Friday, January 11, 2019

The Art of Architectural Photography: Releasing the Image from the Stone

There are some concepts that resonate with the very soul of an artist.  They are often gleaned from studying the masters and/or their works.  Several of these principles have long guided me in my work and have greatly influenced how I look at the world.  Years ago I  appropriated one idea from the great Michelangelo, who claimed that he merely released the statue from a block of marble. A second fundamental belief I follow comes from another genius, Mies van der Rohe: less is more.  I subscribe to these two tenets in my work as well as in my life.

In order to release a work of art from the figurative block of marble (of course for Michelangelo it was a literal piece of stone), I must first see the form and understand the way in which it will emerge from its surroundings.  In the case of the marvelous staircase railing in The Breakers mansion of Newport, RI, I saw a fluidity of line and form that cascaded into a helix shape, suspended in not only space but time. The magnificence of a form so free as to seem weightless commanded my attention and I did not notice the other elements that visually "encased" this wrought iron railing when I took the picture.  I mentally released the form from its environs.

The many other elements in the image that I shot were subjectively taken away to create a clear focus.  I do this often when I take pictures.  I simply consider an image in terms of post production, frequently Photoshop.  Unwanted telephone wires, window air conditioners, cars are filtered out of the photograph through the lens of that which I wish to appear.  As Mies van der Rohe said: less is more, and so I eliminate unwanted visual distractions.  In my mind, there is a central focus to my photograph and the supporting components must not only reinforce the "star" of the work but elevate it.  To that end, first as I took the picture and later back in the studio, I freed the staircase from two beautiful oil paintings in wonderfully ornamental frames and some stunning light fixtures.  I then removed, in my opinion, the distracting color and converted the image to sepia, a preferred medium for many of my architectural photographs.  I find that sepia softens the space and, perhaps creates a timelessness.  The staircase's wrought iron railing emerged as a thing of great beauty, an ageless work of art celebrated by the other curves, lines and values of light and dark in the photograph.

Here are the Before and After images:

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Art of Architectural Photography: Beautiful Palette Colors- Blacks

Colors have allure and vibrancy.  Colors dance off the photograph as they create the dynamic tensions or dreamy flow within selected palettes.  However, trying to create with some colors is a Herculean task for me.  I always found reds to be especially difficult to work with, or certain blues.  These powerful eye-catching colors can take over the composition and render a photograph disjointed or exclusionary.  Titian, the great painting master, used reds in an unparalleled way and allowed his entire compositions equal footing with the force of the Cardinal's robes.  Monet used many blues in his Impressionist paintings and very successfully incorporated other colors that are afforded their own distinction.  I am enamored with all colors, each for its own attributes.

Blacks are compelling in their variety, dynamism, depth, richness, delicacy and beauty as colors.  Within the blacks palette, there are soft, hard, strong, light, luminous, shadowy and a host of other color characteristics.  Throughout my career as a photographer I have studied the richness and artistry of the various tones of blacks, marvelous additions to any photograph/artwork. And, especially working in Black and White architectural photography, I need to compose with the Blacks areas of the compositions in order to give prominence and form to the darks as well as the lights.  However, using a blacks palette for abstract photography is quite another story as the forms are created not by subject but by my own composition.

In working with my current theme of abstract photography, I have been fascinated with focusing on monochromatic color as a structural guide for composition.  Blues, greens, sands have all been utilized as unique hues, but with enormous range of spectrum within their own color grouping. My first book was of abstracts within the whites palette.  This palette was chosen arbitrarily so that I could envision how abstracts of different styles might have a connection through values of tone and hue. Whites, because they can be indistinguishable from each other and actually "lose" form and content, proved to be a benchmark in my experimentation with a series connected through a single palette but with all of its various iterations.  Working in this monochrome palette, I found that I could accomplish many of my goals and thus, I proceeded to blues, which were another challenge. Once I had a collection of abstract photography in various blues palette I sought out another color of great beauty yet, like whites, challenging in its properties: blacks.

Blacks, like most colors, have limitless variations within their "category" of color; however, these can easily dominate an abstract and/or create challenges when I am attempting to bring forth forms because of the way in which the darks blend into each other.  Further, adding too much light takes away from the notion of an abstract dominated by the palette of blacks.

Composing with the wide array of blacks colors, I have come to a greater understanding of the relationships of dark tones and how they interact within a specific composition of an abstract.  I think that abstracts are a little like jazz in the sense that I can riff off components in the composition as they "happen" rather than focusing on a particular subject or form.  The Blacks especially allowed for this as I was compelled to create and bring forth forms and line without compromising the overall elements of using darkest and lighter darks.  Working with and studying the Blacks palette greatly added to my knowledge of all photography and will certainly further my ability to create realism as well as abstract photography and art in the future. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Art of Architectural Photography: On Creating

It is the passion of every artist to create.  Many artists also exist to realize their creations.  For others it is the journey.  Personally, the journey or the process of creating works of art is the allure of art, its absorption, immersion and gratification for me.  I am most satisfied with a work I am creating just before its completion.  Not to say that my photographs do not live up to my expectations: often they do.  But it is not the end result that keeps me completely engrossed in photography: it is the process of finding the subject; photographing the subject from as many angles as possible; the post production of retouching, composing and "getting it right" that has made and still makes my journey so wonderful.  And many times, I am thinking of my next images as I complete the several I am bringing to fruition.

All that said, there are dreams that elude artists as well as those that come to be.  A dream that many artists experience is to create something totally unique.  An out-of-the-box or completely exclusive work or genre that only pertains to themselves and their art.  Many search for this elusive prize.  Numerous master artists have never archived this particular accomplishment of creating something, a style unlike any other: all their own.  To be sure, artists may never even consider creating a novel approach or technique or result that they deem important or even related to making their art.  I, however, have long fantasized about going where no one has gone; perhaps being the first.  To that end, I have studied art and in my travels, I have first and foremost relished seeing the art of others in places that define their art, yet are universal.  For example, when I traveled to Spain for Sorolla and Sweden for Zorn, I finally could (almost) conceptualize how light is expressed: the brilliantly hot light of the southern Mediterranean and cool, softer light of the North.  And my resent trip to India gave me some understanding of Eastern forms and compositions at times little utilized in the West: great, pointed arches; fanciful fretwork and other aesthetic elements.

Attempting to incorporate the new to expand upon my photography has been a marvelous journey in itself.  The meshing of my experiences with my own perspective has given me the will to dig deeper and continue to evolve as a photographer.  Initially, my love of black and white and sepia architectural photography developed into other areas of photography and subject.  And while I continue to explore the new, I cherish my past interactions with my camera and post-production.  Thus, my new focus on abstract photography has grown out of many sources.  I returned to abstraction, which I (and many others in the art world) studied in college and graduate school in the  1960s and 1970s. Of course then we looked towards the earlier abstracts of say Kandinsky, Miro and even back to cave drawings, which sometimes took on abstracted qualities.  Only currently, I come to the genre of abstraction with fresh eyes.

My recently self-published little book of abstracts also contains a secret, for often abstracts have many hidden meanings.  The book is a compilation of years of seeking composition, line, texture, form and the other principles of photography and art.  It is part of a journey that will be expressed in a number of books.  Take a look if you'd like to travel with me. 

Folio of abstract photographs created in a whites palette. Each abstract photograph has special associations with imagery, identity and imagination, thus inspiring connections.

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Art of Architectural Photography: Visiting an Old Friend

Recently I posted The Flame Tree, a photograph I created a decade ago.  The mainly sepia landscape with an autumn blaze of colored leaves was designed and enhanced in post production.  It has been licensed for poster art and also reproduced as greeting cards, and while I've seen my photograph throughout the years, I am always surprised when I come across it again.

The image was shot in RGB (color) and softened to a dreamy sepia for the mood I wished to express.  The pop of colorful foliage marks my love of the fall season and evokes several marvelous occasions when I found myself on a quiet, misty lake with a lone beautiful tree.  Chancing on such a spot always nourishes my creativity and spirit.  I deliberately down played the background while accentuating the tree, yet it was a task to impart some significance to the complete composition.  Somehow, it came together to form the image I envisioned. I picked up a lot of skills and information while crafting the effect I was seeking in the photograph.

In revisiting photographs, such as The Flame Tree, I may feel as though I've succeeded in expressing that which I envisioned.  I am always, in viewing my work, prompted to think about the process of creating the photograph.  There have been a few images that were simply point-and-shoot photos: lucky shots.  Others require a good deal of effort.  There are those images that take so long to complete that I can't believe the amount of time I have spent on one photograph: Birch River, is 65+Gs and is saved on about 35 disks!  Are the photographs any the more or less for the labor and thought that went into them?  Not really.  If I've communicated an idea, a place or a feeling then it matters not the process to get the image right; only to me, perhaps, is the actual creative journey meaningful.  The learning and the work that goes into my photography brings me much closer to it.  I develop a connection with my work as I explore what the Raw image offers me.  When I complete a work, I feel as if I know it well.

And so, in posting The Flame Tree I had an opportunity to share an old friend with any who would like to take part in my experience of that time in autumn and my glad surprise of the flash of color on a misty day. 

A few of my photographs I'd like to share that are reminiscent of autumn, my favorite season:

Newport, RI: sepia photography

Queenstown, NZ: color photography

Sugar Hill, NH: color photography

Newport, RI: black and white photography with color
The Flame Tree: sepia photography with color

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Art of Architectural Photography: How (and Why) to Create Abstract Photography

Abstracting is taking a form and focusing on one part of that form to emphasize it or create a new form out of that aspect of the original subject.  For example, observe a burning candle and paint/draw/sculpt only the dripping wax or the flame.  That might be a way to abstract the original image of the burning candle.  Or: use the spokes of a bicycle wheel to form a composition.  These parts of the total may make up their own totality.Abstracts can ALSO be a part of an idea and not a physical subject.  For example, think of clouds.  The shapes of certain clouds may be your idea; however, you may want to take parts of that concept to create an entirely new form/shape or composition. Emotion can, as well, lead to an abstract photograph.

Abstraction has long been a painting genre.  Going back to ancient cave paintings, symbols can be viewed as abstractions of either physical or mental/emotional subject.  Some of the cave paintings are representational and others are distorted, probably by intent rather than lack of skill or the erosion over time.  I prefer to think that the cave dwellers were as capable and communicative as were any artists in other ages throughout time.  Well then, painting and drawing are hands-on practices and abstraction with those mediums can be accomplished with the brush or pencil or pen.  What about photography?

In the darkroom, there were/are a variety of ways to abstract an image: double exposure, using bleach or salt, combining chemicals and so forth.  Although digital photography poses differences as opposed to film, in the area of abstraction there are limitless ways to abstract a photograph either in the digital camera or in computer post production.  In this post, I will suggest some of the post production/computer ways to create abstract photographs.

1.  First, chose a subject from your photography/image library in your computer.  Or upload an image into your computer.
Your subject may be anything from a panoramic shot of the Grand Canyon to a raindrop.  Or as suggested before, it may be an idea or emotion, such as excitement, clouds, a festival, happiness, longing.....anything and everything may be used that appeals to you.

2.  Isolate that aspect of your subject on which you would like to focus.
Is your raindrop a specific shape you like?  Does it hold a reflection of a garden?  Do the striations of rock in the Grand Canyon create a beautiful color palette for your image?  Does the feeling of excitement suggest jagged lines or swirls to you?  Is a festival like a drip painting or enormous numbers of dark and light dabs?

3.  Once your subject is clear to you, think of form, composition, tonality in terms of lights and darks, color or monochrome, design.

4.  If your subject is part or all of a physical shape, put it on the appropriate sized "canvas" in your computer's application of choice.  I use Photoshop CS3 (still!!).  If your subject exists in your mind, select a "canvas" size that you think would be the right proportions on which to conceptualize your idea.

5.  Look at/imagine the subject as it will appear on your canvas.  And if necessary, re-proportion the canvas.  The proportions of an abstract are just as important as those of a representational work.

6.  Find your main focal point on the canvas.  Would you like the viewer to see the upper right quadrant first?  Bottom third?  The only choice that is not the best is dead center/  When a canvas has a main focal point in its very middle, the rest of the canvas has a way of "disappearing."  Look at the works of some abstractionists and you will see that rarely is dead center the emphasis of the work.  For that matter, the same apples to realism. Critical to the work is that when finished, the eye of the viewer "rove" around the photograph to see everything in all parts of the image.  That is what creates a good composition.

7.  Once you have laid out the composition, examine what Photoshop, Lightroom, Photoshop Elements, or whatever application you are using has to offer in the way of augmenting your subject.  I always preserve my original image, copy it in another document, use layers and in this way no elements of my initial photograph are destroyed or unalterably distorted.  In Photoshop CS3, I like to experiment with such filters as liquefy, noise, paint daubs, plastic wrap, glowing edges and so on.  I begin work with these experimentations until the abstract begins to emerge from my original subject.  My premise is that I have an idea in my mind, but the computer will help me by providing the keys to unlock it.  Just as when I take a picture with my camera, which is an invaluable tool for capturing a photograph, my computer assists me as any art "equipment" might.

8.  If you like, try different plugins.  I have an array of plugins available that sync to Photoshop.  I use these to experiment with as well.  There are many such tool on the Internet that offer a free trial.

9.  Crop out what you think doesn't work.  Abstracts are ever changing images that, in my opinion, are far more fluid than representational photography usually is.  Abstracts represent so many different things to an ever changing audience.  Therefore, adapt your composition as you go.  In my mind, creating abstract photography is a little like jazz improvisation: notes are added, left out, changed.  Altering the proportions of your abstract composition, particularly with the ease of computer cropping, can be a significant part of creating the work.

10. Another option when creating abstract photography is to overlay multiple photographs or parts of photographs on your image.  Combining textures, colors, design, and even other subjects may enhance your photograph.

Most of all, I find that through abstracting photographs, I can produce better representational images. Abstraction teaches me the fundamentals: composition, values (tonality), color proportion, line, form.  It is also fun and a marvelous way to experiment with the wealth of technology photographers have at their fingertips.

Steps in creating an abstract photograph.  After the images, I describe the process.   

Metalic Rose: Abstract Photography

Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

Step 4
Step 5
Step 6
Creating Metalic Rose:
Step 1: Metalic Rose began with a graphic design I created years ago.
Step 2: I changed the color of the graphic and overlaid an image of crumpled satin to create more textural interest.
Step 3: On a separate layer, I added a photograph of a rose with dewdrops above the background texture.
Step 4: Using a mask, I painted out sections of the rose where I wanted the texture background to come through.
Step 5: Using a gradient, I added tonal interest by emphasizing the darks and lights.
Step 6: By converting the image to black and white, I "popped" the lights and darks, especially the dewdrops in the dark areas of the photograph.  I then used several plugins and overlays to develop the "metalic" look I wanted.

Note: Although Metalic Rose is recognizable as a rose, is it? Do you see something other than a rose?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Art of Architectural Photography: Funny How Life Is- Abstracts

Funny how life is. Sometimes, after a long journey I arrive back at the beginning.
Greenwich Village in the late 60s and 70s was a Mecca for artists, who were pushing the boundaries of traditional painting.  Although "modern art" or abstracts had been evolving for some time, during the time (1968-72) I spent at NYU getting my Masters, there was a distinct emphasis on building upon traditional art to find "new" avenues of expression.  In other words, then I diverted from recreating a likeness of the subject and began to focus on unique aspects of the subject and how they could be combined, reverting to my childhood explorations in art: light, tonality, composition, hue, form.  I continued on my new path, working on large abstractions at the Art Students League.  There, I developed a technique in oils that mimicked my fascination with the watercolors I had painted with for years.  Oils as watercolors can inherently abstract as the mediums are so distinctly disparate, in my frame of reference.

Around this time, I also was a structural draftsman and a photographer of a variety of subjects, such as architecture, art, landscape.  In both of drafting and photography clarity, exactitude, perfect execution and the like were and may still be (especially in drafting!) essential to the final outcome.  Wavy lines on a blueprint or soft areas in a photograph were considered sloppy work at best.  It was an interesting juxtaposition: my painting style was extremely lose and my photography/architectural drawing tight. However, my dissimilar artistic endeavors helped me to learn that focus, literal and figurative, is critical when creating. 

Ultimately, I returned to representational painting and continued to create sharp photographs and clean and literal architectural drawings.  I was comfortable working in this way.  For a number of years.  However, sometimes comfort does not promote growth or improvement.  Along the way, I began to feel that my art was becoming formulaic.  I was repeating myself in my work, which for some may be desirable but not for me.  For me, self expression always involved learning, advancing, incorporating new ideas.  My creativity was slowing down, even though I was working harder and producing more than ever before.  However, I did not quite know how to fix it: my elusive aesthetic.

Then, quite by chance, as is often opportune, two things changed my perspective entirely.  Changed me.  I traveled to India, a place like no other I had experienced.  India exposed me to art forms that I could never have imagined and of course invigorated my aesthetic energy.  I fell in love with the fabulous designs, the fairy-tale architecture and the beauty of the landscape in India.  The people of India, I discovered, not only added to India's extraordinary allure but in actuality encompass the allure itself.  The second monumental eye opener for me was when I mistakenly yet fortuitously abstracted a photograph in post-production.  This distortion led me to abstract other photographs, which in turn presented an entirely distinct opportunity to explore my art.  The abstractions I am currently working on have much the same orientation as traditional photography/art.  They simply offer form, composition, values et. al. from a different angle.  It seems like abstracting has also honed my understanding of more traditional ways of creating representational art. Too, I am brought back to an earlier time in my life when creating abstracts seemed exciting and original.  It still does!  

Photography- Jagdish Temple: Udaipur, India

Echoes: Abstract Photgraphy

Passages: Abstract Photography

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Art of Architectural Photography: Tips for Building A Photography Portfolio

A Photography or Art Portfolio is essentially a statement of your work.  The Portfolio represents who you are: the nature of your photography/art; how you express yourself and the medium(s) in which you choose to convey that self-expression.  The are other subtle aspects to the Portfolio; however, the main purpose of a Portfolio, your body of work, is to let viewers know your personal point of view through your work.

In creating a Portfolio, a body of your work, there are a myriad of details that should be included.  Here are but several of the most important components of building your Portfolio to consider:

1.   Who are you?
This may seem self evident; however, although you may understand your point of view, others may not.  And, the work included in your Portfolio must speak for itself as your representative. As you build your Portfolio carefully consider how others will perceive you through the images they see.

In the first place, decide who you are in terms of your work.  Are you a painter, photographer, architect, sculptor. graphic designer?  Or is your Portfolio a reflection of your multiple talents?  I personally would limit my own Portfolio to JUST ONE medium of expression.  It is possible to have various Portfolios or websites, each targeting one of your many forms of expression.  Or you may certainly build one site or Portfolio and divide it according to your specialties.

2.   What are you expressing through your photography?
A critical function of your Portfolio is to express yourself with a clear identity.  When someone looks at your Portfolio, that person should understand who you are as a photographer.
 Are you a floral or bridal photographer?  Are you a photographer who photographs many different subjects in black and white?  Do you do head shots for actors/models?  Portraits?  Sports?  Abstracts?

The moment someone opens your Portfolio, that viewer should understand your Photography Persona.  It is imperative that your audience, whether one person or many, have a clear understanding of your focus.  Build the Portfolio with that in mind.  If you have no specific focus or subject that is the singular theme of your work, and you just love to take pictures, you may become one of a legion of photo takers.  This is FINE.  In that case, lay out your best work and let the photographs speak for themselves.  However, if you are a serious photographer who wants to make a "name/reputation" for yourself in one discipline of photography/art , then it is my recommendation to select the area of photography in which you truly excel and build a Portfolio around that specialty.

3.   Which photographs do I include?
In the case of a photography Portfolio, of course you would want to highlight your best work.  Choose a Portfolio format, whether it be a physical folio or a website, to showcase your photographs.  Much of my photography is conceptualized in a portrait-style format, vertical or even square rather than the horizontal landscape format.  Therefore, my physical book Portfolio is vertical.  Most computer monitors accommodate horizontal or square imagery best and therefore my website is laid out horizontally (a few pages are more squarish); however, the verticals, squares and horizontals are grouped together on separate pages. This allows the viewer to recognize the image shape as a critical aspect of the composition of each photograph. Most of the time, I prefer to show same-theme images that are arranged in similar-size collections to emphasize the importance of subject through its dimensions.  The themes may be place, particular architecture, black and white photography or sepia or color, natural architecture and so forth.
You should consider choosing a style, size and groupings or solo image pages for your "book" and/or website that complement the themes and sizing of your photography. 

It is also important to select complementary photographs to be in proximity with each other.  If you are including many subjects and styles of photographs, place still life together, portraits within their own section, specific themes and so on.  This exhibits the care and thought you give your work.  If you are limiting your book to a speciality area of photography, lay out the images to support and create a dynamic feel as the pages of the Portfolio are turned by your audience.

4.  Finally, the Portfolio is a way to visually communicate with your viewer.  Infuse your passion for photography into your Portfolio.  Express to your viewer your love of the medium and your subject!

Black and White Photography Portfolio pages:
Black and White Photography: Architectural Shapes

Black and White Photography: Vintage Architectural and Details

Black and White Photography: Natural Architecture