Postcard from Maine (4)

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4-20-14Pemaquid

Color. It can make or break a photograph, and for those of you who have been following my photographic journey over the past couple of years, you’ll know that I have become more and more intrigued with removing colors and distilling a scene down into the most important of elements… lines, shapes, contrasts, textures and how they all interact compositionally within that little rectangle that is the view finder… in black and white.

All concepts around trying to create a good compositional scene apply, as does my mantra of trying to make any scene your own and not just a mimic of someone else’s photography. As suggestions to help achieve this, I’d recommend experimenting with placing important elements nearer the edges of the frame, using the rule of thirds where appropriate, and if you latch onto something interesting… leverage it… go for it. Really try to accentuate what you find… just look at those incredible textures in the striated rocks of Pemaquid Point, and depending on when you visit, you might just get a chance to shoot some cool reflections.

This is a remarkable location… one that I’d highly recommend spending some serious time exploring. It’s one of those places where someone interested in practicing their craft has ample opportunity to spend time on a variety of compositional choices. I’ve spent a whole day here feeling like a kid in a candy store – there are all sorts of textures and elements that can be used to create a variety of compositions. This place can be shot wide, tight with a telephoto lens, and of course… in unique conditions and with a little imagination it can really shine. In the color version I used a long shutter to help streak the clouds a little and add another element… maybe it helps and maybe it clutters? It’s OK to question.

Color in the first and a more simple black and white composition in the second… I’d be curious if you’ve shot this location, and what you think about the different impact each has. If you have shot Pemaquid, drop a link in the comments and show us what you got!

4-20-14Pemaquid Point

Just for kicks…

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4-19-14 Cape Neddick

Here’s an image just for show. There’s no real story to this post other than I like it. It’s of Nubble Light – sometimes called Cape Neddick – a classic New England lighthouse located on the coast of southern Maine in York. I grabbed the opportunity to soak in the start of a new day, and as the sun slowly rose, I just loved the textures in the foreground rocks and the subtle gradient in the sky. The color version is nice, but I especially liked the mood generated by the silvery black and white rendition. Enjoy!

Spending a little time…

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4-10-14 websitecover Lately I’ve been spending some time exploring my portfolio of landscape photographs. Though feeling physically and mentally much better between rounds of Chemo, I still haven’t quite mustered up the energy to spend much time outside, never mind having the oomph to be out early or late capturing any new good light on the landscape with the camera. That leaves me fondly reminiscing about some of the work I’ve already done, and as I do so, I get to spend a little time perusing my web site – and you know what that means… yes, tweaking.

As you can see from the screenshot above – http://www.acadiaandbeyond.com – I’ve abandoned (for now) my attachment to a single strong black and white coastal image in favor of a more eclectic, colorful, and assorted view of what is distinctly Acadia National Park – after all, there is so much to see in Acadia, why not show her off in all her glory?

We’ve had a lot of incredibly generous local support in response to our little medical emergency, and as a way to say thank you, Lori and I have been selecting prints that we think people might appreciate, and we’ve been ordering and delivering them as thank you gifts.

I’ve learned that it’s one thing to conceptualize, experience, and actually create any one of my photographs, but I have to admit, following the process through to where it physically gets printed and held in hand – whether it is printed on canvas, paper, or better yet, on metal – it is quite exhilarating to hold a piece, especially since many of these pieces to date have merely been images on the screen.

I’ve a couple of big pieces being printed on metal on the way as “thank you’s” to our friends, and I’ll be sure to grab a pic of what they look like “in-person” as it were when they arrive. In the meantime, if anyone is interested in purchasing from what I believe is a new and improved web site, please use the discount code “chemo” when in the shopping cart area – despite it’s not-so-nice meaning, it will get you 25% off any purchase 😉

The other kind of medicine…

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3-25-14 oliver1

Few words today, but in addition to the many not-so-natural medicines I’ve been pumping into my body lately, here’s a glimpse of another kind of medicine that has certainly been impacting my well-being. I’m getting lots of love from Lori, Sam, Jack and family – don’t know what I would do without all of them – and then there’s my baby boy Oliver. He knows somethings up, but as always – regardless – he’s got lots of love to give. Both photographs in this post are iPhone pix processed in the Snapseed app – the one below is a “selfie” I’m especially proud of.

3-25-14 oliver2

 

A different angle

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1-18-14 boulder beach

In this location, I can usually be found hunkered down somewhere back near where the ocean meets the round rocks, since that spot gives you a view of the Atlantic Ocean and majestic Otter Cliffs. On this occasion however, I’m a little further along the Boulder Beach shoreline, looking back over my shoulder at a different angle. Looking in this direction doesn’t give a striking view of the cliffs, but the round rocks this location is renowned for are still there, and I love those steadfast trees standing guard over the scene.

Distilling the scene

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1-5-14 bass harbor3 BWTake away the color and you’re left with basic elements like lines, shapes, textures and tones. Certain photographs lend themselves well to being converted to black and white and others don’t, and in this case, I kinda liked how this scene looked in monochrome. Distinct and obvious in shape, the jagged granite rocks add drama to an already iconic view, and in each of these compositions, I tried to wed the foreground, mid ground and background together in a cohesive way. Hopefully I succeeded.

1-5-14 bass harbor2 BW

1-5-14 bass harbor1 BW

Voldemort!

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1-14-14 VoldemortDefinitely not a landscape photograph.

I was trawling through some of my oldest portable hard drives in search of original RAW files from a long-ago trip to Utah when I came across this. Made on April Fool’s Day, this was the moment Jack Robert Patterson arrived in our lives. Due to its graphic nature – that’s literally Jack’s first breath after a C-section – some people might find this photograph a little off-putting. Me, I absolutely love it!

When I stumbled on it again the other day, I couldn’t wait to show it to the now tween Jack. I figured he’d get a kick out of seeing himself right at the beginning, and after all, I doubt if there are many kids with portraits like this! When I unveiled the image to him, he got very serious in tone and expression, and then he uttered one word that made me chuckle… Voldemort!

A range of light…

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As promised, here’s a low-tech description of a process I sometimes use to capture a wider amount of dynamic range than the camera is typically capable of handling – all within one photograph. Inside a dark cave like this looking out at a bright sky can present significant challenges when it comes to creating a correctly exposed, relatively natural-looking single exposure, and although this is a pretty extreme example, sunrise and sunset scenes can present similar challenges. Here’s a brief description of a process I sometimes use when dealing with a high amount of dynamic range within a scene.

12-8-13 Acadia1

I know I am somewhat over-simplifying things here, but what the hey, there’s nothing wrong with simple. In scenes where there is a high degree of dynamic range, we can use the camera to basically record:

a) an image with a correctly exposed foreground but a bright, overexposed white blob where the sky is located.

b) a correctly exposed view of the sky through the cave entrance with everything else in the scene jet black and devoid of any detail (actually quite cool and a composition that I made).

c) you can settle for something that averages out the need to expose for both the brighter sky and the darker recesses of the cave at the same time, though in this case, I believe that nothing more than a so-so result is produced.

In another scene where the light is more even, such a single exposure might work very well, but in a scene like this where there is a significant degree of dynamic range, my personal choice to get a relatively balanced overall exposure is to shoot several identical frames while the camera is on a secure tripod and then blend them using the puter. By keeping the size of the aperture the same in each bracketed shot – but adjusting the length of time the shutter is open – I can obtain several versions of the same scene. Stating the obvious here… but depending on how long the shutter is open for, some exposures will be darker, and some will be lighter. Then, taking parts of each frame I think best represent what my eyes could see – all in the name of working around the limitations of the camera and trying to create a fairly accurate representation of what the scene looked like – I combine them into one image.

12-9-13 blend

Just for giggles, here are three typical exposures that each captured a different range of the light in the cave more accurately. All shot at f11, iso 100 and at 17mm using a 17-40mm lens, from left to right, the length of the exposures were 1/100th of a second, half a second, and then 2.5 seconds. As you can see, the shortest exposure (1/100th sec), captured the early morning sky fairly accurately, but the rest of the scene is completely underexposed (not necessarily a bad thing, but my eyes could definitely see more foreground detail than is evident in that one exposure). The 2.5 second exposure captures just a little bit of the spectacular pink color my eyes could see in the foreground tidal pool, but the light streaming in through the cave entrance is totally over-exposed and, in this case, I don’t think all that pleasing. In the middle exposure (0.5 seconds), some of the detail in the rocks on the side of the cave is useful, but overall you end up with an exposure which doesn’t do justice to either the brighter or darker parts of the scene.

So… rather than settling for any one of the above exposures as a final image, one potential solution is to take what you need from each, add a little special sauce, and you’ll end up with a blended image like you see at the top of this post. Imagine layering the three versions of the scene shown here on top of each other, and then erasing the bits from each version that are either under or over exposed. I use Photoshop, but any photo-editing software that has “layers” will allow you the precise control to do this.

And then of course, there’s black and white… happy New Year!

Acadia sea cave2

Revisiting a favorite photograph

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12-10-13 Round rocks (redo)

Not every favorite photograph has to be of a grand vista. I’m re-publishing one of my all-time favorite photographs in this post, an image that – at least for me – is quintessential Acadia. This is a more intimate view from the field of round rocks on Boulder Beach located just below Otter Cliffs. No ultra wide-angle, sunrise color-popping, wave-crashing excitement here… just a calm composition that accentuates the wonderfully shaped rocks that are strewn all over a place that is special to me. I can remember spending several hours on a foggy morning experimenting with a variety of compositions before discovering what you see in this frame. Like I said… one of my favorite photographs from one of my favorite places.

My new favorite black and white filter

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Lately I’ve been using EyeEm on my phone instead of Instagram, and I like it. Usually I’m playing with the “Earlgrey” filter which adds a warm, soft, muted tone to photographs, but when a new filter was recently added to the app, I jumped at the chance to try it out. It’s called “KCe” and with one swipe of your finger you can have a pretty nice black and white photograph. Here’s a little sample of it at work… I know it seems sacrilegious to take the golden out of the golden retriever, but I kinda like it.

3-4-13 olivercollage2

Silver skies…

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1-21-13 winter tree

Winter skies can be remarkable. The sun arcs lower in the sky – and when combined with interesting clouds – the result can be quite striking. I’m very much a summer person – or at least warmer weather person – and I love that time of year when the trees begin to fill in again with a burst of fresh, lush green. However, now that I’m outdoors walking Oliver, I’m also becoming an almost reluctant admirer of the stark shapes and contrasts that this time of year brings. On one of our recent walks together, these high cirrus clouds framing the dark silhouetted branches caught my eye. I had my “real” camera with me this time with a 70-200mm lens attached, and I used that combination to make an image of what appeared to be silver skies.

More love for the black and white photograph

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The weather man called for cloudy skies all day. I even checked the radar at 4:15 a.m. right before I left the house… yep, cloudy and dull, cloudy and dull. Boy did he get it wrong this time!

I must have visited and photographed Otter Cliffs and Boulder Beach in Acadia National Park at least 25 times, and although I have been lucky enough on several occasions to get a decent sky, nothing compares the the way the sky lit up on this most recent morning.

Where’s the color you ask? I’m working on it. The sunrise was so colorful and vibrant that I will probably have to tone it down a bit it before I present it. It was that good. Epic.

Here’s a not-so-photographed view of Otter Cliffs from Boulder Beach. I love the rocks and shapes that can be found tucked in against the side of the beach here, and as you look along the cove toward Otter Cliffs, the jagged rocks and classic Maine pine tree shapes absolutely steal the show.

Reaching out into the ocean

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It has been a while since I was out with the camera. These photographs are from a wonderfully calm evening spent at Marshall Point Lighthouse in late August. That’s almost six weeks since I tripped the shutter : (

The New England fall foliage season is in full swing around these parts, but it doesn’t look promising for me to be able to get out to make any photographs. This will be a busy week with work and with soccer season winding down, but you never know, maybe I’ll be able to steal away for a few hours later in the week.

In the meantime, here are a few black and white renditions of what is a particularly striking lighthouse on the Maine coast. This is the lighthouse that Forrest Gump ran to and ran to and ran to in the movie as he traversed back and forth across the country. It is a unique structure, one that just begs to be photographed.

Getting soaked at Schoodic

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As the high tide washed onshore, I found a few spots of interest within this small Schoodic cove to focus on. Though the sunrise was somewhat colorful, I was again thinking about how this scene might look when converted to black and white. The prehistoric looking rocks presented a strong, almost polished, foreground, and the the breaking waves were softened by the long exposure. The pre-dawn sky was alive with fast-moving clouds finally clearing out after a couple of days of rain, and I felt pretty fortunate as I soaked in the scene.

Speaking of getting soaked… right after I made this frame I got drenched by some frisky spray from a particularly big wave. I did my best to cover my camera and protect it, but I did get a few drops on the front of my lens. I thought I had cleaned them all off, but when I got back home I realized that I had missed a few drops, making the rest of the morning photographs useless. Lesson learned… when shooting around ocean spray, always check for water drops on the lens!

A rabbit hole of dark yumminess…

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As some of you may remember, I recently purchased a copy of Nik Software’s Silver Efex, a pretty awesome tool for digitally converting photographs to black and white. And in case you hadn’t noticed, more and more colorless photographs seem to be making their way onto the blog these days.

In fact, I have become quite fascinated with this new (to me) world of black and white photography, and even though I sort of feel as if I’m taking a shortcut – I haven’t even once touched a piece of film in a wet lab – I can’t seem to get enough of this medium.

What started out as merely de-saturating a color photograph has quickly and uncontrollably evolved into an infatuation with interpreting a scene differently, creating a mood that no colors could ever convey. I’m on a slippery slope, sliding into a pool of black ink… falling down a rabbit hole of dark yumminess.

Stop me when I go too far 🙂

I saw a coyote on my way to the cove…

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Ever since Chad Tracy and I “discovered” this little cove a few weeks back, I’ve wanted to return at sunrise to photograph it. There are big rocks and little rocks, jagged rocks and smooth rocks, and the view is undeniably quintessential Maine. Two times I’ve returned here at first light, but on both occasions I was far from impressed with how a very low tide had transformed the cove. A large swath of dark, seaweed-covered rocks made for an un-photogenic landscape, and both times I ended up punting and going here and here – where luckily I witnessed some gorgeous early morning light on those classic Schoodic round rocks. However, when I checked the tide charts for this weekend and noticed that high tide was going to coincide with sunrise, I figured it was time to return.

As I’ve mentioned fairly regularly, sunrise comes early to Maine in the summer months, and when you factor in a 75-90 minute drive to be in a particular location about an hour before the sun actually rises… well, you can imagine how jarring that 2:45 a.m. alarm sounds. I’m always wary when driving on rural roads at that time of night – or is that considered morning – since on more than one occasion I have encountered wildlife trying to get from one side of the road to the other. Animals I’ve seen include moose, deer, porcupine, raccoon, woodchuck, bobcat (my buddy Steve swears it was a mountain lion though)… and those are just the large-ish critters that have crossed my path!

Today though, I got to add another animal to my sightings list… a coyote. About ten minutes into my pre-dawn drive I saw a scrawny looking creature running across the road just on the furthest edge of my high beams. I’m fairly used to seeing deer while on the Maine roads at night, so initially I just assumed that’s what this was… a small deer. As I caught up to him though, it became obvious that it wasn’t a deer and that I had just seen my first Maine coyote! Looking for luck, I immediately convinced myself that a landscape photographer hoping for a glorious sunrise who spots a coyote crossing his path must be similar to anyone else having a black cat cross their path. That’s supposed to bring good luck, right?

Draining the color

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Here’s a similar scene to one I posted recently, but this time I am including the “normal” version so that you can see what it looked like before the colors were drained out of it. As you can see, there wasn’t much color to begin with. The overcast sky and damp winter air were doing a very nice job of rendering the scene as almost monochromatic, so rather than fight it, a little voice in my head told me to embrace the conditions and see if I couldn’t come away with a pleasing photograph – one that meant something to me, and one that would ultimately end up as a black and white. Perhaps I shouldn’t show both the color and the black and white photograph side by side… perhaps I should claim to have exclusively envisioned how this would ultimately look without color… perhaps by showing both the color and non-color versions of this image I am “watering down” its impact… but for me, at this moment, and with this image, that’s a little too deep, so I’m comfortable displaying them both so that you can see the differences.

We do not naturally see in black and white, and while I absolutely love the classic work of famous past masters, photographing without color is not something that comes easily to me. I did my usual search for compositional lines, patterns, and shapes, and I tried to arrange the elements within the frame in relation to each other in a way that I thought looked somewhat interesting. I stepped back from the camera and breathed in the air… then I pressed the shutter. I’m no expert in converting photographs from color to black and white, and I’d be interested to hear your response to both of these images, and to the concept of removing color from photographs in general.