Blogodocious ramblings of a landscape photographer living in Maine.

Update: got married, shooting flash, and snow on the ground.

December 03, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Homarus Americanus. Maine lobster. 

Woah- where has the time gone? What a whirlwind. Last time I checked in here it was 90 degrees and it feels like I was a different person. It used to seem a lot more important and necessary to update the blog here regularly, but there is only so much time in a day! The intent of the blog is to share with people who don't know me some of my ideas and personality and motivation that informs my photography work, so people can have something of a connection to the guy who made the picture. There are a million amazing photographers out there, so the blog is a chance to differentiate myself, and tell stories while I'm having a coffee or a beer at the end of the day. Also I really love a good blog like the old warhorse NatGeo photographer Joe McNally's stories of climbing to the top of the Empire State Building to photograph them changing the lightbulb beacon- 

                                                        http://www.joemcnally.com/blog/

After a while you really end up feeling like you know these people. You take them into your life through your monitor or your smart phone and follow them around the world like stowed baggage. The photographs are great but sometimes the mind of the artist is even more interesting. Now don't confuse me with an interesting person- I'm just trying to do my part in creating content and maybe somebody will like something. And I've personally learned so so much about technique and philosophies of photography through reading blogs that ideally hopefully I'll be able to give back and if even one person learns something or is inspired in the littlest way and makes better work then everyone wins and the world is a better place! Grand ideas I know, had to end the paragraph somehow though.

Allrighty then- first things first: I got married! Wow! Sophie and I have been together for 8 years now and we've been in love for that long too, asked her to marry me 2 years ago (she said yes!) but all the planning and schedules and procrastination took us a long time. Then on October 12th the weather was amazing and the absolutely beautiful and a sunny fall day was a wonderful gift for us all to enjoy together. It was just a fantastic day!      

      

I wore a kilt! My Dad's Dad came from Scotland, moved to America when he was 3. Tried to find a kilt that had our colors but couldn't this was the closest to it. Sophie was absolutely beautiful with a custom hair job and she was just glowing.

Like I said- it was a great day. We would have invited you all, and everyone, but wanted to keep it a small get together.

On to the photography: Right then, I had to get you up to speed, couldn't just start typing like nothing ever happened and everything is just business as usual- because it's not! Like I said earlier- it feels like I'm a completely different person in a number of ways now, and not just because I got married etc- and I feel lucky about that (being married and feeling change). My point is that I was able to change, I changed perspective, changed photographic approach, changed how I consider photography and how I conceive photographs. It's a lucky thing because for the last year or so it started to feel like I was repeating myself. It started to feel like I was photographing photographs that I had already made- it had been far too long since the sensation of a breakthrough, since the invigorating sense of inspiration when you find a new exciting direction. Too much time would pass between needing to recharge my cameras batteries and downloading images after going and photographing for a few hours- and then you start to think: maybe I'll never again make a great picture... Arg! 

So back when the weather was wicked bad last winter around January and February I was starting to mess around with setting up and photographing still life kinds of things in my studio. I'm just using the corner of the room and a table that ordinarily functions as my print matting and mounting table. Photographing on usually white mat board but have also experimented with reflective black, old wooden boxes, and some other stuff. Initially I was borrowing a speed light from my buddy Ken Perrin at Atlantic Art Glass and sometimes using available window light. This summer however I went "whole hog" and started acquiring light gear. I've had some exposure to the concepts of lighting through following Zack Arias, Joe McNally, Scott Kelby et al but when it came to knowing what I needed or even wanted I hadn't a clue. So the guy at B+H Photo recommended 2 different packages- a softbox + speed light + transmitter for 800 bucks or the 'Scott Kelby' everything kit for Canon for only 500. Now there's something a little cheesy about an everything-in-one kit but since my knowledge on this gear on a scale of 1-10 was about a 1.5 before, I feel like I'm easily at a 4 or a 5 now after incorporating this stuff and shooting to learn on this for a while.

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1030780-REG/phottix_ph80377_mitros_ttl_flash_and.html

The Kelby kit comes with a Phottix Mitros+ speedlight that seems pretty well built and it talks to the camera through the Phottix Odin 1.5 TCU wireless TTL trigger. You can control the flash's parameters from the trigger well however in the part of the learning curve that I'm at right now I'm shooting manual flash instead of TTL and am changing the flash settings from the flash itself (which is often a drag because I have it often boomed up or away at angles difficult to reach it, maybe I'm overlooking something there...?). The kit came with a cheap flash stand, an 36" shoot through umbrella, a little mini 4"x6" softbox that they say is good for macro but I think I'm not convinced, and an umbrella holder elbow. Oh and a sandbag. Comes with a nice carrying kit too. 

That was all well and good but right away after experimenting with the umbrella for a while I realized that I wanted a softbox for a little bit more of a directional yet still very soft light. Back to B+H and added a 2 foot by 2 foot Impact Quickbox softbox. It folds up to fit in a slick carrying bag, but the thing is it never really unfolds perfectly square- doesn't seem to matter much, just a pet peeve. Added a Manfrotto boom arm to really reach in over the table that I'm shooting on and securely hold the much heavier soft box-

 http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/513013-REG/Manfrotto_420CSU_420CSU_Convertible_Boom.html

and then I found my favorite modifier yet: while watching a Zack Arias tutorial he showed a really cool and very affordable $50.00 strap-on grid spot. Made by ExpoImaging it's a 3 in 1 honey comb grid system that by stacking grids or just using by themselves can achieve either a 45 degree spot, a 25 degree spot, or a 16 degree spot light. Makes for super dramatic beam and shadows look. And that's what I'm primarily using for this current series of photographs of tools that I'm working on. 

 http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/822028-REG/ExpoImaging_Rogue_3_in_1_Grid_and.html

Mossy rock habitat diorama. Rogue grid-spot directly overhead. Feels like a museum exhibit lighting scenario-

I'm really enjoying the idea of being able to photograph things in the studio- ordinarily the landscape imagery I'll make requires being on location at the right time, and I'm working on the boat a lot now so time is always an extremely limited commodity. So I can set up a subject on the white paper and not photograph it until I'm ready, having walked by it a dozen times and seeing it in a variety of natural lights and thinking of how to actually shoot it, by the time I get around to making the photo I'm not feeling rushed, I can take the time to manipulate it and the light and enjoy the process even if it's 04:30 in the morning or 4:30 in the afternoon or 8 o'clock at night. I can tether the camera to my monitor and review on a large screen the effect small changes in focus or f stop or light can have. And it's a wicked gas! 

Sophie's Dahlias, my vase. 

But I need content- what to shoot? Sophie grows amazing things in her greenhouse and gardens but really I'm not as interested in making flower photography as much (don't get me wrong they are beautiful but there's just something a little too cliche feeling to me personally about photographing too many flowers, that's just me- whatever..) so I started looking down on the forest floor for things to photograph like leaves and ferns etc,

Leaves 

Ferns

then I had a great idea: shoot tools!

I'm sure it's been done before. Everything it seems has been done before, especially pictures of flowers- but I haven't done it! Time to make some photographic studies of tools! There's this place called "The Tool Barn"in Hulls Cove, Maine. It's part of the Davistown Museum, here's a website: http://www.jonesport-wood.com/hullscove.html  they have tons of old tools, and apparently the main location in Liberty Maine is 4 times bigger- so I'll have to get to that one sometime. I used to live just down the street in a little apartment across from the beach with my golden retriever Grover and had been to the Tool Barn many times looking for some kind of necessary tool or other, but one that wasn't made of plastic and imported from China. Sometimes it was fun just to go there and look around and try to think what this or that tool was meant to be used for. So it occurred to me that that would be the ultimate place to find things to study under studio lights. The character of the tools. The tools that built New England. These old tools that have the wear marks and and the patina of being used for many hours. Lot's of them have old initials engraved in them of their owners beside the maker marks of the factories. And when you hold them you can really easily imagine all the work they must have made.

I worked out a deal with the proprietor Skip, who is all about having the tools be appreciated and respected as items of art and history. Then the only concern was how to photograph them and what the look should be. Right away I had this idea of making a real high contrasty dramatic looking bit- I was thinking of that movie "Sin City" which is all film noir looking with harsh long shadows. So the grid spot would make that happen: on the boom but hovering just off the surface of the table behind and to the side of the tool to cast a long shadow into the foreground. Of course the tool would then lose all the detail on the face but maybe I could bounce some light onto it (oh yeah I also got a 48" 5 in 1 Westcott reflector diffuser) with a white panel. So the first test shot that came back was crazy cool and just what I was looking for:

"Old American Tools #1. Stanley #4 plane." The composition was as much about creating interesting shadow lines as it was portraying the tool-

"Old American Tools #2, egg beater drill with brace. Goodall-Pratt Tool Co." This shadow made me think of a scooter. Used a small spring to elevate the chuck of the drill to let the light underneath and cloned the spring out later.

"Old American Tools #3. Stanley #12 pull plane." Sophie see's a vertebrae here, I see a bird or bat or airplane shadow. Same light set-up with the grid spot behind to port but bounced foreground fill with the white reflector. Also this time added a paper texture layer set to soft light blend mode and selectively masked for the background.

"Old American Tools #4. Stanley 190 plane." Got a little carried away with this one! This is the point of experimenting and learning- trying new things to see what works and learning about the processes through it all, then incorporating the successes to future work. The exercise here was to mess with creating a foreground reflection. I shot this on white paper, so there is no reflection in that scenario. Creating the reflection isn't too hard- making it feel right is the challenge, and I made a gigantic error there that didn't become apparent until after I had made a print of this and brought it to Skip at the Tool Barn. Fun experiment but I'm very unsure about how much I like this now. Also the shadows remind me of a guy riding on the back of a whale.

"Old American Tools #5. Fischer Ohaus scale." Grid spot hanging almost directly overhead on the boom arm- the trick here was adjusting the light so that the important details of the scale were not hidden in shadow like the central circular little emblem and the numbers on the scale arm. Incredibly finicky adjustments of half an inch would make or break the shadow details.

"Old American Tools #6. Bunion tool." This isn't much for dramatic shadows or things but check out that sticker near the hinge: "Used to make indentations in shoe for bunions!" How weird is that!

Right then. More to come. To sum it all up: it's been a blast to go in a completely different direction. It feels great to have opened a door to a world of light modifiers where there are so many different possibilities and it's all new to me and I've only just scratched the surface. It feels great to be learning photography in a completely new way and to add another skill to my bag of tricks. And it feels great to push myself to try something new, and I guess that also includes being married! I think it's important to kind of always try to be growing and being better and not just be satisfied with what's working. But that's just my opinion right now.

Alrighty that's it for now, thanks for stopping by, have a nice day, and get out there and try something new!

-Nate.


The 26 hour day-

August 24, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Now before you go all troll on me and blow up my internet with comments saying how crazy I am- the 26 hour day IS possible!  

 photo from Sam M.   http://mitadmissions.org/blogs/entry/mit_dorms_really_random

And it would be sooo convenient. I wouldn't sleep longer that's for sure, well maybe every once in a while- but I would use the time to try to get to all those things that get pushed over into the next day, which then pushes other things into the day after that. Anyways here's the wikipedia article regarding length of day and how it is actually getting longer:: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Day_length, and from that article: "The earth is constantly losing angular velocity and rotational energy through a process called tidal acceleration, which leads to a slow lengthening of the day. A century ago, the average day was about 1.7 milliseconds shorter than today,[1] while in the late Neoproterozoic about 620 million years ago a day had only about 21.9±0.4 hours.[2"

How crazy is that@!! So I guess that if we can only hold out for another say 400 million years or so then we'll have all the time in the world! Until then I'll keep drinking coffee.

It's the absolute height of the season here right now on Mount Desert Island. The roads are absolutely impossible- clogged with tourists visiting Acadia making 12 point turns, there are J walkers galore, bicyclists, joggers with those baby strollers made for running, deer crossing with fawns in tow, and that's just the first turn out of the driveway! Also the lobstering is in top gear as it's get as much as you can get season. My hands are only occasionally numb this year, guess my body is acclimating fairly well. A typical day for me these days has the alarm going off at 03:00, I take a quick 4 minute wake up shower while the coffee is brewing, then I chug a half a pot while listening to the news and working on photography in Lightroom or Photoshop, out the door to haul gear by 04:00 or 04:30 and back home in the afternoon often at around 2:00 pm. I'm missing the best times of day for photography with my big camera but I'm always shooting the sunrise with my iPhone, as in every single beautiful sunrise there is, which is nice! Here's a quick sampling of sunrises and other scenes from this summer shot with the iPhone:  

F/V Never Enough

My good dog Grover on the punt dock.

Rowing out to the boat.

Setting gear. Traps stacked across the rails.

Nautical twilight

Sunrise through the windows of the wheel house.

Sunrise between the islands.

Heavy overcast off Black Island.

Danny pulling up to a buoy off Black Island.

Danny gaffing a buoy off Black Island.

Looking for buoys in the fog.

A couple of oversized ancient lobsters.

Crescent moon over the Bass Harbor lighthouse.

Predawn on the Bernard town dock with lobster traps and bait.

Danny setting them back.

My folks came up for a visit and went for a ride on the boat, they really loved it!

Shifting gear- photoed from the poop deck!

Getting picked up from the finger float.

Heading out.

Sunrising over Little Black Island.

Danny with a cod that came up in a trap.

Mount Desert Island off my front yard also known as Goose Cove.

Setting more gear.

Pano.

Another beautiful sunrise.

Traps ready to be set on the rail.

Shifting a string of gear.

Gulls.

Redfish.

In the ER with redfish poisoning.

Fueling up.

The local paper liked this one enough.

Captain Dan picking a trap.

Pink lumpfish!

Another beautiful sunrise while leaving Bass Harbor Maine.

Searching for unicorn lobsters under Blue Hill Bay rainbows.

My big camera gets out of the bag hardly as much as my little pocket camera but the goal is to try to make serious imagery once a week or so in this the busiest of seasons. When I do break it out I'm continuing adding to my Acadia catalog but trying to find new approaches to old scenes. Also it is my studio camera when I don't want to necessarily drive somewhere to photograph but I'm feeling the need to photograph- so I'll shoot on white or black and make a study out of some object. Like this the phycus leaf: 

Tessellated leaf 2.

Tessellated leaf.

That's it for now- just wanted to show you that I'm still alive and kicking, just very distracted from all the other things that are called life and work that are keeping me from the blog. Have a good one and try to be as productive as possible with our miserably short 24 hour days!

-Nate!

 


Triptychs and diptychs oh my!

July 10, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Otter Cliffs Shore Path and Hurricane Arthur, Acadia National Park, Maine.

Hey there folks- been busy lately, the blog has mouldered and I haven't been in the mood to just post for the sake of posting, so it took this long to be inspired enough to come back with something to say. Get to that in a sec- first, I've been wicked busy. After hauling 200 or so pots of lobster out on the bay with Danny it takes a lot of inspiration to want to go to make new work. So I've been on a shooting schedule of about once a week if I'm lucky. There has also been a fair amount of printing and licensing to do so that has cut into the rest of the free time along with lawn mowing and I gotta watch last weeks episode of Deadliest Catch at some point. You know how it is! So the blog has mouldered. There was a time when I tried to post 6 times a week, if for no other reason than to have that as a discipline which made me feel constructive-  but it'll take the deep of winter before that'll happen again, and it has been just gorgeous here lately if not downright hot. We New Englanders have a pretty poor short term memory when it comes to the seasons. We're like: "Oh winter wasn't that bad this year, all the snow was nice!" while clutching a beer wearing shorts and sandals baking in the summer sun on the lawn. Seriously- do you remember the winter that was hammering us only three months ago? It was just over 90 days ago when my fiancee totaled her car the morning on black ice after a blizzard slammed us here in Maine and with air temps around 12 degrees f. 80 degrees later and we can't remember a thing about those times! Unless that's just me? Anyways...

Last weekend brought a rare July hurricane up the coast and whenever there is a storm like that coming the photographer part of me gets all excited. High surf warnings were forecast along with sustained 40+ knot winds, which wasn't hardly as bad as North Carolina had, but I have seen two story house sized waves pounding the granite along the coast of Acadia before (seriously 25 feet tall+ would shake the entire Earth when they broke against the cliffs) so I was psyched! Simultaneously fearing how the lobster gear would fare, while at the same time hoping for terrifyingly exciting waves to photograph- I went over to Otter Cliffs at high tide saturday afternoon. That was also the time when the storm was supposed to break and the downpour would stop, and the leading and trailing edges of storms are always amazingly dynamic for photography. Rolling into the park the signs were in place: for 'Danger High Surf proceed at your own risk' kind of thing. But it was hardly anything to freak out about- there was definitely a longer period strong swell breaking into upwards of 8 foot to 12 foot heavy wide waves, but there was a strong north wind that seemed to push most developing seas back. In the end however it was my excuse to go out and try to make something and the breakthrough moment was ultimately a printing and presentation idea. 

I've always loved a good panorama, used to compulsively make them and would hardly shoot anything but them! But it was half with the intention of how I wanted to represent an image and half to make up for some of the limitations of my poor quality consumer dslr. When I was fortunate enough to upgrade to a great camera I left all that panorama stuff behind and have been just photographing in a mostly standard fashion. And that's all been good until finding tilt-shift lens shift panoramas completely addictive, which has been for the last year or so mostly. Recently I had had an inquiry for a print commission for a bar/restaurant where one of the wall's would have 3 prints. I had been considering a group for it but then went and photographed last weekend's storm and when working on the images in Lightroom in the grid view I happened to notice how freeking nice they looked next to each other! Therefore the triptych. But instead of having 3 images in one frame this would be a partial panorama split into three vertically framed images that is the scene. And the ultimate success is if the finished installation has the feel of looking out a bay window onto the coast. Because if a print can transport a viewer in that way of immersion then that is a great success! Obviously this is not a breakthrough in the art world, just in my own sensibilities as to how to package a product and sell a solution. I didn't photograph the scene with printing it as a triptych in mind and that has caused more work in postproduction than I would have liked, but, now knowing the correct workflow: in the future I think I will start a gallery on the old website here of prints as triptychs and diptychs and have that as a project to pursue. Gotta love projects! 

So, I feel that although I haven't been as productive making new photography as I would sometimes like to be- my sensibilities and ultimately my work, at this point in my photography development (play on words there) has matured as well if not faster than if I had been photographing much more. Because then I would be distracted from conceptualizing by finishing and presenting imagery. Interesting that- I think I've often grown more through visualization doing the things I've pursued than through the actual doing of them-? And we'll leave it there for now...

Right then. That's what I've been doing, what have you guys been doing?

Have a good one - from Maine, Nate!


On maintaining creative momentum, or How I learned to stop worrying and love the process

April 21, 2014  •  5 Comments

 

"Seaside Meditations" Seaside, Oregon. (I don't understand what that white line is doing on the right- some kind of uploading artifact that I'm figuring out on right now-)

Every once in a while I find myself struggling to keep up the pace of making new 'good work', photographs that is, and the haunting idea of "maybe there will never be another 'good picture'" crosses my mind. It's not an impossible possibility- but that would be bad, hang it all up and put the kit up for sale on Ebay kind of bad. The worst kind of bad! A very real challenge that faces my photography is that I live on an island, it's attached to the mainland by a bridge but it's still an island. The island (Mount Desert Island on the coast of Maine), does happen to contain Acadia National Park, which is completely beautiful and has all kinds of different terrain and always gorgeous and varied landscapes, but I've been photographing on this island and in Acadia for the last 14 years and after a while it feels like I've made all the photographs of all the places in all the weather, from macro to 360 degree panoramas from dawn till dusk and into the night. That's not really true- there's always more places to find and more weather to influence them and more ways to photograph them, but I'm human and sometimes it can seem like there are a finite amount of possibilities. Certainly it does become more challenging to tour around the island and through the park with my gear and feel as inspired as I felt ten or five years ago while I was doing the initial discoveries. And the chances of going out to find something new and exciting are definitely not as productive feeling as it used to seem to be. So sometimes that can be a bummer. I remember "back in the day" while I was chasing sunrises thinking that if I get skunked today then the chances will be better tomorrow for getting something amazing, and if it didn't happen tomorrow then the chances would be even better the next day- somehow thats permeated into maybe sometime this month I'll find a novel photograph to make and work on that thrills me close to what I used to feel. And that's scary. 

So I've been fighting this skeleton in the closet for a while now and more and more it seems each time I go out to make new work. It's so easy in comparison to go someplace new even if it's as close as 2 hours away by car and see clearly an exciting image to make- and that's one of the great values of travel, but I don't get to do that too much. My folks live on Cape Cod though in Mass and whenever I visit them I can usually charge up with the inspiration of finding something new, and I'll often stop in Boston on the way to partake in some street photography and get some fantastic pizza in the Italian North End, but I'd like to think that it shouldn't take going so far in order to satisfy the desire to make a good image.

Therefore I've picked up a few tricks along the way that helps break up the feeling of being stuck on the hamster wheel and repeating myself like a stuttering photographer in a terminal feedback loop. I added filters (neutral density, graduated neutral density, polarizers), I went on a panorama bender for a few years, an HDR addiction for another few, now black and white with the occasional digital filter from the Nik Suite, abstracts through camera motion (kinetic photography), macro studies (not as much there so that has plenty of room for exploration), still lifes in my home studio using natural light and off camera flash. And there's really lot's more to explore so there's no reason to panic. 

Part of the problem though lies in that there have been years when it seemed like I could make as many as three or so great portfolio worthy (my portfolio that is, not Ansel's) images a week- week after week after week. So to compare the productivity of now to then seems like I'm way off the mark. But the root of that problem would seem to be the idea of competition. Competition with myself. Comparing now and then. Surely I feel like I'm a much more mature photographer than I was two or three years ago, (last year is too close to consider without imparting emotion into the images and remember when making them). So I do feel like I'm on the right track. And I try to stay somewhat removed from considering what my peers are making and comparing with them- I hang out on the social media a bit but hardly as much as I used to, there just isn't enough time! Speaking of time- it's time for a graph. This is what I'm feeling that the graph of my productivity might be represented as: the old bell curve. Nobody like a bell curve!

Quality of photographs vs time spent photographing.

Realistically the graph wouldn't bottom out on the right like this does, I just didn't really feel like creating my own graph so I apportioned one from the internets. This graph would go to show that initially as a newb photographer there is nothing but dung, but after not much time has passed you develop enough skill to make dependably satisfying imagery, then you're on fire!, then you develop your harsh critical inner voice that informs your sensibilities regarding making new work and it's all down hill from there! But my point here isn't to be pessimistic, my point is to share the conversation that I've been having with other artists over the past few weeks regarding this.

Key point number 1- focus on projects. Ken Perrin my glassblower cohort (http://www.atlanticartglass.com) and more recently my photographer friend Heather McKenney (http://hmckenney.tumblr.com) reminded me that cohesive work is buoyed through focussed projects. This is no new news to me but a helpful reminder, especially coming from people who's opinions I respect. As mature photographers we all know this lesson, we aspire to make work that compliments our previous work, we fill out our catalog of work in as succinct a way as possible. The "everything photographer" is a tough game played best by those Nat Geo guys like Joe Mcnally and Steve McCurry, but even those guys have a shtick and a style and there are very few "one-off" images or "friggers" (in glassblowing jargon). But after a while even the deepest project becomes worked, and then overworked, and then worked to death! My thing has always been about seascapes- I love landscapes but if there is no water in it I'm more than a little bummed out. And if there's a lot of water in it then I'm the most happy. But after a while worked stuff needs a rest! So this winter, which was one of the coldest and craziest that I can remember, I took to the still life studio and started messing more with photoshop compositing and stuff like that and the refreshing change that I felt making that imagery was like a very real breath of fresh air. However my portfolio doesn't have any of that kind of thing so I felt torn- like: is this what I really want to be doing? It's fun and all but does it fit? And those questions are the really complicated ones that we as artists have to occasionally consider. Can we make a drastic departure in style and not put off our fan base? Is this really the direction that I want to go in?  How will it be received, etc. See it's pretty complicated in the end. I have this idea that my reputation is all that I have, I don't have lots of money and I don't have lots of Brad Pit-ness but I do have something of a style that I've worked hard at and therefore a sense of what is good and bad and right and wrong, especially when it comes to photography. So is the artistic pursuit of photography that hopefully will get me through my whole lifetime, which will hopefully be long, and hopefully will be as interesting and fascinating to me 20 years from now as it was 2 or 3 years ago. Am I overthinking this? Do you guys ever think on this kind of thing? Has any of this made any sense? Have I just spent the last three hours lining up words vainly and should I have been trying to make pictures instead? Did the chicken really come before the egg? Does it matter that I am even alive? 

I'd appreciate your thoughts on this in the comments- 

I do know that I will be pursuing two newish seascape projects that will keep me entertained. I do plan to go back to the big cities a couple times this year to make more street, I'm looking forward to some more still life bones and photoshop projects, and who knows what next year may bring in the area of inspiration. Maybe by then I'll have taken up something freaky like skydiving and start in on freefall photography- that's the great thing about life and living, you never know what tomorrow may bring! Right?

For now, have a good one-

Nate.


Revisiting old processes reaching for new results.

April 05, 2014  •  2 Comments

Traps Dock. Bass Harbor Maine. ( 3 shot "shift panorama using Canon 24mm tilt-shift lens + 3 bracket HDR using Nik HDR Efex Pro)

Maine's finally starting to shake off winter for good, (knock on wood, loudly!), and Spring is putting a spring in my step. Starting to feel properly inspired to want to make stuff again. This particular past winter was furious to the point where it just wasn't that too compelling to revisit the places that I've been so many times before to photograph on this island- I had nothing new that was burning in me to pursue there enough to overcome the effort and pain it would take to do it. I mean here's the deal- it was usually 10 degrees f and blowing 25 knots everyday from the beginning of January up until last Tuesday. And this is April.

So things got a little dusty in the old inspiration drawer and after a while guilt got a chance to get some screen time and before you knew it I was in the artists death-spiral of "I'm worthless and will never make anything good ever again" mode. But I wasn't worried too much. Been there, done that- like the common cold "it's got to get worse before it gets better" I knew it too would pass. 

With the 'down time' I dug into the new version of Photoshop- CC, and did some online training and have a much better sense of the potential that that program can offer my own future work and some ideas for projects using compositing- which I would never have thought I would ever pursue. So that's cool. And I had a lot of time to think about where my work is now to think again about what I want it to amount to or mean and why etc. Which is always heady stuff and goes much better with a beer or two and a healthy dose of "what if none of it at all matters, at all", etc. Which is important- because when you have lot's of creative momentum and keep making and making without occasionally coming up for a breath of air to check the progress like, well- then you can't check the progress, like. :-) Long story short, it wasn't my most productive last few months artistically but I definitely think I've grown. Which is good. Either that or I'm a blind optimist. Bah. 

Right then- let's get on to some tech talk! 

Tech talk topic #1: Revisiting panoramas. I used to be hooked on making panoramas. From around 2004 through 2009 or so just about every image I set out to make was going to be in a panorama format. This started because I just wanted a much wider field of view- I'd be out photographing in the park in a cove along the ocean and everything from the North end of the beach to the South end at the cliffs would be crying out to be photographed. Or in this case a stream through the woods-

Hunter Brook Acadia. 2004.

Bubble Pond Acadia. 2004

Old Rotten Skiff over on Deer Isle. 2004

And an old two shot stitch of my doggy Grover on top of Dorr Mountain above the fog. It's got dust in the sky and the stitch is sloppy but I like it! 2005

The learning curve to make a properly pleasing perfectly plumbed and passably produced panorama took me awhile to figure out. I was using Adobe Elements back then to do the stitching of those first handheld pans which worked ok but I kept getting stitching artifacts at the seams which I would try and smooth away by cloning (terribly). So it became obvious- not so quickly though, (remember the internet wasn't hardly what it is now back in 2004), that I needed a proper nodally centered panoramic tripod head- but then, how to afford one. The popular heads back then were the Really Right Stuff heads I think and then some British special models which were all about 1000 dollars. So eventually I found the Panasaurus head in 2005, and I loved that thing for the next 4 years, almost too much.

 

here's the link http://gregwired.com/pano/Pano.htm only 99.00$! crazy inexpensive and works solid and great and is easily adjustable for all kinds of kit. -Absolutely no sponsorship for me I just loved it.

 See in order to make a proper panorama you need to eliminate parallax error (which is the change in field of view you would get if you close first one eye and then the next) and the nodal point is just in front of the sensor so you need to be able to calibrate the tripod head to align to that point. Then the tripod head can rotate around the nodal point in any direction and there will be absolutely no stitching artifacts in post production. These days it would just take a tutorial or two on Youtube and you'd be making perfectly awesome pans in a week, back then though it took me about a year and a half to start making pretty good pans. There other part of the equation was PTGUI (Panorama Tools graphical user interface) which was a hundred bucks back then and could handle elaborate stitches and render in a variety of formats for a completely different look- mercator projection vs equirectilinear etc or even render as a VR out to a Quicktime file. So I was off to the races and started painting 360 degrees of view onto my little Rebel XT's sensor. 

Tool shed. 360x not quite 180. Tripod legs and all. 2006

Great Meadow Acadia. 2006

My old bachelors pad in Hulls Cove. 2008

The Bean in Chicago with Sophie. (This one has a stitching artifact but I like it for the sentimental value. The stitch problem probably came from either a sag on that old tripod or maybe it moved a bit. Also these days I could probably have aligned it better with more modern tools.)

Then at some point along the way there I found HDR and Photomatix, distressingly now in hindsight- especially that I was only shooting in jpeg and not backing up original files well- so I consider a few years of work lost due to crappy workflow!~ Be warned! Always keep clean RAW files and never fall for fads! Easier said than done. 

Great Meadow HDR pan. 2008 (sky so ugly-!) 

Farm HDR pan- not too bad until you look up at the sky- so noisy! Arg! What was I thinking!!??

Miami Neon + HDR omgawd! such Andrew Lloyd Webber technicolor Rubbish!! Have you had enough yet?!

On the run, South of the Border- deeply under the influence of HDR blindness. -"What happens is the user becomes so impaired by the absolutely surreal lack of reality that normal perception is often completely obligated". (from the HDR recovery 12 step program users bible). I got my 5 year coin 2 weeks ago! For anybody new to the program I will sponsor you- just contact me in an email.

Those were troubling times. I'd hit my bottom. Who can blame me that shortly thereafter I never shot another panorama or HDR'd anything again until I accidentally happened across it on the iPhone years later. Went straight to black and white single shot landscapes and minimalist black and white fogscapes and long exposures with large open areas in the image. It did help massively to invest in quality glass and a much better sensor of the Canon 5D2. 

Until this past last year. My go-to lens of choice for landscape is the 24mm tilt-shift made by Canon, anyone who knows me knows how much I harp on about that lens and I've done it a lot here in the past. http://nateparkerphotography.com/blog/2012/10/the-canon-24mm-f/3-5-ts-e-the-best-lens-for-landscape-shooters--hands-down I've found myself using that lens more and more though to make 3 shot shift-pans to give the scene a larger field of view and it fits my preferred 4x5 crop format perfectly and adds a lot of dpi to the final print. This is how it works- locked off on a tripod and in manual mode you make the first shot centered then shift the lens 12 degrees full left (or up) and again full right (or down). I send the 3 files out of Lightroom to stitch in Photoshop CC, which has a much better stitching engine then ever before and layer masking can usually fix any trouble spots. The final 3 shot stitched file off my full frame 5D2 is about 65 megabytes or so which prints noticeably cleaner.  Of course shooting in RAW protects my file for the future and having good back up strategies ensure no matter how I choose to render the final image now years from now I'll be able to go back and adjust it for any changes in taste or more modern methods. 

Also last summer I wanted to upgrade my old Nik Silver Efex version before Nik got swallowed up by Google so I ended up getting the Nik Complete suite which happens to come with the HDR efex pro app. Which will introduce tech talk topic #2-

I resisted running any brackets through it for quite a while until eventually curiosity convinced me to give it a go. Went out and shot a morning of fog scapes along the shore at Wonderland and misty scenes along the trail and came home and ran the set through HDR Efex Pro. It was nice. The stuff came out fine, the control and interface of the program was enough to make powerful adjustments with enough precision to keep artifacting at bay and noise out of the process. So it was cool and all but really for all the work of initially in the field bracketing in camera properly- to running it through the extra steps of HDR Efex, I'd rather just make 1 good exposure in the field and finish it with Lightroom and Photoshop plain and simple. With good technique you can get pretty close to an HDR now anyways, However: there's one more thing.... there is one more method of HDR'ing by using just Lightroom and Photoshop to create the 32 bit image which is then 'tonemapped' using Lightroom. And I think this is the most interesting and simple approach therefore probably the one I will do occasionally moving forward. You send your bracketed images from Lightroom to Merge to HDR Pro in Photoshop- Photoshop creates the HDR file and gives you a dialog box that offers a bunch of tonemapping sliders in 8 bit mode. Don't use those sliders! Instead select from the drop down bar that shows mode: 8 bit change it to 32 bit and all those sliders go away and you hit Save file which exports it to Lightroom as a 32 bit file which you then develop using the Lightroom sliders that are so much more precise and controllable and the result is theoretically a file that has stronger detail in the shadows and cleaner less noisy images. 

The bottom line here is I think it's funny how things come around full circle sometimes. Where I'd loudly sworn off the old techniques that I used to use with enough distance I can still recognize that some aspects are good about a certain processes sometimes. I guess it's a reminder to try to not be too stubborn or proud about a thing or else I could end up right back in the trappings of those dumb old technicolor HDR pans days all over again!

Bernard Maine in the fog. Lightroom HDR method. I like it enough- there is very fine grain that is not unpleasant whatsoever. The round trip process takes a few minutes on my 8 gig quad core i7 but it's not unreasonable for the special occasion that I would consider the technique.

That's it for me for now. Any thoughts on any of the above I'd be interested to hear in the comments. Have a good one!