URBAN

I WANTED NORTHERN LIGHTS PHOTOS. I GOT INSPIRATION.

Landscape photography (like life) is unpredictable.  Sometimes you are presented with weather and conditions that are neither what you expected or hoped for.  I ran into this last weekend.  My hopes were high for capturing the Northern Lights.  The forecast was promising but sadly nothing materialized in my area.  Fortunately I didn't come away completely empty handed. 

With no new images to work on today I found myself digging back through my archives.  As I worked on this image of Toronto my hopes of catching the aurora in action must have seeped into my subconscious (cue the Rolling Stones).  

While the universe didn't present me with the aurora images I wanted, it did provide me with heaps of inspiration.  

 

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A ROOM WITH A VIEW - how to get a great night shot of a city from your hotel room

I’m not much of a city girl (I’ve said it before) but I do love the way a city looks at night.  When I travel to a city I do my best to try and get at least one night time image that captures it’s sparkling features.  Sometimes (often) it is from the hotel room window.  I’ve not always been successful but I have learned a few techniques that have helped me improve my hit rate.  Here are few tips you might find helpful when making your own sparkling city images.

 

PICK A ROOM WITH A VIEW

You can use google maps to locate a hotel that might have a good view.  Perhaps one that overlooks the skyline or a well lit landmark of interest. Once you have chosen your hotel you can check trip advisor to get suggestions from previous guests as to what rooms have good views.  To narrow down your choice further, try www.room77.com to actually see and compare one room’s view to another.  

 

GET A CRISP SHOT

Shooting through glass at night can present some difficulties.  Here are a few things you can do to ensure you get the best shot possible;

  • Turn off all of the lights in the room and try closing the curtains behind you to block out the light and get rid of your reflection in the glass.  Take a few shots and look at them closely before proceeding to see if you have any unwanted reflections.
  • Stabilize your camera.  Either bring a tripod or be sure to place your camera on something stable - sometimes the window ledge is deep enough other times you may need to get creative with furniture or use your luggage to prop the camera up on. Be careful.  Damage is not the goal.
  • Get as close to the glass as you can with the end of the lens. (But please don’t lean against it - I’ve heard terrible tales of glass breaking).  If you are using auto focus, mind that the focus is on the city and not on the glass - you may have to flip it to manual focus to stop the camera from “hunting" for focus.  Once you get the focus right, if you haven’t already, lock it in by carefully (without bumping the focus ring) switching the camera to manual focus so that it doesn’t shift back when you depress the shutter button. 
  • No flash please.  You may need to open up the aperture (low f-stop number) and or increase the ISO to get the exposure right.  To start, I place the camera in manual mode, with my aperture at f9,  ISO at 100 and shutter speed in bulb mode.  I then press and hold the shutter button and start counting. At 8 seconds I let it go and check the shot to see if I am getting what I want. I adjust the length of time I hold the shutter open either up or down to get the right exposure.

 

HAVE FUN 

It’s actually not that hard to get some interesting shots… and you have the added benefit of being warm and dry so take your time and experiment.  For example:

  • try zooming the lens out on a long exposure shot for an interesting effect
  • try long exposures to get light trails on a busy street (as I did in the image at top)
  • take some at sunset and catch the reflections off the buildings
  • try creating some abstract images by zooming in on a building with interesting patterns
  • busy intersection below you? take a few images and process them using a tilt shift filter (or do it in camera if you have one of those lenses) 
  • try bracketing -  take multiple shots at different exposures and then blend these later using photo editing software
 TRY TAKING A DOUBLE EXPOSURE  Some cameras will let you do this in camera.  If not take two photos - the first in focus and and the second one purposely out of focus then combine them in post processing.   (click the image above for my post on creating this NYC image)

TRY TAKING A DOUBLE EXPOSURE 
Some cameras will let you do this in camera.  If not take two photos - the first in focus and and the second one purposely out of focus then combine them in post processing.  
(click the image above for my post on creating this NYC image)

So the next time you find yourself in a city don’t forget to have a look out the hotel window and consider trying to make a few sparkling city night shots. Have fun my friends.

 

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THE PROCESS OF MAKING ART - are you planned or spontaneous?

I have heard some photographers say that they knew what their final image would look like before they even pushed the shutter button.  They could see in their mind the image they ultimately wanted to create and so they set up everything - the who, the where, the when, the how - in order to gather the raw data they needed to create the image envisioned.  

I wonder… is that how it works for you?  

I don’t find that happens for me very much.  And often I find that if I do have a preconceived notion of what I want to create and I pursue that, I don’t end up liking it as much as when I allow for more spontaneity to come into the process. 

Other artists profess the way to find creative brilliance is to focus on the process of making art rather than the end result.  I do find that approach rather freeing but I’m not sure that exactly describes how things work for me either.

When I set up and took the image above - I most certainly had no idea it would end up looking like the finished product you see above.  The process in fact was one of chance for me. On the morning pictured I was awakened by stray sunbeams flooding through the hotel window thanks to me forgetting to pull the heavy curtains the night before.  When I looked out the window I noticed the light was bouncing off the glass and mirror of the buildings in interesting ways so I decided I would see if I could collect some raw data of that.  Now, months later I selected this raw file and started to work on it in the digital darkroom (Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop) with the hopes of creating a companion piece for my other new NYC image.  There was no plan in the initial capture of the raw data but there was some plan in the processing though admittedly it is not as I had expected.

Maybe how we each make art is a custom blend of planning and spontaneity.  And where the individual lies along the line between the two poles has something to do with the limitations or skills you have in the different areas.  

I know my own process both in the field capturing the raw data and later in the dark room creating art is a a constant shifting along a middle ground between planning and spontaneity.  
When I decide to go out to shoot, I try to set myself up to find beauty or a beautiful story.  I will check the time of sunrise or sunset (using the photographers ephemeris app) and the weather and if I heading to a new place, I will research what other photographers have done at that place to see if it can give me a clue as to where others have found beauty.  But then I just go because I have found that beauty is usually there - regardless of the time, weather and what others have found before.  I show up and stay in tune with what catches my eye.  
Later, when I open up the raw file to create an image, again this waffling between planned and spontaneous creating happens.  I will sometimes start out with how I want an image to look - but often the end image is a result of allowing myself to experiment and enjoy the process of making art.

So here is my big take away.  However you make your art - where ever you fall between planning and spontaneity - is the best way for you to make YOUR art.  The point is you are MAKING art.  I think it is definitely useful to understand how others do things… there is always something to be learned from others (particularly those who’s art you admire) but the best way for you is just that… the best way for you.  

Have fun creating this week my friends!

Sources of Inspiration:  
Many things help to inspire my posts - books, movies, conversations... this post I think was largely inspired by a few things I've been reading.

  • I have just started reading The Artist's Way - A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron.  I have owned this book for over 10 years.  For some reason I have finally opened it.
  • I recently watched a video by Miss Aniela in the Arcanum Grand Library in which she provided a link to this article she wrote.  I love her art but also how eloquently she expresses this idea of creating spontaneously.
 

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HOW TO CREATE A MAGICAL IMAGE OF NEW YORK CITY

The thing I love best about a city is the lights!  A city at night is a magical thing... the grit and grime gets washed away by the shadow of night and bathed anew in the multi-coloured glow of lights.  Alright, I admit -  that's a bit pollyanna but you know what I mean right?  I was in New York City a while back and couldn't help but snap a bunch of photos of all the lights.

I've been working on this image (which is looking towards the epicenter of lights at Times Square) for a while.  It's the result of my attempts to blend photos that are related to create a new image with greater impact. In this case I took several photos of the same thing - 5 focused exposures tone mapped in Photomatix, and 2 out of focus images of the same thing with nice round bokeh of the lights. I played with the with bokeh to get the right intensity on the colours, then created a tilt filter effect on the in-focus HDR layer using Topaz Lens Efex and and finally stacked them up and used the lighten blend mode in photoshop to give the feel of a double exposed image.

If I've lost you now, my apologies - go ahead and skip down to bottom of this post (below the video).  BUT if the last paragraph got the wheels spinning in your brain... read on to find out what inspired all this plus a cool how to video.

My new experiment on this New York image was inspired by several things - a love of bokeh lights, tilt shift and double exposed images.

I've been playing around with creating bokeh images for a while now.  Between holiday time and the ice storm I've been served lots of opportunities lately to experiment.  You might remember images from some of my recent posts - like this one? And this one?

Add to that my recent discovery of takashi kitajima, who's tilt shift, bokeh, city lights photos I find nothing short of captivating. Go ahead - google him, circle him, plus one him or follow him - I'll wait.  Just make sure to come back here afterwards. :-) 

Then layer on the idea of making "double exposure" images.  Yes - I came across some beautiful examples of this recently made by Dylan and Sara Photography and then found their video below of how to do this in camera!

So I got wondering what would happen if I combined all these things I loved.  Bokeh, tilt shift and double exposure ideas.  My image posted here is a first crack at it.  It's not 100% there yet but it's moving in the right direction... it has the right feeling... a little bit magical.

Which is exactly what I wanted - 'cause that's what I love best about cities.  

What about you?  Do city lights captivate you?
Have you ever tried to blend a few different techniques on a single image?  Did it turn out the way you had planned/ hoped?

Go ahead and let me know in the comments below, and have a magical weekend everyone!

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DECEMBER - A MONTH OF SHADOWS AND MAGIC


There is something magical about December.  Perhaps it's because here in the northern hemisphere the days are getting shorter.  Or rather more to the point, night comes earlier and lasts longer.  

Candles, twinkle lights, fire light  - they all owe their enchantment to the dark.  Without shadow the light would would be undefined.  It's the contrast that makes things interesting.

The Christmas Market in Toronto's Distillery District is charming.  We arrived around 4pm and wandered around enjoying all the displays and poking in the stores.  But as night fell and the shadows grew, the lane ways lined with glowing gas lamps and twinkling lights morphed into a more captivating world.  Even the horses on the brightly lit carousel seemed to come to life.

As  photographer, I find I'm always paying attention to the light... but my newest discovery is that there is magic in the shadows.

Of course I'm not the first to consider this.  I recall Trey Ratcliff talking about this with regards to processing HDR photos.  A side effect of producing photos with a high dynamic range of light is that often the shadows can be completely eliminated.  This is what allows one to see greater detail in an image.  Trey cleverly recommends making adjustments to bring some of that shadow back into your image.  And I agree it makes a big difference... you need a bit of shadow to define the light and to bring the magic.  (By the way if you haven't already - check out Trey's latest magical endeavour www.thearcanum.com)

So embrace the shadows of December my friends and have a magical weekend.  


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