The image above was the first painting that I can really remember having paid any attention to. It was a figure in an encyclopedia of steam engines that I had when I was much younger and I didn’t get it at all. It took me a long time to realize that what I was looking at was a steam engine, a Great Western train crossing a viaduct, even though there was accompanying text that described the image. I didn’t get it at all. It didn’t look like a steam engine, a train or anything that I’d ever seen for that matter. That of course was the point. It wasn’t supposed to look like something it was an attempt to capture a mood, a sensation, a feeling. Looking at ‘Steam, Speed, Rain’ now I would say that Turner nailed it perfectly. At the time Turner made this painting in 1844 he would have been around 69, his position in the art community firmly established he was well positioned to push the boundaries of what was accepted as the norm. I suspect that many of the people at the time didn’t appreciate what he was trying to achieve and ridiculed him for his efforts. Even so, he pursued the development of this style of removing precise forms from his work leaving color and light to give a sense of the mood he was trying to evoke for the last two decades of his career.
Turner was one of the first artists to ensure that his work would be preserved following his death and so there is a rich archive of material from sketchbooks to watercolors and oils to study. I doubt how he got from the work that got him elected to the Royal Academy at the ripe old age of 26 to that of his later years will be clear from a study of the 40,000 or so works that he left behind.
Also there is a film ‘Mr Turner‘ due to be released later in the year that stars Timothy Spall who won the best actor award at the 2014 Cannes film festival for his depiction of Turner. Check out the trailer below:
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.
People always tell me that interesting photographs are made when there’s interesting weather. I’m not sure that rain falls into the ‘interesting’ category but we’ve certainly had a lot of the stuff in the last couple of weeks regardless of which coast you’re on. Going to a location to photograph and getting rain the whole time you’re there leaves you with some choices but essentially, wait for the rain to stop or get out in the stuff and make the most of it.
I’ve definitely been one to wait for the rain to stop, particularly when it’s cold. Who needs to be wet and cold? For shooting in forests in the spring, overcast weather, perhaps a little drizzly, is ideal. But that also means you have to deal with how to prevent your gear from getting too wet. Part of my reluctance to photographing in the rain is that, since electronics and water do not mix, it just doesn’t make sense. Now I know that many DSLR cameras have some degree of ‘weather-proofing’, and generally the higher up in the range the better the weather proofing but nothing is ideal. Art Wolfe tells an amusing story of how he encouraged a group of his workshop students using Canon 5Dmkii cameras to keep shooting even though it was raining and all their cameras stopped working while his 1D kept going.
So you’re committed to shooting in all weathers what to do? You could of course use an umbrella like the photographer in the image above. The classic approach that many workshop instructors will advise is to use a hand towel placed on top of your gear. It absorbs the rain and you can wipe your stuff down too. It seems to work quite well and hand towels are readily available, especially if you’re staying in a hotel! You could perhaps compliment this with one of the disposable shower caps that you can often find in hotel rooms which would cover up the back of the camera.
An alternate to this approach is the use of rain covers. There are an number of such proprietary covers that fit every budget. I have an aquatech basic cover, shown below. The one odd thing about this rain cover is that it also requires a special eyepiece that’s specific for your camera. The eyepiece is neat, large and spongy, perfect for someone like me who wears glasses and so I keep it on the camera full time. It’s a bit of a wrestle to get the cover on but it works great.
My friend Jen showed me how to improvise a serviceable rain cover from a couple of items you can find in the produce isle of the local grocery store. Check it out in the image below.
To make this you need one of the plastic bags that grocery stores provide for loose vegetables and a sturdy rubber band. I’m told that the rubber bands that hold bundles of asparagus together are ideal, although I like the ones that hold Andy Boy brand broccoli together. Then all you need to do is put the bag over the camera with the open end towards the camera body. Use the rubber band to hold the bag in place around the lens and then once the bag is firmly in place tear out the bottom so that the lens has an unobstructed view. I know many people would advise against it but I have skylight filters on all of my lenses and so ‘tearing the bottom out of the bag’ is really a matter of running my finger nail around the groove between the filter and the lens which is generally enough to neatly tear the bag. For those old enough to remember CDs, I used to do something similar to open the CD package – run my finger along the groove that the hinge of the case between the top and bottom parts. I must admit that this improvised cover works just as well as my aquatech cover. Something to consider if your caught out.