, I want share a couple of techniques I use and show you the dramatic impact they can have on your images.....crop and graduated blur.  

The image here is one I came across back in Sept. from a fellow photographer friend Kristina.  She has very graciously allowed me to use it for my demonstration and I'm quite grateful.  She has a keen eye on a variety of subjects so, if you have some time please check out here Flickr site....

When she posted this image, she noted it was the original crop straight out of the camera.  I  mention this because I want to point out what a beautiful job she did with composing the scene. The more time you take to really think about the composition in the beginning, the greater possibilities you will have to give the same image different "stories" later on.  

I've discussed in an earlier blog regarding how you can powerfully decide the "story" of your image through your choice of how you want to crop the image.  Her original image has a wonderful "cinematic" feel to it.  With the inclusion of so much space, you really get an understanding of the scale of the situation.  The smallness of the child....a feeling of vastness to the world around him....a sense of being alone.  The environment, both inside and out,  is as much a character in this "story" as the child is.  By cropping out the majority of the inner environment, as I did here in this square crop, the story is now about two players.....the boy and the world out side.  You are certainly more focused on the boy, but still keenly aware of the focus of his attention.

Now you will notice I've added two angled graduated from left to right and one from right to left, using the same angle of tilt in the boys face.   This puts only the face of the child into focus and thus, brings all the attention on the look and expression of the child.

You still have an awareness of the interaction of the boy with the outside world, but now it's role has been pushed even farther into the background so that your focus is even more concentrated, not only on the child but also the possible emotion of the child.

Now, how about a vertical crop?  Really, just a variation on a theme from the square crop, but depending on what the situation is of where the image is going to be hung or incorporated, the vertical configuration might actually work better.   Remember, with no context as to what the original image looked like, cropping the image in this way is as "correct" as the horizontal to a viewer.  It really has as much to do with asking yourself which of these fits best for what you would like to communicate  with your image.

Once again, let's look at what the addition of a graduated blur does to the image.....

This time I ran two graduated filters, running on a slight angle.  One runs on a line going from the top right corner of the window pane, over the top of his ear, toward the upper back collar....graduating toward the top.  The bottom one runs along a similar angle while just clipping the bottom of his chin.....graduating down.    

Notice how this puts the eyes, nose and mouth area in focus along with the area straight in front of his face.  By doing this, there is a "reality" to his gaze and a feeling of intensity because where he is looking seems clearer and more intentional.

Now for one last about this?  Normally, I would not probably crop the  image in this way with the weight of the image heading away from the natural direction or movement captured in the scene.  It sets up a kind of strange tension.  But after cropping the image, I noticed an interesting dynamic going on, especially if there was to be further pp work later on such as texturing the image.  

Looking at the scene in this way put a menacing edge on it.  The cheerful quality of light is mostly missing from the scene and now the boy has a slight feeling of being imprisoned.

All the more so with the addition of the graduated blur.  This time the blur adds a greater feeling of mystery to what might be there in the dark.  And, with the boy's face in focus, forces the viewer to wonder about the emotion of the situation.  How might a child feel who seems to trapped and/or cut off from the outside world? 

Now I know, some of you are thinking....he got all that from this picture?  Sure....why not.  Keep in mind, if you had no context for what the original image conveyed and the image here were the first ones you had very easily could head down this train of thought. 

I believe each of the versions shown here captures a different direction of thought.  Now, everyone will have a different interpretation of what that end thought might be, but the point is this...By just incorporating these two techniques of alternative cropping and graduated blur, look at how many other interesting "stories" you can create from the same image.  But, as I mentioned at the beginning, you have to craft a good starting point and develop your eye for a good scene.  It might take some practice, but the more you experiment, the easier it will come to least that's my point of view.