Sunday, March 13, 2016

Explorations in Photography: Black and White

A few weeks back, the weekly photo challenge in Ricky Tims' class was Black and White.  We took photos and transformed them to black and white using Lightroom (the same effect can be created in Photoshop).  I went out with the intention of taking a photo of some lion statues in downtown Bethesda, MD.  Yet again, though, my vision didn't materialize.  From every angle, the lions had cluttered backgrounds that I thought would be distracting.

So instead, I took a photo of the ever-patient Q.  I liked the way the line of benches stretched into the distance.  This photo isn't quite as clean in a black-and-white format, though -- there are a lot of medium values that make the photo look busy, and the dark lines of the window frames pull the eye away from the main subject.  I think using a slightly desaturated or tinted version of the photo would probably be more visually compelling

We then walked further into the downtown area and found a nice spot in front of the bookstore.  Q offered to be a model, sitting on the sidewalk with a marble block at his back.  This pose, particularly in black and white, seems to speak of sadness and hopelessness. (Of course, Q at the time was neither sad nor hopeless -- though holding this position was a bit of a strain after a while.)

Then I was struck by his hands and took some close-up shots.  I like this photo best.  Hands tell such a powerful story.  The sunlight and shadows provide beautiful contrast, further clarified by desaturating the photo.

One of the reasons I like photography is that it allows me to see the world differently.  Examining the photos brings out new details and realizations.  When I look at this photo, I realize afresh: Q's hands are beautiful.

What makes black and white photos so emotionally evocative?  Perhaps it is that removing the color helps us focus on value.  Or is it their historical appearance (calling back to the era before color film) that gives them extra weight?  As someone who loves color, I am surprisingly moved by black-and-white photos.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Explorations in Photography: Keeping things in focus

In yet another of Ricky Tims' weekly Photo Challenges, we were to take photos that were "tack sharp", meaning that the entire photo was in crisp focus.  For an image that involves some depth (with some parts of the image being close and some further away), this typically involves using a high f-stop on the camera.  Accompanied by the ever-patient Q, I tramped out in the snow to our local playground to find some shots.  

My original vision had been to take a photo of an empty swing, but that didn't work out.  First of all, swings move, which makes it very hard to get a crisply focused image.  Second, no matter what angle I shot from, there were always distracting elements in the background.  So much for my original vision.  

But Q suggested taking a photo of this springy duck. The duck is somewhat creepy-looking, but with my shadow cast over it, the expression seems more frightened than menacing. Putting the duck in the left edge of the photo gives room for the implied line-of-sight . . . what is it looking at?

(Did you know that there are quite a few unusual examples of playground equipment out there?  A Google search for "creepy playground equipment" brings up a startling array of images, such as these.)

I also took some close-ups of the merry-go-round.  I don't think this is "tack sharp", though -- the front seems in focus, but the back is somewhat less sharply focused.

I took some shots of the jungle gym and the steps up to the slide, too, but nothing emerged as a strong composition.  Finding good photos can be challenging!  After being out in the snow for over an hour, my socks and the knees of my pants were soaked, my feet were cold, and I packed it all in for the day.  

Lessons learned:  Your original vision may or may not work out; be open to other ideas.  And dress for the weather.  

Friday, February 26, 2016

Explorations in photography: Finding lines

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am taking Ricky Tims' online Photo Challenge class.  Work has been keeping me pretty busy, so I haven't managed to complete all of the weekly challenges.  Even so, I have been learning a lot about photography and composition.  One of the weekly challenges involved finding a line.  I wandered around my father's house one Sunday afternoon, taking photos that explored line.  (You can click on the photos to enlarge them.)

This is a close-up of an African mask (the twigs create the hair & beard on the face).  I liked this photo best -- the lines have a lot of wonderful movement.

This is a close-up of a spinning wheel made by paternal grandfather's grandfather (my great-great grandfather).  This is the photo I submitted for the challenge, as line is the dominant feature, though I'm not completely happy with it.  While the composition is simple and clean, I don't find it that interesting.  

This is a glass art vase.  Here I was exploring the idea of an edge as a line, though I think the colored shapes on the vase draw the eye more than the edge of the vase.  I love the beautiful color and sheen of the glass.

Again, I was looking at edges in terms of line, as well as the lines on the mask itself.  I like the composition and the way it frames the eyes and motifs on the mask.  Again, though, the composition seems less about line and more about shape, so it didn't seem to fit the challenge.  I think I could have gotten the focus a bit crisper, as well.  I have a lot to learn about working with my new camera.  My previous camera was a superzoom, but this class required a DSLR camera; I'm still figuring out how it works.  

This approach to photography is quite different from what I have done before.  Typically I take photos of things that interest me (such as vacation shots) -- I try to do a good job with composition and quality of the photo, but my motivation is to capture an experience or record something for future memory.  The photo challenges require that I go out to look for images to shoot that fit the challenge theme.  I'm finding that somewhat difficult -- it's hard to find inspiration at times.  I'm hoping that I'll get more ideas for photos as I go along.  I think the class will help me train my eye to look for interesting compositions.  

I'm linking this post up to Nina-Marie's Off the Wall Friday.