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.
By using new technology, Daylighted transforms places such as hotels and restaurants into digital art galleries and offers them an opportunity to easily display and sell an exclusive collection of art from worldwide and local artists.
I like the idea of bringing digital art to a wider audience 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.
Thanks to the Daylighted team for championing photo impressionism.
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!
Eugephemisms is a blog about fitness, life and less visited places. It has a special focus on dragon boat racing, A recent post featured 10 of my photo impressionistic dragon boat images and I think it is worth a look.
Here is an extract:
Why do you shoot impressionistic images of dragon boats? Stephen:Because photographs just capture a split second they often miss the moment we experienced. I think that is particularly true with dragon boat racing. Dragon boat racers exude grace/power/energy and I think I capture that better using photo impressionistic techniques.
How do you create your images? Stephen:I use 3 techniques which effectively compress a moment in time into a single image. I started using in camera multiple exposures which is an old school technique. Recently I have been merging high speed bursts of 20 or more images. These techniques really emphasize movement and power. As well I love the graceful results you see in long exposures; often in the range of 0.6 to 1.5 seconds.
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 often forget how important it is to look back at your portfolio to see where you have been. I was reminded of that while rounding out my website with a new multiple exposure gallery. Photography is so focussed on the moment that it is easy to miss the lessons of time.
What have I learned?
The first observation is how easy it is to get into a rut. Lately I seem to be focussed on in the round images. The result of that effort has been some great images but I have lost some of the spontaneity I liked in my earlier work. This is going to be a long term struggle; spontaneity vs pre-visualization.
Second, I seem to have a better understanding of the genre now. Impressionism requires a fine balance between the representational and the abstract to successfully create movement. The mind needs a familiar shape to draw the eye. The eye needs movement to maintain its interest. I am wondering if there is a new rule of composition here? “Successful images draw you from the recognizable to the abstract?”
Third, multiple exposure seems to deconstruct subjects into blocks or alternatively, does the opposite creating a pointillist effect. The images I like best are driven by colour. Big bold blocks of colour. It doesn’t matter if the subject is soft such as “The Gallery of Light” or more structured like “Art Market”, colour competes with form for your eye’s attention.
Last, I am reminded of the paradigm of photo impressionism. In traditional photography the subject is framed by the camera. In multiple exposure photography the image is created by the movement of the frame.
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.
“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.
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.
– 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.
– 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.