A Day at the Museum

© jj raia

Any time I can get my son out of the house to take pictures together, everything stops and we go to wherever he wants to; it’s not often he’s willing, even though I try to coax him quite often. So the other day he finally agreed to go and he chose the North Carolina Museum of Art as our destination. It was a wise choice since it was a sweltering and humid day, so being indoors with cooling air conditioning appealed to us both. It didn’t really matter what might be on display since we usually just wander around and photograph whatever piques our interest. Basically, we try to use the artwork simply as an instrument to create something that may be interesting to look at, and not have the photos resemble the actual paintings or sculpture in any way. We wander around, sometimes together and sometimes on our own, looking and trying different techniques to create something unique.

The images above and below were both created using the same painting that stretched at least twenty feet across. Using four multiple exposures in camera, and beginning with the camera parallel to the floor, each successive frame was rotated about 20-degrees, all the time trying to keep the viewfinder’s center camera focus point on the same intersecting lines of the painting. Altering the amount of rotation between frames will also alter the final image. Other times, the camera began the sequence at an angle to the floor and moving the camera left to right while rotating, which created a completely different result. Moving the camera left to right or up and down were additional variations. Some worked out well, while others not so much; but trying something different may result in a surprisingly satisfying image. For these two, it was using the bold blocks of color on the canvas to create shapes that blended into an interesting design.

© jj raia

Using another painting, I thought to focus on a very small portion of the canvas to create a diptych, where two images may compliment one another when viewed side by side (below). Several frames were taken with the dark circle on the left of the frame, and several others with it on the right. Each was taken with the camera rotated in varying degrees with the purpose being to get certain segments of two frames to line up along adjacent edges. It was a good exercise in really “seeing” what was in the viewfinder, determined to make the image strong enough to stand on its own, as well as matching up with another as a diptych. With just a few images, and the ability to flip each frame both horizontally or vertically, as well as rotate them in Lightroom or Photoshop, there were almost too many possibilities to choose from.

Although the intended purpose of shooting all the frames in the series above was to come up with a diptych, frames from the series below did not initially have that purpose in mind. But after seeing all the interesting possibilities from the series above, I tried afterward to put together two frames from this series as well. But these frames were really intended to stand alone, and found it difficult to match any together. The two below seem to work only because of the similar undulations of color, with one seemingly sweeping into the design of the other.

After overdosing on color for a while, we turned to a few small metal sculptures and tried a few “normal” images and a few using intentional camera movements (ICM). Immediately below is simply the shadow of one of the sculptures receding against the wall at a corner of the room. It was just the way all the shadows lined up that seemed to be of interest, but nonetheless, only took a single frame which indicated it was probably not the strongest image.

Shadows — NCMA © jj raia

The image below is a far cry from the original. However, there was no intent to use that original and process it in a specific way to create any pre-visualized final image. But the initial thought was to slightly blur the sculpture by intentionally moving the camera during the exposure, and after a few frames, moved onto to whatever might be found to photograph next in the museum. Once it was on the computer, the first response was to keep it high key (see before and after below), maintaining the look of a pencil sketch, with an almost pure white background. Although I liked the result, especially the design within the frame, it seemed to lack any impact or drama.

Faux Foggy Morning — NCMA © jj raia

So the course was reversed, and moved the image into a darker space. Once it was darkened, the “scene” became apparent, and went about building the elements that would mimic an imaginary landscape. Since the file was converted to black and white, there was wide latitude in the degree various areas could be brightened or darkened since there was no consideration for muddying or over brightening any colors. Small areas that were too dark and distracting could easily be lightened without regard to change in color vibrance; and overall balance within the frame could be adjusted by lightening or darkening to add or reduce visual weight.

This version was simply an outcrop of re-imagining what was on the computer screen, rather than what was seen at the museum (apologies for the unintended rhymes). I can’t honestly say that, in my mind, the “trees” were already there when I snapped the shot, but they were certainly there once it was darkened. All the additions, which were just the darkening or lightening of specific areas within the frame, were only to enhance that initial discovery of those trees. Simply adding the dark horizontal line across the frame and darkening the bottom, creating “land”, gave it an immediate three-dimensionality, and thereafter, freed the imagination to wander whichever way it chose to go. Keeping all the areas soft suggested foggy conditions; the sun and reflections added to the feeling of depth and the presence of still water; and pretty soon it became a landscape image instead of a simple design. Being able to specify light values for adjustment when using Lightroom’s brush and radial filter tools, made it easier to lighten or darken specific areas, yet not affect certain values within that area. For example, lightening the “water” to create the reflections, by specifying lighter tones within the radial filter, only the water was brightened, leaving the “trunks” unaffected and remain a very dark silhouette.

Faux Foggy Morning — Before and After

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