University Avenue, with it’s boulevard of apple trees slices through Toronto’s Hospital District. It is a ribbon of colour bound by bleak institutional architecture. But miracles happen here every day. That’s what I love about this picture. The way the colour explodes out of the darkness like hope rising from despair.
My obligations as a lawyer have kept my camera in its bag for far too long. But an adjournment allowed an unexpected shooting opportunity. Walking up University Avenue between Sick Children’s and Toronto General Hospitals I found these trees breaking out of the shadows.
It was unclear to me how I should capture the scene. Traffic was busy and the sidewalk was a stream of scrubs, suits and patients. After a couple of tests I decided to use a photo impressionistic approach by photographing the trees “in the round.”
I love the way in the round technique deconstructs a complex scene into its essential elements in an impressionistic way.
This picture is composed of about 20 images photographed “in the round” technique; meaning I walked around the tree to the extent possible taking pictures from different positions. The images were merged using an opacity blend which deconstructs the scene reducing it to its essential elements.
This picture was well recieved on Flickr where it received over 40,000 views on the first day thanks to its selection for Explore. That makes 21 Explore images for me in the past 2 years.
Trees have always been an important subject in art. For me they bring to mind the power of an Emily Carr or the drama of Ansel Adams. They are grounded. They reach for the sky. A natural subject for impressionist photography.
When I started experimenting with in the round photography I first turned to trees. Visually trees are roughly symmetrical which lends themselves to the technique because fundamentally in the round photography relies on pixel averaging. When similarly placed pixels are roughly the same it is more likely that a strong image will emerge after the opacity blend. As a result the trunk is a natural anchor for the image. The leaves feather towards the sky. The background details wash away leaving the subject alone in the frame.
The genesis of this series was an unexpected opportunity. Early on a gloomy Saturday I set up on the South apex of Queen’s Park Cres to photograph the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. As the light improved I noticed the trees behind me, along the street edge, had started to turn colour and with the road closed for the marathon it was possible to photograph around the trees.
What I love about these photographs is the way the technique captures the form and colour of the trees while just hinting at the detail. Trees have always been an important subject in art. For me they bring to mind the power of an Emily Carr or the drama of Ansel Adams. They are grounded. They reach for the sky. A natural subject for impressionist photography and one I keep coming back to.
The other thing I love about this technique is the way the foregrounds seem to twist, circle or band. The result is always unexpected. I can pre-visualize the tree itself but the foreground is always a surprise.
These in the round impressionistic photographs have been well received on Flickr. Four of them appeared on Flickr’s Explore page. One generated 22,000 views in a single day. That is a stark contrast to the way my photo impressionism was received a couple of years ago when I often receive comments asking if I had a neurodegenerative disease or hadn’t learned to use auto focus.
I have been using Flickr for a couple of years to test photo impressionistic ideas. From my experience the Flickr community is more engaged than the other photographic communities I have tried. That is important to me when I am trying something new.
So you can imagine my excitement this morning when I discovered Flickr’s Explore editors had selected my latest in the round experiment for their feature page. The exposure from that means dozens of new followers, many interesting points of view and a bit more acceptance for photo impressionism as a genre.
Photo impressionism has been a big part of my photographic vision for a long time now. However, exposure to Pep Ventosa’s “in the round” work in 2012 turned my photo impressionism paradigm on its head. Up to that point I had been working with images moving in the frame using slow shutter or multiple exposure techniques. It had never occurred to me that the frame might move too. Moving the frame around the subject is the essence of in the round photography.
In the Round Technique
The beach umbrella above is composed of about 30 images methodically taken around it. My camera is handheld with the relative location of the point of interest maintained in the viewfinder. The images are then brought together using an opacity blend. In my workflow I start in Lightroom. I open all the images at once, as layers, and then start the process of opacity blending.
The video above gives a sense of the process I used to create the beach umbrella. What I find interesting is how details fall away leaving blocks of colour and a generalized impression of the subject.
Two important decisions play a big part in the creation of a successful in the round image.
The first is the subject; the basic shape has to be interesting enough to withstand being deconstructed. Opacity blending creates what is really an average of the shape from many points of view. I think of the process as “image averaging.”
The second decision is how you treat opacity blending. By that I mean the opacity mode and/or the amount of opacity of the various layers. In the Washington Square image I wanted to compress the activity around the fountain to capture the excitement of place. The beach umbrella was more of an exercise in shape and colour.
It was Pep Ventosa’s trees that originally caught my imagination. Having worked with trees as a subject I think I understand why. For me trees symbolize the strength and vitality of the natural world. Image averaging seems to emphasize those qualities. Tree trunks seem to reach higher. The branches and crown are fuller and rounder.
The resulting textures are interesting too. By layering the leaves the viewer is left with the impression of a pointillist painting in a landscape reduced to basic shapes and colours.
In The Round – Photo Impressionism Tools
This is a technique that is not camera dependant. I have had good luck using a DSLR, mirrorless camera and an iphone. The key is being able to hold a relative point in the viewfinder; grid lines really help.
Post production is the key. I open the images as layers in Photoshop and then start to blend the opacity. If you are blending manually start by reducing opacity by 50% of the preceding image until you get to about 5%; experiment from there. The process is very processor intensive and file sizes are huge so be prepared to wait.
I also use a couple of plugins to automate the process where appropriate:
Layer Stack Opacity Blending: a script that evenly blends opacity in a way that mimics in camera multiple exposure. Thanks to Digital Outback Photo for maintaining the script. I often use this script to test an image idea before manually setting the opacity.
Dr Brown’s Stack-A-Matic: a good alternative to opening images as layers in Photoshop. Dr Browns site is worth exploring. There is a wealth of information on photoshop technique. Or check out Dr. Russell Brown Services on Adobe Exchange.
I have been following David duChemin for about a year now. Always fresh and thoughtful punctuated by great images.
His recent post “Mirrorless to Africa” caused me to reflect on my recent experience with Nikon’s N1 J2 . I think David is being very brave.
To put these thoughts into context you have to understand I love my dslr; a Nikon D4. It gives me everything I need without compromise. My N1 on the other hand is all about compromise.
The positives are compelling. The size and weight is perfect for travel. The lenses are sharp. The 18.5 1.8 rivals my usual 50 mm. The 30-110 fills in for my mid range dslr zoom producing good sharpness in good light. The underwater housing is svelt and well thought out (except for the inexplicable smoky back partially obscuring the LCD). The vibration reduction doesn’t get in the way and seems to more than make up for the inevitable camera waving that occurs when composing on the LCD.
Which brings me to my short hate list. I have come to hate the LCD. In bright light the subject disappears leaving you to guess what your composition actually looks like. That’s a problem for me when I am composing “in the round” montages such as the image above as I am completely dependant on the grid lines. And there is the awkward waving stance that comes with LCD composition.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the freedom. I just miss my trusted friend. Which brings me back to David duChemin. Africa is a long way away from his dslr if his experience ends up being like mine.
“In the round” has been a focus of my recent photo impressionist work. I have experimented with outdoor subjects such as trees, fountains, even carousels. Subjects that have a symmetrical shape seem to work best because the technique deconstructs the subject by averaging the pixels in the underlying photographs and isolates it in the context of a textured background that hints at the subject’s context. The images tend to be painterly; sometimes surreal; always interesting. I’m hooked, but on a rainy day, what to do but try some still life.
The sunflower image above is composed of about 40 photographs. I spent considerable time reordering the base images ( Photoshop layers) in order to produce the impressionistic effect. I like the feel here. The detail in the flowers produces a lot of visual interest. The vase also generalized well. But the stems seem too thin and a bit out of balance for my liking.
When I come to print this one. I think I might try cropping it in portrait format to better balance the flowers, vase and stems.
That’s when it struck me. The strength of this image may be in its parts rather than the whole.
Finding the picture in the picture (sometimes called image harvesting) isn’t new. Think about it. When you look through the viewfinder you are selectively cropping the image. Why not do the same thing post production? Provided the original shot has enough pixels to allow for it, selective cropping gives you another opportunity to produce your vision.
Once you have selected the cropped image, consider going back and rebalancing the post production adjustments to strengthen the image. Think of using a zone approach where the textured whites draw your eye and the blacks give it rest.
I really like Detail 2. Visually it takes me back to my first multiple exposure impressionistic images. However, because the images were shot in the round, the underlying pattern is much more interesting. And it has been well received. The image was featured on Flickr’s explore page. At the time of writing Sunflowers In The Round: Detail 2 had about 7,000 views on Flickr.
It is unexpected. Photographic images that capture a subject in a way that is generalized. That is why I am attracted to photo impressionism as an art form and in the round photography as a technique.
Think about it. We spend years and considerable sums perfecting our craft. Photographs are judged by their crisp focus and their perfect exposure. But these technically perfect images don’t always convey the essence of the subject. Often a subject has to be deconstructed first. It has to be reduced to its essentials before we can really understand it.
When I was first exposed to in the round photographs of trees made by Pep Ventosa I was drawn to them but couldn’t say why. It was only later, looking at a real tree, that I understood his technique really is a deconstruction; and that is unexpected too. When you bring dozens of photographs of a single subject together you would expect them to add to the photograph’s detail. But it doesn’t. Instead shooting in he round averages the scene, creating a new view point based on what is common; not what is different.
I will continue to shoot and enjoy”straight” photographs. But photo impressionism is a passion and there is so much to explore.
Another experiment in my “in the round” series. The idea is to capture images all around the subject and then bring them together as a merged image in Photoshop to create more of a gestalt impression of the subject. The more I try this technique though, the more I find it is the deconstruction of the image that interests me; simplifying and reducing to produce a photo impressionistic sense.
For this example I followed the technique I have described in earlier posts. As with most multiple exposure images, the merged result is soft and there is a bit of a colour shift. For some this may be the impressionistic sense they are looking for but I like a bit more structure. In post production I almost always colour balance the image using the black point – white point technique, then using NIK’s filters I add a touch of contrast and then “fluff up” the pixels a bit using the mid tone contrast filter. Masking is important with these filters otherwise you will find there is no movement in the image. I always finish my images using Vincent Versace’s tonal contrast action which I control with a mask.
I really like the result here. A simple impression of a vase of tulips. The in the round approach and the random effect created by multiple images creates a painterly feel; a good example of photo Impressionism.
Spring brings some wonderful opportunities to explore “in the round photography”.
The idea is to capture the essence of an object in its environment by taking photographs from many points of view and then merging them into a single image. And the result is often a simplified version of the origin, bathed in muted soft pastel’s. I was first exposed to this idea in New York where you can find wonderful examples by Pep Ventosa at the Lumas gallery in Soho.
In this case I carefully walked in a circle around the apple tree taking a pictures every few paces. For each picture the tree was lined up in my view finder using the grid lines. Of course you can’t line your subject up perfectly but the process is very forgiving because the result is really an average of your efforts. In terms of numbers think 20 or more pictures.
Because the image is averaged there are other surprising results. While I was shooting a service truck parked in my point of view. It was obvious I was shooting so I was upset that the truck would create a distracting element in the background but as you can see it vanished when the images were blended together. Same thing with the “no parking” signs posted around the tree.
I start post processing in Lightroom where I select all the images I plan to use and then open them in Photoshop as layers. For this one I used an opacity blending script but the blending can also be achieved manually. For manual blending try reducing the opacity of each image by about 50% of the image before it.
I find the result of opacity blending a bit too soft so I use NIK’s tonal contrast filter and Vincent Versace’s mid tone contrast action.
This image of the Swarovski Christmas Tree was taken at the Yorkdale Shopping Centre in Toronto. 32 images were taken all around the tree then merged together using Tony Sweet’s Layer Stack Opacity Blending script. The resulting image was colour corrected then given a bit of structure using NIK’s tonal contrast filter.
Evergreen trees are a perfect subject for “in-the-round” photography and the christmas tree is the perfect evergreen. I think it is the symmetry that makes it such a good subject. And the strong personal connection to Christmas makes the image more compelling.
I have been shooting “in the round” for about 2 years now and have developed a few personal approaches to the subject. Of course photo Impressionism is meant to be creativity without boundaries or rules but I think you need a bit of craft to make this technique work. Here are some thoughts:
– the subject needs an axis. It doesn’t have to be symmetrical but you have to visualize it spinning like a top and if that visualization works you have something.
– the more you accomplish in camera, the less contrived the result will appear. In the round is inherently messy and the photographer must bring order to the chaos. I accomplish this by careful framing the subject using the grid lines in my view finder. It seems to work best for me if the camera is handheld but the subject (the axis) is carefully maintained between the bottom top grid lines so that its size and location in the frame is constant.
– because the final image is composed of a large number photographs, individual elements tend to dissolve into a textured background unless they are repeated. For example, people walking through your shot tend to disappear while people standing tend to remain a compositional element.
– shoot lots- then shoot some more. I think the technique needs about 30 images minimum to work properly. I try to maintain the same distance from the axis element of the image and use a zoom to fine tune the size of the main subject.
– post production – I start in Lightroom where I select the images I intend to use and then open them in Photoshop as layers.
– once in photoshop you can use a tool such as Tony Sweet’s layer stack opacity script or for more control start with the bottom layer and manually decrease the opacity of each layer above by about 50% ( eg 100 50 25 13 6% opacity) until you get to about 6%. Play with the image order and opacity until you achieve your vision. Resist the urge to fix alignment issues in photoshop.
– the resulting image is going to look a bit washed out so I generally add a bit of life back using a white/black point colour correction, contrast, and NIK’s tonal contrast filter.
There are two big challenges from my point of view. First the images have to be carefully composed to allow them to be merged. I try to keep a constant distance from the subject and use my view finder’s grid lines to keep the composition consistent. It all makes sense if you think of making an in camera multiple exposure. While you can fix composition issues in Photoshop, the result may look too contrived.
On the Photoshop side, the images depend on the use of opacity and blending modes. I have had good results using 50% of the opacity of the layer below as a rule of thumb. Different blending modes produce very different results. I like the look of luminosity mode.
Washington Square, New York. Another in a series of experiments in this genre. This image is composed of about 40 photographs taken around the fountain and then merged in photoshop. Post production was limited to colour balancing and filters designed to bring back a bit of structure such as NIK’s tonal contrast filter and Vincent Versace’s mid tone contrast action.
Walking past the Lumas Gallery in Soho I was reminded that travel photography isn’t just about taking pictures. It is also an opportunity to see new ideas and techniques.
A few months ago I saw an exhibition of multiple exposure photographs shot “in the round” at Lumas. The photographer, Pep Ventosa, took photographs of trees from very angle and then merged them together to create a montage. The images, and in particular the trees, are beautiful, painterly and impressionistic. You get a sense of the tree, it’s environment, and more.
The technique is more difficult than it sounds. I use a DSLR that allows for in camera multiple exposures but the camera times out before you are finished and it doesn’t allow you to shoot enough images. I don’t think the technique works with fewer than 20. So you are forced to shoot single images and then merge them in Photoshop. I find that if you frame your shots as if the image in an in camera multiple exposure, the post processing won’t be as contrived because you maintain the sense of random error inherent in that kind of photography.
I have been experimenting with in-the-round using strong vertical subjects such as fountains, carousels and monuments. There is much to learn here but I think the Washington Monument example shows promise.
More to come on this technique as I figure out what works and what doesn’t.