Archive for the ‘Impressions of Light’ Category

Impressions of Light

Saturday, November 2nd, 2019

Create Artistic Blurs In-Camera
Tips for achieving a painterly effect with subtle camera movements

Alders, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington 2006

 

Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park, California 2006

 

I have been a photographer for four decades. I started out with my first camera in 1974, a 35mm Pentax Spotmatic film camera. Over the years, I have most often photographed natural patterns and other details in the landscape. In 1982, I acquired a 4×5 field camera, and for the next 20 years, I photographed mostly with 4×5 transparency film. I continued to concentrate on photographing landscape details as well as broad views and dramatic light.  

My intention in using a large format camera was to render Nature with great detail such that the textures and eloquent light on my subjects became extra-ordinary. Since switching to digital, I used Canon’s high-resolution DSLRs and currently use a Sony high-resolution camera, to create most of my images. No matter the tool, however, my goal has remained the same – to inspire passion for the natural world and convey my emotional response to the subjects I photograph – that of awe and wonder.

Back in 2005, I discovered a new way for me to convey such an emotional response. I give credit for this inspiration to students taking an online course I was teaching. They had picked up some blurring, or “painting with light” techniques from other instructors. I had a strong visceral response to their images. I tried it out myself and became very intrigued by the possibilities, then immersed myself in creating this new portfolio of work.

Since I was a boy, I have loved impressionistic painting. My mother was a docent at the National Art Gallery when I lived near Washington, D.C. as a teenager. I was inspired by the en plein air approach of Monet and by the pointillism of Van Gogh I viewed there. Art was one of my favorite elective courses during high school. In college, I became intrigued by the motion studies of the great color photographer Ernst Haas. Another photographer that inspired me was Freeman Patterson, who also was using camera motion as a creative technique, as well as other methods for creating impressionistic photographs. 

The motion studies seen in my Impressions of Light work are simply another way to depict the profoundly moving beauty I see in Nature. The technical aspect of sharpness or softness of focus ultimately doesn’t matter to me. 

I try all kinds of movement, up and down or sideways, starting and stopping and changing direction in the middle of the exposure. Sometimes I just jiggle the camera. It’s a learning process, a sort of feedback loop. Every frame is different. I tend to photograph in bursts of five to ten images at one shutter speed. I then watch the images come up on the LCD, so see what happened. Based on what I see, I adjust shutter speed, focal length, or my camera position or movement to refine the effect. 

How I move the camera depends on the subject. If working with a forest scene, like the Alders image, I move the camera up and down. With the Sand Dunes image, I moved laterally to the right and left. In both cases, I panned along with the major lines in the scene. With other images, like flowers or leaves, I make very small motions not sweeping motions, so that the edges are softened. This technique works for my tastes since I usually want the shapes to be “painted” but distinctive of that subject. The degree of motion varies, sometimes long sweeps up and down, then some short. If I see an area of the scene, like a bright sky or distracting object, I refrain my motion to avoid it. 

This process continues until I think I’ve created something good. I end up with dozens, and sometimes a few hundred photographs after I try all the creative options that come to mind. The LCD screen is a vital tool in reviewing my results. 

As I edit the large number of images I generate, my use of Adobe Lightroom (or any software that helps review and compare files) helps tremendously. My selection process involves rating the images that appear to have the most potential, and once I have several similar frames, I use the Compare View function. I rank my photographs as I edit and process, coming back at least many times to arrive at the final top photos. Then I begin to work with those top images in Lightroom’s Develop module and/or in Photoshop.

In terms of composing, I start with an image design and camera position that would work for me as a sharp photograph. A great joy in making these images is the freeform and spontaneous style of capturing them. Still, I am conscientious about applying the same quality of any composition I make. For example, in my Winter Forest photo, I carefully moved my position to create the spaces between the trees that are a critical design element for the image.

Since the camera is moving during the exposure, it is not possible to control precisely where objects land within the frame. Most compositional issues, such as distracting bright areas along the frame’s edge, can be corrected by responding to feedback from the LCD. Any other problems with composition can be solved in the editing process, as I make enough similar images that usually at least one works out.

The most important note on my technique is that these images are all single exposures created with camera motion only. Having seen other techniques used, such as multiple exposure methods, I find the single-exposure approach works best for the mood I wish to create. The resulting images have an organic and painterly look rather than a “digitized” look. Other methods often look heavily manipulated or Photoshopped, while my style is to work with the textures and light and color I see in my camera.

Even when I use my camera set to its low­est ISO and the lens stopped way down, there’s often still too much ambient light to permit a long enough exposure time. In that case, I use a Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter, with which I can adjust the strength of neutral density to reduce the light entering the camera by up to eight stops. This tool has greatly increased both my options in bright lightings conditions and in controlling the balance of aperture and shutter speed. For example, with my flower close-ups, I can still use a slow shutter speed even when using the widest apertures.

In my processing, I make a few minor adjustments in Photoshop, including boosting contrast lost when a scene’s brighter areas blur into darker ones. I output images with Canon’s 12-color, pigment-based printers, which have 24- and 44-inch carriage widths, respectively. I usually print on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag, a watercolor-style paper. This paper’s texture is very effective at accentuating the painterly feel of these images.

Around the same time I was building this series, I watched a DVD entitled Andy Goldsworthy’s Rivers & Tides. If you are not familiar with his art, I highly recommend that you check out his books and this DVD. He is dedicated to connecting with Nature, especially around his home in Scotland, and this DVD shows him at work and talking about his art. I scribbled down some notes as I watched this inspirational documentary. As I listened to him express his philosophy, I realized, in a more concrete way, what I am trying to do with my Impressions of Light series:  Remove the context; distill down to the essence, convey the energy of a subject or scene in a fresh way.

The blurring process has the effect of simplifying the landscape, much as what occurs in snowy or foggy conditions. For me, these images defect the mind’s tendency to dwell on the concrete issues of place and name when viewing a subject. The spirit of a place or an object is less objectified and can be more strongly conveyed.

 

Winter Forest, Yosemite National Park, California 2007

 

Giant Sequoias, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park, California 2007

 I’m trying to stretch, not just to be different but also to find new ways to express what I’ve been trying to show all along—the beauty of Nature. It may sound trite, but that’s still what motivates my photographic explorations. To both grow and survive creatively as an artist, I have found it important to push myself in new directions; in other words, to evolve. Success towards this goal cannot be achieved passively, but it must be sought out. I have tried to adhere to the concept that as an artist, one should always question one’s preconceived notions.

LIGHT ON THE LANDSCAPE

Saturday, August 31st, 2019

Spring storm, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California 1986

I am happy to announce my next book!

LIGHT ON THE LANDSCAPE: Photographs and Lessons from a Life in Photography.

To be published by Rocky Nook in the spring of 2020. A collection of photographs and essays based on my On Landscape column for Outdoor Photographer Magazine.

FROM THE PUBLISHER:

“For more than two decades, William Neill has been offering his thoughts and insights about photography and the beauty of nature in essays that cover the techniques, business, and spirit of his photographic life. Curated and collected here for the first time, these essays are both pragmatic and profound, offering readers an intimate look behind the scenes at Neill’s creative process behind individual photographs as well as a discussion of the larger and more foundational topics that are key to his philosophy and approach to work.

Drawing from the tradition of behind-the-scenes books like Ansel Adams’ Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs and Galen Rowell’s Mountain Light: In Search of the Dynamic Landscape, Light on the Landscape covers in detail the core photographic fundamentals such as light, composition, camera angle, and exposure choices, but it also deftly considers those subjects that are less frequently examined: portfolio development, marketing, printmaking, nature stewardship, inspiration, preparation, self-improvement, and more. The result is a profound and wide-ranging exploration of that magical convergence of light, land, and camera.

Filled with beautiful and inspiring photographs, Light on the Landscape is also full of the kind of wisdom that only comes from a deeply thoughtful photographer who has spent a lifetime communicating with a camera. Incorporating the lessons within the book, you too can learn to achieve not only technically excellent and beautiful images, but photographs that truly rise above your best and reveal your deeply personal and creative perspective—your vision, your voice.”

Last Light – Revisit the key themes in your photography to add depth and quality to your portfolio

Wednesday, June 26th, 2019

I was driving home at sunset a few months ago, as the last light of 2018 faded into darkness. I had recently posted my favorite images of 2018. I stopped to photograph at an open area of grassland where I could see the bands of sunset color. Using the magic of ICM (intentional camera motion), I moved my camera back and forth horizontally, blending the land and sky into a painterly abstraction of the scene before me. I relish the uncertainty of this process, where no results look the same and are hard to predict. In near darkness, I made 73 images in 6 minutes, experimenting with various shutter speeds and speed of my camera motion. The exposure times ranged from 0.5 to 2.5 seconds.

The creative life of an artist has its cycles like the seasons, its ebbs and flows in the river of experience and ideas. I’ve learned to embrace this lifelong process, riding high when new images come readily and being patient when my vision seems stale and repetitive. If inspiration isn’t appearing, I won’t force the issue. My goal is to see the beauty around me as a daily practice, and if I stay connected to that purpose, I know the images will come sooner than later.

While developing my recent retrospective book, I naturally got thinking about the major themes in my photography. The most significant departure in my landscape photography is my “Impressions of Light” series. I had spent 20 years creating images with, and building a career using, a 4×5 view camera with the goal to represent the magic of nature with exceptional sharpness and exquisite detail.

Then about a decade ago, I began to see students of mine experimenting with intentional camera motion using a single exposure and slow shutter speed with great results. Soon I became fully immersed in the technique myself, experimenting with, and developing a portfolio of, impressionistic photographs.

As a teenager, my mother worked as a docent at the National Gallery of Art when we lived near Washington, D.C., so I often had the chance to visit the exhibits. I was captivated by the “en plein air” approach of Monet and by the pointillism of Van Gogh I viewed there. Art soon became my favorite class during my high school years. My intrigue with the Impressionist movement led to my experiments with blurred images many years later.

The motion studies seen in my “Impressions of Light” work are an extension of my core goal of depicting the beauty I discover in nature. The ICM technique removes literalness and context, and distills the essence of a subject or scene in a fresh way, much as snow or fog simplifies the landscape. This less-literal approach has great potential to convey the spirit of a place powerfully.

To evolve creatively as an artist, I have found it necessary to push myself in new directions. Success toward this goal cannot be achieved passively, but it must be sought out and consciously pursued. I have tried to adhere to the concept that, as an artist, one should always question one’s own preconceived notions.

As 2018 ended and I reviewed my photographs from the past year, I noticed that I had not made any new “Impressions” photographs. So, on that last day of the year, it seemed the right time to push myself to add new work to my portfolio. Well, those results got me revved up for another session in the same area a few days later. This time I worked on a day with ominous clouds and beams of light striking the foothill grasslands.

Progress happens one step at a time; one idea leads to another, and down the road we travel. The pathway toward elevating one’s photography is to continually add depth to those primary themes that inspire us. Creative tangents are critical to that growth but sometimes can be too random. Most of us can benefit from a more focused approach. My recent images shown here will add valuable breadth to my Impressions series. For your own creative resolutions, target your key themes to build their depth and quality level, plan shooting sessions with those targets in mind, and I’ll bet you see exciting improvements in your photography. Enjoy the ride!

Feel free to leave your comments below.

Cheers,  Bill

PS  My Impressions of Light ebook is available at my ebook store HERE.


Grasslands at sunset, Madera County, California 2018, Madera County, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, FE 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 GM OSS,
1/2 second at f/11, ISO 100

 


Grasslands at twilight, Madera County, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, FE 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 GM OSS,
2.50 second at f/16, ISO 100

 


Grasslands and sunset, Madera County, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, FE 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 GM OSS,
3.20 second at f/5.6, ISO 100

 


Sierra Foothills, Madera County, California 2019
Sony ILCE-7RM2, FE 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 GM OSS,
2 second at f/32, ISO 100

My Favorite Photographs of 2018

Monday, December 31st, 2018

NOTE: Five new images have been added at the bottom of this post after the initial upload. The Impressions of Light images were taken during the last light of 2018.

Greetings from the Sierra Nevada. It is that time of year again when we all look back at the events of last year and look forward to the year ahead. Many photographers have developed the good habit of editing a collection of their favorite images for the year. The process of self-assessment is a vital part of artistic growth. In the day-to-day rush of life, we don’t often stop to see trends in our own image-making. By turning back the clock, we can see if we’re stuck in a rut or are hopefully making great progress.

I have included capture details and presented the images in chronological order. I hope you will visit my blog and add your comments or favorites at the bottom of the page.

May 2019 brings you joy, peace, and exciting photographic opportunities.

Cheers to a happy and healthy New Year!   Bill

Best of 2014
Best of 2015

Best of 2016

Best of 2017

 


Stones, Ahwahnee, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, 90mm F2.8,
1/3 second at f/13, ISO 80

 


Mule’s Ears Leaves, Ahwahnee, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, 90mm F2.8,
1/2 second at f/16, ISO 100

 


Ice Patterns, Ahwahnee, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, 90mm F2.8,
1/6 second at f/13, ISO 100

 


Oak Branches, Ahwahnee, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, 16-35mm F2.8 G SSM II,
1/4 second at f/16, ISO 400

 


Pine Branches, Ahwahnee, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, 70-200mm F2.8 G SSM,
1.60 second at f/25, ISO 100

 


Pine Branches and Cones, Ahwahnee, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, 70-200mm F2.8 G SSM,
1.60 second at f/25, ISO 100

 


Pear tree in bloom, Fresno, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, 16-35mm F2.8 G SSM II,
1/100 second at f/13, ISO 640

 


Purple Plum Blossoms #2, 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, 90mm F2.8,
1/1 second at f/22, ISO 100

 


Oaks and Fog, Ahwahnee, California
SonyILCE-7RM2, 70-200mm F2.8 G SSM,
1/2 second at f/32, ISO 100

 


Pine and Sunbeams, Ahwahnee, Calfornia 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, 70-200mm F2.8 G SSM,
1/1600 second at f/22, ISO 100

 


Plum Blossoms #5
Sony ILCE-7RM2, 70-200mm F2.8 G SSM,
1/40 second at f/20, ISO 400

 


Orchid
Sony ILCE-7RM2, 90mm F2.8,
1.60 second at f/22, ISO 100

 


Day Lily
Sony ILCE-7RM2, 90mm F2.8,
1.30 second at f/25, ISO 100

 


Spring Oak, Ahwahnee, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM,
1/200 second at f/16, ISO 800

 


Sunrise over Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, EF70-200/2.8L USM,
1/125 second at f/16, ISO 100

 


Ponderosa Pine and Incense Cedar trees, Yosemite National Park, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, EF70-200/2.8L USM,
1 second at f/16, ISO 100

 


Sunrise over Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM,
1/160 second at f/16, ISO 100

 


Upper Yosemite Fall, Yosemite National Park, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, FE 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 GM OSS,
1/1000 second at f/5.6, ISO 800

 


Cascade Falls, Yosemite National Park, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, FE 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 GM OSS,
1/8 second at f/40, ISO 100

 


Salsify, Ahwahnee, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, #10 50/2.4,
1/750 second at f/2.4, ISO 1000

 


Peacock Feather, Ahwahnee, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, #127 90/2.8,
1/2 second at f/29, ISO 100

 


Mushrooms, Ahwahnee, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, #127 90/2.8,
1/2 second at f/20, ISO 100

 


Mushroom, Ahwahnee, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, #10 50/2.4,
1/1 second at f/16, ISO 100

 


Stone, 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, #10 50/2.4,
1/8 second at f/32, ISO 100

 


Ammonite Fossil, 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, #127 90/2.8,
1/5 second at f/22, ISO 100

 


Salt Crystals 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, #127 90/2.8,
1/3 second at f/18, ISO 100

 


Succulent, Ahwahnee, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, #127 90/2.8,
13 second at f/25, ISO 100

 


Merced River Reflections, autumn, Yosemite National Park, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, FE 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 GM OSS,
3.20 second at f/29, ISO 100

 


Ripples, Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, FE 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 GM OSS,
1/80 second at f/16, ISO 800

 


Backlit Elm Branches, autumn, Yosemite National Park, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, EF24-105/4L IS USM,
1/10 second at f/22, ISO 400

 


Blackberry Leaves, Ahwahnee, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, #127 90/2.8,
1/2 second at f/13, ISO 100

 


Grasses and Ice, Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, FE 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 GM OSS,
1/6 second at f/32, ISO 100

 


Dogwood and Forest, autumn, Yosemite National Park, California 2018
SonyILCE-7RM2, EF24-105/4L IS USM,
1/6 second at f/16, ISO 400

 


California Quail feathers, Ahwahnee, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, #10 50/2.4,
1/1 second at f/16, ISO 100

 


Bougainvillea petals, La Quinta, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, #127 90/2.8,
1/125 second at f/16, ISO 800

 

Thank you for viewing my photographs. I hope you will leave your comments below.

Happy New Year!

 

Here are a few images I’d like to add to the list. The first BW was simply missed during the upload. The impressionistic images were taken after I uploaded, taken during the last light of 2018!


Cathedral Spire and Mists, Yosemite National Park, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, FE 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 GM OSS,
1/6000 second at f/5.6, ISO 500

 


Grasslands at sunset, Madera County, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, FE 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 GM OSS,
1/1 second at f/11, ISO 100

 


Grasslands and sunset, Madera County, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, FE 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 GM OSS,
3.20 second at f/5.6, ISO 100


Grasslands at twilight, Madera County, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, FE 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 GM OSS,
2.50 second at f/16, ISO 100


Grasslands and hills at twilight, Madera County, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, FE 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 GM OSS,
2 second at f/5.6, ISO 100

Impressions

Saturday, September 15th, 2018

Autumn tree reflections on Bubble Pond, Acadia National Park, Maine 1992

Impressions
(revised from 2003 essay published in Outdoor Photographer.)

I enjoy impressionistic art. As a teenager, my mother worked as a docent at the National Art Gallery when we lived near Washington, D.C., so I often had the chance to visit the exhibits.  I was captivated by the en Plein air approach of Monet and by the pointillism of Van Gogh I viewed there.  Art soon became my favorite class during my high school years. My intrigue with the Impressionist movement led to my experiments with blurred many images years later.

The sensation of light and the emotion of seeing a beautiful moment are the qualities of the style I like.   Impressionism, the French school of painting that developed in the late 1800s, has been defined as a method of depicting transitory visual impressions. One early adherent advised other painters to “submit to the first impression” of what they saw.  This idea, in part, can be attributed to the invention of photography in the previous century.  The Impressionist painters saw the enormous potential of revealing the frozen moments of time as seen in photographs.

In their work, the Impressionists chose to emphasize their direct sensory and emotional responses devoid of intellectual thought.  Painters such as Claude Monet were fascinated by the ever-changing lighting conditions outdoors, and they would return to paint the same scene at different times or weather conditions.   More traditional painters of the day painted only in their studios.  The Impressionists painted on location, working quickly to capture the moment before the light changed.  How similar this sounds to landscape photography!

A critical photographic idea grew out of, at least in part, from Impressionism’s sensory method. The concept of the Equivalent, developed by Alfred Steiglitz, relies on the photographer’s intuitive response to a scene to create an emotional equivalent.  Mentored by Steiglitz, Ansel Adams and Minor White taught this approach to their students.  They used the idea in their own work, applying it using straight photographic technique rather than altering reality.  Reflecting on his own path, Adams once wrote, “If I feel something strongly, I would make a photograph, that would be the equivalent of what I saw and felt…. I’m interested in expressing something which is built up from within, rather than just extracted from without.”

Freeman Patterson, in his book Photo Impressionism and the Subjective Image, discusses another approach, writing “the “impressionist” photographer deliberately abandons physical exactitude in the belief that he or she can convey the reality of feeling more effectively by doing so.”  Patterson wishes to “help photographers venture into some aspects of the non-literal world of photography and to create (or, for that matter, to record) impressions that convey a truth of feeling or spirit.”  If you are frustrated creatively with traditional methods, you might explore this option.

Most of us photograph the landscape by attempting to capture special events in nature, such as mountains in dramatic light, in a realistic and documentary style. Such literal imagery, if composed well and heartfelt, can speak powerfully about the beauty of the land and express the photographer’s unique perspective.   The danger in this straightforward approach is that images can be so blandly descriptive that the viewer is left unengaged and the artist’s viewpoint unapparent.

For the most part, I photograph directly and realistically.  There is usually little doubt that the subject existed as seen in the photograph.  Ideally, the scene is transformed in a magical way, via composition or light, to make an extraordinary image.  When I make abstractions of nature, the reality of the image is only a question because the exposure itself has altered the reality, such as with blurring water, or that I have isolated the object from surrounding clues, not because I have changed reality.

It seems to me that there is a continuum of possibilities between realistic photographs and photo impressionism, a gray (middle gray?) area where photographs have the attributes of both.  “Autumn tree reflections on Bubble Pond, Acadia National Park, Maine 1992″ is a photograph that depicts reality impressionistically.  I exposed the image with my 4×5 camera with a single exposure.  The only factor that “distorts” reality is that the shutter speed used blurred the reflections.  Is blurred water reality?  Is it more real if a fast shutter speed stops the water’s action?  The answers are less important to me than being open to exploring artistic options and having the willingness to experiment in hope for creative inspiration.

My photograph here was made using straight photographic technique, yet evokes an impressionistic feel, returning me to that brilliant autumn afternoon, when harmonious colors blurred in water, like a painting!

______________________

For information about William Neill – Photographer, A Retrospective, private workshops and to connect via social media, visit WilliamNeill.com to sign up for his newsletter updates.