Category Archives: Photo Impressionism

Merry Christmas

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.

Updated: A Personal Milestone 190,000 Views on Flickr

Promoting Photo Impressionism as a genre has always been the main goal of my Internet activity.

While I have tried other sites (such as 500px) Flickr has played a big part along with this website.

My observation is that Flickr has a large and active community of photographers interested in pushing their craft beyond the shackles of “straight photography”. I see lots of experimentation on Flickr and that is the essence of the impressionistic image.

Lately I have noticed that most of my views on Flickr are originating from other sites such as Google Images and blogs. I see that broader exposure as another powerful reason to keep a presence on Flickr.

As photographers we really do live in the best of times, and the worst of times. International exposure is just a click away. On the other hand strong images are so readily available I wonder if it has depreciated the art form?

Via Flickr:
Toronto International Dragon Boat Race – dragged shutter technique ( 0.7 seconds). www.dagostino.ca

Slow Shutter as a Photo Impressionistic Technique

Via Flickr:
Toronto International Dragon Boat Race – dragged shutter technique ( 1/3 seconds). www.dagostino.ca

Using a slow shutter is a fabulous way to capture movement and energy to create a photo impressionistic effect. Here are some ideas that I have found through experimentation:

Light is always going to be your concern when photographing subjects in motion. The photo impressionistic effect comes from the slow shutter speed. A good neutral density filter is a must. I really like variable neutral density filters because of their flexibility and have had some success with the Cameron Fader ND Filter.

Its all about experimentation. I have had some good results with dragon boats in the 1/3 to 1/2 sec range (even down to 0.7 sec on occasion) with my aperture close to f22. Try some test shots to get the balance right.

20110626-_DSF1082-Edit

Panning is the critical skill here. I look for my point of visual interest (think picture in the picture) and try to keep it at a specific reference point in the view finder. You want that element to freeze in the image while all the other elements move creating a blur. It’s really hard to do even with a tripod or mono pod. The effect I was trying to achieve with the dragon boats was a sense of the circular motion of the paddles and the streaking background.

The shot below (0.7 secs at f18) was taken with a Kenyon Labs gyro. They are a really heavy addition to an already heavy kit but the results are great. As a result, the person who invented the wheel also deserves a camera credit here 🙂

20110626-_DSF1132-Edit

Post production is a matter of taste. I find the images need a bit of structure so I use photoshop to add a bit of contrast using NIK contrast and tonal contrast filters and Vincent Versace’s mid tone contouring action. Sometimes the images need just a bit of extra saturation as well.

Useful Photoshop Tools For Impressionistic Images

dagostino02

The big technical challenge in producing photo impressionistic images as a montage (as opposed to an in camera multiple exposure) is working with large numbers of images and huge file sizes. Some of my recent experiments (Washington Square in the round for example) have used close to 40 images, resulting in file sizes over Apple’s 2 gig file limit.

Even in camera multiple exposures have issues. I find then to be inherently soft and, depending on the camera, suffer from from a red cast.

Here are a couple of tools I have found to be useful time savers:

Creating A Layer Stack In Photoshop

Adobe Lightroom is my first choice to produce a layer stack in Photoshop because I already use it to manage my images. Select your images then right click for the menu choice.

Dr Brown’s Stackomatic. A great script you launch from Adobe Bridge to create a layer stack.

Opacity Control

Layer Stack Opacity Blending Script. A great script from Digital Outback Photography based on some thinking by Tony Sweet. The script calculates opacity and merges layers into a multiple exposure style image. There are no controls but the result is nice.

Mike Hale’s Stack Mode Panels. I use this panel often to test the effect of changing the blend mode.

File Size Reduction

Perfect Resize makes file sizing, in both directions, a snap. This is important for me because Adobe Lightroom is an important part of my workflow and it does not recognize files saved in large image format (.psb). Often my working files are much larger than Apple’s 2 gig file size limit.

Basic Digital Darkroom

In camera multiple exposures bring their own challenges. My fuji S2 adds a pronounced red shift which is significantly reduced in the S5. As well there is a softness associated with multiple exposures that may have to be addressed.

Vincent Versace has produced some great actions (associated with his books and DVD courses) for correcting white/black point and mid tone contouring.

NIK has a great tonal contrast filter.

Photo-Impressionism: Other Voices

dagostino01 by Stephen D'Agostino
dagostino01, a photo by Stephen D’Agostino on Flickr.

Via Flickr:
Watching Mona Lisa – Paris – in camera multiple exposure. This image, printed on stretched canvas, was exhibited at Toronto’s 2007 Contact Festival. See more at www.dagostino.ca/Contact/contact_index.html

First and foremost the goal of my website project is to promote the idea of photo impressionism as a genre in the hope that others will embrace it.

When I first started to create photo impressionistic images in the mid nineties there were only a few photographers exploring it on the web and fewer in print. Freeman Patterson’s book Photo Impressionism and the Subjective Image published in 2001 was a powerful resource and really changed the way I visualized photography ; really an extreme extension of the unbridled call for creativity in his 1999 book Photography for the Joy of It. Since then, and in no small part thanks to the digital revolution, photo impressionistic images have joined the main stream (if evidence is needed, look no farther than the plethora of multiple exposure and slow shutter images coming out of the Olympics.)

However, straight photography has been so prevalent for so long that photo impressionistic images still are not well received. Interestingly photographers seem most reluctant to embrace it. The comments appearing in dpreview.com’s coverage of Reuters’ Olympic multiple exposures illustrates point. It is shocking to see photographers loose site of the fact that every image is a”mere”representation of the event, not a true reproduction. Photo Impressionism is no different. Using photography as the medium it tries to capture the essence of a moment or thing and convey that essence to the viewer.

Here is a selection of photographers who seem to have embraced photo impressionistic techniques. I don’t mean for this list to be exclusive or exhaustive so by all means contact me if you would like to be included:

Pep Ventosa

Lovely photo impressionistic images “in the the round”:
http://www.pepventosa.com

Eva Polak

Lots of experimentation resulting in some great images. Check out her abstracts:
http://www.evapolak.com/

Dave Wodchris

Check out his use of slow shutter technique which produce some lovely abstracts:
http://www.davewodchis.com

Susan Thomson

Interesting hand coloured sx70 prints. I like the creative use of this old school technology to produce a photo impressionistic look:
http://www.sx70.com

Nikhil Bahl

Sun Flowers using slow shutter pan and zoom. Reminiscent of Van Gogh:
http://nikhilbahl.blogspot.ca/2010/07/photo-impressionism-zoom-flick.html

Flickr

There is a lot of great talent showcasing on Flickr. Check out the photo Impressionism groups:

Fire storm

Washington Square – In The Round

I have been experimenting with photo impressionistic “in the round” techniques; inspired by images produced by Pep Ventosa.

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.

Helpful links:

Via Flickr:
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.

Marathons: A Photo Impressionistic Opportunity

081019_DSF3270-Edit by Stephen D'Agostino
081019_DSF3270-Edit, a photo by Stephen D’Agostino on Flickr. For more see my marathon collection.

Just a follow up to the great multiple exposures coming out of the Olympics. While you can’t expect to get an Olympic point of view, local races are a great opportunity to shoot multiple exposures and impressionistic images with a longer exposure.

Toronto is blessed with two world class marathons and they are worth planning for. See:

Photo-impressionism At The Olympics

I have been experimenting with action sports such as dragon dragon boat racing and distance running using multiple exposure photography. So you can imagine my pleasure seeing some great examples coming out of the olympics.

These are some of the images I liked best:

For more images, credits and background information on the techniques used see:

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Photo Impressionism – In The Round

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.

Photo Impressionism at the Toronto International Dragon Boat Festival

The 24th Tim Hortons® Toronto International Dragon Boat Race Festival is on this weekend at Centre Island. A great venue for photography with lots of colour, and the ability to be proximate to the action.

The event is a real exercise in hurry up and wait. Races last just over 2 minutes but in reality you only have about 30 seconds of good shooting depending on your location. Then there is a pause while the next race sets up. Personally I couldn’t do it without my iPod and a selection of good pod casts.

I attended yesterday with the intention of working on my impressionist photography portfolio including dragged shutter and multiple exposure technique. I also thought I would try a little infra red black and white. All in all I was happy with my images. Here’s what I learned.

Shooting Location

The action takes place on the Long Pond at Centre Island. Races run from west to east.

You are much closer to the action if you perch on the south shore but be aware that at that location you are shooting into the sun.

Lenses

I brought a 70-200 and a 500 mm lens and a FX camera. My infrared camera is a DX. The 500 was marginally okay for shots looking directly down the course. The 70-200 was great for passing shots. If I had a 300 mm I would likely have used it.

Other Equipment

Wheels! It’s a long walk from the ferry so a wheeled camera bag is a great idea.

Tripod vs mono pod. I would bring both. The boats move quite quickly and there is a lot of action to choose from so I regretted not bringing a mono pod. The tripod of course is must at 500 mm as is a remote trigger.

Neutral density filters. You can’t slow down your shutter without them. I have been using a variable ND filter which I really like. The draw back being you can’t use a lens hood.

Food and water. There are lots of concession stands but the races run every 7 minutes on average so buying food will cost you 2-3 photo opportunities. I used a cooler bag and half frozen water bottles to keep it cold at a minimum weight.

Technique

To further my impressionist photography project I tried various shutter speeds and shutter intervals. It’s hard to tell at this point what worked and what didn’t but I will post my results as I see them. But on a preliminary basis it seemed to me that multiple exposures worked best at slower speeds eg 60th and dragged shuttled seemed best at about 1/2 a second.