[Subject] – [Camera] – [Final Presentation Format]
The front cover photo was shot on film, the negative was scanned to digital and the image was worked on in Photoshop. Without a lofty discussion of how light reacts differently on film, the simplicity of digital manipulation was necessary for many reasons.
The most forthcoming example is getting rid of the “No Parking” sign on the barn door. A few patches of snow and the electrical power lines are gone also. Leveling the histogram and otherwise enriching the photograph was straight forward. Cropping and framing it finished the resulting picture.
The self-portrait on the back cover was taken under a chikee on the Gulf of Mexico. That provided both shaded and natural backlight. Needless to say, because the book is by a Cape Cod author, a photograph of Barnstable Harbor was layered behind for the background.
The framing, titling, spine (the width of which is based on the number of pages inside, or guts), and final format were fitted to the “guidelines for submission” provided by the publisher and the entire cover (outlined here in gray) was produced and emailed to the printer. (The barcode for the printed book was assigned and inserted by the publisher.)
My apologies for being gruff, but discussing the finer points of film versus digital can best be accomplished through practice and while outdoors pontificating about the intricacies of our cigars.
Let me digress with this story. Went to a concert and some guy next to us took a few photos of the band with his phone. He texted some of them to my friend who texted them to me. Two were pretty good, so they went from my phone to my computer via email. Only one was useable, so it went into Photoshop, got manipulated, cropped, etc. Found the artist's signature on the internet and considered including it, but that was stepping over the line since recording devices weren't allowed at the venue anyway.
That picture can't be published, but being ever-curious, some research led me to study fabrics and find a provider. Now that picture adorns a small number of one-of-a-kind T-shirts. Never occurred to me before that a photo taken on a phone by a stranger in Vancouver would be texted to my friend in California, sent to me on the East Coast and printed on a medium new to me.
So in addition to a great road trip, concert and the stories that go with it, we really did get the “stupid T-shirt” to prove it.
The lesson to be garnered is that we use tools that you might not even know are there. Next time you go to the hardware store, peruse the aisles and see the things that are available. Can't tell you how many prototypes are made from things found at the hardware store and then refined into a final product.
Getting back to tools: A table saw is a tool. You use it to cut rough lumber to size and then use other tools to finish the project. You take something from rough to finished.
For years, I wrote software that got computers to do something. Programs are tools. A large number of people created the tools on which these words are written. A boss once chided me that “Those who hoot with the owls at night cannot soar with the eagles at dawn.” The thought came to me that the only birds that pick on owls are crows, but some words are better kept for a later story.
That was right about the time it dawned that a computer is not much different than a table saw.
(As an aside, keep in mind that eagles get picked on by mockingbirds. You have to admire their spunk, but they sure can be annoying even in song. Don't let the catcalls distract you.)
The point here is the “Subject, Camera, Final Presentation Format” model.
A lot of people remark about this photograph and the patience it must have taken to catch that bird in such grace. Truth is, I'd seen him do that before while I was out fishing, but the camera was inside, of course.
Where was the camera this time? Right next to the fishing pole. And it was all set up and ready to go at the fastest speeds it had, including the motor drive. Some of us gotta fish. Perhaps there's a correlation with patience.
To be better, this picture required an interesting bit of manipulation. When printed at 8x10 or larger, simple image leveling was enough. But to get it to look right on smaller prints, even 5x7, just a dash more manipulation was needed. So the masters of those two sizes are different.
The point here is that the picture looks fine at one level of final presentation, but not at a different one (in this case, shrinking the overall size as opposed to cropping it). So there I was with the perfect 8x10 and figured it would print just the same at 5x7. It didn't.
One more thing to say about the final presentation: Just because you can only find frames at a store that fit certain size prints doesn't mean you can't make your print to whatever size you want. The final presentation has to match what you want it to be. You're the artist. Make the frame and cut the glass yourself.
Took this one from my desk while experiencing writer's block.
Was able to crop it from the original 12 megapixel image.
Maybe the right frame and matte would make it work.
So, in closing, let me say something about copyrights. A lot of people think that copying is cool, but taking someone else's work for your own advantage is not cool. A guy found a niche and wrote “file sharing” software. That company sold for a fortune, but the software wasn't “open source” for all to see and share.
He once said something like: Musicians make enough money. Well, the vast majority of them don't. If you like something, but can't afford it, why should the artist bother to go through all of the effort just to give it to you for free?
Copyright infringement is stealing. Make it yourself or get a job and trade for it. Hell, make a few frames and barter for a picture.
Food for thought: if an artist goes through the entire process and wants to sell a framed picture, are you just going to pay her for the frame?
But here is a rub for you to figure out: One of my uncles was a photographer, but he left his camera behind and saw a picture he wanted to take. My other uncle wasn't a photographer, but he had his camera with him and he lent it.
Who owns the rights to the photograph, the guy who took the picture or the guy who owned the camera and film and paid for it to be developed? Well, that doesn't matter because they're both dead now and it was never printed. The negative was in a stack of other large format negatives that were left to me with other worldly possessions.
As I was cleaning out the house, I found that stack and looked through the first few negatives. The pictures were mostly of cocktail parties from an era gone by. So I tossed them in the trash.
After a while, I dug them out thinking maybe I should go through all of them just in case. Pulled one out of the middle of the stack and found a group of five. The rest got thrown out again and only two of the five could be saved. Scanned them in and did a lot of work fixing scratches and manipulating the images.
The picture is of a man looking down on his luck, sitting by a road on a suitcase, a cigarette in his hand and leaning against a sign post. These days, such signs say “Warning! Falling Rocks”, but way back then, years before anyone in the band was even born, the signs said:
God Bless America
Obviously, this is another still life and obviously photoshopped, but at least they're alive and it wasn't snowing. You may like it or you may not, but it is included here because it has a small black outline and a matte included using Photoshop. What you see there will print exactly on paper.
This is almost ready for the Final Presentation Format – the frame. With the matte already around it, what you see there can be printed as is and placed in a simple clear plastic dollar frame.
Don't assume that you can't do more with Photoshop than you currently know. You might surprise yourself with the mattes and frames you can create in Photoshop and print on the paper.
This is a neighbor.
A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words
Sticking with osprey for the moment, took this picture with a digital camera on another obscure island in another part of the country. This was a planned mission for I saw the nest there while out fishing a few days before the weather broke. Brought everything needed but the bug spray. Went by myself.
Took a boat out to the marsh and the nest was empty. Figured on staying there and getting a picture of one landing on the nest. Stayed for a long time doing nothing but swatting these unreasonable biting flies known as greenheads for the obvious reason. Damn things are like tiny attack helicopters that sneak up on you and hurt bad because they don't suck your blood, they drill your skin and lap up what bleeds out. Still no birds in sight.
Then a baby popped his head up and the tide had turned, so to speak. Took a few shots, but was too low. So I climbed up on the rickety roof and swatted flies as I took frame after frame. Must have been twenty minutes before the second one popped up just as I thought the shoot was done. Kept shooting. And killing flies. Probably took as many frames as flies that got away.
That's one difference between film and digital: while you don't worry about ruining costly film, you spend a lot of time sorting through digital images. Back when each click had a significant dollar cost associated with it, you approached every frame with a different mindset.
Of all the frames taken, this one stands out because the bird on the left, the nestling who woke up first, met me eye-to-eye through the lens while the sleepier bird was still wondering where dinner was.
Got swooped by one of the adults and missed the shot of the other landing with a fish. The one wouldn't leave me alone and the others disappeared into the nest to eat. The flies were getting enough of me, too. That was that.
That picture was not baited. That's just my neighbor out for a ride, but the blue sky made it easy to move the eagle a foot closer to the flag so it would fit the Final Presentation Format, a postcard that I mail to people on the 4th of July.
Feel free to use it to do the same.
It is a free country and the First Amendment applies to images, too, generally.
You are hereby granted permission to copy that photo as is, email it to a photo-printer (like a pharmacy) and give prints out as gifts for friends' refrigerators or whatever. Do it right and it will cost you a few dimes per print and make a few people happy.
There will be more about copyrights later.
About this picture people often say they “don't know what it is, but it's art.” Technically maybe, but to each his own. Time and again I passed this vent in Boston's Chinatown and saw a picture. Finally, one day I had a camera and was in a cab. Told the driver to turn around, stop and wait for me. I snapped off a few from up close and afar, climbed on the hood of the cab to get better angle. The driver's look went from confusion to disbelief to “hey, buddy, the meter's running” to, put politely, “get off my my cab.” Guess that was pushing the limits of the set.
So, is it art? The cab driver might not care, but the time required to get where it is right now included seeing, conceiving, executing, processing and posting it on the internet. At the very least that was a good exercise, but the meter is always running.
Well, what is the “Subject”? A flower? A sporting event? A feature length film? Is it staged, a snapshot or are you going to camp for days in one place waiting for the light to be just right?
Skipping to the “Final Presentation Format”, what's the target? Are you shooting for a piece of paper?A magazine cover? A fashion shoot? A wedding? A selfie for social media?
Perhaps the Final Presentation Format is something you want to stand out on the wall of a museum.
So, what is the “Camera”? Technical issues include: Are you shooting film or digital? Is it large format or a telephone? You going to lug around a tripod, a ladder, lights? What about the optical constraints of the lenses?
We could talk about the complexities involved in all that over coffee, but don't burn too much daylight.
Often, the most important question is where is the camera. At home? In the car? In your pocket? In your hand? Except for blind luck, pictures don't come to you.
Fact is, the camera has to have been there for the picture to be here. You're just along for the ride to bring and operate the tool. You have to go there to be here.
You might say you're not supposed to bait your subjects (this ties in later), but those photos aren't going anywhere but here. Some folks say they're Photoshopped, but they are both just snap shots. The intensity of the bird's face makes him look like he's on a serious mission.
Not to say I was going to eat that smelly jack fish anyway. The eagle needed to feed his family and I was after tastier fish, so why not help out a neighbor?
Now before you make me out a rascal for disparaging our National Bird (they are actually quite good at fishing for themselves), let me say that this country gives one the right to say “Get off my lawn” or pay guards to do it for you and I'm comfortable with both of those rights.
Besides, a few days later he paid me back.
That's not an eagle, but an osprey. The photo was shot on a digital camera and stands pretty much as it was taken on some obscure island. I followed the osprey as it circled and wished I had a ladder and the patient tenacity to get a photo of it at eye level, but then it became clear what that bird was doing. It was teaching its reluctant young to fly.
This one is a lesson in distraction. I've said before that it's best to go shooting pictures alone. Unless you're paying someone to be your assistant, chances are your friend won't understand that you're not just taking snapshots.
A story goes that Ansel Adams spent four days camped in one spot to get a picture of some rocks. At least that's the story I'm telling, but given that it yielded an iconic photo by a legendary photographer, any embellishment proves the point: Got many friends who are going to sit in the same place with you for four days in the high desert while you fiddle with a camera waiting for the light to be just right? You might not need bug spray.
Distraction One: The photo of the sailboat above was taken while I was alone. On a boat. Who was driving the boat? Me. Not being distracted is the primary responsibility of the safe operation of the boat. So the picture shoot already had the primary overriding distraction: Safety.
Distraction two: That sailboat was the leader of the race. The team in second place didn't care that I wanted a picture of the leader and it was not my right to interfere with them. This was shooting one moving object with another moving object in close proximity. They cared more about wind and weather, which also doesn't care about me. Plus their boats boats were bigger than mine. Stay out of the way.
Distraction three: Anticipation. These are not just pretty boats sailing along and I happened to come upon them when the light was right. The crew is serious about racing and their teamwork is coordinated. My boat was out there a few hours before the race started.
You plan your points and listen to the two-way radio. You're in the right spot for the start, the right spot along each leg, for each turn. You hope to be there when they're crossing each other and you hope they're smiling or looking serious when they're in action.
Distraction Four: Don't be a distraction. To get real action shots, you have to anticipate when something is going to happen. Obviously, you don't call out, “Hey, look ever here!” You have to be prepared with the camera and concentrating on it and the scene. To get really close to one of these boats for action shots, you'd better have a good and dedicated driver working his part of the film crew team. Don't be that guy with a camera in one hand and a beer in the other.
You can't prepare for distractions, you just have to choose quickly which ones to ignore without getting killed. In the case of shooting these boats, distractions can lead to serious damage to an expensive yacht or, worse, someone getting hit in the head and falling in the water to drown.
The picture above turned out better after cropping in post production. The resulting picture is elsewhere on this web site, but don't get distracted from this point. The picture above will print larger than the cropped version without loss of quality. An ideal world would allow you to capture an image and crop it to whatever size you want with out losing quality.
That's where the dynamics of light, lenses, camera settings and film come into play. The film is the last stop of the light of a picture. Have faith in knowing that there is a difference between Ektachrome and Kodacrome, just as there is for everything that collects, bends and presents the photographic light to the film.
To oversimplify film grain, think of the chemicals on the film as grains of sand that catch light. Again to oversimplify, the larger the grain, the more light it can retain so the film is faster, meaning you can shoot at a higher shutter speed and capture action. The trade off is that the film is grainier, or has more grains of sand per square inch. But let's stop that simplification.
Now in the digital world, film grain can be over-simply expressed in megapixels. Each pixel is one grain. My cameras include a 12 megapixel and a 24 megapixel from the same manufacturer. You could simply say that one can shoot a picture that is half as grainy as the other. Technology advances faster than life, so unless you're sponsored or can otherwise afford a higher resolution camera, this simplification ends here.
As it pertains to cropping, film grain is a limiting factor. Think of it in the other direction. Darkroom enlargers are just projectors. If you can project an image nicely on a silver screen 10 feet away, what will the graininess be when the screen is 100 feet away?
The same thing happens when you crop. With a darkroom enlarger, you project the image larger and use a smaller piece of paper on which to print a selection of the image. As you take a small section of a picture and make it bigger, you will see more and more of the film grain.
You can only go so far with cropping before the image is unattractive or useless. The sci-fi of enhancing goes only so far in reality. The trade offs between film and bending light through lenses combined with shutter speeds and apertures (f-stops) is where the blending science and art becomes the real fun while driving yourself mad.
Just take the picture! Right?
Apologies for the copyright watermark, but those are out for publication. More about copyrights later.
A good 'ol boy told me: “Smart people learn from the old and wise people learn from the young.” You can give people the best advice in the world and chances are they still won't listen. Don't think this fledgling had much say in the matter, but the next photo was cropped for aesthetics pleasing to me.
Still life pictures give you a chance to concentrate on every aspect of the “Subject, Camera, Presentation” model. In an absolutely perfect world, you start out with a set where everything is spotlessly clean. You place the props in perfect position and then apply dust and dirt in the desired fashion.
The same can be said for fashion photography. Ideally the model takes a shower, goes through hair, make up and wardrobe – the dust and dirt, especially when shooting “heavily distressed” clothing – (that's a joke) and emerges onto the perfect set, which went through the same extensive preparation. Guaranteed that's not being done alone and chances are good that people are getting paid to produce a product for use in an advertisement to sell another product.
For the sake of this discussion, let's assume it's a blizzard outside and you have nothing else to do but experiment with things in your home and hopefully produce something that might be artsy. Such was the case with the above picture.
I kinda like the old clock and the story that goes with it. Let's see if I can paint pictures with words and paint words with pictures.
The assignment is: you are stuck in a blizzard with a camera, a few things around the house and diffused natural light for a limited time.
Put the camera on a tripod and get the basic framing, focus and settings. Put in the first prop. OK, it's a clock. Didn't even have to move it from where it was atop an old organ. But it's lonely and needed something else. There were some dying roses in the kitchen, so in they go.
But the clock has a mirror on the bottom and all it reflects is the table and the carpet below it. Not much, so found a book on a nearby shelf. Move and readjust the camera. OK, now it's a picture ready to be taken as an image.
A few things about the rough image needed touching up. For one thing the picture is kind of dark and dismal. Reminded me of purple prose. Also, to frame it correctly required a wider angle lens that kind of put a bulge in the vertical axis. A lamp shade encroached on the flowers, so that had to be cropped out.
All of those were fixed rather quickly in Photoshop, but still the clock face lacked the punch it has in real life and the clock itself lacked depth. Those were a bit trickier to enhance, as was decreasing the glare on the panelling and top right corner of the clock.
Still, the mirror had an issue. The light it cast on the book is fine, but the mirror glass and it's reflection were still a bit too dark. The mirror has an aged patina that must be kept and the book's reflexion was muddied, as was the carpet fringe.
In hindsight, during staging the carpet fringe could have been straightened with a broom, but alas, that wasn't noticed until after the picture was taken, which leads me to wish the camera was hooked up to the larger computer monitor much earlier. The chance at staging the subject was missed.
And the meter was running and work ended on the photo. Still, as these words are typed and the picture dissected, it comes to me now that there really is a story told by this picture. Everything in that picture except the flowers were here long before anyone reading this was even alive. Each of those things has a story that might be written in a thousand words.
Maybe I'll write that now. How many words do you want?
And because that picture now has enough meaning to have value to me, I'll do one last thing to the image and then carefully choose the matte and frame for its final presentation. Probably no bigger than 5x7 and the frame will be made out of scraps left over from the panelling on the wall and I'll cut some old glass.
Regarding the Gallery
The photos on this page include descriptions of how they were produced with the hope that a bit of knowledge can be shared.
The entire cover to The House of Time is included here for the photography lessons behind it because more than one image was used to produce one file, which consists of the front cover, the spine, the back cover and the titling.
Writers are sometimes paid by the word, so there is at least one double entendre to that statement, such as you will get the same amount of money for that picture as a writer would get for a thousand word story. Since the statement is attributed to an editor … well that's just a story.
As we start afresh now, keep this in mind: the next time you watch a feature film, read the credits at the end and know that every name listed, no matter how incomprehensible their title may be, belongs to a person, a member of a team, that helped create that movie. Hopefully, the point will become clear by the end of this article.
So, here is an image of some guy, taken by another guy, on a camera and film owned by some other guy, lawfully willed to me, discarded and rescued from the trash by me, and worked on by me, the original negative is owned and possessed by me, and it has the name of the Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World on it and probably requires their permission to take it anywhere further.
Maybe the lesson here is to be careful what you throw out because you never know what you have.
When the band was starting out, perhaps it could have been hawked for an album cover.
Should the guys really want to spend their vast resources going after me, I can take it down. Or fight for fifteen minutes of fame. Or ask for backstage press passes. Or be honored to have them use it somewhere. Or I can offer to make them a T shirt.
To finish on a high note, that band's latest album right now (“Blue and Lonesome”) took only a few days to actually record, but a lifetime of playin' the blues to get back to their roots.
Even Clyde Butcher started out selling frames.
There was an image in my mind that took years to develop. Literally. Always wanted to grow sunflowers anyway and needed one for the image in mind, but it took me a few summers to figure out how to keep rabbits from eating the sprouts. Had soda been in my house, probably would have figured out sooner that you cut both ends off a big bottle and use the clear cylinder to protect them until the plants grow big enough. That's useful recycling of plastic. Still have them.
A couple of springtimes later, got the flowers to grow and there are now more sunflower pictures on my hard drive than uses for them.
They are fun to manipulate, though.
Mama knows you either fly or die trying.
Take from that what you will, but don't expect your clothes to be laid out for you in the morning. You gotta dress yourself with the clothes you have chosen. Same goes for the camera you choose and the places you go.
Like a table saw, a camera is a tool. Look at it as the tool in the middle of
Notice the integration of color and B&W parts of this photo. The background on the left of the image was greenery.
For the image in mind, a sunflower had to be isolated.
The bird has an uncanny eye. I'd go fishing off the dock and he'd be in a tree a mile away. As soon as I hooked up with a fish, his head would turn and I knew he was looking at me from that distance.
Came to realize that he was a beggar and a thief. So I baited him.
You may not have heard the name Clyde Butcher, but it would be fair to argue that he is the Ansel Adams of this day. Certainly of the swamp. He is known for breathtaking pictures of the Florida Everglades and if you want an example of dedication look no further than a man who would trek into the swamp for days packing large format camera gear and a ladder.
Went to Clyde Butcher's gallery when he was there to sign some of his works. Perhaps our taste for the swamp is much different, but to say his work is outstanding is an understatement that could not have enough positive adjectives to express his mastery.
His web site can be accessed from the links page if you want to learn from one of the very best.
There was an article some years ago where he may have said he'd never shoot digital. Something like that anyway. Well, times change. Heard him say something about age and the difficulty of lugging around so much gear. Besides, he said, with these new small cameras you can get on your back and lie under fallen trees and shoot the sky. Something like that anyway.
Admiring the works in his gallery while he spoke to other people, overheard him answer all of my sophmoric questions. When it was my turn to speak with him, I was still pondering the technology and trying to justify buying a few more lenses. Here is a man who has built his own cameras and equipment.
And here I was dumbfounded without a question to ask. I mentioned that we had met once before at a ceremony where he received an award. He said a stranger saved his life that night because he nearly fell off the dark balcony while making it to his seat and a girl grabbed him by his belt. Gave me pause to think of a question at least.
Then my friend, who has a gift for picking things, told him she found a big, framed color photograph of his at a garage sale. He asked if it was signed by him and how much she paid for it. We all laughed when she said “Yes” and “Twenty Five Dollars.” Turns out that it might be one of the last color photographs he ever signed.
Well, enough said about that, but if you want to know why he switched solely to black and white, you should buy a copy of his biography from his web site. Again, you can get there from the links page. You might learn a lot about the Everglades, his photographic virtuosity and why he deserves more than awards and accolades.
Clyde Butcher helped save the Everglades and still he gives it to us.
Finally asked him about the paper he printed on since some of his prints are nine feet long. Well, that opened up a whole new world for me. He mentioned a product I'd never heard of and as soon as I got home I searched for it and ordered a sample pack of some of the papers available. You can get rolls of it that need a forklift to move.
Whether color or B&W pictures, the paper makes an unbelievable difference to the final presentation. Gives me greater appreciation for those who make high quality prints. That is an art itself.
With nine foot prints, Clyde Butcher's final presentations look tremendous from a distance and up close.
May as well manipulate it and, in this case, put the web site name in it. There's a lesson in there about copyrights, but enough said about that for now.
So what was that image in my mind's eye that took me so long to create? Well, still not happy with it, so it's a work in progress, but it looks kinda something like this:
Wind Power on Nantucket Sound
The Senator's Cup
But I don't like it. There are better ones, just not here.
Sunflowers are fun to grow and use in pictures.
They are beautiful and refresh the stars we cherish.
Copyright © David Brinning. All rights reserved.