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Sunday, December 9, 2018

A Softer Digital Interpretation: using Extreme Bokeh and Natural Lighting

Hi everyone, really appreciate you stopping by and reading my blog - today I am discussing how to make digital photography, well, a little less digital. Now, there are many different methods in taking the crispness out of a digital photo, many include using post-production software that use layers to transform the “look” of a digital photograph. But, in this discussion, I am trying to soften up, as it were, digital exposures using natural means. (I suggest best viewing using larger monitors).

Figure-1 Alana K-64 Film L. Lewin 2009
Natural lighting is a great tool in creating wonderfully soft and emotional interpretations no matter what genre of photography you are practicing, but surely, close up portraits of people and flora are two perfect examples to explore this with. Another means in softening any type of photograph, whether digital or film based exposures, is opening up the lens aperture, thus putting more bokeh (or blur) surrounding the point of focus into a composition. While you read this, begin studying Figure-1 a portrait captured on film (at the time, was one of the last shots I captured using film), and compare it to Figure-2, a 2016 portrait of my other grandchild, Shiloh, captured on a Canon 5D Mark II. In both photos I am using F/1.4 50mm lenses (film based photo was captured using a Minolta Rokkor-X lens, and the digital exposure using a Canon lens. Two beautiful pieces of glass which are my go-to-lenses for a lot of close up work). As I always tell students of photography, be sure to focus on the eyes - if the eyes of your subject are in focus, it is likely a successful capture will result, especially if settings will produce a lot of blur or bokeh - in which this post is about.

Figure-2 Shiloh ISO-100 L. Lewin 2016
Now I must point out, taking both these photographs was a bit challenging, indeed. In Figure-1, Alana really liked me pointing the lens at her, but she was moving a bit, and as it were, I was using a film camera (without the 2.5 fps motor being attached) I was taking single frame exposures to get this one (in focus) exposure. (I think I triggered 3 to get this one). Natural lighting was good, as light was pouring in through a large glass sliding door to the sitters right. Film was one of the last rolls of K-64 I had, as I was about to transition into the digital revolution. The shot was captured using the films native ISO. In Figure-2, Shiloh did not want to look at me too often, so I had to settle on this view on this day. But, thankfully, Shiloh was much more still than Alana in Figure-1, because the lighting was terrible. An overcast day only let a minimum of light come through two large (but wood-framed) windows
making capturing this portrait a lot more challenging. So, I guess what I trying to tell you is - in many circumstances you will need to be very patient when confronted using natural lighting.  Slower speeds will ensue and you need to have a steady hand. If the situation allows, by all means place the camera on a tripod and trigger the shutter remotely.

Figure-3 Isla Marie ISO-1000 L. Lewin 2012
Again, I have already captured the necessary family holiday photos - so I felt comfortable putting away the Flash and open up the aperture on my Canon F/1.4 50mm lens: Figure-3 Portrait of Isla Marie, here, I dialed up to ISO-1000 because Isla was some distance from the natural outdoor lighting (additional lighting from 3 incandescent bulbs in a ceiling fan) and though a much lower ISO setting would have sufficed, I wanted a bit of “digital noise” in helping to soften the composition. Isla was occupied opening another Christmas gift and payed little attention to me: a perfect time to crawl up next to her - I lay on my stomach getting really up close and personal - In Figure-3 I focused on Isla’s right eye: Canon F/1.4 50mm lens was set wide open at F/1.4 for maximum bokeh and to eliminate the background. Post-production was limited to only a slight adjustment to fix a red color cast caused by the 3 incandescent bulbs, thus revealing the more natural or neutral colors I was expecting. The results were a 3-D like interpretation and the melting of colors as if this was water color painting - I was truly excited with the results!

And here are two more examples of digital photographs using similar camera dynamics as above, that result in extremely soft interpretations. Figure-4 is a Morning Rose portrait captured in 2016: overcast sky allowed for very even lighting and a minimum of shadows. 5D Mark II was set on a Manfrotto Tripod and Head - and again, my go-to-lens the Canon F/1.4 50mm lens. Set wide open (F/1.4) for maximum bokeh and to eliminate the background, the resulting image is another 3-D like presentation, where you can almost reach out and feel the texture of the pedals. Before we review the next photograph in Figure-5, let us talk about focusing for just a moment: another exercise I have students of my workshops practice, is turning off the auto-focus and use manual focusing. In the case for photographing flowers, honestly, manual focus is the only sure way to achieve positive results.

Figure-4 Morning Rose ISO-100 L. Lewin
Let me explain, look at Figure-4 and notice the different layers of pedals: each lay claim to a different plane in the composition. When shooting a very large aperture, always be aware you are dealing with a very shallow depth of field (Dof). As a consequence, and in this example, we can focus on two or three different parts of the Rose and get extremely different results, some of which would be unsuccessful as a powerful image. Using auto focus is just not a viable option here, as the camera will decide the point of focus, and unless you use a few other focus-lock options (which take extra time, indeed) manual focus represents the fastest and best option (and on some cameras, the only option) for optimum results. (In another blog entry we will explore manual focus, and hyper focus dynamics, more thoroughly).

Figure-5 Angel Trumpet was shot using an ISO-640 setting on the Canon 5D Mark II and of course, the Canon F/1.4 50mm lens. Set wide open to allow as much light as possible through the glass and onto the digital sensor - the balance of high ISO and wide open aperture allowed me to hand hold for this shot. Of course, the key to these settings was again, to produce a very soft presentation - the extreme bokeh and higher ISO resulted in another image full of depth and texture - and without any post-production except to adjust exposure a bit higher than what the camera settings revealed. This is another good example on how manual focus is very important in creating this composition. Having several different points to focus on - allowed me to “bracket” four different exposures (from the exact same position or composition) to be sure I captured the look I was after. Natural lighting from a 6:30 to 6:45 am sunrise in Demopolis, Georgia.

Figure-5 Angel Trumpet ISO-640 L. Lewin 2017
In summary, to get these types of compositions - using the variety of settings we discussed - a great deal of patience and perseverance is needed for successful results. In many cases you need to come back another day to get the composition you envisioned. In all but one example (Figure-4) I held the camera as opposed to placing it on a tripod: in the examples above, a tripod for the baby portraits was just not a viable option, though I could have used a tripod for both (not just one) of the floral compositions.
In any case, I hope you give me feedback and examples of your own similar projects - and hoping this piece helped inspire you to try something new.  Thank you.
Best regards,

Friday, November 23, 2018

Traveling the South East: Macon County Store in Macon, Tennessee

Macon Country Store: Macon, Tennessee
Small town cooking and hospitality

Happy Friday, everyone. Well, you will see on the photo thumbnails this story is 3 years old: simply, I forgot to post this after writing it in 2015. 

Max and I spent two days on the road through Memphis and outlining country, mapping Sprint towers we are contracted to perform. As always, we are always on the look out for local BBQ.

Approaching a rural three-way intersection at Highway 194 Macon Drive and Oakland Road, I applied the brakes when Max announces, “I see a smoker!”

We walk through the already open door into a small convenience store and combination restaurant: a few tables and chairs are set up near the rear. The store is empty, as we are driving through the area long past normal lunch hour. This is fine because we get to meet and chat with owner Emmitt Kimble sitting in a lounge chair, and his wife Cathy behind the meat counter preparing some of the fresh BBQ just out of the smoker.

Emmitt Kimble owner of Macon Country Store - L. A. Lewin 2015
A sight one can only see in rural areas of our country: Kimble stretched out in this lounge chair like he is in his living room: “Howdy.” Kimble greets us. We learn Kimble, a construction worker for the better part of his life, is developing a little arthritis; the chair gives him a break from being on his feet running the store. He gets up as a customer comes in to buy some drinks from the cooler. Max and I turn to his wife, Cathy. Cathy lists what is on the menu; Max orders pulled pork and I take a smoked Turkey sandwich and fries.
Macon Country Store -L. A. Lewin 2015

Kimble returns to his chair. He explains he and his wife bought the Country Store three years back to slow down. Kimble is slowly fixing up the store and eventually will have seats for 24 instead of the current 12. As Max and I sample our lunch plates it becomes apparent why the Kimble’s need to expand the seating capacity. Though past the lunch hour, during our stay customers came and went with smoked meats and sandwiches to take out. We are sure the billowing smoker attracts locals on a daily basis, indeed. Our lunch was fabulous.

Kimble and Max Lewin - L. A. Lewin 2015

Before we leave, another customer and a friend of Kimble comes walking in: Kimble introduces the man as the “Major”. A short stocky fellow with crisp-small eyes, blood shot from allergies, or I suspect, perhaps a few swigs from a mason jar filled with crystal clear juice. In any case, a colorful character whom immediately upon entering the store nods to us a greeting and plops himself down in Kimble’s lounge chair. We all playfully bicker accusing the “Mayor” of unlawfully occupying Kimble’s precious space. We all laugh - then Max and I say farewell, and head back onto the roads of Tennessee and perhaps run into another small town gem.

The Macon Country Store: a simple way of life among good people and small town cooking – come visit and try really good smoked meats and engaging conversation with Emmitt, Cathy and their neighbors.  

(Digital photographs:Canon 5D Mark II F/2.8 16-35mm lens BW conversion via Silver Efex Pro2)

Lance A. Lewin – 2015

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Photography Tech Corner: Using Natural Layers for Creative Photography

Using Natural Layers for Creative Photography: Rain, Sleet or Snow - Perfect!
Red Top Bridge
Hello, everyone!  I know - it has been a while since I posted anything here - and I apologize. But moving forward from here, I will begin Blogging more regularly.
First, like to wish everyone a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving weekend coming up - can’t believe it is this time of the year again - and a great time to capture really cool photos as the weather begins to get a bit more miserable - What!?  Look outside: is it raining, snowing…than grab your gear and get a move on - oh, and perhaps an assistant to follow you around with an umbrella, suggest feedback on your compositions, and help switch out lenses and cameras.
Red Barn Cartersville Ga
A lot of us are turned off by the weather - well, as it relates to going outside to capture photographs, that is. But, this is actually a really good time to experiment with Photoshop, via “Mother Nature’s” way, as it were. Yes, it is a funny way of looking at this, indeed.  Instead of planning a certain “look” for your composition in post-production, alternatively, let the weather add a layer of texture - than make subtle adjustments in post-production for your final piece.
Red Top Mnt Scape
 Examples here were taken in both pouring rain and snow: the resulting compositions received color saturation, but only slightly. Some of the Photoshop tools used: De-hazing, adjustments to luminance and saturation, dodge and burning, and overall corrections to exposure if needed. 
Route 52 Snowscape The point I am trying to explore with you is, we want to convey more of what we saw through the viewfinder - as opposed to spicing it up with a heavy hand in post-production: instead, make calculated adjustments so not to abandon (or stray) too far from the natural qualities captured on site - we are letting Mother Nature basically dictate the mood, flavor or emotional impact captured through the viewfinder with this exercise.  We also need to use a tripod (if necessary) and bracket your shots making changes to only shutter speed, aperture and exposure-compensation for each composition. Each time you change a lens and recompose, go through the same bracketing again. Well, that is all for today - Happy Thanksgiving!!
Cooper Furnace River Landscape
As always, please, contact me via Facebook messenger or email me:
With questions, comments and suggestions. Thank you.
Lance A. Lewin

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Visualizing Art Series: Post-production software use in photojournalism and fine art photography: Believe what you see?

In my opinion, culturally, we have entered into a paradigm shift in how we approach and look at photographs.
Using an assortment of post-production software - and even some in-camera programs - a plethora of different image file manipulations are at every one’s finger tips. Thus, the temptation to use (or abuse) these tools is seemingly hypnotic: from the casual cell phone camera user to professional photographers, there seems to be an urgent need to morph almost every picture that populates review screens. In my opinion, and within certain genres of photography, post-production manipulative tool usage is not just prolific, its more abusive than ever, making us question what is genuine photographic art or what is real in newspaper and magazines articles and the photographs that accompany them.

From the removing of dust particles to distorting the original psycho-physiological photographic characteristics in “realist” style photographs (these examples commonly seen as High Dynamic Range compositions, where ordinary portraits, structures or events is presented in a hyper-reality), we are inundated with these altered realities being published and promoted (and accepted by some), as a new norm. Another software example that was created to take the “artist” out of photography (in my opinion) is “LandscapePro”, an advanced post-production software created by Anthropics Technology Ltd, in London, had me falling off my office chair in anger (not shock!). The software can change almost any landscape photo into a fully realized balanced composition with just a few clicks! Amazing, yes! Disturbing, genuinely!   

And addressing the manipulation of images in photojournalism – it has been well documented, indeed. Believing Is Seeing (Observations On The Mysteries Of Photography) by Errol MorrisPenguin Press 2011, investigates topics such as, ‘intentions of the photographer’, ‘capturing propaganda and fraud’, and ‘photographs reveal and conceal’, documenting cases of journalistic fraud with text and accompanying photographs. This book is an eye-opener on the prolific use of manipulation in journalism to twist or otherwise obscure the truth in trying to create alternative narratives that only serve the authors' left or right wing agenda. 

In my opinion, culturally, we have converged to a paradigm shift in how we approach and look at photographs: we are now conditioned to stop and look at a photograph and ask, was it captured naturally or digitally manipulated to create the final piece of photographic art or the news photo and accompanying text. In fact, this is so prevalent, when visiting galleries and museums - especially when viewing new fine art photography from photographers that have been shooting, maybe the last 20 or 30 years, a disclaimer is often posted along with their bio stating all photographs are rendered without extensive post-production manipulation! Something the photographic artist never had to think about, even as late as 12 years ago.   

There is a lot more for us to discuss and debate here, but for now, I am suggesting that a cultural shift, if you want, is making us question the “narrative-validity” of most photographic art and news related photos: from so called “fake news” to the morphing of reality through the use of techniques like High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography in creating hyper-realities, we can no longer freely interpret what we see and read as real, but instead, pause and contemplate the validity or authenticity of a piece of photographic art, and photojournalism that inundate our space through television and more perversely through social media outlets. 

As always, I look forward to hearing your response: whether you agree or have alternative points of view - I hope to hear from you, all.  Thank you.

Kind regards,
Lance A. Lewin 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Sunday's Photo Tech: Fine Art Photography Technique & Inspiration

Photo1: Portrait: Beverly Appell Witkin by L.A. Lewin 2012
Photographer, lecturer and professor at the College of DuPage, Jeff Curto, asked four questions in one of his classes: intrigued, I decided to present my thoughts that best answer these questions giving the reader insight into what I believe is currently defining photography in our digital culture.

1. When does a photograph cease to be a document? It depends upon what is being recorded: 1. If we are looking at journalistic type photographs, once the image misleads the viewer of the actual event, person or location – the photograph ceases to be a document. These types of pictures inundate us everyday – most commonly seen in tabloids where the meaning of the subject (commonly, a person) is purposely twisted: the photograph is either captured or cropped to mislead the true context in which the subject is surrounded, thus the photograph and story behind it becoming ambiguous: misleading the reader towards the magazine or newspapers alternative agenda.  2. When traditional fine art photographs, including landscapes, street, and portrait photography is altered by digitally manipulating pixels, the photograph is no longer a document. That is to say, when the portrayal of the subject becomes abstract or otherwise change the overall appearance of a photograph to the extent of transcending its original psycho physiological photographic characteristics engenders digital art, and in some cases obscures the truth or altogether changes it, in my opinion. In both of these examples the documentary is falsely presented thus rendering them useless as a document. 
Photo2: Digital Art
2. Should altered photographs come with warnings? Well, “Warning” is a bit too strong for me, but include in the photographs description a statement indicating the use of heavily pixel manipulation or simply: present the work as digital fine art, as apposed to fine art photography.

3. Why do we want to alter the real? 1. For the corrupt journalist it may be a matter of getting the “Big scoop”, as it were. Altering a scene to help enhance a story or worse, crating a fictitious narrative. (For example, the manipulated photo credited to Ben Curtis capturing the Beirut, Lebanon conflict in 2006: additional smoke was added to photo to make the scene more intense then it actually was. The photo cited below.)  2. The “real” can also be heavily (digitally) manipulated the purposeful attempt of a digital artist creating an alternative reality, for example. (See Photo2 and Photo3)
Photo3: Michal Macku's Digital artistic interpretations
4. Where is the digital photography revolution taking us? Beyond boundaries: stretching our boundary of knowledge in photonics to unravel mysteries that lead to solutions in the creation of new ideas. Surrounding our world with an uncompromising wealth of creativity bringing beauty in the visual arts and scientific achievements yet to be envisioned.

Again, these are my opinions and you may have your own thoughts on how photography has changed as the digital culture around us continues to influence artistic expression and how we communicate.

I look forward to reading your comments.  Ciao.

Best regards,

Cite 1. From Errol Morris "Believing is seeing (Observations on the mysteries of photography) The Penguin Press 2011
Beirut, Lebanon, July 26 2006

Monday, April 20, 2015

Sunday's Photo Tech: Looking back at 1982 Amish Country

Amish Lad Photo & Text by Lance A. Lewin 2015

I stare at the image below often – the 16x24 print sits propped up against a wall left to my desk – the rosy cheek lad forever looking back.  He speaks to me – eyes so riveting as to seemingly pierce me – deliberately painful – as punishment for infiltrating his space and snapping this image.  

Amish Lad Photo by L. Lewin 1982
You see the young boy is fishing with his brother’s are in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania: Amish country.

Lancaster Pa - L. Lewin 1982
For the most part the countryside is flat and dotted with farms with old-order Amish men plowing fields – standing or sitting behind horse-drawn blows turning up the earth in preparation for spring seeding.  If I remember correctly, we turn right onto a smaller – narrower – paved road when we see six young boys dressed in traditional old-order long coats and straw hats scamper across the road in front of us.  We drive slowly towards the spot they disappeared.  

Now, I was well aware the Amish populations, especially the old-order Amish families, do not respond well to outsiders photographing them.  However, while Anne waited behind the drivers seat I followed three of the boys. The image was so inviting: three straw hats atop of identical long broadcloth coats, each boy carrying a simple fishing pole.  I snapped off two or three shots (Minolta XD-11 affixed with 100mm lens and loaded with K64 Slide film.). They kept moving about, but I was confident it was not from being pursued, but rather finding the right spot to settle down and cast their lines.  However, feeling their uneasiness I kept my distance.  The 100mm lens was perfect in this situation. 

Lancaster Pa - L. Lewin 1982
As close as I was going to get – I stopped and arranged a composition through the viewfinder – the lad turned and looked through my lens – It was the shot I was hoping for – I pulled the trigger.  In an instant I pulled my eye from the viewfinder and gave the young boy a smile.  I hear yelling behind me – father was calling the boys – I quickly pulled myself up the embankment  - the father was toting a rifle and yelling at me to leave – sliding into the passenger side of our car – Anne made a quick u-turn and we were gone.

However, if my plan were to visit the region again to complete a photo-essay – perhaps following one family for several days or weeks – I would work hard to introduce my intentions, gain their trust and hopefully be rewarded to follow and photograph their lives.

And so, the endless one-way exchange between the Amish boy and myself continues: does the Amish lad – now a grown man likely in his 40’s – remember me?  If we met would he nod and approve of the photograph, or would I be lectured, or worse, quietly admonished through his stare. 

“Amish Lad” Captured in the Amish landscape of south-central Pennsylvania – L. Lewin 1982

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Excessive-Compulsive Shutterbugs: is photography replacing reality?

Everyone is surfing on the digital photography wave, and why not, the entire process of taking photographs - from pressing the shutter release button to viewing an image - has become as easy as throwing a sealed container of frozen ingredients into a microwave oven and presto, dinner is served in a few seconds!

Photo by Stewart Butterfield
As a result, a world-wide subculture of picture-taking fanatics have taken post behind camera viewfinders and handheld device screens, and seem to be hiding around every corner and behind every tree. Never mind the intrusion of “Big Brother” watching over the fictional dystopia super state, Oceania, (depicted in George Orwell’s 1949 novel, Nineteen Eight-Four), present reality has everyone watching and capturing everyone else, and accepted as a normalcy! Yes, it really is funny and actually quite amazing when we step back and view digital photography as a new dynamic influencing culture across the globe.

So yes, there is an overwhelming need to record every thing from the lunch plate in front of me to cousin Sally’s dance rehearsal later that evening. A lot of images are snapped up everyday, and many will be reviewed and deemed special enough to be uploaded to lap tops and other more permanent residences in wait for post-production manipulation and storage for later viewing by family and friends. 
Collectively, the catalogue of hundred (and more likely, thousands of images; a result from the compelling habit of pressing and holding down the shutter-release button; a compulsion manifested out of the digital photography revolution, indeed) of pictures depicting family gatherings such as backyard birthday celebrations, snap shots of a newborn, a student celebrating his or her graduation, the rebellious teenager throwing rocks during a demonstration, documenting a do-it-yourself-project, or as simple as photographing a high-dollar dessert at an expensive restaurant, forming sentences and ultimately chapters in our lives that culminate into a final publication of life-long memories.

Photographs share a fundamental sociological dynamic; the catalytic effect of photographs elicit and then collate stowed parcels of time exposing our past; rekindling memories from an enormous catalogue of life events. As time recedes, sometimes so do our memories. As a result, we loose the ability to reminisce about experiences we once held dear. Photographs provide a point of reference to assist in recall to provoke the subconscious collection of emotional diversities of our past, into conscious heart felt experiences.

Photo by Julien Constans
It has always been my standpoint, one of the most effective means of enjoying the prolong sense of time is to capture and then regularly view photos with family and friends, together stimulating memories and experiencing the emotional journeys that result. “The thrill found in a photograph comes from the onrush of memory” (John Berger – Keeping a Rendezvous – Vintage 1992).

As a family we still plan an event where I pull out the old slide projector – and more recently scanned slides presented off a 47 inch TV screen, as opposed to yesterday’s projections onto a silver screen. But whatever the method, watching each photographic image flash by, and with it a small piece of our history, never failed to bring incredible enjoyment. When these “slide shows” are shared with close friends and extended family the experience is – well, like living the event all over. We spend sometimes a quarter of an hour on a series of just three or four slides as the whole clan gets caught up in the details. Each participant is engaged in photo elicitation; extracting specific memories from each projected image - smells, taste and light are relived creating a wonderful experience sometimes provoking extreme laughter or tears of sorrow.

Taking a break from our photographic devices – or photo-detox – as many have suggested, in an attempt to help us reengage the present, consequentially disengages our connection in preserving it. In my opinion, we do not consciously disengage the “now” when photographing a person, place or thing in hopes of experiencing it in the future. We photograph to experience the emotional impact these people or events gave us again and again long after the particular space and time has vanished.

This being said, we must remind ourselves to enjoy the actual event while it is happening. Fully experiencing the event in our present space and time is the essence of life. Missing out on wondrous moments are moments of loss memories to be shared with others in the future. Capturing these moments as a photographic image is only a tool to help us in recall, and as such, should only serve as a supplemental to, and not a replacement for experiencing life in the present.

Photo by Debbie McDougall
So, don’t pay mind to critics that suggest all you folks are excessive-compulsive and loosing touch with reality. Keep on snapping away, recording life from behind trees, light posts, in front of grandma or baby Catharine, and by all means, the beautifully presented dinner the waiter just brought to your table. Societies have adopted the need to record life as part of their daily culture, and I think this is wonderful. And honestly, for all this need to record everything and everyone, perhaps a stronger cohesion between societies is developing as a result, creating a clearer focus of each other and our place in the cosmos.

By Lance A. Lewin