Thursday, July 17, 2008

Lenswork Magazine

I just received the following email:

Hello Christopher Perez... And thank you for submitting your "trains" portfolio for our consideration. I'm pleased to let you know that this work has been selected for publication as a Bonus Feature on LensWork Extended #78 computer DVD for September-October, 2008. Congratulations!

Of course, there are a few things we will want to organize as soon as possible...

I am very pleasantly surprised, very happy, and a little in shock. Stay tuned. Brooks will be interviewing me as part of the distribution of my work. I just hope I don't make a d*mned fool of myself!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

How I did this... [7]

For the last of this series of posts I wanted to spend a moment to talk about an image that garnered the kind of response an ego-addled-mind can only dream of. This image has won awards, prints have been purchased, and the photo has been viewed on Flickr 7,000 times.

As I was developing my understanding and skills of modern image manipulation tools, I thought it would be good to start very simply. Later, I could work my way up in complexity as needs or desires demanded.

It was winter. It was cold out. Yet, I wanted to make a few images. I had stumbled upon David Hobby's Strobist Blog and was thrilled by the strobe images he described. David links his blog to Flickr, the same community site where I have my photo dump page.

An idea occurred to me make a series of images of a recently acquired mammalian skulls using the simplest of lighting methods. I stumbled downstairs one fine weekend and stood in my light/darkroom and thought awhile. What I came up with was a way to suspend my Alien Bees 3x4foot softbox/B800 between two tables. I then placed white rag board on all sides as a means of filling the subject completely from every angle with light. Then I scrounged through my rag-bag of backdrop materials and hauled out some things suitable. For the background I wondered if a subtle white on white might work well.

After about 30 minutes of fooling around with the light, materials, rag board, backdrop, and subject matter, I was ready to try my hand at making a few images. For the next two hours I had played with different ideas, different skulls, and different camera angles. The thing that stuck me as the most powerful representation was a bare white on white shot from nearly the top view of the biggest mammalian skull I had on hand, the coyote head.

The processing was very straight forward. I brought the image into the free Open Source application called the Gimp. I adjusted the levels slightly and bumped the contrast just a little. The changes were slight, but I hoped effective. Then I added a platinum tint to warm the photograph.

After downsizing the image and posting it on my Flickr pages I thought it might be fun to share this with the Strobist Flickr pool. I didn't think much about it until somewhat later when David Hobby mentioned he had taken a few of the pool images and shared them at Apples latest OS-X release party. People ooh'd and ah'd and seemed to like David's selection. So imagine my surprise when this image had been included in that showing!

Again, time passed and I didn't think much about the photo. This, even after a c0uple friends and colleagues purchased a few prints.

Around the end of 2007, David Hobby announced that he had lined up a few awards for a small contest he was running. David brought in outside help to judge Strobist images and to make a selection of five images from the vast pool of fine photographs. As David shared what the awards would be, I noticed that Alien Bees had offered an ABR800 ring light. I had been lusting after one and said so on Mr. Hobby's blog. It was like rolling dice and I was excited by the possibilities.

At the end of December, David started to announce the winners. My photo had won 4th place. I was stunned. I was shocked. I was amazed. I was very happy.

The ABR800 was eventually mine, and it's arrival led to yet another photoshoot with my favorite models, Sofia and Jane Archer. But that's a story partially told previously...

Radiant Bones - All Hallows Eve

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

How I did this... [6]

My fevered mind keeps coming up with more and more ideas for photo projects.

A few months ago I realized that I had a desire to make a few images of icons in a modern vein. Reading The Historian brought to mind images of Byzantium. The flat lit Notan-like detailed icons were what I had in mind.

In similar time, I reread William Mortensen's book Pictorial Lighting from 1937. He described the use of Notan light as being particularly strong for creating icon-like images. Mortensen gave instructions in the book for a lighting setup that gave Notan effects.

The Basic Light configuration is a two light approach to rendering detail and subtle texture. One light is placed as close to the lens as possible to illuminate the subject. A second light is pointed at head level at a white backdrop. The exposure of the two lights is balanced. The backdrop light is set to match the skin tones of the subject. In this way, the white backdrop is not purely white, rather, it has just enough tone to ensure the limb effects of the subject is revealed.

Limb effects relates to the way the edges of a curved surface is effected by light placed next to the point of view. When lit in the Basic Light manner, limb effects lead to darker edges of the subject. This is what gives the desired separation between the subject and very nearly equally toned backdrop.

In the case of the images I wanted to make, I thought about Mortensen's comments on ring light use. In 1937, ring lights were uncommon. By 1943 when he wrote a book on electronic lighting, he had come to the idea of a ring light as perhaps a great way to achieve Notan light. Ring lights would give the ultimate in limb effects.

Working with Sofia, a bellydancer, I wanted as much limb effect as I could get. The images I wanted to create were not to be "familiar", as in a good photo of a relative or friend. Rather, I wanted something timeless, a little more remote feeling, and very tranquil. The Alien Bees ABR800 ring light was a great solution.

After spending a fair amount of time on making images of Sofia in motion we were coming down to the end of the photo-session. I put up a black backdrop and lit it from behind. We found a large pillow for the model to sit on and my wife and I worked to drape Sofia in various ways using her bellydance veils.

Theme - Icon from Byzantium

Processing the images later helped me complete my original vision. A subtle halo was added. The background was manipulated into something a little softer and darker. The model color was desaturated slightly by mixing an overlay of platinum tints.

As with other images of my series "How I did this...", this image is popular on Flickr. Sofia represents for me the iconic Maiden in a timeless, calm, and pleasing manner.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

How I did this... [5]

During the winter my wife and I discovered that a nearby lake is home to a wide variety of birds. The weather is just warm enough that the scaups, ducks, cormorants, and kingfishers congregate in a common area. Of course it helps to have free access to the lake and surrounding pathways and being able to buy food for the birds just outside the gate.

After the worst of the winter weather had done its job to chill everyone to the bone, I hauled out the Big Bird lens and headed down to see how my favorite Buffelheads were doing. The sun was peeking out between the clouds and the air was surprisingly warm.

After working on Buffelheads in flight and seeing how close I could come to the Wood Ducks I suggested it was time to pack it all up and head for home.

We stopped to take a look at the Cormorants all lined up on a downed tree. The arrangement was rather appealing. I hadn't recalled seeing so many birds on the log at the same time. As I started to wander off my wife asked me "Aren't you going to take a picture?"

Cormorants - on a log

I set up the tripod, mounted the Big Bird lens onto the camera, and firmly fixed the whole arrangement to see what kind of photos I could get. I tried a couple different locations and shot what I could in each place. Since I didn't have a remote shutter release, I set the camera on 2 second delay in the hope that the system would settle down long enough to grab a clear clean image. In fact, all of the images from this quick session are very sharp.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

How I did this... [4]

There is a taxidermist near the house. I had been wanting to go in to see what they might have. Kerik Kouklis (a platinum printer from California) had a series of images of mammalian skulls that attracted my attention. I visited the bone and fur shop with Kerik's work in mind.

I learned that certain bones are unlawful to sell. Other bones are offered for sale with no hindrance of the law. After choosing the largest lawful skull I could find and paying for it, I quickly headed home. The project I had in mind would look nothing like Kerik's work. Rather, what I saw in my mind's eye was a body of work a little more ethereal in nature.

In similar time I had stumbled upon David Hobby's Strobist blog and was excited by the work and lighting techniques that he brought to readers attention. David also runs a Flickr pool devoted to followers of his Strobist pages. From these two sources of inspiration I wanted to try my hand at photographing the etherial theme as a white on white work.

My light setup was, well, there's no other way to put it, bone simple.

I chose the backdrop and grabbed two three foot high tables. I mounted an Alien Bee B800 onto a three by four foot softbox and rested by the edges of the softbox to suspend between the two tables. Then I took five sheets of white ragboard. One sheet of ragboard rested vertically against the two tables to form the "back" of the unsophisticated light box. Two sheets of ragboard rested vertically from the floor to just under the Alien Bee softbox to form the "sides" of the box. Then two more sheets of ragboard were used to form the "front" of the light box.

The last two sheets of ragboard were required so that I could shoot between the sheets and through the makeshift barn door like opening they formed. The idea was make sure light from the Alien Bee B800/Softbox bounced from all sides and angles, spilling all over and around the subject.

The whole time the subject rested quietly in the middle. I suppose this was an unintended benefit of working with a dead subject.

Radiant Bones - All Hallows Eve

Post processing in the Gimp was kept to a minimum. The original exposures contained all the detail I was hoping for. I added Ken Lee's Bronze Quadtone tint to bring a little platinum warmth to the final print.

If my Flickr post of this image is any indication, people like the image. This photo has received well over 1,000 views.

We will see something very similar to this when I write about the award winning skull image that is also posted on my Flickr site.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

How I did this... [3]

When I made the transition to digital tools, one of the things I was interested in pursuing was wildlife photography. When I worked with film, I just couldn't bring myself to spend the money it took to practice the craft. I felt it would take too much film to "get it right". So I never bothered.

The digital equipment I purchased changed all that. As I read through the owners manual I realized that I could fire off over six images a second at fill clip and not have to spend any more money to try my hand at wildlife photography. I hoped the auto focus could keep up.

I shouldn't have worried. The AF is brilliantly fast, just so long as I keep the focus point on the portion of the subject that I really want in focus.

During the winter, my favorite bird is in abundance in the neighborhood I live in. They tend to roost together in very large numbers. As such, everything that looks promising to eat throughout the area is inspected, poked, prodded, and tested for its food value. These highly social birds work the ground looking to tasty treats in what seems like roving herds.

One late afternoon, as the sun was headed for the horizon, I spied a roving band of crows. They were working their way down the street looking for dinner. As soon as I parked the car and leap into the house to grab the camera, I was headed out the door with a wave to my wife and the words ".... I'll be back shortly..."

The birds were moving away from me. Every time I got "close" to these skittish eating machines they would move on down the road. Thinking it was me they were concerned about I felt rather dejected. The group of birds looked good and would make great subject matter, if only I could find a way to not scare them off.

Feeling desperate to get an image, any image, I crossed the street and tried to work my way ahead of the birds. I didn't look at them as I passed. I tried to look as non-threatening as I could. Then, three houses ahead of the pack, I crossed the street to their side, crouched down, and waited.

I damaged my knees in a motorcycle accident over two decades ago. So the squatting position was a little painful. The temperature was dropping with the sun. And the whole situation was tenuous at best. I was sure the birds would know I was there and fly off before they got within range of the lens I had on the camera.

I waited. I watched. I wondered. Sure enough, the feed hoards worked their way toward me. The excitement was killing me. So to speak.

I started taking pictures as soon as the birds filled a quarter of the frame. Still, they moved forward. Now I was shaking with excitement as some of the birds were nearly filling the view finder. The zoom was a boon in the situation as I could reframe without moving too much. All the birds could hear was the camera's shutter as I tried to capture as much as I could.

Crow - out looking for food

Suddenly, and quite without warning, the birds flew up into the trees over the road. There they sat squawking and yacking to each other. Something or someone had spooked them. My little photo session with the crows was finished.

Reviewing what I just captured back in the warmth of the house I could see some promise in the images in the camera. After processing and posting some of the photos up on my Flickr pages I could see that one image in particular was getting a lot of "hits". Currently, the views stand at well over 800 on this one. People seem to like it.