Scatterbrained !!

Heart – Original © jj raia

The vast majority of the images I make generally involve the natural world, so it’s been an odd few months recently that most of the photographic interest and images seem to have veered away from it and landed on a few other types. Ever since Memorial Day morning, and the suddenly illuminated puff of fog, this summer the camera has been aimed mostly toward cities and towns. That same morning, as mentioned in a previous post, I headed off to downtown Raleigh to extend the short time photographing at Jordan Lake. About two weeks later, a small group met one morning in Selma, NC to see what we could find there, and a few days after that, we headed up to NJ to visit family after an absence that was way too long; and an unplanned photo excursion to Manhattan, the new Pennsylvania Station and World Trade Center site was squeezed into the schedule. Most recently, although not having gone out for any landscape photography except in my own backyard, some time was spent in front of the computer reprocessing a few recent images into final versions that are very, very atypical to say the least.

I suppose everyone has a driving force behind their desire to create, and for me it’s the landscape; always has been. But lately, that force has been all over the map in the chosen subjects: architecture, cityscapes, still life, conceptual, intentional camera movement, so many things that were not natural landscapes. I wonder what caused this sudden change in that primary interest? Is it temporary? Or is it a major shift in photographic preference? Boredom? What does all this have to do with the image at the top? I’ll get there eventually…

In the last several posts, quite a few “architectural” images have been included; some from Selma, NC and Manhattan, NY. The three included here are from recent Raleigh explorations, including the Memorial Day visit. Most of the scenes are simply things that seemed interesting at the time in some way, shape or form. It may simply be a harmonious collection of colors, or the juxtaposition of elements, a graphic design, a tiny indication of the history or a story within what’s recorded; most often it’s some combination of these.

For the one on the left, it was the harmony of color and a bit of history. It’s pretty obvious that the original wall had a window opening that was later bricked over, and the entire wall painted in this blue/gray color. But what was most interesting, and drew me into the alley in the first place, was the odd green coloration of the concrete! There were several lines stained this same color running along the alleyway between two old buildings, and following them always led to a downspout from the gutters of the church on the opposite wall. The stains were probably caused by the runoff from copper gutters and downspouts installed many, many years ago before aluminum was used. The two colors also seemed to have a definite harmonic interplay.

The brick wall of the center photo has its history on full display as well. The intricate brickwork for the window opening was also bricked over at some point and painted white which has recently faded, peeled a bit, and accumulated some mold. The newer lamp post brought out the red color lying just beneath the surface of the white paint so there is a connection between the two even though they were erected during two very different eras.

The right side photo was merely an exercise using the varying textures, colors and shapes of two buildings surrounding a vacant parking lot. However, after taking a few frames, they all seemed lifeless, lacking a proper sense of scale and focal point, so a random passerby was enlisted to compensate for those three deficiencies, promising him a free breakfast at a nearby eatery afterward. I stiffed him on that promise!!

These are some of the subjects encountered that day that inspired me to click the shutter; and whether I would have been so easily inspired if the expense of film were added into the equation, can only remain a mystery, but there certainly may have been some influence. If something grabs my attention, I am more likely to record it and not wait until I find an undeniable subject before composing a shot. Sometimes the gut instinct is rewarded, and sometimes it is not. But our relentless pursuit of the “perfect image” should not become a hindrance to the pursuit. Striving for perfection should be the lofty goal at which we set our standards while remaining open to the successes of near misses.

What drew me to the image below was the geometry of light, shadows and reflections, along with the singular stand out door among all the various granite columns and walls of harmonious warm tones of the upper granite, juxtaposed against the cooler tones in the bottom half. In order to minimize any cropping and distortion of a wide angle lens, a 70-300mm lens was used at about 80mm, taking a two-frame vertical panorama with the camera on the tripod in the landscape orientation. Again, nothing to knock your socks off, but an exercise in helping recognize subjects of interest. Without continually exercising our ability to “see” subjects among all the possibilities that surround us, that ability may diminish over time in the same way a muscle, without continued use, may lose its ability to properly perform its function.

Side Door — Raleigh, NC © jj raia

As I mentioned, subjects recently have been fairly eclectic. And in a way, the photo below has similar elements to the one above in that it is mostly cooler tones throughout with the exception of the tiny warm-toned wood vase. It was perfect for the hydrangeas my wife recently dried to less than a quarter of their original size that she placed on the counter near the beautiful plate with a crushed glass center. It took a few days of looking at the two together before an image formed in my mind, and several more days to figure out how it might be accomplished. As a novice when it comes to handling layers in Photoshop, this would be the most complicated attempt I ever made, by far. And I’m sure some folks more skilled in Photoshop, will cheerily chuckle at how simple and straight forward it would be for them to do.

Floating Plate © jj raia

The first problem to overcome was to photograph the plate and its reflection eliminating the stand on which it stood, being that the shiny metal covered part of the lower plate. I figured if I took two photos with the second having the plate rotated on the stand with the area formerly covered by it, now uncovered, I could then copy the part originally covered by the stand, paste it onto the original, transform it into position (spin), blend the two with a layer mask, and then merge the layers leaving the plate complete without the stand! It would have been much easier to do had I not moved the stand slightly as I rotated the plate for the second shot, but eventually had the plate appear to be floating as intended. That was accomplished by copying the plate, pasting it onto its own layer, and moving it up slightly to appear floating above the granite (notice the reflection and the plate do not touch as does the reflection of the vase). Also, in order to really make the crushed glass pop, a third shot was taken using a flashlight and long cardboard tube with a light circle about the same size as the plate’s inner circle. And that part needed to be blended into the original two frames.

Since the first plate image was taken with a black foam core background, the image of the vase and hydrangeas was also taken with the same black background, placed on a layer above the plate revealed with layer mask which needed quite a bit of fine detailing to assure there were no black edges around the dried hydrangea that were in front of the plate. Then it was easy enough to fill in the blank parts of the canvas with either black background or the blue/black granite using the clone stamp tool. Lightroom was then used to finish the processing of the constructed image. However, the difficulty (for me) to put together the pieces, or fulfilling the idea for any photo, should never be a substitute for an engaging photo, and this one just never lived up to the hype I had in mind.

Purple Flowers — Wake County, NC © jj raia

As difficult as the image of the plate was, the one above was quite the opposite. It was easy enough to wait for these purple flowers in the backyard to be in the afternoon shade, and set the camera for a longer shutter speed to allow some movements to be made while the shutter was open. The lighter circles were buds that hadn’t bloomed yet, and without them, the frame would have simply been filled with one big purple blob. Not much was done in the way of processing either; just a few adjustments to the flowers to more evenly display the purple color.

As mentioned earlier in the post, a few images were reprocessed to create something completely different from the original. The one immediately below was converted to B+W, darkened considerably, and the subject more isolated from quite a bit of distracting background. This is as close to “street photography” as I can get since I’m not someone comfortable approaching strangers to photograph them, and was quite a distance away using the 300mm end of the lens. Of all these recent departures from my norm, I suppose this is the single frame that has much more of a story to tell, although there is a firm belief that not all photos need to be associated with a story. The only element other than the subject is the barely visible bench, with everything else eliminated in order for the viewer to create a story of their own choosing about the person wrapped in the blanket. And here is where the need for titles and their purpose could enter the discussion, but that probably warrants a separate post. It took quite a while to arrive at one that will indicate to me what the photo depicts years from now without the actual image to jog a memory, while avoiding a pre-packaged story being attached to it.

Keeping Warm — Raleigh, NC © jj raia

This final image below was the result of taking the high-key image at the top and moving toward a much darker theme, not only in tone, but in content. The brighter image was initially created by standing in front of a light gray wall and having my shadow, created from the light of a window on the opposite wall fall on it, with the lens slightly out of focus and shot with a wide open aperture for minimal depth of field. The heart shape in the top image was easily created using a slightly brighter brush in Lightroom. After the entire frame was darkened, the heart became more visible in Photoshop with some additional color along with a separation of the two halves, and a texture added for either a slightly grittier appearance, or to portray rain. Those changes are fairly evident, but the “face” was added back in Lightroom simply using both lighter and darker brushes without varying much in tonal value from their surroundings. Quite a bit a care was taken to contour the features just enough to create the illusion of the face, but what emotion is portrayed is a determination left to the viewer.

Broken Heart © jj raia

It’s been an eclectic couple of months for photographic subjects, and who knows where the weeks ahead may lead, but in certain ways, all these scatterbrained images have been rewarding for me. Some of the creations were certainly outside my comfort zone, and that probably helps for the continuing process of creating work and stretching our creativity. At the very least, it exercises those creative muscles. Yet we have to remind ourselves, although we might not be passionate about every single image we produce, we will continue to be passionate about producing images.


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