A Strong Impression

By Mark

Every once in a while I bemoan that I have no drawing or painting talent at all.  One of the things about Photoshop and all of the available plug-ins that add to the fun are the creative tools which can help anyone overcome their own natural artistic limitations through the application of math and technology.  

Photoshop used to have a lot more “artistic” filters included including the “oil painting” one.  For a couple of releases they removed it, but they have brought it back. I think it has fairly limited tools. 

I recently had the opportunity, thanks to a loyalty coupon to get a copy of Topaz Impression.  Topaz makes some good software, but I have never purchased the whole set, because between the Nik Google collection and the OnOne software they had everything covered.  Impression is intended to convert images into drawings, sketches and paintings.  It works from Lightroom, Photoshop and as a stand-alone application. 

I’m really just starting to play with it, but have found it pretty easy to use.   The Menu has two parts, some starting presets which are grouped according to the various art forms you are trying to emulate and a panel where you can create your own effects.  

I’ve always loved impressionist paintings so naturally I started there.  I had the chance to shoot in Monet’s Garden in Argenteuil at his lily pond.  


Topaz has presets recreating the styles of many artists including Monet.  They even give you the option of his earlier and later periods.  

I tried different effects on the same image so you can see the range of options.  I used the later Monet, Renoir and Cezanne and you can really see the changes from picture to picture.  

Base Photo

Base Photo

Monet 2

Monet 2





The software also allows you to apply texture effects like different types of canvas, wood or brick, but I haven’t really explored those yet.  You also can mask out the effect from various areas of your photo directly.  Of course if you open the image from Photoshop, and create a new layer first, you can apply more complex layer masks.

So far, the software has been fun to use and provides some pathways to overcome my inability to draw anything beyond stick figures.    

Viewing a Master Photographer

By Roger (16 November 2015)

We've talked many times about viewing and studying the work of other photographers, especially the “great” ones. There is much to learn, and it's important to learn from the best. Whenever possible, you should see the photographer's work, in person. There is a big difference in viewing the photos, in the real world, versus viewing them online. The difference can be shocking at times.

On Sunday, I had the opportunity to visit the Smithsonian's American Art Museum for an Irving Penn exhibit (link). I joined a meetup with about 25 members of the On Taking Pictures podcast (link) and Google+ group. The hosts of the podcast, Jeffrey Saddoris and Bill Wadman, were there. We spent about 90 minutes, viewing the photos; split up and made some photos of our own; and had a beer and barbecue together. It was a pretty good way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

So, what did I see at the exhibit?

Penn (1917-2009) was a real working photographer and is considered one of the foremost photographers of the 20th century. He is best known for his fashion photography, but he shot celebrity portraits, street scenes, still lifes, studio, and even advertising. The museum had 146 representative photographs from all aspects of Penn's career, both monochrome and color. He is also known for using simple backgrounds and corners for his photos.

Some of the photographs were stunning, especially when you realize they were printed decades ago. I've gotten so comfortable with today's print quality, I had forgotten how good the quality actually could be with film and platinum printing. It wasn't better than today's prints, but there was a different look to the prints. Some of the color prints from his advertising days were still eye-popping.

When you go to an exhibit like this, you'll also find photos you don't think are worthy of being in such an exhibit. Art, with a capital A, can be a funny thing sometimes. The arbiters of Art will see things a “normal” viewer doesn't. There were a couple photos I didn't appreciate as much as the others. However, you would probably see several that I really liked and have a differing opinion. I'm certainly a fan of Penn's work, especially the portraits.

During the short photowalk, I was looking for some kind of abstract, with lines and curves, like I had seen in the exhibit. Penn's work was done in camera, so I didn't want want to create any kind of Photoshop composite. I saw this window display of strange teapots, with the reflection of a crosswalk in the glass. I'm not sure about the display stand's support cutting through the right teapots, but I didn't want to crop in so far that I lost the curve, and I wanted it straight from the camera.

My Penn-inspired teapots

The museum visit and OTP meetup was a great success. The Penn exhibit runs through 20 March, if you get a chance to visit the museum. You can do a Google Image search to see some of Penn's work. And listen to the podcast, next week (they're released on Tuesdays), and hear the discussion. I'm sure Jeffrey and Bill will talk about the meetup and exhibit.

Can You Make Art?

By Roger (29 May 2014)

Many (most?) photographers get a little kick out of learning the technology in today's cameras. We like the “secret” world of setting apertures, shutter speeds, and ISOs. We get a thrill from figuring out all the buttons and make a big show of putting the camera on “Program” when we hand the camera to a non-photographer to allow them a chance to take a snap with our “professional” camera. There is a tiny bit of justification for this snobbery because we have learned more about the camera than the vast majority of people who take photos. We're proud of that accomplishment. “Real photography” is more than just point and shoot, right?

But what happens after we have a working knowledge of the buttons and all their functions? We can get a good exposure, and we can freeze the action or show motion. We've learned the rule of thirds and can discuss the merits of my camera versus yours. If you can look at a good photograph and figure out a likely camera setting to duplicate the work, you're still less than halfway “there.”

Proper exposure doesn't mean a photograph is interesting. The correct ISO can't put emotion in the photograph. And you need more than a proper shutter speed setting to tell a story with your photos.

This is the time when you face the internal fear that all your work and learning was a waste of time. Your photos don't evoke any emotions in you or your viewers. They look more like properly exposed captures of nothingness. Good photographs are more than a combination of technical settings.

You are facing one of the most confusing challenges for photographers: ART. You've heard of this beast, and you want to sally forth and tame ART to your commands, since you're sure this victory will bring meaning and creativity to your photographs. But – SPOILER ALERT – there is no definitive recipe to create ART!

A major part of the problem is the definition, itself. Art has a different meaning for everyone. Oh, sure, you can find some art reviewers out there who use all the proper fancy words and wax eloquently on this or that artist, but do you feel the same when you see the work? We have all seen works from people who were labeled as artists, and we didn't see any justification for that nice label. At the same time, you can't say that, just because you don't like something, it isn't art. Don't let the critics fool you into thinking they know more than you, but don't be so arrogant to ignore the fact they may know more than you.

See why this is confusing? One paragraph into trying to explain why the definition of art is ambiguous, and I've already wrapped myself up into knots. So, if we stipulate that we can't all agree on a single, precise definition of art, how do we ensure our own photographs are more art-sy and less snapshot-ty? How do you learn what art is?

The first thing to consider is whether you even care. When I'm taking snapshots, in the backyard, of the grandkids playing in the sprinklers, I'm not thinking of an artistic pursuit. This is a capture-the-moment photo. Why complicate things by trying to make it art?

Another similar approach: don't worry about it. Since you will never please everyone and the definition of art is all over the place, concentrate on doing your best work, every time, and leave it there. Make photos that please you. If there are themes you like, or trends in your work you've noticed and want to continue, explore all the different angles and approaches to that work.

I believe in a more proactive approach. For those who want more, I recommend education. Start with a library or used book store for some art books. We have a great used books store near us, and, since art books aren't in high demand, the books are inexpensive. Your reading will reveal contradictions and differences because the experts don't agree, either.

Objects in triplicate, a recurring artistic theme.  Is this artistic?  Boston, Ma.

Objects in triplicate, a recurring artistic theme.  Is this artistic?  Boston, Ma.

Don't limit yourself to just photography books. Books of classic paintings, sketching, sculpture, and critical essays on works of art will give you inspiration and help you understand the deeper concepts of composition, color, poses, etc. You can find much of this information on the internet, but I like to have it on my bookshelves for frequent referral and review to help it sink into the brain.

When you visit museums and art shows – and you should – give the displayed work more than a cursory glance. What do you like? Why do you like it? Was the artist's message clear and well-executed? Is this an idea or approach you want to pursue in your photography?

You can pursue these ideas and experiments in your personal projects. Some of these projects may never see the light of day, but they give you a chance to work through themes you want to expand on or new techniques. They can allow you to build up a body of work. After working over time, or completing it, you can choose to let others see and comment on it or just put the photos together on a wall at your house or delete them.

I'm still working my Civil War sesquicentennial project.  I love the artillery photos.  New Market, Va.

I'm still working my Civil War sesquicentennial project.  I love the artillery photos.  New Market, Va.

Many (most?) photographers won't expend the effort to go beyond the basics. That's alright, too. Your photos will be different than the rest if you go where they won't. The more you understand about traditional definitions, concepts, and expressions of art, the easier it will be for you to form your personal definition of your art and it's expression in your photographs. Remember, there is no single definition of art, so you have free reign to create your art, your way.

Also, keep in mind that your well-thought out definition will not guarantee acceptance. Whenever you try to be more creative and bring your photographs beyond the realm of the snapshot into a form of art, you expose yourself to criticism and rejection. But, if your goal is to build a body of work that expresses your point of view – your art – you have to accept that everyone may not see it as worthwhile or art.

It is confusing to define art, but you can make the decision for yourself how you'll define and express yours. Ask other photographers about their “art,” and you'll get different answers from them all. Some of them will be serious, considered responses, and I hope your answer is, too.

Do You Know the Way to Santa Fe?

It’s time to wrap up my postings on summer travel. After we departed from the Grand Canyon, Sarah had the opportunity to meet cousins she hadn’t seen since she was a little girl in Prescott, AZ so we stopped there for lunch.  We had heard that Sedona was beautiful, and so that was our destination for that evening.  It was way more than beautiful.  It is in the middle of Red Rocks and Pine trees, tucked alongside a swift and cold river.  It was the night of the Super Moon, and I was certain that we were facing the wrong direction.  Much to our surprise, the light popped right up in front of it.  I had to scramble to get my tripod set up.  We are definitely going back to revisit and spend more time there.

Sedona Super Moon

Sedona Super Moon

The next day we stopped at the Great Meteor crater.  This hole was caused by something no larger than a school bus, but it ignited the air around the crater for 10 miles.

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We did some touristy stuff, and yes, that is me, “Standing on the Corner in Winslow, Arizona”.  Not certain about the “such a fine sight to see”.  We had a nice day and got our kicks and ice cream on Route 66. 

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Our last stop in our summer fiesta was Santa Fe, the capitol of New Mexico. We stayed downtown, just a block off the main plaza and loved being able to walk to everything.  Good thing, as Santa Fe has a lot of everything—museums, historic sites, a thriving art colony and fabulous restaurants. The city was one of the main Spanish outposts in the New World.  Santa Fe has spent more time as a part of Mexico than it has as a state. The Cathedral of St. Francis would be at home in Europe.  

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During World War 2, the Manhattan Project was hidden nearby.  The people reported to this doorway and it was listed as their address for all their mail while they worked at Alamogordo.  Now the space sells brightly colored ceramic chili peppers. 

Hidden Door of Atomic History

Hidden Door of Atomic History

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Under the shade of the main plaza portico are native craftspeople.  Each morning there is a lottery for the spaces to display and sell their handmade jewelry. 

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As I was telling the guy I met there; around almost around every corner there is another unique piece of sculpture.  We managed to find a place that would a really cool kinetic piece home to VA.  It and these photos will provide years of great memories from our SW vacation. 

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