URBAN GRIT AND GRUNGE

This article first appeared in The Post-Journal on Aug. 21, 2016.


Welcome to the second edition of Let’s Talk Photography!  Today we’ll discuss a topic that is right up our alley here in Jamestown and Chautauqua County.  Join me as I explore Urban Grit and Grunge.

Wait!  This is just the second edition and we’re already jumping into something like this?  Yes.  As I write these topics, I intend to provide inspiration, suggestions, help and guidance so you can find greater enjoyment in your photography hobby.  A topic like this is great because it invites imperfection and it actually looks better when it’s gritty and rough looking so there should be little to no intimidation in following along.  There’s also one other reason I’m bringing this up, but you’ll have to keep reading to find out what that is.

Grab your camera and take a trip down any street in Jamestown where industry once flourished.  You’ll find broken down and vacated factories, houses that are ready to fall down, remnants of what used to be.  When you snap an image of these things you are looking back into history and you can sometimes see the ghosts of the past still inhabiting the photos.  The images themselves tell a story of their own that your mind can put together just from the visual information.

As I mentioned previously, imperfection works well with this topic.  If you’re just getting a feel for your camera and you haven’t quite mastered the exposure settings (or exposure triangle for the tried and true photographers out there) then you may find that you get underexposed (too dark) photos or overexposed (also known as “blown out” or too bright) pictures.  In these cases, an urban grunge photo may look better than if you had perfect exposure.

The other thing that looks really great with these photos is grain.  (Hint, here comes a little lesson.)  Grain is the little black specks or dots that happen when you’re photographing a dark setting and your camera can’t receive enough light to make a perfectly exposed photo.  This directly relates to the ISO setting of your camera.  ISO is the sensitivity of the camera to light.  When you have an ample supply of light, your ISO number is really low, like 100 or 200.  When you have less light, you have to allow your camera’s sensor to become more sensitive to the light in order to get the photo so you either crank up the ISO value to 800, 1500 or even 26,000 which is possible in a lot of today’s cameras, or you set the camera to automatically adjust the value to capture the correct exposure.  Just remember, the higher the ISO number, the more grain, or specks of black stuff, you’ll have in your photo.  In a lot of cases, urban grunge photos make graininess look really industrial and beautiful and the grain itself adds to the interpretation of the subject.  It invokes a feeling as if you are looking at a memory or seeing a nightmare in still life.

The other reason why this is a great topic to try if you’re just starting out is because it gives you a chance to play with your photo editing software and see what all those sliders and dials do when you apply them to the image.  Software that either came with your camera or third party software titles such as Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, PaintShop Pro, etc. have a lot of fun tools that allow you to adjust the exposure, the contrast, the brightness of the whites, the darkness of the blacks, the saturation of the colors, the vibrancy of the colors, the sharpness or blurriness of the image and a whole lot more.  Urban grunge images tend to get more dramatic and exciting when you exaggerate the exposure and contrast of the image or when you make colors surreal and oversaturated.  You can sit in front of your computer and really play around with these images and get very creative and I can promise the images will look unique and interesting to anyone you share them with.  Another thing you can do with your software is to convert the image to black and white and see how dramatic the scene looks when you eliminate the distraction of color and simply observe the light and the absence of light in the scene.

The real exercise in this is simply learning to compose your shot and make it interesting.  Get close to things and allow the camera to distort the scene just a bit.  Try an angle that you’ve never shot before and see how the interest changes in the subject.  Photograph the ugly side of things and see how cool and beautiful you can make them look.  Urban grunge is all about you and how you see the scene you’re shooting.  It invokes the feelings that you had at the time of shooting and tells a story that every viewer can put together on their own.

I mentioned earlier that there was another reason for exploring this topic.  If you’re looking for some inspiration, you can see examples of this style of photography on display from August 12th to September 9th at the Patterson Library Octagon Gallery in Westfield in a gallery exhibit titled, what else, “Urban Grit”.  I was asked to submit some of my own images along with several other very talented photographers in our area.  There are 60 images in the display and you’ll see some very beautiful interpretations of Urban Grit photography.

I’d like to invite you to give this subject a try and see for yourself how much fun it is to create a gritty, grungy image of one of our beautifully dilapidated buildings here in good ol’ Jamestown.  And, if software is a mystery to you and you’re not quite sure what software to use, then the next edition of “Let’s Talk Photography” will be just for you.  In the meantime, have fun shooting!

Keep Your Composure


Welcome to another edition of Let’s Talk Photography!  As we move from one topic to the next, you’ll find me bouncing between basic camera information for beginners and more advanced topics for those of us “photo nerds” out there.  I want to maintain interest for as many photo enthusiasts as possible.  This topic, however, applies to everyone and it deals with composing your photograph to make it more interesting.

Composition is important in that it gives your photograph life.  You never look at the world centered directly in front of you and you should take that into consideration when setting up your shots.  So, what makes a good composition?  There are several “rules” and steps that go into making an interesting photo, but it’s really all about the focal point of the subject and how the elements of the image force your eye to see exactly what you intended to be that focal point.

The first rule that you will get beaten into your brain once you start studying or learning photography is the Rule of Thirds.  This is a very basic rule and, when put into practice, it creates an interesting difference in your photos.  The Rule of Thirds suggests that you should look at your photo as if it’s separated into thirds both vertically and horizontally.  Think of a tic-tac-toe game.  Take your frame in your camera and imagine there is a tic-tac-toe board on the screen.  You’ll have three squares on the top row, three squares in the middle row and three squares on the bottom row.  The idea behind the rule of thirds is that you should place your subject somewhere along the guide lines of your tic-tac-toe board or put the focal point on top of one of the intersecting points (the corners of the center box) in order to draw the eye to the subject.  This rule also dictates that you put the horizon on either the top or bottom guide line.  When using this rule, the center of the image is forbidden.  Well, unless you attend a seminar and listen to a professional photographer talk about composition, then they will tell you that “some rules are made to be broken” or “it’s good to know the rules first, then learn when and why to break them.”  I happen to agree that with some photos, you’ll see a very visual difference when you apply this rule.  Taking into consideration the photo above, you’ll notice that I was able to capture the shot with the rider in the top right of the frame and off to the right side of the photo.  By doing this, I was able to give the photo the sense of motion through the frame and the perception of height.  I kept myself low to the ground so that I would be shooting upward and getting a lot of the ceiling in the shot to show how high the rider was travelling off the ramp.  Give this a try and you’ll find that sometimes, taking things off center can be more visually interesting.

And now, just as quickly as I introduced you to that rule, I’m going to ask you to forget it.  Hold on, don’t call me a kook just yet, bear with me.

This image happened to be my absolute favorite of all the images I shot at the Gateway Center.  I’ve been recently studying something called Dynamic Symmetry which contains way too many principals for me to explain in one article so I’ll touch on it little by little as we go along.

Dynamic Symmetry can be found in some of the greatest works of art and has been put into practice to create and compose some of the most visually attractive photos and paintings.  It deals with triangles that create a more complex set of guide lines for you to follow when setting up your image.  Now, in this case, I confess I didn’t know about it when the image was taken, however, when I lay a simple dynamic symmetry guide (this one is called a 1.5 armature, or root 1.5 triangle) you can see that the image follows this symmetry as if it were on purpose.  His legs follow two of the guides, the line at the top of the ramp follows another, the back tire is setting perfectly atop the lower horizontal line and directly to the left of the left vertical line and his front tire sits right on top of the upper horizontal line and directly to the right of the right vertical line, his black gloves and black front tire all follow a different guide line and his left hand and left foot are both sitting directly on top of intersecting lines.

As I mentioned, I didn’t intend for this to happen at the time, but I truly believe that this explains why I absolutely love this image. 

I know; that was a geometry class of a read but these are some of the concepts that will give your photography an edge over others.  I encourage you to go straight to the Internet and start searching for Dynamic Symmetry in photography and give a little bit of time to the different principals.  It’s fascinating to see how lines, angles, areas of contrast, curvilinear elements, negative space, and many other factors can create a stunning photograph and set you apart from the snap shot taker.  I’m more of a snap shot taker that happens to get some of these things right by accident and I think that’s pretty darn good.  The point is you always want to strive to learn something new in order to open creative doors that will keep you interested in a hobby such as this.  If you don’t find things like this to keep your mind engaged, then you’ll find your camera getting dustier as it sets longer on a shelf because you’ve lost your interest.

Have fun composing!

CAMERAS AND COMPUTERS

This article first appeared in The Post-Journal on Aug. 12, 2016.


If you search the Internet for the phrase “there will be more photos taken this year,” you’ll find that estimates show more photos will be taken in any single year from now on than the total photos taken in the entire history of photographing on film.  That’s an incredible statement when you think about it.  The reason for this is the vast number of cameras that are built into everyday devices such as cell phones and computers.  It can also be attributed to the low cost of high quality cameras and photography equipment.

My guess is, if you moved from the first paragraph to this one, then you’re an enthusiast of photography or, you simply love taking pictures and will likely enjoy reading about it as a topic.  If that’s the case, my writing will be for you.  So, let’s not waste any more time and let’s starting talking photography.

Being a photographer today is both easier and more complex than it was before digital cameras.  Hmm, how is that possible?  Think about how you take photos.  You pull your phone out of your pocket, or you whip out your compact digital camera, and you point it and shoot.  What you see on the screen is a nice, crisp, vibrant photo that you instantly want to share to the world through your social media or send to someone through email.  Simple.  Much easier than having to guess whether or not you had the settings correct then have to either drop off for a lab to print or, if you’re really into the craft, take it home and process the film yourself to finally see the results.  Sharing would be done by either mailing them to someone or waiting for them to visit so they could sit and look through your massive collection of shoeboxes or albums.  That’s why I say it’s easier.

I know, I’ve established that it’s so much easier so how can I possibly say it’s harder, right?  If you’re the average point and shoot photographer, what do you do with all those photos you have stored on your camera?  Do you just leave them sitting on a memory card forever or do you transfer them to another device like a computer?  Do you fully understand what you can do with them once they are on the computer or how to store them in a manner that you can find them easily if you ever want to recall the best ones?  Do you know how to archive them so they aren’t going to be lost forever when your computer crashes or the hard drive fails?  Do you know how to get them into a photo album for you to pull out and share or pass along to family members or do you have to rev up the computer every time you want to show someone a photo?  Those questions are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to digital photography and my bet is, whether you have already answered these questions or not there’s something that is a mystery to you and you probably don’t get the complete thrill of digital photography because of the fact that some aspects may simply overwhelm you so you end up with a camera full of photos that you show everyone on that little tiny screen and your pictures end up disappearing into a black hole of forgotten memory cards.

Computers and cameras go hand in hand and today’s photography enthusiasts must have some understanding of how they work together in order to truly appreciate their photos.  Cameras are also becoming more and more like computers with each new model release.  While the workings of the camera are basically the same as they have been since the beginning, what happens to the picture once it’s been taken has changed dramatically.  Remember when I said you point and shoot and you are presented with a beautiful, crisp, vibrant photo?  That’s because most cameras are programmed to do a little bit of magic to your pictures immediately after they are taken so you are pleased with the resulting image just seconds after it is taken.  The happier you are with the least amount of work gives you the confidence to continue to shoot and to continue to invest in future camera models.

Learning how to use your camera and your computer in tandem will not only increase that confidence, but push your level of excitement about photography to a point where you begin to truly appreciate your photos for what they are… a captured moment in time that will take you back to that moment and how you felt or what you were thinking the very moment you snapped the shutter.  While photography is a great way of sharing your memories and experiences with others, it is truly a very personal thing in that it allows you to catalog your life’s events and express yourself in ways that only you can.  We all see the world with our eyes, but each one of us sees the world very differently because of who we are and where our life has taken us leading up to the moment we press the button on the camera.

The computer can also bring you new ways to make your photos artistic and creative.  Many fine works of art have started with a simple photograph.  Knowing the software that is available both free and commercially will propel your creative side and give you new ways of looking at how to take your photographs so you can create your own works of art.

“Let’s Talk Photography” is going to be an open invitation for you to join me as I share with you my discoveries as a photo enthusiast and hopefully help to answer your questions so you, too, can fully enjoy the memories you’re capturing no matter what device you’re using.

Software Choices


Welcome to another edition of Let’s Talk Photography!  Today I’d like to take a moment to cover software that I either know about or personally use.  Let me begin with a disclaimer… I am only offering my opinion on these software packages.  I’ve used several and I know about many but that doesn’t mean I know which one will work best for you.

Software is probably the single most frustrating part of being a photographer or a photography enthusiast.  I’ve been a member of two camera clubs locally (co-founded one and served as President for three years) and I can attest that the most common issue that photographers have is figuring out which software to use and how the heck to use it.  As I cover the titles that I’ll mention today, I want you to know that I will go further into details about how to use the software as I continue to write in later editions.  Right now, I just want to help you make a decision on getting started with a software package.

If you look at the two photos of the B-17 airplane that I took last year at the Jamestown Airport, you’ll see a striking difference between the two images.  The lighting conditions were not the greatest when I was at the airport and I was playing around with several exposures to try to get the best “in-camera” shot.  However, it’s the software that allows me to take the visual information in the image and bring out the best looks and colors.  It also allows me to work on portions of the image kind of like painting the image in with a brush as I go.  Note that I did not “Photoshop” the image in the sense that I created any part of the image from my imagination.  I simply manipulated the existing colors and details in the image to achieve the look of the final draft.

Most cameras today come bundled with a software disc or allow you to visit the manufacturer’s website to download the latest version of the software that they provide to work best with your camera.  These software packages are your best bet if you’re just getting started and you don’t know anything about using photo editing software.  They make the process of moving the photos off your camera and onto your computer very easy and they are pre-programmed to give the best quality image for the model camera that you are using.  In most cases, they give you a complete set of tools that will allow you to tweak your photo and make it look its best.  Some even give you the ability to quickly share your photos through either email or social media.

Once you’re ready to graduate to non-manufacturer software you can begin looking toward free software that’s either available to download and install on your computer or run from a website.  As I cover these and the paid programs I’m going to simply mention them and what they will do for you then leave it up to you to search for them on the Internet and do your own homework.

Some of the best programs available that run from a website are Pixlr, Ipiccy, and PicMonkey.  These website editors allow you to work with your photo in many ways to bring out the best exposure and tweak the colors and details of the image.  They also give you a lot of fun features like adding frames, text and shapes to your image to get creative.

If you’re ready and willing to download and install software to your computer, you can look into these free titles.  The best one and the closest to Photoshop is GIMP.  GIMP will give you tools that can be used in both photography and graphic design.  It’s heavily supported by a community of dedicated developers who defy the consumer model so it’s guaranteed to be free until the end of time.  Other powerful editors include PhotoScape, Nik and Paint.net.  Nik is one of the secret weapons of many photographers out there and it used to cost hundreds of dollars before Google bought it and decided to offer it for free.  All of these titles give you incredible editing power for the best possible price… nothing!

Once you’ve played with those and you’ve decided that you just want to get down to the best software available then your options become a bit greater.  The most popular titles used by photographers today are Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom, Apple Aperture (which is going away and being replaced by Photos for OS X), Adobe Photoshop Elements, PaintShop Pro, On1 Photo and CaptureOne Pro.  These programs are all very advanced and give you professional level control over your photos.  Elements is the cheapest and probably the best possible choice for someone just getting started in photography.  The guided editing tools will give you fantastic results and teach you how to use the tools that are available.  Photoshop and Lightroom are now subscription based which means you’ll have to pay $9.99 per month to use them.  PaintShop Pro is much like Elements in that it is designed for the home user or the hobbyist.  On1 is quickly becoming a one stop replacement for those who use both Lightroom and Photoshop and it offers stunning features for making your photos look incredible.  CaptureOne Pro is more for the full time studio photographer who requires the best possible control over his or her photos.

Most of the programs mentioned here will work on either a Windows PC or a Mac.  As I said before, I’m going to let you do a little of your own homework by searching the Internet for these titles to decided which is best for you.  YouTube is also a great place to learn about these programs.  I promise that we’ll go into more detail with several of these programs in due time.  Until then, happy shooting!