Sunday, December 1, 2013

Un-Loved Eggs and a Simplified Life!


Lichen On Rocks - (C) Francois Cleroux 2009
So its been a very long while since I have posted a Blog. After my return from Europe being away over 6 weeks I was thrown right into life. Work. I have been so busy I have not had time to do ANY photography related work. I have been helping out with CAPA stuff but even that has suffered as I have been working evenings and weekends!

I did manage to get out to shoot last week one day and it was so very exciting. I do love being out shooting birds and wildlife. I managed to get out to Harrison Mills to Photograph Bald Eagles (with little luck), but it was still great being out!

The time out though, has motivated me and effective Tuesday I will be a part of a new artists group. I am excited about that. I do have some work to finish and a few loose ends to tidy up but I am sooo looking forward to being back at photography.

Because of all the work I have put things in place that will help me get back to a more normal life, some hard decisions were made and I have simplified my life. Sometimes I wonder if being a poor starving artist would be better?

I was inspired by a site I ran across. I don't necessarily agree with everything, but its a great list and it can make you think about things. A nice read.

Simple Living Manifesto: 72 Ideas to Simplify Your Life

I'll keep people updated about the Artists group. In the mean time I have started a new project "Un-loved Eggs". More on this later...

© 2013 Francois Cleroux

Dec 2013 - Version 1.01



Euro Tour - Monaco

So enjoying my last few days away and We are now in Monaco at the Fairmont. Nice place. I return back to the work of reality soon after being away for a month.

It's been a great adventure, two great adventures actually, and I have met some wonderful people along the way and made some new friends.

I will soon be back to shooting for the Cyanotype Project and will need to sort through and edit the thousands of Europe and France images from both Tours.

(This was posted at the end of my trip to Europe but for some reason it never showed up, here it is now.)

Jean-Francois Cléroux

Version 1.00 - July 2013


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Euro Tour - Saint Germain Region

So even when not traveling on tour, blogging is difficult as we still are up early and still come home late. Today we toured Paris by bus and then did a 1 hour cruise of the Seine River. A quick break this afternoon was followed by trips to the beautiful Eglise Saint-Sulpice (famous from the DaVinci Code specially the Gnomon) and Saint-Germain-des-Pres. Two incredible churches. It was Sunday and Mass was on in both churches.

Saint Sulspice - © 2013 Francois Cleroux
Yes I have the Images to created tone-mapped images or HDR.

We walked around and found our way to the famous cafe, The Deux Magots. No, not the two "maggots" but the Ma Go, French for loot or treasures that were two statues that were part of the premises before the cafe was built in 1884.

It once had a reputation as the rendezvous of the literary and intellectual élite of the city. It is now a popular tourist destination. Its historical reputation is derived from the patronage of Surrealist artists, intellectuals such as Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, and young writers such as Ernest Hemingway. Other famous patrons included Albert Camus, Pablo Picasso, James Joyce, Bertold Brecht and the American writer Charles Sutherland.


Les Deux Magots - © 2013 Francois Cleroux

Today it is still very much a thriving cafe. The food (my wife had Chicken Oysters with Truffle Risotto and I had Steak Tartar) was exceptional. The surroundings, the day, the weather, the ambiance oh, and the wine all made it a spectacular meal. Highly recommended. 

From there we sauntered towards the Louvre and checked out the Jardin de Tuileries before hitting the Metro to get back to our Hotel. A wonderful evening in Paris.

© 2013 Francois Cleroux

July 2013 - Version 1.00

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Euro Tour - Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel at Night. Spectacular. Click on Image to Enlarge.
Copyright 2013 Francois Cleroux

So wow, these travel tours are very tiring. We have wake up calls at 6:00 am and we often don't get in to our hotels till 10:00 pm and often we head out to walk and see some local stuff or shoot at night.

I'm being rude and using the computer at breakfast here. Here is my fist posted pic. I am blogging about the trip and making notes and will post more blogs when the opportunity arrives.

Kind of funny. Not more than 10 minutes after this picture was taken my wife texted me:

"I just spoke to someone that was in Paris 2 months ago, he says we have to see the Eiffel Tower at night!"

She joins me in 5 days.

© 2013 Jean-Francois Cleroux

(Version 1 - June 2013)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Europe Internet Access

So Internet Access at Hotels is very spotty. So far its always for sale. From 2.50 Euros to 12.00 Euros. But even when you can connect (not always) it is most often extremely slow and often un-useable. Internet now was not working at all from my room and so I am typing this from the Lobby.

Hopefully tonight I can catch up on posting my notes. For now were off to Venice.

Euro Tour 02 - Frankfurt Germany

So late in the evening yesterday the hotel received a call stating that my luggage would arrive this morning at 10:00 am.

So I headed out at 7:30 am to find Breakfast and coffee. The streets were very busy with hustle and bustle. Lots of cyclists. Throughout yesterday and my breakfast and coffee this morning I have made some observations about the German peoples. Obviously they are generalizations but I did continue my observations for the rest of the day. I have decided the german people are a beautiful people and that they are very fit. In my first day and a half I did not observe one obese person (yes a few overweight people but not very large) and when I did finally see one, the person was actually an American!

Lots of Bicycles! They are everywhere and their riders just like their automotive driving habits tend to not stop for anyone. In my first day and a half I spotted two pedestrians get run over by bicycles and several very close calls. Just like Vancouver cyclists I found many ride on the pedestrian areas as opposed to the designated cycling paths. I saw many cyclists flipping other people the bird when in fact the problems were the cyclists. I hope this is not where Vancouver is headed!

I also made several other observations; one I saw many many people in crutches. Not sure what that was all about. Not crutches for disabled people but a lot of sprained, strained or broken feet or ankles. Perhaps from cycling injuries or perhaps from the many cobblestoned streets that have missing cobblestones, holes or very un-even areas that I see people tripping over.

The second thing I noticed is there were many (not a lot but more than I ever see in Canada) disabled people with deformed arms, limbs and specifically hands but they were ALL people of Middle-Eastern descent. Not sure why that is but will look into it. Interesting.

Third I noticed that the German people were very active, lots of joggers and a lot of rollerbladers but found it odd that many, very many, are smokers.

So on this day I did not bring a camera, I just walked around, relaxed and observed. I still had to keep in contact with Delta Airlines, the airport lost baggage department and the hotel as I still had not received my lost luggage. Worst by 12:15 pm (remember the 10:00 am promise) I was told that they did not know where my luggage was or if or when I may get it. So in anticipation of perhaps lost luggage and knowing I have a tour starting, I had to go do more shopping.

In the afternoon I did bring my camera and did do some shopping and late in the afternoon I received a call and that they had my luggage and that they could not deliver it as they did not have the address to the Hotel. Its odd that they knew which Hotel I was at (obviously from the form I filled in) but not the address (also on the form). I did not have the address with me so I headed to the hotel to get the address. Five minutes later I'm back at the hotel and I'm greeted by reception and I'm told my luggage has arrived? Yep, its there!

Half an hour later I get a call from the lost luggage people following up because I had not called them to tell them the address and they needed it if I wanted it delivered! Amazing. And once I were to give them the address that it could take up to 48 hours for me to get my luggage.

"Its OK, I have my luggage I said, It was delivered a little while ago."

So, I am obviously not a big fan of Delta Airlines. This story is not complete but rather much longer with many other little problems with Delta AIrlines and the contracted company in charge of lost luggage. But, at least I have my luggage! And, my party from Chandigarh has arrived.
We walked to the Main River to "scope" out things; the lighting and the location of the Sun in relation to the main Cityscape and where to best shoot from when it gets dark. Along the way we noticed many locals drinking beer bottle in hand.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Euro Tour Day 01 - Frankfurt Germany


So the day did not start well. When boarding my Delta Airlines plane in Vancouver I was told that my luggage would be delivered directly to Frankfurt and that I would not need to care for it until my arrival. My flight had a scheduled stop over where I was not supposed to change planes. Upon our first stop I was to the plane would no longer be going to Frankfurt but rather we would need to disembark and change “Equipment” as they stated. So, on to a new plane to Frankfurt.

After some time waiting by the carrousel I noticed I was the only one left standing around. No luggage in site. Off to the Airport lost luggage office to put in a claim.

“No problem they said, what airline did you come in with?”

“Delta Airlines.”

“Oh, all their systems are down so we can not look it up on their systems. But, we have another system we can look at."

"It shows your bag is in Amsterdam. Thats common, Americans don't know the difference between Amsterdam and Frankfurt. They will get it here later today, perhaps.”

So cab ride to the hotel to check in. And some sleep, I need some sleep.

When I wake up I ask myself, Now what? No toothpaste or brush, no change of clothes after a long flight. I had been told I can buy what I need and Delta Airlines would pay for the bills. So for a walk and shopping I go, underwear, clean shirt, toiletries, water, oh and I need my medications.

It turns out you cant buy Aspirin or Zantac in stores that look like common North American drug stores like London Drugs, Shoppers Drug Mart and the like, you must go to a “Pharmacy”. Thats all they are, they don't sell anything else, just drugs. Oh, and it turns out the one I chose doesn't take credit cards. I asked about the cards and if it was common in Germany.

“Oh not common, just our chain doesn't take credit cards”

So I pay cash and head out Ranitidin in hand.

A attractive young lady approaches me and says she over heard me asking about the credit card thing. She explained in good english with a real German accent,

“Oh, its fairly common for stores not to take credit cards, specially if the total is under 10 or 20 Euros.”

Thanks I said. She throws me a big smile and says “have a nice day”. Well that helps.

Throughout the day I found a familiar Starbucks. And yes, they have free Wi-Fi. So, Iced Latte (Its 95 degrees outside) and a nice table and Internet. I checked my mail and then tested my toll free line and made a Wi-Fi Phone Call using the great iPad app, Line 2 to my wife. All good. I had already setup a Rogers Cellular Europe package with 200 minutes talk, 50MB Data and FREE incoming calls. Now when its convenient and when I have Internet I can also call out for free!

I was hoping to get out and shoot some landmarks and the Main River at night, but oops, no tripod, its in the suitcase.

I'm typing this now using my iPad at a great Iris pub called Four Corners enjoying a pint of Guinness. A better ending to the day, but still without luggage!

© 2013 Francois Cleroux

(Version 1.00 - June 2013)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Classes and Cyanotype Updates


So I haven't been very photographically productive in the last few weeks as I have been very busy with work and as usual in the few weeks before leaving for holidays work always seems to get a little busier.

In the past few weeks I have finished my last class with Russel and Wendy Kwan in the exceptional and artistically awakening “Chasing Light Stranger” classes. I have mentioned their classes before but I will praise them again now. Wow! What great classes.

These are not your usual photography classes filled with technical information about shutter speeds or apertures or even advanced classes about lighting or the “Circle of Confusion”. No, these are about guiding or awakening the artist in you. They are about focusing your art into a project and guiding you along and finally bringing your project along to a theoretical completion. Not that your project is finished, but rather all the required elements and information are in place and have been passed down and discussed. With all this information you have a clear concise path and a focus.

As you work your way through to the 3rd semester, you learn about marketing your images, discussions on Pricing, Editions, Galleries, Displaying and the like. All aspects are covered including the required legal and business gobbledygook. I am looking forward to semester 4 that doesn't exist. I can feel that withdrawal already. What i'll miss the most besides the great knowledge and wisdom passed down to us is the great discourse between all the students, all the other artists! I have found the acceptance of being with a group of 'artists' really helps foster creativity. Its great being with a group of like minded individuals with similar goals.

With all my business work and some class homework I have had little time to do any photography and with the not so great weather I have not had many opportunities to work on my sun required cyanotypes. I did have a few opportunities however and they have helped me with some of the logistical and technical challenges of creating the cyanotypes.

Logistically this project became difficult right away just based n the sheer size of the images I want to create. The 16.5" by 21.5" images created on 22" by 30" paper is a challenge. The negative is the easy part. I have been able to create some great Digital Negatives with great density. I have been working on the proper “curves” for my negatives in relations to the cyanotype process and the formulary I am using. I did run into some consistency issues with the sun, clouds, time of day and so on but thats easy to figure out. Nothing a test strip print wont solve. The curves have been developed and I will soon post my techniques and my results. OK, perhaps not so soon (read below).

The most challenging issue has been the paper or specifically the size of the paper. One needs a lot of space in order to work with such large prints. One also needs special equipment! For starters, where do you find a contact print frame that large? You make one! I started by creating a cheap frame which has worked very well for me but I do have plans on building a proper wooden unit. I will post a blog on the cheap unit I built and another on my final wooden contact frame.

Once your image is exposed in the contact frame you need to develop or wash your print in a tray. Again, where does one find such large developing trays. The typical large trays are 20" by 24" inch which is too small. Even at these sizes the trays are very costly but I needed bigger. Note that plastic (or glass) is required here. Do not use metal trays for cyanotypes. So, ask an old world darkroom friend for help and they'll suggest you use large trays designed for placing under washing machines. With a little research I also found that there are some Pet trays that can do the job. Again, I will post a blog on the tray issue with links to what I found.

So, with logistical obstacles taken care of, I was then left to deal with the technical issues. Which chemical formulary to use? The age old Cyanotype formula, the New Cyanotype formula or some hybrid process with enhanced or reduced contrast? I have played with this a bit and again will blog on my findings but most of my current research I have used the simple age old formula. Now that the curves have been developed, I will start working on the final formula selection and once that is done I will further refine the curves.

The greatest technical issue has been one of eavenly coating the paper so that my final print is clean and free of spots, blotches or streaks. This has proven to be a difficult process and one that has been enhance because of the sheer size of the papers that need to be coated. I have used and tested sponge, brush (I use a high quality Japanese Hake brush), roller, coating rod, floating and complete immersion. I have one other process to try that I think will yield the best results. Again, more on this later.

One thing that did work well and one process that I highly recommend is making sure you size your paper. There are various chemical formulas one can use for sizing papers and some are more suited to the cyanotype process. Sizing the paper is a coating that pre-fills and saturates the fibres in the paper allowing the final chemical coating to float on top of and adhere to the sizing material itself. This smoothens the surface, reduces the potential for blotching and can reduce the amount of chemicals used as the paper will not get saturated. This can save money by using less emulsion, perhaps not so much with the cyanotype process but is a must when dealing with silver and platinum salts. for now I have been playing with different concentrations of Arrowroot starch. Again, more details to follow.

So like I said, I haven't been productive in the way of shooting or creating images but I have been busy. As for not creating my Cyanotype posts, I'm in flight now en route to Frankfurt Germany for two tours I will be leading. So, no Cyanotype stuff for 6 weeks but I hope to post images from the tours and some commentary on the tours and students in days to come.

© 2013 Francois Cleroux

(Version 1.01 - June 2013)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Cyanotype - The Shoot

Copyright 2013 Francois Cleroux

I have already shown some nude samples from images I had shot in the past. And, although they may be perfect to show as examples, I decided in 'creating' my images from scratch specifically for this project. Why?

First off, the images themselves, what should they be of? Should I do classic full body nudes, should I do tighter cropped body and light studies (which I like) or should I shoot something in between, perhaps with more complex frame filling compositions?

What about the format? Should I use the standard 35mm 2:3 aspect ratio, the traditional 4:5 aspect ratio or perhaps do some square (1:1) images?


Copyright 2013 Francois Cleroux

The reason this is all important is because when creating a body of work or more specifically a project or collection, it is essential that the images have a coherent feel and look to them that holds the collection together. They should look like they belong together.

This can be achieved by keeping the lighting the same (or similar), by having all your images the same aspect ratio, using the same focal length lens and so on. There are many photographic attributes and characteristics that can be used to cohesively define a collection. This will be important with my Cyanotype project.

More importantly than the above however, shooting specifically for the Cyanotype Project will give me the control that I require when creating the Cyanotypes. Cyanotypes are generally fairly high contrast with few or limited mid-tones. By creating new images specifically for this media type I can better control the mid-tones. I can do that by making sure I start off with the right lighting, shooting RAW and then keeping the mid-tones in mind when I process my digital images, create my digital negatives and then finally creating my Cyanotypes.

Copyright 2013 Francois Cleroux

On the lighting, as you can probably see from most of my nude images I tend to like rather dark high contrast nudes. By using a softer light that gives me softer transitions from light to dark, I can create larger mid-toned transitions between the light and dark areas. The overall contrast will be the same, but with slightly enhanced mid-tones.

Also, because the Cyanotypes are high contrast, any areas within an image that are very faint with just slight detail showing within a dark area will be lost in the Cyanotype process and will be turned to dark blue. Some of the faint detailed areas are important to the overall balance of some of the images and so one must make sure that these show up on the final Cyanotype image. By increasing the amount of light in those areas and properly exposing those normally faint areas, I can ensure details will be retained through the negative creation process and on to the final Cyanotype print.

As you can see from this post the Cyanotype Project truly starts pre-camera shutter release. The right lighting from the onset will translate to properly detailed Cyanotypes.

Copyright 2013 Francois Cleroux

Next time you head out on a shoot, think about what you will be using the images for and on what media types you will be printing on. Will you be printing on high contrast glossy paper or on lower contrast matte paper or on some other media type. Properly exposing and making any adjustments before you print will greatly improve the quality of your printed work.

For my first shoot I photographed two models in a studio setting using studio lighting and a traditional black backdrop. The images here are different contrast levels that I will use to explore the process with. I did want to do some High Key images but will try that on my next shoot to see what that would look like in a Cyanotype. An afterthought I'd like to explore.

For me, this process has given me some excellent digital images I can work with to continue the project. Next up, let's discuss the digital editing of the Raw files and then look at creating the Digital Negatives and the Specific Curves required for properly creating Cyanotypes.

© 2013 Francois Cleroux

(Version 1.00 - April  2013)

Monday, April 22, 2013

2013 Delta Photo Inspirations

Click to Enlarge

Just a reminder that this weekend is the 3rd annual Delta Photo Inspirations show. We have a great Friday evening reception and awards presentation free for all to attend and then the Workshops, Vendors Showcase and a great Keynote Speech by famed photographer Christopher Morris.

The workshops are not only excellent but are a great value. Please check them out at www.deltaphotoinspirations.com

Hope to see you there.

Francois

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Cyanotype – The Negative

So the process for creating Cyanotypes all starts with the Negative. Well, OK, perhaps with the photo shoot to get a negative. I will do a post on that when I do my next shoot for this project.  One could of course shoot film and have readymade negatives. For this project however I’m looking at creating 16x20 images and unfortunately I do not have a 16x20 View camera at my disposal. So, I’ll be shooting digital images and creating Digital Negatives. No, not creating Adobe .DNG files, and not the Digital Negative term coined by the father of Camera RAW files Thomas Knoll representing the RAW data itself but rather printing old style Negative transparencies on Acetate film using my Epson 3880 printer.

The concept of creating a Digital Negative itself is fairly simple; however doing it well is a little more complex. You could simply create a negative image in Photoshop and print it or use your printer driver software to print a negative image if you printer driver can do that, but both these processes would be wrong, or at least would not result in an optimum Cyanotype print with the best possible tones.

Original Image



Besides printing a negative image we have a few other things to tend to. First the image also needs to be reversed. That is, it needs to be flipped on the Horizontal plane. The Negative image will be placed emulsion side of the negative to the emulsion side of the paper and then contact printed. This process reverses the image so this needs to be corrected to make sure words read properly and that right hands remain right hands.

Secondly, more importantly and definitely a little more technically challenging is that the tones need to properly be converted, or mapped, to produce a good tonal curve specifically for the Cyanotype process. Your perfect image with great Whites, Blacks and Mid-Tones will not convert perfectly during the Negative Conversion and even if they did, they would be a perfect Negative conversion for printing on standard paper, not on the greatly reduced tonal range of Cyanotype papers.


Negative Image, Reversed


I will cover the process I used in detail on my next post “Cyanotype – Curves”. However, some excellent information can be found on the Internet and in some books. Careful with the books however. Although some purport to help you with the Digital Negative and even with Alternative Printing Processes, very few help you with creating curves specifically for the Cyanotype Process.

For my first test I used an image that somewhat represented my project and then did a simple Negative Conversion and only eyeballed the curves to create what I thought would be a better negative based on my days in the darkroom. I then reversed the Negative image (flipped on the Horizontal) and printed my Acetate Negative. Again, I will cover in detail my printing process but for now note that I used the Epson’s B&W settings to get optimum blacks in my Negative.


Fake Digital Cyanotype, Colors and Density not right but an accurate representation of the details.


The Negative was printed on what is considered to be the best Transparency Film available for creating Digital Negatives, Pictorico Premium OHP Transparency Film. Note that this overhead transparency film is clean. For creating Digital Negatives for traditional B&W prints and some other alternate processes, White (as opposed to clear) Transparency film is recommended; the Pictorico Hi-Gloss OHP White Film. For testing and to keep costs down I first purchased 8.5x11 inch sheets. I also purchased Sun Art pre-made Cyanotype paper in 5x7 sheets.

Using my printed Negative I laid it overtop (emulsion side down) of the pre-coated paper. Over top of that I laid a sheet of Contact Glass to press the negative and paper together. This was all done in my office, no darkroom required. I place this setup outside on a sunny day for five minutes creating other test exposures of 3 minutes and 10 minutes.


Scanned Cyanotype, Some detail is lost, colors fairly good. If you enlarge the image you can see some of the diagonal banding from the paper.


The paper was then developed in a shallow tray of water with running water trickling into the tray. Apparently water temperature can make some differences and so can the addition of other substances to help darken the final image. I tried some tests using Lemon Juice. The results were great considering I didn’t use proper curves for the negatives, the quality of the coated Sun Art paper is less than great, the test exposures were not refined and proper developing techniques were not used.

On the pre-coated Sun Art paper my comment is based on both the cheap very thin paper that is used and on the banding effect that is either caused by their coating process or perhaps by the paper itself. Not sure which. But, used as kids’ projects by moms or teachers these would be very cool and very affordable.

Next post - Cyanotype - The Shoot


© 2013 Francois Cleroux

(Version 1.02 - March 2013)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Self Assesment

The post below is an older article from May 2008 that I wrote when I was blogging on another site before I moved here in late 2008. I came across it yesterday before I headed out to teach the last class of the 6 week "Introduction to Digital Photography" course. In our last session we cover composition and try to teach what makes a good photo. This article is very appropriate. I thought I had posted it here on this site before but a student pointed out they could not find it.

I did a quick read through and changed a few things. Hope it helps out.

If you stumble upon this post you can link to the original article here:

Are Your Pictures any Good?

Francois Cleroux
 

Are Your Pictures Any Good?

How do you know if your pictures are any good? There are many types of pictures and they can be good for different reasons and they can also be bad for many reasons. You cant ask your mom, because no matter what, she'll say they are excellent. And besides, what does she really know about photography? In this series I will describe different types of photos and how you can analyze them yourself.

What qualities make a photo exceptional?

Composition

Sometimes even more important than subject will be the composition of the image. Composition is always crucial but it will be different based on you subject matter, the lens used, the point of view used and the lighting. Learn all you can about composition. A badly laid out image never looks good.

Subject Matter

There are various types of subject matter. The subject matter is one of the keys to creating spectacular photos. With all the Subject Types there are rare occasions where a photo will be exceptional within that Subject type. An example would be a good photo of a very cute little kid, or, if you took a photo of your house and you happen to live in a Castle high above the Cliffs, then perhaps these "Personal Subjects" could make a good photo.

Personal Subjects

Personal Subjects are the typical kids, Aunt and Uncle, and the House kind of photos that mean absolutely nothing to the viewer unless they have a personal interest in the photo. These photos are tied for the worst kinds of photos to show others. Many snapshots on holidays fit into this category as they are meant as a "snapshot" in time or what we call a "record shot" for personal memory only.

Boring Subjects

These are the totally non-interesting photos that generally bore everyone. Again, there are exceptions but a brick wall, a normal field, a typical snapshot of a bird stuck in the middle of a photo, a typical sunset or mountain. All of us have seen all these photos numerous times. Some are better than others, but unless there is something else to the photo, we usually just give them a casual glance. If you have what you think is a good photo of a sunset, ask yourself; "Is this the best sunset I have ever seen?" and also "Is this a great photo of the best sunset ever?" It will be very rare when you honestly answer yes to both those questions.

Interesting Subjects

Basic Interesting Subject can be a typical boring subject with a little extra pizzazz. How about a sunset photo with incredible cloud formations, or great water reflections, or perhaps a backlit subject, or a mountain scene where all the wild blooms are out?

Rare Subjects

The other type of Interesting Subject is a photo of something we do not see too often, something rare. Perhaps, you have seen that Mountain with the Wild Blooms, but this one is better than the ones you have seen. More blooms, actually all blooms! A good Macro of a tiny creature that you never see details of because they are so small, or perhaps a scene or animal that you never see in everyday life as it is from another country. Locally we have an abundance of Heron photos. Here, Tiger photos are exciting! These are the photos where many people would gladly pay $5.00 for a poster or print to hang on a wall or would grab from the Internet to use as Desktop Wallpaper.

Exceptional Subjects

Exceptional Subjects are rare and hard to come by, such as scenes in life that can be once in a lifetime scenes. Rare and Strange Animals, or Animals that we love in a perfect setting, an Eagle as it is just about to pounce on a Rabbit for food. These are magnificent scenes that we rarely see or for many, scenes that we never see even once in a life time.

Artistic Subjects

Artistic subjects are those that are usually scene through different eyes, like the eyes of artists. Often, close-ups on life, flowers and other objects can be very artistic. Scenes that take on great shapes or patterns that intrigue the viewer. Or themed photos that have a color theme. In the way of how interesting these are varies greatly from dull and boring and on rare occasions, can be exceptional.

Emotional Subjects

These are the photos that tug at the heart. The Fawn being licked by its mother moments after it was born, or some cute kittens, or perhaps a scene that captures Hunger, or a Clear Cut that shows the devastation of a forest. These types of emotional subjects are usually well received by many viewers. These are rarely dull and often if well done can make for exceptional photos.

The Perfect Subject

Finally there are what I call the Add-ons to the photos. What if you have that Fawn being licked by its mother but there is a beautiful early morning Fog with Dew and exceptional lighting? It could be the exact same photo as I described in the "Emotional Subjects" but this one has the extra elements to make it perfect.

As an artist or photographer you must decide which subject your photo falls under. You must decide if the subject matter is worth showing the world. Should that photo with that subject be put into a Portfolio or posted onto a Web Site such as MyShutterSpace.com or a Club site? Usually, Personal Subjects and Boring Subjects should never be posted on-line or included in a Portfolio. Would you want that photo on your wall even if you were not related in any way to the subject matter?

Interesting Subjects, Artistic Subjects and Emotional Subjects are always good to post on-line and these are the typical photos shown by Enthusiastic Amateur Photographers. These are also the photos that other artists and photographers can comment on to help you take better photos.

A very good Professional Photographer or Artist will combine, Exceptional Subjects with Artistic Subjects and Emotional Subjects to create that perfect photo and will work hard at capturing those extra Add-ons in every scene to achieve that Perfect Subject matter.

How can you tell where your photo fits in "Subject" matter wise? Simple, Study! Look at Photography Books, look at the top Photos on MyShutterSpace.com or Photo.net, look at other people's photos and see which ones get a lot of good comments. Do your photos have similar subject matter? Over time you will learn what is a good subject and what isn't. And, unless you are taking "Personal" photos, ask yourself, "Is this a good and interesting subject?" before you take the photo. If it isn't, is there anything you can do by moving, changing the angle or by other means to make it interesting? Perhaps shooting at a different time of the day when the lighting will be better? If not, why are you taking the picture?

I started the "Are Your Pictures Any Good?" article discussing Subject Matter and Artistic Matter. Here I continue the article by looking at Technical Quality. For you images to fit into that "Good" category, it must meet a minimum level of quality.


Technical Quality

The great thing about judging "technical" quality is that it is not a subjective thing like artistic merit. Quality is easy to look for and easy to test for as well. A poor quality photo of the best subject or of the most artistic thing in the world will be nothing more than a poor quality photo.

The other nice part about quality is that as the photographer with a DSLR and even most Point and Shoot cameras, is that you have all the tools and capabilities to control all the aspects of creating a quality image. All that is required is a little knowledge and on some occasions, a little patience and/or luck.

Exposure

Exposure is the first key to achieving a high quality photo. The correct exposure will control what your final image looks like. (I.e. Exposure as in is the image too light or too dark.)

The correct exposure will also control other aspects of quality in your image. Burnt out Highlights or washed out Shadows, Detail, Color and even focus. It is because of these reasons that the correct exposure is so critical. Make sure that the exposure is correct. If you have areas in your photos that are all washed out (all white) or shadowed (all black) that should contain a little detail, it has probably been over exposed (too much light) or under exposed (too little light).

Although these problems can usually be fixed in Photo Editing Software like Photoshop, it is always best to get proper exposure in camera. This over and under exposure will also greatly affect the total amount of detail in your image. Too much light will burn out and BLUR the white areas loosing detail. The same occurs if you under expose your image. Incorrect exposure will also affect the color and tone of your image. If you want proper and accurate colors, make sure the exposure is correct.

Examples of these over or under exposed images abound on the internet and are easy to spot. Are your photos guilty of this?

Color

Color is usually off because of exposure problems mentioned above. However, some camera sensors can also cause off colors. Poor exposure can cause snow to look gray and can cause other color shifts.

White Balance (learn what it is) can greatly affect your colors. A Bright Red Shirt will look different when photographed in the sun, in the shade, with flash, by a lamp or under fluorescent lights. If you properly white balance you camera before the picture is taken, the Bright Red Shirt should always look the same in any situation.

Poorly adjusted monitors also cause problems. Make sure your monitor is adjusted or "calibrated" properly to display colors accurately. Software like the Xrite ColorChecker Passport and hardware tools like the Datacolor Spyder4Pro and the Xrite ColorMunki Display1 are available for this purpose.

More common than most people think, color blindness is also a cause of many photos not being adjusted properly. If you think (or know) you have color blindness, ask others if the colors look natural.

Lastly and a more current problem is bad color caused by over saturation. When users find this new tool in their Photo Editing Software, they tend to usually over do it. If your photo color is a little dull, by all means fix it up a bit but please do not over do it by making your images look like scenes in CSI Miami or overly colored scenes in Hawaii Five-O.

Focus

Exposure and Color can both be difficult to perfect and in some cases can also be subjective. A photo may even look better if under exposed to give the overall image a darken tone or mood. But focus is focus and it cannot be cheated. An out of focus image can be spotted a mile away. Out of focus images look bad and make the photographer look bad and un-professional. How can photographers take out of focus images and then post them on a web site and then ask other users to comment on the image thinking it's good and worthy of comments? It's bad. It's out of focus. Don't post it.

Learn how to take "Sharp" in focus images. It's not difficult. Have your eyes checked out. Adjust the Dioptric Adjustment on your view finder if it's available or purchase the appropriate Dioptric adapter. Do NOT use the LCD Screen to check focus unless your camera allows you to zoom into the LCD display image to confirm the focus is sharp. Automatic exposure is not always accurate, try manual focus and take your time to make sure it's sharp.

Blur

Some images that look out of focus are caused by blur or "camera shake" and may not actually be out of focus.

Again, learn to hold the camera steady. Learn to gently "release" the shutter as opposed to "pressing the button" without moving the whole camera. If you need to, and "everyone" needs to, use a tripod. I use a tripod for the majority of my photos. A tripod is a photographer's best friend. Get one, use it.

Learn what your shutter speed settings are used for on your camera. Sometimes a simple shutter speed adjustment will create better sharper images.

Do not use High ISO settings. The high level of grain created by using High ISO settings can exaggerate the effects of blur and out of focus images. Also, something most photographers don't know or understand, using higher ISOs reduce the Dynamic Range capture capabilities of your sensor. This will in turn reduce perceptive focus.

If it's blurry and looks out of focus because of it, it's a bad photo and you should not post it or show it. Some photos may intentionally be blurred to show or indicate motion or for artistic reasons, but it is usually easy to tell when its just blurry.

Tack Sharp Images

Read the article I have posted called "Start to Finish Tack Sharp?" for hints, tips and tricks on how to take "Tack" Sharp Images.

Noise, Grain and Pixels

Noise, which can look a little like grain can be caused by using High ISO settings or by improperly exposing your image. Noise though is colored and may not look good. Don't confuse Digital Noise for Grain.

If the subject you want a photo of is but a small portion of your full image, don't bother cropping it out and blowing it up. It won't look good. There probably will not be enough pixels in the final image to make a large print. Lack of Pixels (which is why we buy cameras with a lot of pixels) can cause enlargements to look grainy, pixelated with digital artifacts and will usually be blurry.
A rule of thumb is to NOT crop your image more that 10% of the Pixels and that would be for a 10 Mega Pixel camera. Caution here. Turning a 4x6 Image into a 2x3 Image and blowing it back up to 4x6 is actually 75% crop, not a 50% crop. If you need help understanding this please check it out on the web.

So, if you can't fill your whole frame with your subject, zoom in. And if you can't zoom in any more, then move in. Yes, use your legs and walk closer to your subject, obviously only if you can physically move in closer. Most photographers have become very lazy because of zoom lenses. Use your feet and take a few steps forward! It's free and it gives you way better results than only using 1/4 of your sensors pixels! Since you paid big bucks for it, why not use your whole sensor!

Final Note

It is very easy to see if a photo is technically and artistically OK. It takes about a full second. A bad photo on the other hand can be spotted in about 1/100 of a second. It looks bad. You know yourself if the photo is bad, why post it or show it and ask for advice? You can go through your own checklist before you post it:

1) Is it properly exposed? If it's not bad and slightly off, others may comment on it. Learn from that. If the exposure is way off, don't post it.
2) How is the color?
3) Is it out of focus?
4) Is it Blurry?
5) How is the grain?

Checking to see if it's out of focus or if it's blurry is easy. Print your photo on an 8 x 10 sheet of cheap photo paper. Now check the focus and the blur. It will be easy to tell. Once you learn the basics on how to take a technically good photo, then you can concentrate on how to take great photos or artistic photos.

What separates the good photographers from the bad photographers on most sites and in most clubs is the technical quality of the images. Most good photographers only post and show technically good photos. Most of these same photographers have taken bad out of focus and badly exposed photos (as I have) they just choose to not to show them.

As a viewer when you see 5 good photos from a photographer, you will be inclined to think that the are a good photographer. The same five photos mixed in with ten bad photos will make you think that the photographer is not very good. Watch what you post and show! It's akin to dressing properly when you go to a job interview. It makes the first and biggest impression.

So, learn to be the first line critique of your images. Be hard on yourself and your photography will improve very quickly.

 © 2013 Francois Cleroux

(Version 2.00 - March 2013)
Please feel free to leave comments, corrections, ideas, thoughts or suggestions.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Shoot in the Rain with the Right Rain Gear (Update)

I live in Tsawwassen British Columbia Canada which is in the Vancouver area. Vancouver is a bit of a rain capitol and although we get much less rain in Tsawwassen than does Vancouver, we still get our fair share. For the photographer rain poses many issues the least of which is potential water damage to camera gear.

Over the many years I have tried many different rain covers and other protective devices to keep rain at bay including the trusty large garbage bag. To this day I still carry a large clear bag in my camera pack in case of foul weather or to protect my camera from ocean or waterfall spray.

Although a large plastic bag works to protect your gear, it does have its drawbacks. Generally bags are not clear and so seeing your camera and settings may be impossible. If you do have a clear bag, it is usually not optically very clear but rather just translucent.

Even if you manage to find a good quality 'clear' bag, it tends to wear out and tear after some time. If it happens to tear during a shoot it may spoil your shoot completely. Duct tape repairs do not work well on wet bags in the rain and you wouldn't want to risk water damaging your gear.

Another issue with bags is the flimsiness of the bag. It tends to lay on top of and can even stick to your gear as condensation builds up inside the bag. On very windy days the home made plastic bag contraptions are next to impossible to use.


OpTechRainCover
Image from OpTech USA

Like I mentioned I have tried other devices including the OpTech Rainsleeve. The 'Rainsleeve' is not much more than a plastic bag with a drawstring at one end. The bag in general does not appear to be designed for a DSLR camera as I could barley fit my 50D with Battery grip into it. Once inside the bag there was no room left for even one of my hands. The drawstring is another issue with this product as it does not work well on a lens hood that is bevelled such as those on wide angle lenses. A disappointing product.

RainCover
My Canon 40D.

I purchased another contraption from eBay called "Digital Camera Rain Dust Cover" that sells for about $15.00 U.S. This product is a contraption. It does come nicely packed into two separate pouches. One for the two piece armature that needs to be snapped together and then attached to your cameras Hot Shoe (Danger Will Robinson). The second pouch stores the plastic cover. The cover is better thicker proper plastic that will not wear like the OpTech plastic bag material.

The cover attaches using Velcro tabs and the armature is telescopic and can adjust its length to work with various size lenses. It should accommodate a lens up to 200mm. All in all it does work but it is rather hokey. I do not like the fact that it attaches to the Hot Shoe but for the price it works. There is even ample room for both my hands as pictured in the above photo. I am not sure I would want to assemple this and attach it to a camera on a stormy day.

As I needed to find a better solution I kept looking and saw that Tenba sold a rain cover, the RC-18 Rain Cover. This product looked promising at first. The material was heavy duty but not 'clear'. Doing my homework I checked out reviews of this product on Amazon and on other sites and based on mostly bad reviews I chose not to buy it.

KataBag
My Canon 40D with Standard 24-105mm Lens.

While checking out the Tenba reviews I stumbled upon the Kata E-702 Rain Cover. Based on the good reviews I went to my local photo shop and checked it out. It appeared to be very well made and well designed so I purchased it and ordered the optional E-704 Lens Sleeves. These optional sleeves are not required for most standard lenses and the main cover should accommodate most 200mm lens.

After bringing it home I tried it out on my Canon 50D with Battery Grip and my standard 24-105mm Lens. Attaching the back to the camera was simple. The Draw Bungy String pulls tight around the neck of the lens as opposed to the hood and a heavy semi rigid material wraps around the hood and Velcro's into place. The bottom has two separate zipper that closes the main opening tight or tight against your tripod.

KataE702Rear
Kata Image.

Using the Kata E-702 Elements Cover is simple by means of the two large arm/hand openings that also protect your hands from bad weather. These hand sleeves also have Draw Bungy Strings so that you can make them snug. The bag also works well when used vertically. Once you have your hands inside there is plenty of room for both your hands to get at all your cameras knobs, dials and buttons. You can also see all the camera because of the well integrated plastic window. Even with the Battery Grip on the camera there is still plenty of room for both hands.

The Kata E-704 Lens Extension Kit is a lens cover extension kit that comes with two separate long lens sleeves and a separate hand sleeve. One is designed for lenses up to 350mm and the other for lenses up to 650mm. You can attach then hand sleeve to any part of the lens sleeves so that you can have direct access to the focusing rings on any lens.

I have looked at other options including the "Hydrophobia 300 - 600", the "FotoSharp Camera Rain Cover", the AquaTech Sports Shield" and the "Lightware Rain Cover" and I think that for the money, for the usability and comfort of use, the Kata System is the best.

Although it is a little larger to store than a garbage bag, I feel much more comfortable knowing my expensive gear is better protected than a 25 cent bag. Using this cover in the rain has been great and overall I give this product a 5 out of 5 rating.

Pricing on the Kata system is not cheap but then again you are wanting to properly protect expensive equipment. Properly taken care of the Kata Rain Cover should last many years.

Street prices have dropped recently and the E-702 sells on Amazon.com (as of January 23rd, 2009) for only $38.67. The two links below will send you to Amazon.com and the third link will send you to Kata.

Rating -  5 Out Of 5  - Highly Recommended.
Buy - Kata E-702 Large Digital SLR Camera Raincover
Buy -
Kata E-704 Lens Extension Kit
Kata Home Page -
www.kata-bags.com

2013.03.13 Update - Thanks for the update. Yes, at this time the E-702 at Amazon is now $59.90 (as of March 2013) and the E-704 is $63.46. Note that I have purchased two knock offs for testing and I have found a problem with the Kata unit which is why I have looked at other units. I have found that over time the clear plastic used by Kata as a window gets milky. Not sure if the plastic is actually milky or if its just minor abbrasion on the plastic. My Kata bag has alway been handled with care and always in a protective bag when not in use. I have sent a letter to Kata and will report back. I will also be updating this post when I have more answers and when I have reviewed the two other units.

See the original post here along with some reader's comments.

© 2013 Francois Cleroux

(Version 1.11 - March 2013)

Please feel free to leave comments, corrections, ideas, thoughts or suggestions.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

Cyanotype - The Project

I did a lot of soul searching in my classes with Russel and Wendy Kwan trying to decide what photographic direction to go in, I finally decided to do a project on Long Exposure Landscapes but not your typical Michael Levine long exposures everyone is doing now.

Specifically, they will be different in subject matter and in the way they will be photographed and they will be printed as hand-made Silver Salt prints. Not a simple process but one I want to challenge myself with. They will also…. oh, wait, it’s a secret. A cool secret at that, and one that has me very excited. Later, when the project is closer to completion, I will share this secret with you.

One of my fake Digital Cyanotypes.

Why Silver Salt Prints? Silver Salt printing is a process that was used in the early 19th century and has the same timeless qualities that I love in photography and one I want to bring to my landscape images.

My first challenge was to figure out how to create the Silver Salt prints. Something I had no idea about when I first had the idea but having been schooled in the darkroom and having a great understanding of photographic processes, I was able to make a fairly educated guess at the work that would be involved.

I then did some studying on the subject which led me to read and learn about many other old world processes including the Cyanotype. While investigating the Cyanotype I decided I liked the look of the blue print but also it’s toned variants that can be made Pink, Red, Brown, almost Black and various other colors. As much as I liked the Blue color, I liked what the Cyanotype process did to the images themselves. It reduces details in the highlights and shadows, and contrast gets enhanced because of the reduction in tonal range. The slightly grainy effect also reduces sharpness a little but good sharp lines can still rendered. The images tend to be somewhat darker with a softness about them.

This process I decided would look great with some of the nudes I have been shooting and could bring out their classic beauty while reducing their personal nature. The final results of the monochromatic images would reduce the overall brashness of a typical nude. Cyanotype prints also seem to take on a feeling of nostalgic beauty that can be viewed without the modern interference and harshness that is present in most digital images.

The basic process of Cyanotypes involves mixing an emulsion from chemicals and then coating paper with the emulsion before exposing the image under a UV light source or the Sun. This process is very similar to the Salt Print process but much simpler in that it doesn’t require a darkroom and is safer and cheaper. This would be a good start to lead into creating Salt Prints for my Landscape project.

A new project is born. Deciding that I liked the look of the nudes with the Cyanotype process and that the Cyanotypes were a perfect lead-in to the Silver Salt prints, I decided to create a series of Classic Nudes printed as 16x20 handmade Cyanotype prints.

The project in its infancy still needs to have a few things hammered out. What will the nudes be? One woman? Several women? All classic beauties or women of varied body types, shapes and sizes? Will the images themselves be studies of light, shape and form of parts or whole bodies? Will they be made more personal by including faces?

Now I also have the technical issues to deal with. Will the Cyanotype prints be classic Prussian blue or toned? What paper should I use and how do I create the perfect Digital Negative for these Cyanotype prints? I have already been working on the Digital Negatives and have been developing Photoshop curves.

I have named the project mostly because I keep notes in a record book and I will also be blogging about the project and so I will need a reference name. Later, as the project comes along and gets more refined, I may decide to change the name to something that is more reflective of the project itself, but, for now it’s called Embodying Femininity.

Once I have mastered the Cyanotypes, whether my Cyanotype project is finished or not, I will start the Silver Salt Landscapes project.

Next Post - Cyanotype - The Negative

© 2013 Francois Cleroux
(Version 1.01 - March 2013)

Please feel free to leave comments, corrections, ideas, thoughts or suggestions.