How Far Do You Really Need to go for That Photograph?

· Reading Time: 17 minutes

Sunday, April 5, 2020

OK, I give up!!!  I have been trying to ride out this Covid-19 virus by doing what I am supposed to do.  I’ve been sitting at home and enjoying a little bit of a break from the norm.  I’ve actually been getting a lot of things done around here which is kind of nice.  I’ve done two full details on our vehicles, mowed the yard twice, done some landscaping work in the yard, and even fixed a sagging outbuiding.  I’ve watched more than my share of television, and have been learning how to best spend money when manufacturers are making products again.  It has been a full life here at home!  It wasn’t the life that I wanted long term though.  I need to get out, I need to do things, I need to photograph things!

I figured that it would be best for me to lead by example and not bother with going out for any photographs hoping that this would all be over soon enough.  However, as the weeks passed by and I started to look at a full month of being out of play as a photographer I started to get a little worried.  Would I just become content waking up and watching television all day long?  That can’t be a good thing, and it really wasn’t what I was interested in doing on that kind of scale.  As I kept seeing all kinds of posts on social media about people getting out and social distancing, with hundreds of their closest unintroduced friends I began to get very worried that this virus would never stop spreading.  It seems that all the places that would be great to go to get away from other people have become the destination of choice for everyone looking to get out of their homes.  Apparently, when you get to a parking lot that is full, it is perfectly fine to just jump right into the fray with everyone else.  First of all, I don’t like being around that many people, but with the way that this thing is spreading, I would just rather not be around that many people that may or may not have it.  Second, I don’t want to come back here and post photographs of places that I have been which will then lure others to those locations.  I have to be a responsible citizen of the world just as we all should.

I’m not panicking about this virus thing, but I do realize how quickly it is spreading and the only way to stop it is to stop coming into contact with others until the virus runs its course.  That being said, I find myself back to my original conundrum about how to satiate my need to create.  It wasn’t that long ago that I found myself in a long term creative slump which was quite disheartening to say the least.  Had that happened during this state wide lock down, I would have been quite happy about the timing, but as luck would have it, I found myself just hitting my creative stride once again when my ability to go out and find images was getting curtailed.  I had a lot of great ideas for landscape images since it was getting to be the best part of Spring, but all the places that I wanted to go were getting closed down in order to control the spread of the virus.  I just sat back and put my ideas on pause hoping that it would all be done in a couple of weeks.  In the meantime, I had a month’s worth of images stored to share on social media so I would still have a presence online even though I wasn’t going out much.  It didn’t stop my want to create though.

I started to look at things in the house for potential images and I remembered my old days of studio work during bad weather where I shot things like smoke, cross polarization, macro work, and light painting.  All of those types of photography were quite valid and I did have some ideas to do all of them at some point or another.  In fact, I am currently looking for subjects to shoot the cross polarization technique with possibly later tonight.  The problem with those types of images was that it wasn’t what I really wanted to shoot.  I wanted to get outside and I wanted to shoot landscapes, or maybe some rural settings.  Hey, I could go out on a rural road trip, that wouldn’t involve crowds….but wait, I would likely have to knock on a door to get permission to be on a property.  That was a no go.  So what do I shoot to get this itch taken care of?

Well, here’s an idea.  I could go outside into my back yard and find something to photograph.  You laugh…but that is just what I did.

So, you now know what I’ve been up to this morning.  I shot the video early on in the process when the sky wasn’t quite as good as it turned out to be.  The idea for this came about a few days ago when I was thinking about some creative long exposure images that I could shoot from home.  I needed something that would be still to use as a visual anchor against the sky.  I also didn’t want all of the neighbor’s houses in the shot.  I was wanting something dramatic and full of energy and yet quirky at the same time.  I mean, lets face it, I was going a bit stir crazy here and the images needed to fit the mood I was in.  I had planned on getting up yesterday and doing this series of images, but I got up late and just wasn’t overly moved by the sky.  Plus an object at rest tends to stay at rest.  By this morning, I was set that I was going to do something with the camera because conversely, an object in motion will stay in motion and I wanted to be in motion once again with a creative purpose.

I got out of bed a little later than I had planned and saw that there were clouds in the sky.  It was a pretty well overcast day so I wasn’t all that motivated to go outside.  However, I did see some potential clearing and that was enough to convince me to go out and give it a try.  I also had some other ideas around my outbuilding which I could work on during the cloudy phases if I needed to.  I went out the garage and grabbed my tripod from the back of the 4Runner that is currently getting 1 month per gallon of gas which really isn’t that bad at all!  I put on my flip flops and grabbed my Lowepro bag out of the office.  The hike was very strenuous as I stepped down off of the deck into the yard.  I hiked uphill to the far corner of the yard by the one usable corner post of the fence.  I had to rest for a while cause that was a lot of activity.  I’m thinking about starting an exercise program called “Couch to 5ft” where I provide training for this athletic accomplishment.

Anyway, after I caught my breath and started to size up the compositional elements I broke out my cell phone and started to look at the potential compositions and how things would line up for a shot.  While I was doing that, the clouds were thinning out quickly.  this was going to be my chance to try my idea.  I saw that a wide angle would work perfectly for the shot so I set the camera up with a 16-35mm lens.  I didn’t use any filters at first because I wasn’t sure exactly how I would want this one to go.  I got a basic composition dialed in with the post in the dead center of the frame.  Looking at the exposure, I would able to get about 30 seconds with a 10-stop Mor Slo filter which I decided to slide into the filter holder.  The exposures were coming out decent as the clouds were moving quickly, but there still wasn’t enough blue sky to really make it work for what I was after.  While I was waiting on the sky to change to what I was after, I decided to alter the composition at bit and put that main fence post down to the bottom left third intersection.  That threw off the symmetry of the image an immediately added a touch of visual drama and tension to the frame.  Since I was shooting at an extreme angle to keep the other houses from entering into the frame, I chose to cant the camera slightly to allow that one post to be perfectly vertical even though it was off to the left of the frame.  That worked well for me.

Fenced In“, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray 15-stop Mor Slo ND Filter, 190 seconds

Shortly after shooting the video that appeared slightly earlier in this entry, I saw that the sky was really clearing up quickly.  The clouds were still moving, but not quite as fast.  I wasn’t getting the motion that I wanted with my 20-30 second exposures.  I was going to need to get a much longer exposure to get this to work out.  I swapped out my 10-stop for a 15-stop Mor Slo ND Filter which allowed me to have an exposure of over three minutes.  I checked the base exposure and found that with the filter in place, I would be able to get a 3:20 exposure, or 200 seconds.  I switched over to bulb mode and plugged in my remote release.  I released the shutter and watched the timer on the top of the camera counting the seconds.  As I got nearer to the target time I thought about the sun which had come out during the exposure and lit the fence stronger than it had been.  I figured that I probably should shorten the exposure, but by this time I was already at 190 seconds which wasn’t really much underexposed, but I stopped the exposure there just in case it might help.  As it turned out, the exposure was fine and the 10 seconds that I removed really didn’t affect it one way or the other.  I had a good exposure at f/8 and 190 seconds.  The clouds looked great and were moving in the right direction.  I was pretty sure that this would be my shot from the morning, but I did a couple more exposures just in case.

I wasn’t sure if I would be doing this as a black and white image or a color image.  I typically like doing my long exposure sky shots as monochrome, but the color balance was so good here with the warm tones of the fence and the cooler tones of the sky.  When it was all said and done, I opted to leave this as a color image and there was just a little bit of color tweaking involved to get it where I wanted it.  The rest was all about localized contrasts which worked very well for this image.  It is a different image than you might be used to from me, but it does fit my style and I’m proud to say that my fence now officially fits into my decay photography subject matter.  I’ll admit, I didn’t think that this would turn out as good as it did.  I liked the concept, but I was really afraid that it was going to look like a desperate attempt to get an image.  It may look like that later on, but for right now I really love the lines and different textures that are present.  It is exciting and seems to fit the theme of the month which is stay home and don’t go anywhere that you don’t have to.  This image captures just what I have been feeling and that is one of the great things that I love about photography.  it gives my emotions and feelings a voice.  Now you can see what is going on in my mind.

I had about 40 or so images of the fence when it was all said and done and I knew that I was going to get just a single keeper out of all of that.  That also meant that I had my first image in the bag.  When have you known me to stop at just one image when there was other things available to capture?  Well, today wasn’t going to be that day.  I had some other ideas that I wanted to try while I was all the way out here in my back yard.  I went to the other side where my old outbuilding is.  I have been looking at this thing for a number of years and saying to myself that it is getting very close to being a candidate for my decay photography.  I’ll admit, I haven’t been keeping it up the way that I should.  It has deteriorated over the years, but after leveling the foundation of it a few days ago, the doors were finally close to even again and I was proud of that.  i also knew that there were some interesting lines with the rotting trim on it right at the latch and lock.  I had a basic concept for a black and white shot of this section to show off the textures and lines.

Containment“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, No Filters, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

I got in close to it and leveled the camera on the area that I liked.  I had switched my lens over to the 24-70mm which had a much closer focus range than the 16-35mm and it would allow me to get a much more intimate composition on the lock. I looked at the lines that I wanted to include and figured out the basic crop that I wanted.  The lens allowed me to get that crop just right with the native 3:2 crop of the sensor.  I moved the camera around millimeter by millimeter until I was happy with the symmetry of the background and had the latch and lock placed at opposing thirds.  Yeah, there was a lot that went into this composition to have it present the way I wanted it to.

After getting the composition set up, I started to look at the exposure and found that there was no need for any filters to be added.  I was in the shade of the building so a polarizer would have little to no affect on the shiny bits which I was happy to have highlighted anyway.  It was such a straightforward shot that I only did three images with slightly different compositions before figuring that I had another image in the bag.  It wasn’t until I got the image on the computer and started the black and white conversion that I realized just how good this image was going to look.  The green trim on the beige siding made for a perfect chance to massage the color channels in the monochrome image to really fine tune the contrast.  The latch was naturally the brightest point in the image which was just what I wanted.  By dragging the blacks down a good bit as well as the shadows, I was able to really get the textures to show up on the wood.

This one, like the last one is a little different from my norm, but kind of fits into my isolations on old vehicles.  I would do emblems and door handles like this without a second thought, but the idea to capture an intimate shot of a padlock on an old door latch was a little different.  However, it is another one that really captures the feelings that are going on with the current state of affairs.  When you really think about it, I can’t open that door because of the lock.  I can’t access what is on the other side.  It is all my property, and I do have the key, but for the sake of this picture, I am choosing to leave it closed and secured.  The monochrome treatment adds a little bit of longing to the composition as well which I think suits it quite well.  I had a passing thought of leaving it in color, but the color really didn’t add to the story at all.  It just made so much more sense to just keep it brutally simple in black and white.

Shadow of Oneself“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, No Filters, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

Starting to get in the right frame of mind for capturing textures and interesting lines through monochrome, I turned my attention back to the fence which I had decided fit into my decay photography quite nicely.  Please don’t try to guilt me into replacing this old fence cause I just don’t want to.  I started to look for interesting shapes in the wood and I found roughly a half dozen places that caught my eye.  They seemed to tell a story to me, and that was enough to convince me to take that close focusing 24-70mm lens with no filters over to different areas of the fence to see what I could capture.  For these, I found myself getting right at the close focusing minimum distance for each picture.  I was shooting them vertical, but since they were designed to be abstract, I knew that I might flip them horizontal, or even upside down to get the composition to correctly tell the story of the shapes.

When I got these inside, I was a little disappointed with most of them, but there were two that captured the spirit of the designs that I saw.  In both cases, the main structures of the design filled a large part of the frame.  The others would have looked better cropped in closer, but for that, I would have needed a macro lens which I don’t have.  I started to work with the two images that I liked and immediately converted them to monochrome.  Since they were rather uniform in color, the color didn’t really add anything to the image at all.  I was after the textures and the shadow detail which was the realm of black and white.  Both images converted rather simply and didn’t require much in the way of processing.  It was just a matter of working out the contrasts and tonal relationships through the image which took no time at all.

The first image was one that had a lot of depth to it with the way the lines went.  There was really no depth at all to this board, but the visual clues gave you a receding visual through the image which I thought was just perfect.  That sense of distance didn’t really come through in the vertical image, so I rotated it 90 degrees to the right which put the implied foreground at the bottom with the implied background trailing off above it.  This fits very well with how our eyes decipher landscape images so our eyes help with the visual tricks of this image.

Dolphin in the Sun“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, No Filters, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

The next image is a little more conceptual and I will be the first to admit that everyone will see this one a little bit different based on their own thoughts.  I don’t usually do this with my abstracts, but I am going to tell you what I see here.  As I started to process the image, I saw a sun over some form of marine life with a prominent dorsal fin.  When I flipped the image 90 degrees to the left it was even more obvious to me.  Knowing that Toni loves dolphins this is what I saw and immediately thought of her.  I processed the image and got a rough edit done on it before texting her a picture of it to see what she saw.  I really expected her to be excited and see the same thing that I did.  Her response…

“Either a boomerang to the eye or a trail leading into an abyss??

Really?  A boomerang to the eye?  I think that she has been at work too long (essential worker).  I really thought that she would have seen a dolphin.  Like I said though, everyone will see different things in these abstract images and that is what makes them so cool to create.  I like the idea that this image is much more than just an image of something, it is a opening to interpretation by many.  For me, it was just an opportunity to find a random pattern appearing in wood that looked like something else entirely.  So, what do you see?

After getting several images of the fence, I decided that it was time to call it a morning as the clouds were all clearing up and I really wanted to get to the second phase of the creative process.  I was really interested in how these were going to turn out, especially since it has been a few weeks now since I have touched the camera.  There were 53 frames exposed from my backyard which was actually a pretty good amount for only a couple of hours outside in my own back yard.  I came into contact with nobody, and I had images that I was pretty sure had told a story.  It had been a good morning and that creative itch had been scratched which I was quite thankful for.

If any of these “made in captivity” images strike your fancy, I would love to discuss making a print for you to hang up in your home.  Of course, all of my images that share through this website are available for purchase and nothing makes me happier than to have my work appreciated in the form that I intended for it to be.  You just can’t compare looking at an image on a computer screen to holding a tangible print in your hands.  The image takes on a whole different meaning at that point I think.

I hope that everyone is making it through this time as well as can be hoped, and just like you, I long for the day when we can all get back to normal.

Until next time…
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