One of the things that I continue to struggle with is ‘why do I photograph’?
There are of course many reasons to photograph, having your photography being in service of something larger is awesome, being able to tell stories with your images and to capture a moment in history is clearly important. Doug Eng is someone who does this incredibly well.
Doug is a Florida native with a background in structural engineering and software programming who works in both the natural and urban landscape. In fact some of his projects have involved bringing the natural landscape into the urban environment.
For an example of this work check out the ‘Beyond the Facade’ project where Doug installed huge prints on the east facade of the old Barnett Bank building. The behind the scenes section (click here) gives a fascinating look at how art on this scale is created and handled.
I was fortunate to recently hear Doug present his project ‘On Fertile Ground’ which captured images of the last property of his family’s truck farm providing a record of his family’s successes for future generations. I was profoundly impacted by these photographs, they made me really feel that the farm stopped while the world moved on.
I came out of Doug’s presentation thinking that everyone with a camera, which means almost all of us now, should spend some time documenting their family history.
I thought that focus and depth of field were pretty simple. For things where you want to blur the background, focus on the subject, use a low F number (f4 or lower) and you’re good. For flat planes or things that are far away, focus on the subject and use a mid F number (f8 ish). For the grand landscape shot where you want front to back in focus, focus a third of the way into the scene and use a high F number (f22 or above).
This is probably as much as you really need to know to make very good photographs. However, like many things that seem to be simple, if you want to pick away at this and go deeper you can.
In the case of depth of field the only thing that is in focus in your photograph is that which you focused on and everything else on that plane. The rest of the stuff in your photograph that you think is in focus is actually ‘acceptably’ out of focus. For medium and large format cameras, cameras that have ‘movements’, that allow you to tilt the plane of focus this means that you really can get front to back focus, this is an application of the Scheimpflug principle. Those of us using DLSRs are out of luck unless we have a tilt shift lens that will allow you to do the same thing.
So, how to get front to back focus? Easy, take multiple images with different focus points and then blend them together in Photoshop to get what you want to be in focus, in focus. For this kind of shot rather than set the lens to f22, I would recommend that the f stop you choose be the one at which the lens you’re using is optically the best. As a rule of thumb this is usually 2 stops away from wide open, so for an f4 lens this would be f8.
So you’ve taken your shots – in this example I was exploring rain drops on some maple leaves. The images were shot at f4 to blur the background. In one image I focused on the front set of leaves and in the second I focused on the back leaves. Click on the images to see them larger.
The first thing to do is to open the images in photoshop and load them into separate layers. Once you’ve done that you can then go to the edit menu and select auto-blend layers:
then stack images in the dialog box that appears next.
This gives the blended image with good depth of field from the front to back leaves.
A bit more photoshop to remove some of the distracting elements to give the final image.
I’m on the road this week for the first time in a while. There were a few back to back years where I clocked in excess of 100K miles but I haven’t done that in a while. Those years did teach me something about packing for business trips – pack as little as possible so you can carry your bag on, bring a minipower strip and have back-ups for important data and computer gear. All the obvious stuff. What people can’t teach you, and you won’t find in a book, are the things that are important to you. The small things that will make life on the road tolerable.
I have yet to develop a system that I’m happy with when it comes to packing for a photography trip. This is especially true since most of my photography takes place locally, or at least within a days drive, which means I can just put all and everything into the car without having to think to hard. When faced with a technical question I always start with Moose Peterson. Check out the videos below for comments from Moose on packing for travel.
and John Paul Caponigro on the Art of Packing and in the video below the Art of Travel
I quite enjoy looking at photobooks whether they are produced by friends or by icons of photography or both. While I may not be able to own the great works I can live with them through the books.
The quality of photo books has certainly evolved in recent years, the color reproduction being an area of most significant improvement. For instance, some of the Eliot Porter books I have do not come close to the colors of the original prints, I was blown away when I saw an image of his at the Farnsworth Museum, or even to images in the more recent books of his work (see here and here). On the other hand black and white reproduction seems to have been consistently of a high quality, certainly amongst the books that I own.
Even with the relatively high bar that I have for black and white photobooks I was pleasantly surprised with Paul Caponigro’s ‘The Wise Silence‘ that I found recently. A former library book, my copy is a little battered and grubby, clearly having been enjoyed by many before I found it! It is however a great collection of Paul Caponigro’s images, perhaps my favorite of the books of his that I own, printed on a nice heavy textured paper (Mohawk Superfine) and the text is letterpress on the same paper. All this makes for a great package – I wish there were more books like this and perhaps there will have to be if books are to exist as physical objects.
As we move increasingly towards digital formats it seems to me that there will be a real reason for books to exist in a physical format. Physical books will need to have something that sets them apart from their digital counterparts. That something could be size, or high quality fine art paper, a vehicle for letterpress printing, but will need to be sufficient to move people towards paper rather than sticking with there electronic devices.
I was browsing through the local Barnes and Noble store last week when I came across Joyce Tenneson‘s book Shells: Nature’s Exquisite Creations which caught my eye because I’ve been accumulating photographs of shells, rocks and other pieces of stuff I’ve found at the beach. In looking at her work I realize that the still life work isn’t generally representative of her work. Check out Joyce talking about her work and the creative process in the videos below.
As you can probably tell from the photo above, my book collection is getting a little out of control. While I would have a hard time paring it down and parting with any of the books I thought that it would be a fun exercise to select 25 ‘how-to’ books to hang on to. I decided to select a set of ‘how-to’ style of books. Some a very practical nuts and bolts of how to use Lightroom or Photoshop, some point the way ‘how-to’ using examples from the authors, some feature exercises designed to help you find your way of capturing images, some ask more questions than they answer and finally some help with talking about your work and sharing it with the world. These are all books that I still find useful, although not necessarily ones that I would recommend to someone who’s just picked up a camera. I’m sure this would be different to your list and would be happy to hear what you would have included. A ‘top ten’ from my collection of art books, monographs etc. in the coming weeks.
My copy of the catalog for Paul Caponigro’s exhibition ‘The Hidden Presence of Places‘ arrived this week. I was of course familar with, and particularly like, ‘Running White Deer‘ and aware of some of his still life studies but otherwise largely ignorant of much of his work. This was an attempt to fill in that gap in my knowledge. I was very pleased that I did. The collection in ‘The Hidden Presence of Places‘ has a number of images that resonated with me – quiet and contemplative, exactly what I am striving towards. The essay that leads off the book has a number of references, many of which I will add to my library over the next few months. In the meantime I’m going to study the images in the catalog and plan a visit to the exhibition at the Farnsworth Gallery in Rockland before it closes Oct. 9th.
I have had a lot of fun so far this year looking for ways that I can bring a sense of motion into my photographs. To do that I have been experimenting with moving the camera. One series of experiments involved panning with a slow shutter speed, both vertically and horizontally, a variety of different subjects. Some of the results I quite liked and I will continue on with those ideas. On the day I took the photograph above I was headed back to the car after a morning shoot. Although I wasn’t ready to be done, the sun was too bright for the kind of photographs that I prefer. As I walked back down the road I noticed a patch of rocks that had interesting colors. The straight shots I made were okay, but wanting something different I tried both panning the camera and rotating the camera. The result of rotating the camera is shown above.