Archive for the ‘abstract’ Tag

Abstract   12 comments

Since I’ve been shooting a few more abstracts recently I thought I’d join in on this week’s travel theme.  The theme appears on Ailsa’s blog Where’s My Backpack?  Hope you enjoy!

Algae releasing oxygen for us to breathe during photosynthesis in a meltwater pond at Mt. St. Helens.

Algae releasing oxygen for us to breathe during photosynthesis in a meltwater pond at Mt. St. Helens.

Springwater collects in a small canyon at Snow Canyon State Park, Utah.

Springwater collects in a small canyon at Snow Canyon State Park, Utah.

A burned lodgepole pine forest in Montana's Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.

A burned lodgepole pine forest in Montana’s Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.

Canyon scene reflected in a stream, southern Utah.

Canyon scene reflected in a stream, southern Utah.

Agave in Mexico is backlit by a setting sun.

Agave in Mexico is backlit by a setting sun.

Banded sandstone appears to flow at The Wave in southern Utah.

Banded sandstone appears to flow at The Wave in southern Utah.

Fine clay at the bottom of the amazing Utah slot canyon Buckskin Gulch.

Fine clay at the bottom of the amazing Utah slot canyon Buckskin Gulch.

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Posted February 20, 2016 by MJF Images in Nature Photography, Photography

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Friday Foto Talk: Subjective vs. Objective, Part I   3 comments

Morning breaks at Saratoga Springs, Death Valley National Park, California.

Most of my Friday Foto Talk posts treat fairly standard photography topics.  This week I’d like to say something about subject interpretation.  This is the first of two parts.  This week we’ll look at basic ideas plus tips, then next week dive into real-world examples and ways to shoot.  Check out the images here for examples as well.  Click on them to go to the relevant gallery page.

So how do you approach your subject?  Do you approach it in a literal or objective way?  Or is your take more subjective, even abstract?  I’m not only talking about literal vs. abstract interpretations.  Those two approaches are far out on the extreme ends of the continuum.  Instead I’m speaking more generally.  It boils down to choice:

  • You can either (A) decide how you feel about a subject (or what you think it represents) and shoot that; or (B) try to exclude your own feelings or biases from your photos, being as objective as possible.
  • If you decide on option (A) you have more choices.   How much subjective bias will you allow into the photos?  And for subjects that you’re of two (or more) minds about, which one will inform the images?  Do you want your biases to be just barely recognizable?  Or will the subject represent your ideas while being clearly defined on its own?  Do you want the subject to be nearly or completely subsumed in an abstract?
This great egret hunting breakfast I photographed and edited in a way to capture the quiet, dimly lit and closed-feeling atmosphere of Big Cypress Preserve, Florida.

This great egret hunting breakfast I photographed and edited in a way to capture the quiet, dimly lit and closed atmosphere under the enormous trees of Big Cypress Preserve, Florida.

From the same morning, a more objective take on a black-crowned night heron who survived an encounter with an alligator.

From the same morning, a more objective take on a black-crowned night heron who survived an encounter with an alligator.

  • You may ask “isn’t bias and subjectivity inevitable, no matter how much we try to avoid it?”  We all know the answer to that is yes.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t be aware of it and do something to either limit it or give it free rein.
  • Whether you approach things in a subjective or objective way is the same as deciding whether to shoot at f/22 or f/2.8, or which lens to use.  It’s an artistic choice, your choice.  There is no right or wrong.  You can even shift approaches in the middle, later deciding on the image that resonates best with how you want viewers to see the subject.
  • If you’re photographing a person, she may have some ideas on how you should interpret your subject.  Okay let’s be real: she probably has strong and definite ideas, and may not your attempts at getting all “artsy fartsy”, using her as a guinea pig.
A village boy from northern India gazes at me with what my subjective mind takes as a degree of hostility

A village boy from northern India gazes at me with what my subjective mind takes as a degree of hostility

This smiling young Mayan woman from the Guatemalan highlands I shot after having some laughs with she and her friend.  Sort of the opposite of the above image.

This smiling young Mayan woman from the Guatemalan highlands I shot after having some laughs with she and her friend. Sort of the opposite of the above image.

A candid image of a couple Nicaraguan Vaqueros.  Candids can be more objective, without the biases of the relationship between photographer and subject.

A candid image of a couple Nicaraguan Vaqueros. Candids can be more objective, without the biases of the relationship between photographer and subject.

This is admittedly a subtle photography topic.  But I think it’s an important one.  In thinking about it, it’s worth keeping a few things in mind regarding a common theme in this blog; ignore the noise.

  • Word-noise:  Let’s face it; there’s a lot of opinion in photography today (just read my blog!).  So-called experts constantly admonish you to shoot what a subject feels like, not what it looks like.  Or they urge you to find quasi-abstract lines and patterns in the scene and turn them into leading lines and other devices to capture and maintain the viewer’s attention.  There is nothing wrong with that advice, that is until it becomes prescriptive; always do this.
  • Image-noise:  In popular photography today there seems to be a bias toward processing techniques and gear.  Even the photographers themselves often take center stage.  Or at least that’s the impression you get from reading the (often long) captions.  Images sometimes seem to be designed not around the subject but as a way to showcase the skills and adventurous spirit of the person with the camera.  I wouldn’t mind any of this so much if it didn’t force the subject to take a back seat.

 

How much more objective could I be about this ripe durian presented me by the grower on Flores.

How much more objective could I be about this ripe durian presented me by the grower on Flores.

A hike to the top of a mountain on the island of Flores, Indonesia revealed a strange juxtaposition, and allowed me to symbolize the odd fact that a Catholic island lies in the middle of a Muslim country.

A hike to the top of a mountain on the island of Flores, Indonesia revealed a strange juxtaposition, and allowed me to symbolize the odd fact that a Catholic island lies in the middle of a Muslim country.

  • Remember that the subjects you choose and how you photograph them is completely up to you.  The nature of your subject, how the light is hitting it, even how you feel at the time, all of that is more important than any recipe for taking great photos you may read about or see beautiful examples of.  Also remember you can always take good advice without feeling compelled to always do it that way.
  • I implied above that a focus on post-processing is just ‘noise’.  That’s not completely fair or accurate.  Post-processing is part of the..er, process of subject interpretation.  But I don’t think it’s as important as the capture stage, especially with respect to your choices regarding the subject.   Also, I think what you do on the computer should flow naturally from your approach during capture.  If you’re doing one thing during capture and the complete opposite during editing, it becomes much more difficult to create a good image.Tune in next time for specific examples of this at work.  Happy weekend all!

The layers of a sunset made me use longer exposure and composition to show that more than the actual beach and surf.

Single-image Sunday: Patterns in Sandstone   5 comments

Since the Foto Talk this week was all about not getting too caught up in the search for abstract patterns in your photography, I thought I’d post an image whose sole aim was to abstract the subject.  But is this really an abstract?  I could have made it more so, for example by moving the camera or otherwise blurring details and color.  Or by getting experimental in post-processing.  But I wanted the close-up features of this dune sandstone to be very clear.

The abstraction is created by simply getting  close with my macro lens and framing so as to exclude the tiny flaws that are scattered through the rock.  I captured this at the famous Wave in southern Utah’s Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.  The sandstone has been worn smooth by water and wind erosion, but up close you can see how rough it is, like sandpaper.

The tiny sand grains are frosted by winds that blew them into dunes during the early Jurassic Period nearly 200 million years ago when this whole region of the American southwest was a vast desert similar to the Sahara of today.

The thin layers (laminae) of alternating color are at an angle to the main sandstone beds.  This is called cross-bedding and is characteristic of dune sands.  The wind blew in grains that had been stained brick-red by iron.  Then it turned around and blew in cleaner, lighter-colored grains from a different source.  These grains would cascade down the steeper lee side of dunes, creating the cross-beds.

The flatter, thicker layers have been eroded into steps, a characteristic of the Wave.  Because of variation in their hardness, their ability to resist erosion, the layers stand out or are recessed.  This differential erosion is caused by variation in the amount and hardness of cement binding the sand grains together.

So what this image shows on a micro-scale is an ancient sand dune in cross-section that is now being sculpted by present-day winds.  In other words, it shows winds in a desert of the distant past, when early dinosaurs roamed the area.  And it shows what the desert of today is doing to those ancient dunes

So an abstract image can tell you something real about the subject.  I believe that’s the best kind of abstract in fact.  I’m hoping the image shows what nature can do, not what me or my camera can do.  Please let me know whether or not I succeeded.  I hope your weekend was a lot of fun.  Thanks for reading.

Undulations

Foto Talk: Abstract Patterns & Photography   6 comments

 

Panajachel, Guatemala, on the shores of Lago Atitlan, has some colorful murals in its busy little town center.  Please click on image for download options.

Panajachel, Guatemala, on the shores of Lago Atitlan, has some colorful murals in its busy little town center. Please click on image for download options.

It is very common in books and blogs on photography, and in workshops and classes, to highlight line and shape as being very important elements of good compositions. Count me among those who believe that.  In fact, I did a blog post on line that dives into the reasons they are so important. It would be very helpful for you to read that first: Friday Foto Talk – Line. Also check out my post on Shape.  

But before I join the crowd and trumpet the value of the abstract over the literal, I would like to ask a simple question: Is it worthwhile while photographing, to go searching specifically for line, shape and pattern?  The reason I ask is that I have come to question whether the emphasis on abstract patterns among many instructors (as opposed to a more literal focus) isn’t doing a disservice to the learning photographer.

If interested in any of these images, please click on them to go to the full size versions on my main website.  They are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission.  Please contact me if you have any questions.  Thanks for your interest!

An semi-abstract of a dried water pocket in Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

An semi-abstract of a dried water pocket in Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

Just looking for a good angle on this old cabin in Utah, I naturally liked the one where the monolith repeated the triangular roof line.

Just looking for a good angle on this old cabin in Utah, I naturally liked the one where the monolith repeated the triangular roof line.

If you’ve been following this blog for awhile you know how I generally feel about learning photography. I think it’s one of those things best learned by doing. Isn’t everything that way you may ask? Well, I think I would prefer to learn how to calculate rocket trajectories from an expert rather than go experimenting with it (especially if there are astronauts onboard!). Photography is an art, and art can only be genuine when it comes from you not others.

Cross-bedded sandstone in Utah's Vermilion Cliffs National Monument form beautiful curving line patterns.

Cross-bedded sandstone in Utah’s Vermilion Cliffs National Monument form beautiful curving line patterns.

Adobe architecture in Santa Fe, New Mexico is a natural study in line and pattern.

Adobe architecture in Santa Fe, New Mexico is a natural study in line and pattern.

We live in a time that is flooded with how-to.  And photography is a particularly apt example of this.  In nature and landscape photography, and in travel photography as well, most professional have to teach in order to make ends meet.  While nearly all of these folks are very good if not great photographers, perhaps some of them do not put enough thought into their teaching approach.

I have seen photographers whose images I greatly admire preach that you must learn to seek out abstract patterns if your nature and landscape/cityscape photography is to rise above average. I believe these teachers, good as they are at photography, are giving style-specific advice and making it sound as if it’s a universal principle.

Gently curving lines naturally attract my attention.  This is a building in Portland, Ore.

Gently curving lines naturally attract my attention. This is a building in Portland, Ore.

Las Vegas at night is a study in pattern, highlighted by the ubiquitous neon.

Las Vegas at night is a study in pattern, highlighted by the ubiquitous neon.

While I agree that line, shape and the patterns they form are certainly key parts of many compelling and interesting compositions, I don’t agree that a learning photographer should go out with the specific aim to find abstract patterns.

Of course if abstraction becomes part of your style, then go ahead, knock yourself out.  I do it from time to time.  But don’t let anyone (even if their photography is masterful) convince you it is the way to successful image-making.  That is far too rigid. Instead, I believe your overall approach should be more open-minded.  The elements you seek out when you’re shooting should be guided by your own personal take on the character of your subject and the mood of its surroundings.

I was amazed at how nearly circular this ostrich’s body seemed when silhouetted against the setting sun in Namibia.

A strong photo will always tell good story about its subject. I don’t think you can focus on the character and mood of your subject, scene and lighting if you are too wrapped up in the abstract patterns. As I mentioned in the post on Line, we are visual creatures who naturally seek out leading lines or repeating shapes and patterns. So trust that you will find them even without a conscious focus.

Concentrate on what makes your subject or scene cool and interesting, on how that light helps to set the mood you wish to either create or pass on from the scene directly to your viewer. Do this I believe, and those compelling lines and patterns will show up all on their own.

The angled lines formed by the clouds and active Volcan Masaya in Nicaragua were not in mind when I decided to take this picture. The the setting sunlight filtering through the volcanic steam and ash was.

 

Single-image Sunday: Abstracted Earth   4 comments

I visited the Painted Hills last week.  This is a beautiful area in central Oregon that is part of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.  The excuse for my trip was to see the lunar eclipse.  Well, the clouds rolled in just in time for the eclipse, so that was a bust.  A quick reminder to please check out my campaign to get back on track to making images.  Please share and help me get the word out, whether or not you can contribute right now.  Here’s the link.  Thanks!

Camping in the Painted Hills was very peaceful, lonely even.  I just had my little point and shoot camera of course, so there were some opportunities missed (especially low light and night sky images).  But I did catch some nice light on the hills.  I’ll do a post on the Painted Hills this week & explain why they look like this (it’s been quite awhile since I’ve talked geology here).  I hope everyone is enjoying their Easter Sunday!

Painted_Hills_4-15-14_S95_022

 

Friday Foto Talk: Deliberate Blurring   4 comments

Aspens in abstract.  This recent image from the Rockies was shot at 1/6 second while moving the camera straight down.

Aspens in abstract. This recent image from the Rockies was shot at 1/6 second while moving the camera straight down.

I’ve been deliberately blurring my pictures more and more lately.  In fact, the last post has an example of blurring in it.  To create a deliberately blurred photo, you need to combine a relatively slow shutter speed with movement of either the camera or subject.  For this post, I will concentrate on the types of blurring I’ve done in nature photography.  Though I’ll list and briefly explain the other types, I will leave panning and urban motion-blur effects for another post.

To be honest, I’ve in the past thought many blurred images looked too gimmicky for me.  And images like the above have become very popular pictures to post on the internet.  That said, I’ve now come to the conclusion that blurring (more than water at least) has a place in my portfolio so long as I’m selective about it.  Maybe it has a place in your portfolios too.

A new image, I shot this small falls on a recent icy morning in the Colorado Rockies.

A new image, I shot this small falls on a recent icy morning in the Colorado Rockies.

I use deliberate blurring to help create a mood and/or tell a story with the picture.  In addition, I like the painterly, watercolor effect that blurring sometimes gives.  The goal of mood/story is what I’m usually thinking about when shooting.  The painterly effect, though very worthwhile when it’s there, is something that only comes through when I’m looking at and processing the image later.

In other words, for me shooting to create some artsy effect is pretty much anathema.  It is not how I approach photography.  I almost always want to tell a story or impart a mood with my images.  In addition, I often try to put the person inside the image.  That’s not to say that I want people to have a specific first impression when they look at one of my images.  It’s just fine when someone says “that looks like a painting.”

Colorado Aspen Grove

View from within an aspen grove in the Colorado Rockies. I moved the camera only slightly for this image.

Your shutter speeds when blurring will, in general, be about 1/50 to 1/5 second.  You are normally best off starting at 1/15 to 1/30 sec. and going up or down from there. The exception is when blurring water, when shutter speeds will start at a half to one second and go longer from there.  Note that your focal length plus the speed of the subject or camera movement will likely influence the shutter speed you end up using.

 Here are a few ways you can use deliberate blurring in your photos:

      • You can blur to imply movement, using a slow shutter speed to blur a speeding car, person, animal, etc.  You can simply mount the camera on a tripod and let the subject accomplish the blur.  I regard blurring moving water, as you see in most waterfall images, to be a special case of this type of blurring.
Northern California Coast, where a shutter speed of 0.6 seconds served to streak the incoming surf.  Worth the wet sneakers!

Northern California Coast, where a shutter speed of 0.6 seconds served to streak the incoming surf. Worth the wet sneakers!

      • Related to the effect above, you can “show the wind” by allowing moving trees, flowers, etc. to blur part or all of your image.  Again, you should probably use a tripod for this.
Spring flowers in the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.  There is a reason that the Gorge is a mecca for wind-surfers.

The blooming Columbia River Gorge, Oregon on a windy spring morning. There is a reason why the Gorge is a mecca for wind-surfers.

      • You can follow a moving subject and blur the background.  This is called panning and is a topic for another post.
      • You can move or vibrate the camera to imply tension or other emotion.  This takes even more practice to get right than other types of blurring, probably because it involves the most random types of camera movement.  I need to try this.  But It’s hard for me to shoot while I’m tense!
      • You can blur to spread out colors.  This is a favorite of mine.  It can easily result in a painterly look.
      • You can move the camera in one direction to exaggerate the lines in an image.  I like doing this too, and it can be combined with the effect above, spreading out colors.  It’s quite a popular look these days, so I’m picky about when I do this; don’t want to overdo it.
Click on this image for purchase options.  Since I was shooting these reeds in an Eastern Washington wetland at a longer focal length (160 mm.), I used a faster shutter speed (1/80 sec.).

Click on this image for purchase options. Since I was shooting these reeds in an Eastern Washington wetland at a longer focal length (160 mm.), I used a faster shutter speed (1/80 sec.).

      • While using a zoom lens, you can zoom in or out during a slow exposure to create a radiating pattern.  This can create tension and impact, depending on your subject.
      • You can combine any of the above.  For example, you can zoom in on a moving subject, or spread colors while showing the wind.
I haven't yet done much zoom-blurring.  This is a big, snow-basted fir tree I admired during a cross-country ski tour in Oregon.

I haven’t yet done much zoom-blurring. This is a big, snow-basted fir tree I admired during a cross-country ski tour in Oregon.

You’ll undoubtedly find other ways to blur as you get into this.  In fact, I hope you do!  Realize, however, that you’ll probably be shooting tons of images to get the effect. It’s not really that it takes practice to get right.  What is “right” in abstracted images of this type after all?  Truth is, deliberate blurring encourages experimentation.

Later on when you take a look at the images, if you’re like me you will initially think most of them look cool.  You may end up liking too many!  That’s natural.  Your eye will become more discerning with time.  Keep your mind on what you want to impart with the image and you should be able to whittle down all of your experiments to the very few (or one) that are just right.

If you are interested in any of these images, please contact me.  I’ll be glad to accommodate any request.  Note that they are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission.  If you click on the images you will be taken to my galleries, or in some cases to the high-resolution version.  Thanks for your interest and have a great weekend!

Click on this image of a sunset in abstract for purchase options.  The fast camera movement here was courtesy of a speeding motorboat in Sian Kaan Lagoon, Yucatan, Mexico.

Click on this image of a sunset in abstract for purchase options. The fast camera movement here was courtesy of a speeding motorboat in Sian Kaan Lagoon, Yucatan, Mexico.

Morning Walk through the Aspens   3 comments

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Aspen in Abstract.

Chilly morning walk through the golden aspens, autumn in the Colorado Rockies.  Location: not far from the town of Aspen, Colorado (go figure!).  There were two moods: the first in the heart of the grove; the second nearing its edge with the sun peeking over the high ridge beyond.

Aspen Sunstar!

Aspen Sunstar!

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