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.
Sometimes you just know how a picture is going to turn out; sometimes the joy is in the surprise. This image is a perfect example.
I saw this scene while walking through the cactus garden at the Phoenician Hotel in Scottsdale . What caught my attention was the repetition in the receding saguaro and the strong vertical elements. Creating depth in an impressionistic images has been a challenge for me.
To create the photo impressionistic effect I used the high-speed montage approach I am developing. I shot a burst at 60 fps while panning, The images were then brought together in Photoshop using an opacity blend. I could have created the same effect using a dark neutral density filter and a slow shutter speed but composition would have been an issue for me. The high-speed montage approach is more suited for photo impressionism on the fly.
The result was better than I had hoped. The vertical elements created a texture I had not seen in the viewfinder adding to the scene’s depth.
Flickr selected this image for its Explore page yesterday; about 9,500 views in 24 hours. Thanks to the curator at Flickr who championed this image.
I am just back from a 2 week recharge in St Lucia and used the break to experiment with wave time stacks. If you follow The Photo Impressionism Project you will be familiar with Matt Molloy’s fabulous cloud time stacks. Basically the technique relies on a time lapse series that is then brought together using Photoshop’s lighten mode opacity blend to create a sense of movement.
I have adapted Molly’s technique to faster moving subjects using high speed shutter bursts. In this case 10 images of a breaking wave shot at 60 fps using Nikon’s N1 V3. The image then has to be colour balanced using the usual tools. I tend to rely on the white\black point method and NIK’s contrast filter.
I really like the feeling of the curl here and the pallet knife textures produced by the time stack. If I had just used an opacity blend the image would have been pleasing but much softer.
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 am coming to understand this about photo impressionism: there is no one size fits all technique. You have to open your imagination and pre visualize the effect before pushing the shutter. You have to experiment. You have to push your boundaries.
Photo impressionism has many faces. The soft focus approach is popular but I have never really given it a chance preferring to concentrate on multiple exposure and slow shutter images. A recent trip to New York changed that for me.
The first technical challenge was understanding how to override the Nikon 1 V3’s powerful automated tools. The solution: use a DX lens and manual focus mode for better aperture and focus control. The buttery rich bokeh is a function of a large aperture setting.
To a great extent I think this approach works because of the bokeh. At night the images become dream like. Colours that formerly defined background elements move to the forefront. Often they seem to dance. Look at the view of the World Trade Center below.
The built form of the World Trade Center seems to melt into a pillar of light. For me it has become a lighthouse of hope, and strength overlooking the street below. I was excited to learn this morning that the curators of Flickr’s Explore page had added it to today’s list.
I am coming to understand this about photo impressionism: there is no one size fits all technique. You have to open your imagination and pre visualize the effect before pushing the shutter. You have to experiment. You have to push your boundaries. I love it!
This is a fabulous time to be a photographer. There have never been better tools to realize your vision. There have never been better opportunities to share it with the world. In keeping with that my early impression of the N 1 V3 is that it is a significant advancement and has become my go to – everyday camera and an important tool in my photo impressionism projects.
if its true that the best camera is the one in your hand, it may be time to think about switching hands.
To put my viewpoint in perspective I have been a Nikon DSLR guy since the beginning (with a short Fujifilm S Pro dalliance). Starting with a F2 film camera I liked the ability to make manual decisions but grew to love the freedom autofocus and auto-exposure provided when time was of the essence. Big bright lenses were a staple in my bag which of course rivaled a small child in weight. I bought a D4 loved it and then developed sciatica and the photographic world ended. I couldn’t carry my kit.
The small mirrorless camera is not a new idea. The micro 2/3rds format has been with us for a while and Fujifilm, an early adopter, has produced some great mirrorless cameras. My introduction was the N1 J2 which proved to be a great travel camera (see my thoughts here). What I longed for was a Nikon camera to leverage my lens investment, a viewfinder to help composition on sunny days and good balance between size and holdability. The N1 V3 doesn’t disappoint.
Right out of the box I knew I had something special. The camera is just big enough to fit in my hand. It feels well constructed. Add the grip and it feels sturdy. The controls are where a Nikon user would expect them; including the thumb wheel control dials. I added a long wrist strap from gordyscamerastraps.com.
I find I always have the grip attached. I think there are a couple of reasons for that. 1st it adds a secondary control dial which I seem to use a lot. More important, the grip does just that; it gives the camera a solid feel in my hand.
The viewfinder is an attachment. It goes on and comes off easy enough and provides a nice bright point of view. You can set it for both grid lines and an artificial horizon which is a big help to me in image placement and composition. What I really like is that it adjusts image brightness in real time; meaning dark scenes are easier to compose because they appear as brighter previews based on your exposure settings.
The back mounted LCD screen is nice and bright. I like the way the LCD articulates which allows for better composition when the subject requires an awkward point of view without feeling delicate.
The kit 10 – 30 mm pancake lens has a really low profile and auto lens cap feature. No complaints about quality but I miss the barrel mounted “on/off” button of the other N1 lens I own. I now have to remember which lens is on the camera and what has to be done to start shooting. Not a great quality when you are in a hurry. I also miss having a filter thread. I use a variable neutral density filter a lot. As a result my 30-110 mm N 1 lens seems to be a permanent fixture.
My impression of image quality is quite good. I only see grain at the top end of the ISO range. Nothing that can’t be addressed post production. At 160 ISO there is great colour fidelity and faithful tonal reproduction. In other words rich and true.
My Special Considerations
Photo Impressionism is my passion. For the N1 V3 to work for me it has to give me the options I relied on the D4 for. For the most part it does.
From a sensor size point of view the N1 V3 has about 2 million pixels over the D4. That is important for me because I often work with “the picture in the picture”.
The camera is really fast. Blindingly fast actually. After moving to Lexar’s fastest micro sd card the camera will sustain long bursts of raw images at 30 fps without choking. Slower cards give you slower performance. This new speed allows me to time stack moving subjects in a way I can’t with the D4’s 11 fps. Based on my early experiments I think these long fast bursts are going to become an important tool for me.
At the other end of the shutter range I found that setting a low ISO (160 is the lowest) stopping down with a variable neutral density filter and shooting in shutter priority provides a good slow shutter result. For my slow shutter work I would have prefered a lower ISO. On the other hand 12,800 ISO creates some great “natural light” opportunities at night.
I was surprised to discover there is no multiple exposure mode. I have relied on in camera multiple exposures since my earliest impressionistic images so this was a setback. My understanding is that in camera multiple exposure is software driven so I am hoping a future release will solve this obvious failing.
A couple of complaints
No camera is perfect. This one is no exception. Here is my list of issues I would love to see Nikon address.
– multiple exposure mode – I’m not sure why a camera as feature rich as this does not support up to 10 frames in camera multiple exposure. Given the popularity of photo impressionism I would have thought that would be a given.
– battery port – you have to remove the grip to change batteries. WTF!
– viewfinder – I was disappointed to read that Nikon recommends you take the viewfinder off when travelling to avoid damage. In bright conditions that really slows down spontaneous shooting. As well, the viewfinder is just the mirrored LCD view. That means the viewfinder can go blank when the camera is processing or shooting can be interrupted when previews are posted. That matters when you are tracking a fast moving dragon boat. I would have preferred an always on live view option.
– micro sd – I am looking at my collection of fast cf, sd and xqd cards. I really don’t want the complexity of carrying around yet another media type. Besides, a micro sd is hard to keep track of out of the camera on big shooting days.
– colour space – Being able to choose your colour space is awesome. But the choice is limited to Adobe RGB and sRGB. The sensor is good enough to support Pro Photo, Nikon should too.
At the risk of being labelled a Nikon Fan boy I have to say I love this camera. The N 1 V3 more than makes up for its few failings with speed and portability. Nikon users will immediately find the controls intuitive. It has the tool set I need for my passion absent in camera multiple exposure mode.
From my point of view; if its true that the best camera is the one in your hand, it may be time to think about switching hands.
I spent Canada Day exploring Ripley’s Aquarium and a new camera; Nikon’s mirrorless N1 V3.
Ripley’s Aquarium is a visual buffet; well laid out exhibits and exotic subjects. It has a wonderful collection of sharks and stingrays. But for me the Jellyfish Room was the highlight. Where else can you spend a few moments with these ghostly aliens. The image below is from that visit.
Although this shot is not typical for my genre I really love it. I think it captures the delicateness and movement of the jellyfish while maintaining the alien quality I experienced. So you can imagine my excitement this morning to find that Flickr Explore had chosen it for today’s page. This is my 5th image chosen for Explore in the past 12 months.
Thanks to the curator who championed my picture.
For those who keep track of these things, being selected for Explore resulted in just over 10,000 views in one day.
The impact of the web on retail marketing has been dramatic; really a brand new paradigm. The business of fine art photography is no different. It is in that context that I have struggled with whether to try to monetize my digital work or if instead I should be satisfied with the exposure I get on the web.
My experience is that sales come from personal contact and that almost no one buys photographic art on the internet. Most see it as a free buffet to copy without payment or attribution. Of course that is annoying and illegal but the reality is it is also the price of exposure.
On the other hand. There is a market for fine art prints. It is a universal truth that when a photograph really speaks to you, you want to engage with a physical copy. As fine art photographer Vincent Versace often repeats, “its all about the print.”
It is in that context that I was recently approached by Daylighted to exhibit on their new platform. A digital display/app system tied to exposure in hotels and other prominent locations.
I like the idea of bringing digital art to the wall using display technology. It is an extension of what we know and see on our many devices and as a result is not unexpected. It also has the advantage of size. In the case of my images, I think size does matter. More importantly I like the idea of exposure to an audience that is engaged in the experience of place and life rather than the internet.; make no mistake, art is meant to be experienced not consumed.
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.
There is something compelling about black & white photography; its nostalgic link to photography’s roots, the emphasis on composition, or perhaps a vision more focussed without the distraction of colour.
In many ways black & white photography is the anthesis of my photo impressionistic passions. Its like you are looking through a new lens. Perhaps that explains the dichotomy in my portfolio. I spend a lot of time exploring Impressionism and then when I need a break I reach for my infrared converted cameras and shoot black & white.
Looking at the collection it seems to me that I am attracted to the rich textures infrared produces. The image below, taken from the south rim of the Grand Canon bings reminds me of the visual richness of early morning looking down into the valley. Above that the infrared of a frozen great lakes steamer nicely captures the cold of that winter moment.
While photo impressionism is still my main focus I am looking forward to shooting black & white at every opportunity.
Infrared Camera Conversions:
I recently had my old Fujifilm S5 Pro converted by Life Pixel. They did a great job.
There are so many distractions from actually taking photographs it is amazing that we ever have time to create. Learning the nuances of new equipment and what has really changed in the constant flow of software updates can be a career in itself. My mission has been to simplify my life to make more time for things that matter; starting with this website.
I have exhibited on the web since 2001. Originally using Microsoft’s web development tools and then Adobe Dreamweaver I was able to produce a good basic exhibition platform. The cost however has been time spent constantly learning and development time; time better spent with a camera in my hand or discovering better post production technique.
For me the obvious answer is to embrace someone else’s code and use an existing content management system (ie a blog.) I chose WordPress because it is widely supported, and is powerful enough to do everything I need in a photography website.
I discovered two things in my transition to WordPress. The first, that Yahoo, my host since the beginning only provided partial support for the WordPress tools on my shopping list. In other words the choice of a host matters. I eventually chose DreamHost. Second, there is an online web development company (Elto.com) that specializes in WordPress at a price that makes it silly to invest your own time to learn how to do it yourself.
Elto breaks the steps down into understandable tweaks for pricing and project management purposes. In my case they customized an existing WordPress theme to give me more control over menuing, migrated my site to a new host including the DNS transfer and finally set up the 301 and 404 page redirects to account for the new page locations; all for under $300. I can report that it was absolutely painless and the results here are proof it works.
So here is a shout out and thanks to my project manager Luke Pickett and everyone at Elto.
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.