Tag Archives: experimentation

Vision Training: Fork Art

I greatly valued my education when I was a scientist, and always looked to learn new skills. That hasn’t changed now that I am a photographer.

Fork and reflection edited using the Photoshop Gradient Map tool

I took a picture of a fork on a black piece of plexiglass (hence the reflection) and then started playing with the Photoshop Gradient Map tool.

A while back, I took an online class “Stretching your frame of mind”, taught by Joe Baraban, and this course left a lasting impression on me. The instructor, who is a top photographer with an impressive list of clients and awards,  told us about the principles of design. He also stressed the fact that he had the great advantage of having studied art instead of photography.

Fork and reflection edited using the Photoshop Gradient Map tool

Another version of the fork photo using different colours in the Photoshop Gradient Map tool.

So when the opportunity to take a graphic design class on Coursera presented itself, I immediately signed up. The first week of the class was an introduction to image making, and we were asked to create at least ten images of an ordinary household object.

Fork and reflection edited using the Photoshop Gradient Map tool and the addition of a texture  filter from the Photoshop filter gallery

In this version, I changed the colours of the Gradient Map again and also added a texture using the Photoshop filter gallery. When combining these two tools, the possibilities are nearly endless.

I chose a fork for the assignment, because I really like the lines and shapes of that object. Visually, I find forks more interesting than knives and spoons. And I didn’t want to chose too large an object, because that would have made finding a suitable background more difficult.

Fork and reflection edited using the Photoshop Gradient Map tool and the addition of a texture  filter from the Photoshop filter gallery

Another version using the Gradient Map and the texture filter. Sometimes it’s hard to know when to stop!

Initially, I thought I’d need about three compositions of my fork on a background in order to generate the ten different versions required for this assignment. But when I started playing around in Photoshop, I quickly generated ten variants using only the composition above. I’m only showing you my favourites.

Black and white picture of the fork on a black pice of plexiglass

It is easy to overcomplicate things, when playing around in Photoshop, by stacking many effects. It is useful at some point to step back and try a new simple version. Like a black and white one for example.

It is also fun to play with the various Duotones, Tritones and Quadtones that come with Photoshop. There are many good tutorials on this subject online. The photograph below uses one of the default Photoshop Duotones.

Fork on black reflective background edited with a Photoshop Duotone

I used a different composition to play with the various Duotones available in Photoshop. Here again, there are many, many possibilities available to you if you are willing to experiment.

To conclude, I strongly suggest you try this exercise with a household object of your choosing. It opened my eyes to many new possibilities for image making.

Fork on black reflective background edited with a Photoshop Duotone and a texture filter from the Photoshop filter gallery

One can of course combine effects and add a texture filter to the Duotone photograph. Here is an example using the craquelure filter from the Photoshop filter gallery,




iPhone Photography – Combining Pictures

If you’ve never tried multiple exposures, I suggest you do. Although I do warn you that in the beginning it can be a little frustrating, because the results are likely to leave a bit to be desired, shall we say. Like everything else, it takes some time to get some intuition about what subject matter works and the kind of photos that produce interesting combinations. I found that even after you’ve done it for a while, this technique always has surprises in store for you.

Mannequin head and wall paper texture combined with the Diana Photo app on iPhone.

This is a combination of a mannequin head photograph and a picture of the wallpaper in my living room. Sometimes, you don’t have to go far to add interest to your photographs.

I was introduced to the Diana photo app in an iPhone photography class I took. With this app, you can combine pictures from your iPhone camera roll in a simple way and experiment with the multiple exposure technique.

Mannequin head and sofa fabric combined with the Diana Photo app on iPhone.

Another mannequin head photo combined with a texture/pattern from my living room using the Diana Photo app. This time, I used a close-up of the fabric on my sofa.

So far, I’ve had the most success combining a photo of some particular subject and another involving a pattern or a texture. I think this is because one needs to shoot pictures with superposition in mind, and I have yet to get a good grasp of how to do this. I’ll keep you posted when I figure it out.

Lutton Place, Edinburgh and a wood texture combined with the Diana Photo app on iPhone.

This picture of Lutton Place, Edinburgh, was combined with a wood texture using the Diana Photo app. The texture was again photographed in my flat. I know, I should go out more…..

Impressionist Photography: Winter Forest Pans

This is the winter instalment of my forest impressionist photography project using the panning technique.

Impressionist photography using the panning technique in the forest of Blackford Hill, Edinburgh in the winter

I discovered this location in the fall and was curious to see what it would look like during the winter.

While I’ve been using this approach for some time now, I’m still surprised by the results I get. This luckily means there must be many, many other photography subjects out there for which one can get interesting panning shots.

Impressionist photography using the panning technique in the forest of Blackford Hill, Edinburgh in the winter

It was one of the few locations deep inside the forest where I managed to get the panning technique to work.

From experience, I’ve found that it isn’t a good idea to dismiss something out of hand without giving it a try, because some of the most interesting discoveries I’ve made with impressionist photography techniques were ‘happy accidents’. So experimentation is essential. On the flip side, that also means one must discard of lot of attempts, but that isn’t too much of a problem with today’s digital technology.

Impressionist photography using the panning technique in the forest of Blackford Hill, Edinburgh in the winter

I found it earlier to use the panning technique in soft light, and the clear advantage of the winter season in Scotland is that there are many, many cloudy days with even soft light.

In the film days, such a project must have cost a fortune. Not only is the cost of taking a picture minimal with digital, the immediate feedback from the display at the back of the camera allows one to adjust from shot to shot, thus enhancing the chance of getting a usable photo. And in spite of this, it does take quite a few takes to get it right.

Impressionist photography using the panning technique in the forest of Blackford Hill, Edinburgh in the winter

I find vertical shots more challenging when panning the camera. 

And while I’ve slowly grown to like the muted colours of the winter season, the spring colours now on display make me itch to pursue this personal photo impressionism project.

Flute Reflections and Notes Bokeh

If you follow this blog, you know I love personal projects. These allow me to experiment and hone my craft.

One of the things I’ve been wanting to try for a while is a trick with bokeh. Any out of focus source of light takes the shape of the diaphragm of the lens, which is round if shooting wide open. As a variation on this, you can put a shape cut out of black cardboard in front of your lens, such as the notes in the flute photo, and the out of focus sources of light will take that shape. In the photograph below, I used some simple Christmas lights.

Muramatsu silver flute with reflections and notes in the background

Shiny objects always represent a lighting challenge.

The above picture is a composite of two shots, one for the bokeh (shot with wide open aperture) and one for the flute (shot for maximum depth of field). My Muramatsu GX model silver flute is in need of a comprehensive service. A lot of notes have been played on it since I received it as a graduation present for my PhD.

I couldn’t resist buying a piece of black plexiglas to provide a reflection of the flute and add some interest to this product shot. I plan to further experiment with these kinds of reflections.

Impressionist Photography: Winter Forest Multiple Exposures

Last year, I did skip the winter season when it came to my personal project on photo impressionism. I didn’t think I could get any interesting images. I should have known better.

Multiple exposures of winter forest scene in Blackford Hill, Edinburgh

I revisited this scene, which I had discovered in the fall. The muted early tones evoke rather different feelings than the bright fall colours

It is generally a bad idea to dismiss a photographic idea without giving it a try, I have learned. Sure, sometimes my initial gut feeling that I won’t get interesting pictures is confirmed. But I found that if I really try to explore the subject, I will at worst come up with some better ideas for next time, and at best get some more photographs to add to my body of work. It’s always worth a try.

Multiple exposures of winter forest scene in Blackford Hill, Edinburgh

I found there was a lot of dead wood lying on the ground during this winter, and these horizontal lines interfered with the vertical tree lines when taking the multiple exposures. So I had to find a way to frame my photographs without the wood on the ground. This is one of the few pictures where I managed to do that.

So I decided this time around to go back to Blackford Hill and see if there weren’t any interesting images to capture during the winter season. I was pleasantly surprised. This post shows my favourite multiple exposure photographs of the winter forest in Blackford Hill.

Multiple exposures of winter forest scene in Blackford Hill, Edinburgh

This is a picture I would never have taken even a year ago, and was a very pleasant surprise.

Sure, I prefer the fall (my favourite season for this kind of project) or the spring, but the muted earthly tones found during the winter season have an appeal of their own. What do you think?

Light Painting Comedienne Juliette Burton

Last December, I had the wonderful opportunity to photograph Juliette Burton.

Juliette is an award-winning actress, writer and performer, whose last show “Look At Me” received raving reviews in the national press at the Edinburgh fringe festival 2014.

At the time Juliette was about to move to London and wanted some photographic memories of her beautiful Edinburgh flat. I was very happy to oblige because I relished the challenge of light painting a new type of environmental portrait.

Light painting of actress, writer and performer Juliette Burton in her Edinburgh flat, sitting in a chair

Juliette wanted to be photographed in front of this wall. I really liked the two open doors and the story they tell, so the framing of the photograph pretty much worked itself out.

I really love working with artists. They are very engaged during the shoot and it makes my job as a photographer easier. In all the photographs, there are a number of items included whose true meaning only Juliette knows!

Light painting of actress, writer and performer Juliette Burton sitting in front of  the fireplace in her Edinburgh flat

Juliette particularly liked the fireplace in her flat. This is my favourite of the four set ups we tried.

But the beauty of photographs is that you can interpret them in your own way, even if that isn’t what the subject and photographer intended. And I’m sure you can create your own story with each of the photographs shown here.

Light painting of actress, writer and performer Juliette Burton standing by  the fireplace in her Edinburgh flat

This is my second favourite of the fireplace setups. The wall was rather bland, and you may have notices that I overlaid a texture on top of the photographs to make the wall a bit more interesting.

Juliette was a joy to collaborate with. A subject is always vulnerable in front of the camera, and she/he must trust the photographer to do them justice. Juliette and I first met on the photo shoot and I was very grateful she trusted me from the beginning. That is why I’m really delighted she likes the results.

Impressionist Photography: Fall Forest Multiple Exposures

In my previous blog post, I showed some fall forest impressions obtained by panning the camera. Another impressionist technique I like is taking multiple exposures in camera. In some cases it produces images I like better than the ones I get from panning the camera, but in other instances panning is the way to go. I make every effort to take pans and multiple exposures of the same subject, and chose the ones I prefer later on. And sometimes, I can’t decide.

Multiple exposures of fall forest in Blackford Hill, Edinburgh

This is one subject where panning didn’t really work for me. I much, much prefer this multiple exposure version. Taken in Blackford Hill, Edinburgh.

Finding subjects that work with multiple exposures is a matter of trial and error. I stumbled upon trees as a good subject for this technique while walking in Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh. I then tried the technique on multiple trees in the forest of Blackford Hill. Since I liked the results, I decided to go back to the same location to document the seasonal changes.

Multiple exposure photograph of the fall forest in Blackford Hill, Edinburgh.

This is another example of a multiple exposure version woking better than the panning shot. And I would not have been able to decide which technique worked best prior to taking the photos.

I do these kinds of personal projects because they help me refine my vision as a photographer. When starting out in photography, one is very often frustrated because the images out of the camera do not correspond to what one saw on location. This is because the digital camera doesn’t see the world the way we do.

Multiple exposure photograph of the fall forest in Blackford Hill, Edinburgh

This scene is one example where I like both versions, multiple exposures and panning (see my previous blog post for the panning shot)

It is thus important to be able to visualise in one’s mind what the photograph is going to look like given the scene in front of us.

Multiple exposure photograph of the fall forest in Blackford Hill, Edinburgh.

Here’s another case where I cannot decide if I like the multiple exposure or panning shot better.

My light painting and impressionism projects do require a great deal of pre-visualisation, and I believe they’ll make me a better photographer.

Multiple exposures photograph of Blackford Hill, Edinburgh.

It’s always a good idea to take both vertical and horizontal compositions. I find it harder to take multiple exposures photograph when holding the camera vertically.

Impressionist Photography: Fall Forest Pans

Fall is my favourite season for taking pictures in the forest. I love the feeling you get walking around. But with the amount of detail modern cameras are able to reproduce, it is sometimes difficult to convey that feeling in pictures.

Panning picture of fall forest scene in Blackford Hill, Edinburgh, early fall

It was rather early in the fall, and thus there were only hints of the autumn foliage colours. This is one of my favourite panning shots.

Panning the camera during a long exposure is a very effective way of getting rid of the fine details and leaving the viewer with just an impression of the scene the photographer is looking at.

Panning picture of fall forest scene in Blackford Hill, Edinburgh, late fall

A few weeks later after the first photograph was taken, the fall colours were in full force.

And from day to day and week to week, the colours of the forest change and one gets different pictures every time one goes out, even if choosing the exact same vantage point. Especially since it is rather difficult to replicate the camera movements from one time to the next.

Panning picture of a few trees with fall colours on Blackford Hill, Edinburgh

This is an area I had walked by and not paid attention to in the spring and summer. But the wonderful fall colours grabbed by attention and I worked this location for a while, getting a few pictures I like very much.

All of the pictures in this post were taken on Blackford Hill, in Edinburgh. I wanted to get pictures from that same location for different seasons. I think for 2015/16, I’ll be looking at other wooded areas for my personal forest impressionist photography projects.

Panning photograph of three trees with fall colours, taken on Blackford Hill, Edinburgh

This is another photograph from the same location as above. From a different point of view. And the light did change from one shot to the next, as this picture has slightly waker tones than the previous one.


Light Painting Composer and Audio Producer Frankie Lowe

This instalment of my personal light painting project had me working with composer, audio producer and musician Frankie Lowe. I was fortunate to meet Frankie through one of my previous light painting subjects, composer and cellist Atzi.

I love working with musicians and artists on these light painting projects, because they relate to the kinds of moody pictures one gets with this technique. They also like the novelty factor. After all, light painting does produce photographs one is not used to seeing, and as an artist it is always good to differentiate yourself. Another great benefit of working with artists and musicians is that they are full of ideas, and no two of them are remotely alike. This guarantees a new and interesting experience every single time.

Composer and audio producer Frankie Lowe at the piano light painting

I decided to gel my LED light torch and picked a cool blue to add colour contrast with the warm tungsten light by the piano. Since bluish people look quite unnatural, I removed the gel when light painting Frankie’s face.

The session with Frankie was no exception. I asked Frankie where he’d like to be photographed, i.e what kind of location would represent him and what he does best. I want my collaborators to like the images I produce and use them to promote themselves. It’s a win win situation. They get something out of the project so it wasn’t a waste of their time, and my pictures get exposure.

Frankie chose to be photographed in his recording studio. This posed a number of challenges, given the tight space, amount of recording equipment and number of musical instruments. While light painting a scene, I need to move around and be able to light the various parts of the scene from interesting vantage points. And the number of objects in the scene created some challenges in composing the photographs. Photography is all about problem solving.

Light painting of composer and audio producer Frankie Lowe in his recording studio

I’ve grown to like environmental portraits of this kind. There are lots of things to keep the viewer looking around the frame. And the light painting adds depth and dimension to the scene.

I’m quite pleased with the final results and especially the experience gained in carrying out this project. I was also delighted by the reactions on Facebook when Frankie updated his banner with the studio photograph above. All in all, time well spent.

Light painting of composer and audio producer Frankie Lowe  in his studio playing the guitar.

The last set up of the session. I experimented some more with colour gels.

Breaking The Rules: Colour Abstracts

One of my scientific heroes is Einstein. The main mathematical formulas of special relativity, such as the Lorentz and Poincare transformations, had been worked out by others, but his contribution was perhaps the most important. Einstein clarified what the equations actually meant.

In particular, the mathematics of special relativity implied that the cherished notions of absolute space and time had to be abandoned. Even luminaries like Hendrik Lorentz could no let go of these concepts. But Einstein had no problem discarding the old ideas. He loved to question authority. Einstein once quipped: “As punishment for my contempt for authority, Fate has made me an authority myself.”

Colour abstract obtained by moving the camera over a bed of flowers during a long exposure

Moving the camera sideways over a bed of flowers during a long exposure produced this abstract photograph of colour.

I believe the same applies to art, and photography in particular. Why not try and break some rules? One of the rules is that one must hold the camera steady in order to get tack sharp photographs. I was introduced to the idea of camera movement by Bryan Peterson, a photographer who’s shot advertising campaigns for companies like UPS and American Express.

Ironically, the idea didn’t really resonate with me at first, but it was Bryan’s authority figure status that convinced me to give it a try! And I’ve embraced the idea ever since. If you are like me and like abstract paintings but are pretty useless with paint brushes, this may be something you ought to try too.

Colour abstract obtained by rotating the camera while zooming over a bed of flowers

Rotating the camera while zooming over the same bed of flowers produced this pattern of colours. An exposure time of 1/4s or so is needed to produce this effect (it varies depending on the subject and the focal lengths of your zoom, so a little experimentation is required)