Really? Has It Been A Month?

Where does the time go, eh?

But I guess it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that I haven’t been posting to this blog about photography when I haven’t really been taking pictures. But that isn’t completely true. I actually have a pretty large catalogue of unprocessed/edited photos sitting on my computer. I have the intent to boot-up the machine and sit down and go through them all, etc., but I just don’t seem to make it to the chair. I wish I understood why the trepidation. But for now I refuse to get too worked up about it. I figure that like many of my creative moments in life it will come to me when it comes to me and there is no point in pushing it upon myself.

That or I’m simply a lazy sod.

I think I’ll go with lazy sod.

But all this laziness doesn’t mean I haven’t been something of a shutter bug. Please note:

Charleston Falls

I have found myself making no small use of my somewhat recently acquired iPhone and its camera. My previous mobile blowers also had cameras, but neither (the Motorola RAZR and Palm Centro) were of any particular use for taking pictures that one might wish to share in a forum such as the Internet. But the iPhone does a pretty reasonable job all things considered. And there is a wealth of iPhone apps dedicated to photo editing and I have downloaded a fistful and make good use of each on almost a daily basis. The above picture was captured with the iPhone while I was hiking and then edited using an app named Camera Bag.

A worthwhile moment to mention here, on WordPress, is that I both entered a local photography contest and walked away with second place within the category I entered. I haven’t entered an actual contest until this one popped up so I’m quite surprised and excited that I actually won something! The contest was via Woodland Cemetery in Dayton and winners were announced last weekend on the 11th. I had entered this picture:

Winning Picture

It is actually a Photoshop Elements processed picture I took back in February (I think). It’s one of the first pictures I ever fiddled with in Elements, but oddly enough and as much as I liked it, I never posted it to Flickr. Probably part of being a lazy sod, you know? But still….second place. Awesome.

Here is a picture of me, looking rather rumbled and weird, next to my winning entry:
Contest Winner

After the winners were announced it became known to me that the cemetery was offering one of those walk-about type things where a guided tour is provided of some of the more important or interesting characters buried within the cemetery. At each of the graves of said folks there is an actor/actress who talks about the person as if they were the dearly deceased. Since I was already there I opted to stick around and take the tour, which lasted about two hours. During this time I snapped some pics with my handy Canon Rebel/400, but also clicked away here and there with the iPhone, thus obtaining this picture:

Cemetery Walk

It is actually a crop of the original (I removed the others on the tour) and I know…I know…he really should be in the left of the picture for a better sense of balance, but this was all done on the fly and from within the crowd of folks. The wasn’t a whole lot of time for getting the best angle, etc. so I’m lucky to have what I have. I made use of the iPhone app Photogene to perform the crop and conversion to something akin to sepia. I’m pleased enough with the results considering all things.

Lastly, the other day I was going through some pictures my cousin had uploaded to Facebook of a day trip she and her son took to some park near where they live. Some of the pictures were taken around the shoreline of a small lake and included lily pads. Lily pads always remind me of Monet, which always reminds me of the work of Impressionists. Wheels slowing clicking I emailed my cousin and asked for a full-sized copy of a particular picture, which included my nephew on a dock, laying, while playing with some of the lily pads in the water. Opened in Photoshop Elements (cuz I don’t have the grown-up version of Photoshop) I played around with it all morning to create an Impressionistic version of the image with the end result being thus:

Noel Upload

I actually created two versions and I still haven’t decided which one I prefer, but it was a somewhat fun way to spend a few hours this morning. I say “somewhat fun” because I really didn’t obtain quite the result for which I was looking. Both versions are close, but not quite there and I eventually grew both tired and a bit aggravated as my hoped-for results were alluding me. This might explain why I don’t particularly care to do this sort of photo editing, you know?

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Gonna be a short one….

Seeing how I pretty much covered everything of the photo shoot with the daughter at Woodland Cemetery, I really don’t have much to add except for something about the most recent upload to Flickr (10 pictures) and some final thoughts.

Bug20(flash)

In my previous post I mentioned how I frequently took at least two snaps of each pose: one with and one without flash. Some of the pics with flash were repeated at different flash outputs so I may have wound up with five or six flash versions before we moved on to a different pose. On the whole I was more pleased with the non-flash versions of all the photos where she is on the ground with the lovely Ginkgo leaves. However, this isn’t the case for the pictures in the latest upload to Flickr.

Bug18(flash)

The images I took of her against or by the tree (with the Ginkgo leaves still about) looked too dark when first viewed in review on the LCD screen of my camera. I took a number of non-flash images before I realized that maybe flash was the way to go and again began the process of shooting multiple images at different flash output levels until I found that for which I was looking: images that looked natural and without any harsh shadows. This was, for the most part (and keeping in mind this was my first time trying such a technique), a success, but not as complete a success as I would have liked. If you look at the above image you can see a distinct shadow created by her right arm upon her exposed skin. Oh well….I’m not going to worry about it. I still think it’s a lovely shot and the shadow a very minor annoyance.

Bug19(flash)

So…final thoughts. This was a great achievement for myself. I real pat-on-the-back moment if I do say so myself. When at the cemetery I saw the ‘scene’ and realized its potential. I thought about its potential and found a way to exploit it. I opted to work outside my comfort zone and try not just one (portraiture), but two (flash not on the camera’s automatic settings) new things. I had fun. And of all these moments it is the fun part that I will likely remember the best. It was fun because it was new, exciting and different. It was fun because the daughter and I got to spend time together in a positive manner, which is always difficult with a 16-year old. And yes, it was fun because things worked out. I’m not so certain the impact of the fun bits would be so strong if the whole endeavor had led to rubbish.

The only problem now is, where do I go from here? How much of this was simply a coincidence of moments that happened to work together relatively flawlessly? What are the chances I can do this again, but under different circumstances? Can I replicate this bit of good luck without over-thinking it and making it decidedly less fun? I don’t yet know the answers to these questions, but I’m hoping or the best.

Gonna be a long one…..

Like the title says, this is likely to be a long posting. But I do have lots to say and I think it’s only fair to warn you advance. So settle in, grab a cup of tea or a bottle of beer or a glass of single-malt, and take a journey with me…..

This is the daughter being semi-forced into being my model for an afternoon of shooting at the Woodland Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio.

Bug11

Nice, eh?

A few weeks back I ventured to the cemetery with some fellow Flickr mates, who also happen to live in the area. We had a great time shooting and chatting, and then followed it up with some nice dinner. While shooting I thought about how nice it would be to return on an overcast day and shoot some images of the various statues and such. You know….pretty common fare for cemetery photography. But as I like that sort of thing I have no problem with running with the crowd. And so I did return on just such an overcast day with pending rain.

While visiting on this overcast day I noticed that the Ginkgo trees had finally shed most of their leaves, which had been quite attached when I was there the week before. Even in the diffuse light of this overcast day the leaves made for quite a splash of colour as they lay upon both lawn and road. While it took a while an idea did eventually develop in my mind that I should return with daughter in tow and shot her against these leaves. I thought that her darkish red hair, pale complexion and penchant for blue-coloured clothing would make for wonderful contrast and compliment against these Ginkgo leaves. And so it was that I returned home with this idea in mind only to find that the weather predicted for the next day was to be more of the same: overcast, but without threat of rain. And so I informed the daughter of my plans for her.

Bug08

The next day (Thursday, if memory serves) was indeed overcast and I eagerly awaited her return to home from school. Once she arrived I filled my car with my camera kit, some towels (as it was damp from the previous night’s rain) and a ladder, which was to be used to offer me some altitude by which I might better shot the photographs as the daughter lay upon the leaves.

So far the planning and excursion have been pretty straight-forwarded. But this was, for me, an incredibly stressful situation. I had never before done anything like this. I did manage to cajole the daughter and a friend of hers to semi-pose for me for a series of pictures of them playing Guitar Hero, but this was completely different. I was about to embark upon something new and completely different and my life’s history tells me that such journeys always, not sometimes or almost always, but always end in failure and misery.

We started with a few pictures, but I realized that she was too stiff so I talked her through loosening up and being more natural. Surprisingly it worked. She took well to my directions and relaxed, thus relieving much of the tension that the first few photographs conveyed. I also quickly learned that full-body-length images weren’t working. Not at all. They looked to linear and didn’t pop in any meaningful way (as much meaning as one can gather from the 3.0-inch LCD screen on the back of a digital camera). So I shifted focus (pun completely intended) to shots that were much closer up and here I struck upon success or, at the very least, success compared with what I had been getting.

Concerned that the overcast day was going to leave the daughter underexposed, I had brought along my flash unit (Canon 580EX II) to help me through the shoot. However, I wasn’t certain it was worth bringing as I really have zero knowledge and/or skill with its use. About the only thing I know is that I can regularly obtain better flash images indoors by bouncing the light off ceilings or walls when using it (thanks Strobist!). And I have managed to get better flash pictures in this manner, but I had always set the camera to full automatic mode when doing so. Under cemetery conditions there were no walls or ceilings from which to bounce the flash and full automatic mode for the camera seemed….well….non-experimental. As such I had made up my mind that I would shoot in my preferred mode of Aperture Priority and use the flash to help lift shadow or even tones as I saw fit.

The results were interesting if nothing else…

Bug06(flash)

I knew that full-power flash would not work at all. Period. No way. No how. And I do know enough about the workings of my flash such that I could change it’s output (up or down), which I did. I experimented with different settings: -1/3, -1/1, -1&2/3, etc. until I found a setting that didn’t completely wash out her skin tones or create shadows on the leaves behind her. This was actually quite a bit of fun for me, experimenting and all that, but not so much for the daughter, who had to remain in the same position while I took multiple shots of her at different flash power settings.

In the end I believe that the non-flash images are fine on their own. I do not think she is underexposed or that the images are too dark in general (it was really overcast and being November the sun doesn’t get very high in the sky anyway). As a matter-of-fact, I think lifting the shadows with the flash unit removed a bit of the three dimensional quality that comes from the aid of shadows. However, and in defence of my efforts, I think the flash versions came out far, far better than I had any right to imagine. Some are better than others, but on the whole I think the flash versions stand up in their own right and that there are other pictures not yet uploaded to Flickr whereby the flash version was definitely better.

Upon getting home and going through the pictures I was quite nervous. I was, at first, wowed by my results. They were, on the whole, far better than I had anticipated, especially considering the so many firsts that were involved on this shoot. But I was afraid that as days passed and I looked at the images more closely I would find fewer and fewer with which I was pleased. However, I’m very happy to report that as time went by I became even more pleased and proud of my results.

Bug14

In addition, after my wife had an opportunity to view them she passed along a compliment, which both warmed my heart and surprised me as she usually doesn’t make too many comments (much less compliments) about my photography endeavor. She said something to the effect that it seems to her that I have improved upon my framing and composition as the months have passed. I’ll take that, thank you very much!

Finally, there was one flaw with many of the images taken with the flash and that was of reflection in the daughter’s eyes. Granted, as the power-output was low the reflections weren’t overwhelming, but simply distracting: a little pinpoint of light on an otherwise lovely brown. To remedy this situation I took advantage of the clone stamp in my oft-used JPEG editing software, Paint.Net (freeware). Problem solved!

So there you have it. Work with a model. Flash work outside my usual comfort zone. Utilizing photo-editing software for something other than tweaking and conversion to JPEG. A grand adventure in every manner and one which I greatly enjoyed not just because I obtained results with which I am so pleased, but because it was truly a great way to spend an afternoon with the daughter.