Light in the Landscape

Soft Light – White Oak Marsh © jj raia

It would not be a revelation to say that light is a significant component of photography. After all, it is the light that we record whenever we trip the camera’s shutter. During daylight hours, illumination is provided by the sun which can be supplemented by lights both indoors and outdoors. For indoor, or studio photography, there are probably enough classes and instructional videos on You Tube for proper studio lighting techniques, for every imaginable subject, type of light and modifier, flash system, reflector shape, and home-made contraption, along with the immeasurable variety of their uses, that would make your head spin.

In the studio, to touch briefly on a few of the variables, lighting can be adjusted for location, intensity, direction, temperature, and number of lights, all with the ability to be modified for the angle of the beam, and whether it shines directly on, or is reflected onto the subject. Objects can be flattened, silhouetted, modeled into three dimensions, or given added texture, simply by making some basic changes to the direction of the illumination; shadows can disappear or be deepened with light, thereby modifying the overall contrast. Studio photographers have complete control of all the variables in lighting the subject, simply because they create the light.

But what about Light in the Landscape?

Jordan Lake — Vol.2

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Mirrored Sunrise — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

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A New Project

Bonsai Cedar – Delaware Watergap, PA © jj raia

Most often, photographic projects involve creating new images that have some common thread under a particular theme or umbrella. It could involve processing a series of photos using a singular or similar technique, or it could center around a specific subject; there are many avenues to approach the idea of a project. Knowing I would be inside for several weeks without much to do, I decided to finally tackle a new photography project. You might think it would be something to look forward to doing, digging in full bore, with excitement, enthusiasm, and a renewed sense of photographic purpose; but you would be sadly mistaken. It is something I’ve been putting off for at least 10-15 years, dreading the monotony of the gargantuan task that I would embark upon, and figured if I didn’t tackle it now, with the expected uncommitted block of time, it would never get done. Of course, the world would continue to move forward if I chose not to attempt this project, but it really, really needed to be done; at least in my mind of practicalities, so I forged ahead. Unlike most projects, there was no creativity involved in this non-artistic endeavor, but rather the simple, monotonous, manual labor necessary in keeping my photo libraries from the gilded, pre-digital age of photography, in some semblance of order, severely lacking for 30 years, now.

Found, Forgotten and Found

Eroded Cliffs near Dettifoss, Iceland © jj raia

As happens most times a photo is taken, something motivated you to do so prior to tripping the camera’s shutter. Some object, activity, person or scene inspired you enough to memorialize it with your camera in some way that satisfies that inspiration. After importing those photos onto the computer, the better images are processed and those considered subpar are ignored and left to languish on a hard drive. The cycle repeats, and over time those unprocessed files, and even some of those that were, are forgotten. But occasionally, we come across those same files years later only to be inspired again by what we originally saw and captured with the camera.

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.

Titles

© 2021 jj raia

Most photographs will speak to us in their own way, if we only take the time to listen carefully…

Clem Kadiddlehopper — photographer, philosopher, sage

Supplying the viewer of a photo with a title, provides a bit of additional information in order to produce an intended response or message from the image, but in doing so, may do a disservice to the viewer by suggesting that he or she cannot absorb the information within the photo to extract the photographer’s intent through a normal, visual interaction, and needs some gentle guidance. It could also suggest that there is only one correct takeaway from an image, when it’s possible there are many, many more. Another possibility is that the photographer has failed in conveying whatever intention, story or message there may have been for taking the photograph in the first place. Quite often, the inclusion of a title offers the exact information the maker wants to provide in order to lead the viewer to a desired conclusion, suggesting the idea, story or intention behind the photo, thereby possibly reducing the intensity of any engagement the viewer might otherwise experience.


I have to admit here that I have fallen victim to this on occasion as well, most recently titling a sequence from a morning shoot on the Outer Banks Spectacular Sunrise No.1, 2, etc. It was done to easily indicate to me which morning it was, and immediately bring to mind that day. It was not done to steer a viewer into believing it was indeed, a spectacular sunrise, when they may not have the same view, but the title nonetheless does make that inference.

The concept of titles was radically suggested by a photographer friend of mine many years ago as unnecessary, and should never be included since the image should speak for itself, and be heard by the viewer, as they see it, without any outside influences from what the photographer’s take is from the piece; a title being one of those outside influences. Along with the title, any background story of extra effort needed, or extraordinary circumstances to “get” a photo is totally irrelevant, especially if the photo is nothing special, since that effort will not make the image any better. For the most part, I completely agree that a title will influence the viewer’s initial response, but only if it’s read before viewing the image. It is possible, that by including one, the viewer can look at the image first, come to their own conclusion, and afterward, their conclusion can then either be validated or supplanted by what the title has to say about the image, or simply incorporate the title information into their own takeaway. Obviously, there are several ways to consider the idea of titles and their purposes, and whether or not they should be included with specific photographs.

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…

New Architecture

Penn Station — Moynihan Train Hall, NYC © jj raia

Originally completed in 1910, New York’s Pennsylvania Station, and its connecting east and west tunnels linking the rail line from Washington, DC to Boston, were built as a civic monument, not just a railroad station and gateway to New York City. That massive structure served commuters and the traveling public for half a century, but was eventually demolished in the early 1960’s for a more economically viable complex consisting of an office tower, sports arena (a new Madison Square Garden) and a gloomy, subterranean train station without any of the majestic grandeur and open spaciousness of the original building. Having worked in the second, depressing version for over 35 years, construction of this latest version was just beginning when I left 11 years ago. I was curious to see the new one just recently opened after literally decades of planning and construction. I had no idea what to expect since from the outside, the former Farley Post Office Building, which now houses the new station, appeared the same as when I left, with no indication of what was to be discovered inside.

Once inside, there was an immediate feeling of freedom and expansiveness which was severely lacking in the previous station of claustrophobic low ceilings, replaced now with glass roofs that opened to the sky. The grandeur of the original had been captured, although on a much smaller scale. I was enthralled as lights of various colors morphed through a series of changes to illuminate some of the structural steel in varying hues.

Marquee — Moynihan Train Hall © jj raia

Unfortunately, I did not have much time to wander around to make some photographs and was immediately harassed for using a tripod in the near empty space. I was even told I could not sit on the floor when taking a very low angle image and trying to look through the viewfinder (no moveable screen on the camera back or wide-angle image stabilizing lens). But I was allowed to crouch down as low as I wanted so long as my @$$ didn’t touch the floor! Luckily the 70-300mm I used for the three images above does have VR (image stabilization), and was able to crank up the ISO to get a reasonably sharp file. And the idea of shooting on a tripod and blending images with lighting of differing colors was out of the question at the time, until I tried the auto-align feature in Photoshop that proved it could be done (center image)! But looking through the glass to the buildings adjacent to the main Daniel Patrick Moynihan Train Hall (above, right and left), windows reflected the early morning light on the buildings behind my position and the clear blue sky above those building in the upper windows. Had I not gotten there bright and early, shortly after 7am, the lighting may have been very different, without the opposing warm light against the otherwise blue hues of shadow and blue sky.

Then it was time to head downtown and return to the World Trade Center Site and photograph any changes that might have occurred since the last visit, or whatever else caught my eye. It had been almost two years ago when I posted some photos that you can see here from that initial visit. This time I shot more of the surrounding architecture from outside the Oculus, the soaring transit hub building, and tried some “street photography” from a distance, being too introverted to actually ask folks to photograph them. Most of them were mere cliches with none noteworthy. But there is nothing like Manhattan for a continuing parade of characters, special social interactions and situations that make just being there interesting. Getting that energy in a photo is not so easily done, so I have to tip my hat to those folks who are successful at street photography. I did try a combination of architecture and “nature” with the sole leafless tree against the soaring ribs of the Oculus. I suppose not every planted tree survives this concrete forest and this was one of those that didn’t make it.

Bare Tree and Oculus — World Trade Center Site, NY

There are too many images of murals painted on walls with people walking past, and the world doesn’t need another since the concept is no longer imaginative, but there is definitely a pull for you to take one of these, and so I fell victim to the lure and photographed someone else’s art which is something usually avoided. How would you feel if someone photographed a print of yours with some added subject matter and claimed it as their own? Yes, I agree. But one thing about the mural did have a personal connection in the name BOOG. A long time friend of mine since the 1960’s had the nickname “Boog” because he was pretty thin and not all that muscular, so the nickname given to him was taken from a baseball player of the Baltimore Orioles named Boog Powell who was a bit of a “hulk”; just the opposite of my friend’s physique. Note — Click on any of the gallery photos to see them full screen.

One of the first images taken that morning after climbing out from the subway was the shadows of the Oculus “ribs” falling on the 9/11 Museum. At first, the tip of the triangular shape fell above the roofline, so it was flipped into a vertical, while waiting a half hour for the sun to rise a bit higher, brought the tip entirely against the horizontal lines of the museum, to remain within the horizontal frame, giving the shape more focus. (Click on either frame to see it full size).

One of the most important aspects of getting to the site early was the reflected light and shadows that simply don’t exist around the mid-day or pre-dawn hours. So many of the buildings and structures cast shadows on others, while windows reflected light into shadows illuminating those darker areas. It was a constantly changing landscape of photographic opportunities as the sun rose higher in the sky that made leaving so difficult.

Subway Entrance — WTC Site, NY © jj raia

So the final shots of the day before heading back to NJ, were of the reflected light on the turquoise subway entrance across the street from the Oculus. It was a simple procedure to set up the tripod and compose the frame; the difficulty was having the patience to wait for traffic to clear for an unobstructed view, and have someone of interest walking toward the camera position without other folks in the frame. Those opportunities were few and far between. It was always a narrow window when there were no cars blocking the view, and quite often an interesting person was heading this way only to be blocked by the heavy traffic in the area. But it was the light reflecting off windows of the building on the opposite side of the street into this shaded area that gave the scene a spotlight effect; and the interesting paint color brought all the elements together.

If any of you should happen to be in New York City, visiting the World Trade Center Site it a worth while destination for photography along with a visit to the 9/11 Museum. My visit to the museum two years ago was a deeply moving experience for me, having lived through that day operating a train from Penn Station into Washington, DC and seeing the smoke in the sky from the crash of the plane into the Pentagon. A stop at the new Amtrak Station is also an interesting place to visit, but be prepared to hand hold every shot as there is an army of security personnel on hand to make sure you don’t use your tripod. I just don’t understand the reasoning behind the ban.