July 20, 2014

Lights, Camera, Action!

Hiroshi Sugimoto's "Suppose you shoot a whole movie in a single frame?" (Michael Fried, "Why Photography matters as Art as never before", p.5) probably led me to reconsider my earlier attempts to do one second shots. But not as long exposure stills! I did some experimenting with moving the camera during the one second exposure earlier (see e.g. my post "one second").
What do you need as a prerequisite?
  • Lights: They need to be dimmed down before hitting the sensor. So anything that helps you get down to a 1 sec exposure, like shooting in dusk/dawn, using an 8xND filter, or a lens that can stop down to f40 is helpful. As I was trying to shoot in bright sunlight I needed using an 8xND filter + stopping down to f40! Why the one second? Well, anything shorter makes it extremely hard to exert any kind of manual control over the movement of the camera. But you may well use longer exposure.
  • Camera: You can use any camera. Just remember you probably need to mount a strong ND-filter to your lens and stop it down as farther than f11. Plus, better make sure your sensor is clean, otherwise all the dust will be exposed when closing the lens to its minimum aperture.
  • Action: Simply move your camera in any way during exposure. And be patient: The results vary quite a bit depending on what you do. So you need to experiment and get a feeling for which movements create which effect (e.g. angling the camera down vs. angling it up). Don't bother when you have to throw 95% of the shots away. Practice, practice, practice. With time you get a pretty good feeling for what works and what not.
  • Tripod? Not necessarily! The set of images referred to above were shot free-hand. But for certain effects a tripod can be very helpful indeed. E.g. for rotating around the optical axis.
  • B.t.w.: I prefer a bright subject with dark surroundings. When you move the camera you "paint" the photons of the brighter subject over the adjacent areas. If those areas are bright themselves you simply get a low-contrast mish-mash that doesn't look too attractive.
The following shot was done from a tripod during vertical movement so the blur-lines are very straight and make a nice contrast to the wild blossoms of the begonia. I timed my movement so that it started approximately in the middle of the exposure to get the well-defined core overlaid with the stripes:

 Striped_Begonia_79511

Btw.: Hiroshi Sugimoto answered his own question by shooting inside cinemas opening the shutter of his camera at the beginning of the film and closing it when the film ended. So in the end there was not much of the movie in his stills (but a white screen) but the movie theater was illuminated and produced a ghostly image of the interior. One of those images can be seen here. Read this wikipedia article to learn more about his work.

April 15, 2014

It's like Sculpture

...is the title of a post from Ken Rockwell that perfectly fits my last from Kit White. Ken goes on to say:
"Ask a sculptor, and he'll tell you that sculpture is simple. All you do is chip away all that isn't part of what you're trying to sculpt. Simply take away all the stone that isn't what you need, and you're done.
Photography is the same. You have to work diligently to remove everything from your picture that isn't part of the picture. Remove all distractions and anything and everything that isn't directly related to telling the story you're trying to tell, and when you've removed every distracting or unrelated element, your masterpiece is complete.
Photography, like sculpture, is completely backwards from painting. In painting, you start with a blank canvas and add only what is needed. In sculpture you start with a large block, and remove all that isn't needed. Likewise a camera sees everything, and it's the photographer's duty to move around, get closer and remove everything that isn't contributing to his image."

So what Ken is saying is: "Eliminate the nonessential"! The really tough question here is: What is essential to your image and what not.
My thoughts: If you eliminate enough from a photograph you might end up with an abstract - once enough references to reality are removed from the image to make it recognizable.
Like the persons in front of the sculpture that give the observer a good reference to judge the height of it, or the view of the building in the background that supplies the beholder of the image with a reference of the setting. See the following image:

Outlook  77344

April 13, 2014

Eliminate the nonessential

Found this in Kit White's "101 things to Learn in Art School" (The MIT Press, 2011) as lesson #89: "Every work of art should contain whatever it needs to fulfill its descriptive objective but nothing more. Look at the "leftover" parts of every composition. Successful images have no dead spaces or inactive parts. Look at your compositions holistically and make sure that every element advances he purposes of the whole"
---
Well, that seems a bit contrary to the essence of the last post about "slow revelation" of complex images: Shouldn't you arrive at a non-complex image if you "eliminate the nonessential"? Or to put it more positively: Shouldn't the concentration on the essential lead to simple(r) images that reveal themselves quickly? I simply find it hard in photography to shoot complex images that don't contain some nonessential parts.
And then there's also the question of what is nonessential! I discussed about a shot of a sculpture in front of a building: I had included a tourist taking a shot of the construct in my photograph and my wife didn't like it. She felt that the man was nonessential while I found that the inclusion of the photographer delivered (a) a sense of size and (b) was a nice contrast to the steel, concrete, and glass. But then I never really thought about what the image should convey.

But some minutes before I took a shot from within the structure that had no persons wandering around it and no building in the background (the New Museum in Nuremberg) and i must admit, that after a while it was the image that I was most fond of. I think it has no nonessential elements in it and is quite complex - at least regarding the number of lines in it. Interestingly all the lines follow some basic geometry so the sculpture in itself creates an example of how you can combine complexity and simplicity. The sculpture is called "Unschärfe" (unsharpness) and built from reinforcing steel by Matthias Loebermann & the Institute for architecture and ...

Hope you like it!

Unschärfe 77319

April 08, 2014

Slow reveal

Found this in Kit White's "101 things to Learn in Art School" (The MIT Press, 2011) as lesson #55: Under the heading "Static images deliver the information they contain immediately" Kit White added: "But they have the capacity to reveal [...] over an extended period of investigation, meditation, and analysis. [...] And though the eye can take in an image in its totality in an instant, great images reveal their secrets slowly. The more complex an image, the slower the revelation" --- Kit White accompanied this by an own image after Paul Cezanne. Btw. kit White's lesson about slow reveal resonates well with his other lessen about images that "12 inches and 12 feet" here.

Scratch Marks

Scratches 77200 Converted to black and white to take away some clues as to what the subject really is and finding a crop that eliminated some of the more telling signs - which in this case were twigs and other debris. Now can you guess what it is? Well, an interesting stone that bore a lot of scratch marks!

February 15, 2014

Ghost of a tree

Back again to one of my fav subjects: At night this tree looked like a ghost. A little added vignette and a bit of a boost for the background to look like hellfire... Nightshadow_60534 Found this image unattended for in my collection when skimming for shots with the Nikon AF-S 35/1.4G. It's not the sharpest one shot at 1/30 sec handheld and at ISO 6400 - but I like it.

January 27, 2014

Not quite abstract

Normally I photograph trees for their beautiful and intriguing form. But sometimes a pattern or another aspect of trees catch my eye. This was the case here which looked like utter chaos with the young birches growing in an impenetrable thicket. The resulting geometry is one of mostly vertical lines in white and some ghostly criss-crossing twigs. Chaos, but with some structure. Abstract, but not quite unrecognizable. Birches 72379