I think autumn is here, in Raleigh, although we're still six days shy of the fall equinox. Sometimes the not-entirely-healthy leaves show their colors and drop to the ground ahead of most. This one captured a bit of fluff from a bird's plumage, and stayed put just long enough for me to grab a photo before a breeze shifted everything.
(On most monitors, this view will be several times life-size.)
Here is a minimalist approach to a portrait background: neutral gray, only subtle variation in tonality, no texture, and obviously no suggestion of anything pointing to an environment of any sort. The one advantage of doing things this way is that nothing distracts from the focus on our subject.
J'ai l'esprit d'escalier. To borrow a French idiomatic phrase that I picked up in reading Surfaces and Essences by Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander, I could often have described myself as having the spirit of stairs, or staircase wit. It is surely a common experience to find ourselves thinking of the perfect retort to a remark made by another, but only when it is too late, when we are heading down the stairs (or when sitting alone at home, or when the other person has just left the room, or the phone connection has been terminated...). As the book demonstrates, we native speakers of English have some idioms (and stories, phrases, even isolated words) that do not have exact counterparts in certain other languages. On the other hand, other languages and cultures have their own stories, idioms, phrases and words that cannot be translated directly into English. So I could pithily say "Thursday night, whoa, staircase wit, big time!" In context (especially if you had been with me on this hypothetical occasion) you might know exactly what I meant, but if you hadn't read this whole paragraph and were not conversant with the French idiom, would it make any sense?
You knew this would have some connection to photography, right? But perhaps you were wondering how ridiculously tenuous and strained it might be. Well, I mean it quite seriously, though not for dealing with put-downs or contests of cleverness. I've written that a principal reason I pursue photography with passion is that it helps me to teach myself to see - to see new things, and perceive in a new way the things that have always surrounded me. Sometimes the camera can still surprise me. I will spot things when perusing a photo on the computer screen, things that I did not notice when doing the shooting, or that I simply did not see in the same way. It can be easier to think of a new approach to a subject when you no longer have the subject available to you.
So here's my take away: I try to remember, whenever I see something that I think might make a good photograph (assuming that I have time and a camera), that I most likely will never see the same thing again. Therefore, any good ideas for how to treat the scene, where to plant my view, how to compose the image, and so forth, have to happen while I'm there. The trick is to make them happen, and sometimes I use an auto-posterior impulse. That is, I give myself a kick in the rear by imagining that I've packed up my equipment and am partway home. Hmm, what did I not have the imagination to do with the camera that now jumps out at me?
Maybe this constitutes an "inner game of photography". At any rate, it sometimes keeps me going. If it results in more photos to edit and more to discard, at least it's just zeros and ones, there's no film wasted.
So, shoot thoughtfully, pause to ponder what you're doing, but don't hesitate to experiment. Shoot those things that just tickle the edge of your interest. They may turn out to be boring, but one of them may strike you as having real potential when you're carrying your gear down the stairs (or the mountain trail), or viewing the files on your computer.
Oh, and sometimes it's good to return to a photo after a year or more without seeing it. You may come up with ways to improve it.
A little dairy decoration, courtesy of the barista. Camera and image manipulation: iPhone5s and Snapseed (a free app). This will definitely not replace my professional camera gear, but it's fun, and can give very nice results with small, static subjects, for my taste. Speaking of taste, the coffee was excellent.
Grunge is a category of music, a style of clothing and, looking for the origins of the term, probably was a back-formation from the slangy adjective grungy, which in turn may have come from grubby, dingy, etc. So why would one want to portray that in a photographic fashion? Actually, let me put it differently, because one could certainly want to report on fashions that are patterned after a grungy look, but what I mean is this: when I'm confronted with the kind of actual decay of human creations that makes me not want to touch anything, well, I do my best not to touch it. I'm not a forensic photographer, and don't particularly aspire to be one! Even so, there is a certain kind of fascination in seeing what happens to metal as it rusts, to fabric, plastic, and leather as they degrade, to buildings as they succumb to weather. So, from time to time I've done visual explorations of worn out things, abandoned devices, buildings in disrepair, and so forth.
What was different today was that I was inspired to simulate the appearance of many years of neglect. On what? A car interior, not a terribly old one by my standards, but old enough. It had actually been beautifully maintained, but what can I say - the styling of the vehicle made me think of treating photos this way. I shot them normally, making some adjustments in Snapseed (a free iPhone app), and others in Adobe Lightroom.
One perspective on grunge wasn't enough, so I tried another:
These shots were done with an iPhone 5s, resting against the windshield. Recognize the car model? I'll identify it in the comments, as soon as one of you asks (or knows the answer).
The face of downtown Raleigh is beginning to develop into a configuration worthy of the term "skyline". Here's a view after tonight's sunset. You can see the girder framework of the latest construction. Check it out - the crane was moving (second photo), work was going on at 8 pm.
The Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts has a bit of an otherworldly glow at night. This was one of the few nights of the week that no events were taking place. Meymandi Concert Hall, on the right, is my home-away-from-home.
My plans for today had included photographing the rising full moon and sunset at Lake Jordan. Unfortunately, the weather has been such a washout all day that it seems obvious I'll have to wait for another opportunity.
Sticking closer to home, I noticed that a few leaves were anticipating the autumn transition. The rain added a glossy sheen.
There are a couple of obvious reasons for creating planned, purposeful portraits on location. First, it may be desirable to show details of the area, for example to connect with the type of work the person does, or what kind of life they lead. Second, even if the background is depicted only in out-of-focus hints, it can still lend a bit of flavor, or strengthen the degree that the photo conveys personality.
The usual reasons for doing a portrait in a photographer's studio include control over lighting (light is paramount in all photography, whether serendipitous or bent to the shooter's will), control over weather (provided artificial climate control is working!), minimizing distractions, and availability of backdrops. In other words, control, control, control!
It is not unusual to bring artificial light sources and modifiers to a portrait location (which in this context simply means anyplace outside of a photographic studio). In many cases, this can be the best approach to meeting the requirements of a shoot. It does require a lot of time and preparation, however.
As an example of a "third way" that digital photography facilitates, here is an example where a company provided me with an image of a background of a sort that they now use for head shots. I did the shoot in my studio, against a green screen. If the screen is lit evenly and not permitted to bleed color into the edges of a portrait subject, it can be surgically removed in Photoshop, and replaced with any background available.
My subject could have appeared in front of the Eiffel Tower or International Space Station, but the goal was simply a very natural appearance, with a little more interest than a plain studio drape. As always, my primary aim was a relaxed, friendly, pleasant, competent and professional look. Would you hire this man? I would.
Let's admit right off the bat that this is not strictly a panorama. Most photos given that label are simply wider than average views. "Panorama" literally means a view of everything around you; I was not that ambitious, but maybe more selective. I simply stepped out of a restaurant into a parking lot and thought "ooh, look at the sky!"
To repeat the cliche, the best camera is the one you have, so out came the cell phone. I made a quick series of overlapping shots of the area the interested me, and combined them in Photoshop. Notice how I used a tree and a building to occult the disk of the sun, which otherwise would have overwhelmed the clouds and the orange and blue sky.
This worked well enough that I may try even wider shots with the phone when the scene calls for it. Maybe even a true 360º panorama.
Wild onions produce tiny, attractive flowers. I had seen a bumble bee or two visiting them this hot, humid Labor Day, and got out my macro lens. Naturally, the bees disappeared when I had the camera in hand, so I stayed in the shade and focused on this blooming onion.
A bee showed up nearby on some cultivated flowers in the sun, so I headed there too.
Eventually, two of the Bumbles returned to the patch of onions and other weeds.
And finally, this may also be classified as a weed, but I like it.