October 21, 2016

Architecture Experiments (Halifax, Nova Scotia)

Digital original
One of the challenges I've been trying to work through is how to deal with my lack of attraction to modern/new architecture; I have such a love for the Gothic/medieval period that anything remotely new just isn't of interest. Yet I live in a city where the oldest structure is from 1749. So I have begin to experiment with abstracting architecture, in an attempt to celebrate what I like, without having to focus on what I don't.
Digital original
My early experiments are successful, to a degree - I made long-exposure motion-blurred images of a new apartment building, and then experimented with post production techniques mirroring and blended images together, to further abstract the subject.
Digital original
In the end, I am not certain it does what I am looking for, but I do think it is visually successful, and worth continuing to experiment with. Will it become a major new direction, and solve my frustration, I cannot say, but it is, at the very least, not a total failure. 

October 14, 2016

Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption Cathedral (Moncon, New Brunswick)

Digital original, 17 image exposure blend, 3 image stitch
Created during an architectural photography workshop, this image relies on all the things I usually bring to architecture - a tilt-shift lens and both exposure blending, and panoramic stitching. I was not, to be totally honest, all that thrilled about the architecture, being several steps removed from the English Gothic I so love to photograph.
Digital original, 9 image exposure blend
Given how many times I have photographed stained glass, this is one of the few images I have made that really captures how the light of the glass can influence the room into which it falls.
Digital original, 21 image exposure blend, 3 image sttich
I don't think I will ever tire of photographing ceilings - there is something quite thrilling about seeing such a dramatic space rendered well in a photograph.

August 25, 2016

Post Production 2: Processing, Renaming & Proofing

There are multiple stages to post production, and while they are seldom carried out in isolation, I've decided to blog about each part separately, to provide some insight into my personal process, and how it's being applied to the 10,000 images created during the Ingrid portfolio project.

While culling is undeniably the primary focus of the early part of port production, inevitably, as I work through the cull, I inevitably come across images which need a quick processing fix. This is often just a white balance adjustment, or minor tone correction, and I will take a moment during culling to make the fix. In other cases however, the issue is larger, and will takes a significant amount of effort to take an image from the camera and create the image I'd seen in my mind's eye. This level of image processing takes a back seat until the bulk of the culling is complete; at that time, my focus shifts, and more and more time is spent processing images, until this become the dominant focus of the post production process. By the time the final culling decisions are made, each and every image remaining in the Work in Progress catalogue has had at least some image processing applied.

Except when noted, all my image processing is done in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom; unlike the culling however, I don't do any image processing (beyond the occasional crop) from within Lightroom Mobile on the iPad Pro, as it is not colour profiled, or used in a controlled environment  (my desktop computer is both colour profiled with a Spyder, and within a well designed work space with no natural light, neutral coloured walls, and appropriate lighting.
In some cases (above), processing can be as simple as a white balance adjustment (from 5150K to 5500K, +10 M) and a minus highlight and minus blue luminosity adjustment to regain the tonality in the sky. In a further revision (not shown here) I retouched out the reinforcement bars from the windows behind Ingrid.
Besides the obvious crop, the above processed image has a much warmer white balance, and some local adjustments to the shadow tones of the rock and Ingrid's figure upon it. The crop was added to strengthen the horizontal quality of the image, and remove some of the weight from the lower foreground.
For the majority of images made in colour, I also made a virtual copy within Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, and converted it to monochrome. In most cases, this is simply a B&W conversion done manually in Lightroom, adjusting the sliders as needed. In some cases, however, local adjustments were needed to adjust the image tone. In the above example, both the foliage around Ingrid, and Ingrid's hair were lightened to give the result I was seeking.
The most common advanced processing technique applied to the images made in Ireland was perspective correction. While I had my 17mm tilt-shift with me, in many cases that wasn't the right focal length for a given setting, so I had to use other lenses (predominantly the Canon 16-35mm f/4) and then correct the distortion afterwards; the above image is a good example of how well the obvious distortion of an ultra-wide lens can be corrected using a program like Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.
Another processing step that was widely applied to images was a B&W conversion applied to all the images made with my infrared converted Canon 5Ds; the above example shows a comparison between an out-of-camera image (with a daylight colour balance) and the same image with my standard infrared conversion applied. I should be noted that this processing is a Default Development Setting applied on import, but it is one of the best example of how necessary image processing can be!
An even smaller number of photos received even more intense processing - these images are made up from multiple source files. For 120 of the final images, like the above photo, multiple images with different exposures were blended together to create a final photograph with a much longer tonal range than possible with a single exposure. This is done either in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom using HDR Photomerge, or in some cases, in Adobe Photoshop, using layers and masks to manually blend the images together
In another 41 images, like the above photo, the multiple images are stitched together (like puzzle pieces), to make a larger image from smaller parts. I did this in either Adobe Photoshop Lightroom using Panoramic Photomerge, or in some more challenging cases, in Adobe Photoshop, using layers and masks to manually assemble the images together.

This is a technique I have used since 2003; initially I utilized it to increase image resolution, but with 50mp images coming out of my cameras, I use it primarily when I need a wider lens angle, when I know an image will be a very narrow aspect ratio (as in the above image) and wish to avoid cropping, or, occasionally, when I think even 50mp isn't going to be enough resolution to print as large as I'd like. 
Once all the images have been processed (it is important to realize this is a quick, basic processing - fine image processing is a much more involved process that happens later in the timeline), I do a final review and cull out any additional deadwood, or any images that ended up having serious issues that couldn't be corrected in processing.

At this point, I rename all the original files, giving each a unique file name, as opposed to the generic one assigned by the camera. I use a system established in my early film days, beginning with the forma (DI for Digital Image), the year (16), and because this is a special project, an initial for the project - in this case, RI for Republic of Ireland. This sequence (DI-16-RI-) is then followed by four digits, permitting each image made during the project to be found easily, simply by knowing the file name.
With the files renamed, the next step is to create print proofs. Using the Print Module, each image is to be printed to a JPEG file, creating a document that will print to 5"x7". Using a black background, I add a small 0.1" border around the sides and top, and 0.3" border on the bottom, where I add the file name and basic photo information.

The outcome of this step was a little over 1,300 proofs prints; about 1/3 of those are black and white versions of colour images images (i.e. about 850 images have been proofed, with about 400 of those having both colour and black and white versions printed).
The primary purpose of the proofs is to permit the images from Ireland to be reviewed independent of technology. It is a real pleasure to simply leafing through prints, and while computer screens and iPads are nice, there is nothing like laying out 60 or more prints of a table, and being able to move them around with ease.
A stack of 1,300 5"x7" prints is quite impressive to see - above they are divided by location, to give some idea of the number of sessions I have to work through to narrow the selection down to the final portfolio. For the next month or more, these proofs will be the focus of much of my attention, slowly editing the 1,300 prints down to the final 12 to be included in the portfolio...for each image kept, over 100 must be set aside! 
For storage, I have kept the proofs divided by location (30 in all), separated them with a sheet of 2 ply acid free mat board and placed them in photo safe storage boxes (I chose green boxes both because they suited Ireland, and will stand out from the rest of my boxed film and prints, which are in deep maroon boxes.

August 16, 2016

Irish Radio Interview

Last week I was interviewed about the Ireland Portfolio on Today FM, a national radio station in Ireland...and today I learned that the interview is available online - if you go to Today FM and advanced the "Listen Back" to 5:54, you will hear the interview!

Sadly, no photos on the radio!

August 11, 2016

Feature Article in The Irish Sun

I woke up this morning to lean that a feature article about my work in Ireland with Ingrid was published this morning in Dublin, in The Irish Sun newspaper. Above is an image of how the article appears in the paper.
The title of the article (Eireann no Bra) is a play on words, as Éirinn go Brách translates as Ireland forever!  Below is the online publication of the article, which features uncropped versions of some of the images printed in the paper!

July 29, 2016

Post Production 1: Culling

There are multiple stages to post production, and while they are seldom carried out in isolation, I've decided to blog about each one separately, to provide some insight into my personal process, and how it's being applied to the 10,000 images created during the Ingrid portfolio project.

By far the most important step in the post production process is culling - the act of getting rid of surplus images, and identifying the images to be retained (the best ones, usually).

My first step upon returning to Canada was to copy all the images onto my desktop computer, and add them to my Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Work-in-Progress catalogue. Once this was completed (and while the catalogue was busy making 1:1 Previews and Smart Objects for all 10,000 images I created in Ireland) I made a Collection for each day of the project, added the images from each day to each collection, and then pressed the Sync with mobile box next to each collection. This added the daily folders to the Lightroom Mobile app on my iPad Pro, and created proxy files (Smart Objects) on the iPad Pro for each image...sadly, this is a slow process that took more than 48 hours to complete.
The outcome of this process, however, is quick and convenient access to all the images I made in Ireland on my iPad Pro, without having to be sitting in my office at my desktop computer, and without the significant time delay that working with the original RAW files introduces. Even on my high performance desktop, with 32gb of RAM, every time I click on a new 50mp image, there's a several second delay before the full resolution preview of the file is loaded...on the iPad Pro, I can flip between images as fast I wish, without lag.

With all the images on the iPad Pro, I began the process of separating the images into two piles - Picks and Rejects. On the first pass through the photos (and it takes some time to work through 10,154 images), I rejected junk - test exposures, obvious mistakes, botched compositions or seriously flawed poses. Without an careful reflection or time spent on minutia, this eliminated close to 300 images in a relatively short time.
 The next step was a little slower; again using the iPad Pro, I went through the images a little more carefully, and rejected any photographs with more subtle issues - bad expressions, subject motion or botched compositions. Again, this was a relatively quick process, and lead to another 800+ images being rejected. Already I had culled more than 10% of the project images, and I had yet to spend any time on individual images!
With the first two passes completed using the iPad Pro, the real work begins. This is done within Adobe Photoshop Lightroom on my desktop computer; after filtering out the rejects, I proceeded to continue culling - this time weeding down duplicate images to the single best image.

One of the reasons I made so many images over the two weeks of working with Ingrid was that I believe in taking advantage of technology; when working with a subject that doesn't move (like architecture), I tend to be very methodical in my approach - checking as much as possible (focus, composition etc) after making an image, before moving on. As a result, I seldom delete more than 30% of the images made under such conditions.

When working with a model, even in an ideal environment, the above approach is a little more challenging as it seriously slows down the process (just ask Steve Richard). When working in new and unfamiliar locations, checking each and every image after making it is even more of an impediment to a fluid workflow, so instead, I tend to make a handful of images at at time, using volume to provide a number of options for each composition.  When this approach is combined with low light (such as the images above, created in a dimly lit room in an abbey), I tend to make even more images. With standing poses it is challenging to stay still during a 1/6th of a second exposure, so to ensure I have something sharp, I make 9-exposures,  which usually ensures I have at least one without blur. Thus in the screen capture above, of 72 separate exposures, there are actually only 6 actual compositions being created...leading to 66 of 72 images being culled, and eventually deleted (in this specific example, almost 92% of the images are culled).
The easiest way to cull down the groups of images to the best one is using the Compare View in Lightroom; multiple images may be selected before entering the Compare View, but only two images are displayed at any time, with the view synced, so you can zoom in, and move around at 100% magnification, to check the focus, motion and other details, before culling an image. Even with 1:1 Previews made in advance, this can be a little slow, with a couple of second spent loading each image; still, after a couple of focused sessions working at culling down duplicates, I managed to eliminate close to 5,000 images, moving them into the Reject pile.
The other reason for the high image count is because of some of the advanced multi-image processing techniques I use; while I do fewer multi-image stitches now (with 50mp cameras there are few times I feel I need more resolution), I still use multi-image techniques to deal with high contrast subjects (what many photographers call HDR imaging, and what I refer to as Exposure Blending). I have several hundred source files for exposure blended images, with the average resulting image using 6 source files to make up the final photograph (thus 300 source images make up 50 final photographs).

After 10 days of working on the images from Ireland, I have 2 days of work fully culled and mostly edited, and a good dent made in the other days. I still have close to 4,000 images to work through, though I suspect close to 50% of them will end up in the reject pile.

Below are screen captures of the original catalogue numbers (left) and the numbers remaining after 14 days of culling images in the Work-in-Progress catalogue. Only the first two dates (June 25th and June 27th) are finished.

July 14, 2016

Ireland Photography Complete

This past weekend Ingrid and I arrived back in Halifax, Nova Scotia after two intense weeks of working together in the Republic of Ireland creating the images for the Ingrid, the Ireland Portfolio.

The trip was a great success, in spite of some challenging weather, narrow Irish roads, and the seductive nature of cod & chips (for me) and actual Guinness on tap (for others).

In twelve days of photography, Ingrid and I worked together in over thirty locations, and though it is early in the culling and processing stage, I already know we have made some of the strongest fine art nudesI have made in years!
During the project, I created a little over 10,000 images (about 2/3 colour and 1/3 infrared), utilizing over 640gb of hard-drive space. In addition to 8,800 images of Ingrid, this count includes around 40gb of video files, and around 2,200 images of miscellany (urbanscapes and landscapes for the most part, but who can resist photographing wild horses, and four super-cute kittens?). After culling, I suspect the number of finished images will be around 1000-2000, but that is just a rough guess.
With our return to Canada, the Second Stage of the Ingrid, the Ireland Portfolio (making the images) is complete, and the Third Stage begins (first culling, then editing the photographs, posting the Photo Diaries, and ultimately, selecting and printing the final twelve portfolio images). I have already copied the images from the travel drive onto my desktop computer's Drobo drive, and have added them to my Work in Progress Lightroom catalogue, where I will process with the culling and processing process.
Initially, however, the vast majority of my work is being done on an iPad Pro; the Lightroom Mobile app makes the culling of 50mp images MUCH faster than the same process in a Lightroom catalogue; this is because Lightroom Mobile creates renders a smart preview of the raw photos in the Lightroom Catalogue and syncs that smart preview to iPad. Smart previews are smaller versions of the original raw file that retain all the flexibility of a raw file at a fraction of the size.  Using this approach, I have already culled over 2,500 images in a couple of days!
The below map shows the majority of the sites Ingrid and worked in (some images have not been GPS tagged yet, so some locations are not represented on the map). 
 All documentary photos by Angela Creaser

July 09, 2016

Ireland XXXIV (Dublin, Ireland)

The last full day in Ireland was spent driving back to Dublin (a leisurely 3 hours, not counting time for lunch), then exploring an Irish museum (all Irish National Museums are free, which is both awesome, and incredibly civilized), returning the rental car, and finally, walking around Dublin at night.
The bulk of our afternoon was spent in the National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts and History, which is located in an old English military barracks. It was huge, and very interesting to walk around and enjoy as a tourist.
As part of the exploration of the museum, I couldn't resist taking photograph of this stair well - less a tourist image, and more a continuation of my love affair with stairs!After a fabulous final meal in Dublin (yum, cod and chips in a pub), we took a leisurely walk through the city and back across the River Liffey (which happens to have a tributary called the River Poddle!). We caught the bus to our hotel, had the very interesting experience of riding a bus through the hordes of people coming out of a Beyonce concert, and then caught one last sleep in Dublin, before our flight back to Canada!

July 08, 2016

Ireland XXXIII (Murrooghtooty North, Ireland)

The last location Ingrid and I would work in during the production of the 2016 Ingrid portfolio was the rocky shoreline near Black Head, where the rocky formations of the Burren sink into the wild Atlantic Ocean. This would be our third session working with the landscape of the Burren, and it happened to be the most magical.

After parking the car (right beside all the other tourist cars), Ingrid and I set off, down the hill towards the ocean; the car park played host to a couple of dozen tourists enjoying the broad views of the wild landscape, but even 30 metres from it, there were hardly any people in sight. By the time we'd walked a couple of hundred meters from the road, all tourists had dwindled to dots...but some creatures were moving through the landscape before us...horses!

I cannot think of a cooler thing to have happened on the final day of photography with Ingrid in ireland - wild horses. After some delay (photographing the horses, of course), Ingrid and I began working together, using a large boulder to protect Ingrid from being spied by any roadside tourists with super-zoom camera or mega-binoculars.

The first space Ingrid and I worked in happened to have a white horse in the background, wandering around eating grass. Having only worked with a model and a horse once before (and ingrid was the focus for that session as well), it shouldn't come a a surprise that I had no idea how to direct the horse...so I just kept moving my position to keep the horse in frame. I used a long lens to compress the distance between Ingrid and the mare, but decided to use a larger aperture to ensure the focus of the composition remained on Ingrid.

I made dozens of images every time the horse raised its head (which it didn't do often), but the real award for this session goes to Ingrid, who couldn't see the horse at all...but could hear it's munching and movement all too clearly, and was certain it would only inches behind her through the entire session.

After finishing with the first set of photographs, Ingrid dressed, and we moved further along the shore...though it wasn't clear if we were keeping pace with the horses, or if they were keeping an eye on us. Either way, as Ingrid worked on the rocky sides of an old stone enclosure (perhaps a building foundation, but more likely an animal enclosure), three of the wild herd quietly cropped the grass in the background.

As the horses moved to graze further down the beach, I shifted my camera angle to look back towards Black Head, the defining element in the landscape. It was challenging at times to strike a balance between Ingrid's figure in the foreground and the incredibly vast landscape around her, but she was patient, and felt my obvious enthusiasm for the location (plus, she was still thoroughly enjoying the fact the session began with wild horses!).

The final set of images created at Murrooghtoohy North, and indeed of the 2016 Ingrid portfolio, were if Ingrid posing on the pavement itself. A challenging environment to work in, I had to constantly balance the scale of Ingrid within the frame against including as much of the surroundings as possible...and just as we began to hit our stride, it started to rain. Ingrid and I quickly finished the last composition, and after she hurriedly dressed, and cameras were packed for travel, we headed back to the car...cautiously...wet karsk is fiercely slippery, as I learned the hard way more than once...

...did I mention there were wild horses!

Ireland XXXII (Meggagh Tomb, Ireland)

After finishing up at Faher North, Ingrid and I headed towards the coast, to the shoreline near Black Head, at the very western edge of the Burren. On the way however, we passed an unmarked tomb in a field by the road. We'd passed this two days earlier, but didn't have the time (or the weather) to permit a stop. Today was different however...and after carefully parking the car slightly off the narrow country road, Ingrid and I clambered into the field.
The land around the tomb was well cleared, with more sign of bovine activity than man, but the tomb was still impressive, overlooking a shallow valley below, and the hills rolling to the west. After a careful pause to listen for approaching cars, Ingrid quickly disrobed, and moved through a couple of poses before, and then upon, the ancient monument.
At just under 2 minutes, this has to hold the record for the shortest session Ingrid and I have had, but with easy visibility of the tomb from the distant road (not to mention all the surrounding fields), both Ingrid and I felt it wise to keep the session short and sweet...so after making a couple of dozen hand-held images of a full set of poses, Ingrid donned her clothes, and returned to the car and resumed our drive to Black Head, and our final location for the project.

Ireland XXXI (Faher North, Ireland)

The last day of photographing Ingrid in Ireland dawned overcast and bright, with only an occasional shower forecast for the entire island. After the travel-intensive schedule of the day before, we opted to stay "a little closer" today, and headed back to the Burren; I felt our earlier session at Cappaghkennedy didn't capture all the location had to offer.

The first location Ingrid and I set out to work in was directly opposite Cappaghkennedy; we parked in the same place, but this time headed east, following a ragged field-stone wall across the landscape, until we were out of sight of the road. The day was a little warmer than most have been (pushing to a balmy high of 18 Celsius), and when the sun came out from between the clouds, it became positively pleasant...a nice change for Ingrid after almost twelve days of temperatures in the mid teens.

Photographing on the hillside of Faher North was a real pleasure; with the isolation of the location came the freedom to work as we prefer, and for the couple of hours we spent exploring the beauty of the Burren, we didn't have a single interruption.

My favourite images from this session were made of Ingrid posing on a small shelf of the limestone pavement (apparently called a "clint") that rose up above the rest of the rock landscape...it was a natural formation that echoed the form of the ancient tombs that littered the landscape. This was the only time during this session that I worked with my infrared camera, and while I am happy with those results, I find the colour, with the rich greens between stone, and the sky echoing the stone in both colour and texture, even more pleasing.

As we explored the hillside, I was constantly drawn to including the distant rocky hills in my compositions, but vacillated between using a large or small aperture, unsure if I liked the background being distinct, or preferred it to be more atmospheric (the advantages of working with large aperture lenses like the 85mm f/1.2 shone here). In the end, as I already had numerous wide-angle images of the landscape with everything in focus, I opted to use the shallow depth of field images, enjoying the silky-smooth blur to the distant hills.

Ingrid and I brought this session to a close when we began to feel like we were producing more of the same; I have no doubt if we'd walked for another couple of hours, we would have discovered other wondrous settings, but having only half-a-day of photography left in the Ireland portfolio project, I felt it would be best to call this location to a close, and head to the coast for a final set of photos.

July 07, 2016

Ireland XXX (The Glen, Ireland)

If Castlegrove House was everything I had hoped for, and met every expectation I had, the Glen was something I was totally unprepared for. The photographs of it online only hint at the incredible beauty of the space, and when Ingrid and I first walked into it, it was truly awe inspiring.

The Glen is one of the most interesting natural phenomena on the Coolera peninsula of County Sligo : it is a narrow, deep and long chasm on the south face of Knocknarea, a massive rocky hill that is caped with a giant rocky cairn known as "Queen Maeve's grave". This microvalley in the limestone hillside runs for about three quarters of a mile and averages 20 metres deep, with sheer limestone cliffs on both sides.

Finding the entrance to the Glen proved quite straight-forward, thanks to detailed instructions found online, but getting in to the heart of it proved a little more challenging. Thick mud on the route in force a retreat to the car to don rubber boots, and even these proved almost futile, as I stepped into mud so deep on the way out of the Glen that I filled one boot with thick, viscous mud. I shudder to think of how inaccessible the space would be after a couple of days of rain.
In some ways, the simple question of where to start photographing in the Glen was the hardest; the location was so visually rich that everywhere I looked had potential. For lack of other guidance, began working with Ingrid at the far end of the clearing, and then we worked our way back to where we entered it. Given how verdant the location was, I worked exclusively in colour, hoping the contrast between Ingrid's skin tone and the sea of green around her would make the images pop.
It is ironic that, for all the beauty and majesty of the location, the greatest challenge Ingrid and I came up against was a familiar one - the question of posing with trees. In Nova Scotia, where trees tend to be smaller, a Nude next to a tree can look disconnected; in the Glen, with massive trees towering overhead, it was even more disproportionate. In the end, for the most part, I decided to focus on lines and form (i.e. the trunk), and not worry about the trees as a whole.
By chance more than design, Ingrid and I started working in the Glen shortly after 6pm, and through the location was full of evidence of visitors, the session was uninterrupted, primarily, I think, because of the late hour. A further advantage of starting so late in the day was that the evening light, as the sun moved lower in the western sky, began to illuminate the Glen from one end, providing some beautiful angular side-light to work with towards the end of the session.
 The final set of images made at the Glen were also amongst the most dramatic. By this time, the sun had moved low enough to rake across the sheer limestone walls that defined the Glen. Dusted with trailing ivy, the northern wall provided a perfect space for Ingrid to work in, with the soft evening sunlight falling across her body in an almost theatrical manner.
Like so many of the places Ingrid and I worked with in Ireland, I could have spent a full day (or more) working in the Glen, but between the long morning drive, and the intense session at Moyne Friary, by 7:30pm, both Ingrid and I were getting hungry. Knowing that dinner was likely an hour away in Sligo, and would be followed by at least a 2 hour drive back to our accommodation, we decided, with some reluctance, to call the session to a close, and head back to the car.