Monday, September 17, 2012

Soft and Hard

Here are two photographs.

One is soft and smooth and organic, a quasi-minimalist study in the leading lines rule of composition.  I was chasing a bird, figuratively speaking, a white morph reddish egret. It had gone away and I was hoping it would come back. I could see it off in the distance, but it wasn't cooperating. I had my long lens and gimbal mount on the tripod. All of a sudden I saw this pattern in the clouds in the sky. I pulled out a wide-angle lens, removed the camera from the telephoto, and mounted the wide-angle on the camera. I abandoned the tripod and telephoto lens and ran along the edge of the water to put the island of mangroves under the center of the shape of the clouds. Hand holding, I made three exposures, before the sky smeared. And then the image was gone, just as quickly as I had seen it. The first of those three proved to be the best. The egret never did come back. A friend suggested that I entitle this photo Lost because it resembles a recurring scene from the television show of that name. I never saw the show, so I don't know. 

The other is sharp and hard, high contrast and orthogonal, a planned, pre-visualized photograph. I had eyed this building for a while – an old house converted to a law office in downtown Fort Myers. I am a morning shooter but this old house faces westerly and so it needed afternoon light. It would be nice if the sun could have washed the shadows from the porch, but that can never happen. Behind me is a four-story parking garage, which would cast its shadow on the street, then sidewalk, then porch, then house as the day grew older. I was gratified that I was able to catch this in one session. Usually I give it a handful of tries on different days before finally giving up.

In addition to the soft fluidity versus the rigid angularity aspects of the two photographs, there is to me the more striking difference of their tonal ranges. The histogram of Lost roughly resembles a standard bell curve. The tones gather towards the middle, with little pure black and white. The histogram of the Law Office shows the tonal range more evenly distributed across the range with slight spikes at the black and white ends. 'They' say there's no such thing as the right histogram, but I tend to strive for something like the Law Office for a black and white photograph. I like a black and white photograph to have blacks and whites. The histogram of Lost is more characteristic of what I would want in a color photo – no blown-out highlights, no blocked-up shadows – but in this case, I just felt that it worked better in monochrome.

In the final analysis, is analysis even necessary? Art is intuitive. You see what you like and like what you see – or not. Not that these execrable photographs are great art. I can analyze and explain them. I could tell you what I like and don't like about them, mostly the latter – all the little nuances and details. But after all is said, one must simply look – and maybe shrug.

© 2012 Buck Ward        The Photographist


  1. I love the first photo Buck. Beautiful leading lines in the clouds.

    I would love to see how blue the sky is in the second photo. In the b&w, the sky is black, from what I assume was your polarizing filter.

    1. Hi Don. Thanks.

      A polarizer is most effective when used perpendicular to the direction of the light. In this photo, the axis of the lens is more or less in the same direction as the light so the effect of a polarizer would have been minimal. A red filter will make a deep blue sky appear black in a black and white photo, and that's what I used here. A blue filter, on the other hand, would have made the sky appear much lighter, perhaps even white.

      You've given me a notion of a topic for a future blog.

  2. So, were you shooting in b&w mode, or did you put the red filter on the lens knowing that you would convert later in post-processing?

    1. I had started a lengthy reply to your first comment, but figured it should evolve into a blog post. So watch this space, (but don't hold your breath) for a more indepth discussion.

      I have found shooting in b&w mode to be not particularly useful.

      I applied the red filter digitally, in post processing.

  3. So red filter or blue filter...I'm not shrugging....just liking what I see.