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Don Truett's Photo Blog

Seniors Passing Time

If you’ve been kind enough to visit here before, you can see that I’ve made some changes to the site. Since it’s a blog, there seemed to be no purpose to having a home page before the blog page. So, adios to that page. I also had a More Photos section, but stopped updating that long ago. I’m not really pleased with the lightbox for those photos and I much prefer the view of galleries and photos on my SmugMug site. So, if there are related photos, I’ll just point to the gallery there. I’ve also changed the Sales page. If you’re interested, it’s in the menu above.
On to today’s image.
I’ve let the perfect be the enemy of the good here. I have had a project in mind for some time
, showing a different, more abstract type of photography, but inertia has worked it’s magic. I’m still not done with that one. So, I thought I’d show an image that has gotten several favorable comments and won an award. It was taken in Salamanca, Spain. Seniors passing time on street benches. I wanted to get something interesting, so I lurked for awhile until I found what I thought was the right shot. My favorite part of this is the woman left of center doing the “I’m holding your wrist while I talk, so you’ll take it seriously” thing. And the man’s expression immediately to their left. You can find a gallery of Salamanca images
Comments would be not only welcome, but appreciated.

Chinatown, San Francisco

For me, the best test of whether I like one of my own photos is when I make it my desktop wallpaper. Some are gone in a day. This one has stuck around for 2 weeks to date. I should add that to really appreciate it, it should be enlarged in your browser.

I’m going to explain what it is that I like about this image. This is intended to be far from bragging. Quite the contrary. It’s part of my continuing self-education from books and videos about what makes for a strong image. I’m far from being there, but will try to enunciate what I think this photo does have going for it. Much of it is taken from the guidelines I wrote about from David Duchemin further down the page and a couple of posts ago.

To me, the angle of the shot, looking nearly straight down the walk, but with a more pronounced angle on the right visually draws the observer into the walkway, giving a sense of depth. While the eye is led to the end of the walk, it’s not centered, so more emphasis is on the heavily graffiti’d wall on the right. It’s a dynamic, not a static, composition. I also like the flat light here. I don’t think this would have worked nearly as well on a sunny day. Thank you, San Francisco. In addition, I like the conceptual contrast of the traditional and mysterious (the business signs in Chinese) and the “in your face” contemporaneous graffiti. The feeling I get is one of both mystery and fear. As they say, your mileage may vary. Comments are most definitely welcomed.

Why I Like This Image (and you may not)

BCN 881
It’s been quite awhile since i posted. Denise and I just returned from a month in Spain and Portugal. I have just begun to look at the ~4,000 photos I took there. I was fortunate to visit many beautiful sites, including some amazing cathedrals. Rather than posting one of those, I was drawn to an image I shot at Casa Batlló, designed by the amazing Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí. Gaudi was part of the modernist movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We spent the better part of two days touring Gaudi’s work, including his magnum opus, Sagrada Famila. I hope to post some more shots of that jaw-dropping place later.
Anyway, I was drawn to this image for it’s almost abstract impressionist look. It’s barely post processed, with just a tiny bit of cropping.I like the lines and the color. I like the feeling that when you look at it, you pretty much have no idea what the subject is. It’s definitely of a genre that I really enjoy and work on improving my skills at - shooting parts of things that we don’t really stop and see in everyday life.
So, here’s what I saw before I visualized the image I wanted and moved in tighter. Comments and critique are most welcome.
BCN 883

Why I Like This Photo

Assisi 194
I’ve been spending a good deal of time studying image composition. I define that as different than “rules,” such as the infamous “Rule of Thirds.” As my image guru, David DuChemin, states: Rule #1 There are NO rules. What I’m referring to is more the vocabulary of image composition. So, I thought I’d start with an image that I like and apply some of the criteria that I’ve learned to say what it is I do like about the image. For those on my Email list who don’t do a lot of photography, this may be (hopefully) educational.
This is a black and white conversion of a cathedral in Assisi, Italy. The feeling I wanted to convey is an emphasis the wonderful light that plays across the arches. The color version has only a bit of color toward the bottom, which pulls the eye toward it and away from the important parts of the photo. I think that the black and white version adds a mood to the photo.
The main thing I want an image to convey is a feeling or emotion. In this case, and in most, that’s subject to interpretation by the viewer. I will leave that to you. One person in a thread on dpreview.com where I asked for comments and criticism wrote: “Photographs are often called ‘silent images’… This one "sings" to me…  !  Never felt that with an image before.” Kind words indeed.
I personally like the tonality of the image - the way the shades have a gradient from light to dark. I also like the way the eye is led from the upper right to the bottom of the image. People read images the same way they read text, from upper right to left (even in cultures where the text flows in the opposite direction). I also think there is a dimensionality or perspective from the width of the arches as they decrease in size, finally leading to a small, black doorway.
As they say, your mileage may vary and this may not be your cup of tea. I’d love to hear from you in the comments section, which is totally safe, no matter what you use to log in

Below I have borrowed some things to reflect on form David Duchemin’s podcast “About the Image” on Vimeo
  • What feelings and thoughts are you conscious of as a result of this photograph? Does it stir a desire or memory?
  • What is the theme of this photograph? What is this photography about?
  • What kind of conceptual contrasts are present that might more clearly tell a viewer what the image is really about?
  • How does the framing or aspect ratio affect this photograph? (We read a photo from left to right)
  • Is this photograph balanced? If so, is it dynamic or static? If not, how does that make you feel, and could it be corrected? How?
  • How does the choice of optics make the photograph what it is? (Wide-angle, telephoto, compression? depth?)
  • Did the choice of shutter speed or aperture affect the aesthetic of the photograph?
  • What kind of lines or implied lines are present in the photograph? Do they lead the eye, provide balance, or form relationships among elements?
  • Are there elements that repeat themselves, providing a rhythm or theme in the photograph?
  • Are there elements that simply pull your eye for one reason or another, giving them greater visual mass?
  • What kind of color, or tonal, contrasts are in this photograph?
  • Describe the light n this photograph. Is it direct, indirect? Does it fade quickly? From which direction does the light come, and what does that contribute to the photograph?
  • Does the light add mood? Is it used as a compositional device? Does it reveal or isolate?
  • What is the role of color in this image, and what would change–either weakening or strengthening it–if it were rendered in black and white?
  • Describe the moment and how it contributes to the photograph. How does the photographer's timing affect this image?
  • Are there relationships or implied relationships between elements in the frame? Describe those relationships.
  • What role does the POV (point of view) of the photographer contribute to these photograph? If the photographer were more to the right, to the left, lower, higher, or closer, how would that change the photograph?

    The Intentional Photograph

    I’ve been reading a lot by David Duchemin, whose philosophy of photography I heartily endorse. It’s not hard to summarize his thoughts: good photography is at the intersection of craft (technical) and vision (creative). Just as with painting, he believes that a photography has to speak something to the viewer. One of his tenets that I have been recently trying to put into practice is the notion that the photographer is responsible for everything in the image. What is included and excluded in the frame is intentional and needs to be purposeful. It should also have something to say to the viewer-to be meaningful in some way.
    So here is me, trying to put this into action. I’m at the Star of India, one of few remaining tall shps, in downtown San Diego. My first impulse is to shoot the whole tall ship. This would make a decent image and probably a great postcard.
    So, I made myself slow down and ask what it is I want to convey. The answer was the majesty of the rigging and the feeling that a sailor would get looking up at it. Especially someone who has to climb it to furl/unfurl the sails. I found that, to get the shot I wanted, moving inches made a big difference. So, here’s my first try:
    I liked this shot, but felt that the top right was too distracting - that it brought the viewer’s eye immediately to the wrong part of the photo. So, with the help of Photoshop, I cloned it out:
    I find this one much more balanced and pleasing. I should add that the geometry is also intentional-sets of diagonals. I hope you like it. Comments welcome.

    A Rant About What's "In" in Photography

    I’ve been hanging out on a site which features some absolutely amazing photography - .500px.com. It’s enough to bring out feelings of inadequacy.
    They have a rating system, based on how many view a photo and subsequently “like” or “favorite” the photo, giving it a numerical ranking. Much of it I agree with and some of it I don’t. What I see there that I don’t agree with is what I see other places. There are three trends in photography that are, IMHO, becoming cliched and cringe-worthy:
    1. Over-saturated sunsets, sky, reflections. This is done in post processing and it’s as though the photographer can’t help but push the saturation slider higher and higher until the shot no longer looks like anything seen in the natural world. Sure, a little boost is fine, but I’m seeing a lot of love for what is more digital art than photography. Here’s one example and another.
    2. HDR photos that are “overcooked.” HDR is high dynamic range where one shoots a bracketed set of shots of the same thing at different exposures and blends them into one image. It preserves shadow and highlight detail that normally wouldn’t be seen in a single photo due to the enormous contrast of that shot. Can be very useful. Problem is, again, that some take this to a place where the created image is totally unnatural, such as this one.
    3. The “soft water” look. This is ubiquitous. The photographer is striving to create a long exposure to give flowing water a silky look. Fine a couple of times, but it’s really wearing on me. Such as this one. Although it is stunning, it really should be in a category of its own. Again, digital arts.
    So, having said all that, I guess I should post a photo. This was taken from our small hotel room in Riomaggiore, Cinque Terra, Italy. What I like about it is the visual contrast between the rather new window, sill, and curtains with the primitive look of the alley outside. There is a comments section below and, as always, comments are most welcome.

    People Head Shots

    NOTE: I have finally managed to enable comments under blog entries. You can post a comment using a Facebook, Twitter, or Google login. The best part is that you can also post as a Guest by clicking in the Comments box and check the box that says “I’d rather post as guest.” No matter what you choose, your Email is totally unseen and safe. I’d appreciate any comments that you might have about the photos, the blog, or anything to do with photography.

    I have been so busy traveling this summer that I haven’t had a chance to update this blog. I’m tempted to put up some of what I shot in Hawaii, but am still going through 4,000+ photos: deleting, rating, adjusting. So, that will have to wait a bit. Since I posted some animal head shots, I thought a logical thing to do would be to follow up with a couple of head shots of people.
    I don’t often photograph people. Not that I’m antisocial, but I’m a bit uneasy taking photos of strangers. It can be intrusive and I always ask for permission before doing so. For some reason unknown to me, I have had some success in capturing children. Not kidnapping them, but often getting a good shot. To me, a good photograph of a person should embody something of the essence of the person, or at least what I perceive it to be at the time.

    The photo below was taken when Denise and I visited Fiji. We took a boat to some remote islands. On one of the stops there was a very small island where it was apparent that those living there made a meager living selling trinkets to tourists. One woman had a stand and with her was her daughter. I like to think that the photograph below captures the feeling of poverty this girl endures along with a certain wariness and curiosity.
    Fiji 736
    This is a shot I took in Mykonos, Greece at a monastery of one of the monks. I converted it to black and white, as I feel that it evokes a certain feeling that I can’t quite articulate. I just like the photo.
    Mykolos 27 jpg

    Animal Head Shots

    And here’s one more example. This hawk’s look just says, “I’m a raptor! Head out!”
    I’m embarrassed to say that, although I’ve photographed the bird below in the past, I don’t know its name. It resides in the San Diego Zoo Safari Park Wings of the World when you first enter. My reason for posting these shots is to show that, when shooting animals, including birds, that it isn’t necessary to frame the whole animal. Sometimes you want to ask yourself what feature stands out and zoom in on that. In this case, it’s the eyes and the blue feathers or the intense look in the hawk’s eye. This was not enhanced for color-this is the true color of the bird.
    CSLNIkon 1033

    Why I Like This Shot

    I haven’t been posting a lot of photos here and decided that part of that is letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. I tend to want anything I post to be a 10 on the 10 scale (not that all of my previous entries are). I’ve decided instead to just start publishing with a little more regularity photos that I like. The best test for me is to set a photo as my Mac desktop picture. If it stays up a week or more, it’s got something I find at least a little compelling. This photo is an example. It was taken at sunrise on an early morning sport fishing trip in Cabo (I caught one tuna, slightly larger than the marlin bait we had).
    I was intentional about framing the sunrise here as it came up at the junction of the two hills.

    Cabo Sunrise
    There was something more about the photo that appealed to me. One of the things I definitely liked was the transitions of grays to blues from water to dawn sky. As I looked at it, there seemed to be something about the composition that I liked. Not a “rule-of-thirds,” for sure. I finally hit on is that there is a series of “V” shapes beginning with the small, obvious one where the sun rises between the foreground hill and Land’s End to its right. I’ve annotated a version below to show you what I mean. To make a comment, click on the Facebook icon, which will take you to my FB page, where I have a post about this update. Thank you.
    Cabo Sunrise annotated


    I took this photo of my friend at the Wild Animal Park in San Diego (now named Safari Park). It was shot with the old Nikon D70, a remarkable camera in its day. Taken as both the ostrich and I were moving, so I used AF-C in burst mode at 1/400, f13.

    Photographs as Mood

    _DSC2192_DxO - watermarked
    It may be due to some life experiences I’ve had recently, or it may be the nature of the photo, but I keep getting drawn back to this shot I took in New Zealand.
    It’s not the normal “soft-water, long exposure, neutral density filter” shot that to me has become cliched. It doesn’t have that foreground object to give it scale and perspective. What it does have - to me - is a strong emotional connection.
    So, to give some justification for posting this rather unusual photo, I’ll quote from Bruce Barnbaum:

    “A meaningful photograph–a successful photograph– does one of several things. It allows, or forces, the viewer to see something that he has looked at many times without really seeing; it shows him something he has never previously encountered; or, it raises questions–perhaps ambiguous or unanswerable–that create mysteries, doubts, or uncertainties. In other words, it expands our vision and our thoughts. It extends our horizons. It evokes awe, wonder, amusement, compassion, horror, or any of a thousand responses. It sheds new light on our world, raises questions about our world, or creates its own world.

    I would be very interested in your reaction to this. If it engenders an emotional response, I would love to know what that is. If it’s not your idea of photography, I’d like to hear that as well. As I don’t have a comments section, please take a moment to contact me using the form on the “Contact Me” page. Thank you for your time.

    Antelope Canyon in Black & White

    Antelope Canyon in Black & White

    Recently I was honored to be invited to be a contributor to renowned photographer Joseph Linashcke’s site, http://www.thebwphoto.com. As per the title, the site is devoted to black and white photography. I published a black and white conversion of one of my Antelope Canyon photos, which is, of the writing, up near the top of the page. The canyon is so rich with color that until recently I had never imagined converting any of the images to b/w. I was pleased by the results of converting the photo on the bwphoto site as removing the color gave such a strong emphasis to the forms that erosion has created in the sandstone.
    I thought I’d give another image a try. This one appeals to me because of the strong contrasts in lighting, the source of the lighting coming from out of the frame, and the way the light gives different emphasis to the layers of erosion. It evokes a feeling of other-worldiness and mystery in me. Your mileage may vary.


    Poinsettias - Princeville, Kauai, Hawaii
    Flowers are such an interesting subject. They’re more or less static, enabling the photographer to plan the shot and experiment. The main decision is what perspective you want the image to have. Do you want to draw attention to a part of the whole? A design within the flower? Pistil and stamen? A bee, butterfly, or hummingbird attracted to the flower? A flower set against a field, as in the banner above? The focus of this shot is on the dew on the poinsettia leaves, with the green leaves serving the composition of the photo and the diagonal balance of the cyathia, or flowers.
    You can click on the image to open a larger version in a new window.
    More flower photos here.


    Ravello, Amalfi Coast, Italy
    Amalfi 370
    Every photographer has their favorite subjects. Two of mine are doors and windows. I’ll spare you the metaphorical gibberish, as I really can’t say exactly what attracts me to this subject. In my travels, I’ve had an opportunity to photograph some pretty interesting ones. Particularly in Greece and Italy I’ve seen both the ornate and the ancient. The attraction, for me, in this photo is the boarding up of the door and the combination of old rotting wood, rusted iron, the crumbling stone it is set in, and, of course, the graffiti. At least I assume it’s graffiti. If anyone reads Italian and wants to set me straight, please do so. You can see more photos of doors here.

    Form & Color

    Virginia Icicle
    I have found myself becoming more and more attracted to photos of form and color that don’t reveal themselves immediately as a recognizable form or object, or that have some interesting geometry. I remember many years ago hearing Terry Gross conduct another of her amazing interviews on “Fresh Air,” with the 20th century composer John Cage. Cage was speaking of the beauty of everyday objects, such as a broken Coke bottle. I have made an effort when shooting to look for things which show a hidden beauty. I guess, in a sense, they are abstract.
    The above was shot when we were driving on a cold but sunny November day outside Roanoke, Virginia. There was a bank about six feet high to the side of the road, and the water which ran over had created some icicles. This was shot at ISO 400, f/8, 1/250 of a second at 200mm with an 18-200 Nikon VR lens. The light was most intense on the formation on the right, with reflections of the blue sky on the left. Some more samples of similar shots can be seen here.

    Black & White Conversion

    Taupo, New Zealand

    Turangi 261 (2)
    This photo was taken at Craters of the Moon Geothermal Walk. It’s an otherworldly experience to walk through here, with gasses rising from random openings in the earth. There is a very sulfurous smell to the place, as there are eruptions yearly, which cause vestigial gas to leak out all around you. Anyway, on to the photo. By the way, clicking on the photo brings up a larger version in a new window.

    The original shot was taken as the sun was lowering in the sky, although it is obscured by the gasses. Shot on a D300 with an 18-200VR lens at ISO 400, focal length of 22mm, f/14, 1/800 sec, and +1 exposure value. I have posted the original below. As I would look through these shots in my Aperture library, I kept coming back to this one, as I liked the composition and point of view, but could never adjust the color image to my satisfaction. It occurred to me that this would be a good candidate for a black and white conversion. I cropped the blown-out sun from the original and sent it to my Silver Efex Pro plug-in. I can’t remember all of the adjustments I made there, other than lightening the foreground to bring out more detail and some of the wisps of gas and adding some contrast to the sky.
    My best test of how well I like a photo is when I frame it and look at it for a length of time. I matted this one with photo white matting, a 2 inch border and a simple black frame. Some of my shots get framed and taken down within a week. This one has been up over a year and I still like it for the composition and sense of movement. And, I guess, because it follows the “rule of thirds.”
    Below is the original before conversion. You can see a handful of other shots from the area around Taupo here. Turangi 261 (1)

    Antelope Canyon

    Antelope Canyon-My Favorite Day of Shooting

    AC-01 2

    Crete Monastery

    Arkadi Monastery: Crete, Greece

    Crete 80
    This is a shot of the Arkadi Monastery through the central ingress/egress point. Clicking on the photo will bring up a much larger version. What interests me in this photo are both the classic “frame in a frame” aspect and the architectural symbolism. While this is on Greek soil, it is very much Roman architecture. The great contribution of the Romans in architecture is the arch, shown here in prominence. Its invention and development made the building of so many cathedrals throughout Europe possible. Despite being a Greek Orthodox monastery, the history is one of control by the Ottomans and the Venitians. Thus, the feeling of entering Greece through Rome.
    There is a lot of symmetry in this shot, broken only by the wall to the right and the courtyard on the left. It was shot at ISO 200, f/5.6, and 1/250th to emphasize the foreground. Almost no post-processing was done.
    A handful of more Crete photos can be seen

    My Best Photo

    Horseshoe Bend – Page, Arizona

    HorseshoeBend 37 - Version 3 - Version 2 (2)
    My wife, Denise, and I were taking a photo safari through the Southwest U.S.: Grand Canyon, Page (Horseshoe Bend, Colorado River, Antelope Canyon slot canyons, Lake Powell and Rainbow Bridge), Bryce, Zion, Arches, and more. We had come back from a rafting trip down the Colorado River on a nice, sunny day and were in our hotel room about an hour before sunset. I knew that we were a short drive and about a one mile hike from the spot in the photo, looking down on the bend. This is looking down on the Colorado River where it makes a 270° turn. The problem was that sky had gone leaden gray. Figuring I came a long way for a chance to shoot unique vistas, so I packed up the Nikon D300, my Manfrotto CF tripod, the Nikon DX ED 18-200VR, and the Tokina Pro DX 11-16mm f/2.8.
    Overcoming some mild acrophobia and slippery sandstone, I set up my tripod in the position above. To my surprise and delight, as the sun began to set, the cloud cover began breaking up also. Despite that, there were low-hanging clouds. I had about 30 seconds to get the shot above, on tripod with the ultra-wide 11-16 lens. I stopped down to f/18 at 11mm to get the rays of the setting sun and ISO 640 for the waning light (which is about the D300’s limit).
    I added a little saturation in post-processing, but that was about it. To this day, and after tens of thousands of shots, I still consider this my best.