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Archive for May, 2013

Tutorials: Far Out and *Also* ‘Far Out’ . . .

May 30th, 2013 No Comments
English: Ansel Adams The Tetons and the Snake ...

English: Ansel Adams The Tetons and the Snake River (1942) Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the National Park Service. (79-AAG-1) Français : Ansel Adams. Les Grands Tetons et la rivière Snake (1942). Parc National des Grands Tetons, Wyoming. Archives Nationales des USA, Archives du service des parcs nationaux. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We take in two tutorials at the ‘long’ and ‘short’ end of the lens today.  One has to do with Landscape Photography and the other with close-in Macro Photography!

From Far Out . . .

Elliot Hook’s Landscape Photography tutorial in DPSchool addresses the question Where to Position that Horizon?  Hook relates the ‘rules’ and also explicates just when and where to break the rules.  The ‘rules’ for high and low horizon explained, Hook shows when and where to go for a centred horizon.

He also says that you can entirely omit the sky if the landscape itself has sufficient interest and detail, illustrating the point with a picture of a textured, undulating meadow.  Actually, waterfalls and cascades are an excellent example of scenes in which one can omit the horizon.

Aspect ratio has a little something to do with horizon positioning as well.  A panoramic landscape will generally look best with a horizon that is off-centre but not dramatically so.  A vertically-oriented composition, however, will benefit from horizons that are well off centre, close to the top of the frame.  Also, assuming that the subject-matter is complementary, 1:1 aspect ratios and centred horizons go very well together as the symmetries reinforce one another.

Vantage point and angle of elevation will also influence the placement of horizon.

Also ‘Far Out’ – in a Different Sense

How about photographing a landscape reflected in a water drop?  That’s the technique you can learn in Harold Davis’s how-to, Photographing Waterdrops: Exploring Macro Worlds, published on Shutterbug.

Davis has a philosophy around photographing waterdrops; he says that having a “visual structure” and “metaphorical stage” is important if you want to create an image such as this soothing semi-abstract photo.  Fortunately, you do not have to go that far because he also provides some more nuts-and-bolts type of guidance.

To begin with, he explains why it’s a good idea to use macro flashes and what their effects are.  However, he also provides tips on how to photograph sunbursts in a drop – and that can only be done with natural lighting.  

Davis’s text relays which weather conditions provide the best opportunities for photographing waterdrops.  You can also learn a few tricks from the detailed exposure information provided with each image

If you’re psyched for this kind of photography but only find a ‘blah’ droplet on a ‘blah’ setting, add one or another type of diffraction filter to your lens and see what it does!


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Idiot, Dreamer, or Rousseau with a Camera?

May 29th, 2013 No Comments

“It’s not enough anymore that photographers show us exotic places. . . . A good photographer is a storyteller, a reliable filter of his seen and felt reality.”  That is the approach of Kai Löffelbein who photographed a series on Hong Kong’s ‘Cage People’ – those who live in cage compartments in a cramped room.

A sampling of Löffelbein’s fascinating work, World of Wire, appears alongwith an interview on the Leica Blog where it is a rarity as a colour gallery.   

The photographer’s grounding in “social issues” seems to have a bearing on his ‘storytelling’ as evident in the way he juxtaposes a rooftop shack of sorts with luxury skyscrapers.  

It is one of the few brightly-lit daytime shots in the picture story.  Most images are night, indoor light, underexposed, or dark-background photos.  These techniques of exposure lend a grim and depressing feel to the images, accentuating the grim and depressing living conditions of the subjects.  In Löffelbein’s words, so as to get across “their hopeless situation,” “pictures and mood of the story is quiet and dark.”  Therefore, a photo that did not have to be shot at night was taken at that time, all the better to convey the isolation of the person symbolized by a disembodied hand.  As the hand is cut off from its owner, so too is the cage-dwelling denizen cut off from Greater Hong Kong which has implicitly passed him by.

The photographer also uses other photographic devices to convey his point and tell a story, such as simple composition.  Look at this downbeat, depressing photo.  Cover up the right half until the central vertical bar with a sheet of paper and you’ll see that what remains doesn’t look remotely downbeat or depressing!

Löffelbein says, “Call me an idiot or a dreamer, but . . . pictures can make us think about what is going on in the world or in your immediate vicinity and show us our responsibility in a globalized world.”  With the approaches and techniques that photographers like him bring, his objectives and aspirations are not remotely those of “an idiot or a dreamer” but those of, say, a Rousseau with a camera.


America from A Few Different ‘Angles’

May 27th, 2013 No Comments

Today’s post is all about America.  Three photographers, and several different angles into ’50s Chicago, last century’s Fort Worth, and today’s twilit backlanes of rural America are on offer.

Wayne F. Miller, R.I.P.

Wayne F. Miller was a Photography giant for both the United States and Magnum for over four decades.  Last week he passed away at a ripe old 94.  The Washington Post ran a tribute cum obit by Matt Schudel yesterday.  Earlier, Magnum had published reminiscences by Miller’s granddaughter.

His work as a photographer was quite eclectic: he photographed World War II, assisted in the curation of The Family of Man exhibition, and shot that lauded series of images of Chicago’s South Side, bringing to the fore that down-at-the-heels locality’s deeply human aspects for the first time.  Then, after he was done with photography, he distinguished himself in forestry as a conservationist.

Miller had also taken some famous images of reactions to FDR’s death; more relevantly, his location shots taken in Australia during filming of the apocalyptic thriller On the Beach may be of special interest.

Several galleries of Miller’s superb body of work are online at Magnum.

Fact-Fantasy America

Hopper and Hitchcock.  Pulp fiction and the seamy side.  Tract housing and trashed cars.  Of such things is the Art Photography of Todd Hido made as he photographs the twilit backlanes of a little-known America.

Hido’s imagery skips along the borderline of fact and fantasy; indeed, in Hido’s photographs fact seems to be fantasy, and fantasy fools you into believing it’s fact.

In a long but very engaging article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Steven Litt tells the story of how Hido’s ‘take’ on America derives from his childhood and the environs that he grew up in.

His highly stylized work is simply indescribable and is valuable on different counts.  Hido photographs the American landscape in a pulp fiction light and even reduces it to neon abstractions.  You also get pulp fiction proper and for those who like a little class and restraint, there’s a vamp reminiscent of Clara Bow from nearly a century ago

Litt says, “By any calculus, Hido is wildly successful. His big prints sell for $15,000 to $30,000 . . . .”  One can see why.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

If you liked Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or Sam Peckinpah’s gorefest (if you watch the unedited version) The Wild Bunch, here’s the story for you. 

Remember that faded B&W photo that’s seen in the former film?  Steve Campbell tells the fascinating story behind it on the Star-Telegram.

It is not a story about great photography, but a tale of detective work, personal and family tragedies, American Western history, and a family of hard-luck photographers, the Swartz Brothers.  After you’re done reading the article be sure to click on the ‘Photos’ tab.

You can see historic photographs of a long-gone American West and countless looky-loos (L.A. slang) watching firemen do their thing with a blazing train station.

All said, though, the story is about those notorious outlaws Butch, Sundance, & Co. (who look like regular fops in the photo).  Campbell says that their “vanity photo turned into major misstep” as it led to their ultimate downfall.

Oh, well – maybe the slick pic was worth it.



May 23rd, 2013 No Comments

No doubt that by now you’ve read a thousand-and-one posts about Leica’s new Mini M camera, unless you’re just back from Mars (how was the weather?).  So we’ll skip that particular news splash (cum explosion) and proceed to some interesting items that may have escaped your attention.

A Rare Exhibition

Photography Exhibitions in and of themselves aren’t unusual.  Some kinds and types of Photography Exhibitions, however, are unusual, even rare.  One of these is Making it Up: Photographic Fictions at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.  But don’t jump to the obvious conclusion – this is not a show comprising manipulated and doctored images.  This exhibition concentrates on scripted ‘set piece’ photographs with an air of imaginative mystery.  The name that most immediately springs to mind is Gregory Crewdson and his works are featured in the exhibit alongwith those of several others.  Making it Up runs until March next year so you’ve got lots of time to catch it on your travels.

A Camera Collection

You’ve heard about William Eggleston and you’ve admired his photographs.  PetaPixel thinks that it’s high time you heard about and admired his camera collection.

Just as Saurav Ganguly had (has?) a penchant for collecting cricket bats, Eggleston has “something of an obsession” with cameras, particularly Leicas, to the tune of cases and cases filled with them!  All told, they number about 300!

Obviously, no photographer needs even a tenth as many cameras so Eggleston (besides obviously being a photographer) is displaying the indulgence and love of a collector.  His collection includes limited editions and commemoratives – more evidence of Eggleston’s collector credentials.

In case you missed it, all these stacks of Leicas were photographed with a dinky, relatively humble Fuji X-Pro1!  How cool!

A Photography Collective

The appeal of Photography and the passion it arouses sometimes catches one by surprise.  Witness some small town small gallery in America hosting an exhibition of their ‘Photo Arts Collective’.  

New Haven’s Collective is a loosely-assembled local group of photographers that support and critique one another.  This small-town casual group boasts skilled photographers.

Consider the photo “Meriden, CT, July 4, 2012” which illustrates New Haven Independent’s story of the Collective’s exhibition.  This arresting and somewhat bewildering image was described as containing “legerdemain of light and distance” (it has the distinct feel of a tilt-shift photograph) and was praised for framing fireworks in context with their setting and spectators.

If you read the charming story you’ll also come across a photographer opining, “To me this looks like Oz,” except that she was referring to L. Frank Baum’s ‘Oz.’


Kenji Aoki’s Lighting Approach and the Mantovani Sound

May 22nd, 2013 No Comments

Kenji Aoki is a lighting master – the proof is in his picture of glasses.  What’s more, he’s also a generous soul, for he teaches you exactly how it was done!  The highly unusual perspective reduces the glasses to a monotone abstract image composed of interlocking and adjoining circles with gentle texture, accented by a lone ornamental glass.

As simple and artistic as the end-result is, the lighting setup required to achieve it is fiendishly complex and it is explained in How To: Experiment with Subtractive Lighting Using Glassware by Peter Kolonia in Popular Photography.

Evenness and precision was the foundation for the setup.  To achieve this, six Profoto Pro-7b heads were bounced off a white floor while the surface on which the glasses were arranged was so perfectly lit that all throughout it was illuminated “to the exact same brightness to within a tenth of a stop.”

Mantovani, whose strings sound has never been replicated, was reputed to include a vibraphone caressed with brushes on some orchestrations to impart an aural shimmering ‘top’ to his overall sound, though no-one could detect the presence of a vibraphone!  The same principle applies in the way a couple of techniques have been used, subtly and unobtrusively, to achieve the specific final effects of the photograph of glasses.

Undetectable but apparently necessary for the final effect is a very mild amber filter to produce the mere touch of an antique photo effect.  Next, note that the glasses were placed on a pane of glass that itself rested on wooden blocks on an acrylic sheet (not unlike the principle behind insulation) for double diffusion.  Finally, there was no light whatsoever other than the strobes’ reflected light – even the room lighting was switched off.  Result: an artist’s sketch.

The lighting diagram is so easy to understand once you see it but it would have been well nigh impossible to reverse engineer that same lighting and effect simply by looking at the photograph – just like the Mantovani Sound.


May 21st, 2013 No Comments
TWAN logo

TWAN logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Twenty-four hours back Yahoo News reported on The World at Night’s Third Annual Earth & Sky Photo Contest.  Though its raison d’etre is to celebrate the beauty of the night sky, an important intention is to raise awareness of light pollution and atmospheric pollution.

The World at Night (TWAN) describes itself as “an international effort to present stunning nightscape photos and time-lapse videos of the world’s landmarks against celestial attractions.”  Their photo contests winners indeed include some “stunning” images.

A panorama featuring an arc of the Milky Way accompanying the shimmer of the Aurora Borealis above a waterfall would deserve first prize in just about any photo contest, and it won just that for Stephane Vetter in TWAN’s contest.

It’s far from the only spectacular photograph, though.  The ten-image gallery has photo after photo, several of which are, in Yahoo’s words, “jaw-dropping.”

Luc Perrot’s dramatic vertical format image positioning a gorgeously photographed, nebulous Milky Way over a channel between black rocks is an integral composition of two halves, each of which would be impressive on its own!  One cleaves the night sky; the other, the black rocks.

This blog had brought to your attention a photograph on 1st April, calling it ‘Aurora Meteoris’.  It won third place in one of the two categories in the contest.  This is Shannon Bileski’s photo of a meteor streaking through the Northern Lights. 

Considering that Fredrik Broms’s submission has a perfectly exposed Adams-like landscape (with some expressive barrel distortion) topped with the bonus of a huge ‘dancing’ swirl of multi-tinted Aurora Borealis, perhaps it should have done better than fourth place?

You’ve seen star trails dozens of times but did you ever see one quite so artistically satisfying with such precise concentric streaks above a glowing, golden-hued Golden Gate Bridge?  Rick Whitacre’s photo is a triumph of composition, exposure, and planning.

These are only some of the contest winners; there’s lots more where that came from, i.e. TWAN. 

If astrophotography turns you on, TWAN has numerous galleries indexed and accessible by region, photographer, location, and even subject matter which includes the obvious and expected like ‘Star Trails’, the associated and related, like ‘Observatories’, and the offbeat, like ‘Virtual Reality’.


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Michael Wolf and Tabitha Soren’s New Photo Galleries

May 17th, 2013 No Comments

We’ll close out the week by taking in two brand-new photo galleries that are as extremely different from one another as they are unusual.  Each should appeal to the artist in you. 

Michael Wolf’s ‘Density’

Hong Kong denizen Michael Wolf’s photographs are, apparently, abstract images of lines and strips and patterns, when seen from a distance.  Look closely, though, and you’ll find that they’re photographs of tall buildings and skyscrapers, shot closely

In an article published earlier today, Atlantic Cities accurately calls it “strange beauty:” The Strange Beauty of Density Taken to the Extreme.

Check out the spare, subdued vertical segments in pink and grey that appear at the top of the page and contrast with the bright and colourful chequered pattern – is that a part of a colour target card?!

You like spare and subdued?  Check out an even more spare and subdued pattern of speckled, silver-grey vertical bars – which happens to be another skyscraper.

The images resemble a “supermarket bar code” in the words of the artist and are “a kind of geometric art” according to the writer of the article, Emily Badger.

Whatever they are, they certainly have an unusual monotonic, hypnotic, aesthetic sensibility.  If you are in agreement, you can get these photos in a coffee table book, Architecture of Density.

Tabitha Soren and ‘Running’

California photographer Tabitha Soren has published a series of photos titled Running, Berkleyside reported yesterday.  But how to classify these extremely heterogeneous images? 

To begin with, Soren stumbled upon the idea of posing her subjects in running positions by happy chance.  She then decided to make a whole series out of the concept; however, the settings, moods, contexts, palettes – everything – is so different from image to image that the only unifying thread is a figure in motion – running.

The photograph that started it all is one of a strange old tree on a bright day with the accent of a man’s figure, while another taken on a misty evening is spooky, almost eerie, and yet a third of a man running on a highway in afternoon light strikes one as AP/Reuters stock photojournalism.  

Now navigate to Soren’s album and the very first photo is that of a woman kicking up her heels, shot through a misted and droplet-flecked windowpane – another mood, another palette!

A single unifying thread connects the infinite moods that course through Soren’s unusual work.  It’s a fascinating view.


Food, Glorious Food . . .

May 14th, 2013 No Comments
Cover of "Oliver!"

Cover of Oliver!

—“Hot sausage and mustard! / While we’re in the mood / Cold jelly and custard!”  (Lyric: Lionel Bart)

Thus began the music in Carol Reed’s unforgettable musical Oliver! as the Victorian workhouse orphans, supping on gruel, daydreamed about (relative) gastronomic delights.

And thus we also begin this unusual tri-part post, because it’s all about food, glorious food!

Around the World

What a Week of Groceries Looks like Around the World was Peter Menzel’s self-ascribed project, published on FStoppers.

This is a really interesting album because the basic eating habits of different countries’ people and different socio-economic classes just pop out.  Though one family can hardly represent a whole country, this album still brings some realities home pictorially and, consequently, powerfully.

Witness the American family’s reliance on packaged and processed foods, the Indian family’s reliance on basic vegetables and the Mali and Chad families’ near-exclusive reliance on grains, lentils and pulses.  Interestingly, families in Ecuador and Guatemala seem to consume a very wide range of fresh produce.

Thanks to Menzel, now we know that Germans love their sausage and beer, Mexicans, their avocado, and Italians, their breads.  In Oz, it’s heavy on the meat; in Japan, heavy on the fish. 

But – blimey! – do we see a British family sans Bovril and Horlicks?  And no baguette for the Frenchies?  In any event, this album is a fascinating look into nations and their particular staple foods.

Surgical Sections

Ever wanted to see what a bowl of noodles looked like, cut in half?  Or even a cup of coffee being made?  Well, now you can, thanks to Beth Galton (and Lauren Davis on io9).

Though all the photos fall in the “huh – interesting!” category, a couple are genuinely fine photographs.

The corn dog with ketchup and mustard side by side with an ice-cream cone are not only two beachside treats, their orientations and relative colours on the black background make for an eyecatching photo.  Even better are the humble eggs.  The uniformity and symmetry made by each individually different egg and the very limited palette combine to form a striking near-abstract image.

That said, don’t miss the cross-section of those noodles.

The Supper Club

If all this talk about food makes you hungry and you’re in the American Midwest, we know where you’ll head: to your neighbourhood supper club.  

We know supper clubs are a tradition in your parts thanks to the new photo book by David Hoekstra, The Supper Club Book: A Celebration of a Midwest Tradition.  However, it’s a particularly Wisconsin tradition to the extent that Mary Bergin, writing for the a Wisconsin publication says, “We’d like to think we own the supper-club culture, but the author also finds this depth of passion in Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Michigan.”

Not to worry, Mary, you do know that Ron Faiola has released a photo book and a movie dedicated to Wisconsin Supper Clubs.

Only a few images are available online so if you really want to know more about this ‘Midwest Tradition’ you’ll have to plop for one of the two books.



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Death Anniversary of Horst Faas: The Greatest of an Extinct Breed?

May 13th, 2013 No Comments

Execution of a Viet-Cong, Napalm Girl, and Reaching Out are the three iconic images of the Vietnam War.  These photographs were taken by, respectively, Eddie Adams, Nick Ut, and Larry Burrows.  

In all truth one other photographer’s name ranks right up there; though somehow none of his Vietnam War images became an instantly-recognizable global sensation, his body of work is perhaps superior to those of any of the other three photographers.  In addition, he was also an AP Photo Chief; indeed, it was this very photographer-editor, based in Vietnam, who approved and pushed both, Adams’s Execution of a Viet-Cong and Ut’s Napalm Girl!  And, arguably, it is one of this photographer’s War Photographs that unforgettably conveys the indescribable raw terror of war . . . .

Let’s remember Horst Faas, a War Photography titan, on his first death anniversary.

Last year Denver Post published a fantastic collection of Faas’s Vietnam War photos in high-res.  (Caution: Some images are extremely graphic; others are equally distressing.)  These are among the best, the very best, images of war you’ll ever see.

With Faas, you get harrowing, shocking images of an American GI implicitly bidding farewell to his dying buddy . . . and a Vietnamese woman explicitly bidding farewell to her dead husband.

You get art photography like this image of infantrymen crossing an arcing bridge or a minimalist nighttime silhouette of soldiers, smoke, and spotlight, each of which is suitable for framing and hanging.

Here is the chaos that ensues among well-drilled marines when a helicopter crashes.  And there is the sheer, raw bedlam-horror of warfare.  

There’s a village pathway littered with corpses.  And what about children on motorcycles going along a road that is verily strewn with corpses as if this is a day-to-day reality?

If you’ve seen Apocalypse Now, here’s a photo that will play back Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries in your mind.

Pure reportage yet superlative photography – a photo of a wounded soldier being treated; another of a wounded soldier being evacuated.

How about this brilliantly composed and executed photo of haphazardly collapsed soldiers fast asleep with one lad wide awake?

Even a simple photograph, by dint of its composition, perspective, and angle of elevation, becomes a riveting document of war.

This character study and portrait conveys what ‘all senses on red alert’ means.  Here is another character study and portrait, albeit one that is radically different.  Do we see dignity in this woman’s sorrow or is it just me?

Here’s a moving, wonderfully ‘tight’ (close-in) photo of tough warriors weeping for fallen comrades.

Faas brings us a smiling blue-eyed boy informing us that ‘War is Hell’ to be contrasted with a blonde lad with ‘KILL’ emblazoned on his hat.

You are thrilled by the drama of seeing a Hannibal-like elephant-back force crossing a river . . .

You are distressed at seeing a submissive captive being ‘pistol-whipped’ with the handle of a knife . . .

—And you have your heart rent by a photo that is the ‘Pieta’ of the Vietnam War.

Faas also covered the Congo Conflict, among other war zones, such as East Pakistan / Bangladesh.  His photo of a wild-eyed Baluba warrior with a stick is as terrifying a photo as you will see.  

All these photographs reveal that, besides being a gifted photographer, Faas was a very brave man; a man among men.

Perhaps Faas’s most famous image is the unnerving, shocking image of a Vietnamese peasant showing an apparently dead child to American troops on an armoured vehicle, almost as if saying, “Why did you do this? Why?”

However, Faas shot the haunting, unforgettable image of images that defines the raw terror of war – descriptions are superfluous.  This photograph ought to be as famous as any other war photo.  Look into the womens’ eyes (and contrast with the blissfully uncomprehending baby’s expression).  Look once, you’ll never forget.  How the photographer managed to shoot this particular instant in quite the way he did is beyond analysis.  This image too needs to be distinguished by a universally-known name.

If someone declares that Horst Faas is the greatest of the extinct breed of authentic War Photographers, no argument would be made by this writer.


Survivor! The Bangladesh Factory Collapse

May 10th, 2013 No Comments

The photo album of the day for the story of the day comes from the Baltimore Sun’s Darkroom.  It illustrates the rescue of a woman after a seventeen-day ordeal of entombment – a miracle of survival – alongwith relevant images of the overall tragedy.

The overall tragedy is, as you might guess, the Bangladesh garment factory building collapse in which over a thousand people perished.

The album comprises of the work of four photogs bringing us a type of photojournalism most would probably prefer to avoid.

One image picturing the survivor clearly conscious and apparently in her senses is the most heartening image in a collection of grim and sorrowful ones. 

A pure reportage photograph showing an earth mover looking like an insect within the vast expanse of the razed plot conveys the magnitude of the disaster.

Among the many powerful photojournalistic images is one of a a woman comforting a maimed family member and grief-struck relatives, of which one image is particularly jarring.  Then there’s the sombre scene of relatives hovering over a line of shrouded bodies.

One wonders whether to point out the art or technique (or even the dignified beauty of human anguish) in some of these photographs or simply be respectful of such images, considering their subject-matter.

However, in the midst of images of death and destruction an incongruous one sticks out like a sore thumb.  A photographer with a keen eye snapped a photo of women workers’ feet, showing a queue of brightly-coloured flip-flops.  Indeed, there is a brilliantly composed and executed image by the same photographer, Munir uz Zaman, conveying the bleakness and starkness of the scene around an odd splash of colour; that of rescue workers.(!)

The album includes a superb, hypnotic image that can be called an ‘art photo’ even as it conveys one personal story within the overall tragedy.

No matter how you approach this collection of photographs – as interested viewer or as a photojournalism student – it is well worth a go-through.


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