Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Part 9 of 9: the shore


Part 1: the wall
Part 2: sounds of silence
Part 3: canyon at sunset
Part 4: Untitled #37
Part 5: somber
Part 6: open doors
Part 7: el perro triste
Part 8: motion sick


Some of my favorite images from other photographers are the minimalist photos, especially the long exposure images of water. The longer the exposure, the softer the water looks. I was trying for that look here, but the lake was too still to create the fog-like look on the surface. Still, I think this creates the emotion that I envisioned. When I look at this, I feel the solitude of the location - not loneliness, but solitude, which for me is a necessary part of life. The location has depth and silence, also important parts of my life.

I like how the foreground is sharp and rough, and contrasted by the softness of the rest of the scene. The foreground takes up most of the image, emphasizing the personal story. The most important parts of life are right in front of me. Yes, there's something across the lake, and I might get there someday, but for now all I have access to is this shore.

The horizontal lines in the tight frame create an interesting contrast. Vast landscapes like this are often cropped as panoramics. But this image is constrained by a 4x5 crop. There might be some interesting features out of frame, but all I can see is what's right in front of me, which means I (the photographer) think the ground in front of me is the only important feature.

Lastly, I like the minimalism of this image that happens despite the crowded foreground. Because there are so many rocks and pebbles, they become lost in a visual white noise. The focus is moved to the tonal changes, emphasizing those changes from light, to medium tones in the rocks, to the dark shoreline, the light water, the dark line on the far shore and the bright sky. It all feels balanced to me.

http://chrismcnaught.weebly.com/experimental.html

Part 8: motion sick


Part 1: the wall
Part 2: sounds of silence
Part 3: canyon at sunset
Part 4: Untitled #37
Part 5: somber
Part 6: open doors
Part 7: el perro triste


The train seems stationary, but the ground in front if moving - that seems backward. Why is the sage brush blurry?

While I often like to break the rules, I like the aspects of this image that follow the principles of good photography. The train is placed on the top line of thirds, creating emphasis on the motion in the bottom third of the frame. The frame is also divided into horizontal thirds, although that might not be immediately recognizable. The four white rail cars make up the middle third. They are balanced by green cars on the right, and the red/yellow cars on the left. However the balance is shifted slightly toward the right edge, indicating motion, as if the train is moving right to left, even if we can't see it's motion.

I think it's interesting that there are only two power poles in the upper thirds, and that they almost line up with the division of thirds. The thirds are also emphasized in the color variations. The bottom third is quite drab, browns and muted greens. The middle third has more bright greens and yellows, on both sides of the train. The top third comes back to muted brown tones and a sliver of sky, leaving the emphasis on that middle third.

One other fun aspect for me - the green triangle in the upper right corner. Remember, I like triangles and the position of this one adds to the motion for me. Because the point is left on the shape, I know that in just a quick moment that dark green will be gone.

This image is comfortable because we've all seen this scene: Driving down the highway, rolling hills, ground quickly moving past. For me, the emotion of this image is comfortable excitement. I remember being on family vacations, watching all the new unfamiliar land whiz past. It's all different, but it's all the same. I remember sitting in the family station wagon (yes, we had a station wagon, but not with the fake wood sides). We played fun games - like alphabet signs. I couldn't wait for the green Quaker State Motor Oil sign. That one sign would often help someone win the game. "Q, R, S, T, U!!!"

http://chrismcnaught.weebly.com/experimental.html

Part 7: el perro triste


Part 1: the wall
Part 2: sounds of silence
Part 3: canyon at sunset
Part 4: Untitled #37
Part 5: somber
Part 6: open doors

I would never enter this photo in a fair, or in the BCC judging nights. I don't think it would score well or win any ribbons. I can hear the judges comments:
  • The light is blown out; you've lost the detail and because it's so bright, it overpowers the rest of the image.
  • When photographing pets, its important to get their faces, especially their eyes.
  • You've left no room for the dog to move around. I'd crop it differently.
  • The image should be flipped so the eye is led in from the left instead of the right.
  • You should have included the dog's shadow.
  • I'd photoshop out the laundry, and maybe the laundry lines. They don't add to the image.
I would respectfully and quietly disagree with all those observations. Not that the judges are wrong with their observations. Competitions are looking for certain kinds of images and this image doesn't fit into those categories. It's a personally significant image, but not universally beautiful. In my search for simplicity, in my life and in my photography, I've made conscious efforts to ensure that every element in a photo (and my life) is there on purpose and for a reason. All the elements in this image, in my opinion, add to the ambiance. I'm trying to create a feeling of being trapped, cramped, trapped, secluded, trapped.

There's no space for the dog to move in this image. The empty part of the patio is overwhelmed by the immensity of the wall, and crowded by the washer. Further, the dog is facing the wall, limiting his potential movement. He's not even looking at one of his bowls; he seems to be looking at the space between the bowls. The bare bulb creates harsh light, despite the warmth of the walls. The reds of the walls and the gold of the dog and the water bowl are overpowered by the blinding white light. Since lights wouldn't be turned on during the day, this must be at night, making me wonder if the light stays on all night. Does this poor dog ever get a break?

The laundry line, while creating an interesting element, leads my eye right out of the frame. Is there more space to the right? I don't  know. Maybe the wall is right there, just out of frame, which would make the scene even more uncomfortable. This photo works because it's a slice of life, a brief moment. It captures something viewers recognize and with which they can empathize.

Lastly, this reminds of an interesting time in my life. The back story isn't important to the power of the image, but it's important for me and my memory.

http://chrismcnaught.weebly.com/experimental.html

Part 6: open doors

Part 1: the wall
Part 2: sounds of silence
Part 3: canyon at sunset
Part 4: Untitled #37
Part 5: somber


While "somber" was intentionally accidental, this one was unintentionally accidental. Back in the days of film, when I was shooting a Pentax K1000, I'd load the film, shut the back, wind, click, wind, click, wind, click, to make sure the film was ready to start taking real photographs. With this photo, I must have advanced the film one frame further than I needed to, so I found this when I developed the negative.

I think its a strong image, despite all the untidy elements. The white line, starting in the lower left corner and moving across and up the image, creates an energy, a path that's easy to follow.

Tones seem like they should progress from light to dark, with the medium tones in the middle, like a graduated filter. I guess that's probably the sequential part of my personality. I like order. But this picture has a triangle of medium tones on the bottom (and I love triangular shapes), then the brightest tones in the middle, and the darkest tones in the upper left corner.

When I see this, I ask questions (even though as the photographer I know the answers).
What's up with the seat belt? Why is it just laying on the seat?
When was the last time you cleaned your car? Is that gravel inside the same gravel that's on the ground?
Why is it so blurry? Don't you know how to focus your camera?
What were you trying to take a picture of anyway? There's nothing there.
Why is the door open?

I come away with the beginning of a story in my mind.

http://chrismcnaught.weebly.com/experimental.html

Monday, October 29, 2012

Part 5: somber

Part 1: the wall
Part 2: sounds of silence
Part 3: canyon at sunset
Part 4: Untitled #37

Immediately I'm struck by the emotion of this photo: sadness, contemplation, melancholy,

Portraits of children are supposed to be happy, smiling, giggly, colorful. Of course not all are that way, and I've seen portraits of serious children that are gorgeous. I'm just talking about stereotypical images.

This "portrait" breaks the principles of good photos. Nothing is on a line of thirds, neither horizontally nor vertically. Normally the eyes are supposed to be sharp, in focus. Here, by contrast, nothing is sharply in focus. The whole image is blurry, adding to the emotion of the scene. Sadness is blurry and uncomfortable - it can create a lack of focus in our world. I've cut off part of her face, which can be a strong photographic technique. But the crop happens in the middle of her eye, even cutting off part of her mouth (some symbolism there?). Lastly, the line of her hair divides the picture in half rather than using one of the vertical thirds lines. The lines of her hair, her eyes and the background are diagonal, which can create energy in an image, but they're barely off vertical and horizontal.

The background is out of focus, which helps me focus on the girl, but the sky at the top is one of the brightest parts of the image, as is her hair in the upper right corner. The principles of photography tell us that the viewers eye is drawn to the brightest part of an image. So the bright-ish sky draws attention away from the girl, which also follows the emotion. When I'm sad, I don't want people to pay attention to me. I don't want to be coddled or placated. I'd much rather be ignored and have people look away from me.

The girl here is also looking down, body language indicative of sadness. She's not making eye contact with the camera or the viewer. While we're looking away, ignoring her, she's ignoring us. I also think the b&w treatment adds to the image. While this photo is still strong in color, the emotional subjects of this photo don't conjure images of color for me. It is true that melancholy is often associated with blue, but for me, being at my lowest feels drained of color and stark.

The last element of contrast can't be seen unless you happen to know this girl. "J" is one of those girls who seems to have a constant smile on her face. She makes people around her happy just by being who she is. To catch her in such a serious moment is not capturing her dominant personality. I don't remember, but I'm sure that 2 seconds after this photo, she was looking at me, smiling that big, happy smile she has. I'm so glad I was able to catch this brief glimpse.

One last thing about this photo: it's intentionally accidental. When I was working as a school counselor, I often took my camera to recess. Kids all across the playground would come running when they saw the camera. "Mr. M, take me a picture!" Most of the photos I took were literally shot from the hip. I would hold the camera at my waist, point it toward one of the kids and take a photo. Sometimes the images were unusable. But sometimes I was rewarded with a remarkable moment, caught in an otherwise invisible glimpse.

http://chrismcnaught.weebly.com/experimental.html

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Part 4: Untitled #37

Part 1: the wall
Part 2: sounds of silence
Part 3: canyon at sunset


To answer your first question, because I know you're thinking it, No, this is not photoshopped. I don't often talk about the technical side of my photos or the processing, but I'll share a little here. This image is SOOC (straight out of camera, for those who might not know that acronym). I bumped the contrast and strengthened the greens, but this is basically how the RAW image looks.

I like this because it creates questions. I'm not sure it meets my second criteria for a good photo: emotional response. But it's definitely confusing.

  • Why is the sky on the bottom? 
  • Why is the corn on the top?
  • Where are those power lines going? For that matter, where are they coming from?
  • How did you do this?

I hate to disappoint you ... I take that back. I'm happy to disappoint you in this circumstance; I'm not going to answer any of those questions.

This photo has several contrasting elements that I really like. The dark, dense, lush green and light, empty blue are so different. And yet, they balance each other. The photo should feel top-heavy, but it doesn't for me. There's also the contrast of solid, clearly defined black lines in the blue against the jumbled mass of green tones. And both of those are contrasted by the center portion of the image in which all the elements merge together for a while, creating a completely new element.

I like the one double-line moving horizontally across the lower half. I think it rhymes with the implied lines of the cornfield, which we know is planted in rows. Those horizontals connect the two halves of the image for me. The diagonal lines, which first lead out of the frame, then lead into the dark green, offer some energy. create some line for my eye to follow. I like that after following a clearly defined path, my eyes get lost in the field. Many of us have run through fields filled with tall corn, whether it's an actual working corn field or the ubiquitous Halloween corn maze. And if you haven't had that experience, let me suggest you try it.

The image works because it combines two elements we've all seen. But they're combined in a way that hasn't been seen before. It messes with my perception. I want to turn it upside down, follow the laws of gravity and restore order. But if I did that, the corn plants would be upside down, which makes me wonder all the more.

http://chrismcnaught.weebly.com/experimental.html

Part 3 of 9: canyon at sunset

Click here for Part 1 of the series
Click here for Part 2 of the series


Hopefully, when you first looked at this image, you wondered what it is, or at least asked, "Is that a sidewalk?" Yes, it is, and thank you for asking a question about it. Landscape photography is a popular theme in the photo world. Everyone takes landscapes, from professional fine art photographers to tourists - some better than others.

I've dabbled in landscape photography, and taken some images I like but too often the images I capture look just like everyone else who's taken the same/similar image. "That's a nice picture of the Snake River Canyon Chris. My grandmother has one just like it, so does my 4 year old nephew, and my neighbor, and the postcard at the gas station ..."

But the vast landscapes, on which I've too often focused, should not be the only targets. Look at these two beautiful trees. Taken late in the day, the light is wonderful. The texture of the desert leading up to the canyon creates some long, dark shadows. The trees cling to edge, growing out of the darkness to find the light. Yes, the trees are less than an inch tall, but the emotion is still there.

I like the pattern of diagonal lines in this image. They create repeating and expanding triangles, which can be a dynamic element in a photo, especially when contrasted with such a static subject matter. I also like how the image seems almost b&w, except for the wonderful greens of the two trees, showing how life can overcome even the darkest, drabbest circumstances.

This photo carries varied themes: hope, perseverance, invisibility, recognition.
There are people in my life who go unnoticed, every day. They're there, but like the two small plants in the crack of the sidewalk, I walk right by them, or over them. I ignore them or maybe walk around them, but I don't engage them. I wonder how much beauty I've missed because I didn't see these invisible people. So this photo is also about recognition. Photographing these two floral characters, I spent several minutes laying on the sidewalk. I'm sure passersby were wondering, "Why is that guy laying on the ground? What's he taking a picture of?" (more questions about my photography - I love it) But those few brief moments captured some fun images for me.

This photo is also about perseverance and hope. Some would call these weeds - they grow everywhere and sometimes seem impossible to stop. But I try to take lessons from that. The circumstances of my life are not always easy. Sometimes it seems that life is conspiring against me. But even in the darkest days, I can still grow. In fact, I can't be stopped from growing.

http://chrismcnaught.weebly.com/experimental.html

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Part 2 of 9: sounds of silence


Click here for Part 1 in the series

Wind chimes, when done wrong can be annoying, nothing more than clanging noise makers. When done right, they create melodious music. But what about a wind chime that makes no noise?

See what happened there? The images asks us, the viewer, to wonder what's happening - to ask, "What the heck is this? You can't have a wind chime with just one chime. And why would take a picture of this?" From the first glance, this image presents a contrast: a silent noise maker. But there are other contrasting elements.

  • The vertical line of the chime and the diagonal line above it.
  • The light tones of the sky and the dark black in the upper corner.
  • The triangle of the black and the circle of the chime holder.

So where is the emotion in this image? I think its created mostly by the literal nature of the single chime. It's lonely. Chimes are always made up of multiple tone-makers. But this poor chime is all alone. There's no knocker, no wind catcher, no other tubes of potential, no partners in purpose. Even for an inanimate object, that's sad.

And yet, there's still beauty in the object and image. Despite the fact that it's alone, it's still a wind chime, and wind chimes are beautiful. The potential for melodious music is there. It may be untapped, but it's there. Plus, look at that gorgeous blue sky. It must be summer: birds chirping, children playing and laughing, lawn mowers and trimmers humming. Sound, everywhere ... surrounding this silent chime.

There is innate beauty, even in a silent wind chime.

http://chrismcnaught.weebly.com/experimental.html

A Short Photo Project

A friend at the Boise Camera Club asked me to give a short presentation of some images I might not normally show at club meetings, like print or projection night. I chose images that probably would not score well with the judges. They may follow the accepted the principles of good photos - yielding low scores - but they impact me in important ways. The images I chose to show and talk about are ones that I like, which is probably the most important characteristic of a good photo. A photographer should always like their own images, in my opinion.

So I'm going to spend the next few days posting those images here, and talking about why they impact me the way they do. I think it's a good exercise to critique images, either my own or someone else's. It's important to put into words the thoughts and feelings I have about a photo. Being able to do that will make me a better photographer. So I'm practicing. I'm sure my critiques won't win any awards, and no one is going to ask me to join a publication as a contributing/commenting editor, so I'm mostly practicing for myself.

Here's the first image. I call it "the wall."

The photographs that affect me the most are ones which do very specific things.

  1. They make me ask questions.
  2. They either create an emotional reaction in me, or imply emotion.

This image fulfills both requirements. When people see this, some quickly ask, "Why did you take a picture of this? It's just an empty wall." As the photographer, I know why I took this particular photo, but the answer isn't very important. If you ask me why I took it, I might answer - I might not. The important thing is that I made you ask a question.

This photo also creates an emotional reaction in me, but before I talk about that, let me address one other quality I look for in photos: Contrast. In this context, contrast is not the photographic tonal contrast of differences between light and dark tones. Contrast here is more closely related to conflict, disparity, or an incongruity of elements. This photo contains a lot of contrasting elements.

  • First, there's the obvious contrast of the white square and the red wall, which also creates a contrast between light and dark tones.
  • Second, the white box is a large square, while the red wall is made up of small rectangles.
  • While the box has two definite vertical lines, the rest of the wall is made up of mostly horizontal lines.
  • Although the shapes in the wall are made up of right angles (squares and rectangles) the vignette is circular and, I think, an important part of the image.
  • The last contrasting element is something out of frame, something which the viewer would not know or even guess. This wall is in a part of Boise called, "Freak Alley," which is covered with graffiti, although the graffiti is not destructive. The paintings are done with permission, by gifted and creative artists. Most of the images are on one side of the alley. The other side is this wall, the one people turn their backs on while looking at the artistic wall. So the last contrast in the image is the highly developed art (out of frame) contrasted with the blank, clean wall seen here.

Which brings me back to the second thing that draws me to an image: emotion. This wall is so structured, literally set in stone, built up brick by brick, with a ready made frame - the white box - waiting to be filled, but only to the boundaries provided. And yet, the blankness of the wall and the box, the unspoiled, clean surface represents potential and imagination. This might be a photo of a wall, but it's a photo about hope. Just imagine what could be done with this blank urban canvas.

http://chrismcnaught.weebly.com/experimental.html

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Boise Camera Club and Weebly

Recently the Boise Camera Club moved the location of the website. Last night Roxanne gave us a tutorial on how to create our own member page, within their page. Then, as the new pages started to grow, it became clear that navigation would become ... unwieldy. Since Weebly is such an easy and simple interface, I decided to create my own page and let the BCC link to it. It's basically a drag and drop website creator, which is good for me since I don't know anything about creating websites.

Here's my new photography website:

Chris McNaught

Sunday, October 7, 2012

That's Doctor McNaught to you

When I first left Wendell (the best place on earth to be a school counselor), my future plans were not a big priority. I wasn't giving much thought to the next thing - partly because I was still trying to recover from the last thing, partly because I was trying to focus on getting healthy.

I'm not sure how long that lasted, but eventually I started considering the next step. I started asking questions, the kind that no one but me can answer.
"If you're not a school counselor, who are you?"
"What are you going to do now?"
"I have a masters in school counseling, but I can't work in a school. Where does that leave me?"

At this point it seems all I'm thinking about is what I'm supposed to be doing. Well, not "24 hours a day" all, just "sometimes when I'm feeling useless" all. I've considered getting a part time job, doing something like working for a courier service, or at-home data entry ... I don't know.

I have been teaching some classes for NNU's graduate counseling program, as an adjunct professor, and I've been enjoying it. From the feedback I've gotten, both from students and faculty, I seem to be doing a good job. So then I wonder, is it time to start pursuing a doctorate? Not long after I graduated some of the faculty asked me, "When will you start working on your doctorate so you can join the faculty here?" I dismissed it at the time; I didn't want to be a university professor - I wanted to be a school counselor, working with kids.

But now, because working with kids doesn't appear to be an option,  becoming a counselor educator may be the way I can still be part of that particular educational solution. So I've started looking at online doctoral programs. WOW they're expensive. The ones I've looked at range from $50,000 to $80,000. I filled out a FAFSA and discovered I could probably qualify for $20,000 in student loans (adding to my current student loan debt of $40,000). But that still leaves a huge gap in funding. How am I supposed to come up with an extra $50,000+/-, especially considering I'm unemployed.

I suppose if I finish my book and sell a million copies, the money will become a non-issue. But if that happens I'll be so famous I won't have time for a doctorate.

God will have to open doors, and then some more doors, and once I'm through those, still more doors. A doctorate is completely out of the realm of possibilities, which means if it happens, it will be because God has directed my path. It will be exciting to find out what happens, but sometimes I wish there was more certainly in my life. Everything seems so vague and uncertain.