Today’s post is by Jack Larson, a local photographer who shares my love of both trees and creating impressionistic images with his camera. He’s been sending me images and techniques via email since we started exploring Artistic Blur, so I asked him to write something to share with you all too. Jack’s enthusiasm always makes me smile. Enjoy!
Kat asked me to do a guest blog on “Artistic Blur,” the theme of this month’s “Exploring with a Camera” series. I am drawn to artistic blur, or what I would call “artistic effects”, for two reasons. First of all, we are drowning in gorgeous photographs. For the Fine Art photographer, a fundamental question is, “How do I create a photograph that we all have not seen a hundred times before?” Part of the beauty of the techniques that Kat mentions in her essay, plus some other techniques, is that no matter what the quality of the results, these techniques create unique outcomes that even the creating photographer cannot repeat. I like that.
Secondly, Kat mentions being drawn to “Impressionistic” photographs. I am what one might call a “nature mystic.” When I am in the field, I feel pulled through the lens into a mystical union with whatever is in front of me. Impressionistic photographs are the best that I can come up with to express what I feel at the deepest level. And I am always way more concerned about what my heart and soul feel than what my eyes see. In this, a word about Zen. Although I am not a Zen practitioner, Zen is the spiritual tradition that lies at the foundation of my photography.
Oh yes, there is a final reason for being drawn to these techniques; they are fun. If you don’t like to play, and play without concern about particular results, this kind of photography probably is not for you. But if you do like to play, you are in for a ball. Astonishment and surprise are around every corner. Try to hang on (and enjoy the ride).
Click and Drag This is the classic technique to create an Impressionistic look. I came across it first in the work of William Neill (the outstanding Yosemite photographer). Most cameras will do this (I use a Nikon D700). Set your camera to its smallest aperture and to its lowest ISO. This will enable you to use a slow shutter speed. If you cannot get a slow enough shutter speed for the effect that you want, put on a polarizer, or better yet, a variable ND filter. Then, hand-held, click the shutter and after a fraction of a second (this fraction of a second will create some definition in your subject); drag the camera in the direction that you want the blur to go (in the two examples, I clicked, held, and then dragged up). Check your results in your LCD. When you start doing this, you probably will find that you need to drag either slower or faster. As with all of the techniques, this one involves developing skill. If you fail at first, so what; do it again, modifying your technique. You can play with dragging the camera in all sorts of directions. If you want a pure abstract, don’t hesitate once you click the shutter.
Zoom I rarely use this, but it is great for giving a sense of speed. I use a tripod because of the control that it gives me in stabilizing the camera and lens. The way that I do it requires a zoom lens. Use pretty much the same settings as for Click and Drag. You can start with either the wide end or the telephoto end of the lens. When you click the shutter, zoom the lens to the opposite end. Then try it the other direction. You need to have your focal point set to the center of the apex of the zoom effect. More often than not, I end up needing to crop the image in post processing. The skill is in how far to zoom, how fast to zoom, how much to not zoom during the exposure to give definition. The toughest part is in getting the apex of the zoom where you want it.
Dancing (or Heebie-Jeebies) There is a feature in many Nikon DSLR cameras that allow you to take multiple exposures (up to 10) that are blended together in the camera after the last exposure is taken. You do this hand-held. You go to the feature in the Shooting Menu and set the number of exposures that you want to blend. Take an exposure; move the camera slightly and take the second exposure; move the camera again and take the third exposure; and so on. After the last exposure, wait, and voila! magic. This technique takes a fair amount of skill to get the results that you want.
Pin-wheel This technique also requires a camera that blends multiple exposures. You also need a zoom lens with a lens collar (the collar is attached to your tripod; this allows the camera to turn freely while the lens is stable). The wider the range of the zoom, the more fun. You set the Multiple Exposures feature to 10 and the lens to its widest focal length. The focal point needs to be constant throughout; this creates the center of the pin-wheel effect. Take a shot; twist the camera slightly and zoom slightly further out and take a second shot; keep doing this so that when you take your 10th shot, the lens is zoomed as far out as it will go.
Shooting Through This technique is something that I rarely use. When it works, it is very cool. You want part of what is in the frame close to the lens, and the part that you want sharp some distance away. A large aperture works best. Like the other techniques, experience is invaluable.
Filters and White Balance settings Although this does not all fit under the category of artistic “blur”, it is something that you can do in-camera to create an artistic effect. There are various filters that you can put on your lens: infrared, blur (not only blur filters, but you can smear vaseline on the front of the lens); etc., etc. You also can set your White Balance to create effect (in daylight conditions, a Tungsten setting will create a blue caste).
There are all sorts of other things that you can do to be creative in the capture phase of photography. These are simply the ones that I use. I would recommend checking out Tony Sweet’s books or tutorials.
Next month, you will be looking at creating artistic effects in post-processing. All of the above effects can be created in post-processing. I am not one who thinks that we need to do everything in-camera. Post-processing is as much a part of my creative work as it was for those who worked in a wet darkroom (such as Ansel Adams). Remember, play, play, play; and have fun!!