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

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Art of Architectural Photography: Those Boring Midtones?

Working in the monochromatic photographic medium of black and white or sepia can be challenging at times.  In color photography, the midtones, those between the velvet darks and the brilliant lights, can be emphasized with shadings of hue.  For example, a stretch of street in between the deep shadows of a doorway and the bright sunlight down a-ways, might be a cool medium blue/gray or a warm ochre/Naples yellow.  Mixing up some moderately dark/light tone will get the eye from one extreme to the other.  Actually, even if there is a powerful dark area and a searing light, there is a transition midtone between the two to make the realism credible.  Of course, I am excepting abstracts that have their own guidelines.

Shading in realism equates to creating depth and form.  There are a number of midtones that need to be included to create a 3-dimensional effect on a 2-dimensional surface.  The "fun part" is slamming in the darks and illuminating with the lights, but it is the mids that are the unsung heroes, adding space, structure and sparkle to the photograph.  Without the midtones, the darks are flat and the lights become blown out parts of the image.

Where are the midtones?  Actually, they exist everywhere in the image.  They add depth to the shadows and darks and they "pop" the whites. On every edge there is a midtone and all straight lines or curves have mids incorporated into them.  Otherwise, whatever you are presenting appears inanimate.  I learned this from experience and actually from life.  Years ago, I painted from life at the Salmagundi Club in NYC.  It was a small group that met on Saturday evenings to paint or draw from a three hour nude pose.  That way we artists could really study the forms. A good friend of mine and a mentor, the late and very great artist, Alex Fournier, told me that in order to create form, I needed a dark, a light and four different midtones mixed in between.  Try as I might, I could not see the mids.  I could easily recognize the shadow dark and the highlight and something in the middle.  But four distinct middle tones eluded me until one day when I was standing next to a young guy in the subway.  My fellow commuter was wearing a sleeveless tank top as it was summer.  On his muscular arm I saw the six specific tones.  I gasped at this epiphany, quite startling the guy.  Beat red, I apologized and made up some story to dispel the embarrassing (for me) situation. However, once I "got" the midtones, my work became more fluid and contextual.  My paintings and photographs had more depth and form.

Photography is a wonderful medium with which to explore the values of lights, darks and midtones.  Photography is the use of light to create a subject that reflects and/or communicates the photographer's conceptualization.  In effect, light conceives that which you are photographing.  However your use the midtones is always important.  Never boring, the wonderful midtones facilitate, encourage and provide the ability for the darks and lights to achieve their dynamism in the image.

Black and White Photography: Catskills, NY
The above photograph, taken in the Catskill region of New York State, shows distinct gray midtones that accentuate the dark foreground trees and the soft whites of the clouds.  The midtones take the eye around the image to give it depth and a pastoral feeling of space.

Black and White Photography: Harlem, NY
This photograph of a train station in Harlem is almost completely made up of gray midtones.  These really "pop" the black and white sign and the train's bright headlights.  The overall midtone composition makes a statement about the subject and also gives the photograph quite a bit of depth.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Art of Architectural Photography: Homage to Leonard Cohen

The very beautiful lyrics by the genius poet Leonard Cohen in his song "Suzanne" had a profound effect on my visualizations of subjects.  In essence, I believe that Cohen was encouraging his listeners to look for beauty and/or relevance in all things.  It is inconsequential where one finds beauty, in what surroundings, medium or state; the beauty, in and of itself, exists.  At least that is what the song conveyed to me.  And this I have been doing all of my life: looking for the beauty and the relevance.  In any situation or visual I encounter there is relevance or beauty and often both.

Since my last year's trip to India, many people have asked me about conditions there.  Frankly, I saw beauty, history, art and a pervasive truth wherever I went in India.  "Oh," they say, "what about the poverty or the pollution?"  Well, everywhere you may find poverty and pollution if that is what you are looking for or predisposed towards.  I was on a quest for architecture and what I found was so much more.  The negatives will always exist.  It is the positive outlook that yields and yields and yields huge dividends in terms of photography and maybe life.

It should be clarified here that there are photographers whose focus IS the negative aspect of life, such as war, famine, squalor.  To these photojournalists there is fascination in those subjects.  In my lexicon, fascination equates beauty.  Truth is beauty and relevance.  The unbeauty is searching for one thing, such as architecture and turning the lens on a rotting pile of garbage next to an old ruin.  I specifically traveled to India to photograph the marvelous ruin and not a mound of discard that has no relevance for me.  And yes, I do remove the unwanted from my images in a variety of ways.

Ultimately, it's all about perception.  As Leonard Cohen poeticized, if you look, you will find flowers in the detritus.  It's all about seeing.

Temple: Khajuraho, India

In Khajuraho, a special place of temples and monuments, I asked to be taken to a temple that was not a tourist attraction, for there are many, many well-known sights in this small Indian city.  I was taken to an out of the way place in a village within Khajuraho to admire all that remains of a once practicing temple.  It is cordoned off by a wrought iron fence with No Trespassing signs posted everywhere, of course in Hindi.  Animals, weeds and people have overrun the small property despite the barriers.  However, very carefully, stepping through the rubble to get as close as I could get to this magnificent structure, I angled my camera lens through the fence.  The stunningly grand architecture was the focus; the monkeys were a bonus.