black and white

Yesterday I have been working on a street portrait picture of a beautiful woman. I processed this picture for hours in color, changed the skin color slightly, applied some frequency separation to clean and smoothen her skin (a technique I just had learned a few days ago), played with background luminosity and colors and created several versions of this one picture.

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I was quite chuffed with myself because I had learned how to do these things in Photoshop (although I am certainly far away from mastery). And still, I had the feeling that something is missing. Maybe I over-processed my picture? Maybe I did not know exactly how to relate color and luminosity to each other? Maybe I am just not good enough? I couldn’t put my finger exactly on it but it felt as if something was wrong.

And then I just converted the picture into b&w. And I loved it. I loved the tones, the light fall-off between main subject and background, the skin texture (although there is clearly space for improvement). I loved the lines of her face and the blurred ones of the background. I loved the expression of the picture and her portrait. I really loved her in black and white.

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So what? Do I need more proficiency at processing color pictures? More learning? More understanding of how to interpret a picture during post-processing? Yep, all of this, sure. I need to learn a lot. But maybe I just have to admit that I am a black and white photographer... :-)

Colours

Most of my pictures are in black and white. And this is for two main reasons. Firstly I think I can express myself a better way by creating contrasty black and white images. They come naturally to me and represent quite well what I want to express. Secondly (and that is at least equally important) this has to do with the fact that I find colour images more difficult to process and due to a lack of precessing skills on my side I just can't get them the way I want them. 

The latter is something that I am certainly not happy about. You don't want your artistic expression to be limited by lack of technical skills. And there is a clear need to fix this problem. In the past I have been struggling to use Photoshop mainly because it is not intuitive to me. I just couldn't retain the information of how to use certain tools because the workflow and particularly the logic of layer masks just doesn't make sense to me. 

And it seems that recently I've got a better grip on how to process pictures in PS. Maybe this is because they have developed their software further and have made it a little more user friendly. Maybe watching dozens of tutorials had an effect on my mind. Now I can even enjoy using certain tools like 'hue/saturation' adjustment layers. And Capture One provides quite a few great options for colour processing anyway.  

The result is that I have been trying it again and in the past days I have processed some colour pictures with results that are at least kind of acceptable. 

With regard to artistic expression I have clearly not yet found my purpose. What exactly do I want to say in a colour picture? It is obvious to me that I want to continue shooting and processing dark and contrasty pictures. I feel at home with this type of photography.  And eventually it is probably about developing series of pictures similar to the way I work with monochromes.

Some months ago I discovered the photographer Rémy Soubanère on Flickr. He is my current hero of dark colour photography. I love his pictures and the way he processes them. I don't want to emulate or copy his style but I find him highly inspirational. Here is the link to his Flickr page. https://www.flickr.com/photos/remysoubanere
And his website  http://remysoubanere.com

 As a result of all this I will be posting some colour pictures that I have taken and processed in the past few weeks. That's a starting point. And then we will see. 

About Processing

The more I take pictures and the more I develop a purposeful vision of photography the more I feel the need to process my pictures after just ‘taking’ and uploading them.  I want to make them mine. I want to add what I think helps them express my vision.  And I want to be able to evoke emotions in my viewers. 

All that can be done by getting the exposure right in camera, by framing, by applying rules of third and all the skills that we as photographers are supposed to have. But I think by focussing on the picture-taking process only we miss out on an essential aspect of creating pictures. The processing adds so much, the picture becomes different, more emotional, more purposeful by working on it in the computer (yes, the technical device that we need to work on our pictures puts me off, but this is the legitimate successor of the good old darkroom). 

And the more I think about processing and the more I do processing the more I come to the conclusion that the image developing process is supposed to transform a basic picture file into the final image.  And that includes changing it considerably. It means that the vision that I develop during the process is what guides me.  And it might well be that the picture will look completely different from the original photograph that I have taken with my camera. 

The photographer Juliana Gospodarou (http://blog.juliaannagospodarou.com) has developed a processing technique that she calls (en)Visionography. She uses purposeful processing in order to achieve a look that she calls emotional fine art photography. I just discovered her a few days ago and I don’t have a clear opinion on her ideas yet. I will need to look a little deeper and try to understand her vision and her technique. But her idea of detaching the final image from the source and of creating a new and independent piece of art in the process of development appeals to me. 

Apparently you need technical skills in order to process pictures on the computer. And according to Juliana you need particularly Photoshop skills. In the last few days I tried to get an idea of how to enhance my PS skills and I have to admit that I was not very successful. Online PS tutorials don’t give me the selective knowledge that fills my particular gaps. And I will need to take a closer look at what I need in order to develop my processing further.  And I think I will just start with the tutorials on her website and then take it from there. 

In the meantime I have tried to develop some iPhone images in Lightroom and PS. These pictures will eventual constitute a new mini series of the ‘modern world’. The development did not work well and so I eventually went back to the VSCO iPhone app and processed the pictures there. This is better than nothing but it does not satisfy me.  Still a lot to do and learn. 

 

About Light. And Darkness. And Light.

Light is life. Light generates life. And light makes photography possible.

I would like to write about what light means to me as a person and as a photographer. You might have noticed that in my photography I use light in a particular way. I juxtapose light with darkness. With a lot of darkness. A specific term for creating a space of darkness around light is ‘negative space’. I know a little about the theory of negative space. But when I take my photographs I am not applying any rules or theories. Light and darkness come intuitively to me. 

Over the years the meaning of light and darkness has changed to me. Was darkness a scary and menacing experience in the past so has it lost it’s frightening aspect. This has probably to do with my inner self that feels stable and in a light and bright space.

I know darkness. And its threatening aspects. And I have seen many people in desperation because of the darkness that they are wrapped into. But my personal experience is much more positive. Particularly over the last few years light prevails. 

Photographically I want to see the light. I want to make it visible. And the best way of making light obvious is to juxtapose it with darkness. The usual contrasts that the eye sees seem to be boring to me. I am just not interested in a scene with the usual tonalities of light and shadow. My eyes want more. More light. More contrast. So I create pictures where light becomes the dominant feature although it is surrounded by a lot of darkness. 

Often I work with electronic viewfinders that give me a real time image of the way the light behaves in the pictures that I am taking. And I adjust exposure time (and sometimes aperture) according to the impression that I have in the viewfinder. This is not the good old way of taking pictures and it is certainly not how I learned photography. But it is a very nice and direct way of assessing light and its effect on a picture.

My color association of light is ‘white’. To me it is a bright white light that shines on us, that guides us and that fulfills us spiritually. In photographic terms I am talking about high key. Very high key. The spirit of light to me is very, very bright. So high key pictures with only little shadows or darkness are a field that attracts me too. That is why you find high key pictures next to strong light / darkness contrasts in my work.

Yes, light is life. And it expresses hope and development. That is the intuitive force of my current photography.

(Thank you very much Noël for your comments that lead to these thoughts about light and darkness. The link to Noël's Flickr stream  https://www.flickr.com/photos/macnikon/  ).

Walking Meditation and Photography

Over the years I have been getting a little deeper into the practice of meditation. I started quite early with some attempts as a student when I found myself sitting cross-legged on a kitchen table late in the evening at my students' dormitory. And I was hoping nobody would pop in and discover me. 

After the early attempts I left meditation for quite a few years however turning to some infrequentpractice attempts every now and the. In recent years I re-discovered meditation, joined a Buddhist group and tried to get a better understanding of both Buddhism and meditation. I am in no way profound but I enjoy the experience of meditation. 

So where is the link to photography? Well, I found that I would love to have a more intuitive approach to photography. One where I m not "composing" pictures but where pictures "are occurring" to me.    I admired the early attempts of my daughter Lucia who at the age of 11 shot some wonderful abstracts out of nothing in my flat. And she just did it. She wasn'tconsidering any rules of composition. She let her intuition guide herself. 

So why not me as an adult? And I was wondering if I could combine my experience in meditation with the attempt of composing pictures in a more intuitive way. So far so good.  But how do you do that? And how do you remember to try it out? This was my first stepping stone. I just forgot about my plan when I started shooting. I got in my usual shooting mode and after the shooting session I was cross with myself when I hadn't tried the new plan. 

But one week ago it happened. I did think of it when I started shooting some flowers. So I tried a walking meditation in the park with my photographic targets. And then I let my feelings guide me into what and how to shoot. It was not spectacular but a very satisfying experience. It felt round and full and right. I have not reviewed the results yet as I want to have some distance to the shooting process before I do this. 

I will keep you posted. 

And for sure, I will try it again.