Saturday, June 29, 2013

Stitching cell phone photos

The term "stitching" only began to be applied to photography (as far as I'm aware) when digital image editing became widely used, with the propagation of programs like Adobe Photoshop®. We should keep in mind, though, that the combining of two or more photographs into one image is almost as old as the paper print process itself. The fabulous Jerry Uelsmann developed incredible skill at multiple printing, using as many as 8 enlargers to create extraordinarily imaginative images of a wide variety of types. When I first saw an exhibition about two decades ago, I was blown away. As well as the artistic strength of what I viewed, the technical achievement inspired me to try a few rudimentary experiments in my own darkroom. If nothing else, this gave me extra reason to appreciate Uelsmann's skill. Now, when people younger than me encounter Uelsmann's works, particularly online, they frequently assume that it has been accomplished digitally.

After that lengthy digression, let's return to stitching. This refers to the photographic rendering of a broad area by multiple exposures, and the joining of these photos into one image. There were panoramic photos printed in the chemical darkroom from multiple frames of film, but it was always very difficult to minimize visibility of the seams or joins. With the advent of digital imaging (including digital scans of film), it became much more practical to produce visually undetectable stitched photos, requiring only that the photos overlapped somewhat and were consistent in exposure and color. I did some of this in Photoshop "manually". That is, with each photo on a separate layer, I would make one layer partially transparent and move it until it lined up precisely with the next. When all were aligned, they were returned to full opacity, and masks were used to blend the regions of juncture.

Now to the present, when things have become much easier if the goal is a seamless stitch. There are various software options that accomplish it automatically. Recent versions of Photoshop incorporate panorama creation. Last night, at intermission of a concert in Meymandi Hall, I stepped outside to see whether the thunderstorms in the area were active. (George Takei appeared with us - the North Carolina Symphony - and joked that he had "beamed down through turbulence.") The rain hadn't reached us yet, but the sky was begging for a photograph. I only had my iPhone with me. The camera's field of view wouldn't do justice to the spread of cloud formations, so I grabbed four overlapping shots, planning to stitch later. Here is the result.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

By the river

Here are a few photos from a walk beside and over Crabtree Creek. The first might be titled "Bridge to Nowhere", but that has already been used often enough, so let's say "Bridge to Fantasyland". This is actually a condemned/abandoned bridge, which I have been assuming would soon be dismantled, but after a few years it's still there, still rotting away.

So of course it cries out to be photographed! ...from a safe position outside the barrier, which you will see in my second photo. The black and white fantasy shot has only been manipulated in one way: I duplicated the left side of the picture, flipped it, and placed it on the right to get a symmetrical image.

Here is what you can see without poking your head (or camera lens) through the fence.

This is a view from over the river, on a functional, properly maintained pedestrian bridge. The Raleigh Greenway system offers many pleasant areas to hike or bike. Crabtree Creek itself is scenic, although it is usually opaque with mud and sediment from the quarry operations upstream.

Not a bad little slice of a fantasy view, within shouting distance of houses, apartments, and business parking lots.


Making do with what's at hand

I almost always would prefer to shoot with a solid "professional model" DSLR, rather than a pocket camera or a cell phone. The first photo here is the interior of a magnolia blossom, shown larger than life. There are ways to do similar things with a smaller camera, but I wouldn't know how to get a comparable result with my iPhone.

On the other hand, when I see an opportunity, I'll make an attempt with whatever camera I have, unless I know it is completely impossible. A cell phone cam is not engineered to facilitate action wildlife captures, but the QuickPix app on my old iPhone4 allows pretty quick shutter response. With anticipation and a bit of luck, I managed this grab shot, which I cropped a little to optimize the composition.

Another magnolia shot, again with a full-frame DSLR. There's no action to stop, no need for rapid autofocus, but the big sensor captured subtle gradations in tone and color.

And finally two more shots of the mallards, done with the iPhone. These are the sort of pics that anyone can do with any contemporary camera. I like the personality exhibited by this pair. Note that the female is missing her left foot, but she hops and flies proficiently, and seems to be doing fine. Note also that it's the intensity of the sunlight that brought out the colors and textures, rather than a characteristic of the camera. For the "landing" shot above, the clouds had dimmed and diffused the light, just moments after the shots below.


Flowers, Bees, and Backgrounds

There are quite a few ways to photographically separate a subject from its background. You can blur the background. Color contrast is effective. There can be different qualities of texture, and different shapes (or similar shapes that repeat something found in the subject, but that would be a different goal from separation). The properties of light hitting the scene can affect other aspects, through intensity, hardness, and - most of all - direction. And of course although we don't (at least ordinarily) alter the objects in a natural setting, we generally have some choice of where we position the camera. It often becomes a game of figuring out how to get a strong or attractive perspective for the main subject while also having the background objects appear in the best juxtaposition to complement that subject.

summer flowers

backlit flowers

bee on flower

bee landing on flower


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Sumer Is Icumen In

By June 12 it was apparent that summer heat and humidity would not wait until the June 21 solstice to, let's be more neutral and say affect life in Raleigh, NC. My wife and I used the opportunity to escape into the climate controlled environment of the NC Museum of Art, where we enjoyed the special exhibit "0 to 60: The Experience of Time through Contemporary Art". Afterward, we explored the relatively new West Building, where we saw some works new to us.

We also revisited some "old friends".

While perusing outdoor sculpture... occurred to me to attempt my own visual statement on the experience of time. As I've already mentioned, it had become apparent that Sumer Is Icumen In, and the warmth tends to make it seem to me as if movement slows down, as if lethargy affects even periodic motion such as the swaying of tall grass in the breeze. (Ah, the breeze - that was most welcome!) I realize that reptiles, insects - and for that matter many people - may have an opposite reaction to hot weather. I'm not comparing such people to insects and reptiles! I'm just personally more energetic in cold climes and cool times.

Observing a confluence of contrails and clouds behind a sculpted metallic tree, I knelt to the ground to put it behind grass and ferns, focused on the gleaming silver branches, and waited for the right moment to release the shutter.

A photograph is in a way a frozen moment, but to me this is a dynamic sliver of time. I sense tension, reaching, convergence and separation, force and motion, action and reaction. In physical science, time itself is a difficult thing to define precisely. We rely on repeatable measurements - i.e., good clocks - to get a handle on time, and the explanation of the "arrow of time" (the observation that certain macroscopic events, such as mixing cream into coffee, seem to only occur "in one direction") may lie in cosmology and entropy. But I don't mean to imply that complex thoughts about time went into the creation of the image above (though they are often flitting about somewhere in my head). I do know that my personal experience of time along with thoughts provoked by viewing the museum exhibition made me see the elements in front of me in four dimensions, rather than three or two.


Friday, June 7, 2013

Just some rain on the pavement, that's all.

After the somewhat painterly approach of the shot above, below is a sharply etched photo that shows an artifact which looks something like an ancient painting.

Cave painting? No, it's obviously just a part of the same concrete walkway, as I'm sure the expansion joint makes clear. I think it looks like a representation of an antelope, but maybe that's just me.

Raindrops falling in an otherwise still puddle. The overlapping waves show clear patterns of interference and reinforcement as the peaks and troughs interact.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Today the magnolias were ready for their portrait session

Yes, I was able to train my lens (actually, lenses) on some "properly finished" flowers today. This follows the sequence of magnolia shots from one tree yesterday.

Magnolia blossoms can offer their sweet fragrance for a surprisingly extended portion of late spring and early summer, but the peak appearance for any one flower doesn't last very long. Spotting some photogenic examples and having some time, I brought a selection of focal lengths. The long lenses (200 and 300mm) gave me tight framing of subjects I couldn't approach closely, and the macro lens (100mm) let me get very close to the one flower that was literally under my nose.

After photographing the large magnolias, I shot a group of tiny orange flowers. Then I finished with a dead magnolia leaf that made a striking contrast against the ground cover and a pine cone. It's all part of my continuing exploration of the aesthetics of the less-than-ideal landscape.


Monday, June 3, 2013

Stages of blossoming in a magnolia tree, and flower photography aesthetics

Hoping to find subjects signifying the shift toward summer, I did some flower photos today. I'm saving my favorite shot for last, but first, please indulge me as I describe a fifteen minute project that preceded it. On one very large magnolia tree, I was interested to see about half a dozen distinct stages of blossom development - all at the same time. They are posted in the order that I found them, rather than order of development. In fact, these first five shots probably show the reverse of a normal progression. I hope you'll pardon some fanciful nomenclature.

First, we have the lint brush magnolia:

Next, a magnolia pet fur brush:

Here is a party-ready fake nose magnolia:

A soft-serve ice cream cone magnolia:

A candelabra bulb magnolia:

I had to find a different tree to catch a mature, open flower today, although within a very few days some of the children pictured above should be into this stage. I'm hoping to capture some of them in more pristine condition than this one:

On from the magnolias to day lilies. Photographing flowers and hoping for a little more than a record or identification shot calls for some use of imagination. I like to try to spot inherently beautiful specimens, but more important factors, for me, are finding attractive light, a complementary background, and just the right perspective and framing. Often it is difficult to make all of these things happen within one image. These are just quick attempts, but like most forms of practice, photo sketches can help to sharpen one's skills. Occasionally an image of this sort will even compete with carefully completed photographs, though that should not be an expectation for a typical outcome.

I like the way these different colored hydrangeas are arranged as if they hybridized on the spot.

This last is my favorite composition of the day. Although it's not a new approach by any means (I've played with this type of color contrast and foreground-background separation often enough before), it worked for me in a way that seems effective without being forced. I hope other viewers will have a similar reaction, but of course I want to know what you think.

All of the photos today were shot with a Canon 70-200 mm f/4L IS lens. For nine of the ten I zoomed to 200 mm. The penultimate shot (sharply focused hydrangea flowers and leaves) was done at 85 mm.