Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Week 8: Romance

This week's theme is romance, which I decided to be pretty loose with. The week started off pretty strong, but then got more difficult with traveling and the holidays.

The first version of this photo was just a shot of a candle flame. It was pretty boring, so I decided to experiment with blowing on the flame and doing a long exposure. I like how you can see all of the different wisps of the flame as well as the wick in the center.

This photo actually came out of another idea failure I had. I wanted to do some droplet photography in a wine glass, but it just wasn't working out at all. As a last ditch effort to make the drops more interesting I tried to drop some food coloring in the glass, it was incredible the designs it made. I wasn't prepared, so I washed the glass out, lit it all differently and got what you see below. I tried different colors and adding multiple drops, but there's something pleasing about the simplicity of the single drop of food coloring.
I've been wanting to experiment with smoke photography for a while now and this seemed like a good opportunity. Amy and I went down to the Asian market to buy some incense, that looked like it had been on the shelf for many years, and off I went. Smoke photography can be really interesting because you never know how the air currents are going to effect the smoke. I had to clear all the smoke out between pictures and then hold my breath so I wouldn't blow the smoke around. I lit the smoke with a snooted flash, so that only the smoke was illuminated, and then inverted the image to make the smoke stand out more.
This is a photo of my sister's dog Anya, taken at Thanksgiving. She just got a new enormous bone and it was love at first sight.
Another Thanksgiving shot. This is the bottom of a candle that's filled with red oil. When the candle is lit it casts a really cool light down onto the table.
My sister and my nephew James.
My mom and my nephew James. He gets a lot of love on the holidays.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Week 7: Body Parts

This week's theme proved more challenging than I would have thought. What's so hard? Take pictures of random body parts and you're done. The problem is that as this project goes on, I find myself wanting all of the pictures to be great, or something I'm proud of, or something that has meaning. And that was never the intention of this project, it was purely to get me taking more pictures, and part of the point is that a lot of them will suck. This is one of those good problems to have. It means I'm starting to grow more and challenge myself more, both good things. Now lets see if the work follows suit.

One thing I noticed from this week is that my style is still all over the place. I think that will come with time, but for now I'm stuck between wanting to make really goofy photos and more artsy photos. Now I just need to figure out how to do both.

I found this first photo pretty interesting. Amy and I were out apple picking and I decided to try and block out the sun with my thumb. The way the sun is flaring on the lens created some really cool shapes.

I figured macro photography is a pretty good bet for body parts. This photo is of my fingerprint. It's really interesting to see how deep the grooves appear. Skin, in general, is really fascinating up close.
Alright, I kind of phoned this one in. I was trying to think of more ideas when it occurred to me that I didn't just have to take pictures of human body parts. So I think a little more outside the box and what does it get me? A fairly bland picture of the head and neck of a guitar. If I had to say something good about it, I would say I got the parts in focus that I wanted in focus, and the lighting was pretty nice. The amount of time I put into getting this picture should have yielded something better.
I've wanted to play around with flash photography on skin for a while now. To soften the light I'm shooting through a white umbrella. I really love how the soft light creates nice satiny shadows. Skin has so much texture and bumps that it creates amazing light paths when you get the light bouncing around at the right angle. After all of that is said though, my favorite part of this photo is the crispness and illumination of the beard.
I had this idea in my head from the beginning. I wanted to create a whole series of giant body parts and little me's. I decided to stop after one, but I had a lot of fun with this. It was a lot of work to try and match the lighting and backgrounds, but I think it turned out alright. It was fun being my own model and trying to be angry and an imaginary giant hand. I went through at least 10 faces before I found the one that I liked.
Amy has lots of scars on her body. Most of them from cats, bike accidents, and frisbee. Here are two of the better ones. I think the one on the elbow is from an RV mirror (of course while riding a bike).
Finally, I didn't have to be my own model. Man, it's much easier shooting someone else when you can actually compose the shot, move them around, tell them what to do. When I try and make myself do all that, I just end up talking back way too much. This was shot with the umbrella directly behind, shooting into the camera, hence the little lens flare. Again, I love the little highlights that skin gives, mixed in with shadow.
And after posting all of these photos I find out that, in the large version of the photos, the blog's displayer doesn't like anything that's pure black, so it makes it kind of pixelated. It looks fine in the original file. Oh well.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Week 6: HDR

This week's theme was supposed to be sleep, but after a week of tired, I wasn't much in the mood. So I took this chance to do something that's always intrigued me, HDR. HDR stands for high dynamic range imaging and basically allows you to capture both the lights and the darks in a scene that has a lot of contrast. It does this by taking multiple exposures of an image and combining them into one, to capture the full dynamic range. HDR photography is fairly controversial, some people think it brings photos to life while others think it looks cheap and overdone. I feel like if you do it well it can look amazing, but there's a fine line between amazing, and gaudy. These were my attempts to try not to be gaudy.

Amy and I went for a run out on the prairie last weekend and when we passed this tractor I knew I wanted to take a picture of it. Something that always seems to work well for HDR is old farm machinery. The dirtier the better. Usually it's best to have a tripod for HDR, but I didn't have one, so I just set the camera to fire off 3 photos in a row. I think this could have been better if I had a tripod to get some more exposures, but I was happy with it.
To give you an idea of what HDR can do, here's a normal exposure of the same tractor. Quite a big difference. Kind of makes me not want to shoot non-HDR again.
This one had some nice color and reflections in the water as well as a somewhat interesting subject in the three tunnels. Amy and I went walking and I took a ton of photos that I hoped would make good HDR. After we got back I found out that if your photo is boring, HDR does not make it interesting, and even if you have an interesting photo, HDR may do nothing for it. Walking around for an hour and taking 100 pictures, I think I used 3 of them for this week's post.
I kind of liked this one and tried to move around to find the best angle that I wanted. Again, farm equipment makes for decent HDR.
HDR works well with light/dark contrast as well as color contrast. I wanted to get down low for this shot and shoot really wide to give the sense that the bus is looming over me.
Finally, I got an HDR that I really like. This is under the steps of the old stadium on campus. This is what HDR is designed for. An area that's fairly old, dark, and dirty. I was so happy when I processed this one and saw the results. I tried to hold back on the settings, so that the photo didn't cross the line into unbelievable. HDR just makes everything pop so much more.
Again as a comparison, here's the normally exposed single image.
Another one under the stairs, this one looks out onto the football field. This sort of picture would be impossible without HDR, or a flash setup. The area under the stairs is so dark, and the area outside is extremely bright. If you took one image you would either have a completely black interior, or a completely blown out exterior.
This one is outside of the stadium. This one starts to get a little more unrealistic, but I like the mood that it conveys.
Overall a good theme, since it forced me to develop a technique that I didn't previously have. It was frustrating at first, especially since it rained the first 2 days I was supposed to take pictures, but I made it work.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Week 5: Tired

This week's theme was extremely challenging, but also incredibly rewarding. I knew from the outset that I didn't want to go with the easy shots, or the obvious. With all of the leaves changing and plants dying it would have been simple to go out and take tired nature photos, but I didn't want to do that. I also had to resist the urge to take pictures of sleeping cats. It's just too easy. I wanted to experiment a lot with flash lighting and try some staged photos. Six of the seven shots this week were lit entirely with flash, and all seven of them were staged shots.

Let me tell you, it's extremely time consuming and difficult to be your own model. You have to set a timer on the camera, get yourself set, take the shot, go back to the camera, realize something was off, reposition the lights, try and get the pose the same, get the pose wrong and start the whole process over about 30 times. Oh well, onto the pictures.

For this first one I took the obvious route and I just wanted to play around with light contrast. I feathered the edge of the flash so that it was just hitting my face. The great thing about using flash is that, in this shot, it's actually fairly light in the living room, but the flash can overpower the daylight in the room. It gives me a lot more flexibility when I don't have to worry about the ambient light in a room.
As soon as I found out the theme for this week I wanted to do a staged photo like this. It took a lot of time playing around with lighting it different ways, but I think I'm happy with it. This shot taught me that staging photos is an entirely different beast to taking organic shots. There's always something you can change, so it takes forever and by the end you're not sure if you got the best shot, or if you could change something else.
I took this shot at about 2:30 in the morning. I had tried to go to bed, and failed, so I decided to take a 'tired sitting in front of the computer monitor shot'. I wanted to see if I could replicate the computer light by using a flash. If I used the computer light I would have to sit very still and use a slow shutter speed. It's not a fantastic photo, but what do you expect from 2:30 in the morning.
Another kind of obvious sleeping shot. This one took a while to set up and was lit entirely by flash. My goal was to try and simulate sunlight. This was a rare instance where the photo actually kind of matched what I had in my head.
I've had many nights like this photo, really tired, but unable to sleep, so you toss and turn on the couch. This was the only shot of the week not lit with a flash. All of the light is coming off of the flash.
After doing the scotch picture I knew that I wanted to do this next one. For those that don't know, this is pretty much the logo to the Mad Men TV show. I tried to match the posture and look of the photo as much as possible, then I just used some fill in Photoshop to recreate the effect. If I had more lights I would try and achieve the effect more naturally, by backlighting to get most of the image in darkness, then putting some small flashes on the collar and the cuff to lighten those up. Maybe someday I'll try that.
I call this one "Evolution Makes me Sleepy". This was a fun one, but possibly took the most work of all of them. I had to shoot the five different shots and then do a fair amount of editing to get them all to match seamlessly.