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.
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.
From my experience, I believe there is a strong connection between the tools available and the artists direction. The rise of digital photography provided an easy way to experiment with style and subject. Was Eastman’s Kodak just as liberating for photographers in the 1880’s? Was photography itself a comparable change for painters of the day?
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.
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.
Impressionistic photography has been with us since the beginning.
Contemporaneous with Eastman’s invention of the handheld camera, the Pictorialists (1885 -1915) tried to extend the flourishing impressionist movement using soft focus, post production techniques and the suggestion of movement to create images that were more artistic than documentary. The effect was painterly, pleasing and controversial. Looking at their work you see the roots photo impressionism.
The American photographer Alfred Stieglitz was an early evangelist for this impressionist movement. Starting as a Pictorialist he produced and advocated for impressionistic photography that was more artful than scientific but later advocated the antithetical movement “straight photography” which is the main influence in photography today.
A contemporary of Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, was also an early photo impressionist. Together they would play a significant role in making photography an art form rather than a documentary technique. Using multiple exposure (sandwiched negatives) and long exposures Steichen’s photographs were hugely popular. The Empire State Building image above, for example, appeared in Vanity Fair.
It is clear that the modern photo impressionistic movement really is a continuation or rebirth of Pictorialism.
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.
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:
Lovely photo impressionistic images “in the the round”:
Lots of experimentation resulting in some great images. Check out her abstracts:
Check out his use of slow shutter technique which produce some lovely abstracts:
Interesting hand coloured sx70 prints. I like the creative use of this old school technology to produce a photo impressionistic look:
Sun Flowers using slow shutter pan and zoom. Reminiscent of Van Gogh:
There is a lot of great talent showcasing on Flickr. Check out the photo Impressionism groups:
One bit of confusion in the Kindle version you need to be aware of. Even though the text in several locations directs you to the “Last Words” chapter for access to the on-line resources needed for the exercises, it isn’t there. Instead look in the index under the letter “O”. I expect this issue to be picked up quickly as the book has only been out for a week. The paperback should be out around the 20th of August. You can buy a copy on Amazon or through the author’s website.
Vincent Versace’s website can be found at http://www.versacephotography.com
One of the great things about the internet is the ability to see emerging photographic trends. Sites like Flickr and 500px have channels for fresh and popular photos and they are worth checking out. I’m not suggesting copy cat photography. I just think that when you expose yourself to great work, and reflect on it, it helps you to understand and define your own vision. That’s why a recent blog post by John Paul Caponigro cocerning tracking your influences resonated for me.
After reading Caponigro’s article, and a second on concerning identifying the nature of your influence, I thought about my own practice and influences. There are books I go back to for technical ideas and inspiration such as Vincent Versace’s Welcome to Oz and there is the book that started it all for me Photo Impressionism and the Subjective Image by Freeman Patterson and Andre Gallant. I also find myself drawn to painters such as Monet and Van Gogh. I keep a list of photographers I am interested in with web links using NoteLife and visit their sites regularly. Until now I hadn’t looked at the list as a list and it surprised me a bit. In no particular order it includes:
John Paul Caponigro