Paying Homage

031_SFCoastalLightsCROPHave you ever felt like you were stuck in a nighttime photographic rut?

Feeling stuck technically or artistically, not knowing what to do next, what to look for, or even how to go about it?

Kind of like writer’s block, maybe you were experiencing cam-jam, or just a simple case of lens-cringe.

Well there is an easy exercise that will help you get past your night-fright and get a quick pic-fix.

If you are feeling uninspired, select an image by someone who inspires you. Then come up with a way to duplicate it in order to pay homage to both the artist and the image.

Choose an image that captures your imagination and creates a sense of wonder. Pick one that introduces you to new subject matter, or exposes you to a new way of seeing.

By emulating another, you shift your picture taking habits, and open your eyes a little wider to the possibilities beyond your current visual practices.

Paying homage to another can take many forms. It can be a literal interpretation of a time and place. It can be similar types of objects or a comparable setting. It can reflect the same style of lighting. It can mimic the aesthetic to convey the same kind of impact. Or you can dream up your own approach to mirroring that which inspires you.

When you are done, compare your image to the inspirational piece. The similarities are a good indication of your visual attention. But more importantly, the differences you see are an even stronger indication of your own artistic style and vision. What you introduced to the so-called copy is evidence of your personal contribution to visual expression.

IMAGE : Inspired by Kenna, Coastal Lights, San Francisco, CA

Years ago I attended an excellent two weekend workshop in San Francisco led by Michael Kenna, one of our contemporary masters of night photography. On the last night we all met at the Cliff House near the northwest tip of the SF peninsula.

I wandered out onto the patio behind the restaurant and found Michael taking shots of the rocks and ocean to the west. I set up my camera and tripod facing down the coastline to the south with lights running along Highway 1. We visited as we took our long exposures.

I had never shot ocean waves at night before. I actually expected the water to appear as a complete blur in the final image. I was shocked when I first viewed my negatives to see that the surf seemed to almost stand still.

I bracketed as usual but all of my exposures of the breaking waves were pretty much the same except for the shape of the white water.

I realized after the fact that the water was captured during a long exposure only as the swells broke. Other than that the ocean was dark and undetected by the camera.

This image is the result of a 30 second exposure shot at f8 with TMAX 3200 film.

IMAGE TINT : GallerySilver

A cool silver tint was applied to the image to enhance the look of the damp ocean air, and provide tonal separation in the coastal waters.

This B&W image was toned in Adobe Photoshop with an ICC Profile derived from the “GallerySilver” Color Map created in Mac App SuiteProfiler.

Click these buttons to download the ICC Profile and SuiteProfiler Color Map:

EXERCISE : Paying Homage

Pick a nighttime image that inspires you, possibly one by your photographic muse. Decide what it is about the image that turns you on the most. Then go out and capture a series of shots that capture the essence of the provocative image.

Afterward examine the similarities, and the differences, between your image and the inspirational one. Also look for inspiration in your own image, and see the potential for future photo ventures into the night.

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.

FEEDBACK : Paying Homage

Leave comments on this post to share your ideas and experience, or ask questions.

NEXT TIME : “Winter Nights”


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Find Art Photography

030_KennaHomageToBrassaiOne of the best ways to learn to see through our own eyes is to learn to see through the eyes of another.

We have all been inspired by the works of other artists, but we can also learn from those who have gone before.

We must learn to see to learn to do. Being inspired by one who has mastered the art of seeing photographically at night can further our own visual discovery process and artistic development in a very practical way.

This is true for any art form, but especially true in night photography, because nocturnal image making is not as commonly practiced as other areas of photography.

But we can go beyond just being momentarily inspired. We can adopt a muse to guide us along our path of developing a sense of night vision.

Selecting and following a muse motivates and challenges us to not only view  examples of nighttime work, but to also see differently, to see more deeply, and to see more distinctly.

Exposing ourselves to another’s body of work, past and present, offers more than just a technical education. By focusing on the work of another in a concentrated way we begin to assimilate a better knack for seeing and capturing our own inner vision.

In the same way that formal martial arts training prepares our bodies to respond in a more focused way, viewing and absorbing our muse’s imagery trains our eyes to recognize and respond to the subtle visual nuances we encounter when photographing at night.

Interestingly this does not teach us to duplicate another’s work. Instead it trains our mind’s eye to respond in a more conscious and personal manner.

But we need to give it time to develop. This is not an over night exercise. It is neither casual nor constant, but somewhere in-between. It’s something we dedicate ourselves to visit and revisit over time to track our changes in perspective.

By acquainting ourselves with not only what another sees, but also how another sees, we familiarize ourselves with the development of a visual journey, and become more intimate with our own artistic quest.

Over time we can adopt many muses, but the best approach is to commit to only one at a time in order to see another’s talents as purely as possible, both technically and artistically.

By amusing ourselves, we expose ourselves to greater possibilities that can be easily overlooked as we advance our personal perspective of the night.

IMAGE : Homage to Brassaï, River Thames, London, England © Michael Kenna

In the mid 1980’s, I bought this image from the Friends of Photography in California. It was my introduction to night photography, and motivated me to eventually venture into the night with my camera. Over the years, I have followed Michael’s nighttime work as a source of insight and inspiration along my visual journey.

About this image Michael Kenna said, “One evening I was staying in a friend’s house just outside of London, the very place that I had lived for three years when I was studying at the London College of Printing. As it was getting time to go to bed I noticed a rising mist from the River Thames, which was just visible from the window. I went out to photograph and did not return until after sunrise the following morning. It was an exquisitely cold, winter’s night. I imagined that Brassaï might have done the same thing when he was photographing along the Seine in Paris. Much of the subject matter was similar: bridges, boats, embankments, and water. I have often emulated photographers that I particularly admire and I try to pay homage to them in titles for my own photographs.”

You can view Michael’s body of work on his website.

EXERCISE : Find Art Photography

Find a photographer whose work inspires you. Select one or more of your favorite images created by the photo artist. Take the time to study the work, and look for the details that capture your attention and imagination the most.

Be sure to select vintage as well as recent images to get a good cross section of the kind of work that inspires you. Revisit the images from time to time to see how their impact on you changes, taking note of the effect certain visual elements have on you.

FEEDBACK : Find Art Photography

Leave comments on this post to share your ideas and experience, or ask questions.

NEXT TIME : “Paying Homage”


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Fire Trails

029_AbqFireDancerFire trails are a unique form of light trails created by fire in constant motion.

Fire trails are not well defined streams of light like those left by other light sources.

Fire streaking through the air, or running along the ground, creates flames all along the path of movement.

Opportunities to capture fire trails are rare indeed. Contained fires are usually stationary and burn as a hot mass. Out of control fires spread and grow in unpredictable ways, but frequently do create blazing trails along the way.

But let’s be smart. Trying to track down fiery trails in the middle of a fire emergency, like a burning building or a forest fire, might reap spectacular results, but is a lot more dangerous than wise. Not an activity being promoted here.

On the other hand, there are people who perform with fire in a safe and orderly manner. Such activity affords us the opportunity to capture fire in motion as an expanded moment.

Fire trails are a form of light painting in a controlled environment. The difference is that we are recording someone else performing the drawing with light, someone who’s a seasoned veteran and knows how to play with fire.

When we find such an event, it is a chance to capitalize on our practice of photographing light in all of its forms, and an opportunity to capture an uncommon image.

HOW TO : Photograph Fire Trails

Use the suggested f-stop outlined in aperture settings. Typical exposures should be just a few seconds to avoid overlapping trails.

Leave the shutter open only while the fire is in motion to capture the subtle details in the flames. Watch for patterns created by the moving flames to determine when to close the shutter.

Knowing how to photograph fire as outlined in my earlier post is a must.

IMAGE : Fire Dancer, Albuquerque, NM

I had the opportunity to photograph a practice session of a group of fire spinners as a part of my “Rhythm of the Night” portfolio for the Albuquerque Arts Program in 2010.

The fire trails were created by a man swinging burning balls hanging at the end of 2 ropes.

This image is the result of a 4 to 5 second exposure shot at f8 with TMAX 3200 film. It was selected from 2 rolls of film I shot over a period of 2 hours. I captured a lot of variations, but this image was the most unexpected.

  • Mouse over the image above to view the original BW image without toning. If mouse over does not work, go to Fire Trails on my blog.

IMAGE TINT : GalleryFireGolden

The warm to hot toning was chosen to emphasize the fire trails by adding color contrast to the flames. This is a good example of using toning to colorize a black and white image.

This B&W image was toned in Adobe Photoshop with an ICC Profile derived from the “GalleryFireGolden” Color Map created in Mac App SuiteProfiler.

Click these buttons to download the ICC Profile and SuiteProfiler Color Map:

EXERCISE : Fire Trails

Seek out a group or an individual who performs with fire in the night. Get permission to photograph an event or a practice session. Always keep yourself and your camera at a safe distance from the flames.

I cannot emphasize strongly enough that tossing or twirling burning objects around yourself to get shots of fire trails is a really bad idea. As they say, “Do not try this at home.”

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.

FEEDBACK : Fire Trails

Leave comments on this post to share your ideas and experience, or ask questions.

NEXT TIME : “Find Art Photography”


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