Monday, October 26, 2009

CI Field Trip 1

Psychedelic baby strollers, frogs, ginormous gold fish, and pink flamingos. No, this is not Transcona. This is... the Winnipeg zoo.

I don't like zoos generally; most of the animals seem sad at best, and certifiably insane at worst. So I headed for the amphibians and fish, because I really can't tell how they're feeling.

I especially had fun with the biggest gold fish I have ever seen. I think technically they're carp, or something, but I like to think of them as guppies on 'roids. They were great for photographing movement.

I hung with a tree frog for a while because he didn't move much, and I could try out some zoom bursts.

There was some kind of tropical bird behind bars that worked well for creatively throwing things out of focus.

The pink flamingos fought a lot - I think the pink gruel they were drinking might have been fermented. I tried to capture them actually fighting, but no joy. I did end up with a couple of cool shots though.

And i think it might actually be impossible to do a good job photographing cockroaches under red heat lamps - that's either a technical issue I have yet to overcome, or my own revulsion, so I didn't include those photos.

In any case, it was a fun trip. Here is a link to the slideshow:
CI Field Trip 1

Friday, October 23, 2009

AT 6.2 Photographic Hero: Yousuf Karsh

Yousuf Karsh used large-format cameras, specifically Rolleiflex TLRs, which produced both 8x10" and 4x5" negatives. This allows for much more detail and sharpness than standard 35mm negatives. By looking at his photos, I'd say he used film which had fine grain structure, and considering that Karsh's career began in the 1930s, he would have been using relatively slow films, which would also indicate fine grain structure.

Karsh is most famous for his portraits, of course, and the style can be described as formal. What is unique about Karsh's style is his use of light to model his subjects' faces in an almost sculptural fashion, using a lot of backlighting and sidelighting. His work is high in contrast - the highlights are very bright and the shadows are quite dark.

Karsh generally cropped quite close into the subject, at most showing the upper body and often just the head and shoulders. Generally there is very little background, so as not to distract from the subject, and he used no props or decorations that might attract attention away from the central figure of the portrait. In cases where he did use a background, it is usually simple—frequently black. Most of Karsh's work would not be considered environmental portraits. In the photos that might be considered environmental, it is achieved with minimal and straightforward clues.

Karsh became a master of the "inspection" technique for developing negatives, which was the method of choice of most professionals well into the 1930s, the time frame in which Karsh began his career. The inspection technique, really only suited for 4x5" and larger film, involves developing negatives by hand, traditionally under a green safelight, to produce optimal highlights in specific areas of the image. Development by inspection is not used much anymore in favour of time and temperature development, which is considered more more precise and more repeatable. The inspection technique, however, allows complete and total control over every image. When using this technique, you must judge through the base of the negative rather than the emulsion side. Since the shadow areas are difficult to judge using this technique, you always judge the hightlight, rather than the shadow densities. The gist of the technique is to pull the negative from the developer when the highlights appear as substantial black. To guard against overdevelopment, you have to learn not to allow the high values to get too dark. Karsh used this technique to create negatives that have significant tonality.

3 of Karsh's portraits

Tennessee Williams:
From AT 6.2 Photographic Hero: Yousuf Karsh

I feel that this photo is a great example of Karsh's minimal use of props and background in a photo that could described as environmental. The only clue to the subject's profession is the inclusion of a typewriter, from which you could gather that he is a writer. However, one does not know what kind of writer, thus one's interest is piqued. The lighting around the subject's shoulders gives definition and separates the subject from a background which is similar in tone to the clothing. The subject's gaze follows the line of smoke which hovers above his head, and the viewer's eye is drawn around the circle made by the water glass, typewriter, lamp, and the subject's face.

From AT 6.2 Photographic Hero: Yousuf Karsh

I think the photo of President Kennedy shows Karsh's ability at subtle tonal control. At first glance, the subject appears to be the same tone as the background, but as you take a longer look, you realize that you can see every pore in his face, the structure of his nose, all his veins - you can "feel" the subject of the photo. This photo also demonstrates Karsh's keen sense of societal symbols. Kennedy's face is in profile, turned toward very direct frontlighting, perpendicular to the camera, and he is gazing towards the light with his hands almost in a prayer-like gesture, symbolizing America's time of hope and a President who successfully blended secular and religious sentiments.

From AT 6.2 Photographic Hero: Yousuf Karsh

This is probably Karash's most famous portrait. It is definitely the most famous portrait of Winston Churchill, and came to be a public symbol of Britain's dogged determination during World War II. I think the background lighting here is amazing - the particular square in the wall that frames the subject's head and shoulders is lit from the interior of the frame, unlike all the other squares in the wall which are dark along the interiors. Again, the backlighting separates the subject's shoulders from the background quite nicely. Karsh only had two minutes to make Churchill's portrait, and he managed to capture the "Churchill scowl". Karsh captured that aspect of Churchill's character by plucking Churchill's cigar from his mouth moments before taking the photo, and the viewer might be left wondering if Churchill is a bulldog, or a petulant baby.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

CI Composition at Home

I found this assignment somewhat challenging for two reasons.

Firstly, as was the point of the assignment, trying to find interesting subject matter in a very familiar environment. It took a while to get into the swing of it, but once I did, things moved fairly quickly. At first, I was wondering around the house looking at everything, which was not productive. What worked, though, was sitting in one place, and letting my mind and gaze wander around the room. Soon enough, I would notice something interesting - the play of light on an object, or the possibility of an interesting composition - and I work with that particular setting for a while, then move on to something else.

Secondly, we had people in and out of the house all weekend. There was a kids' party, which also became an adults' party, sleepovers, and people just dropping in - a busy house - which didn't lend itself to photographing this assignment.