Besides appearing in my portfolios, gallery exhibitions, and books, my photographs are used extensively to illustrate the articles that I write for this site and various magazines. Sometimes these are about shooting locations, and sometimes they become part of equipment test reports or tutorials. In most cases I try and describe the situation under which they were taken and any interesting technical tidbits.
But there are often interesting images that are orphaned because they don't find their way into one of these venues. This section is intended as a place where these can now be displayed, and where technical, processing or critical comments can be shared.
Canon 20D with 70-300mm f/5.6 DO lens at ISO 400
For those of us that live in urban environments construction sites can provide unique photographic opportunities. This photograph was taken of the exotic steel work being erected for the expansion of The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.
I spent close to an hour standing across the street from the site, watching the workers carefully camber over the girders. It one point this rigger struck what seemed to be a heroic pose, and I was taken by the strong graphic aspect of the composition.
Contax 645 with Arsat 30mm Rectangular Fisheye lens, and Phase One P25 back, at ISO 100
I spent two days shooting with and also interviewing Clyde Butcher, both at his home and gallery in Big Cyprus, and his gallery / darkroom in Venice, Florida. This photograph was taken of Clyde working in his "backyard", the swamps of the Big Cypress National Preserve.
We had traveled to Florida to film an interview with Clyde for an upcoming issue of The Luminous Landscape Video Journal.
Clyde is one of the most successful large format B&W landscape photographers working in America today. He currently (March, 2005) has a major show at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Fl, together with the work of Ansel Adams.
I had expected Clyde to be a conservative user of traditional methods and materials. While he does currently use 4X5", 8X10" (seen above), and even larger large-format view cameras, he is quite interested in what medium format digital backs are capable of, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him start to work with one in the days ahead.
Clyde has also embraced inkjet printing. He sells large inkjet prints at his two galleries, alongside his traditional silver prints. Frankly, it is almost impossible to tell the difference when large (and I mean LARGE) prints are viewed alongside each other in his gallery. Clyde's inkjet prints (he refuses to call them Giclee – which makes him "OK" in my books), are produced using an Epson 9600 printer with Ultrachrome inks, produced with an Imageprint RIP.
Clyde's web site is available to tell you more about this fascinating artist and his work.
Canon 1Ds Mark II with 70-300mm f/5.6 DO lens at ISI 400
We were on the deck of our boat, moored near a public dock in downtown Dhaka, Bangladesh. A ferry pulled alongside us and we watched as passengers got on and off. Of course they watched us too (foreigners are quite rare in Bangladesh).
I suppose I may have looked curious to these two woman, but probably no more so than they appeared to me.
Look at the curve of the white metal port that they are standing in and then look for complimentary curves in the rest of the image; faces, glasses, shawl...
Canon 20D with 70-300mm f/4.5 DO @ ISO 400
I find that contrasts are what drive much of my photography. Contrasts of shape, contrasts of tonality, contrasts of colour. Here we have all three working together to create a strong graphic image. There isn't much else to say. I was walking up 6th Avenue in New York, and this construction hoarding around a church caught my eye. I took frames with red, yellow and green traffic lights, and this is the one that appealed the most. An unconventional composition, but one that works.
Canon 10D with 24-70mm f/2.8L lens at ISO 200
Though it was taken in September, I've included it here as my November selection because I didn't get around to "discovering" it until now. I find that this is often the case – an image lies hidden until a second or sometimes even third review of my files before archiving them.
This was an off-hand shot taken as I was waiting for people to unload from a ferry. The late afternoon sun cast long shadows, and I was stuck by the patterns. My first reaction, both when shooting it and also afterwards on review, was that it was too messy and without a focal point. But what I realized was that this is what the image is about – the mess and confusion, and out of it comes a cohesiveness of light and shadow.
Not everyone's cup of tea, I'm sure, but a shot that grows on me the more I look at it.
Canon 20D with 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS. ISO 400
To my eye, urban street photography works best when there is an enigmatic element to the subject. I wrote about this a while ago in an essay titled Enigma Variations. In this instance I was simply photographing the interesting silhouette geometry of the window and doorway of this abandoned factory, when these people entered the frame. The bird sitting in the window above took flight, and I had my shot.
Mirror Self Portrait. Paris. September 2004
Canon 20D with 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS
Window Self Portrait. Paris. September 2004
Canon 20D with 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS
Two similar images share the miscellaneous spotlight this month, both self portraits.
Is there a photographer alive who has not photographed him or herself in a mirror at some point? I thought not. These two whimsical self-portraits were both shot in Paris, during a vacation there in September, 2004. In the case of the multiple mirrors, I was intrigued by how my body was fragmented, yet still continuous in each of the reflections. The one taken in the lingerie shop window is strictly a spontaneous male reaction to a conditioned stimulus, and made all the more whimsical for it.
Canon 1Ds with Canon 24mm f/1.4L lens at ISO 1250
1/25th second @ f/1.4
My friend J.W. and I were standing on the dock of my summer cottage one evening. We were enjoying a waxing moon reflected off the lake. At one point J.W. lit his cigar, which had just gone out, and I was taken with the warm light cast by the match, and the contrast with the pale light of the moon just in front of him.
I ran up to the cottage, grabbed the fastest lens in my bag, cranked the ISO to its highest setting, set the lens wide open at the slowest shutter speed that I felt I could successfully hand-hold, and took a quick burst of 3 frames as he re-lit the cigar. The result is one of the strongest portraits that I've taken in a while.
The cropping is a bit tighter than full frame, and even though it is completely black I decided to leave the bottom of the frame intact because it suggests the rest of his body and gives a sense of proportion to the composition.
Really enjoyed looking at the bad picture you posted today. About 15 years ago I did a one week workshope with Francesco Hidalgo at the Arles photo festival. He showed us how he achieved his stunning images (stunning in the 70's!) of Paris and New York. Put things in front of your lens, use filters, anything that will help you create the image you are looking for. On the final day, one of the participants projected an incredible image of a flower. Hidalgo said: you have overexposed by at least two stops, it is out of focus, you obviously did not use a tripod and I wish I had taken this photograph". Please keep posting images like this and keep fighting the pixelmania!
Michael: you've done it again, and thanks for once again bucking the tide of "current thinking." Your latest Misc. portrait is absolutely terrific and makes your point perfectly. To argue that only perfectly exposed, perfectly crisp and color balanced images "work" is like tossing out Impressionism because it is not Realism. In fact, your portrait of JW provides me a perceived insight into his personality just by virtue of the mood, and that is what photography is all about (at least to me.)
I think you can be strong medicine for some people and I strongly suspect you go out of your way to court controversy - good business sense no doubt but annoying in another. But never mind, I would just like to say that your opinions one way or the other are kind of irrelevant if you can keep posting quality photographs like the JW. I think that many people are caught up on the technicalities (and I've seen no change in this in 20 years) but this shot like many others you have shot really show your eye for the graphic and for the light. And that counts for much more than any pontificating (yours or others). Keep up the good work - in the end it's the pictures that count...
Minolta A2 @ ISO 64. 30mm Equiv.
Those familiar with both my abstract as well as landscape work will likely see in this image a blending of two styles. My urban photography tends to have a strong geometric character, while my landscape work similarly is highly graphical in nature. In this photograph, taken at sunrise on a chilly spring morning, there is a blending of the two styles which I personally find very appealing.
While the horizon is closer to the center-line of the image than classical composition would prefer, this is counterbalanced by the overall lighter tonalities which tend to give the upper half less weight and which therefore balances the two halves. There is a nice tension between the strong angularities of the boathouse roof and dock, and the bowed shape of the mooring whips. The coach lamp at the extreme left of frame also acts as a counterpoint to the mass of the shoreline trees to the right of frame.
This is a very unconventional composition, but in a large print it works quite effectively.
Minolta A2 @ ISO 64
Sometimes demonstration is the best way to explain something. I was on vacation with friends in Seville, and as we were strolling and sightseeing I took shots from time to time of street scenes that caught my eye. At one point I was asked what it was that I was seeing, and rather than explain I simply took the shot above a few seconds later. I showed my friends the camera's rear LCD. My semi-facetious comment was that there are photographs everywhere, and that one just has to see them. But truth is, this one surprised and impressed me as well.
Canon 1D Mark II with 24-70mm f/2.8L @ ISO 100
This may just appeal to my own quirky taste, but whenever I travel to unfamiliar places I am fascinated by local kitschy architecture, signs and random cultural brick-a-brack. This wall was seen driving though a small town in rural Nebraska as we were returning to Omaha after doing a wildlife shoot of migrating Sandhill Cranes along the Platte River, and some landscape work in Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Truly a miscellaneous moment.
Sony F828 @ ISO 64
1.3 second exposure at f/4
It's an understatement to say that I'm not a big fan of Las Vegas. But, I've been going there for some 25 years to attend an alphabet soup of different trade shows — CES, NAB, Comdex and PMA. I also frequently fly into Las Vegas, but stay only long enough to rent a car and leave because it's an inexpensive and convenient gateway to many of the southwest's most lovely wilderness areas and national parks.
A quarter century ago Las Vegas was simply tacky. Then it became tacky and tawdry. Now its tacky, tasteless and tawdry. But I am fascinated by the totally over-the-top architecture of some of the new hotels along "The Strip". Reproductions of the Eiffel Tower and the Great Pyramid at Giza aside, one that actually is fun is New York, New York. Yes, for those who have not yet seen it the above is actually the facade of a single hotel (with a roller coaster running through the middle of it).
It was shortly after sunset on the first day of the PMA show, and a friend and I were walking to a dinner meeting with a colleague at the nearby MGM Grand. As we passed NY, NY I took a few snapshots, but then saw how an overhead street lamp could be framed so as to appear to be an artificial sun. I found a handy newspaper box for support (filled with ads for hookers that will visit your hotel room), and took the above frame inbetween cars zooming by right in front of me. This is sunrise over New York — in the bizzaro universe.
Sony F828 at 7mm. 32mm Eqiv. ISO 64
Sitting on a hotel balcony in Florida overlooking the Atlantic Ocean at sunrise, I reached for my camera to capture the soft pastel colours of the sky and clouds. A tiny crescent moon added a point of interest, but ultimately the shot looked to be just another pretty sunrise. As I played with compositions, shifting to a wide-angle framing included a bit of the balcony overhead. All of a sudden the image came together.
The negative space created by the irregular triangular shape is mysterious. Without knowing what it is one struggles to try and put in context its angularity, alongside the delicateness of the rest of the composition.
It may not affect you the same way, but I find it to be a thought provoking image.
Hasselblad 555ELD and Phase One H25 22 Megapixel Back
with 120mm f/4 Zeiss Makro Planar
Graveyards aren't my usual haunt (pardon the pun), but while testing the Phase One H25 22 Megapixel back this month I was a bit stymied looking for suitable subject matter. The weather was dreary and I only had a few days to do my testing. Also, because the H25 requires a tethered computer to operate I found myself limited to shots that could be taken within about 10 feet on my car — the length of the Firewire cable. This mausoleum caught my eye while I was driving through a cemetery looking for newly laid memorial flowers against a fresh fall of snow that had happened overnight.
Who was Captain Fluke? I have no idea. But even though this edifice is more than 100 years old someone clearly remembers, because there were fresh flowers on the chained door.
A few test prints showed me that a B&W print would be the most effective, since the stone was discolored and not terribly attractive. But, I didn't want to lose the subtle colours of the wreath. So I used Photoshop's Magic Wand and circled the flowers, then inverted the selection. I called up a Hue & Saturation adjustment layer and then reduced Saturation to zero. The Magic Wand selection didn't have to be at all accurate because the area around it is very dark gray and contained no colour in any event.
The final image appears to be a straight forward monochrome print until we see the delicate colours of the flower arrangement. Combined with the humour of the name and the exquisite textural detail produced by this 22 Megapixel medium format back, a large print is quite stunning.
Contax 645 with 120mm Apo Makro Planar
& Kodak DCS Pro-Back @ ISO 100
Sometimes less is more. I was photographing sunrise along the Big Sur coast at mid-month, and while this section of the California coastline is often foggy at dawn, on this morning it was one of the clearest most cloudless sunrises I have ever seen. With the lack of either sea mist or fog there was little of interest to photograph along the coast, but as we watched the dawn approach a most remarkable example of alpenglow developed over the ocean.
Unfortunately the sRGB colour space of the Net can't really display the depth and subtly of the colours, but on a wide gamut screen or print they sing.
Pentax *ist D with Pentax 18-35mm Lens @ ISO 400
I was in Manhattan in late October for the Photo East Expo show. This was also during my testing period with the new Pentax *ist D camera, and so early one morning I left my hotel looking for coffee and maybe some early morning street shooting. Starbucks had to wait because the dawn light and mild temperatures were so enchanting that I simply walked and took photographs for the next hour.
This frame seems to me to capture something of the almost timeless nature of the streets of N. Y. I was also very impressed with the Pentax's ability to meter this difficult scene as effectively as it did. A large print of this really sings.
Canon 300D Rebel with EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens @ ISO 100
Toward the end of the month I received a Canon Digital Rebel 300D for testing. Unlike some web sites and photo magazines my idea of testing isn't a listing of specs and features but rather real-world on-location photography. One morning I was exploring the countryside of the Muskoka region of Ontario looking for early Fall colour and had stopped by the side of the highway to take a landscape shot.
As I turned around to walk back to the car I literally tripped over an animal skeleton lying in the grass. What immediately struck me was the visual similarity between the rib bones and the blades of grass. But when I made my first evaluation print I found that the image was too representational. The bones were too graphic, and consequently a bit disturbing, detracting from the potential beauty that I saw in the composition. So I created a second layer in Photoshop and applied a Gaussian blur, using a technique which I describe in this tutorial. I believe that it successfully transforms the image so as to be more about the graphic nature of the composition rather than the skeleton of a dead animal. Subsequent conversion to B&W in Channel Mixer completed the esthetic transformation.
While my work usually celebrates the colour and the beauty of nature, sometimes working with B&W and the darker side of the natural world presents both new challenges and opportunities.
Contax 645 with 120mm f/4 Apo-Makro Planar and Kodak DCS Pro Back @ ISO100
In early September I was fortunate to be visited by Ctein, a very fine photographer from San Francisco. He is also a prolific author, fellow Contributing Editor to Photo Techniques magazine, and one of the world's greatest colour printers. In fact, he is one of only about a dozen people in the world who still do dye transfer printing. We have been communicating on-line for some 10 years but prior to this month had never met in person.
I knew that he enjoyed doing urban and industrial landscape photography and so we spent an afternoon shooting together in the steel town of Burlington, Ontario. This photograph resulted from that shoot, and though it is not much like the work that I usually do I am very pleased with it on several counts.
I was immediately taken by the monochromatic blueness of the tank, staircase and sky. Using a polarizer allowed me to darken the sky and add some variation to its tonality. The 2/3rds / 1/3rd vertical division between the tank and sky is nicely merged by the flow of the staircase along its edge. I could be even more analytical, but all that matters is that in the end, on a large print, this image really sings and I greatly enjoy it.
Contax 645 with 80mm f/2 Planar and Kodak DCS Pro Back @ ISO100
As summer came to a close I gave myself a personal assignment — to photograph, when I could, the harvest season. Though Toronto, where I live, is an urban area of some 5 million people, beginning within a 30 minute drive of the city is a huge agricultural area, one of the richest in the country. What better excuse to explore my own back yard at a beautiful time of year.
This photograph was taken not so much because it is has a harvest theme but because of its geometric simplicity. Unconscious art on the part of the farmer. Found art, in a way.
The juxtaposition with the image below, taken 2 months and thousands of miles apart is completely unintentional. Or was it?
Photographed with a Canon 1Ds and 400mm f/5.6L lens @ ISO 250
When I'm driving — looking for images — I never know what's going to catch my eye — even something as mundane as a tractor threshing a field. Here I was attracted to the strong graphic nature of the subject and the fact that our position on a hillside above gave me an almost birds-eye view. The primal red-green contrast makes the image jump. Simple, but fun.
Why Did The Moose Cross The Road?
Photographed with a Canon 1Ds and
70-200mm f/2.8L IS lens @ 200mm. ISO 400
Image modified with Gaussian Blur Overlay technique
Why did the moose cross the road? To get to the other side — of course. And they do this often enough so that some 50-60 moose a year are killed by cars and trucks along Hwy 60 within Algonquin Provincial Park on north-central Ontario. I was in the Park on a 3 day shoot in early June, looking for moose, and we weren't disappointed. They come to the highway each spring for the salt that has collected in the ponds on the side of the road. The salt is from the maintenance operations that keeps the highway open during the heavy winter snows.
As for the photograph itself, it was taken though the windscreen as I pulled to a quick stop to let this moose cross the road in front of our car. The shot is fuzzy because of shooting through the curved glass, but it was taken just as a snapshot. When I was reviewing the files later though I loved the fact that he looked as if he was crossing a finish line (by an antler), and so I played with it in Photoshop for a while, just for fun, and this was the result.
The Boys of Summer — May, 2003
This one is just for fun. It was taken at a Toronto Blue Jays game in early May, 2003. The field of view is approximately 180 degrees. Did I use a Noblex 150 or Fuji GX617? No, just a small hand-held pocket digital, the Canon Powershot S50. I took 7 vertical frames in succession, using the camera's stitching mode and then composited them using panoramic software. The results was a 50MB file that could easily be blown up to a print 30" wide, or bigger.
Naturally there are a few places where people's movement has created a small blur — but it's good enough for either government work, or at least a fun snapshot. Of course a real wide-aspect-ratio camera might have produced a better result, but I never would have been allowed to use one in the stadium.
As I said, simply fun, but it shows what modest equipment can produce. (What looks to be a seam center-right, isn't. It's the edge of the backstop netting).
Steel Town — April, 2003
Canon EOS 1Ds with 70-200mm f/2.8L IS lens @ 105mm. ISO 200
Just 40 miles to the east of Toronto lies the gritty steel town of Hamliton. Two major steel makers, Stelco and Defasco, as well as dozens of smaller firms surround Burlington Bay where the mills are located. They are a fascinating subject, lending themselves nicely to B&W treatment. This was a beautifully sunny spring day, but one would hardly know it from the photograph.
This is one of those images that really needs to be seen in a large print, because the pleasure is in the exquisite details, subtle tonalities and fine textures. Web presentation only provides a pale impression.
Mud Flat Kids — February, 2003
Canon EOS 1Ds with 100-400mm f/5.6L IS lens @ 400mm. ISO 400
During my February wildlife workshop / expedition to Costa Rica we took a dusty and bumpy ride to a remote location on the Pacific coast near the Golfo de Nicoya where we hoped to photograph shore birds on a mud flat. But when we got there the tide was out and all that was to be seen were some birds about a mile distant, and a few children playing on a pile of discarded tires.
I was first drawn by the warm tropical light behind them, but then I saw that the forms and lines created by their arms, the palm fronds and the tires created a strong composition. In this frame the intensity of their gazes completes the gestalt.
Willow — January 2003
Canon 1Ds with 100-400mm f/5.6L IS lens at 400mm. ISO 400
I have a soft spot for willow trees. Even in the dead of winter they retain some muted colour. Toronto had some heavy snow just after New Year and it coated the city's trees with a thick white crust that lasted for days. Though it looks like a country scene, this frame was taken close to downtown, across a busy expressway, with cars zooming by just below the frame. Photographic possibilities are everywhere.
Window — December 2002
Canon 1Ds with 300mm f/2.8L IS lens at ISO 200
Sometimes one heads out with a certain image in mind, and comes back with another. Other times a photograph is taken that contains something different than is first seen. Here the story is that I was on my way to a wildlife sanctuary to photograph birds (the feathered kind). I had a large fast 300mm lens on the camera, sitting on the seat beside me.
As I drove out of town I passed a hotel and saw a couple of people in a window, one of them with a bright orange sweater that caught my eye. I was stopped at a red light and so I quickly brought the camera to my eye to knock off a frame. I then saw that there was also a young woman in another window above them. I framed so that they were both included, took a frame and drove off.
The resulting photograph is interesting, but I was curious to see how big a blow-up I could achieve of just the woman in the upper window. (I think all photographers have something of the voyeur in them). Using Genuine Fractals I produced the above image so that it prints at A3 (11X17") size, a very significant enlargement. The problem was that even at this size, though there was reduced resolution, there was no noise at all. The 1Ds simply produces noise free images at normal ISO settings. Since grain often can enhance apparent sharpness I used the Add Noise filter in Photoshop to introduce about 5% Gaussian noise and then converted the image to B&W. The results is a print that looks like it was shot on Tri-X developed in Rodinal.
Fishing Boat — November 2002
Canon EOS D60 with 100-400mm f/5.6 L IS lens @ 250mm. (EFL=400mm) ISO 200
I travel frequently from my home in Toronto to visit family in south Florida. On a trip in late November, 2002 I met up with Palm Beach photographer Dan Barnett, and we spent a very enjoyable early morning on his 24' Boston Whaler. This was the first time that I had been on a small boat in the ocean off the coast of Florida. I shoot frequently from small boats on lakes when doing wildlife work, but doing so on the ocean is a whole other matter.
Though it was a very clear morning there were strong winds creating 6 foot swells. This made shooting with a long lens problematic. Fortunately I was using an Image Stabilized lens. For this frame, the most interesting one of the morning, I shot at 1/1000 sec, which together with IS made for a very crisp image. Interestingly, though it was a very chilly morning by Florida standards there were sufficient heat waves from the Gulf Stream warmed waters to cause shimmering of the air in the roughly 1 km between our boat and the trawler. In a large print you can see the heat wave effect as ripples in the fine details of the rigging. A fascinating effect.
Because there we few clouds that morning there were only a few moments after sunrise when we had anything other than a clear sky to work with. We saw this trawler coming, and Dan was able to position the boat so that the trawler lined up as an almost-silhouette as the sun moved briefly behind the cloud.