Shared Experiences

General Thoughts
Double Rainbow — Jordan Lake

Double Rainbow — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

The other day it had been raining off and on, in dispersed with short times of sun with interesting clouds throughout the day. I thought if the sun broke through at the right time, there might be a good sunset and kept watching the weather all afternoon. A photographer friend of mine contacted me suggesting we shoot together at Jordan Lake if I were going. It didn’t look promising, but said I would call about an hour before sunset if I thought I would go. Well, at 7pm it was raining and a good sunset looked to be  out of the question. But about 25 minutes before sunset, the sun was faintly visible behind the rain and I quickly looked on the radar app to see a band of showers was passing through with hopefully a bit of a clearing before the next band. If I left immediately, I might be able to make it to a nearby bridge over the lake minutes before sunset just in case; it was my only option. While driving there, looking through the trees to the east, I saw a beautiful, intense rainbow…and then there were two!! But I could only see a sliver. I hoped it would still be there when I got to the lake, but it began to rain pretty strongly again. I used the voice command capability in the car (isn’t technology great!) and called my photo friend just in case she were at the lake somewhere and found she had gone in spite of the rain, but was heading home. Luckily she was still nearby and I gave her directions to the bridge to meet there. When I arrived at the bridge and the view opened up, I could now see a brilliant complete rainbow with another faint one above. The sun was just above the horizon and I scrambled to put on a wide enough lens to capture the entire scene. I didn’t have time to throw the camera on a tripod and managed to click off a few hand-held bracket bursts just before the intensity began to diminish. Had I taken those few extra seconds to use the tripod, I would have been too late!

Raindrops - Jordan Lake NO Noise_HDR

Raindrops on the Lake — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

There were some pretty good colors in the clouds to the west as well, so I quickly got out the tripod and began photographing the western sky from the opposite side of the bridge, bracketing in hopes of using HDR software to blend them later to get the most out of the extreme range of light values. If I remember right in the blur of activity when I first arrived, I think she got there too late for the rainbow, but in time for the sunset, and we shot that while talking and trying to keep our camera lenses free from the light rain that continued.

More often than not, when I meet someone to shoot a sunrise or sunset, nothing much seems to happen, but you do have to be there in case it does. It is certainly more enjoyable when all the elements seem to come together and you have the added bonus of sharing that experience with someone else.

Trying New Things

General Thoughts
Duke Chapel-32

Alter – Duke Chapel No. 1 — Duke University Campus, NC © jj raia

Ever since transitioning from film to digital, I have increasingly pushed what I had previously deemed unacceptable into what is permissible. In the 1990’s while photographing mostly in New Jersey, “the hand of man” in most cases, was simply not allowed into my landscapes. It was very problematic since most of my work was done in the pre-dawn or sunrise hours, and the intrusion of lights still lit from the night before was always a concern. Electrical wires, old tires in lakes, or any number of distractions simply made it more difficult to get the “untouched” look I was after. Shooting at a lake, there were many times when composing an image, I discovered a fishing float hanging from a limb, dangling prominently in the frame, forcing me to pack up and move on. But the technology of today allows many of these formerly elemental taboos to find their way into an image because they can be easily eliminated and the inspiration of the scene can still be recorded. I can distinctly remember once saying to myself when I saw a few tree branches intruding on the edge of the frame that I can take them out in Photoshop and thereby maintain the balance that was in the frame without necessitating recomposition. In addition, this same technology allows for expanded possibilities without any additional requisite hardware.

Antique Cars 5-7-16-20

1959 Chevy © jj raia

In the past year and a half, I have included panoramas, now having the ability to stitch several images together without the need of a specialized film camera necessary many years ago. In addition, images with light values that went beyond the capacity of the film to record were simply not even taken, but are now routinely produced using high dynamic range software to bring the extreme light values within a useable space.

Lately, I have made meager attempts of subjects that previously never even entered my consciousness. I actually went to a small antique auto show at a local park on a brilliantly sunny day and found myself like a fish out of water. There were many difficulties, the main one being my own reflection in the car I was photographing which a polarizer reduced, but did not eliminate. HDR didn’t seem to work for me that day, but I determined it was something with which I needed to get a deeper understanding.

A few days later I went to the Cathedral on the Duke University campus to try some more HDR images, but was informed that tripods were not allowed!! Attempting HDR imagery in the low light expanse of this architectural marvel hand-held was a daunting challenge to say the least. I have already come to terms with my inability to hand hold much of anything anymore, so I made every attempt to steady the camera against walls, fences or anything else that helped. Many of the shots I wanted required a lot of patience because of the steady stream of other folks also visiting. Although HDR seemed necessary when capturing these images, I found that several could be accomplished with the careful post processing of just a single frame from the sequence including the image of the alter at the top and the newly refurbished pipe organ above, right.

Duke Chapel-74

Baptismal Chapel — Duke University Campus, NC © jj raia

The one thing I was after though, was to produce a few images that absolutely did not have the look and feel that so many HDR’s seem to have. Every attempt was made to recreate what might be considered “normal” lighting in the two images of the Baptismal Chapel, above and previously on the left. Currently, my main problem with the HDR software is finding the new image after it’s been saved. A few are still roaming around somewhere in the circuitry of my computer probably never to be found. But these two HDR images did manage to escape.


General Thoughts

Fogbank and Surf at Dawn, — Pacific Coast, CA © jj raia

Any art is always influenced by the work of other artists because none of it is created in a vacuum. Whether it is a conscious effort to mimic a style of one particular artist, even if in a differing medium, or the simple subliminal effects of being exposed to the artwork of others, those influences inexorably find their way into our own. It is unavoidable. There is an ebb and flow of those influences, as one or more will exert a stronger pull at any given time, only to be replaced by new ones or those long subdued as we move forward. When searching for something to record within the frame of the camera, or any other medium as well, does the scene conjure up thoughts of a particular style within our mental library, or does the library itself allow a recognition of a particular element within view, and thereby judging it worthy to record? The answer lies well above my capacity to determine which, if either is true. In any event, those mental images we’ve stored create a familiarity with the scene before us, we are comfortable there and find it almost necessary to record.

As I peer through the camera, I often find I talk to myself about recognizing the style of a particular painter or photographer in the scene within the camera’s frame. Mark Rothko, Wolf Kahn, Jackson Pollock as well as a few photographers, most notably Eliot Porter, always seem to creep into my mental conversation as I compose. I encourage the exploration of the work these artists have produced as inspiration for ourselves in our own pursuits, and to continually explore the art of others to fill our individual mental libraries.

There is something about the minimalism in the work of Mark Rothko that tugs at your senses in their simplicity, and I have used his work as inspiration for my own. There are times when a literal rendition of the scene will work, as in the image at the top of the post. I can still recall my inner conversation as I made it, thinking exclusively of Rothko as I composed the image. Other times, more involvement is needed to create something a bit less literal. For the image below, I was faced with a completely cloudless sky and a total lack of foreground elements and began to think of a motion blur utilizing the opposite shoreline. But, I also liked the subtle ripples in the water nearby which would be lost in the motion blur. The solution seemed to be two images to be blended together later, one utilizing a shutter speed fast enough to stop the water’s movement, and another with a longer shutter speed to allow the camera to be moved while it was open, creating the blur. To keep some semblance of a shoreline during the blur, the camera was only moved a tiny bit left and right. Otherwise it would have been a simple dark line across the entire image instead of illustrating the small, smooth cove that reflected a bit more of the orange sky. After several attempts, what was needed for the top half was finally recorded, the two merged in Photoshop and the Rothko image envisioned came to life.

Rothko - Just Before Dawn — Falls Lake, NC

Just Before Dawn — Falls Lake, NC © jj raia

A bit more involved than simply pressing the shutter release as I did in the previous image taken along the Coast Highway in California just before dawn, looking west at the earth’s shadow over the ocean. It was the dividing line of the fogbank that made it into a Rothko, just as the shoreline and blue/purple reflections divides the image from Falls Lake. The texture in the water of each image maintains the context to give each a sense of place after closer inspection. When viewed at a distance, these two images are a simple exploration of color placed within a square, each hue providing clues to the subject not readily discerned.