Saturday, March 29, 2014

Depth of field. Many ways to achieve a sense of depth

The most usual means of separation in depth is to place one thing
 behind another with obvious spacial separation
 and receding perspective. Near things are larger.
Unlike our eyes which are mounted side by side ( binocular vision) and give us good depth perception, the camera is monocular, has no natural depth perception, so we must adjust our subject matter to make up for this deficiency. We may do this automatically as we arrange the parts of our 'reality', but using depth of field, useful as it is, is not the only way to go.

There has been a lot of discussion around this subject. The beautiful bokeh in the blurred background etc. are an important part of the vocabulary of photographers who use a large aperture and close subject to achieve a dramatic separation of frontal subject and softened background. One might think sometimes that that was the only way to achieve such a separation. But in practice we use several. 

The tree trunk is obviously in front of the cedar branches
 and is lighter in tone and different in texture and shape.

Colour or tonal contrasts are obvious ones: red leaves set against a green mossy bank will provide such separation even if the tonal differences may be slight, and a dark shadowy background will set off a lighter, closer, subject. Differences in texture, in shapes, in focus, in directional lines and so on are all available to the photographer who looks through his viewfinder and concentrates on what his photograph will look like rather than settling for a simple capture of an attractive subject and the devil take the details.
In  colour and texture there
 is little separation except for the grey trunk...
...especially in monochrome. With our eyes
 we can see the real depth 
that is present but not in the
The tree trunk adds needed form
 to this busy  image.

Sharp, red and white rails set
 off the soft receding background.
 Allowing the background

 to soften in the distance supplies
 a  natural sense of depth. 

Atmospheric perspective.
In monochrome the close values tend
 to loose the separation.
Colour difference gives separation.

As it does in monochrome as 
 Establishing the appropriate
 sharpness in a snowstorm 
is the tricky part here.
Even with all the green we can separate the shape
 of the lighter tree from background

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Spring. Finding the essential image.

The snow has melted quickly, the rain pours down and the land runs with water; every surface is filmed with moving water, the pond is close to overflowing and the stream  roars down-slope into the valley below. The subject matter is flowing around my boots as I jump from one bank to the other to line up my photographs. Of all the possible fragments of the landscape I could choose to zero in on, the stream symbolizes the flow, the sweeping away of winter and the beginning of spring.

The business of selection is where my mind is today as I tilt the camera forward to exclude the sky, my studio and car from the viewfinder. The course of the stream creates the major element, the line that twists and curves from top to bottom, back to front. But then, is this fairly standard documentary image all there is to say about what is happening here?

My instinct as a photographer is to move in closer, to find something more intimate that is less about information of the standard descriptive kind and more expressive of the feeling of flow in the landscape today. I progressively find smaller parts of the stream, the waterfalls being the most dramatic elements. Closer still, and falling water fills the frame, closer still and I am noticing the transition point where the main waterfall begins. Is this the essential image then that I am reaching for? Perhaps, but I back off and shoot the waterfall, tightly constrained within its rocky chute, this time underexposing so that only the brightest parts shine out from the dark background. Yes, this seems congruent with my feeling about what is happening here.

Later, I walk beside the ocean and see a plum tree in blossom, battered and solitary on a long stretch of rocky shoreline. Almost too obvious a photograph, spring blossoms, but something pulls me to take a series of photographs. The first, from a distance, places the tree within the seascape, but the foreground is cut off and the tree centrally placed against the strong horizontal of the island behind it. “I've got it”, I think but conscientiously walk closer and take some other views including a closer and horizontal version of the first exposure. How focused and business-like this all is, running carefully though my routine with the camera, but at the same time keeping the central symbol that teases at me close to the surface of my mind.  Blossom pictures are a dime a dozen but it is something closer to my personal history that I am reaching for today. I have known this tree for thirty years or more, watched it struggle to live on this rocky sandstone shore, battered by winter winds and salt spray; dead branches aplenty, but always fresh shoots and spring blossoms. A fellow feeling, one might say, and what I am really photographing today might be thought of as a portrait in landscape of something up close and personal.

As with the flowing water, so with the lone blossoming tree, I am  making images that express what is within both the landscape and myself. Strange though, no matter how inconvenient it is not to have that idea fully conscious and available, it is there, waiting just below the surface of my mind and driving my little photographic program. It is pulling me towards expressing the more personal and intimate.

I take photographs of the world of things and find myself inside every image.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Snow. Can Spring be far behind?

The air is positively mild, almost up to 50 degrees Fahrenheit after a couple of weeks of freezing temperatures. It smells of Spring even as the snow drifts melt rapidly away and the land runs with water. The sound of rushing streams and plunging waterfalls is muffled amid the tall coniferous trees and upthrust moss covered rocky bluffs. The remaining snow makes lacy patterns and interesting blobs in the shady places. I have been documenting this series of snowfalls, from the early delicately picked out outlines of maples against the dark forest giants to the later white drifts that blanketed the rocky slopes, to the blue shadows and white streaks of light as the snow began to melt in the winter sunshine.

Photographs of snow are so kitch somehow, that I began by photographing only reluctantly, and then threw away my qualms and began to see the possibilities here. Besides, I got to walk around my property every day to see the many animal tracks, the rabbit hops, the raccoon, deer and bird footprints, and one set that had me puzzled on the slushy surface of the pond until I saw the merganser duck skulking in the reedy open water at one end. She had obviously attempted to land on the soft surface and then flapped her way towards open water. Here was a record written on the landscape for me to put meaning to even as I was using my camera to do the same with own my familiar landscape.