Sunday, July 29, 2012

stalking the familiar

A common bit of advice about attempting to photograph birds is to start with common birds. Go after the ones you see often where you live. I think this is a good idea, especially for those of us who don't often get to spend time wandering through nature preserves, camping in the wilds, or sitting in bird blinds. Even a visit to the Zoo aviary is an unusual treat. I don't know if I'll ever be able to do the kind of amazing bird photography that is done by people dedicated to that craft, but I've learned a lot of patience simply by observing avian residents of the city. Watching their behavior is the first step toward capturing some of the interesting moments in a photo. A juvenile cardinal found some seed on the ground, and offered me a variety of poses, almost the way a good human model would do.

This juvenile cardinal spotted me, and hesitated to come out in the open.

In time, she (?) decided it was worth the risk to grab a seed she'd spotted.

She flew, but only a short distance, and returned quickly.

"OK, I'm back. Do you really expect me to pose? What position would you like?"

"How about a classic three quarter view? Don't I look great with food in my beak?"
Jess Isaiah Levin

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Dogs don't like thunderstorms

A lot of dogs (most?) are uncomfortable or even afraid during heavy thunderstorms. Their hearing is very sensitive, and no doubt they are sensible to avoid being caught in unprotected outdoor areas when lightning is a serious threat. Our old girl doesn't like electrical storms one bit, even though she's in the safety of our house. She squeezes herself into a confined area and pulls soft comforting materials around her. She still looks frightened, doesn't she? Before and after making a few photos, I petted and comforted her as best I could.

frightened of the thunderstorm

Jess Isaiah Levin


The wedding of Shavon and Theous

I promised that I would post a few of the photos from the wedding of Shavon and Theous, whose engagement photos got this blog going. Time for at least a teaser sample! For me, expressions are paramount when photographing people. At a wedding, I want you to see how the bride and groom feel about each other, so that they see that in themselves when they look through their keepsake photos some time in the future. And maybe their descendants will, too.

Jess Isaiah Levin


Birds, because they're fun to watch

The North Carolina Zoo is a fairly long drive for me, so I don't get there as often as I would enjoy, but it would be well worth it for the aviary alone. The birds are free to fly about a rather extensive enclosure. The tropical plants surrounding them make at least a good approximation of their natural habitat. My recent trip was a lot of fun!

This parrot at the beginning and the eagle at the end of my trip were pretty cooperative about remaining in view. All of the other denizens were shy, so the other photos here were caught by peering through the leafy canopy and hoping to spot someone, then hoping they'd remain for a second or two before flying off for new cover.



Jess Isaiah Levin


abstract patterns all around us

The late Jack Horkheimer used to end each of his brief "Star Gazer" episodes with the admonition to "keep looking up!" Sometimes, if one is looking for photo inspirations or ideas, it pays to look up even when one is indoors. It's easy (relatively) to be drawn into an instance of beautiful architecture, just as it would seem easy to make great photographs if one could only be always surrounded by a gorgeous landscape. In truth, although we rightly treasure images that painters and photographers have created based on wonderful scenery, there is art involved. Feeling elated by what surrounds us is natural for all of us, but to convey that feeling in an image is always a challenge.

The flip side of this idea (pardon the ancient metaphor!) is that with imagination we can make something interesting out of what may seem highly pedestrian subjects. Here's what I was getting at when I mentioned training our eyes - and our attention - in all directions, including up (and down). If you try to see what's around you in an abstract way, as the patterns of light and dark that are really all that our eyes perceive, sometimes the mind starts to see things differently from normal, ingrained interpretation. That happened to me as I stared at a ceiling for a few moments. I saw abstract shapes, not  simple shadows and textures. Even though an object recognizable as a lamp is a focus of the composition, my attention is drawn to the surrounding patterns which remind me of various kinds of living things, but none definite. I hope some of those qualities come through in this small version of the image.

One thing about an abstraction: you're not tied to a realistic representation. I think this image also has possibilities when presented upside down. Here it is, also a bit larger to make the texture a little more evident.

Jess Isaiah Levin


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Out of kilter?

Can something be "in kilter", as opposed to "out of kilter"? We tend to look for symmetry in many circumstances. The human body is pretty close to bilateral symmetry on the outside (though many of our internal organs are not). We are generally attracted to bodies and faces that exhibit good symmetry (undoubtedly because there is a degree of correlation with health and reproductive fitness), although subtle variation, that slight quirk of one side or the other, can be beguiling in itself.

The search for symmetry in flowers is similar (often rotational symmetry, in this case), but when you think about it, a flower that showed perfect symmetry and absolutely no blemishes would look like a fake, and probably be thought less beautiful than a real one by most of us.

These thoughts flitted through my mind as I looked at a photo of a house plant that I made this afternoon. Its bloom is sort of roughly symmetric, but what I find striking is the degree to which it is out of kilter, out of whack, totally askew, really off. Usually, I would tend to place my subject a bit away from the center of the frame, unless it was a perfectly symmetrical pattern of some sort. Without thinking about it until after I pressed the shutter, I intuitively framed this image with the subject almost in the center of the field of view. Something about its lopsided nature made it seem strongest there.

(200 mm, f/7.1, shot from minimum focus distance of 1.2 meters)

On the other hand, with a vertical aspect ratio, I preferred it a little more off center. Do you?


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cats, just because.

Because of my wife's allergy, we are unable to have cats living with us. Too bad, because we both love them. I "compensate" by photographing cats wherever I find them, whether they are wandering the parks, sitting in windows, or hiding under vehicles. From time to time I'm even hired to do in-home portraits for pet lovers. I've done just a few in my studio, but that's not a preferred choice for me. I like it when cats feel at home. Same for people, actually. Here are ten, just because.

Jess Isaiah Levin

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A second chance after two decades

Quite a few years ago, when I was still shooting only film (digital photography consisted only of CCDs used for astrophotography; consumer digicams were a decade in the future), I got it in my head that I wanted to try to make some interesting images out of one of the older structures in Raleigh. The NC State Fair began in 1853 at a site east of town, was moved to a location west of the town center in 1873, then was canceled when the Agricultural Society went bankrupt following the 1925 fair. In 1928 it reopened at its present site (about 2 miles further west) under the aegis of the state government.

The North Carolina State Fair Commercial and Education Buildings were built in Spanish Mission Revival style, and opened to the public at the October 1928 Fair. Their historic look has been maintained for about 85 years. When I got the urge to photograph them around two decades ago, I was frustrated by the difficulty of finding a time that the area was relatively clear, and when my available time coincided with "interesting" weather conditions. I got some "record" shots ("so and so was here") but nothing more.

Yesterday it occurred to me that conditions were shaping up to make attractive clouds a good possibility, and I had the time, so I put together suitable gear for what I visualized, and headed for the Fairgrounds. There was the usual need for patience - cars and trucks obscured architecture, the weather was ever changing - but at the end of a bunch of shooting, I was rewarded with a final shot that made it worthwhile for me. I hope you enjoy it. It will have impact as a large print, and I may even enter it at the Fine Arts division of the 2012 NC State Fair.

For those interested in photo gear and techniques, I used a 24 mm TS-E lens, that is, one designed to tilt and shift. Lateral movements of the lens relative to the image sensor were common in the days of large format sheet film (which was mostly shot in view cameras that allowed shifting the board holding the lens and the one holding the film, with flexible bellows between) but are less used by smaller cameras. Point and shoot digicam? Forget it. DSLR or 35 mm film camera? The camera body won't do it, so you need a special lens with the movements built into its structure. I wanted the vertical lines of the walls and flagpoles to remain vertical, so the camera had to be perfectly level. I wanted to show a lot of the sky, and only enough of the ground to anchor the building. How is that done without pointing the camera up? The lens is shifted upward on the camera body!


Jess Isaiah Levin

Thursday, July 12, 2012

At last, some rain and a break in the heat!

Two days that Raleigh reached 105ºF, and one that touched 106º (41ºC), in a span of six straight days above 100º…whew!

When a protracted stretch of extreme summer heat - record breaking temperatures - is broken by a sudden thunderstorm, the feeling of relief we get is wonderful. I could almost imagine the plants all around me sighing with satisfaction. Dogs, on the other hand, are often nervous about lightning, and sometimes even upset by very heavy rain. We humans should have a healthy respect for lightning, too, of course. At any rate, I came in out of the rain, and soon thereafter the sun broke through the clouds. Even as the last drops were falling, the entry was flooded with light. Well, flooded is a relative term in this case. The light was pretty dim, but there were no interior sources, no lamps on. The translucence of the umbrella caught my eye, as did the textures of the basket brought out by side lighting. Sometimes we photographers will stop to try to make a photo out of almost anything. 

For those of you interested in technical matters, it was shot on a "full frame" DSLR (a Canon 5D III) with a 135 mm f/2 lens stopped down to f/2.8, a single exposure of 1/6 sec (I was resting on the floor) at ISO 100. I adjusted the raw file in Adobe Lightroom, pulling back the highlights and raising the shadows. 

Meanwhile, I found that our dog Photon had clambered up the stairs in my absence. She's getting very old, and has trouble with stairs. Apparently her fear of the thunder claps overcame her fear of steps. She didn't seem to have hurt herself, and even looked a bit proud to be up in one of her old haunts. She was guarding some framed prints that are strewn randomly while the proper home for each is sought. I don't think I'll show the clutter in the hallway, but here's a close shot of Photon guarding the "treasures".

That's all for now.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Engagement photos, to get things going...

After building and maintaining my Classical Photography website for the past dozen years or so (and building sites for some other people as well, though I am not primarily a web designer), I've finally reached the point of creating a blog so that I can get some of my content up in a more timely fashion. At least that's the plan going into this!

The blog will center on photography, though I intend to allow myself excursions into at least a few of my other areas of interest and - dare I say it - expertise. Your thoughtful comments will always be welcomed. So, just to kick away from the dock and see where we wander, here are a few photos from a very recent engagement session with Shavon and Theous -

outdoor engagement portrait

With the weather being extremely hot and humid in Raleigh last week (our session took place during a string of days of record setting temperatures), we went outside early. We found a natural light pattern that was favorable, though tricky to balance against potential background distractions. After having some fun outdoors, we ducked into the studio for some cool shots.

I did some portraits of Shavon alone...

...and Theous alone... of course many shots of the two together, which is when the magic really came through. It's just so clear that they belong together! I can hardly wait until the wedding!

After the wedding, I'm sure there will be some fun pics to post here. In the mean time, stay cool if you're in a hot climate, and stay tuned!

- Jess

Jess Isaiah Levin