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
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.
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.
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.