Monday, February 23, 2009

Choice or Obligation

It dawned on me the other day that it's been awhile since I took any new photographs (unless you count the one I took of my Mamiya lens that I sold on Ebay). As a dedicated photographer I hate to admit this, but I haven't really felt like shooting new images for awhile.

There a few reasons for this I think. One reason that I have mentioned here before, is that I have been scanning older negatives and reworking them as digital images and loving every minute of it. This has been a great way to practice and learn new Photoshop skills, but it has also allowed me to get closer in some cases, to what my original vision for the image was.

Another possible explanation for this case of apathy is a while back I started featuring a "New Image of The Month" on my website. This really motivated me to create new work but recently it has started to feel a little more like something I "should" do, not really something I "wanted" to do. That's not fair to me or to those of you who enjoy viewing my work. In addition, some of the pressure to create new images has also been reduced because of my decision not to participate in art festivals this year. Usually at this time of year I would be crazy busy making new images so that when the show season started I would have plenty of new work to show. I did not want the people who came to the shows every year to get tired of my booth. I felt a certain obligation to keep things fresh. This is not a bad thing, it's just not my situation this year.

So the other day, in a moment of deep reflection, I made the decision that unless I truly felt moved to pick up my camera, I was going to hold off making new photographs for awhile. This is not an easy thing to declare out loud but I am saying it anyway.

It also occurred to me that whenever I go into Lightroom or Photoshop, I start to feel overwhelmed. I had created a fairly good system of keeping my negatives organized but now it seems like digital files threatened to take over my hard drive. I really want to get in there and label and in many cases, delete, and create a logical system for my files.

I figure I have until July to finish this project. "Why July?" you might be asking. Well, in July I will be spending almost 2 weeks in Paris! My birthday happens to be on Bastille Day and this year I am turning 50 and want to be in Paris and pretend the fireworks are for me! I have never been to France and I know I am going to be driving my family crazy with my selfish desire to scout out amazing opportunities for "Kodak" moments.

By August my "New Image of the Month" feature will be resurrected by choice and not by obligation. As far as I am concerned, that is the only way you can make art that means something to you.

Au revoir mon ami..........................

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Why Hand-color?

Every once in awhile I get asked the question "why do you hand-color your photographs?". This is usually followed with "why not just take a color photograph" or "can't you do that in photoshop?".

Since the earliest days of photography black and white photographs have been hand-colored, but for different reasons. The main intent then was to add a bit of realism to the black and white photograph. The introduction of color film decreased the demand for hand-coloring, but portrait artists continued to offer this option well into the 1950's and early 1960's.

So why do I hand-color? I have mentioned before the meditative quality that hand-coloring offers. In my workshops it's been fun to watch the class become quiet and reflective when they first start coloring. After awhile they start sharing and talking while they work, but the calm usually returns a couple of more times before the class ends.

For many years I prided myself in the fact that I only took and printed straight black and white photographs. However, once I learned how to handcolor I never offered a black and white image again. Every photograph I make gets "the treatment". Once I started hand-coloring I began to shoot differently. I could visualize the possibilities hand-coloring could add to the scene before me. Hand-coloring seemed to add emotion to my photographs, something that I wasn't able to communicate with my black and white images. Master black and white photographers have that skill but it wasn't anything I possessed.

While I have started to dabble with coloring in photoshop I know I will never give up coloring my prints by hand. I love photoshop and what it can do to help me create the best black and white print possible, but hand-coloring that print with pastels seems to be the perfect marriage between technology and tradition and I plan to do whatever I can to carry on that tradition.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Infrared - Part II

I thought I would share a few more of my favorite infrared images. You will see examples of a digital image and 2 of the infrared films I used.

This image, "The Conservatory" was one of the first photographs I made with my D80 after it was converted to shoot infrared only. This is in Golden Gate Park and I love the shadow of the palm tree on the building.

"Tea Garden Bridge" was also shot in Golden Gate Park. I used Kodak High Speed infrared film for this image. This was about 7 years before I got my digital camera. I remember waiting a very long time to get the bridge empty. Kids kept climbing over it, making it very difficult to get the photograph I had been envisioning.

"Clouds I" is a shot I took in Marin County looking out toward Point Reyes. The clouds that day were amazing! I used the Konica infrared film in my Mamiya 645 for this image. I was so happy to see that black sky on the contact sheet!

The ethereal feeling, the drama and the contrast are all reasons why I love infrared.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Infrared Magic

I have been making infrared photographs for many years. I discovered early on that the surreal nature of infrared images made them perfect for hand-coloring.

I started shooting Kodak High Speed 35mm infrared and then found Konica's infrared which came in medium format as well as 35mm.

A simple explanation of infrared photography could be "it records wavelengths of light that the human eye cannot see". When shooting infrared film it is necessary to have a deep red filter over the lens. This filter made for very long exposures which required the use of a tripod.

I loved infrared so much that the very first digital camera I bought was a Nikon D80 that I had converted so it only shoots infrared. Information on conversions can be found at and In addition to converting cameras, there are other methods you can use to make infrared images with your digital camera. I will save that for another post.

Shooting infrared film was a challenge but it could also be magical. The film had to be loaded and unloaded in complete darkness. This could be done using a changing bag or sitting in a very dark closet. The darkness became part of the ritual.

Another "issue" with the film was, since it was very difficult to get a correct exposure, you basically did what I called "bracketing like hell" with each shot. For those that don't know -bracketing is where you shoot the same scene using different exposure settings. I would keep my same fstop and change the shutter speed a few times. After awhile I got to know approximately where to begin, but I still wanted to cover my bases with extra exposures because shooting infrared film was still basically a crapshoot. There was really no way of knowing what you got until the film was developed.

One of the things I liked about working this way was I became very picky about what I was shooting. Since it was possible to only capture 5 or 6 different images on one roll of film, and given the creativity it sometimes took to change a roll, I had to really slow down and then only shoot if I was very excited about what I saw. Using a tripod also helped to make this type of image making a meditation at times.

Because of the unpredictability of the film, I sometimes joked that I would set up a shot, pray to the "infrared gods" and click the shutter.

When I saw the negative of this image, "Tranquil Afternoon", it felt like Christmas! I was attracted to this scene because of the fence line but I had no idea the sky would come out like it did! One of the characteristics of infrared is the black sky and the amazing clouds. Since it depends on so many factors, including the position of the sun, it's really impossible to know for sure what you recorded so it's almost always a surprise!

Making infrared images with a digital camera has eliminated most of the challenges associated with shooting IR film. Since it's no longer necessary to use the red filter (on a converted camera), you can shoot without a tripod (although I always recommend using a tripod whenever possible). In addition, you get to see exactly what you got as soon as you take the picture. This can drastically cut down on the amount of exposures you have to make. Of course not having to deal with the fragile film to begin with makes life easier, especially when traveling.

As much as I love the ease and predictability of my digital infrared camera, there are times when I feel the need to slow down, think carefully about what I am shooting, and "say a little prayer". After that you might find me sitting quietly in a dark closet...........

Monday, February 2, 2009


I discovered the "Soft Focus Filter" long before I started to play around in Photoshop. I sometimes used one on the camera and just as often would hold a soft filter under the enlarger lens while printing in the darkroom.

It wasn't always this way. When I first started to dabble in photography, it was all about sharpness with no grain. That's how "real" photographers made their images ie: Ansel Adams. Since he used an 8 x 10" negative, it was impossible to try to duplicate that kind of perfection using a 35mm negative.

It didn't take long for me to realize that these ultrasharp, grainless images did not have the "feel" I wanted anyway. I then discovered 3200 Kodak Tmax. I started to embrace the grain. I loved the softness I achieved with that film. (I must also confess that I can be a lazy photographer sometimes and shooting 3200 speed film meant I did not need to lug my tripod around.) Combine that grain with a little soft focus and soon I was getting close to the look I was envisioning.

Fast forward a few years and I have gone soft focus crazy. Applying this technique in Photoshop allows for so much more control. I have been using the Classic Soft Focus filter from the Nik Color Efex Pro 2.0 plugin, but there are many ways to achieve the same effect.

Recently I have been taking older images from my portfolio and completely changing their look. This image, "Reaching" was made over 10 years ago. Hopefully you can see the difference adding the soft focus made:

Some people may call this "out of focus", I call it "dreamy"................

Adding "edges" has become my latest obsession. More on this later.