Tuesday, 24 August 2010

DPP1: Some thoughts on Assignment 3

Never really tried proper black and white photography before so am struggling a little to get started on this assignment. Having a 2-week holiday in the middle of the section didn’t help my concentration either.
Anyhow, I’ve decided to do a series of photo’s inspired by Ansel Adam’s ‘Rose and Driftwood’. it’s always been one of my favourites since I saw it at an Adam’s exhibition at the Barbican in 1987. Of course, having an inspiration and actually deciding what to do are different things, so I ‘ve scratched round the net for a while.
An obvious place to start was a search for black and white roses on Flickr. There are undoubtedly some nice shots there, although most of them seemed to be cropped quite a bit closer than the Adams shot, and lacked the contrasting textures which make it one of my favourites.
Then I came across this site, which says:
“A problem was posed by the lack of a suitable background and Adams tried all manner of objects without success. Eventually he remembered this piece of wave-worn ply driftwood that he had picked up at a nearby beach. The design of the grain of the wood was a very pleasing setting to the similar shapes of the rose petals.”
So there’s my theme, I need to take myself through a similar process and contrast the rose with differing backgrounds. Without the costs of 5x4 sheet film to worry about  I should be able to experiment quite easily. My thoughts for background include the local sandstone (which sometimes has a grain not dissimilar to the driftwood), a sheet of rusting metal (or wire – depending on the availability of props), shredded bark, a smooth reflective surface (I have a granite chopping board which might work), perhaps a finely textured fabric – I’m already up to five.
The other issue is lighting – I have a large west facing patio window – which given the current weather conditions will no doubt provide a nice diffuse light source, but whether that will pick up the finer textures of some of these backgrounds is something I’ll have to try.
Amazing how a bit of research and writing down my thoughts has crystallised them.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Digital Photographic Practice 1: Exercise 17: Colours into Tones

Have chosen the following image for its range of tones, with the red roof, yellow-green grass and hazy blue backdrop offering a number of potential interpretations.

The default B/W conversion in Lightroom 3 appears to tweak the colour sliders to give an ‘optimum’ result. To provide a proper baseline I reset all the sliders to ‘0’ to give the following result:


The exercise asks for one set of ‘opposite’ conversions, but given the range of colours in this image I did two sets.

Red and Yellow Sliders
The LH image has the red slider at a minimum and the yellow at max. The RH image has red at max and yellow at minimum – interestingly the green slider had little effect on the grassy area.

The changes darkening the red and lightening the yellow produce a very dramatic image, enhanced by the fact that the yellow tones on the hillside behind have also been lightened, increasing the contrast between the roof and the background. On the other hand, darkening the yellows has produced a very un-natural result, with little contrast between the roof and the background, and a strange black area in the foreground.

Red and Blue Sliders
Again, the LH image has the red slider set to minimum, this time with the blue slider at max, with the reverse in the RH image.


Once again the image with the red darkened is very dramatic, and lightening the blues has increased the apparent distance to the hillside beyond – a kind of enhanced aerial perspective effect - to produce a picture which emphasises the isolation of the church in the landscape in spite of the relatively tight crop. In the right hand image, darkening the blues has increased the detail and contrast in the hillside so that it rather dominates the picture, with the church becoming somewhat lost in the detail.

Some concluding thoughts
This exercise demonstrates a little of the range of creative options available when using coloured filtration in B/W photography. From my limited understanding I suspect that digital filtration is considerably more flexible than the use of real filters in this regard. For example, I can choose to darken a red with no impact on the tonality of the other colours, and in Lightroom at least there are 8 colour channels to adjust during the conversion process. I also find it interesting that the most effective of the four examples above (red min, blue max) is in many ways the one least like the original in terms of tonality.

Digital Photographic Practice 1: Exercise 16: Strength of Interpretation

Part 1: A photo processed with a strong increase in contrast.
I took this photo of a thistle for this exercise because of the very pronounced shape, which i felt would probably benefit from conversion to B&W. The hairy stems in the background caught the light over quite a large area area in the background and detracted somewhat from the composition. As an exercise I burned it in, after conversion, to examine the differences between colour and B&W in this area. My experience is that the burning in was simpler on B&W as the greyish tone that results blends better with the photo.
Anyway – here is the original image – taken at 1/250sec, f/10, ISO400

And here are the two high contrast versions. Examination in Lightroom showed extensive shadow clipping as required by the exercise.

Interestingly , in this example I think both work. The difference is that the B/W version encourages you to concentrate on the shape and edge lighting of the thistle, while the colour version provides a more surreal colourscape. Preference in this case seems a matter of personal choice, but in a different photo the rather dramatic colour shifts could easily result in a less acceptable result. This is illustrated in the next set.

Part 2: A photo processed to give a high-key result.
I struggled in image choice for this exercise. High key is not a treatment I enjoy – to my mind it is overused, particularly in portraiture. I finally settled on this image, from a recent family holiday. (1/200sec, f/6.3, ISO200) because I felt that the obvious sunny setting might be emphasised by a high key treatment.


The two high key versions are here:



In this example the B/W version seems, to me anyway, to have a lazy summer afternoon feel.The slightly pale tones give a summer sunlight effect that matches well with the calmness of the water and the generally relaxed attitude of my son and daughter. The colour version on the other hand simply looks over-exposed and washed out, and the colours are somewhat un-natural – particularly the pinks of the skin. So my initial assessment for this photo was correct – the high-key black and white does complement the sunny setting.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Digital Photographic Practice 1: Exercise 15: Black and White

Black and white photography is not an area I have experimented much in before so I am quite looking forward to the next few exercises and the assignment as a challenge. In the first instance for this exercise I sought an image with some contrasting form, a range of tones that was not too great and an image that was already monotone. This image of sky reflected in a local pond met these criteria. It is slightly underexposed to retain the detail in the clouds – although with hindsight I could have given it an extra half stop.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As noted above this has a limited dynamic range, is essentially monotone, consisting largely of blue-greys, and the spiky forms of the grass in the pond contrasts nicely with the more organic form of the clouds in the reflection.
I spent a considerable time experimenting with the various sliders and the custom curve before settling on the following process. The auto black and white conversion in Lightroom gave an acceptable conversion which I tweaked by increasing the value of the orange slider to lighten the clouds (they are orange in the original colour version) – and I the increased the exposure by 0.7EV to brighten the whole image. I then adjusted the contrast to ‘strong’ and increased the value of the ‘blacks’ slider to silhouette the blades of grass in the middle. Further adjustments were made to the tonality of the image using the custom curves controls, and I followed this by noise reduction to remove the graininess introduced by the processing. Finally I cropped the image to remove the distracting reeds at the top of the shot. The final result is here – note that I have also cloned out one of the bubbles on the mid-left of the image.


Final thoughts
In many respects I prefer the black and white to the original. With the overall blue cast gone and no colour in the clouds, the blue/orange contrast is no longer the most eye-catching part of the shot. there is a pleasing , almost 3-D effect from the range of tomes in the cloud reflections and the contrast between the grass, the clouds and the smoothness of the water is much more marked.
As a slightly different treatment, I also tried the following letter-box crop.


Overall I think this is a slightly better composition, but does not have the same range of tones as my first choice above.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Digital Photographic Practice 1: Exercise 14: Interpretative Processing

The aim of this exercise is to develop at least 3 different interpretations of an image using the tools available in my processing software. The base image I chose is here – taken in Iceland with an Olympus E-1OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA, ISO200, 1/800 at f/5.6
I chose it for a couple of reasons: first it has a relatively limited dynamic range, as suggested by the exercise, but more importantly, it is a relatively simple image which will tend to support a greater variety of interpretations than a complex image where the subject matter is more constraining.
I spent some time playing with the sliders and presets in Lightroom before settling on the three interpretations here.

Interpretation 1: Family album print
In this interpretation I am trying to replicate the feel of some of the old family photos I have stored in various boxes and albums around the house. In my experience older examples of these are often characterised by yellowing so I started by raising the colour temperature to 13500K. This left a relatively flat result, so I tried pushing the vibrance a little (to 31 on the slider). This saturated the colours a little and added  some ‘pop’ to the image. At this point, in spite of some further experimentation, I concluded I had achieved my objective. Without prompting one of my family said that this looked like a really old print so the effect is clearly effective.

Interpretation 2: Moonlight photo
Moonlit scenes are characterised by an absence of colour so the first step this time is a B/W conversion. I then tweaked the tone curve to increase the contrast (by clipping the whites from 75% upwards), increased exposure by +0.6 EV and darkened the shadows slightly (black 17). To darken the sky further I then reduced the blue channel (-84) and the aqua channel (-100). I then darkened the grass by reducing the green channel to –57. This gave the feel of a dark night scene while retaining enough brightness to see the girls.
This was followed by a split-tone (hue 244 saturation 24 in highlights, 61 in shadows) to add the characteristic blue colour of night scenes, a slight reduction in clarity (-10)to soften the edges and a hefty dose of noise reduction to reduce the graininess induced by the fairly extreme processing ( (luminance +100; colour +71)
The end result is here. It has something of an other-worldly and night-time feel to it to my mind, so it has succeeded to some degree. To be truly convincing I think some stars in the sky would add to the effect.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Interpretation 3: Reminiscence
The aim of this interpretation as to produce a ‘dream’ scene, as might typically be used to indicate an older person reminiscing in movies. The standard starting point is a sepia conversion – this always carries connation of times past and memory. In itself however the sepia preset was too harsh – I wanted a more airy feel. To do this I increased exposure by 1.5 stops and added a further 68 fill on the slider. This still left the grassy area looking to solid, so I lightened this by moving the yellow slider to +30 (from the –9 of the preset) Finally to add a dreamy glow I reduced the clarity slider to –82 to give this end result.

This meets my intent effectively although it could be criticised for being something of a cliché.