magikrealism

Photography by Huw Morgan

Image and Object – The Cycle of Nature

We just finished up another wonderful week at Haliburton School of Fine Arts. This week, the instructor was Anna Gaby-Trotz, a wonderful nature & landscape photographer and all-round whiz at producing objects from images.

I’ve already covered our first project in a post – producing photo collages. The second project was to produce a book. We were shown how to do two different styles of books – an accordion book where the pages are connected to one another and fold into a compact book and a stitched book where the pages are bound together conventionally using waxed thread.

Cycle of Nature (1 of 5)

One of my themes for the week was the cycle of nature. Mankind and nature have a very complex relationship. We depend on nature for our very existence, but we seek to domesticate it, control it and civilize it. We impose our order on it and, in doing so, start to destroy nature. As time goes on, our control over nature decays due to our own foibles and, slowly and irrevocable, nature re-asserts her will. I produced an accordion book on this subject containing five pages. These pages have been captured in a portfolio here. Please have a look.

On Wednesday, we had a fun time producing silk screen prints from photographs. This is a fairly complex process involving the separation of layers suitable for printing in various colors using Photoshop, the production of acetate positives from the layers, the creation of the silkscreen plate using UV light through the acetates to expose a light-sensitive film on the silkscreen and, finally, the printing process. We all enjoyed the process and managed to produce some decent-looking prints on our first attempt.

For the final project on Thursday and Friday, I decided to combine 3D photography with book making and created a nice little bound book containing little pockets for a dozen stereoscopic cards. It was a nice sunny day on Thursday, so I went out into the beautiful sculpture garden at the school to take some pictures of the sculptures using the “cha cha” method. To produce stereo images, you have to take a left and a right picture at roughly the same distance apart as your eyes. To do this, you face the subject and focus on a point. Then, you go down on your left hip and take the first photo and then go down onto your right hip to take the second photo.

I’ve got some nice free 3D software called Stereo Photo Maker . It takes the left and right image as input and produces a single stereo image with the angles optimized for 3D viewing. As long as you keep the camera reasonably level in your cha cha, the software can produce incredibly effective images. Here’s an example of a stereo card. To view it, you need a stereo viewer like the OWL

Gelert.

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Photo Essay – Four Collages

We are hard at work here in Haliburton. This week, the idea is to combine photography with various ways of producing art, including collages, silkscreen prints and books. The first assignment involved collages and I’ve been working on some ideas around this for a while. My initial idea was to take a photograph of the chaos of nature, domesticate it into a geometrical shape (e.g. a triangle), organize it into a pattern like a kaleidoscope and then distort it to restore an element of chaos. you can see that with the first two images. Then, I started looking for interesting shapes that could be put through the same process and ended up with a sailboat and some farm buildings. Let me know what you think.

Collage (1 of 4)

Collage (4 of 4) Collage (2 of 4) Collage (3 of 4)

Week 9 – Toy Cameras, Woo Hoo!

It was a stressful week. Lisa Binnie, our instructor, brought out a box of toy cameras on Monday and, after a brief intro, we were let loose on the campus to take photographs and get creative. The stress came from the cameras themselves, the post-processing and the weather. The cameras offer no control over the quality of your photographs. Zero. There is no f-stop setting, no shutter speed adjustment. In other words, what you get on film is a total crapshoot. Monday and Tuesday were sunny days, so chances were good that we’d get something on film, but the rest of the week was dark, rainy and gloomy. Definitely not enough light for these plastic toy cameras! And then there was the post-processing. Lisa asked us to modify every print. She introduced us to scratching, sanding, painting with oils and acrylics as well as sepia and blue toning. I was well out of my comfort zone.

Here are some of the toy cameras we shot with:

Holga Camera

Holga

Action Sampler Camera

Action Sampler

Diana Pinhole Camera

Diana Pinhole

fisheye1_green_front_1_1

Fisheye

Super Sampler Camera

Super Sampler

The Holga and Diana are medium format cameras, taking 120 film. The Holga produced images that were nicely distorted and very soft around the edges. The Diana Pinhole produced images that had infinite depth of field. You could switch it between 1,2 and 3 pinholes to get some interesting effects (see below). The fisheye was a lot of fun and produced some wild distortions. The Super Sampler had a pull chord that initiated a little two second movie. Each 35 mm frame was divided into four subframes that were exposed through four little lenses in sequence. If you moved the camera when you pulled the trigger, you could get some interesting effects.

Here are a few shots from the cameras that I scanned in. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to photograph the post-processing work. I had a lot of fun sanding, painting and cutting my images to build a little diorama, complete with pop-ups.

ToyCamera (1 of 3)

Donalda Chemical Plant taken with a Diana pinhole camera

ToyCamera (2 of 3)

Milkweed Plants with Diana Dual Pinhole Camera. Three exposures overlapping.

ToyCamera (3 of 3)

Donald Chemical Plant – Diana Pinhole with 2 pinholes firing. Two exposures overlapping.

Week Number 8 – When Marilyn Shoots Her Hand

We are heading into another Friday and that means another Fleming photo arts course is nearing an end. Our program consists of 15 weeks, with each week constituting a complete course. This week, the subject was lighting and we had a great time looking for shots with dramatic shadows out in the Haliburton highlands. We also spend a great deal of time in the studio messing around with strobes.

Our instructor for the week was the fabulous Andrezej Maciejewski. Andrezej (pronounced Andre), is a very gifted artist (see http://www.klotzekstudio.com/) and he entertained us by showing the lighting set-ups for two of his projects, VIP (Very Important Potato) and Garden of Eden). VIP is a very funny portfolio consisting of wonderful shots of spuds with lighting that mimics great portrait artists. Garden of Eden is modeled after still life paintings of great artists with a twist. He purchases veggies and fruit from the local supermarket and leaves the labels on to show how widely we source our produce. Andrezej takes great care over his ingenious lighting designs and uses a variety of props, including sticks set into concrete-filled coffee cans to hold up baffles and reflectors and lights sourced from the local hardware shop. Each day, we had to look at one of his VIP pictures and submit a guess at his lighting set-up. We were getting pretty good at it by the end of the week.

I have a couple of photos to show you. These aren’t the real photos we submitted for our portfolio review – they were all black and white shots using traditional film and darkroom. However, I took some digital snaps as tests for exposure and lighting. _MG_6530The first shot is a reasonable facsimile of a product shot, using one of our college guitars. The lighting set-up used a conventional strobe, supplemented by some reflectors to light some surfaces that were in the shadow.

The second shot is a lot more fun. We had to use the strobe to stop motion. There were lots of experiments in the class using breaking glass and running water, but I decided to try to stop a speeding bullet(!). My faithful and brave assistant, Marilyn Leger, fired a nerf gun at her hand and we tried to coordinate the firing of the flash with the pressing of the trigger. We managed to get fairly decent at this, with a success about a quarter of the time. Here’s an example of a speeding bullet caught in a strobe flash_MG_6546. It didn’t quite freeze the bullet, but it was close.

I must say that school 3.0 is a lot more fun than the other two iterations! In fact, I’m getting a bit concerned that my time at Haliburton School of the Arts is slipping away. We’re more than half way through.

Fall 2015 Catch-up

It has been a busy fall. Now that I’m no longer working for a living (yay!), I’ve been able to devote a lot of time to my passion: photography. In September, I enrolled in the Photo Arts program at Sir Sandford Fleming College. Fortunately for me, this program is offered at the Haliburton School of the Arts, a beautiful campus set in the woods near Haliburton, not very far from my cottage. The Fleming photo arts program is the last remaining analog photography course in Ontario, so the emphasis of the course work has been on creating black and white analog prints. The program is also unique in that it is condensed into 15 weeks, instead of being offered over a full year. For someone of my considerable years, this is really important! I don’t have time to waste.

Why take a course that stresses darkroom work? Hasn’t digital taken over photography? There are a few reasons for my choice here. First, I really learned photography in the modern digital age. While many of my contemporaries took photography courses in high school, my passion developed later in life and there was a big gap. I’d never had the magical experience of watching a print image emerge in the developer tray. So many of the terms in photography come from the analog era (dodging and burning for example) that I felt I was missing something and needed to fill in the blanks.

I’ve always loved colour, but there was something about a black and white print that really worked for the right image. Without a background in analog black and white photography, I felt a distinct lack of competence in producing black and white work. What is a black and white print supposed to look like? Should it be dark and contrasty? Should it be lighter and predominantly gray? There was a great deal of variation in prints displayed in galleries and online and I had no compass to be able to judge the “good” from the “bad” or, more importantly, to establish my own style.

So, what has it been like to go back to school after years of working? In short, it has been brilliant. The class size is small (9 people), so the interaction with the instructor has been wonderful. Our class is very talented, so I’ve learned from my classmates as well. They tend to be younger than me by a wide margin (as do the instructors!) and aren’t burdened by a photographic style that has already emerged. As a result, they seem to find it easier to experiment and produce some really fine work. I’ve been doing very well at a technical level and my essays reflect a bit more maturity and world experience, but I’ve been really having to work hard to get outside my comfort zone and produce experimental work.

There have been exceptions. As you can see from the images below, the course on design inspired me to produce a series of whimsical images consisting of circles on squares or squares on circles. There are nine images in the series, designed to be presented as a square (see the portfolio section for more details).

Tomato on Toast

Tomato on Toast

_DSC1658

Eggs in Carton

Right now, we’re nearing the end of reading week and I’ve been busy re-inventing my website. There is now a static cover page with an image of the Ystalyfera Tin Works, showing some of the new black and white work that I’ve been doing. This is an older image that I always liked for its form and subject, but the amount of green in the photo was overwhelming. By converting to black and white and going for a higher contrast, the image becomes more dramatic and the green doesn’t detract. The subject of industrial cathedrals (i.e. abandoned places of work) has always fascinated me, so I was pleased to find an image that I could use to kick off a new project.

The Camera Market is in the Doldrums

In the words of Monty Python, I’d like to register a complaint. All the piss and vinegar has gone out of the camera market. Gone are the days when Nikon and Canon raced each other to add more and more megapixels to their models. We’re in a holding pattern driven by the tremendous market erosion of point and shoot cameras by smart phones. The camera industry is hurting and product development has come to a stand-still. Here are some symptoms:

  • Canon’s DSLR line-up has not advanced visibly since the Canon 5d Mark II arrived on the scene in 2009. Yes, there have been minor advances in auto-focus capability and high-ISO quality, but these have been incremental. Canon also totally missed the mark on the mirrorless camera wave, with a non-competitive product that seemed deliberately crippled so that high margin DSLR camera sales wouldn’t be impacted.
  • Nikon made a big splash with the D800E, but seems content to introduce small improvements across the line. Its mirrorless product line introduction was a non-event and they are an also-ran in the category.
  • Sony has made all the news lately with full-frame mirrorless, but even the market leader in this space has stumbled on a number of fronts. The A7R has a shutter that sounds like a mechanical chicken. We were at a play recently where the actors used an A7R camera as a prop because its shutter could be heard all over the theater. The full-frame FE lens line-up is pretty sparsely populated and low light focus is problematic. They have killed their Nex brand and introduced the a6000 to replace the Nex-7 and Nex-6 with a camera that features better autofocus, the same-sized sensor and have reduced the resolution of the electronic viewfinder. We are treading water. The APS-C e mount lens line-up continues to struggle, with big holes in it (e.g. no high-speed zoom lenses, no high quality long range zoom).
  • Sony’s A mount camera seems to be orphaned with all their energies being aimed at the mirrorless market.
  • One exception seems to be Olympus. We have seen a couple of nice micro 4/3 cameras come down the line lately, although the sensor resolution has stalled. 

So, here we are in the doldrums. Here’s what we need from the manufacturers:

  • Come on Canon. Put that big sensor (39 megapixel?) camera out on the market and please make it affordable. You’ve been overhauling your lens line-up to be able to take advantages of a high resolution sensor, but where is it?
  • Hey Sony, fix your lens line-up. Let’s see some high quality zoom lenses that a pro can actually use. While you’re at it, how about issuing some firmware fixes to speed up autofocus on your recent cameras (a6000 excluded). How about a fix to the A7R to cure the chicken shutter?
  • Canon and Nikon, let’s put out a serious mirrorless camera so that Olympus and Sony have some competition. 

Maybe we just have to get used to the fact that sensor resolution has reached a stable point. Do you really need more than 16 megapixels? Maybe we’re going back to the film days where the product life-cycle of a camera was measured in decades. 

Have You Ever Wanted to be a Cowboy (or Cowgirl)?

I spent my childhood in England and Wales in the 50’s (yes, I know, that was a long time ago). Kids of that era grew up playing cowboys and Indians. For Christmas, we asked for things like cap gun knock-offs of Colt ’45’s, stetsons and cowboy belts. My brother and I spent a lot of time running around our neighborhood, with our cap guns, shooting at each other, a practice that would probably result in a call to the local police in these days of school lock-downs.

The riders head out along the stream valley

It really never dawned on me that it would be fun to ride a horse, but all my heroes did (Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Richard Boone et al). In fact, on a holiday to the seaside, my mother had once paid good money to put me on a donkey for a mad ride from the edge of the sand down to the sea. The whole experience had terrified me so much that horse riding was out of the question.

On a recent trip to Argentina, I overcame my fear of horses and donkeys and we spent a day in the foothills of the Andes on horseback. This was certainly not the primary reason for our trip (hiking and wine tasting were the main goals), but it seemed like a good idea to branch out and try something different. While Argentina was not part of the mainstream of Hollywood western movies in the 50’s, we were vaguely aware that there were these curious South American versions of cowboys called gauchos who wore ponchos and cowboy hats with fringes. As we drove out to the ranch, I had visions of the Cisco kid and thought it might be kinda cool to emulate a South American cowboy.

Our riding day proved to be one of the highlights of our holiday. The facility (La Quebrada del Condor) was first class and Alejandro, our guide, was the real deal — an excellent rider and a very skilled judge of people’s ability. He made sure we all enjoyed the day and came home safe and sound. The trail was fantastic, with lots of hills and dales, creeks that could be crossed and the occasional steep pitch that made your heart rate increase mildly, but didn’t give you the complete attack. The weather was unusual for the area. We got lots of mist and some occasional light rain, so the atmosphere was mysterious and quite photogenic.

By the end of the day, I was feeling quite gaucho-like and could well imagine a life in the saddle, complete with the aches and pains!

Here are some pictures of the experience:

The view from my saddle

Our excellent guide, Alajandro, with a real gaucho hat!

Crossing streams was really cool

The weather was misty and cool, but it gave the hills an eerie look

There were marvelous views along the way

We were high enough (around 3,000 metres) to see snow

Back at the ranch, we were treated to an Argentinian BBQ (Asado) and, of course, some very nice Malbec

 

We may not be gauchos, but we can eat Asado with the best of them!

 

 

 

 

Las Vegas 2013

Travelling on business sometimes provides more opportunity for photo taking than travelling for pleasure. This summer, I had to spend a week in Las Vegas at a conference representing my company and managed to slip out in the evenings for long walks up and down Las Vegas Boulevard.

No matter what you feel about the morality of Vegas and its gambling obsession, you cannot deny that it’s a place full of color and motion. Not to mention the odd juxtaposition of wedding chapels, liquor ads and gun clubs.

Here are some pictures that convey the action, the color and the irony of Las Vegas:

Vegas-1

Vegas-5

Vegas-11

Vegas-12

Vegas-13

Vegas-14

Vegas-15

Vegas-2

Vegas-3

Vegas-6

Vegas-8

Vegas-10

On Event Photography and Trad DSLR’s versus Mirrorless

In my previous post, I published some pictures from a dress rehearsal for the opera Oberto, produced by Tryptych Concert and Opera. This was a challenging assignment for several reasons:

  • the lighting was very moody (i.e. dark)
  • to add to the atmosphere, a misting machine was used at points during the production
  • the singers were in constant movement
  • singers don’t like cameras under their noses during a dress rehearsal – they want to concentrate on their role.
  • Flash is strictly verboten
Here's a challenge - try photographing in the dark with mist for special effect

Here’s a challenge – try photographing in the dark with mist for special effect

I took a couple of camera systems to the shoot:

  • a Sony Nex-7 along with an assortment of lenses, including the Sigma 30mm, the Sony 50mm and the kit zoom
  • my good old Canon 5d Mark II with the 24-105 zoom, the nifty fifty and my 70-300L zoom

Like the rest of the photography world, I’ve been following the announcement of the Sony A7r with great interest (if not lust) and have been seriously contemplating chucking the Canon system and going all-Sony, all mirrorless. As a test, I decided to try photographing this challenging assignment with the Sony Nex-7 and the 50mm prime (a 75mm equivalent lens) to see if a mirrorless camera with electronic viewfinder could cut it. This combination lasted about 2 minutes! It became immediately apparent that the Sony just couldn’t focus fast enough to make this assignment work.

Out came the trusty 5d mark II and the 70-300 lens. At the wide end, this allowed me to get most of the stage in from the back row and I could zoom in to capture the emotion of the singers with ease. The 70-300 L is a tack sharp lens with tremendous anti-shake capability, so I just needed to crank the ISO up to 3200 to get a shutter speed that would effectively stop the action with the lens wide open at around F5 or so. To be sure, I set the focus to track the action and shot multiple frames so that I’d have at least one in focus. Auto focus was just about instantaneous and was never a worry. Out of 1,000 images or so, there were very few that were rejected because they were out of focus or blurred from the action.

The results were as you saw them on the previous post. The pictures are pretty sharp and I was able to get the shots I wanted, including several composites with one singer in sharp focus and another blurred in the background.

Read it and weep mirrorless fans. The A7r may still be a good bet for landscape work and street photography (assuming we ever get good lenses for it), but for dependability in highly stressful situations, a traditional digital DSLR is still a better bet. I think I’ll have to keep the 5d Mk II for a little while longer.