Little Man

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When my husband and I just want to get out of the house on a hot summer day we will often head to one of the small Malibu beaches. We take the windy 30 minute drive through the Santa Monica mountains, find an open parking spot on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), and step out to a refreshing ocean breeze and air temperatures at least 10-degrees cooler.

The free beaches in LA are a great social equalizer open to all walks of life and economic classes. There is always a story and I always bring a camera. Although the direct lighting is often a struggle, reflecting harshly on the great Pacific Ocean, the payoff are the people, timeless setting, and the stories to be found.

This image, like many street images, was a gift with all the elements aligning just right. I am on wooden staircase leading down from PCH. To get to the beach, you must first cross this strip of asphalt. It was likely once a piece of PCH itself  but is now closed providing pedestrian access to the coast.

This littleman surfer was walking up the road. I am attracted to by color and gesture – orange and blue complementary colors, the turquoise of his boogie board tying in with the ocean scene. He glances up at me, but keeps walking. He is trailed by a sandy-white dog dragging his leash, I do not know if they belong to each other. The dog’s color is in harmony with the road slowly returning to its natural unpaved state. These two subjects are tied together by the nostalgic lifeguard stand in the mid ground, adorned by a single seagull perched in profile on the roof. There are many other small details adding to the story: the single communication line leading into the lifeguard station and the silhouette of the tiny people in the surf. The one tiny person standing with arms slightly raised and feet spread provides a special visual gift by showing this fully detailed outline. Even the scraggy row of cactus at the bottom of the image provides locational cues and a compositional base to this southern California scene.

It is a bright sunny day. Before getting out of the car, I mount a fixed 50mm equivalent lens and set the camera to f/11, ISO 400, with the center focus point turned on. Images will appear and disappear quickly. There will be no time to frame with a zoom or fuss with focus or other settings. Little Man gave me this gift within 5-minutes of our arrival.

Exploring Volume – a compositional comparison of Medium Format and Micro Four Thirds

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For the last month or so I’ve been rattling on about shooting Medium Format because the perspective just looks different compared to smaller formats. The optics just behave differently when you capture an chunk of the world with an 80mm lens (in medium format) vs a 50mm lens (in 35mm format) vs a 25mm (in micro-four-thirds format). The words I’ve been using to describe the difference have been compression and perspective.

As I show my work, another word I’m hearing consistently is volume. Whether it is due to the format or my intention while picking the scenes to shoot, showing volume is exactly why I’m exploring medium format. Finding the right scenes to show volume and using a format that provides the opportunities to render volume more effectively.

Here, then, are my first comparisons of images I shot in Medium Format (MF) against Micro-Four-Thirds (MFT). (Ok, some of you are right now saying that I should have compared MF with Full-Frame 35mm, but this is subtle and I think the wider comparison is still important). The purpose is to evaluate if there is a difference in the volume portrayed between the two formats and if they do really just look different.

The micro-four-thirds images were captured in RAW format with an Olympus OMD E-M5 and the Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 25mm f/1.4 ASPH Micro 4/3 lens. Of all the lenses in my MFT kit (actually anything I own including my Canon L lenses), this lens has some of the most delicious sharpness and color rendering. The digital images were processed using LightRoom 4 and Photoshop CS6 (mostly in LightRoom) on a color calibrated iMac 27″ monitor.

The medium format images were taken with a Hasselblad 500 C/M on Kodak Ektar 100 with a Hasselblad 80mm T* Zeiss Planar lens. They were scanned with an Epson Perfection V700 flatbed scanner using the Epson scanning software with Digital ICE and autoexposure turned on. I’m not a master scanner – and I tried several programs including VueScan and SilverFast. This setup gave be the most predictable results which were not all that different from the other software with all their fancy, unpredictable, and frankly buggy software. With any of this software, it became clear to me that they would all require careful tweaking of the white balance to reproduce the image I had in my head. The scans were hand color corrected, dodged and burned using LightRoom 4 and Photoshop CS6 on a color calibrated iMac 27″ monitor. This the same monitor and software I use for all my image processing.

I purposely processed the two sets of images independently, about a week apart. I did not compare them at all until last night when I was completely finished processing the medium format film images. Although the purpose of this exercise was to solely compare the difference in feel and scene rendering using an 80mm medium-format setup versus the wider-angle focal length required by a smaller image sensor, you will you will notice other differences including color rendering and overall color relationships across different areas of the image. Balancing the color of this scene, both digitally and using film, was a bear. Both sets of images have selective color temperature adjustments. Each set was processed as if they were my only images and processed to my most preferred tastes. I made no attempt to make them either look alike or different.

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Olympus OM-D E-M5, Panasonic Leica 25mm Summilux ASPH Hasselblad 500 C/M, Zeiss 80mm T* Planar lens, Kodak Ektar 100

Upon comparison, the colors of the film, to me, are definitely are more translucent and inviting. It is fair to ask if, with a bit more work or a different camera sensor, I could duplicate the colors across the two experiences better. I probably could by working with the images side-by-side. However, this was not the experiment. Look past the color and view the differences in the way the two lenses see the world and render the perspective and volume. This is my quest.

More exploration to come and I’m very excited to post a couple of B&W images I processed last night. The babbling will continue.

Being At Peace with Your Vision

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Sun Puddle by I Nancy, on Flickr

Many photographers talk about vision with phrases like “be true to your vision”. The first, and immediate, challenge is to identify your vision. What are you trying to say? What are you trying to achieve? How do you see the world? When you get a handle on this question, only then can you take the second step to understanding how to achieve that vision. What are you seeing and how do you create that same impression with a box and a lens?

I have been working hard on identifying and translating my vision. Some of the work is technical and some of the work is emotional. And the work has paid off. I have found myself more comfortable and with less anxiety behind the camera. I am more able to view a scene, identify what it says to me, cognitively process how I might express my idea, and finally execute the capture and the post-production. This process also happens more rapidly allowing me to approach and capture rapidly changing scenes with some anticipation.

I contrast this new approach with my previous method. Previously I might instinctively understand that there is something I want to capture but not really know what that is. I would then anxiously take many images to cover many bases and hope for discovery later in the darkroom. While my older approach can work, it is restless and uneasy. Will I capture what I intended? I spent a lot of time, money, and effort to get to my destination; will I get my return on investment? I may not be here again for some time and I may not get another chance. With all this pressure riding on the situation, leaving the accomplishment up to chance capture can be nerve racking.

Coming to a scene with the ability to determine vision first then execution sounds like all bliss and happiness, but in reality now comes the hardest part. Assuming you are successful, you have now captured your inner most thoughts and ideas and you are putting these out for all to see as transparently as you can. You have opened your brain and you are showing your viewers exactly what you see, how you think, and how you organize your world. What if they don’t agree? What if they don’t like the way you see the world? What if they don’t understand the way you see the world? What do you do now?

Are you ready to hear that others may disagree with your vision, essentially questioning your tastes and your inner soul? It takes calm, it takes confidence, and it takes courage. It takes the calm and confidence to seek varying opinions and honestly explore if your tastes fit in some reasonable ballpark of normal human appreciation. And it takes the courage to bear your soul and be at peace with your view so that you can communicate it to the rest of the world.

Waves #1

Waves #1

Waves #1, originally uploaded by I Nancy.

Finally got to processing some more of my shots from my Santa Barbara and Ventura shoot in late December.

This was the last place we stopped, the beach in Ventura just across from the fairgrounds. The surf was up from a storm off the coast and the wind would just peel water off the top. The constrast in B&W made me go there. Seems I am doing a good 50% of my shots in B&W these days.