For many years, I met my good friend and photo buddy Doug Kaye almost every week on Fridays in San Francisco. We’d meet at the Ferry Building and head out walking from there – exploring the streets of San Francisco in a most leisurely way. Taking our time when we saw something that captured our interest, a scene that seemed particularly interesting.
As our tastes evolved, we became increasingly drawn to finding places with the best light, the most interesting light. Chasing the best, most interesting light and then slowing down to capture slices of time – as people would pass through while we watched and waited.
After a couple of hours walking the streets, we’d find one of our favorite places for lunch, kick back a bit and take a breather, perhaps do a quick review of the images we’d captured, and enjoy each other’s company over a shared table.
Then Covid hit… and everything changed. Those walks on the streets of San Francisco just stopped. Our photography interests changed during Covid – they had to change! The circumstances forced our hands – we had to abandon our love of street photography. We no longer had our favorites streets to walk. The people were gone. You know the feeling…
Last week we reinvigorated some of those old memories – meeting up in San Francisco again after over two years of being absent. We traveled light – no heavy camera gear – and we did do a lot of street walking. We stayed along The Embarcadero, shared lunch outdoors at Waterbar and went to see the new exhibition that’s just opened at Pier 24. We had a great time – it brought back memories of those years we’d walked the streets.
Doug summed our time up nicely:
Yeah, it was a great day. Good weather, good food, good friends. Hard to beat.
Here are a few images from our time in San Francisco – all taken with my iPhone 13 Pro Max.
For a while I’ve been enjoying being a member of Story Club by George Saunders. I’ve enjoyed his writing a lot and find that the kind of interaction that Story Club enables deepens my appreciation of his work. In addition to the insights George shares there, the comments shared by other members also add a lot of value.
One of the regular weekly things George does is to answer a few member questions. His most recent Office Hours post was good fun where he talked about having a recording session to capture a snippet of music to include on an audiobook version of one of his books. He wrote:
What I found electrifying about this experience was the way it shot me back to the early days of my writing life.
— George Saunders
That triggered me to think about the similar feelings I get when I’m doing some of my photography work – in particular, when I’m re-editing an old photo perhaps years after I originally made it. There’s something about the re-editing process that takes me back to the time I made the image – including how I felt that day, what the location was like, anything usual about the lighting or the smells of the place, perhaps any music around – that kind of stuff. There’s also often an element of serendipity at work drawing me back to a particular image and even thinking about editing it.
I find one of the most enjoyable things about photography is a certain left brain/right brain aspect it brings me. For me, the process of making an image often begins in the creative side of my brain – being drawn to the light, color or shadows of a scene – but my mindset than quickly shifts to being an analytical one as I consider the specifics of things like settings, composition, etc. required to capture the image. And maybe I become captured myself by the scene and my creative side pops back in and out.
What’s wonderful later about the editing process is re-awakening that initial creative vibe that brought me into image making in the first place. And, while that original image is static – frozen in time when I snapped the photo, the editing process can be very dynamic and non-destructive. I can play with adjustments, try different things, perhaps make some severe manipulation or just a light tweaking.
As Saunders wrote in his post: I’m really “just throwing some paint around…” and it’s such fun!
Happy New Year! Let’s work towards better outcomes in 2022 than we had in 2021! Like most I’m looking forward to leaving 2021 behind and excited about what the future could bring! Now onward to my first post of this new year!
While away for the Thanksgiving holiday I started watching the Beatles’ Get Back documentary on Disney+ while in a garage in Sonoma county. We had gone away with family and this spot was a great escape for the Thanksgiving weekend. Sometimes the place where you watch a TV show or read a book becomes it’s own memory riding alongside the show or the book in your mind.
Get Back is the remastered version by Peter Jackson that looks and sounds really good – especially given the vintage of the film that it’s based on.
Recently I was on a morning walk listening to the Holiday Special edition of the In The Hive podcast with Joe Hagen and Emily Jane Fox. Joe hosts a great segment talking to Don Was of Bluenote Records about the therapeutic beauty of listening to jazz music (especially in these Covid times). Don commented about the Beatles’ Get Back documentary – about how fascinating it was to see the Beatles working through their creative process – oh so many takes! – before they get to their final result. It was quite interesting to see them working and collaborating together – and just how much time and effort was involved in their creative process.
While I was listening to Joe and Don talking about Get Back, their comments brought to mind that Get Back is really just another metaphor for what photographers know as a contact sheet – the capture of all of the images which are winnowed down to get to a final image choice or two – or sometimes none at all.
Here’s an example of a photographer’s contact sheet:
Magnum has a wonderful book of contact sheets from many of its great photographers. When you leaf through that book you realize just how the creative process takes to work and image and reach the photographer’s ideal result.
But isn’t that process of iteration fundamental to any creative pursuit? Writing, photography, music, you name it. And, isn’t that iteration process what living itself involves? Once in a while we see the iterative steps in action when artists like the Beatles or the Magnum photographers share a behind the scenes look at how they got to their final work product. Those are special learning opportunities worth paying attention to!
Watch Get Back and you’ll find it fascinating but also a bit frustrating to see just how many steps can be required! You can see the same kind of process when you browse through Magnum’s Contact Sheets!
Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.
Science seldom proceeds in the straightforward logical manner imagined by outsiders.
During these hopefully late stages of pandemic life I’ve been doing a regular morning walk around Sharon Park and the pond.
Last week the City of Menlo Park drained and cleaned the pond. It’s looking fresh again after a summer with some algae growth.
The last couple of early mornings have been foggy which adds a moodiness to the scene. And it’s usually pretty quiet early in the morning!
I’ve recently shared on Instagram a couple of photos taken on these recent morning walks. These photos have been post-processed using the iPhone Photos app along with DistressedFX+ and Snapseed. These apps have become my usual workflow for processing on my iPhone. These tools are quick and easy to use plus they help add some drama and a painterly effect to the images.
During this time of much more limited opportunities to make new photographs, I’ve enjoyed going back through my back catalog of images (over 70,000!) and doing creative edits on them.
Most of these edits are done quickly – literally in the spur of a moment – when I get an inspiration. And the edits are almost always done on my iPhone – it’s become the workhorse of my photographic creativity!
A typical session involves me coming across an old image of mine (the Photos widget on the iPhone does an amazing job surfacing old yet interesting images). I’ll then make a duplicate of the image and open the duplicate in one of the editing programs I use (usually either Photos itself, Snapseed, or DistressedFX Pro). I’ll make whatever edits, crops, texturing, etc. that I’m inspired to make by the image itself.
A few minutes later, I’ll save the edited image back to Photos – and, if inspired, make one final edit pass – typically using Snapseed. Sometimes I’ll want to add a black border – I do that in Snapseed. Then I’ll post the image to my Instagram account. End-to-end this process usually takes 5-10 minutes. Once in a while I’ll stumble across another image in the process and go on another editing jag.
There’s a wide range of creativity that I’m applying during this process – depending on the image. Often I’ll be using DistressedFX Pro as I’ve come to love the addition of textures to many of my images. Other times I’ll take a color image to black and white, perhaps severely cropping it as well to reduce what I call “image noise” (distracting elements) and provide increased focus on what I find most interesting.
You can see some of the range of creativity in some of my images below. More can be found on my Instagram account.
For the first time since January 2020 (15 months ago) I met my good friend Doug Kaye on the streets of San Francisco. It was a glorious day around the Bay and lovely to be back out if only for an hour or two. We have both been vaccinated a while back and it finally seemed like a good time to do this.
We had a delicious pizza lunch at A16 on Chestnut Street and then headed over to The Palace of Fine Arts for a quick walk around. We both reminisced that the last time either of us had visited this wonderful old place was a few years ago when we also did it together.
Doug had a new gadget (a digital back for his Hasselblad) and I had my trusty iPhone 12 Pro Max. While Doug explored with his big camera I played tourist and snapped a few snapshots to remember the day.
After so long avoiding public places like the streets of San Francisco during the pandemic it was great to get out in the fresh air and bright sun in the City!
Back in 2018 I took a week-long photography workshop (“The Soul of a Photograph“) at Santa Fe Workshops led by Christopher Michel. Along with a dozen other photographers, we explored many aspects of creating images with impact while out and about in some of the beautiful venues in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. It was a wonderful week with a great teacher who is famous for his beautiful and prolific work.
For most of the week I was teamed up with Cira Crowell, another great photographer who lives in Santa Fe. We had a great time together working on our images – including a particularly great day working with a few models at Eaves Movie Ranch outside of Santa Fe.
The following year Cira taught a new course in Santa Fe titled The Language of Black and White which I was also able to attend. Cira is passionate about the power of black and white imagery and she built her course on some of the earlier work and teachings of George DeWolfe who had also taught at Santa Fe Workshops. Coincidentally, I had met George on a visit to Havana in 2013 and had several wonderful chats with him over buffet breakfast at our hotel that week in Havana. Note: Cira is planning to teach another section of this course in July 2021 in Santa Fe.
Taking Cira’s course in Santa Fe opened my eyes to exploring new techniques to apply black and white processing to my images – in particular how to add depth to my images so that they take on more of a three dimensional look even though they’re just two dimensional by nature. I shared some of my thoughts about the course on our local InMenlo blog. One of the exercises involved taking one of the color paintings of a great master and converting it to black and white – while adding depth.
This month I started an online version of Cira’s course as a follow-up to the in-person workshop I took two years ago. While being together in a classroom seems ideal, an online workshop comes pretty close in terms of providing the vehicle for teaching and understanding. And it’s a necessary approach in this pandemic era where our travel opportunities are so severely restricted. What falls away with the online approach are the social dynamics of being together – an important aspect to the workshops held in Santa Fe.
In the workshop, we’ve been exploring post-processing in Lightroom – converting a color image to black and white – and using some of the tools available to move beyond just the default conversion from color to black and white. Below is an example – a simple color photograph of an orange on a countertop being converted to several different versions of black and white.
One of the important lessons in this process is understanding the difference between the values in an image versus the tones in an image. Different tones can result in the same values – creating some unusual situations such as red converting to the same tone as green, for example. If you have a red subject on a green foliage background, for example, the subject will almost disappear into the background.
This can be visualized by looking at these two images that depict the luminance values vs the color tones. You’ll notice that the reds and the greens have very similar grey tones while the yellows are much brighter grey and the blues are much darker greys.
Learning the language of black and white is all about learning how to translate these hues into greys so that the image of an image is enhanced.
When converting a color photo to black and white in Lightroom Classic, the color sliders can be used to change the tonal values of the different colors. You can actually adjust the colors first in color before converting to black and white and then take the image through a quick round trip through Photoshop to preserve your color edits before then converting to black and white and editing further. This technique provides the most control over the translation from hue to tone in the greyscale image.
A final round trip through Photoshop can also be used to add depth to the grayscale image. In Photoshop duplicate the background layer and change the blend mode to Soft Light. Adjust the opacity to a low value – say 15% as a starting point. If need be you can add a layer mask and control more precisely where the effect is applied. If you want even more you can duplicate the layer again and see how that works. Then save the image back to Lightroom Classic for any final edits.
And remember, black and white isn’t “plan b” – it’s an intentional approach to creating classic, more timeless looking images.
Yesterday I shared an image from Boronda Lake in Palo Alto’s Foothills Park that I had post-processed using techniques I learned in a recent workshop with Dan Burkholder.
I took a few more images while I was there – on a grey, overcast morning – and wanted to share them here. It’s a lovely place and worth a visit now that it’s open to all. I’ll likely come back and do some creative post-processing on a few of these images as well.
Recently the city of Palo Alto has opened up access to Foothills Park which for many years has limited access only to residents of Palo Alto. I’ve never been there so this morning – a grey one here on the San Francisco peninsula, I decided to take a quick drive to visit Foothills Park and see what it’s like. In particular, I was interested in seeing the small lake – Boronda Lake.
Last week I finished up a workshop led by Dan Burkholder on iPhone Artistry. Dan reawakened my interest in capturing and editing photos just on my iPhone. I made the following image using the Camera app on my iPhone 12 Pro Max:
I then used the free Snapseed app that Google provides to edit and stylize this image. Dan had walked us through the capabilities of Snapseed during his workshop so I put many of the tools he taught us to edit this image – here’s the list of tools that I applied:
I was particularly intrigued by the Grunge tool – one of my fellow workshop participants was a fan of the tool and shared some of his techniques with us. Using the Grunge tool, I was able to colorize and texturize the image resulting in the final version:
Earlier today, Om Malik shared a post comparing the iPhone camera with the old Kodak Brownie Camera – see Why the iPhone is Today’s Kodak Brownie Camera. It is amazing what these small “supercomputers in our pocket” are capable of in terms of image making and processing. This morning’s image of Boronda Lake is just my latest example.
The bright sun this Sunday morning motivated me to head over to Moss Beach and one of my favorite locations at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. A few of us were out walking when I turned around and saw this morning glow behind me.
Here’s the original image shot on my iPhone 12 Pro Max in ProRAW format and post processed in Lightroom on my iPhone.
I’m currently taking an iPhone Artistry course from Dan Burkholder and he has taught me some new techniques for image post processing. One of the approaches he taught involves using the app Formulas to create a distressed version of the image:
Next, I used the app InkWork to create a line drawing version of the image:
Using the app Image Blender, I combined the distressed version with the ink version to create the final version. This was over 90% blended to the original image with just a slide amount of the inking being added:
I like how the inking layer added some darker shadows to the tree trunks. And I was finished!