SPIRIT STANDING STILL - a blog about photography, mostly
"No matter how slow the film, Spirit always stands still long enough for the photographer It has chosen." (Minor White)
Each of us chooses the tone for telling his or her own story. I would like to choose the durable clarity of a platinum print, but nothing in my destiny possesses the luminosity. I live among diffuse shadings, veiled mysteries, uncertainties; the tone of telling my life is closer to that of a portrait in sepia. - Isabel Allende, Portrait in sepia
These photographs - both taken at historical museums - seem to speak directly from the past with the addition of autumnal sepia tones.
Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us lo lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain. (Journal of Henry David Thoreau, October 22, 1839)
Just a few autumn-tinged redbud leaves, and an assortment of nuts, pods and seeds in hues of tan and brown. But under the clear eye of the scanner, what amazing textures! I like this image so much, I’ve done it two different ways.
Now it is true autumn; all things are crisp and ripe. (Journal of Henry David Thoreau, October 11, 1852)
Fall is under way! The bad news is, the scourge of pumpkin spice-flavored everything is everywhere. The good news is, we are treated to all the beauty that the season brings. In the photographs shown here, a carpet of fall leaves at the bottom of a pond combines with reflections of the leaves overhead - a double dose of autumn happiness.
“But if less is more, just imagine how much more more will be.” - "Frasier"
Thanks to digital technology, today’s photographers have an almost unlimited variety of creative tools at their disposal. We have the means to add special effects in-camera as well as during post-processing. Playing with these tools is great fun, and I think they can often jumpstart creativity and help us to see images in a new light. But I’ve started to rethink how, and when, to use special effects. More and more often, when editing images and considering the use of a special effect or filter, I find myself questioning the process. Does it make the image stronger? Does it convey the story that I want the image to tell (or reveal a story that I didn’t realize was there?) Does it create an image that immediately shouts “special effects!”? Yes answers to the first two questions are good - but a yes answer to the last question immediately makes me stop and think.
One thing I’ve been doing is dialing back on the strength of special effects - filters in particular. When I decide to change a photograph by adding an artistic filter, I’ll duplicate the background layer (which is always a good idea anyway, since it reduces the chance of ruining the original image file). Then apply the filter to the duplicate layer. Then experiment with reducing the opacity of that layer. It’s interesting how often I find that the artistic effect is more pleasing when I reduce its opacity by 50% or more.
The images shown here were the result of that restraint. Both of them were images that suggested carefully arranged still lifes, with objects that were well worn. After applying an artistic filter that seemed to bring out the best in the image, in each case it seemed even better when the “artistic” layer became more transparent and blended with the original. Is it possible that I’m learning the art of subtlety in my old age?
It’s been several weeks since I met Charlie McCarthy, my little wooden pinhole camera, and we’ve been getting acquainted. Bit by bit, I’m discovering his unique personality.
You might think, based on the picture below, that he has a little boo-boo, but it’s just a simple solution to a potential problem. The small wooden shutter, it turns out, is just a little too easy to open. A piece of painter’s tape keeps the shutter closed, and is easy to remove and replace when it’s time to take a photo.
I also needed a creative fix to overcome the lack of a viewfinder. The device is, after all, just a wooden box. There’s no way to know what the camera is seeing. My little pocket camera, zoomed out to its widest, provides a fair approximation of a viewfinder when placed firmly level on the tripod. After taking a couple of practice rolls of film, and comparing the film images to the images taken by the compact camera, I’m learning how to fine-tune the process and better anticipate what the final photograph will include. The short answer to that question is - more than you think! A pinhole’s view of the world is very wide - the image of the rail car (above) gives some sense of that.
Calculating the exposure is simple. By using the pocket camera to meter the scene, it’s easy to calculate the correct shutter speed based on the aperture of the pinhole (plus, I also printed out a handy chart). One thing that has surprised me is that there doesn’t seem to be any problem with reciprocity failure, at least with the film I'm using. “Reciprocity failure” is the principle that as exposure times get longer in lower light, instead of simply calculating the mathematically correct shutter speed, you have to compensate for the fall-off in light by keeping the shutter open even longer. This has turned out to be a non-issue, even in deep shade with exposures of several minutes.
Goodbye sharpness! The tiny aperture of the pinhole camera might provide an amazing depth of field, but no sharpness. It’s pleasingly soft. How liberating to be set free from digital photography’s tack-sharp expectations. Other aspects of the non-digital experience require some patience, like that long wait to get the film back from the lab. But the only real frustration is the problem of the manual film advance - something I had long since forgotten! That teeny tiny window in the back of the camera, with its dark-red glass which is impossible to see through, especially since the tiny opening is in shadow. With a little practice I’ve learned that it takes about 1 1/2 revolutions of the film advance knobs per frame, so I’ll be painting some markings to make the task a little easier.
It’s a lot of fun to experiment with this new/old technology. I see some special projects in my future - watch this space!
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© Fay Henexson
Favorite Sites / Recents Reads
In the Moment: Michael Frye's Landscape Photography Blog
Carol Leigh photography blog
David du Chemin photography blog
Fine Art Landscape Photography of Seung Kye Lee
My Modern Met "where art enthusiasts and trend spotters connect over creative ideas"
Ian Plant Dreamscapes photography blog
William Neill's Light on the Landscape photoblog
Art Wolfe blog
Recently read, and highly recommended:
The creative habit (Twyla Tharp)
The museum of extraordinary things (Alice Hoffman)
Snow hunters (Paul Yoon)