Friday, April 8, 2016

The Art of Architectural Photography: Values

Values create space, perspective, interest and a dynamic among elements in a work.  Values are the lights and darks and how these interact to establish the subject, whether it be representation or abstract.  Few works of art are one-note in tone.  Those that are iconic as "lacking" the interplay of shadow and highlight are unique in a way that few can replicate or build on.  For most every other art form, values are a structural element that is indispensable in conveying ideas that will resonate with the viewer, or for that matter, the artist as creator.

All master artists are concerned with light.  Even "black" paintings are constructed by light: leaving light out or placing light strategically to impact the work.  One can tell where a work of art was produced by the nature of the light within the work.  For example Spanish artists use a warm light, whereas Swedish values are often cool.  Of course these are not hard and fast "art rules."  Artists may use any lights and darks that appeal to them or that make the work an expression of the specific subject in an individual way.

There were a great many opportunities for me to study light and its effects on architecture when I traveled in India.  The darks and lights in India are incredibly complex because of the brilliance of the sun, which produces dazzling lights and contrasting darks in an infinite variety.  From the softest, mists of palest grays to the darkest shadows, the darks are manipulated and slammed into a visual experience like powerful thunderclaps by the brilliant lights.  This juxtaposition of values intensifies the fascinating and magnificent architecture, evoking feelings of great mystery and echoing the mystical premise on which many temples and public buildings were shaped.

Black and White Architectural Photography: Khajuraho, India

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Art of Architectural Photography 3-20-2016

Details, details, details.  The addition or lack of details creates interest in the work.  Whether it be a sprig of parsley on the plate or a row of shiny buttons on a coat sleeve, the details frequently draw attention to the overall composition.  There are instances, of course, when extraneous trifles can harm a great composition.  It's hard to tell what to put in and what to leave out! "God is in the details" V. "Less is more?"

Then there are the compositions that are composed solely of a detail or details.  Often I look at the details of architecture and think "That would be so perfect on its own."  In fact, the are parks and gardens specifically devoted to showcasing details of former structures.  These are wonderful treats for the eye.  Too, antique shops frequently have doorknockers, mantle pieces, wrought iron gates,  carved doors and a host of other remnants in wood, metal and stone.

So if the details are best left out, find another way to create with them!

 Sepia Architectural Photography: Architectural Detail

Friday, March 11, 2016

Sketching With Instagram

For a number of years I painted portraits of dogs.  During that time, I sketched dogs at every opportunity.  There were many.  Living in New York, I could travel the tri-state area, New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, to go to various dog shows, which always had many beautiful breeds available to observe and sketch.  Show dogs also have a talent for sitting for their watchers, so I garnered much valuable information for my portraits.  Then, too, there are the dog friendly areas in Central Park, such as Strawberry Fields, and numerous shelters in my area that lend themselves to dog-watching of a more spontaneous nature.  I was able to capture poses of dogs in daily activities and also see numerous mixed breeds.  Sketching always laid the groundwork for my oil and pastel portraits.  Sketching not only saved me time and error in portrait painting but as well, it was a highly enjoyable way to increase my skills as an artist.

Sketching with the camera is also a way to prepare for serious commissioned images or commercial photography.  I always have a point-and-shoot camera with me.  For the last few years I have been using a Lumix, which is a great camera to walk around with.  I shoot dozens of sketch-like photos during the course of a week with the Lumix, which are very useful indeed.  For example, I'll photograph textures whenever I see something that may come in handy for an image with blown out highlights that I'd like to "restore" in Photoshop.  Since my photography is mainly architectural, these textures will be of stucco, brick, stone, wood and the like. I also "photo sketch" for values, composition and subjects to which I'd like to return.

Instagram is a much simpler way to photo sketch than using the point and shoot camera. For one thing, the iPhone is a very accessible device with which to do very quick impressions.  Using Instagram as a method to both immediately capture an image/idea and communicate to others is a great platform.  Of course, for me, personally, the photographs are rarely usable for my clients or for art photography because of several reasons: low resolution, limited focusing and small shooting range of images, to name a few.  If I were photographing with the cameras that I would ordinarily use on a photography shoot, I would have many more options to work with.  However Instagraming on my iPhone is a very enjoyable way to sketch and to share with others some of the marvelous architecture I love.
Below are several Instagram sketches from last week.

Black and White Architectural Photography

Black and White Architectural Photography
NYC Architectural Photography

Black and White Architectural Photography

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Art of Architectural Photography 3-1-2016

The are times when I am working on an image and I accidentally create something other than I intended.  This happens in all areas of our lives.  Sometimes the results are good; often not.  You wear what looks like black sox with black slacks and at a meeting, you notice your sox are charcoal brown.  You add baking soda rather than baking powder to your recipe or salt rather than sugar.  But occasionally, or for those fortunate ones, the mistakes turn out just fine.  In fact, trend setting fine!

Just days ago I was working on a photograph in Photoshop that needed help.  Since my background is photography and fine arts, I frequently tweak my jpegs or camera raws with some computer application in order to crop; fix blown out highlights; straighten the buildings; remove unwanted elements, such as cars and other "fixes."  Sometimes the image I have in my mind pops right away.  Other times, I struggle to get what I want.  Once in awhile I have to scrap a photo.  This happens for several reasons: too much noise, blurry, a giant I never noticed while taking the picture is standing in front of my subject.  You would be surprised!  Out there in the photo shooting zone, I'm forever excited and seeing what I think is there.  Sadly, what was there, I thought while clicking the shutter, is not what sometimes appears on my computer screen when I download the camera cards.  It happens.

On my recent trip to India, I was overwhelmed with many sensations that were uniquely exotic.  Never had I been to Asia.  The tropical weather and vegetation is similar to that which I have experienced in Florida, but combined with a totally unfamiliar atmosphere that bespeaks mystery, majesty, allure, and all things extravagantly fantastic.  In capturing the feel of India through photography, I have to present the magnetism of the place I sensed while there.  The image I was working on is of the marvelous University of Mumbai: architecture that is as magnificent as it is intricate.  The University is surrounded by lush plants and the beautifully designed windows shimmer in the heat of the tropics.  In error I reversed my photograph to a negative-like/infer-red style image.  Somehow, all the sensations of the day I stood before the building enveloped me as I looked at the image: heat, tropics, exotic vegetation, luminous architecture. This image is a sketch.  It captures an emotion and gives me again the feel of the breathtaking enticements of India.  Through an unintentional reversal of positive to negative, I caught my mood.

Black and White Architectural Photography: University of Mumbai, India

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Curating a Photography Exhibition/Judging a Photography Competition

In this post I take a different direction from my usual, which is analyzing photography and art concepts in terms of my own photography.  The work of other photographers and visual artists also has an impact on my work.  And, in this vein, it is my privilege to judge and curate photography and art exhibitions as well as competitions. Further, I have advised photographers and artists through the process of portfolio reviews and resumes/statements, which also require constructive critiques.  I have often been asked about the criteria I use to guide me through the process of curating or judging other artists' work.  I have several standards that are a great help to me and I thought I would share these.

I always step back from my own art when judging another artist's work.  I am an architectural photographer whose images, both commercial and fine art are very specific and recognizable.  I set the principles I use for my own photography completely aside and look at the images of others with fresh eyes.  Just what does that mean?  If I am curating or judging floral photographs, I cannot expect these to imitate architecture.  I see them for what they are: photographs of flowers or whatever the subject may be.  Typically, my fine art photography is monochromatic, black and white or sepia.  When curating and judging, I appreciate the use of color in works to which color applies.

However, as much as I detach myself from my photography in critiquing other photographers' and artists' work there are fundamentals that always apply to all images:

Values (light and dark)
Presentation, which includes appropriate framing and matting
Style or personal relationship of artist/photographer to the subject

There are other criteria, but I have targeted the most important for me, as a curator and judge.  First and foremost, it is critical that certain principles of aesthetics be followed by the photographer/artist.  There may be one line on the page or canvas, but the placement, quality, form, shading and texture of that line will determine whether the work is merely a line on a page or a work of art.  The composition, form, light and dark, and technique used can make one line a masterpiece or an amateurish creation. Abstract photography and art are rooted in knowledge of fundamentals that have been successfully used as framework for images for centuries.  Therefore, the same principles that are applied to representational photography and art are the underpinnings of abstraction.

Presentation of a photograph or art work is also very important.  A sloppily framed piece with no mat or an unevenly cut mat will surely detract from a work.  Presentation of an image can either enhance or detract from its appeal.

The uniqueness of a photograph or artwork is important.  The Mons Lisa was painted once.  The photograph of the sailor dipping the nurse while kissing her is another famous work.  These are iconic works that have been copied many times, but never surpassed in their unique quality.  A photograph or artwork can be unique simply by telling the artist's/photographer's story.  Recently I advised a photographer to shoot a well-known monument from an angle that is not common.  Frequently, I judge a work because it attempts to present a different perspective than simply copying the many recognizable images on Google.

The photographer's or artist's style should be associated with his/her body of work over a period of time.  Even young artists should try to develop a style characteristic of their relationship to subject and the story they are telling.  One can easily pick out a Picasso painting in a gallery or a Karsh portrait.  Their styles are distinctive and closely relates to subject.  Further, style imparts the story of the photograph.  A wintry scene that is blindingly while with a small red bird in the foreground definitely tells a story.  The same scene without the brightly colored bird may be just another snow scene.  The image that draws the viewer in truly stands out among the competition.

These are some of the qualities I look for when judging or curating.  Perhaps there same characteristics may be measures of works in museums, galleries, printed materials or on the walls of homes.   


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Art of Architectural Photography 2-16-2016

The romance of Valentines Day was as overwhelming as it was charming.  Tweets, blogs, cards, chocolates, champagne, roses and all the sentimental harts and flowers are lovely and, to some, very meaningful.  At least for one day of the year, love was definitely at the top of the list across the media and perhaps for most of the world.  I remember Valentines Day fondly from my days of growing up in Brooklyn.  In those years, there was not the commercial frenzy that exists today, but Valentines Day was decidedly a commercial affair even then.  It was also my Mother's birthday so we celebrated both occasions with many desserts, prettily painted heart shaped boxes of confections and flowers. Since those days, Valentines Day has somewhat shifted away from painted valentines and into photographs of all things romantic to purchase for a loved one.  Commercialism.  That's OK, but I still like romance for the sake of romance.

Romantic photography is a rather tricky affair.  In order to create romantic images, there is a fine line that separates the truly evocative love photographs and the saccharine commercial pictures.  I very much admire wedding photographers, that group of sometimes under-rated, always hard working and ever commercialized segment of photographers who are by and large extremely skilled at their craft and, in the majority, manage to get the love theme into pictures while documenting a singularly important event.  Some food photographers also create deliciously sentimental portraits of the foods, especially those connected with Valentines Day, such as heart shaped cookies, oysters or chocolate cakes: all around a romantic theme.  Numerous photography themes target the subject of romance, as do other forms of art, such as painting and sculpture.  The creation of these arts do not necessarily have to involve a specific event or day, but the images should convey aesthetically subtle feelings.  Subtlety is often the difference between artistic works and commercially crafted material.

Mood can be infused into a photograph through subject, color, tone, composition and form.  Traditionally I use monochrome as a medium for my architectural photography.  Once in a while, the romance of color appeals to me.  The allure of sunrise on Lake Pichola as it illuminates Udaipur's magnificent City Palace inspired me to take this photograph.  It is a romantic scene of sensual color, composition and back-lighting that spotlights the architecture I photograph.  The Lake Palace Hotel, built in the middle of Lake Pichola, is the ultimate romantic setting.  This view out of my hotel window at an unparalleled architectural setting will remain a lovely memory of the beauty Udaipur offers. 

Architectural Photography: View of Udaipur City Palace and Lake Pichola from the Lake Palace Hotel

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Art of Architectural Photography 2-6-2016

There is a magic component to any art form, in my opinion.  There is the skill of getting on pointe for the dancer or drawing a head conceived by the portraitist or taking a photograph that depicts what the photographer wants to convey.  But to lift the skilled to a level of genius there is an often undefined magic that the artist adds to the work to elevate it above all others.  This fantastic quality greatly appeals to me.  As far back as I can remember, the magic that was combined with skill became the reality of the art.  The intangible ingredient that heightens the truly great from the good (By the way, being a "good" artist is no easy task: many never achieve that status!) is, perhaps, instinctual for the genius who can bring it to life.

When I was a small child, Walt Disney's Fantasia had a profound effect on me.  It actually characterized the magic in art for my young, evolving aesthetic.  Today I see some fantastic images through my lens and I usually file them away for my own enjoyment.  Once in a while, the architecture of a place, its mood and this special ingredient intersect to create the feelings about art that began when I was a child in a darkened theater watching flowers dance on dew drops.  Having dinner recently in the Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur, I gazed out into the night and saw, in effect, a fantasy double exposure by way of reflections.  The lights, table's candle and arches of the restaurant were superimposed on the dark, light rippled water, while the City Palace glowed across the lake: magic.

Architectural Photography: Udaipur, India