Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Where do you want to go?

So July 4th weekend just passed, and of course, the most asked question was "where do you want to go?" Whether it's for photos, for fireworks, or just for a day to get away, everyone wants to go somewhere. I wanted to go to the Salton Sea... but my friend thought that would be a bad idea... too hot out there in the desert. Instead, we decided to go to Point Mugu out in Malibu, at least we get the ocean breeze there. But the question I really wanted to ask is... "where do you want to go (in photography)?"... or more precisely, where do I want to go? What is my end goal, both in every picture I take, and as a photographer in general. What do I want my pictures to convey? What kind of photographer do I want to be? Majority of my pictures lack soul... lack the "wow" factor that takes a simple shot and transforms it into something of value, into "art". Maybe it's just because I don't think about what I want to capture most of the time. I sort of walk around haphazardly taking pictures... well ok that's not true. I do stop, and think about what I want to do at a scene, but recently I've been drawing a blank. And even when I do have a shot in mind, my execution usually falls far short (more on this in the coming days). I've heard the best way to improve your (landscape) photography skill is to actually love what you are photographing, you have to have a passion for it or else your photos will come out dead. You have to feel something in order for your image to convey SOME kind of emotion and maybe lately I'm just as dead as my images.

So anyways, the July 4th trip, my family and some friends went out to Malibu for a photo walk hike. We first stopped at Venice for some quick shots of the canals. Noon is the worst time for photography... but sometimes things just don't go the way you planned. Here is a shot straight out of the camera:
This is not a good image by any stretch of imagination. It is poorly composed, the colors are muted and it just looks flat. Here was the original intent.... I wanted to take a photo in portrait orientation to really make the canal feel longer and add more depth to it. In composing the image, I wanted the boat to be the center of focus so I placed it about 1/3 of the way from the bottom of the frame and leave plenty of space above it... unfortunately the space above it is quite boring and even have distracting buildings and power lines. The original intent was to make the boat seem lonely in this huge long canal... just kind of free floating there, barely tied to the docks. Ping... FAIL. At first, I was very tempted to delete the image and move on, it has no redeeming qualities and its not something I'd look at again but then I thought to try something different with it. I gave it a quick focal B&W filter in Picasa so that the entire image will be black and white except the area around the boat. Since the water is pretty colorless around it, it didn't matter if the focal radius wasn't perfect, it still just looked black and white except the boat. This made it better, at least something I'm willing to keep around. The focal B&W really helps you focus in on the boat and stay there without letting your attention wander around. B&W images typically are also moodier and just have a whole new feel to it, but the composition still wasn't good. That's when my friend suggested I crop it a bit, cut out the top to get rid of the distracting lines and also crop a bit off the bottom to keep it balanced and the boat at about 1/3rd of the way. This is the final result:

Is it a good image? Not by a long shot. Is it better than the original? I'd like to think so. The crop helps a lot and makes the boat the intended subject instead of just something there. While I am not a big fan of post processing, I think in this case it really helped me achieve the photo I *wanted* to take but couldn't... in the end, it helped me achieve my goals and convey my intentions. Even so, the photo still lacks feeling.... it is still missing a soul.

The rest of the day didn't go better... the photo walk at Point Mugu turned into a full hike that none of us were really prepared for and the weather wasn't exactly the best for photography... everything was just kind of hazy and colorless. The hill/mountain was mostly dead weeds/grass which certainly didn't help to inspire me. After we got to the top, there was this small field that reminded me of the intro sequence to Gladiator so I decided to try a few portraits...

I figured since I lugged the 70-200 up to the top, I might as well use it right? So I put the 70-200 on, walked far out infront of my friend and had her walk to me as naturally as she possibly could (with a large white lens pointed at her). Lucky for me she is a great model and super easy to work with so I had nothing to worry about. I just had to kneel down so I'm closer to the ground and allow me to capture of of the sky/background behind her and zoom in all the way. I didn't really have time to frame the shot since she was walking already and as easy going as she is... she would probably kill me if I made her do the walk too many times. I just wanted the blurred foreground and background and wasn't particularly picky about anything else. I had to fix up this shot a bit in Picasa (add a bit more contrast - increased shadow, highlight, slight fill) since the original came out very bleached out (It might have been because of my polarizer being on and not properly adjusted). Anyways, this seemed close enough to what I wanted to capture so I'm satisfied (tho I think my friend did most of the heavy lifting for me).

The other picture that I kind of liked from the trip was this shot:

I used Canon's super wide EF-S 10-22 lens for this shot (at 10mm). I wanted the super wide to really make the field seem endless and just make everything a bit more dramatic. Given how hazy the day was, I put on my polarizer to darken the sky and increase saturation. People always say becareful of using a CPL with a super wide lens like the 10-22, you'll get uneven effects (as can be seen with the gradation from deep blue to very light blue sky). I didn't mind, I actually kind of like that effect, especially for this picture. It makes the overall image seem darker and moodier. I think I touched up the shadows ever so slightly in Picasa but the polarizer did most of the work for me. I hope it can convey the vastness of the field... but what kind of emotion does it really evoke? I don't know. In the end, the photo hike was mostly just hiking and less photos... the full album can be found here. I still don't know how to make images with feeling... with passion, with some emotion. In the end, the photos are just some bits representing colors without anything pulling them together to form something bigger, something more meaningful than "oh I was there".

In the end, I pose the same question as I started with... "where do you want to go?"
Where do you want the photos to take your viewers?