Commentary

  • Rhinnon at Gorsedd Arberth

    Rhinnon at Gorsedd Arberth

    “Rhiannon at Gorsedd Arberth” was inspired by Welch mythology, in which the fairy/goddess Rhiannon comes to our world from the Bright World, arriving at the mystery-shrouded hill or mound of Gorsedd Arberth – this is supposedly a real place, but its present-day location is debated. Somehow a rock formation from the Grand Canyon finds itself in Wales, for dramatic effect. So the fantasy elements make for a strange picture, with brightness in a night sky, mist, and a figure with a sort of glowy aura, which I think should be OK if your are a princess from Faery. It was a very ambitious picture for me, it took weeks of work, starting with a photo session with Susan, who has the incredible facial bones and graceful neck; the whole thing fails with a face less dramatic. A lot of this is hand-drawn; for example, most of the shadowing, and the mists. 

     

  • An Annie Leibovitz Vogue Picture

    An Annie Leibovitz Vogue Picture

    On the right is a wonderful picture by Annie Leibovitz as it appeared in Vogue. There is a great tension between the leaping motion and the stillness of the figure in the window. How she got the lighting to work, I don’t know. 

    But I know how I would have tried to shoot it; I would have shot the dancer separately with flash and pasted him in … otherwise I don’t know how to get both the great shading of his body, and to get the motion frozen. (I think this may have been the case, because it LOOKs to me like the illumination of the dancer is from ABOVE and in front of him -- look at the forehead, and the right arm and shoulder -- and this does not seem consistent with the light sources in the room.  I know there is no window up there from other pictures of that building).  

    In Vogue it is a two-page spread, and maybe that was the photo editor’s decision; but as great as the picture is, it struck me that the wide composition had too many disparate points of focus which did not relate to each other (particularly disturbing is the bright patch to the left, which makes you kind of lose focus on the dancer).  So on the left is how I would have composed it (OK it takes a lot of nerve to re-compose an AL picture!).  [After I posted this I read in one of her books Leibovitz describing how she shoots for a two-page spread, confirming that it affects how she composes a shot]

  • Equipment

    I do everything with a Canon 5DIII and a single 24 - 105mm lens; I use the camera in the most basic manner, 99% of its functionality is unknown to me.  I have a bunch of speedlights and a monolight which I use with pockwizard wireless connections, and some inexpensive light modifiers. That is pretty much it.  I wish I had a nice big studio, but I don't, I occasionally borrow space from dance studios ... I do wish I had one of those huge octagonal light modifiers to make really soft, soft shadows on the face.  I use photoshop and an inexpensive vector graphics program called idraw.   I always shoot RAW, always make all my settings manually. 

  • The Viennese Waltz Fantasy

    The Viennese Waltz Fantasy

    This started with a Shutterstock picture of palace in Portugal, of which I lopped half off and duplicated the other side to make it symmetrical.  I had to eliminate the daylight comming in the windows, as this was supposed to feel like candlelight.  Clearly there were lots of shadows added.  The floor was re-done to make it darker and shinier with reflections.  Then the pictures of the dancers, and the quartet was added. Alvina did the framing, which I think was perfect.  

  • Beach in the moonlight picture

    Beach in the moonlight picture

    I think of this as some sort of sea-spirit made of moonlight and mist. I took a panoramic (3 images pieced together) daytime picture of a beach in Hawaii a decade ago my first digital camera. It was pretty primitive, but the combined three pictures had a lot of pixels, and there was plenty of light, so the image had adequate quality.  I never quite knew what to do with that background until I had a chance to pose a model for the foreground and then it was pretty clear to me what the composition of the picture had to be. You can see that I stretched out the sea toward the foreground to make the composition more dramatic.  Posing a model for something like this is really hard. Although we took a lot of pictures, with light coming over her left shoulder, I never quite got all the right elements in one picture, and I had to compose the final version of her from bits and pieces.  The clouds were shot separately, actually the ones on the horizon came from a travel picture from Cancun.  Some of the sky and mist are hand-drawn. 

  • Evolution of Dark Jedi Picture

    Evolution of Dark Jedi Picture

    For better or worse, when you do a picture in photoshop, you are never done, there is always the possibility of altering it. The sequence shown above shows how the picture evolved toward its final state.  It started with a panoramic picture (three shots stitched together) of a building in Arlington, showing extreme wide angle.  The sun was reflected in the buildings surface.  Then things just got out of hand, and it wound up looking like pulp sci-fi cover art.  I like the almost agoraphobic feeling of wide-open space created by the extreme perspective and the astronomical objects.  A lot of the shadowy elements of the picture are hand-drawn.  There are of course a number of open-source space images.  At first I was thinking of having a female figure looking up, but the glowing hands just look spectacular.  The strange luminous object between the hands is based on a photo of smoke from an extinguished candle, shot with a flash. The picture is probably overly busy, but what the hell, it's a lot of fun. 

  • 16 billion photons is not enough

    The tiny iPhone cameras now have 8 megapixel sensors, and they weigh almost nothing; and even really small point-and-shoot cameras have huge megapixel numbers – plenty to potentially produce fine sharp images. But the size of high-end professional cameras has not changed much despite the miniaturization of electronics and sensors. Why? Its not because professional photographers LIKE to lug around  big heavy cameras. If you see professional photographers working you may notice that the camera lens is about the same size as, or at times much larger than, the camera body. The body could be shrunk, but  the lens cant, because the diameter of the lens is the critical feature.  The reason has to do with the nature of light itself; it was Einstein who suggested that light should be thought of as being made up of tiny discrete packages of energy (photons). Picture light falling on a sensor (or film, it does not matter) in terms of raindrops landing on dry pavement; there is a lot of randomness to it.  Brighter light just has more photons. A bigger lens captures more photons. Because of the randomness, you want 100 (or better yet 1000) photons to be counted in each pixel.  Each pixel has a red, green, and blue value. As much as 10 to 20 photons will be lost in the camera for various reasons for each one counted. Finally, you want this number of photons even in the darker areas of the image which may be 10 times dimmer than the average.  Multiply 10 megapixels, times 100 times 3 times 20 times 10 and you get 600 billion photons. I calculate that the small lens of a phone camera will get hit with about 16 billion photons in a 1/60 second exposure in living-room light (http://warrenmars.com/photography/technical/resolution/photons.htm).  Of course outside daylight is much brighter, and the small cameras do much better when there is plenty of light. But the point is that the sensors have gotten so good that they are not really the issue any more, its how many photons the camera gulps in.     

  • Ballroom Dance Photography

    Shooting competition ballroom dancers involves particular rewards and challenges.  On the one hand there are lots of gorgeous people in great outfits and expressive poses.  On the other, they are moving fast, they are mostly far away, and the ambient light is usually not good, so just getting good-quality images is a technical challenge. Professionals who cover these events mostly solve this problem using a big on-camera flash pointed at the subject; with modern equipment this gives reliable, high-quality images that can be mass-produced with acceptable results.  But its almost impossible to get the sort of effects I want this way -- that sort of lighting is just not pretty. So I bounce the flash off the ceiling; this is tricky and somewhat unreliable, but it produces a softer more natural light, and an image I can work with in Photoshop. I take hundreds of pictures in an evening, and then work with only a few.  One problem is skin tone: dancers put make-up on their faces, and some have spray tan on their bodies, and these sometimes behave badly in some lighing conditions.  Another problem is that the colors of many dresses are so (unnaturally) saturated they wipe out highlight detail ... you have to kill these blown-out highligts in RAW processing.  I have developed a set of recipes in Photoshop for ballroom that give my pictures a unique look. I am pretty unprincipled in terms of altering the original; for example, if I think the color of a dress distracts from the overall effect, I will change it.  The light and shadow that appears in the pictures does not correspond to reality.  What I leave unaltered is the fine detail and the "likeness" of the dancers.  

  • Illustration pictures

    I have added a section called "Illustration" which for the most part combines hand-drawn or vector graphics with photograpy.  I am still learning how to do this; the elements have to blend together, so you have to make the graphic elements more photographic and the photographic elements somewhat more graphic.  The ones with Kirill and Daria were based on "studio" photography so were posed pictures.  There is one hand-drawn "map" which is essentially a book illustration.

  • The new website

    I hope the new website looks more professional. I will probably post fewer pictures on this one than the old site, and they will be more stable.  I will use the Picasa site, I think, for "everyday" pictures.  I still have some work to do uploading pictures properly tailored to this site ... what worked for the old site does not quite look right on this one.  

    The home "splash" page is a flash photo of the smoke from an extinguished candle, albeit heavily manipulated. 

    The "about" page is of course just silliness, but I thought it might be fun to provide an explanation of "TheLostEye."  The stuff about Perseus is a proper Greek myth.  I keep the Eye in a safe deposit box at the bank.