Playful Light

I was playing with light this morning. More correctly, it was playing with me.

Objects lying on my table picked up a glancing blow of light filtered through a window screen. It made me stop and take notice. To see the page I was writing on as something different than a receptacle for my words dripped there by fountain pen. It gave me a view of an alternate reality. One in which the object becomes the subject.

Photo Jun 22, 6 25 19 AM

The light snuck up on me while doing my daily journal entry. It was more how it played on the page and bent around the curve of the notebook, like light under the force of gravity. Through the lens of an iPhone I caught a fleeting moment.

Honestly, light is to a photographer what “squirrel” is to a hunting dog. Am immediate and irresistible distraction. Add to the mix that I have ADD level distractedness and you have a recipe for periodic dalliance.

I went back to my journal entry and finished it. Closing the Clairfontaine notebook that has become my addiction, I was caught again. Light was chasing me. Taunting me.

Photo Jun 22, 6 56 28 AM

This time I placed my favorite Aurora fountain pen on the notebook and snapped a shot. And looked around. An old calculator used last night was finding new life under the fractured light.

Photo Jun 22, 6 56 05 AM

Then the light reasserted itself and I recaptured my notebook thinking that the objects aren’t really what we see. What we see is the reflection of light in a way that our brains interpret the waves bouncing against the back of our eye sockets. What my image captures is the illusion I live in every day.

Photo Jun 22, 6 53 58 AM

Then I looked outside and remembered how many times I have sat on the deck and tried to understand what light shows me every day. Sometimes it is a rainy moment, reflecting the grey sky while giving up the textures below the water. The lines on the notebook page made me think of an image I found during the previous day’s rain.

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I usually don’t crop photos, although I have no set rules. In this case I liked the plants hovering at the top of the image. They seemed to fit with the gleaming sky against the patterned wood. A set of textures and touching textures.  Lost in the gleam of sky I remembered another image from a few days earlier.

Sitting on the deck I looked up and watched clouds painting pictures against the blue sky. Over the past few days of summer the clouds have been poetic.

Photo Jun 12, 5 49 13 AMPhoto Jul 20, 6 01 19 AM

IMG_3602 IMG_3606 Resevoir cloud

The ideas of refraction and reflection tickle neurons in my brain when I look at these photos. I am one of those who love how the simple laws of physics explain the beauty we see around us. How life and living is such a gift. It begs to be understood. We shouldn’t shelter ourselves from looking for the explanation. From being like the light. Looking at things from different angles and seeing the same thing anew.

That is why life is so beautiful. We all see it through our own optics.

I offer you this challenge. At least once today, capture an instant of light the makes you think. That opens your awareness. Post it in the comments on this blog for all to see and enjoy. I look forward to your images and thoughts.

Run free. 

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It’s Black and White

I’ve decided to rekindle my photographic eye by taking black & white images through a 24mm wide angle prime lens. That was basically the rig I learned that basics of exposure and lighting doing. I had a trusty Nikon FE2 35mm film camera with a 24mm wide angle on it. I used other lenses, but that was the rig that I used most. I still have it and it feels like comfort in my hands. I don’t use it because film is basically gone. I miss film and I don’t miss it. In my darkroom film was messy and smelly and chemically. There was so much waste product just to get to the print you wanted. All of that waste cost money. Throw away paper, film and chemicals. Modern digital sensors with massive memory cards and great software for photo processing allow for fantastic image creation and are more environmentally friendly.

I now have a Nikon D700, a pro level digital camera, and recently picked up a nice 24mm autofocus lens at a reasonable price. There is something about that degree of wide angle which makes you think about what you are shooting. And the fact that it is a prime lens, meaning it only has one focal length, you have to physically move to get the frame right.  That means you have to think about composition and look with a wide angle frame of reference.

Photo Dec 19, 3 06 02 PM

As I started to take shots I realized that advanced technology was getting in my way. You see, taking a good B&W image with film required understanding where the darks and lights were in relation to each other and adjusting the exposure accordingly. There is a system developed by Ansel Adams called ‘The Zone System’ and it provides a way of metering parts of the image and then, based on the tonal range of the image, adjusting the exposure and development.  The reason this was so important is because the actual luminance has a range that is much greater than what film can record. The Zone System allowed you to expose and image and develop it in a way that compressed the range and gave you an accurate representation of what you visualized.  It is one of the reasons Ansel’s images are so deep and rich.

To do the exposure correctly you need a good light meter. Yes, the metering systems on modern cameras are phenomenal. But they are geared for color images. IN the above image, the device sitting next to my D700 is a Sekonic light meter. I use it for flash and normal light exposures when I want great accuracy. It is a one degree spot meter, so I can take a reading off of a very small part of the image.

In the Zone

Let me show you what I mean.  Here is a shot of my Kindle Paperwhite sitting on the kitchen counter. The leather cover of the Kindle is black and has a nice texture to it. I wanted that aspect to show against the marble grain of the countertop. The notebook is a deep blue cover. Using the metering system of the D700, which is very advanced, I got this image. (Sorry it is out of focus, but that doesn’t alter the metering.)

kindle averaged

It’s a decent shot. I mean as far as the exposure goes. I wasn’t composing anything artistic. I was trying to prove a point.

Now, using the zone system, I measured the Kindle’s cover and placed that luminance at a lower range along the grey scale. It should look black, not dark grey. All light meters measure in a way that the exposure they provide will average out to an 18% grey scale. Which is about where the blue spiral notebook is in the above shot.

Because your mind is good at adjusting, you “know” from this shot that the Kindle is black, even though it shows up as a dark grey.

By adjusting the exposure to place the cover as black, not dark grey, I got this image:

kindle zoned

It is a subtle difference, but now you really see that the cover is black and that it has a deep texture. You also pick up a little more texture in the marble and coffee cup. It is a much more realistic interpretation of what I pre-visualized. Now you know why Ansel Adams art was so appealing.

What’s the Point?

I am a technologist. I have been most of my adult life. My income stems from my ability to see where technology is going and to make progress in bringing it to fruition. I have such great appreciation for the disruptive effect of technology and how that disruption breeds new opportunities, if you are willing to take some risk.

The trouble is, that layers of technology can obscure some basic understanding. Recording light on film or through digital sensors works a certain way. Our technology doesn’t change that. In this instant it seems like technology tries to take our intellect out of the picture. It stems from making it convenient, but what is the cost? Over the past few days I’ve had to stretch my sense of perception again, waking up old synapses that understood how to shift and move apertures and shutter speeds. The end result is I feel part of the pictures I am taking. I feel more like I can express what I am trying to visualize, not just snap a shot. I compose. I think about the light. I place reflectivity where I want it to be. I fail a lot, but when I succeed, the image is what I envisioned.

My point is that a broad application of technology is not always good. There are times, like with my computer assisted hip replacement, when technology has massive benefits. There are other times when technology insulates us from understanding and feeling more. Technical running shoes seem a good example of that. They eliminate the feel of the ground under our feet and shunt the muscle development in our feet leading to numerous biomechanical issues that we then throw even more technology at. There is a similar issue in writing. Advanced publishing software and digital book services allow anyone who can type into a computer to publish an e-book. That is a great thing, except many writers forego the process of having their work edited for content and format. Getting that critical feedback and incorporating the feedback into their work is what makes a good author a great author. Not all feedback is correct, but all feedback makes you think about what you have done and what you have said. Don’t forget the basics, regardless of how easy it is to create the content.

Would I eliminate the advanced light meter on my D700? Absolutely not. But I spend time understanding why it works and where its limits are. Afterall, I can switch to manual mode anytime and override the programmed exposure. I often do, but I can do it because I understand light. I understand the basis for why photography works.

Don’t just accept technology. Ask why. Dig underneath the covers. Understanding is freedom. Few things are ever just black and white.

Run free. Run smooth.