Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Been there, Done that, Grokked.

Restating the obvious

I'll tie this into photography in a minute, but first... I'm going to use motorcycling as an example.

If you don't ride a motorcycle, you may have trouble understanding this. Bear with me while I try to explain it. One day while riding in a place called "Deal's Gap", or "The Tail of the Dragon" (Google it and watch some videos. You have to see it to understand what "318 turns in 11 miles" means). I pulled over at the end and said to my friend, "I just figured out: you have to look where you want to go!". That's probably the most basic skill in motorcycling, you have to grasp that to ride.

I taught the motorcycle course at Humber College for about 12 years. I had literally thousands of students over that time. But I'm not ashamed to say that teaching was (is) my forté, not riding. I'm the perfect embodiment of the expression, "those who can, do. Those who can't, teach" (there's another phrase on the end of that, "those who can't teach, write about it" but we won't go there!).

"Look where you want to go" was a litany that we repeated time and time again. If you didn't get it, you couldn't pass even the basic motorcycle skills test for your license. I taught it to thousands of people. So I should know it, right?

But it was like an epiphany for me. I finally grokked in fullness what that meant. That day, it finally sunk into my head, like an explosion in my mind. Am I making any sense?

So how does this relate to photography?

I visited the Ansel Adams exhibit at the McMichael museum earlier this week.

Ansel Adams

What can one say about him that hasn't already been said? Not much. I've seen his images in books, online, reproductions... but there's something about looking at a print that the master himself made with his own hands. And while I was there (for much too short a time: I didn't know they closed at 5:00 pm!) I had an epiphany.

More than one thing made him the Master. You know all the theories, you've studied and practiced the Zone System but how the HELL does he get those deep, rich blacks? The smooth, perfect tonality? Adams' skill in the darkroom is legendary. But when I looked at the works that were exhibited, something struck me like a thunderbolt.

"It's all about the Light".

Adams' composition skills were exquisite. But when I looked at his prints, "Redwoods, Bull Creek Flat" and "Birch Trees", what struck me was the lighting. In the Redwoods, especially, Adams intent was to get the viewer to look at the texture of the trees and he did that by shooting in perfect light. Now I grok.

Here's my attempt at replicating an Adams-type image:

I shot this in front of the McMichael Gallery after they closed at 5pm.  

Here's another shot from that afternoon, nothing to do with Adams but I think the landscaping at McMichael was done with the photographer in mind!

It's an HDR, of course.This is about textures, and drawing the viewer's eye from lower left to upper right. I'm not that happy with the sky so I may come back and rework it.  

A cool place to hang out

There's a great online forum that welcomes new and experienced photoenthusiasts alike. It's a small group, but there are members from all over the world! We especially need new people who want to make use of this great resource. If you're ever stuck with a question you can't answer, or looking for a better way to do something, this is the place for you!

A little history: some time ago, a bunch of us became disgruntled with the way another forum we belonged to was being run. What had been a friendly place had become uncomfortable and commercially motivated. No point in identifying them...

So we left and started a new place to hang out. The activity level has become a little low and we were trying to come up with why. Someone pointed out that the old forum was a busy place because a lot of people asked advice about photography in general, Photoshop/Lightroom, even such topics as copyright issues, suppliers, etc. They went on to point out that the members of the new group are all experienced and knowledgeable so these questions didn't come up. We need new members who have questions about stuff!

So we have a place where there are about 100 experts (and me. I'm not expert...) who love to share their knowledge and their work, who are all friendly and non-judgmental, who would like nothing better than to help answer any and all questions. Who love to see people's work and provide gentle critique (if it's asked for) and suggestions, who like playing photography games like the ongoing "Battle" where you start with a common image and do whatever you want with it creatively, or the monthly "Rally" (soon to resume) where you have a week to shoot and submit pictures on a specified topic, or even "Where is this?" where you do whatever you have to, to answer that question about a photo submitted. Marco is quite devious, but they're all solvable!

So you're all invited to join. It doesn't matter about your experience level, whether you want to ask questions or try to answer them, or just join in the banter and fun, and enjoy images from the members in the "Show and Tell" threads. You don't have to post, you can just sit back and read but it's more fun if you do.

Here's an example:

Remember the picture of "The Angels & Mini-Me" that I put up last week? I really wanted to do something like this with the face image on the wall but couldn't remember how. So I asked on the Forum and got a quick response from Philm Phalm that reminded me how to use "Displacement Mapping" in Photoshop. 

So where is this forum? What's it called? How do you join?

The forum is called "The Imaging Forum" or "TIF" (you can't say "The TIF Forum", that would be repetitious redundancy!)

You access it here: and joining means just registering and supplying a login name and password. All you have to agree to is to be friendly!

See you on TIF?

While we're at it, there's a monthly "Rally" that I host on TIF. Basically you are given three topics or categories, you have a week to shoot the pictures and then submit them, then everyone votes on their favourites. The winner gets the undying adulation and respect of their peers, and gets to choose the topics for next month. Go to TIF, then look for "Battlegrounds and Rallies".

A great weekend shooting!

We had 8 or 10 people show up for the Photowalk in Algonquin last weekend. The dawn shoot at the Frost Centre was outstanding, here's one of my shots from there:

That's Ben and George. A misty sunrise on St. Nora Lake. By the way, this will look different in different browsers, the foreground is supposed to have no detail in it, just a silhouette. I have to do some more work on it before it's finished.

And here's a completely different treatment, shot by my friend George who ventured all the way up from Toronto for this photoshoot:

Reproduced with permission. This is an outstanding image, a full 36Mp frame from the D800. It certainly won't look as good here as an 800px wide image, but you get the feeling. I'm encouraging George to make a large scale print, this is a real winner! 

The Photowalk went really well, with one or two glitches. The bakery we intended to go to wasn't open that early so we had to find another place: then we got confused and split up and a couple of people couldn't hook up with us later. By the way, Algonquin Park was a real zoo as expected. When we drove out around 2pm, there was a lineup of cars at least 5km long at a dead stop, waiting to get in the West Gate. Fortunately we were going the other way!

I didn't have my "A-Game" with me. I hit a bit of a flat spot and was really not happy with my images that day — I predicted it, though: I don't like shooting in bright sunlight. No excuse, I could have done better.

The next day, I went out on the morning "Loon Excursion" with Mike Bertelsen. I'm going to save some additional pictures for the next blog post, but here's one for your enjoyment.

This is a 3-month old Loon chick about to take off on his very first flight. I have some shots of that epic inaugural voyage, but you'll have to wait until next week to see them! 
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