Stories Behind the Images Part 1

In this episode I’m going to be focusing on a few of my photos and the stories behind them. I had mentioned that I’d start doing this quite a while ago and I received some positive feedback about this idea, and then it got delayed due to a few factors, some of which were the incredible interviews I’ve been able to schedule. I’m so grateful to David Long, Greg Benz, the PhotogAdventures Guys, Richard Bernabe, Timothy Allen, Alyce Bender, Christiaan van Heijst and the others that are coming up. I just love talking with all these very talented photographers and am thrilled to share their stories with you.

But today’s show will be a bit different. I’ll be referencing images from my blog over on my personal website. I’ve got some of the stories written there too so you can read it if you’d like that format as well. 

So, let’s start off with the post called “The Presence of Humanity”

This image actually doesn’t have any people of it. But there’s certainly evidence of the human presence. We have a fountain or a wash basin outside the main prayer room at a mosque in Coquimbo, Chile. The tile work is quite ornate and detailed. There’s a pattern for the floor, a different pattern for the wall and yet still another pattern for the wash basin, which is the same pattern as the column found in the upper left corner of the image. 

The wash basin is an 8-pointed star shape and it has a copper inverted bowl-shaped item in the center. No water is running but it’s obvious this is for distributing water for washing one’s hands.

At the far right of the image you can see the threshold of a doorway and a bit of the door itself. And right there, at the threshold is a pair of black shoes. They aren’t entirely clean, but certainly not dirty either. They are somewhat worn, and their level of detail is just enough to satisfy the mind’s need of being able to properly interpret what they are. 

As I wrote in the blog, I feel they are somewhat odd because, “They’re shoes after all, possibly smelly, and they point out of the frame. They are black; we’re often taught that if we want to bring attention to a subject that the eye tends to be drawn towards bright objects with detail. But here we have a dark object with little detail. These shoes, however, complete the story.”

And that’s their point. They complete the story. That’s the part that really seals the deal for this image for me. It’s one image. But there’s multiple stories behind it. Most of the questions we may have we’ll never know the answers to. Such as, to whom do these shoes belong? Why are they here? There’s no one to be seen, either inside or out, but yet, here they are. Were they forgotten? Everything in this room feels like it belongs. And to a degree, the shoes belong too. They certainly don’t belong in the prayer room. 

The mosque is called Centro Cultural Mohamed VI on Google Maps. It’s found at the top of a small hill in Coquimbo. There’s a paved walkway that takes you up to this mosque. You can’t miss it. There’re only two “towers” in town, one is the minaret on this mosque, the other is the much larger Cross of the Third Millennium. 

As I walked in the front door, this washing area was the first thing you see. I’ve got another pic on the blog showing the door partway open and the other door into the prayer room completely open, but no shoes. So, when I arrived, they weren’t there.

This is still a mystery to me though. We hardly did anything. We walked in, took a look around, snapped a few pics in this outer room, took our shoes off and went into the prayer room. We saw one fellow in there. He welcomed us in. He already had his shoes off. We took a few pics and we were done. This all happened in less than 30 minutes. Someone else must have shown up that we didn’t realize. 

The prayer room had the same pattern of tile work on the columns as the wash basin. The tiles go up about 7 feet on the columns, then they stop and there’s other decorations. There’re rugs on the floor. The woodwork on the partitions are well done though not too ornate. We exited the way we came in and that was it. I saw the shoes and I knew I had my shot. I didn’t touch them. I simply framed up a shot that portrayed the scene in a fashion that told the story as best I could. 

Here’s an empty room, with a wash basin that’s turned off. No one is in sight, and the shoes point out of the frame, yet they point into the prayer room. And that’s the point of the story told by this image. That someone came in, took off their shoes and proceeded in. And the viewer is left looking at this beautiful room, and yet, inevitably, you can’t help but have your eyes drawn towards the threshold and then you imagine yourself walking through that door. 

I think that’s partly what makes this image successful. It invites you, the viewer, to participate in your mind by activating your imagination. You actively decide to proceed from one place that is known, to a place that is unknown.

Then you read on and you find out all about this place or listen to the story here on this podcast an now you know, to borrow a phrase, the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey would put it.

My next image is called Krakow Pigeons.

I may have told this story a few other places, so I’m sorry if this is a repeat for you. The setting is Krakow Poland, 2016. I was there with my father and we had just arrived in Prague a few days earlier. We’d driven to Auschwitz and then on to Krakow. I made this image on the last morning there. I’d woken early to get down to the city for some early morning photography and decided to hang out on this side of the river (opposite the Wawel Castel) to see what I could find.

Pigeons are everywhere, it seems, and Krakow is no different. I found about 12 to 14 pigeons sitting on an iron fence along a sidewalk. I thought back to my times in La Serena Chile and India where I caused a pigeon ruckus as I ran towards them making them fly and then getting the shots. Well, in Chile, I had a friend run at them and I was able to stay still, but anyway…

I decided to put the camera into manual focus and on motor drive. I then held it at about tummy height and I framed the scene quite wide. I knew the birds would be silhouetted against the brilliant sunrise colors, so I didn’t really worry about detail in the birds. I just wanted their forms and shapes and movement going throughout the scene.

I ran. I was close to the fence and I just ran scaring the birds into flight.

It was successful. Though I had success over about 8-10 frames. And my vision was to capture it in one frame. So, I used photoshop to bring the three best frames together. I positioned the birds where I wanted them. I left them mostly in their original location in the frame, I just moved them slightly so there weren’t any overlaps and angled one or two for compositional effect. In doing this I had to decide which would be my anchor frame, and which would ones would only be providing bird forms. 

I then increased the contrast on those frames that I was only borrowing the birds from and I then used a “darken” blend mode to only show the birds, and not the sky in those layers. I had to do additional masking, but this allowed the edges of the birds to maintain their natural feel of movement without me having to do any selection work.

I then made it a B&W image to enhance the mood I was going for and then I added some grain as well. I feel the grain helps give it a slightly nostalgic sense which goes well with the ancient castle in the background.

Krakow is an amazing city and I got some other great shots there, but this one is my top image. Later that day we got into the car and drove to Warsaw, another great city to have your camera.

Before we get to the last set of images I wanted to briefly mention my workshops to Chile and Croatia this summer. I’m also going to do one here in Walla Walla, WA. That’s right, the small hamlet where I live will be the site of one of my best workshops yet. 

The one to Chile is all set and can be found on the website here.

We’ll be photographing the Total solar eclipse that happens in Coquimbo and La Serena area on July 2. We’ll then do some astrophotography on the way back to Santiago and then fly out to Easter Island the next morning. It’s going to be an amazing adventure.

Croatia will be a slightly slower pace and we’ll spend some great time shooting the waterfalls of Plitvice National park and the ancient city of Dubrovnik. There’s also an add-on that goes into Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

And finally, my Walla Walla printing workshop will have us going out here in beautiful SE Washington to shoot in the mornings and evenings. During the heat of the day we’ll be in an air-conditioned room learning the print process and making fine prints of your images. This workshop will also include enrollment into my online print course that I’m currently producing.

Check out the website for all the details on these and my portfolio reviews that I’m starting up too. And finally, for those of you that are members of my Photo Workshops group on Facebook, or part of my email list I’m going to send out code for my international workshops that will be up to an additional $100 off. But those are the only places I’m releasing it.

The last place we’ll visit in this episode is in the great state of California. In the far north of the state is a place called Stout Grove. It’s in the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. 

I really liked shooting here, except for all the mosquitos. I was with my two oldest boys, they were helping me do some videos on this region. Speaking of videos, head on over to my YouTube Channel to watch them. I show you these beautiful areas in the Redwoods and Southern OR coast, and I show you the behind the scenes post production. A link will be in the show notes for this playlist where all these videos are.

Stout Grove is a small area. It takes longer to drive there from Crescent City than it does to walk around it. But it’s so beautiful, and you can climb so many of the downed trees, the boys had quite a bit of fun. At least Elijah did, he wasn’t on camera duty. 

Being there in the early morning in late June was great as it allowed us to experience it in the perfect light. The wind was non-existent, and the images were coming out all over the place. However, most of the images I shot that day were absolutely vertical. For some reason I wasn’t finding very many horizontal images that day.

The first image is a two-frame panoramic, vertically stacked, that I also planned to do as a focus stack. I had shot the ferns in the foreground, so they were in focus, then I shot the tree in the background. I then pointed the camera up a bit to shoot more of the trunk, but only got it in focus. I figured it would be useless to get it out of focus since this was a focus stack as well and I was going to render it sharply.

But I was wrong. I actually liked it much better with the out of focus areas, so I just took that one frame that only had the trunk in focus and blurred it in Photoshop to match the blur of the first frame. I then blended them together to make one seamless image. There were a few other items that had to be cleaned up, but you can see the video on YouTube for those details.

The second image is probably my favorite of the bunch. It starts out with a downed tree with some small leaves on it, there’s some type of plant growing on it. I probably should look up what it is, but anyway, it’s a big redwood log. In the middle of the frame is another redwood log with some ferns growing out of its base. And then finally some standing redwoods in the top portion of the frame.

This is a focus stack. Given the vast distances from foreground to background I couldn’t get this shot any other way. I was shooting wide angle, which naturally increases depth-of-field, but it still wasn’t enough, and this was shot in three sections at three different focal lengths.

The part about this that image is so great is that I didn’t have to work any significant Photoshop magic to make it come out right. The only challenge I had was in the transition between the first frame (the foreground) and the second frame (the mid ground). When looking at the mid ground frame, the tree in the foreground is blurry and that doesn’t transition too well when I’m trying to keep everything in sharp focus. So, all I did was go to the foreground frame and use Photoshop’s tool that allows you to select sharp objects. The selection along the top of the log was pretty good. It needed cleaning up a bit, but it was about 90% accurate. This allowed me to apply a mask that hid all the out of focus items. And then all I had to do was nudge the mid ground frame down behind it which hid the blurry section of the downed log that was in the foreground. In all it was rather easy to do, but kind of hard to accurately describe it here in audio only format. I encourage you to look up this video. The background fell right into place and all was good.

Watch the video on  YouTube

I’ve got a lot more videos in this play list too, not just these from stout grove. I’d love for you to check them out.Well that’s about it for today’s show. Thanks so much for listening. I’ll be back in another 7-14 days with either more personal work or another interview. Until next time, happy shooting.

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