The New World of Photography

I have been very slow to either investigate or use any aspect of digital photography! Having been trained and having worked as a film-based commercial photographer so many years ago, I felt that I simply had no use for digital image making. For one thing, it was completely foreign to me. For another, I was completely in love with customary (analog or film & chemical) photography. I imagine that the fact that I was well into my 5th decade when digital photography was beginning to make its presence felt in the photography world had a great deal to do with my prejudices.

The fact that it (digital photography) required some considerable acquaintence, if not genuine expertise, with computers and software did not faze me. I had been programming applications since roughly 1986 when I bought my first XT desktop clone. So that was not the sticking point. NO, what it amounted to was that I simply did not believe that digital photography was “real” photography!

I mean “real” in the sense that the result of a digital photograph is never a certain thing. Too many ways to manipulate, change, add-to or subtract from the image exist, so that any image produced might bear only a semblence of the actual scene that the photographer saw when the original exposure was made. Of course, that statement is also true for analog photography and always has been. I simply forgot to remember that fact.

When I was in professional practice, I sometimes relied on multiple-printing wherein I would expose different negatives on one sheet of paper to come up with a print that was a combination of both or even several images. As a photo student, later as a pro, I admired the work of Jerry Uelsmann, the great multiple-printing genius. What he did with negatives and photographic paper was nothing short of miraculous. In a quote referenced by John Paul Caponigro, in his “Illuminating Creativity” site, we are told that Jerry said. . .

“Let us not be afraid to allow for “post-visualization.” By post-visualization I refer to the willingness on the part of the photographer to revisualize the final image at any point in the entire photographic process.” – Jerry Uelsmann – See more at: 21 Quotes by Jerry Uelsmann

Uelsmann - Tree in Clouds

Jerry Uelsmann did not have the benefit of our modern digital technology when he produced his stunning works using multiple-printing techniques. Yet he manipulated his art quite as much as any current digital photographer/artist. Going back to the time when I first saw his work, I never even questioned whether it was “real” or not. It was the expression of his art which was solidly based in photography and, though it was far from a literal scene captured as a single image, it was absolutely real in the sense that it was the vision of a great photographer and artist.

So, just as the work of other great photographers, such as Ansel Adams, was “real,”  it too was usually highly manipulated, though not necessarily through multiple-printing. But it was certainly manipulated and was hardly that which was originally captured. It was purposefully exposed to bring out certain tonalities in the negative through selective development,  which were then dodged, burned in, highlighted through bleaching and toning, and were, in fact, as much a product of both pre and post-visualization as the work of Mr. Uelsmann (or myself, for that matter!)

It took me a while to realize this fact as I thought that, given the relative ease by which a digital image is manipulated and produced, it was somehow not true to the art of photography. Now, I understand and appreciate that it is all, and only, art! If it begins as a photograph, contains elements of images which are photographs, can be recognized as having some visage of its having photographic content and qualities, then it is still a photograph. And, most importantly, it is ART!

I realize now that this is the crux of the matter: however it might have been produced, no matter how much manipulation there has been, the final result is a work of art. It is no more “real” than any “real” photograph. It is still a two-dimensional representation of whatever the artist intended. Because of that fact, it is art.

The new world of photography allows considerable freedom in terms of what is, and remains, photographic art. Now that I see and understand this fact, I find that I am free to also manipulate and create as much as I wish and as much as I have in the past. There is much to learn in order to master this new world of photography, but I am happily engaged in doing just that and I invite anyone who happens upon my site to come along for the ride!

Why not have a look at my photographic work, and visit my galleries now that you’re here?

Posted in Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Essential Still Life Lighting Techniques

Background

I was a professional advertising photographer in New York City in my younger days, and now I have truly embraced the digital age of photography. Yet, even as materials and chemicals have disappeared (or almost so) lighting and the art of lighting remains as important as ever.

Image Unavailable

When I was photographing products (still life and illustration) for magazines and newspapers, I mostly used bounced light. This gave a very broad, soft quality of light which tended to go around the subject and not cause hard shadows. This is still the best lighting for still life, I find.

However, today we have the soft-box which tends to give the very same quality of light as light bounced off a very large white reflecting surface.

These devices come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can use all manner of light sources from electronic flash, to quartz lamps, to the new CFL bulbs (compact fluorescent lamps). They seem to be ideal for still life work and I make use of them in my own work extensively.

One fact needs to be stressed, that is: Lighting need not be elaborate or expensive when it comes to still life work.

With that in mind, I will talk about my approach to lighting.

My lighting consists mainly of an older studio electronic flash system which uses quartz bulbs as modeling lights. These quartz lamps can be highly controlled insofar as power output from the main unit is concerned and are exactly representational of the electronic flash in terms of lighting ratio, shadow, and light quality.

They are, however, quite different in terms of quantity of light output, and color temperature of the light.

If I first use the quartz modeling lamps to get the lighting just right, and then shoot the picture using the flash, then the color is balanced to daylight temperature.

That is to say, it is the same color as natural daylight lighting. But it is unbelievably bright! Shooting at f22, on my small sets, I have to apply at least 5 stops of neutral density filtration in order to get the exposures to anything like normal. From that point, I tweak the exposure in successive brackets to arrive at the optimum exposure. This can mean changing the aperture, adding, or substracting neutral density, lowering the light intensity via the electronic controls, increasing the distance from the subject to the lights, adding diffusing material, or a combination of these factors.

However, I use the flash only rarely in my still life work as I prefer to do without the filters which can add unsharpness or lens flair to the shot – though I use high quality filters, this can still be a problem.

Instead, I generally shoot using the quartz modeling lamps and then change the color balance in post processing to a more acceptable and normal looking color temperature. Though I often leave a good bit of the warmth of the quartz lights in the shot as it seems to suit the genre better than a perfectly daylight balanced view might.

Less is more, in Lighting Effects for Still Life work!

Image Not AvailableStill, I only use two or at most three heads in most of my work. One is the main light and is usually in a soft-box or a very wide diffused reflector. (I might even shoot using a reflective umbrella or even through a translucent umbrella if it looks better for a particular subject.)

The second light is always on the other side of the set closer to the angle of view of the camera and is primarily for moderation of the shadow caused by the main light. But, I often don’t use a light at all since the subject may be so small.

When that is the case I might only use a white reflective card placed just out of camera view to reflect some of the light from the main light back into the set in order to soften the shadow and even out the lighting ratio.

When I do use a second, fill light, it is usually bounced from a large white reflector which stands where I would normally place the fill-in light – that is, on the opposite side of the set as the main light and more or less directly in front of the set in line with the camera’s view point.

The light is bounced off that reflector from in front of the reflector and to the side of the set – so it is in front of and pointing more or less at the camera. Here a lens-shade (and a bellows-type shade is best as it is adjustable) becomes an important accessory.

Occasionally, I need another light to put some light in from the top of the set. When this is true, I suspend a white card reflector above the set, and I angle it so that I can bounce light into the set using that reflector. This light is mainly to produce highlights when I am photographing highly reflective objects such as silver, glass, metal vases, or, perhaps, a trumpet – for example.

So, normally I use two lights, very occasionally three lights.

Sometimes, I only use one light and a white card as a reflector.

These cards generally consist of white foam-core boards which are cheap, lightweight, and  not cut all the way through the material  so that they may be bent in order to be self-standing. These are stood and angled, sometimes clamped to a light stand, to get the best bounced light effect and to place highlights exactly where I want them.

I repeat here what I said in the beginning of this small article – lighting need not be elaborate or expensive when it comes to still life work.

One of the best photographers  I have ever known, one of my bosses when I was a very young photographer’s assistant, only used inexpensive, spring loaded aluminum reflector lamps with 3200k, 500watt bulbs bounced into very large white reflective flats.

He did the highest level of professional work  with the cheapest lamps that one can get. Of course, he would bounce maybe 10 or 20 of these lamps off 4X8 ft reflectors into a full sized set, but we were shooting pianos and pool tables as compared to pears in baskets, or flowers.

The very same principal applies however, and that is, bounced light (or lighting of the same quality from a softbox) Image Unavailable produces the most appealing light as it mimics a large, north-facing window best.

Soft light is usually better than harsh light and shadows should normally be well balanced and appropriate for the subject. Lighting ratios should not be too steep.

I hope that this was not too difficult to follow and that it helps some budding still life photographer get a good start in his or her still life work!

Thanks for taking the time to read it.

Posted in Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

Website Design With WordPress And Photocrati

I’ver been working with the WordPress program and the theme/template from Photocrati for a couple of weeks now and I have what I think is a very passable site. So far, I have been able to finalize the Main Menu System, the Major Galleries, the About Me pages, the Equipment and Techniques page, the Contact page, and I’ve made starts on the Print Sales page, and the Shopping Cart system. That seems pretty good as I didn’t have a clue as to how this whole thing worked when I began.

OK. So, it was not a walk in the park! No, not a simple or even an easy task at all. The learning curve is very steep for a beginner and though I have extensive computer skills to back me up, including being a former programmer and applications developer, it was/is still difficult. It would have been far worse if I didn’t have some skills. Mine are obviously outmoded now, but I won’t get into all of that right now.

I mentioned before that I had a great deal of difficulty familiarizing my self with the database product that is used to manage the site – MySQL. It is still a thing of great mystery to me. Short of going out and buying or finding books that teach me the whole PHP language, the database construction and its syntax, I have really been on my own. I didn’t go into learning an entire new set of programs or the language that runs them as I truly expected some relatively easy to follow instructions somewhere either on the Hosting Site, or on the WordPress site, or failing those venues, on the Photocrati site (at least as it relates to their product.) Not very much information was provided at all.

Not, at least, information that would be useful to me as a beginner. Very probably, the information that I was able to find would have been much more understandable for one who has been through most of this before. But, that is not who I am!

I have to say, to be completely fair, the Photocrati – Themes for Photographers site does provide a good deal of information. There are videos that can be accessed both at their site and on YouTube. There are FAQs and a Member’s Area as well, but the information does not go into the details that are necessary for a full understanding of the product or its operation. It is a beautiful product, and the results that can be achieved using it are nothing short of wondrous, but it does take a level of knowledge that I don’t believe is posessed by the average beginner to website building. I don’t know, maybe I expect too much! But I am a person who likes things to be made crystal-clear, particularly if a product is aimed at beginners.

Special Note: On Thursday, March 6, I contacted Photocrati for some help via their email system. I was having trouble with an eCommerce gallery (which is one of the galleries that Photocrati builds easily and quickly, usually without a hitch at all.) Drew, from Photocrati got back in touch with me after looking at my site and suggested a fix right away. It was something that I thought I had tried before but which didn’t work (actually, I hadn’t tried it, only thought I did since I had tried so many other things.) He was 100% correct and, not only that but he got back to me in less than 15 minutes with that correction! I couldn’t be happier!

Drew also told me that the Help System is undergoing a complete rebuild as they have been holding off on that prior to making some major changes in their templates. So far, it is going into place bit-by-bit and should soon be more helpful than I have indicated in these pages. UUUURHHA!

Rather Long Aside
I also have to be fair to the people who work and maintain the WordPress software. These people provide an incredible piece of Free software that does great things right out of the box (or the air, as it happens) and they do so out of personal dedication and because they can! I can’t!

I have been ranting about the difficulty that I find using all of the products mentioned here, but without them, I would still be stuck with my old site (which was OK for what it is, but really is very, very basic as it was a first website and I was really a clueless beginner when I built it). If you would like to see just what a really clueless web author, using some pretty great and Free tools can produce, it is here: This Beautiful World

OK, so having said that, I have to say that the people at the WordPress Site certainly have an extensive support base which includes installation, lessons, troubleshooting, forums and a host of other helpful information that is there just to assist those like myself.

If I find it dense and difficult, well that is my problem. But, the more I work in the system, the more I understand and the more helpful the material which they provide becomes.
End of the Aside

But muddling along, however, experimenting with different methods, trying things over and over, eventually does bring one to a decent understanding as to how all of these products, programs, and languages work. And, a very capable and complete site can eventually be built and implemented.

One very good thing is that WordPress installs faultlessy with my host’s One-Button-Install, and the very first (really, the only) thing that is produced is a very competent and feature-rich Blogging site. And, of course, that mystery-of-mysteries, the My-SQL database. After that, there are numerous free themes/templates that one can use to flesh-out the basic site – these come with the WordPress installation. Other templates are available free or for reasonable prices from third-party developers. You can find them on the web by searching for WordPress Templates.

There is also what amounts to an almost uncountable number of plug-ins that can accomplish almost any task or implement almost any feature that one could desire in a site. Some charge for the plug-ins – these are written by third-party-developers who are in business, after all – so that is quite understandable, but a good many are free. For the most part, the free ones are somewhat limited versions of the Pro level products, but they are useful “as is” and the pro versions generally simply add features not present in the free versions, and some may come with more support from the authors.

These are very easy to find, install, activate, and test. They are also easy to delete when and if they don’t work out or if they fail to do exactly what one wants to accomplish in using them.

Though some of these plug-ins are simplicity itself to setup and use, others take a level of understanding that is akin to that of figuring out the whole WordPress-SQL-Theme/Template system in the first place. Most of the instructions, when there are any, are not written for beginners but for those who have some experience in website administration at the very least. Still “. . . Perseverance Pays,” as the I Ching tells us!

Play around with this stuff long enough, try as many different approaches as you can think of, go to the authors for as much support as you can get, and you will come up with a site that is pretty, fast, capable, informative, and feature rich. It is probably not as difficult as I am making it sound here. It might just be a case of my being too close to it all – but that is how one builds a website.

And if you can’t build a website structure-by-structure, page-by-page, then you probably should go ahead and fork over the bucks to a professional web developer because, if not, you either won’t get one built, or you’ll have something that is a candidate for The 25 Worst WebSites Ever!

Posted in Web and Web Design

Getting to Know . . . Photocrati!

Since I am just beginning to use the Photocrati Themes For Photographers, I am not really in a position to do an in-depth review of the themes or, really, to discuss their ease-of-use. Instead, this short piece will simply talk about first impressions. I think that is fair. When I have gone much deeper into the use of the theme, I will be able to say much more about it, give meaningful criticism – good or bad, as the case may be – and, ideally, make recommendations regarding the product.

First, in case anyone reading this page would like to see the product, the company, their glowing words, and the fine work they turn out, their URL is Photocrati – Themes For Photographers!.

I have to say, the theme and the different combinations of design that can be accomplished is really quite staggering. Using the one theme which the company provides allows well over (or at least) 60 different looks/styles of design. This, along with the many customizable features (which are easily selectable from the interface) or which can be custom coded if you are so inclined, gives what might be an infinite number of different sites that one could create.

But, is it simple? Well, I have to say, it depends!

If you are an absolute neophyte at web building, then it is not simple in the least. If you know a little bit, you can get by, particularly if you are a fast learner and don’t mind experimenting and doing things over-and-over until you get it right. The latter is my style. I did look at the instructions for the Quick Set Up and tried to get them going but found that there is some assumption of knowing more than I do. Eventually, I got the Quick Set Up site building instructions to work up a fairly good looking basic site. I also did some viewing of video tutorials and reading which has been only just a little helpful, really. These limitations are strictly my own, your milage may vary, as the saying goes!

If you have pretty fair knowledge of web-building techniques using WYSIWYG or template driven design products, you’ll cruise! If you are an all-out whizz at writing HTML and designing web-sites, then you probably don’t want or need this product except to save a great deal of time!

Depending on when you are reading this piece, you might be looking at the very early starts that I’ve made. I suspect that, as I become more able to use the product, my site will evolve and, I hope, it will be a good-looking and easy one to use. Speaking of my getting more able to use the product, I have found that it gets easier and easier to do the things that I want, once I have figured out the basics of the WordPress system and the Photocrati themes. For my skill level, however, this figuring-out the basics has been a pretty steep climb. But, as I remember from perusing the I-Ching back in the 60’s, “Perseverence Pays!”

I will say that anyone who is looking for a really flexible template/theme product which can (in the right hands) produce a truly beautiful and useful site, should take a good look at the Photocrati product. It is relatively inexpensive at $79.00 with full support and all updates for 1 year from the purchase date.

That last does not mean that, when the year is up, you can’t continue to use the product because you can! And, you can use it for an unlimited number of sites either personal or for others (as far as I know.) If you want to be sure of more support, it is $39.00 for an additional year.

Furthermore, you don’t have to show their logo or any reference to their product in the completed site! I think the company is pretty liberal in their terms considering that the new business model calls for renting out software. If you don’t pay up at the conclusion of your term, you are summarily cut off! More and more companies (from editing software, to virus protection and more,) are moving in that direction, so it is refreshing to find one that still gives a person a fair deal.

OK. So, till I get more inspiration to review this product further, and depending on how great a site I manage to develop using it, I’ll leave it at that and say “Goodnight All!” KDR

Posted in Web and Web Design

On MySQL

Getting the site up, which means installing wordpress, has not been easy so far. There is a great deal more to know that I had to learn at my old site. I have had to use the MySQL database sytem and it is like no database that I have used before.

I used to be a programmer and applications developer in a corporation that I established and ran. I primarily wrote such business programs as Inventory Control, Accounting Software, Human Resources, Back-End Systems for an Automotive Customer Retention system,  Video Rental Systems, and Chiropractic Office Management Programs.

I used fourth-generation programs and their database products – which were,  at first,  dBase, then FoxBase and FoxBase Pro.   I also utilitzed Clarion which was a fully compilable program environment while the others had to utilize a run-time module and only became compilable in the last versions that I saw before retiring from that business.

Those databases were very straight-forward in their commands and the syntax of their language was easily readable and understandable. It was almost English with a lot of punctuation thrown in.

The same cannot be said of MySQL! Not by a long shot. It is dense with syntax and will require a great deal of study on my part if I am to utilize its power in even a very small way.   I cannot say that the Host Site has provided sufficient tools to make the job easier (but I have not fully investigated the matter.)   What I have seen is that it seems to have a very steep learning curve – and this is to accomplish even the simplest tasks.

I spent at least 1 1/2 hours in online chat with a support staff person last evening trying to log into the database, establish new passwords, and make an administrator record.

Granted,  I had to wait around 10 or so minutes for each question to be answered, and then it was answered as if each word cost the host service money,  which made things all the more difficult but I did accomplish my tasks.

The next job is to install the template system that I have decided upon and purchased. I couldn’t see the benefit of using any of the hosts’ freely provided templates which are primarily blogging site software templates – such as the one that I am using right now (at the time of writing this piece). By the time you might be reading it, I will probably have my Gallery site up and running.  I have in mind a complete gallery system with online sales capabilities,  slide-shows and multiple portfolios. That, obviously, will be my next project – building the web site.

I have purchased a product from a company which makes Photographer Specific templates that are customizable in over 60 different ways.  I’ll be working with it over the next weeks and hope that it provides everything that I need or want. It promises to do so and is backed with a 30 day money back gaurantee. It is also supported and upgraded for a period of 1 year from purchase.

It comes from Photocrati (I’ll publish the URL in future blogs but first, I want to get started with it so that I can also review it here.)

Stay tuned in (if anyone is watching, that is) and I’ll have more to say and more to show in the near future.

Posted in Web and Web Design

On Installing WordPress

This is the first use of  WordPress®  for me. I have determined that the Flickr gallery/sharing system is no longer an ideal solution for showing my photography since their interface has been undergoing so very many changes recently.

Because of this, I have decided that I need my own site and it must be more accessable than the site I’ve been using,   This Beautiful World  which uses the Flickr content and the  Fluid-R Gallery®  (a very beautiful and rich, third-party theme).

But,  Flickr®  has instituted so many changes that most third-party software programmers cannot keep abreast of them all and, consequently, their software cannot keep up.

These changes have made it very unwieldy, almost impossible to navigate with the justified page view (which was instituted, I assume, in order to make the system more enjoyable for those using tablets and smart phones.)

The company (Yahoo) has decided that they would do away with the Pro account and offer everyone unlimited storage, and unlimited loads but would put advertisements into their pages. Pro accounts will continue until they are timed-out, and then revert to these advertising-driven-free-accounts.

The current iteration of the program is unwieldy, and very prone to errors (bugs) which the company is aware of and which it attemtpts to fix.  But the company is not responsive either to the needs of the administers of the groups, which are the heart and soul of Flickr and which have made it what it was (before these massive changes occured,) or to its exhibitors.

Of course, companies are driven to produce the most profit possible and Yahoo is no exception. But, in their haste to make Flickr profitable (above the subscription prices of the many thousands if not millions, of Pro account holders) they are losing some of the very best photographers who were the reason that most people used and viewed their system.

I have determined that I must publish my own gallery and sales site. The site will be under construction for an indeterminate time but this first blog post is its introduction and I hope that the site will quickly follow.

I intend to purchase a template system and institute my site using the WordPress software. I hope that the learning curve is not too steep and that my gallery/site will be up soon.

Please check back in a week or two and see if I have made progress and please contact me about any problems/design errors or compliments if you have any. I will put up contact information shortly. In the meantime, you can write of any problems, or just let me know how you like/dislike the new site, in the comment box below! Thanks for your interest and your visit.

Thanks for visiting, Kevin Renz

Posted in Web and Web Design