Think of Painters

Pollock’s Tree — Black Balsam, NC © jj raia

As photographers, we often look to the work of other photographers in books, galleries or on the internet, for inspiration and ideas for our own work. In doing so, it may move us to try new techniques and genres, or even drive us in a generally new direction altogether. Studying painters may also do the same. Taking a single course in college on the history of art certainly exposed me to the progression of art from the earliest examples inside caves in France to the present, but the instructor helped us view art not solely by subject matter, but also by composition, textures, tonal values, balance and light; all the things we use as photographers. Equally valuable was simply being exposed to the work of the masters like DaVinci, Rembrandt, Monet, Moran, Bierstadt, Picasso, Pollock, and many others. It was time well spent, although not known back then. It also made it more likely to visit a museum to view art in the decades to come, continually adding to the mental library of impressionable paintings.

Blue Poles © Jackson Pollock
Blue Poles — Jackson Pollock

And so, there have been times when I’ve taken a particular photograph and actually said (not too loudly, though) the name of the painter that came immediately to mind. In each of the photos in this post, a painter’s name popped into my head either upon initially “seeing” what I chose to photograph, or a bit later, when looking through the viewfinder. In fact, the painter’s name is usually included in the title of the photo. Occasionally, I did have to search the internet for the name of an artist because a painting was in the “library” for sure, but just couldn’t recall the “author”.

The wild chaos of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings immediately came to mind while hiking in the Black Balsam area just off North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway, when I saw the tree at the top. But it was the narrowed view, the small slice of the expansive surroundings, that caught my eye and necessitated the use of the 70-200mm lens. The telephoto’s narrow angle of view kept the sky out of the frame in keeping with the idea of an abstract within the frame, eliminating as much context as possible that including a horizon line would have provided. Even though it was shot under the harsh light of a clear day, a polarizer got through the glare from the leaves to reveal the autumn colors. It made a world of difference, and without it, I probably would have never tripped the shutter.


First Friday Showcase No.2 – Lynne Feiss Necrason


Lynne Feiss Necrason

Next week, our second First Friday Showcase will feature Lynne Feiss Necrason. Although her powerful work includes many subjects, and has been featured in the prestigious photographic journal Lenswork, this exhibit finds the Common Threads that run through much of her art, illustrated by two distinct areas of exploration. Look for the opening reception beginning at 7pm (Eastern) on Friday evening, October 2nd. If you would like to join in a live Zoom Reception to meet and speak with the artist, reservations are available through her web site here.

Throwback Thursday No. 36


Images from the Film Archives — 1996

Spring Birches - Liberty State Park, NJ  © jj raia

Spring Birches – Liberty State Park, NJ © jj raia

Through the efforts of local advocates, Liberty State Park was finally opened in 1976 as New Jersey’s largest urban park. Located on land previously used as a major railroad transportation hub by the Central Railroad of New Jersey, it is also home to the Liberty Science Center, a destination for students from all over the state to visit and truly experience science in a more hands on way, and includes the largest planetarium in the western hemisphere. The refurbished CRRNJ terminal building also resides in the park where countless immigrants passed through on their way to destinations throughout America from 1892 until 1954.

Additionally, the area was a vast railroad freight yard where long ago, freight cars from the west were loaded onto barges and floated across the Hudson River to Manhattan and Brooklyn, avoiding the long trip along the Hudson to Albany and back down the east side of the river. I actually worked in that yard in the late 1970’s loading those barges early in my railroad career, shoving freight cars onto the barges, and many times I thought the barge would capsize due to imbalances during the loading process! It’s not that it never happened, but I was lucky that it never did while I was working there. I found it pretty interesting to learn from one of the railroad “old-timers” that this yard was the staging area for the construction of NY’s Verranzano Narrows Bridge. Huge sections of the bridge’s roadway were contructed there fromsteel brought in by rail, then loaded onto barges and floated over to the site, where they were hoisted up into position. As a young boy, I actually watched all the bridge construction since I lived nearby.



Garden Detail No.4 — NCMA © jj raia

Garden Detail No.4 — NCMA © jj raia

This post was supposed to go live last Sunday, but with the inadvertent publishing of a second post on the 10th (which was supposed to go live today), it was pushed back a week to retain the expected schedule.

To retry last week’s aborted visit to the flowered meadow at the NCMA with my son, we returned (with masks this time) the next day, a hot, oppressively humid and very crowded Sunday afternoon. I was basically my son’s assistant, carrying the black foam core as the background for shots of singular flowers he picked out, as well as an umbrella to provide shade on any subject for more even lighting rather than the harsh, high contrast light of the sunshine we had. But the heat finally got the better of us, and after a short while of shooting, he just wanted to go back home.

Returning alone the following morning, being much cooler and almost empty of other folks, to pass the time while it was still too dark for flower photos, I tried the same approach used on the concrete oval sculpture last week, on a different sculpture, that was also lit. In addition to taking one frame exposed for the illuminated sculpture, and another a bit later when the texture in the clouds was visible, and combining the two on separate masked layers in Photoshop, there was quite a bit more post-processing removing light fixtures and some bright white protective ropes surrounding it. However, I’m not ashamed to say it’s merely a decent recording of the sculpture, and not time well spent in front of the computer.

Red Sculpture — NCMA © jj raia

Red Sculpture — NCMA © jj raia

Throwback Thursday No. 35


Images from the Film Archives – 1997

Reflections - Taughannock Falls SP, NY  © jj raia

Reflections – Taughannock Falls SP, NY © jj raia

After twice going to the Adirondacks in autumn, the third week-long trip I took to New York State, was to the Finger Lakes Region in 1997. There were some interesting landscapes there with plenty of waterfalls, and one of those was Taughannock Falls State Park. I suppose I was there to get the standard issue shot of the falls themselves, but found myself drawn more to the unique riverbed below the falls over which the water flowed after plunging 215-feet. It was a smooth flat surface of solid rock covered by a thin layer of water that made its way into Cayuga Lake, one of Finger Lakes. It was a clear day in early morning with the sunshine lighting the autumn leaves on one side of the gorge, while the riverbed itself remained in the shade of the cliffs behind me. The small pools of water reflected the leaves, while the wet stone reflected the blue sky above. But some of the dry areas of rock remained very bright gray, which really threw off the photo I was trying to make.

To get the right angle for the reflections, I needed to climb up onto a huge boulder and use the long (210mm) lens with a polarizer, but I really didn’t like all the dry areas around a particular rock that I was using for a focal point. So I climbed back down the boulder and, using my feet to splash the water onto most of the dry areas, managed to get the majority of the rock wet enough to reflect the sky. It was a complete abstract except for the single rock itself, which provided the context to what the subject of the image was.

This method of creating an abstract with a singular, small element to identify what is being viewed, was something I had seen in Eliot Porter’s wonderful early work, and in some photos I’d seen by David Muench (father of Marc Muench). Both men also had a way of portraying the landscape as an exercise in design, where all the textures, shapes and rhythms formed a cohesive design in its own right, in addition to being a photograph of a particular subject or scene. Viewed from a distance, the subject was unclear, but the abstract design and balance of the frame is clearly evident on closer inspection. Those were the influences that really drove my vision in scanning an area for a possible composition. For a specific segment to be considered, it needed to possess that same sense of design found in the photos of those two iconic photographers, but recognizing those designs amongst the chaos of everything within our view, would simply require time and experience to become more readily recognizable. But I was happy to occasionally discover one of my own in those early years.

Throwback Thursday No. 34


Images from the Film Archives – 1996

Blueberries & Lichen - Acadia National Park, ME  © jj raia

Blueberries & Lichen – Acadia National Park, ME © jj raia

The destination for the fall photo trip of 1996 was a revisit to a place included on our honeymoon in 1980, Acadia National Park, along the rugged Maine Coast. Although we enjoyed that initial visit, staying at the beautiful Ledgelawn Inn, this would be the first time any of the scenery would actually be seen, since it was pouring rain and totally socked in for the two days we were there. We enjoyed a few fabulous dinners at The Carriage House and George’s, and discovered the Pachelbel Canon in D, one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written (at least to our musical tastes). A lot of those memories have stayed with us; but this trip was purely for photography.

The trip began around 4am to get beyond any rush hour traffic heading toward New York City, and took about 8-1/2 to 9 hours, arriving in plenty of time to, get my bearings, set up camp, and scout a sunset location.

Granite and Lichen on Cadillac Mtn. — Acadia NP, ME

Granite and Lichen on Cadillac Mtn. — Acadia NP, ME

But these images were more about what became a fascination with the multi-colored hues and variety of the lichen on the park’s famous “pink” granite, and the abstractions that could be extracted from them. But it has to be said, that Acadia has several types of photographs available to get excited about. I especially enjoyed the pocket rock gardens atop its many granite domes, as well as the tide pools, heaths, and rocky shoreline. But most importantly in autumn, is the brilliant red color of blueberry bushes throughout the park. A revisit in 2018 with a few photo friends was an enjoyable revisit as well, and there are several links to posts/journals from that trip at the end of this one.

The image immediately above was taken atop Cadillac Mountain just after a bland, bald sky sunrise. With the angle of sunlight low, many of the thin granite ledges cast a shadow on their west side, and in one of those shadows, I found these wild colors with the short zig-zag of almost black running through the design. The lens needed to be shielded from the harsh sunlight with one hand, while tripping the shutter release cable with the other, to avoid any refractions creeping onto the film. Being in the shade with blue sky above accentuated the blue/gray tones of some of the lichen, something that became very apparent to me after seeing the processed film from this trip.

The image at the top, was an unintended consequence of not accomplishing the goal of reaching the summit of Gorham Mtn. before sunrise. Beginning the hike in near darkness, it became painfully apparent that I would not reach the top before the sun rose, but did find a good spot along the trail looking down toward the south that produced a great photo which was, unfortunately, never digitally scanned. And right nearby, was some beautiful lichen with a thread of red blueberry leaves. But looking through the viewfinder, there was something lacking. While I loved the interplay of color and texture, there just didn’t seem to be any particular focal point. But before packing up the camera and heading back down, I thought to give it one more attempt by “adding” a focal point. Failing to find a suitable rock, I spotted a tiny weathered twig just to the right of the frame, and repositioned it among the red leaves. Now the image had something to which the eye could initially gravitate. That tiny change made all the difference, since without it, the photo would not have even been taken.


2018 Acadia Trip Blog Posts

Acadia — Enlightenment

Acadia — Day 1

Acadia — Day 2

Acadia — Day 3

Acadia — Day 4

Acadia — Day 5

Acadia — Day 6

Acadia — Day 7

Acadia — The Tarn

Acadia — Outside the Golden Hour

Seeing Differences

Cool Summer Dawn — Jordan Lake, NC

By the time you read this, it’s been a few weeks since WordPress (host for this web site) changed and expanded the functionality of the editor used to create the various blogs posts and pages within the site. As with most things with which we are familiar, we’re disappointed and frustrated with the change, and the loss of that familiarity, in this case, what actions are necessary to accomplish various tasks in creating these posts and pages. But as I became more familiar with, and explored some of the additional capabilities of the new editor, I was pleasantly surprised.

Two things available (so far, as I continue to explore) really stand out; one is to better illustrate differences a particular technique makes on an individual image, and the other is the ability to embed the videos on a You Tube Channel directly onto a page and view them without leaving the site. Click here to see the changes to that page and see all the videos available on my channel (so far).

Earlier this year, I posted an image to which I made some slight changes, and showed the before and after images separately to illustrate those changes. However, since they were slight, it was difficult to really see those differences, and more than one reader indicated their inability to see them. This problem has been addressed in the new editor with the ability to show a photograph with a slider that can be used by the reader to view the before and after results of processing.



Summer Garden - NCMA © jj raia

Summer Garden — NCMA © jj raia

After a tip from some friends that there was a field of flowers in the expansive grounds surrounding the North Carolina Museum of Art, I convinced my son to go with me there to photograph them. But when we arrived in the parking lot, I realized I had neglected to remind him to bring along his mask, so we had no alternative but to head back home. It was disappointing.

But I returned the next day in the early morning hours with an overcast that would hopefully provide the lower contrast, even lighting that is helpful when shooting flowers out in the field. It was mostly dark when I arrived, so the three huge, partially sunken, concrete oval sculptures were still being lit with the overnight orange lighting as the sky began to lighten. Seeing a few breaks in the clouds, the thought was to photograph one of the lit sculptures, and without moving the tripod, wait to see if any color would creep into the sky. So the first image was for a properly exposed sculpture without regard for how the sky appeared. When some color did appear for a short minute, the second frame was exposed for the sky with the intention to mask out the sculpture and grounds so the initial frame would show through.

Sculpture at Dawn — NCMA © jj raia

Sculpture at Dawn — NCMA © jj raia

First Friday Showcase — Fran DeRespinis


Escalier No.1 © Fran DeRespinis

Escalier No.1 © Fran DeRespinis

As mentioned recently, this blog noted the effect caused by the Corona Virus to the world in general, and photographers in particular, including those locally in North Carolina’s Triangle area. In response to the cancellation of many of their exhibits, we have opened up this space to Showcase the work of some of the area’s most accomplished photographers, and share it with the widest audience possible.

Beginning tonight at 6pm, and on the first Friday each month going forward, a small series of their work will be exhibited, and we will hear from the photographers themselves, about their creativity and inspiration in the making of the images, and hopefully get a better understanding into their creative process in order to expand our own.

And so tonight, we launch the inaugural First Friday Showcase with the work of Fran DeRespinis.

Fran DeRespinis

The Escalier Series

When I photograph in an urban environment, it’s usually exterior shooting, out on the street. That includes architecture, skylines, environmental portraits, and the oddities of urban life. The last time I was in Manhattan, however, I also found myself inside, specifically Grand Central Terminal.

The high activity in the terminal was both energizing and challenging, witness to Grand Central’s own mantra of “Always Moving.” My first shots were of people coming and going, waiting and reading, pretty much standard fare. However, as I walked by a set of escalators, I saw people moving either upward or downward, in constant motion, yet standing still. I was immediately reminded of the French-American artist Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2, with, as he called it, “…a static representation of movement…”. I wanted to capture that dichotomy.

Because the interior afforded me less light than I had on the street, I was shooting inside the terminal with a higher ISO (thus more sensor sensitivity), making it possible to use high enough shutter speeds to avoid blurry photos. However, the low light was now an opportunity: I guessed that by using a technique I had tried on flowers, shooting with a slow shutter speed and twisting my camera quickly in both directions during the exposure (first to the left then to the right), I would get movement and multiplicity. Looking at my test shot on my Leica Q’s LCD screen, I saw that I guessed correctly and adjusted my shutter speed. I then began photographing these people who were “always moving” but in “static movement”.

If you shoot in RAW as I do, as opposed to shooting in JPG format in which the camera’s software creates a “final image,” you have to do some post-processing to the RAW file or risk that the image will be rather lifeless in color, tonality, and contrast. For this homage to Duchamp, I decided to mimic the golden tones of his iconic staircase painting, but intensified the color and contrast to increase the sense of drama in the images.

Like Duchamp, I’m fascinated with transition, change, and movement. In attempting to capture those qualities in this Escalier series, I also appreciate the multiple faces, expressions, and body language the images created. Who are these people? Where are they going? Are those ghosts I see among them?

Escalier No. 6  © Fran DeRespinis

Escalier No. 7  © Fran DeRespinis

Escalier No. 8  © Fran DeRespinis

All photographs © 2018, 2020 Fran DeRespinis.

All Rights Reserved.

Fran Portrait

Click on Fran DeRespinis’ web site below to see more of his work.

Throwback Thursday No. 33


Images from the Film Archives — 1998

Dawn — Culver Lake, NJ  © jj raia

Dawn — Culver Lake, NJ © jj raia

As mentioned in an earlier Thursday, I most often set out in the very early morning on one of my weekdays off from work, to photograph a location at sunrise, and had to calculate driving time, and hiking time estimates if necessary, to be there in time for the best light. Remember, this was in the dark ages, well before Google Maps was available to tell you to the minute how long a drive you had. On this particular morning, after almost two hours of driving, prospects of a timely arrival to my intended destination weren’t looking good as the sky was already beginning to lighten. As I was driving, and cursing my inability to accurately estimate the drive time, I caught a glimpse of this lake, and immediately gave up the original destination to photograph this scene in its place.

By now, after a few years of photographing, there was always a short step stool in the trunk just in case, as it was needed for this shot in order to gain enough height over some reeds on the waters edge for an unobstructed view of the mirrored reflections. Luckily, there was enough mist to hide the fact that there were many houses on the opposite shoreline, giving the lake a more secluded, natural look, rather than the built up look of man’s progress a clearer view would reveal.

But the most important element of the photo was the color of the sky and its reflection in the water. The clouds were also striking because they were at two distinct levels. Anytime you have several cloud layers, each will take on the ever changing color of a sunrise or sunset at different times during its progress. Here, the wispy cirrus clouds at the highest elevation had already caught the first rays of sunlight. Some of the lower level clouds had just their edges lit by the sun while their opposite edges remained in shadow, while the lower, long line of clouds that stretches across the frame remains mostly in the earth’s shadow.

Although I never made it to the original destination in time, I was fortunate to have spotted Culver Lake when I did. But it is difficult to break away from your initial intentions and the preconceived vision you have for the day.