Stephen D'Agostino Photography home page

a shout out to Elto.com

There are so many distractions from actually taking photographs it is amazing that we ever have time to create. Learning the nuances of new equipment and what has really changed  in the constant flow of software updates can be a career in itself.  My mission has been to simplify my life to make more time for things that matter; starting with this website.

I have exhibited on the web since  2001.  Originally using Microsoft’s web development tools and then Adobe Dreamweaver  I was able to produce a good basic exhibition platform. The cost however has been time spent constantly learning and development time; time better spent with a camera in my hand or  discovering better post production technique.

For me the obvious answer is to  embrace someone else’s  code  and use an existing  content management system (ie a blog.) I chose WordPress because it is widely supported, and is powerful enough to do everything I need in a photography website.

I discovered two things in my transition to WordPress. The first, that Yahoo, my host since the beginning only provided partial support for the WordPress tools on my shopping list. In other words the choice of a host matters. I eventually chose DreamHost. Second,  there is an online web  development company  (Elto.com) that specializes in WordPress  at a price that makes it silly to invest your own time to learn how to do it yourself.

Elto breaks the steps down into understandable tweaks for pricing and project management purposes. In my case they customized an existing WordPress theme  to give me more control over menuing, migrated my site to a new host including the DNS transfer and finally set up the 301 and 404 page redirects to account for the new page locations; all for under $300.  I can report that it was absolutely painless and the results here are proof it works.

So here is a shout out and thanks to my project manager Luke Pickett and everyone at Elto.

Christmas Tree In the Round - photo impressionistic image of Toronto City Hall Christmas Tree

“Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” –Charlie Brown

The Christmas holidays means something different to all of us.

For me it a time to reenergize and reflect; and what a year it has been. Photographically I launched the Photoimpressionism Project, had three images chosen for Flickr’s Explore Page and made big strides in mastering my impressionistic technique. This blog has achieved a consistent ranking in Google’s top 3 using the search term “photo impressionism”. My professional life has enjoyed significant milestones as well; lots of media attention thanks to Mayor Ford, as well as the usual victories for my clients.

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This is also the year I began to understand what a great time this is to be a photographer. Digital photography now gives us the tools to fulfill our vision without boundaries. Whether it is the immediacy of iphoneography, the raw power of a pro camera like Nikon’s D4, or capturing the invisible with infrared we have a tool set capable of imaging anything. And thanks to the internet like minded photographers can share their ideas and their victories with just a few clicks.

Looking forward to next year I have 3 personal goals:

- step up my photoimpressionistic technique. There is still much to learn;
- refocus my efforts on producing physical prints; and
- continue evangelizing photoimpressionism as a genre through my work and the work of others.

Best wishes for the holidays, and happy shooting.

Stephen D’Agostino

Just Outside The Met – New York

New York is a magical place for photographers. For me it’s the energy of the place; the people; the mix of architecture.

We were walking south on 5th Avenue. A bright morning. The crowds pulling towards the Met and I wanted to capture that feeling. The image above is my second shot. A three second motion blur taken while walking. I guess you might call it a forward pan.

The back story is this. I usually shoot with a Nikon D4. It’s a great camera and my favourite for photo impressionistic experiments. But add a couple of lenses to your bag and after a while the weight is oppressive. A recent back injury forced me to consider other options so I thought I would try a compact system and bought a Nikon N1 J2. In picking the J2 price was a big factor. Nikon’s release of the updated J3 means there are plenty of deals on new cameras.

I was surprised at the image quality of the N1 J2. Even more surprising was the system’s versatility. It shoots Raw (NEF format) which can be a life saver. While it won’t shoot in camera multiple exposures; the shutter releases quickly allowing me to reproduce the effect in Photoshop. The camera gives you shutter and aperture control meaning long exposures are a possibility. Match the lens with a Cameron Fader ND filter using a step up adapter and you have some great creative choices. In my view this is a great alternative for my photo impressionism projects. My only complaint is the LCD can be a pain to use on a bright day. I like using a viewfinder.

For my taste, long exposures and in camera multiple multiple exposures are too soft and washed out. As a result I colour correct and add structure to my photo impressionistic images in Photoshop. In this case I have used NIK’s tonal contrast filter and the mid-tone conturing action from Vincent Versace.

Tulipa in the round - detail. An example of in the round photo impressionism

Tulips In The Round

Another experiment in my “in the round” series. The idea is to capture images all around the subject and then bring them together as a merged image in Photoshop to create more of a gestalt impression of the subject. The more I try this technique though, the more I find it is the deconstruction of the image that interests me; simplifying and reducing to produce a photo impressionistic sense.

For this example I followed the technique I have described in earlier posts. As with most multiple exposure images, the merged result is soft and there is a bit of a colour shift. For some this may be the impressionistic sense they are looking for but I like a bit more structure. In post production I almost always colour balance the image using the black point – white point technique, then using NIK’s filters I add a touch of contrast and then “fluff up” the pixels a bit using the mid tone contrast filter. Masking is important with these filters otherwise you will find there is no movement in the image. I always finish my images using Vincent Versace’s tonal contrast action which I control with a mask.

I really like the result here. A simple impression of a vase of tulips. The in the round approach and the random effect created by multiple images creates a painterly feel; a good example of photo Impressionism.

Apple Blossoms In The Round - photo impressionistic image of an apple tree

Apple Blossoms In The Round 2 – University of Toronto Law School Turning Circle

Spring brings some wonderful opportunities to explore “in the round photography”.

The idea is to capture the essence of an object in its environment by taking photographs from many points of view and then merging them into a single image. And the result is often a simplified version of the origin, bathed in muted soft pastel’s. I was first exposed to this idea in New York where you can find wonderful examples by Pep Ventosa at the Lumas gallery in Soho.
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In this case I carefully walked in a circle around the apple tree taking a pictures every few paces. For each picture the tree was lined up in my view finder using the grid lines. Of course you can’t line your subject up perfectly but the process is very forgiving because the result is really an average of your efforts. In terms of numbers think 20 or more pictures.

Because the image is averaged there are other surprising results. While I was shooting a service truck parked in my point of view. It was obvious I was shooting so I was upset that the truck would create a distracting element in the background but as you can see it vanished when the images were blended together. Same thing with the “no parking” signs posted around the tree.

I start post processing in Lightroom where I select all the images I plan to use and then open them in Photoshop as layers. For this one I used an opacity blending script but the blending can also be achieved manually. For manual blending try reducing the opacity of each image by about 50% of the image before it.

I find the result of opacity blending a bit too soft so I use NIK’s tonal contrast filter and Vincent Versace’s mid tone contrast action.

Pictorialism: The root of photo Impressionism

Impressionistic photography has been with us since the beginning.

Contemporaneous with Eastman’s invention of the handheld camera, the Pictorialists (1885 -1915) tried to extend the flourishing impressionist movement using soft focus, post production techniques and the suggestion of movement to create images that were more artistic than documentary. The effect was painterly, pleasing and controversial. Looking at their work you see the roots photo impressionism.

 

Equivalent 1926: Alfred Stieglitz

The American photographer Alfred Stieglitz was an early evangelist for this impressionist movement. Starting as a Pictorialist he produced and advocated for impressionistic photography that was more artful than scientific but later advocated the antithetical movement “straight photography” which is the main influence in photography today.

 

The Maypole Pole (Empire State Building) Edward Steichen - example of early multiple exposure photo impressionism

A contemporary of Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, was also an early photo impressionist. Together they would play a significant role in making photography an art form rather than a documentary technique. Using multiple exposure (sandwiched negatives) and long exposures Steichen’s photographs were hugely popular. The Empire State Building image above, for example, appeared in Vanity Fair.

The Flatiron Building Edward Steichen

It is clear that the  modern photo impressionistic movement really is a continuation or rebirth of Pictorialism.

For more see:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PictorialismAlfred Stieglitz

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/ipic/hd_ipic.htm

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/pict/hd_pict.htm

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/stei/hd_stei.htm

Merry Christmas

This image of the Swarovski Christmas Tree was taken at the Yorkdale Shopping Centre in Toronto. 32 images were taken all around the tree then merged together using Tony Sweet’s Layer Stack Opacity Blending script. The resulting image was colour corrected then given a bit of structure using NIK’s tonal contrast filter.

Evergreen trees are a perfect subject for “in-the-round” photography and the christmas tree is the perfect evergreen. I think it is the symmetry that makes it such a good subject. And the strong personal connection to Christmas makes the image more compelling.

I have been shooting “in the round” for about 2 years now and have developed a few personal approaches to the subject. Of course photo Impressionism is meant to be creativity without boundaries or rules but I think you need a bit of craft to make this technique work. Here are some thoughts:

- the subject needs an axis. It doesn’t have to be symmetrical but you have to visualize it spinning like a top and if that visualization works you have something.

- the more you accomplish in camera, the less contrived the result will appear. In the round is inherently messy and the photographer must bring order to the chaos. I accomplish this by careful framing the subject using the grid lines in my view finder. It seems to work best for me if the camera is handheld but the subject (the axis) is carefully maintained between the bottom top grid lines so that its size and location in the frame is constant.

- because the final image is composed of a large number photographs, individual elements tend to dissolve into a textured background unless they are repeated. For example, people walking through your shot tend to disappear while people standing tend to remain a compositional element.

- shoot lots- then shoot some more. I think the technique needs about 30 images minimum to work properly. I try to maintain the same distance from the axis element of the image and use a zoom to fine tune the size of the main subject.

- post production – I start in Lightroom where I select the images I intend to use and then open them in Photoshop as layers.

- once in photoshop you can use a tool such as Tony Sweet’s layer stack opacity script or for more control start with the bottom layer and manually decrease the opacity of each layer above by about 50% ( eg 100 50 25 13 6% opacity) until you get to about 6%. Play with the image order and opacity until you achieve your vision. Resist the urge to fix alignment issues in photoshop.

- the resulting image is going to look a bit washed out so I generally add a bit of life back using a white/black point colour correction, contrast, and NIK’s tonal contrast filter.

A Personal Milestone 11,000 Views on Flickr

Promoting Photo Impressionism as a genre has always been the main goal of my Internet activity.

While I have tried other sites (such as 500px) Flickr has played a big part along with this website.

My observation is that Flickr has a large and active community of photographers interested in pushing their craft beyond the shackles of “straight photography”. I see lots of experimentation on Flickr and that is the essence of the impressionistic image.

Lately I have noticed that most of my views on Flickr are originating from other sites such as Google Images and blogs. I see that broader exposure as another powerful reason to keep a presence on Flickr.

As photographers we really do live in the best of times, and the worst of times. International exposure is just a click away. On the other hand strong images are so readily available I wonder if it has depreciated the art form?

Via Flickr:
Toronto International Dragon Boat Race – dragged shutter technique ( 0.7 seconds). www.dagostino.ca

Slow Shutter as a Photo Impressionistic Technique

Via Flickr:
Toronto International Dragon Boat Race – dragged shutter technique ( 1/3 seconds). www.dagostino.ca

Using a slow shutter is a fabulous way to capture movement and energy to create a photo impressionistic effect. Here are some ideas that I have found through experimentation:

Light is always going to be your concern when photographing subjects in motion. The photo impressionistic effect comes from the slow shutter speed. A good neutral density filter is a must. I really like variable neutral density filters because of their flexibility and have had some success with the Cameron Fader ND Filter.

Its all about experimentation. I have had some good results with dragon boats in the 1/3 to 1/2 sec range (even down to 0.7 sec on occasion) with my aperture close to f22. Try some test shots to get the balance right.

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Panning is the critical skill here. I look for my point of visual interest (think picture in the picture) and try to keep it at a specific reference point in the view finder. You want that element to freeze in the image while all the other elements move creating a blur. It’s really hard to do even with a tripod or mono pod. The effect I was trying to achieve with the dragon boats was a sense of the circular motion of the paddles and the streaking background.

The shot below (0.7 secs at f18) was taken with a Kenyon Labs gyro. They are a really heavy addition to an already heavy kit but the results are great. As a result, the person who invented the wheel also deserves a camera credit here :)

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Post production is a matter of taste. I find the images need a bit of structure so I use photoshop to add a bit of contrast using NIK contrast and tonal contrast filters and Vincent Versace’s mid tone contouring action. Sometimes the images need just a bit of extra saturation as well.

Useful Photoshop Tools For Impressionistic Images

dagostino02

The big technical challenge in producing photo impressionistic images as a montage (as opposed to an in camera multiple exposure) is working with large numbers of images and huge file sizes. Some of my recent experiments (Washington Square in the round for example) have used close to 40 images, resulting in file sizes over Apple’s 2 gig file limit.

Even in camera multiple exposures have issues. I find then to be inherently soft and, depending on the camera, suffer from from a red cast.

Here are a couple of tools I have found to be useful time savers:

Creating A Layer Stack In Photoshop

- Adobe Lightroom is my first choice to produce a layer stack in Photoshop because I already use it to manage my images. Select your images then right click for the menu choice.

- Dr Brown’s Stackomatic. A great script you launch from Adobe Bridge to create a layer stack.

Opacity Control

- Layer Stack Opacity Blending Script. A great script from Digital Outback Photography based on some thinking by Tony Sweet. The script calculates opacity and merges layers into a multiple exposure style image. There are no controls but the result is nice.

- Mike Hale’s Stack Mode Panels. I use this panel often to test the effect of changing the blend mode.

File Size Reduction

- Perfect Resize makes file sizing, in both directions, a snap. This is important for me because Adobe Lightroom is an important part of my workflow and it does not recognize files saved in large image format (.psb). Often my working files are much larger than Apple’s 2 gig file size limit.

Basic Digital Darkroom

In camera multiple exposures bring their own challenges. My fuji S2 adds a pronounced red shift which is significantly reduced in the S5. As well there is a softness associated with multiple exposures that may have to be addressed.

- Vincent Versace has produced some great actions (associated with his books and DVD courses) for correcting white/black point and mid tone contouring.

- NIK has a great tonal contrast filter.

Photo-Impressionism: Other Voices

dagostino01 by Stephen D'Agostino
dagostino01, a photo by Stephen D’Agostino on Flickr.

Via Flickr:
Watching Mona Lisa – Paris – in camera multiple exposure. This image, printed on stretched canvas, was exhibited at Toronto’s 2007 Contact Festival. See more at www.dagostino.ca/Contact/contact_index.html

First and foremost the goal of my website project is to promote the idea of photo impressionism as a genre in the hope that others will embrace it.

When I first started to create photo impressionistic images in the mid nineties there were only a few photographers exploring it on the web and fewer in print. Freeman Patterson’s book Photo Impressionism and the Subjective Image published in 2001 was a powerful resource and really changed the way I visualized photography ; really an extreme extension of the unbridled call for creativity in his 1999 book Photography for the Joy of It. Since then, and in no small part thanks to the digital revolution, photo impressionistic images have joined the main stream (if evidence is needed, look no farther than the plethora of multiple exposure and slow shutter images coming out of the Olympics.)

However, straight photography has been so prevalent for so long that photo impressionistic images still are not well received. Interestingly photographers seem most reluctant to embrace it. The comments appearing in dpreview.com’s coverage of Reuters’ Olympic multiple exposures illustrates point. It is shocking to see photographers loose site of the fact that every image is a”mere”representation of the event, not a true reproduction. Photo Impressionism is no different. Using photography as the medium it tries to capture the essence of a moment or thing and convey that essence to the viewer.

Here is a selection of photographers who seem to have embraced photo impressionistic techniques. I don’t mean for this list to be exclusive or exhaustive so by all means contact me if you would like to be included:

Pep Ventosa

Lovely photo impressionistic images “in the the round”:

http://www.pepventosa.com

Eva Polak

Lots of experimentation resulting in some great images. Check out her abstracts:

http://www.evapolak.com/

Dave Wodchris

Check out his use of slow shutter technique which produce some lovely abstracts:

http://www.davewodchis.com

Susan Thomson

Interesting hand coloured sx70 prints. I like the creative use of this old school technology to produce a photo impressionistic look:

http://www.sx70.com

Nikhil Bahl

Sun Flowers using slow shutter pan and zoom. Reminiscent of Van Gogh:

http://nikhilbahl.blogspot.ca/2010/07/photo-impressionism-zoom-flick.html

Flickr

There is a lot of great talent showcasing on Flickr. Check out the photo Impressionism groups:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/photo-impressionism/galleries/72157622329193457/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/photo-impressionism/galleries/72157624843078327/

A Great Black and White Read: Vincent Versace’s Oz to Kansas

I just started reading Vincent Vesace’s new book From Oz to Kansas: Almost Every Black and White Conversion Technique Known to Man. I am just a couple of chapters in but can see this book won’t disappoint. The book is written the same style as Welcome to Oz which was a bit of a watershed for me; lots of inspiration, lots of philosophy and great techniques which leave enough room for creativity.

I have used Vesace’s channel mixer for my infrared black and white conversions for a while now and am really looking forward to seeing how his technique and thinking has matured.

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One bit of confusion in the Kindle version you need to be aware of. Even though the text in several locations directs you to the “Last Words” chapter for access to the on-line resources needed for the exercises, it isn’t there. Instead look in the index under the letter “O”. I expect this issue to be picked up quickly as the book has only been out for a week. The paperback should be out around the 20th of August. You can buy a copy on Amazon or through the author’s website.

Vincent Versace’s website can be found at http://www.versacephotography.com

Washington Square – In The Round

I have been experimenting with photo impressionistic “in the round” techniques; inspired by images produced by Pep Ventosa.

There are two big challenges from my point of view. First the images have to be carefully composed to allow them to be merged. I try to keep a constant distance from the subject and use my view finder’s grid lines to keep the composition consistent. It all makes sense if you think of making an in camera multiple exposure. While you can fix composition issues in Photoshop, the result may look too contrived.

On the Photoshop side, the images depend on the use of opacity and blending modes. I have had good results using 50% of the opacity of the layer below as a rule of thumb. Different blending modes produce very different results. I like the look of luminosity mode.

Helpful links:

Via Flickr:
Washington Square, New York. Another in a series of experiments in this genre. This image is composed of about 40 photographs taken around the fountain and then merged in photoshop. Post production was limited to colour balancing and filters designed to bring back a bit of structure such as NIK’s tonal contrast filter and Vincent Versace’s mid tone contrast action.

Marathons: A Photo Impressionistic Opportunity

081019_DSF3270-Edit by Stephen D'Agostino
081019_DSF3270-Edit, a photo by Stephen D’Agostino on Flickr. For more see my marathon collection.

Just a follow up to the great multiple exposures coming out of the Olympics. While you can’t expect to get an Olympic point of view, local races are a great opportunity to shoot multiple exposures and impressionistic images with a longer exposure.

Toronto is blessed with two world class marathons and they are worth planning for. See:

Photo-impressionism At The Olympics

I have been experimenting with action sports such as dragon dragon boat racing and distance running using multiple exposure photography. So you can imagine my pleasure seeing some great examples coming out of the olympics.

These are some of the images I liked best:

For more images, credits and background information on the techniques used see:

;

Photographic Influences – My List

One of the great things about the internet is the ability to see emerging photographic trends. Sites like Flickr and 500px have channels for fresh and popular photos and they are worth checking out. I’m not suggesting copy cat photography. I just think that when you expose yourself to great work, and reflect on it, it helps you to understand and define your own vision. That’s why a recent blog post by John Paul Caponigro cocerning tracking your influences resonated for me.

After reading Caponigro’s article, and a second on concerning identifying the nature of your influence, I thought about my own practice and influences. There are books I go back to for technical ideas and inspiration such as Vincent Versace’s Welcome to Oz and there is the book that started it all for me Photo Impressionism and the Subjective Image by Freeman Patterson and Andre Gallant. I also find myself drawn to painters such as Monet and Van Gogh. I keep a list of photographers I am interested in with web links using NoteLife and visit their sites regularly. Until now I hadn’t looked at the list as a list and it surprised me a bit. In no particular order it includes:

Ernst Haas
Ansel Adams
Vincent Versace
Art Wolfe
David duChemin
John Paul Caponigro
Eliot Porter
Pep Ventosa
Edward Burtynsky
Galen Rowell
John Shaw

Photo Impressionism – In The Round

Walking past the Lumas Gallery in Soho I was reminded that travel photography isn’t just about taking pictures. It is also an opportunity to see new ideas and techniques.

A few months ago I saw an exhibition of multiple exposure photographs shot “in the round” at Lumas. The photographer, Pep Ventosa, took photographs of trees from very angle and then merged them together to create a montage. The images, and in particular the trees, are beautiful, painterly and impressionistic. You get a sense of the tree, it’s environment, and more.

The technique is more difficult than it sounds. I use a DSLR that allows for in camera multiple exposures but the camera times out before you are finished and it doesn’t allow you to shoot enough images. I don’t think the technique works with fewer than 20. So you are forced to shoot single images and then merge them in Photoshop. I find that if you frame your shots as if the image in an in camera multiple exposure, the post processing won’t be as contrived because you maintain the sense of random error inherent in that kind of photography.

I have been experimenting with in-the-round using strong vertical subjects such as fountains, carousels and monuments. There is much to learn here but I think the Washington Monument example shows promise.

More to come on this technique as I figure out what works and what doesn’t.

Photo Impressionism at the Toronto International Dragon Boat Festival

The 24th Tim Hortons® Toronto International Dragon Boat Race Festival is on this weekend at Centre Island. A great venue for photography with lots of colour, and the ability to be proximate to the action.

The event is a real exercise in hurry up and wait. Races last just over 2 minutes but in reality you only have about 30 seconds of good shooting depending on your location. Then there is a pause while the next race sets up. Personally I couldn’t do it without my iPod and a selection of good pod casts.

I attended yesterday with the intention of working on my impressionist photography portfolio including dragged shutter and multiple exposure technique. I also thought I would try a little infra red black and white. All in all I was happy with my images. Here’s what I learned.

Shooting Location

The action takes place on the Long Pond at Centre Island. Races run from west to east.

You are much closer to the action if you perch on the south shore but be aware that at that location you are shooting into the sun.

Lenses

I brought a 70-200 and a 500 mm lens and a FX camera. My infrared camera is a DX. The 500 was marginally okay for shots looking directly down the course. The 70-200 was great for passing shots. If I had a 300 mm I would likely have used it.

Other Equipment

Wheels! It’s a long walk from the ferry so a wheeled camera bag is a great idea.

Tripod vs mono pod. I would bring both. The boats move quite quickly and there is a lot of action to choose from so I regretted not bringing a mono pod. The tripod of course is must at 500 mm as is a remote trigger.

Neutral density filters. You can’t slow down your shutter without them. I have been using a variable ND filter which I really like. The draw back being you can’t use a lens hood.

Food and water. There are lots of concession stands but the races run every 7 minutes on average so buying food will cost you 2-3 photo opportunities. I used a cooler bag and half frozen water bottles to keep it cold at a minimum weight.

Technique

To further my impressionist photography project I tried various shutter speeds and shutter intervals. It’s hard to tell at this point what worked and what didn’t but I will post my results as I see them. But on a preliminary basis it seemed to me that multiple exposures worked best at slower speeds eg 60th and dragged shuttled seemed best at about 1/2 a second.

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