Making graffiti photographs with light

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA If you have read recent posts of mine you will know my recent obsession with graffiti. Well, recently I went on a Night Photography walk on the Liverpool Waterfront with Jon Hall Photography. I have to say I would not have been entirely satisfied if I had paid £99 for a three hours group session with no overheads for the tutor,  but the reduced price of £29 with an Amazon local voucher was worth it. We stopped at a variety of locations and were supported to encourage with different settings, and techniques, particularly forcing long exposures. For me it was not a case of coming home with lot of great images so much as coming home with the knowledge that when I was not so rushed and not so limited to where I had to stand to hear the instruction ( and my fingers not so freezing cold I could barely move the exposure dial) I have some pretty good ideas of what I want to go back and practice until I get it right. it was one of those nights where having more bad images taught you more about what not to do than the successful images taught you about what to do.

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That said, as you can see, some of my images are OK 🙂  I liked that my husband saw this next one and said: Oh you should get some great shots of the waterfront when we are in Singapore then. So long as he realises he is on tripod carrying duty for the nether trip!

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The bit that made my head explode with future possibilities, though, was when he showed us how to use an exposure of about 10 seconds to shoot a person running around waving a mobile phone torch in the air and trying to draw things. It was just a bit of fun and led into teaching us how to do those traffic streak photos you see in travel magazines.

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As soon as I saw that light streak though I knew: graffiti with light. In the first photo you can see Jon as a sort of ghost image. In the second the torch holder is much less obvious as it depends how much the person moves during the exposure as to how much they disappear.

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My personal poker tell is that when I have an idea running through my head that excites me I squint and start to drum my fingers. ( I know. Attractive but I don’t do it consciously!) The evening  I discovered this technique my husband said he was woken to find me in deep sleep with my arm reaching above my head and my fingers drumming on the headboard! It’s fair to say I woke up with many ideas for how to take this further in combination with other art ideas I have. It will take time to get there mind, but in the meantime there can be no excuse for not practising photography because its dark outside when I get home can there?

 

Playing God with the sky – graduated filters

The only advantage of the dismal darkness of January that I can see is that it means I can practice my night photography straight from work. On Friday I headed off to the Albert Dock tripod in hand. There I froze my fingers into blue icicles (note to self: essential camera gear includes fingerless gloves) and took some sadly mediocre images. This one had the best potential because I like the diagonal lines and the pool of light. It spoke to me of loneliness – to me the story was of someone approaching a designated meeting place only to find the person they loved had not turned up. But overall, it’s not great. For me the light blue sky detracts from the pool of light from the street lamp falling over the bench, which is what I wanted to emphasise. Probably if I had waited the sky would have darkened by itself. But by then I was getting frost bite so I decided to resort to Lightroom.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFirst I cropped  to a 16:9 ration ( a cinematic ratio) so that the proportion of the picture taken up by the street light was greater. Then I decided this was a time to learn how to use the graduated filter I had read about. In essence this is a digital recreation of an actual lens filter which is a piece of plastic darker on the top than the bottom. Landscape photographers use the filter because you can either expose for a perfect sky or for the foreground but not both. In Lightroom you can click on the graduated filter tool and pull it down, either straight or at an angle and you can choose the colour that the filter adds. You can repeat the process which is what I did here with three blues and a red to give the slightly pinky tones to the sky. I also  decreased the exposure a bit and played with the shadows and highlights sliders.

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That top righthand corner was bugging me though. It was the lightest bit and was drawing my eye away from the bench. So I added a touch of vignetting which darkens the corners.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABetter! Out of curiosity I had a look to see what it was like in Black and White.

The original is uninteresting. Insufficient tonal contrast because of that sky.

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I expected the new version would just give me that contrast in a pure black and white but when I converted it it  seems that the coloured filter adjustments stay in place and create a much more interesting result.

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Yet, that purple tinge is is not right for my story of disappointment. So I returned to the split-toning and added in blue.

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Better but a bit too artificial looking. I went back in and lowered exposure and contrast just a smidgen.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAQuite a difference from my disappointing start. I was pretty pleased with it

But after a few hours I came back to it wit fresh eyes and it was obvious – It needed a re-crop!

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Or the colour version recropped

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I am finding I like the process of post-processing a lot more than I though I would. Not least because its warm at my desk! But also it’s like making an art quilt. The starting fabric might not be very interesting alone but combined and tweaked and added to and subtracted from something more like my intention emerges with a bit of surprise thrown in. Even though I am still pulling and pushing sliders in Lightroom with limited understanding , it seems I can tell the story of what I felt when I saw the place I am depicting. Whether you see the same story doesn’t matter so much – all art will be re-interpreted by a viewer. But, if I can find a way towards my intention which involves post-processing then I am all for it. I fear though that with all the fiddling I am doing I need to get to grips with shooting in RAW……

What story do you see in the final image?

 

 

 

 

 

On my doorstep

Ok. A few steps from my front door step. I live in boring, tedious suburbia (albeit with a suburban farm behind us!) and its easy to think there is nothing to photograph. And I confess I am never going to be predominantly a nature photographer. However, when I awoke to a tight frost, it seemed a good idea to take ten minutes to play, both with just how shallow the depth of field is and how sensitive the focus point is when using my new macro lens. And also with how to change my aspect ratio from within the camera itself and then later mess about with post processing.  It is these small moments I remind myself will add up to a life time’s photographic experience in due course. None of those photographs are masterpieces but they all represent something I didn’t know how to do yesterday. I also remind myself that if I am to spend time squatting, stationary over low foliage and not to topple over onto cold wet grass, I need to get more familiar with the gym’s adductor machines!

 

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Learning…split toning effect

In the spirit of starting to learn ‘anywhere, now’, and of taming the endless Internet resources for you,  I explored split toning today. Turns out its pretty straightforward. In the sense that the ‘how’ is easy. Like most art, I suspect the ‘when’ and the ‘why’ might take much more experience to fully grasp!

Apparently the origin of this now digital process lies in the chemicals photographers used to apply in the darkroom to prolong the life of the print. Ansel Adams for example used to add a subtle purple to his shadows. Different formulae produced different tints.

In Lightroom Develop Module there is now a section in the right hand pallete. It offers the ability to choose a hue to apply to the highlights and one ( same or different) to apply to the shadows. Pressing the ALT key while moving the hue slider shows the hue at full saturation so you can see what you are working with. Slide and review the results. Easy.

Tables on St. Marks’s square before

St. Marks Square, Venice

 

and after.

 

Tables St. Marks Square split tone

Well fine. But not that exciting. Surely there is more to it than that? Oh yes indeedy….

Of course there are loads of tutorials out there to assist with this.

This one from iheartfaces   was useful in helping me to understand that you can use spilt toning on colour photos too, to add warmth to images that are cooler than you might like. Or vice versa I assume.

This tutorial at Silky Presets shows well how you can choose a colour more precisely by clicking on the colour box next to the sliders. And also illustrates well how split toning works well if you use complementary colours for shadows and highlights.

And this one from Digital Photography School introduced me to the idea that you can develop a sort of signature look to your images by consciously introducing an element of split toning to your work. And also that you can play with the effect more by using split toning alongside the freestanding  Hue and Saturation filters to boost or reduce certain hues in your image before you use split toning.

I have had a play with some of my colour photos as you can see throughout this post,  but this post on Alex Wise’s site has some great examples of how a professional uses split toning.

 

Oak tree before

Oak tree straight out of camera

 

 

Oak tree with spilt toning applied

Oak tree with spilt toning applied

With Lightroom it is possible to create Presets and to buy other people’s Presets so that you can apply a number of changes at once to save time and get a predictable result. I have not delved into this area yet, but for future reference this site has a number of split toning pre-sets for sale and even if you don’t want to buy the example photos are worth looking at. Oh and there are some free ones at Digital Photo Buzz. ( for obvious reasons the one called Chocolate Sepia immediately attracted my eye!) Then Angie Muldowney is giving away ten more free ones , these ones with really great names that will certainly help you remember the effect they create: try ‘comfiest jeans’ or ’empty wine bottle’ for example!

 

Berry, before

Berry, before

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Berry, after

Although I am working in Lightroom this blog post has links to multiple tutorials on how to achieve this effect using Photoshop, GIMP and Aperture.

Candles at St. Marks, Venice shot in Black and White

Candles at St. Marks, Venice shot in Black and White

 

With split toning applied

With split toning applied

BTW some of the blogs I linked to above were new to me so I will soon add them to my resources tab above. I will be doing this regularly as a record for myself of resources to come back to ( in the hope that at some time I will have time to read all the back posts on every blog!)  and every now and again I’ll give you a round-up of all the new resources I have added recently. also in the interest of full disclosure I should say that the ‘after’ images above do sometimes have some extra post-processing applied such as cropping or cavity but the  main effect came from split-toning.

One last set to illustrate the point – as you can see this one with the straightening tool used as well:

Venice, before processing

Venice, before processing

2014-09-27 Helen's Photos Italy - 0521

With split toning applied

2015 – Less but better

The world of Photography is big. HUGE. It is as big as every person in the world with a camera multiplied by every idea they have, every image they create to which you add every scrap of knowledge they share and every piece of gear created. And then work those elements in every possible combination.

Humongous. Almost overwhelmingly so. Even the pile of books and equipment Santa brought added to the Black Friday e-book haul I treated myself to is looking pretty big. So, where to start learning?

I think the answer is: “anywhere, now.”

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Random photo of leaves to pretty the post up!

 

Over on my art blog today I wrote about how I use New Year Focus words and my 2015 mantra of LESS BUT BETTER.

How to apply that to photography when there is so much exciting, fascinating stuff out there to learn? I feel like a spoiled Violet Elizabeth Bott stomping my foot at the suggestion that I not try to explore it all at once. If you limit me I shall skweem and skweem and skweam until I am sick! Yet, as I wrote, I have to accept for my sanity and health that I cannot do everything I want to do all at once.

I have come to the conclusion that the mantra as it applies to my photography learning is on a daily basis not a yearly one. My goal actually is to learn as much as I can as fast as I can about photography in 2015. But it has to be bit by bit. Each day, less expectation, more fulfillment. One page of a book fully understood and remembered, not the whole book skimmed. One photographers set of Flickr photos fully appreciated, not every image they ever created in a fast slide show. This is Mowgli street food style learning. Small plates of good information, savoured for lasting satisfaction and mental nutrition. I commit to putting some money into tuition from good people, to slowing down and being pleased to take fewer, but more intentional images.

 

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I also commit to remembering why I am doing this. I have nothing to prove, only things I will have pleasure in achieving for myself. That being the case my Photography Focus Word for 2015 is LEARN. My keywords to back that up are: mastery of media, absorb, experiment, enjoy, play, share.

What are your hopes and aspirations for your photography or your life in 2015?