University Avenue, with it’s boulevard of apple trees slices through Toronto’s Hospital District. It is a ribbon of colour bound by bleak institutional architecture. But miracles happen here every day. That’s what I love about this picture. The way the colour explodes out of the darkness like hope rising from despair.
My obligations as a lawyer have kept my camera in its bag for far too long. But an adjournment allowed an unexpected shooting opportunity. Walking up University Avenue between Sick Children’s and Toronto General Hospitals I found these trees breaking out of the shadows.
It was unclear to me how I should capture the scene. Traffic was busy and the sidewalk was a stream of scrubs, suits and patients. After a couple of tests I decided to use a photo impressionistic approach by photographing the trees “in the round.”
I love the way in the round technique deconstructs a complex scene into its essential elements in an impressionistic way.
This picture is composed of about 20 images photographed “in the round” technique; meaning I walked around the tree to the extent possible taking pictures from different positions. The images were merged using an opacity blend which deconstructs the scene reducing it to its essential elements.
This picture was well recieved on Flickr where it received over 40,000 views on the first day thanks to its selection for Explore. That makes 21 Explore images for me in the past 2 years.
By using new technology, Daylighted transforms places such as hotels and restaurants into digital art galleries and offers them an opportunity to easily display and sell an exclusive collection of art from worldwide and local artists.
I like the idea of bringing digital art to a wider audience using display technology. It is an extension of what we know and see on our many devices and as a result is not unexpected. It also has the advantage of size. In the case of my images, I think size does matter. More importantly I like the idea of exposure to an audience that is engaged in the experience of place and life rather than the internet; make no mistake, art is meant to be experienced not consumed.
Thanks to the Daylighted team for championing photo impressionism.
Sometimes you just know how a picture is going to turn out; sometimes the joy is in the surprise. This image is a perfect example.
I saw this scene while walking through the cactus garden at the Phoenician Hotel in Scottsdale . What caught my attention was the repetition in the receding saguaro and the strong vertical elements. Creating depth in an impressionistic images has been a challenge for me.
To create the photo impressionistic effect I used the high-speed montage approach I am developing. I shot a burst at 60 fps while panning, The images were then brought together in Photoshop using an opacity blend. I could have created the same effect using a dark neutral density filter and a slow shutter speed but composition would have been an issue for me. The high-speed montage approach is more suited for photo impressionism on the fly.
The result was better than I had hoped. The vertical elements created a texture I had not seen in the viewfinder adding to the scene’s depth.
Flickr selected this image for its Explore page yesterday; about 9,500 views in 24 hours. Thanks to the curator at Flickr who championed this image.
Trees have always been an important subject in art. For me they bring to mind the power of an Emily Carr or the drama of Ansel Adams. They are grounded. They reach for the sky. A natural subject for impressionist photography.
When I started experimenting with in the round photography I first turned to trees. Visually trees are roughly symmetrical which lends themselves to the technique because fundamentally in the round photography relies on pixel averaging. When similarly placed pixels are roughly the same it is more likely that a strong image will emerge after the opacity blend. As a result the trunk is a natural anchor for the image. The leaves feather towards the sky. The background details wash away leaving the subject alone in the frame.
The genesis of this series was an unexpected opportunity. Early on a gloomy Saturday I set up on the South apex of Queen’s Park Cres to photograph the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. As the light improved I noticed the trees behind me, along the street edge, had started to turn colour and with the road closed for the marathon it was possible to photograph around the trees.
What I love about these photographs is the way the technique captures the form and colour of the trees while just hinting at the detail. Trees have always been an important subject in art. For me they bring to mind the power of an Emily Carr or the drama of Ansel Adams. They are grounded. They reach for the sky. A natural subject for impressionist photography and one I keep coming back to.
The other thing I love about this technique is the way the foregrounds seem to twist, circle or band. The result is always unexpected. I can pre-visualize the tree itself but the foreground is always a surprise.
These in the round impressionistic photographs have been well received on Flickr. Four of them appeared on Flickr’s Explore page. One generated 22,000 views in a single day. That is a stark contrast to the way my photo impressionism was received a couple of years ago when I often receive comments asking if I had a neurodegenerative disease or hadn’t learned to use auto focus.
I am coming to understand this about photo impressionism: there is no one size fits all technique. You have to open your imagination and pre visualize the effect before pushing the shutter. You have to experiment. You have to push your boundaries.
Photo impressionism has many faces. The soft focus approach is popular but I have never really given it a chance preferring to concentrate on multiple exposure and slow shutter images. A recent trip to New York changed that for me.
The first technical challenge was understanding how to override the Nikon 1 V3’s powerful automated tools. The solution: use a DX lens and manual focus mode for better aperture and focus control. The buttery rich bokeh is a function of a large aperture setting.
To a great extent I think this approach works because of the bokeh. At night the images become dream like. Colours that formerly defined background elements move to the forefront. Often they seem to dance. Look at the view of the World Trade Center below.
The built form of the World Trade Center seems to melt into a pillar of light. For me it has become a lighthouse of hope, and strength overlooking the street below. I was excited to learn this morning that the curators of Flickr’s Explore page had added it to today’s list.
I am coming to understand this about photo impressionism: there is no one size fits all technique. You have to open your imagination and pre visualize the effect before pushing the shutter. You have to experiment. You have to push your boundaries. I love it!
Eugephemisms is a blog about fitness, life and less visited places. It has a special focus on dragon boat racing, A recent post featured 10 of my photo impressionistic dragon boat images and I think it is worth a look.
Here is an extract:
Why do you shoot impressionistic images of dragon boats? Stephen:Because photographs just capture a split second they often miss the moment we experienced. I think that is particularly true with dragon boat racing. Dragon boat racers exude grace/power/energy and I think I capture that better using photo impressionistic techniques.
How do you create your images? Stephen:I use 3 techniques which effectively compress a moment in time into a single image. I started using in camera multiple exposures which is an old school technique. Recently I have been merging high speed bursts of 20 or more images. These techniques really emphasize movement and power. As well I love the graceful results you see in long exposures; often in the range of 0.6 to 1.5 seconds.
This is a fabulous time to be a photographer. There have never been better tools to realize your vision. There have never been better opportunities to share it with the world. In keeping with that my early impression of the N 1 V3 is that it is a significant advancement and has become my go to – everyday camera and an important tool in my photo impressionism projects.
if its true that the best camera is the one in your hand, it may be time to think about switching hands.
To put my viewpoint in perspective I have been a Nikon DSLR guy since the beginning (with a short Fujifilm S Pro dalliance). Starting with a F2 film camera I liked the ability to make manual decisions but grew to love the freedom autofocus and auto-exposure provided when time was of the essence. Big bright lenses were a staple in my bag which of course rivaled a small child in weight. I bought a D4 loved it and then developed sciatica and the photographic world ended. I couldn’t carry my kit.
The small mirrorless camera is not a new idea. The micro 2/3rds format has been with us for a while and Fujifilm, an early adopter, has produced some great mirrorless cameras. My introduction was the N1 J2 which proved to be a great travel camera (see my thoughts here). What I longed for was a Nikon camera to leverage my lens investment, a viewfinder to help composition on sunny days and good balance between size and holdability. The N1 V3 doesn’t disappoint.
Right out of the box I knew I had something special. The camera is just big enough to fit in my hand. It feels well constructed. Add the grip and it feels sturdy. The controls are where a Nikon user would expect them; including the thumb wheel control dials. I added a long wrist strap from gordyscamerastraps.com.
I find I always have the grip attached. I think there are a couple of reasons for that. 1st it adds a secondary control dial which I seem to use a lot. More important, the grip does just that; it gives the camera a solid feel in my hand.
The viewfinder is an attachment. It goes on and comes off easy enough and provides a nice bright point of view. You can set it for both grid lines and an artificial horizon which is a big help to me in image placement and composition. What I really like is that it adjusts image brightness in real time; meaning dark scenes are easier to compose because they appear as brighter previews based on your exposure settings.
The back mounted LCD screen is nice and bright. I like the way the LCD articulates which allows for better composition when the subject requires an awkward point of view without feeling delicate.
The kit 10 – 30 mm pancake lens has a really low profile and auto lens cap feature. No complaints about quality but I miss the barrel mounted “on/off” button of the other N1 lens I own. I now have to remember which lens is on the camera and what has to be done to start shooting. Not a great quality when you are in a hurry. I also miss having a filter thread. I use a variable neutral density filter a lot. As a result my 30-110 mm N 1 lens seems to be a permanent fixture.
My impression of image quality is quite good. I only see grain at the top end of the ISO range. Nothing that can’t be addressed post production. At 160 ISO there is great colour fidelity and faithful tonal reproduction. In other words rich and true.
My Special Considerations
Photo Impressionism is my passion. For the N1 V3 to work for me it has to give me the options I relied on the D4 for. For the most part it does.
From a sensor size point of view the N1 V3 has about 2 million pixels over the D4. That is important for me because I often work with “the picture in the picture”.
The camera is really fast. Blindingly fast actually. After moving to Lexar’s fastest micro sd card the camera will sustain long bursts of raw images at 30 fps without choking. Slower cards give you slower performance. This new speed allows me to time stack moving subjects in a way I can’t with the D4’s 11 fps. Based on my early experiments I think these long fast bursts are going to become an important tool for me.
At the other end of the shutter range I found that setting a low ISO (160 is the lowest) stopping down with a variable neutral density filter and shooting in shutter priority provides a good slow shutter result. For my slow shutter work I would have prefered a lower ISO. On the other hand 12,800 ISO creates some great “natural light” opportunities at night.
I was surprised to discover there is no multiple exposure mode. I have relied on in camera multiple exposures since my earliest impressionistic images so this was a setback. My understanding is that in camera multiple exposure is software driven so I am hoping a future release will solve this obvious failing.
A couple of complaints
No camera is perfect. This one is no exception. Here is my list of issues I would love to see Nikon address.
– multiple exposure mode – I’m not sure why a camera as feature rich as this does not support up to 10 frames in camera multiple exposure. Given the popularity of photo impressionism I would have thought that would be a given.
– battery port – you have to remove the grip to change batteries. WTF!
– viewfinder – I was disappointed to read that Nikon recommends you take the viewfinder off when travelling to avoid damage. In bright conditions that really slows down spontaneous shooting. As well, the viewfinder is just the mirrored LCD view. That means the viewfinder can go blank when the camera is processing or shooting can be interrupted when previews are posted. That matters when you are tracking a fast moving dragon boat. I would have preferred an always on live view option.
– micro sd – I am looking at my collection of fast cf, sd and xqd cards. I really don’t want the complexity of carrying around yet another media type. Besides, a micro sd is hard to keep track of out of the camera on big shooting days.
– colour space – Being able to choose your colour space is awesome. But the choice is limited to Adobe RGB and sRGB. The sensor is good enough to support Pro Photo, Nikon should too.
At the risk of being labelled a Nikon Fan boy I have to say I love this camera. The N 1 V3 more than makes up for its few failings with speed and portability. Nikon users will immediately find the controls intuitive. It has the tool set I need for my passion absent in camera multiple exposure mode.
From my point of view; if its true that the best camera is the one in your hand, it may be time to think about switching hands.
The impact of the web on retail marketing has been dramatic; really a brand new paradigm. The business of fine art photography is no different. It is in that context that I have struggled with whether to try to monetize my digital work or if instead I should be satisfied with the exposure I get on the web.
My experience is that sales come from personal contact and that almost no one buys photographic art on the internet. Most see it as a free buffet to copy without payment or attribution. Of course that is annoying and illegal but the reality is it is also the price of exposure.
On the other hand. There is a market for fine art prints. It is a universal truth that when a photograph really speaks to you, you want to engage with a physical copy. As fine art photographer Vincent Versace often repeats, “its all about the print.”
It is in that context that I was recently approached by Daylighted to exhibit on their new platform. A digital display/app system tied to exposure in hotels and other prominent locations.
I like the idea of bringing digital art to the wall using display technology. It is an extension of what we know and see on our many devices and as a result is not unexpected. It also has the advantage of size. In the case of my images, I think size does matter. More importantly I like the idea of exposure to an audience that is engaged in the experience of place and life rather than the internet.; make no mistake, art is meant to be experienced not consumed.
I often forget how important it is to look back at your portfolio to see where you have been. I was reminded of that while rounding out my website with a new multiple exposure gallery. Photography is so focussed on the moment that it is easy to miss the lessons of time.
What have I learned?
The first observation is how easy it is to get into a rut. Lately I seem to be focussed on in the round images. The result of that effort has been some great images but I have lost some of the spontaneity I liked in my earlier work. This is going to be a long term struggle; spontaneity vs pre-visualization.
Second, I seem to have a better understanding of the genre now. Impressionism requires a fine balance between the representational and the abstract to successfully create movement. The mind needs a familiar shape to draw the eye. The eye needs movement to maintain its interest. I am wondering if there is a new rule of composition here? “Successful images draw you from the recognizable to the abstract?”
Third, multiple exposure seems to deconstruct subjects into blocks or alternatively, does the opposite creating a pointillist effect. The images I like best are driven by colour. Big bold blocks of colour. It doesn’t matter if the subject is soft such as “The Gallery of Light” or more structured like “Art Market”, colour competes with form for your eye’s attention.
Last, I am reminded of the paradigm of photo impressionism. In traditional photography the subject is framed by the camera. In multiple exposure photography the image is created by the movement of the frame.
Photo impressionism has been a big part of my photographic vision for a long time now. However, exposure to Pep Ventosa’s “in the round” work in 2012 turned my photo impressionism paradigm on its head. Up to that point I had been working with images moving in the frame using slow shutter or multiple exposure techniques. It had never occurred to me that the frame might move too. Moving the frame around the subject is the essence of in the round photography.
In the Round Technique
The beach umbrella above is composed of about 30 images methodically taken around it. My camera is handheld with the relative location of the point of interest maintained in the viewfinder. The images are then brought together using an opacity blend. In my workflow I start in Lightroom. I open all the images at once, as layers, and then start the process of opacity blending.
The video above gives a sense of the process I used to create the beach umbrella. What I find interesting is how details fall away leaving blocks of colour and a generalized impression of the subject.
Two important decisions play a big part in the creation of a successful in the round image.
The first is the subject; the basic shape has to be interesting enough to withstand being deconstructed. Opacity blending creates what is really an average of the shape from many points of view. I think of the process as “image averaging.”
The second decision is how you treat opacity blending. By that I mean the opacity mode and/or the amount of opacity of the various layers. In the Washington Square image I wanted to compress the activity around the fountain to capture the excitement of place. The beach umbrella was more of an exercise in shape and colour.
It was Pep Ventosa’s trees that originally caught my imagination. Having worked with trees as a subject I think I understand why. For me trees symbolize the strength and vitality of the natural world. Image averaging seems to emphasize those qualities. Tree trunks seem to reach higher. The branches and crown are fuller and rounder.
The resulting textures are interesting too. By layering the leaves the viewer is left with the impression of a pointillist painting in a landscape reduced to basic shapes and colours.
In The Round – Photo Impressionism Tools
This is a technique that is not camera dependant. I have had good luck using a DSLR, mirrorless camera and an iphone. The key is being able to hold a relative point in the viewfinder; grid lines really help.
Post production is the key. I open the images as layers in Photoshop and then start to blend the opacity. If you are blending manually start by reducing opacity by 50% of the preceding image until you get to about 5%; experiment from there. The process is very processor intensive and file sizes are huge so be prepared to wait.
I also use a couple of plugins to automate the process where appropriate:
Layer Stack Opacity Blending: a script that evenly blends opacity in a way that mimics in camera multiple exposure. Thanks to Digital Outback Photo for maintaining the script. I often use this script to test an image idea before manually setting the opacity.
Dr Brown’s Stack-A-Matic: a good alternative to opening images as layers in Photoshop. Dr Browns site is worth exploring. There is a wealth of information on photoshop technique. Or check out Dr. Russell Brown Services on Adobe Exchange.
“In the round” has been a focus of my recent photo impressionist work. I have experimented with outdoor subjects such as trees, fountains, even carousels. Subjects that have a symmetrical shape seem to work best because the technique deconstructs the subject by averaging the pixels in the underlying photographs and isolates it in the context of a textured background that hints at the subject’s context. The images tend to be painterly; sometimes surreal; always interesting. I’m hooked, but on a rainy day, what to do but try some still life.
The sunflower image above is composed of about 40 photographs. I spent considerable time reordering the base images ( Photoshop layers) in order to produce the impressionistic effect. I like the feel here. The detail in the flowers produces a lot of visual interest. The vase also generalized well. But the stems seem too thin and a bit out of balance for my liking.
When I come to print this one. I think I might try cropping it in portrait format to better balance the flowers, vase and stems.
That’s when it struck me. The strength of this image may be in its parts rather than the whole.
Finding the picture in the picture (sometimes called image harvesting) isn’t new. Think about it. When you look through the viewfinder you are selectively cropping the image. Why not do the same thing post production? Provided the original shot has enough pixels to allow for it, selective cropping gives you another opportunity to produce your vision.
Once you have selected the cropped image, consider going back and rebalancing the post production adjustments to strengthen the image. Think of using a zone approach where the textured whites draw your eye and the blacks give it rest.
I really like Detail 2. Visually it takes me back to my first multiple exposure impressionistic images. However, because the images were shot in the round, the underlying pattern is much more interesting. And it has been well received. The image was featured on Flickr’s explore page. At the time of writing Sunflowers In The Round: Detail 2 had about 7,000 views on Flickr.
I have been thinking about technology and how it shapes art since writing about an exhibition of early photographs and impressionist paintings at the University of Michigan’s Museum of Art. The exhibition argues that some impressionist painters were influenced by photography. The influence of technology on photography is not a new idea. “What’s in my camera bag” is a staple subject for photographers. But it is more relevant in the age of iphoneography and the rise of impressionistic photographs.
A Brief Chronology:
1860-1900 – Start with the impressionist painters . While they may have been influenced by contemporary photography, the more important factor was the invention of the paint tube. Before the paint tube painters were essentially studio bound. Painting en plein air required tremendous effort and significant resources. Of course it could be done. But the effort stifled experimentation and creativity.
Tube paint gave painters the technical ability to paint when and where the moment moved them and more importantly the ability to experiment with little risk. The resulting genre produced images that were immediate, fresh and impressionistic.
1885-1915 – Move to photography at about the same time. In its infancy photography also required a huge effort to be portable. Yes it could be done. Glass plates and chemistry could be carted to an appropriate vista. But the rise of the first photo impressionists, the Pictorialists, coincided with the arrival of practical gelatin process films and the introduction of the first Kodak in 1889. Portability allowed for experimentation without a huge investment but the final print often relied on darkroom manipulation and skill.
2001 – Then we have the modern photo impressionists such as Freeman Patterson. His book Photo Impressionism And the Subjective Image, published in 2001 inspired a generation of film shooters to experiment with the genre. But in 2001 experimentation was handicapped by the delay inherent in film. Images had to be processed meaning that the artist couldn’t know whether they had captured their vision for hours or days. The final image required printing.
There was also a fair amount of technique involved. Multiple exposures required a mathematical calculation to predetermine exposure. Long shutter photography relied on filters to neutralize colour shift. Darkroom wizardry was often used but wasn’t required. As a result, a successful image relied more on planning than spontaneity or just a lucky break.
2002 – While the first consumer digital SLR camera came to market before the publication of Photo Impressionism And the Subjective Image, they were not widely available until a few years after that. Digital capture was to photo impressionism what tube paint was to the impressionists.
Digital photography meant immediate artistic gratification at no cost per image thereby facilitating endless experimentation and immediate feedback. Printing could be bypassed altogether. Looking back we see a rebirth of photo impressionism in the second half of the last decade.
The advance in digital camera features often meant techniques like in camera multiple exposures could be achieved without any skill (just compose and click) further enabling the genre. But still photo impressionism was not fully democratized until the iPhone’s first release in 2007.
2007 – The cameraphone/smartphone is the swiss army knife of digital devices and in many ways perfect for impressionistic photography. They are widely available and often affordable to own. They are exceptionally portable and as a result are always with you. Smartphones often have built in filters and features to assist in taking photo impressionistic images. The technology assumes that images will not be printed making sharing easier on a variety of platforms. Inexpensive apps are available to further the creative process. It is noteworthy that recently Apple and others have focussed on the camera as an important part of the smartphone mix.
Smartphone photography has taken off; the iphone is now the most popular camera on Flickr. Not surprisingly the mix of widespread accessibility, the availability of creative apps and immediate artistic gratification at no cost per image has allowed more photographers and now non-photographers to push the bounds of creativity on their phones.
The popularity of photo impressionism has followed the iPhone’s success. Consider the tiny collective as an example; a site dedicated to smart phone photography. By my count 20% of the images posted are wonderful examples of photo impressionism.
What’s In My Smartphone:
I was a late convert to iphoneography. For me the camera on my phone was a note taking device; really not worthy of consideration as an artistic tool. It wasn’t until I started to play with apps such as Slow Shutter Cam and Snapseed that I started to understand the creative potential of smartphones. All the image in this post were taken with an iPhone 4s.
Here is my app list (the digital equivalent of a camera bag):
Slow Shutter Cam – this is the app that started it for me. The app has a good suite of features including the ability to control shutter speeds from 0.5 to 15 seconds with automatic exposure control. The app would benefit from grid lines to help with composition.
InstaBlend – think of layer blending in Photoshop, a technique I rely on for my “in the round” images. The interface is a bit clunky but it gets the job done. I am experimenting with “in the round” using this app and will post my results shortly.
Marksta – I get that the www is the wild west of rights management but if you are proud of an image you should show you own it. This is a great and easy to use copyright watermarking tool.
Snapseed – originally a NIK Software picture editing tool. Google now owns it and is embracing it in the mobile market. It is intuitive to use and feature rich. I prefer Photoshop Express but I can’t articulate why.
Photoshop Express – An Adobe picture editing tool. It is intuitive to use and feature rich. This is my go to app for on phone editing.
Flickr – I use Flickr as my test bed for new projects. The Flickr community is fully engaged in photo impressionistic endeavours. I prefer the mobile site to the app.
Instagram – Another great test bed for my projects. The app is the entry point if you want to use the service. The app has some tools but they are pretty basic.
PortfolioToGo – the app is no longer available for download but I still use to show my portfolio on my phone.
Iphoneography is a natural tool for photo impressionistic expression. Portable with a rich set of features and instant feedback it expands not only the photographer’s possibilities, but also increase the pool of potential photographers entering the genre.
I think of my iPhone as a sketch pad. From my perspective it excels at images that are immediate, fresh and impressionistic. My phone is not going to replace my cameras for major projects. Photoshop Express and Snapseed are not going to displace my use of Photoshop. However like tube paint for the impressionist painters iphoneography makes it all the easier for me to explore my vision when and where I want. And that is a big step in the right direction.
It is unexpected. Photographic images that capture a subject in a way that is generalized. That is why I am attracted to photo impressionism as an art form and in the round photography as a technique.
Think about it. We spend years and considerable sums perfecting our craft. Photographs are judged by their crisp focus and their perfect exposure. But these technically perfect images don’t always convey the essence of the subject. Often a subject has to be deconstructed first. It has to be reduced to its essentials before we can really understand it.
When I was first exposed to in the round photographs of trees made by Pep Ventosa I was drawn to them but couldn’t say why. It was only later, looking at a real tree, that I understood his technique really is a deconstruction; and that is unexpected too. When you bring dozens of photographs of a single subject together you would expect them to add to the photograph’s detail. But it doesn’t. Instead shooting in he round averages the scene, creating a new view point based on what is common; not what is different.
I will continue to shoot and enjoy”straight” photographs. But photo impressionism is a passion and there is so much to explore.
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.
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.
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.
It is clear that the modern photo impressionistic movement really is a continuation or rebirth of Pictorialism.