A New Frame

General Thoughts
Winter Branches No.2 - Jordan Lake, NC

Winter Branches No.2 — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

I have always preferred the 4:5 ratio for photographs since it translates easily into 8 x 10 or 16 x 20 prints; the standard when photography was in it’s infancy. It’s just a personal preferrance. When the 35mm film arrived on the scene with a new wider ratio of 2:3, it completely changed how people viewed prints since uncropped versions were now 8 x 12 or 16 x 24. While to me, horizontal images are grugingly acceptable, vertical images in this format always seem as though I am looking through a keyhole. Two of the reasons I finally jumped from medium format film into digital three years ago was: a camera came out with enough resolution (36 megapixels) to compete with film, but just as importantly, it actually showed a 4:5 ratio by darkening the edges in the viewfinder!! I normally don’t crop much, but when I do, it is usually into a square, so I really liked the idea of only seeing exactly what I wanted to include in the final image. An added bonus for the 4:5 is that when traveling, or any other reason for recording several hundred, or even a few thousand images, many more will fit on the memory card before you need to replace it. For my camera, a 32GB card will hold 477 raw images at 4:5, but only 399 at 2:3.

Winter Branches No.1 Clean - Jordan Lake, NC

Winter Branches No.1 — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

The other day I planned to meet a fellow photographer at one of my favorite spots on Jordan Lake for a sunrise but while driving there, I noticed that the sky was completely void of clouds. There was no rush of anticipation for a spectacular scene of clouds lighting up as it neared sunrise; no sense of urgency to get there. I would have considered returning home, but the promise had been made and I dutifully went to the pre-arranged location. I decided to search for a more narrow view to photograph since a wide angle including much of the bald sky did not seem like the way to go. So on went the 70-200mm lens and I began playing with some bare branches along the road overlooking the lake, but could never seem to find the correct balance between the near branches and the distant trees on the far shores. There always seemed to be some distracting element or other problem until, after struggling for a while and worrying about losing the light, I opened up the frame to it’s full 2:3 ratio. Then things began to fall in place with more balance and seemingly, there were fewer distrtactions. But had I not changed formats, in a very short time the color would have been washed out and the moment lost. So, I’ll have to keep the 2:3 format in mind more often in the future because, not only does it open up the frame, it opens up more options just as wider panoramas do.

The big problem with these two images I discovered during processing was that the still waters, when zoomed in @ 100%, contained literally thousands of pieces of “crud” floating on it’s surface. It took alot of diligence and determination to eradicate each and every one of them in Photoshop, really testing my patience. But after a few days! I was able to say they were finally all gone.

Note — I went to this same spot about three weeks after taking these two photos and was saddened to discover that the young trees in the first image had been chainsawed down, for what reason I couldn’t figure out. There had been several instances when I still lived in New Jersey where I revisited a spot and found that the scene had been destroyed by a bulldozer, but it never occurred to me that something like that would happen here, especially on Jordan Lake. I was deeply disillusioned.



Influences and Experiments

General Thoughts


FINAL CORRECTEDJordan Lake SUNSET 1-10-16-36_edited-1

Sunset Glow — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

Shortly after moving to North Carolina, I found out that each town in the area celebrated art by having gallery openings on their own particular Friday of the month. So on a very rainy Friday night, I ventured out to explore a few galleries in Raleigh. Of course I was hoping to see some photography, but I simply enjoy viewing art and was happy to spot, from a distance, a few landscape photographs that got my attention at the first gallery I stopped in. So I wandered over for a closer look and found that they were not photographs at all, but pastels done so well they fooled me until I really looked closely. I got to meet the artist and we have kept in touch over the years, sharing our work and visiting at some of our exhibits and gallery openings.

There have been many times when I have taken blurred images, or even sharply focused ones, that have reminded me of her pastels, and I always tried to share them with her. Now I seem to be going a bit further than simple in camera blurs and processing some originally sharp work to create a final print with a similar “pastel” look. It’s usually done in Photoshop using the original image with two additional layered copies, using Gausian blur for one and motion blur for the other, and then applying them at various opacitys or strengths to achieve the look I’m after. The image at the top is one of those, but I’ll get into how that one came about in a bit.

In the last post, I mentioned a technique that was passed along to me from a photographer I met on Wrightsville Beach a few weeks ago about blurring images by taking multiple exposures that are blended together in camera. I was at Jordan Lake a few days later to try out that technique on a day that was a bit windy in an attempt to smooth

Smooth Water — Blurred Limbs

Smooth Water — Blurred Limbs

the choppy water (on left).  Since the lake level was very high with the water surrounding trees that are usually standing on dry ground, I thought it may be a unique image. By using the multi-exposure method, I might be able to blur the water and the abundant clouds streaking by with the bare winter trees in sharp silhouette. But I neglected to realize that, since it was windy, the trees would be swaying because of the wind, and would render blurry as well. The water did blur as I wanted, but sometimes when the entire image is blurry it doesn’t  work, and so it was in this instance. It just looked like a poorly executed, uninspired blurry picture. Had I taken a single long exposure, the same blurring of the tree limbs would have occurred.


Original with mostly sharp water and branches

But luckily, I did take some sharp images (on left – slightly different location) beforehand just to get the proper light values before I attempted the multiple exposures. What was needed to achieve what I was after was to blend the two images in separate Photoshop layers in order to get the tree limbs mostly in sharp focus from one with blurred water along with a few blurred clouds racing across the sky from the other. I didn’t care too much for the knot of branches in the top right corner and knew that they would be cropped out later, or make the final into a square. But, I’ll have to remember to take at least one properly exposed, sharply focused frame when I attempt this technique in the future.

COMPOSITE Jordan Lake SUNSET 1-10-16-11

High Water Afternoon — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

While at the lake, the time for sunset had passed, and since there were so many clouds where the sun would drop below the horizon, I thought the day’s shoot was over and packed up the gear for the ride back home. Suddenly, the clouds began to light up a bit and I raced to get the camera out again and set up. I didn’t even have time to change lenses or get out the split ND filter, but managed to click off one shot with the already fading color in the clouds and reflecting a bit in the rough waters. As a stand alone image, even though there was some color in the clouds, it was a mediocre image at best. If I had enough time to attempt some motion blurs, or even the multiple exposure technique, I may have explored those possibilities as well. But… I could try to replicate the effect by using a motion blur layer, a Gaussian blur layer or both when I processed the image later at home. Using the original in focus image as a starting point, the image at the top is the result of motion blur layer applied, but “erased” around the trees half submerged in the water so they remained mostly sharp. Although the effects of the blurred layer is a bit heavy handed here, there is the option later, to go back and adjust it. In fact, it is probably always a prudent approach to revisit any image a few days later when it is not still “fresh” to judge whether it remains just as you wanted, or if not, make the necessary adjustments to bring it more in line with the original idea.

Those pastels I saw almost five years ago, as well as additional ones I’ve seen more recently, continue to influence my work today, and the new multiple exposure technique will be something I may try when the conditions warrant. It’s good to have these additional processes to reach for when a simple click of the shutter is not the answer for what we’re trying to achieve. It may be just the beginning. It’s important to consider the camera, various techniques in it’s use, what shutter speed and f-stop we choose, along with the software for processing, to be tools in producing the envisioned final print, just as various brushes and techniques in their use are the tools of a painter. Artists of every type have their own unique collection of tools to create their art. Photographers are no different.