Photoshop Sunday

I spent the day on Photoshop, learning basic techniques as they are supposed to be done. Every once in a while you just have to sit down with the latest version of Photoshop and re-learn the basics. It’s a real timesaver.

So it was appropriate I would run across this blog post, Was That Photoshopped? It Doesn’t Matter! by Rick Berk. What I love about it is he compares digital “darkroom” techniques to an Ansel Adams. Ansel Adams taught me to use the darkroom. Not literally, I’m neither that old nor that lucky. But his were the first photography books I read, when I was in high school and had access to an actual projectors and chemicals darkroom.

Ansel Adams was a technical master. He approached photography in such a methodical, technical way that most people would never have considered possible before digital. And he was also a realism purist. He did not like photographs that abstracted from the original subject. His goal was always to catch the feeling of being in a place at a particular time while being 100% literal. He co-founded the famous photography group, Group f/64, named after a very tiny aperture setting (the lens on my camera now only goes to f/32). At f/64 everything in your frame is going to be in focus, which implies being absolutely faithful to what is in front of the lens.

But he wrote extensively about darkroom techniques such as dodging and burning which allow you to selectively darken or lighten an image. He also talked about how if you tilted the bellows on the projector or the easel your print was resting on, you could distort horizontal and vertical lines. This might be done to correct distortions on the film, but anti-Photoshop “purists” would probably still object. I don’t remember if he talked about retouching, but I remember in my high school photography class we were taught how to remove unwanted spots and lines on our prints with India Ink and a fine-tipped paintbrush.

One thing that sticks with me that Ansel Adams talked about, was how as he got older his images became more theatrical. He was still making prints from some of his old negatives, and a print made in his later years might have more dramatic contrast, clouds and shadows. I think about this often when I’m working on my photos. It encourages me to be a little more dramatic than my instinct, to bump up that contrast and saturation just a hair more than I otherwise would have.

Before edit (only a crop is applied)

Before edit (only a crop is applied)

Book on Digital Black and White Photography

I just got a book from the library called Advanced Digital Black and White Photography by John Beardsworth. Apparently it’s his second book on the subject. I’ve already read about all the books on photography my library has to offer, but this one was new and it should be no secret I’m big on the subject.

Skimming through it I picked up a couple of tricks here and there. The book pretty much describes my workflow, Lightroom to Nik Silver Efex Pro. One piece of technical info I wanted to share here (and keep for myself as reference) is about sharpening. Sharpening is a technically difficult thing that we rarely want to have to think about (most of the time I just let Lightroom take care of it and cross my fingers). But Beardsworth nails the problem very succinctly:

…sharpening is like a rim or halo around the edges within the picture, and remains effective yet imperceptible if it is around 1/100 of an inch (.25mm) on the final output. If you correctly sharpened a picture and printed it at Letter or A4 size on a 300 DPI inkject printer, that sharpening rim would be too small to be effective if you then decided to resize the picture and make a smaller print.

Anyway, if you’re getting interested in B&W digital photography I would recommend this book. If you’ve already read a bunch of photography books though, I wouldn’t pay for it (try to do what I do and get it from the library), it’s totally worth the skim but as you would already know these books cover a lot of the same material over and over again. I really like that it reserved a whole section for photographic presentation.

Another take on Panoramas

Here’s another solution for panoramas. It’s actually a 360 degree pan viewer, one of those virtual world things that are about as old as interactivity on the world wide web. But the person (Audrey Scott) using it is a travel photographer and her goal is to present a beautiful photograph of the pyramid at the Louvre. The solution has it’s problems, but I’m taking it into account as I think about my lightbox project.

My immediate question is, Is it Photography?

Technically, yes. It uses a cameraRead More

A Fitting Display for Panoramas

I’ve never been happy with any Lightboxes I’ve come across on the Internet. It’s true, I’m very picky and hypercritical about these things. I’ve come to have very strong opinions on UI, particularly when it comes to photography.

So I’ve started a little sideproject on designing my own Lightbox, with an emphasis on the proper display of panoramas. From my notes:

To me the beauty of a panorama is looking at it whole and wide, and then walking in on it to see the details.

As a photographer I experience this with my own panos when I first stitch them together in photoshop, then zoom in in various ways to edit it. But how do I share this experience with my viewer? It would be easy in a physical gallery, just make a large print, let the viewers approach from a distance then zoom and pan with their feet. This is a very satisfying way to look at a large, detailed photograph. My goal is to capture this in digital form.

Well, I’m still mulling around the problem. So far I’ve just got the basic lightbox made, it works much like the lightbox you find in facebook or any random photo sharing or news website– nothing special. And I thought I’d finish it before blogging about it, but I came across an interesting solution here. This artist makes complex images starting with photographs then digitally repeating elements to create very high resolution, realistic but surreal, patterned images.

The ability to view the whole, then zoom in and explore are a must for his images. I like the simplicity of the zooming and panning, although I might make a few different choices on how the panning works. There also seems to be some ajax built in, which is something I’ve been mulling. Is it better to load one very large image at the beginning, or start with a lower resolution image then bring in higher ones as needed? The solution he uses is Adobe Flash based, which works for him, but is not acceptable to me if only because Flash is so 2000’s. The solution I am working on will be in Javascript with jQuery, and probably presented as a WordPress plugin.

Torrey Pines Hike

This weekend definitely did not go as planned, but Puja and I got a lot done around the house that was long overdue! Unfortunately, there was not hike this week, mainly because she had a really bad cold.

So I’ve got this set of pictures I took over a year ago (August 6, 2011 – thank you EXIF data). It was a beautiful hike through Torrey Pines State Park. Torrey Pines is basically bluffs over the ocean where lots of people go to hike. The original freeway to San Diego goes through it, only it is no longer accessible to cars. That freeway has been rerouted to the often congested 5 freeway. Apparently the original interstate here was built so steep at a time when cars didn’t have fuel pumps and relied on gravity to get the fuel to the engine. So if somebody’s tank wasn’t filled high enough their car would stall and leave them stranded.

Read More

Sunday Morning in Watts

This weekend Puja and I went to visit her brother AP to celebrate his birthday in Pasadena, so we didn’t get to do our weekly hike in San Diego. This worked out fine for us because the temperature was roughly one hundred degrees even in the cooler parts of Southern California.

AP went scuba diving in Laguna Sunday morning, so this left us with a few hours to go explore Watts. I recently got re-interested in going to see the Watts Towers when I saw this video on Pinterest.

I was expecting it to be difficult to photograph, and it certainly was. I knew about the fence. What I didn’t know is that it is open to the public at certain restricted hours, I would love to go back sometime when we can go inside and look around.

Here is one I would really like to reshoot. It was difficult because I had to reach through the fence to do this montage.

This work of sculture was deeply impressive to see in person. You can see the immense effort it took Sobato Rodia to put together. It was made entirely out of found scraps of metal. You could also see his training as a mason really shine through when you look at the tile and sculptural work at the base of the structure.

Part of me kept thinking of a miniature golf course looking at it. That might sound condescending, but that is the nature of this style of art, called American naive art. It has a naive, childlike appearance. Yet there is a clear sense of mastery behind it.Read More

Chicano Park: My Favorite Site of San Diego

I’m not sure Chicano Park would rank on most people’s lists of most beautiful places in San Diego, but it’s at the top of mine. When people think of history in San Diego, they inevitably think of Old Town, a place of pristine fixed-up old buildings, a lawn strewn court yard and Mexican Margarita restaurants. Chicano Park to me represents a real history.

When Coronado Bridge was built, it divided the neighborhood of Barrio Logan, which was at one time the second largest hispanic community in California. Residents fought for a park that would help reunite their community, and were promised a park under the bridge. After several years, bulldozers came in not to build the park but to build a CHP station where the park had been promised. This infuriated residents who felt betrayed. They demonstrated, and fought for this park. One of the residents, the artist Salvador Torres, conceived of a large public art project to be a feature of the park, making use of the Coronado Bridge pillars. The result was Chicano Park.

Coincidentally, Puja and I went to check it out on the same day we went around the city to view a street art project the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego had commissioned. It turned out to be an appropriate interlude between viewing the street art exhibit that was displayed publicly throughout the city. (This was all back in January 2011)

There is a website for the park, explaining its history and there are pictures of some more of the murals.