David is a wonderful and kind person with a great eye for photography. He has a diverse gallery of shots that are well worth checking out.  This week we get to delve into his thought process as well as learn a little bit about photographic techniques and infrared shots.

Background

I must start by saying that I am an amateur photographer of modest experience and ability. Thus, if anyone thinks that I am pushing myself beyond my abilities or as an expert that is not my intention.

As a scientist, I researched and taught chemistry at various Universities in the UK for many years. In the early1990’s, I switched careers to become a Consultant Chemist, providing expert opinion to the legal profession, the insurance industry, and the Courts in England on matters to do with the safety of chemicals in the workplace. I retired about 10 years ago to pursue other interests – photography, art, and, more generally, image-making. I’m married to Anne, who was a very senior manager in social care at local and national level. We own a cottage in Scotland, and travel as much as we can, having recently returned from touring Rome, Florence, and Venice. We have two Maine Coon cats, Tom and Arwen, both of whom feature in my work on DeviantArt.

Regarding photography, my first shots were taken when I was 5 years old, with my Dad’s Kodak Six-20 “Brownie”, a camera that I still have. My parents gave me what may have been a Kodak Brownie 127 (although a flash gun could be attached) for Christmas when I was about 8 years old. I used this for many years for family snaps, and when I was 13 for scores of shots on a school trip to Annecy in France. That cost me a fortune in pocket money. Thereafter, my interest lapsed as studies for school and University took over, and I discovered a remarkable type of creature called “girls”! When I was a post-doc at the University of York, I bought, second-hand, a Pentax Spotmatic with a Super Takumar 50 mm f1.4 lens. These I still have and the lens has been used for macro work with my digital cameras. The Pentax cost me £60, which was a considerable sum in the 1970’s, but I used it for hobby and holiday work until the late 1980’s, mainly with Kodak slide film, that being all the rage in those days. Then, until the digital age, I used a Canon EOS 1000F film camera fitted with an EF 35-80 mm zoom. I preferred Fuji film stock rather than Kodak for better colour rendition. When digital cameras became reliable, I started with Fuji FinePix, but eventually moved back to Canon with the 20D, then the 40D, and now the 5D MarkII. The 20D has been converted to infrared, and the 40D now converted to full spectrum – IR, UV, and visible light. Over the years I have put together a modest range of Canon lenses, telephoto, zoom, and so on.

While I have never been a professional photographer, I have used photography professionally as part of my consultancy work. I would have to carry out inspections of places of work (factories, shipyards, steel mills, pharmaceuticals, offices) and a comprehensive photographic record would be required by the solicitors for use in Court. Aesthetic considerations were not important; accuracy, relevance, clarity, focus, and good colour rendition were the key requirements. As a result of nearly ten years of such work, I have a huge stock of workplace images in my files, but I do not know what I can do with them! Historically, they may be of some interest.

Apart from photography, I keep up with science, travel, work out a great deal at the gym, look after my cats, but probably more importantly for this interview, I study art and art history – not the stereotypical image of a white-coated boffin.

Creative Process

You ask what I look for in a “good photograph”. “Good” in art is a slippery concept. I look on art including photography as a process of making images for a purpose. So, if a photograph fulfills it purpose(s) then it is successful. That would be one important criterion of being “good”. However, I think we all recognise that some images transcend their original purpose, and that some artists (maybe this is the definition of an artist) either intuitively or deliberately make images that are more than they seem, intellectually and emotionally. Thus, that would be my second criterion for a “good” photograph, that it provokes my interest in different ways and at different levels. Technical merit is also a criterion for me, although success and transcendancy take precedence. The tools and techniques that “good” photographers use include the classic ideas of composition, balance, harmony etc. as well as the technical attributes of use of focus, lighting, and so on.

Some of my photographs probably fulfil my first criterion, and, hopefully, have some technical merit, but few if any reach that next level. Perhaps the image below of the Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand is one that I consider fulfils the first criterion. This was shot on a bleak, grey, drizzling afternoon and the “camera settings” image was very dull. However, enhancement of contrast and saturation, and some smart sharpening gave this result.

One image that might be getting near my second criterion is Urban IR – Black Robe. Heavily cropped, this was taken as a candid shot when I noticed this young women sitting dejectedly on steps in the street. As a Muslim woman, she was dressed in black, but I knew the clothes would look quite different in infrared. So, I was trying to say something here about dress, religion, sadness, whatever.

Inspiration and Subjects

You ask about inspiration, favourite subjects, and my travels. Inspiration comes from two sources: other people’s work and looking by wandering about with my eyes open! I get some ideas from paintings especially the work of the Old Masters. These painters overcame the limitations of their medium (e.g. narrow dynamic range, variable and limited paints, little understanding of optics and so on) to produce marvellous images that all photographers should study and learn from.

Ideas also come from all the work I see on DeviantArt, for example in infrared, the work of MichiLauke (Michael Laukeninks http://michilauke.deviantart.com/ ) who runs the R72 Group http://r72.deviantart.com/ has been very influential. Also, I help run the Group ArtWorldToday http://artworldtoday.deviantart.com/ (run by the highly enthusiastic and talented Angela Leonetti http://angelaleonetti.deviantart.com/ ). There are many talented photographers who submit shots to the Group, and whose works feed my ideas.

I am happy to photograph most subjects, although I enjoy taking pictures of my cats (and other animals)– a challenge to show them in action; and I quite like shooting informal portraits at parties and the like – although I never post any of this work for personal and permission reasons.

On my travels, I’m caught as I generally have to keep up with my wife or whoever else is there, but I prefer to stroll about on my own to do my shooting. As a result, I often get up early to try to do serious work (and there is normally better light available), and try to take posh snaps during the day when there are others about.

Regarding techniques, I enjoy the challenges of infrared and, now, full spectrum work; macro is interesting, but difficult; HDR imaging and panoramic work I find fascinating and technically demanding; and of course landscape. I enjoy the lot I suppose.

Software

Post-processing of captured images is essential, and indeed expected by camera manufacturers, particularly regarding sharpening and white balance. I shoot in RAW format and my day-to-day workflow starts with processing these files with Canon’s Digital Photo Professional (DPP), normally applying a moderate degree of sharpening, some exposure correction, and checking such things as saturation and contrast. I then consider cropping and straightening, and, less frequently, lens correction. Some people criticise camera company software as being poor, and move straight to Photoshop, but I think such criticism misplaced for basic editing. After conversion to the JPEG format, I may look to using the GIMP for further editing, particularly for what is now known as creative sharpening, and a technique called Local Contrast Enhancement (LCE). If the images are to be posted to DeviantArt, then they are scaled using the Gimp and my signature (Okavanga Photography) added. All this sounds long and drawn out, but for most images I spend about 6-7 minutes per image doing this.

One of the developments of recent years is High Dynamic Range (HDR) image processing, with tone-mapping, using three or more images captured both below and above the camera auto exposure. This technique is very useful for capturing very wide dynamic ranges – very bright to very dark scenes. My preferred software for that type of work is Photomatix Pro (http://www.hdrsoft.com/ ).

Sometimes, and normally with infrared work, I require more control over the work up of RAW files than can be achieved by DPP. For such work I normally use RawTherapee software (http://rawtherapee.com/) – a steep learning curve, but very versatile. I also, very occasionally, use Picasa, XnView (a French editing and cataloguing suite that has the advantage of being able to run Photoshop plugins), and Picturenaut – another HDR suite.

The procedures noted above I think are fairly standard and would not be considered as photo manipulation. They are all the digital equivalent of various wet chemistry/processing techniques. However, sometimes I look to more radical manipulations for effects, and I use a powerful plugin to the GIMP called GMIC for exploring these.

Style

I usually make things up as I go along, processing in whatever style seems appropriate at the time. Thus, for documentary colour work (i.e.posh snaps!) I will normally use highish contrast and saturation with moderate sharpening, but if I get fed up with this I will change to monochrome perhaps with strong contrast, or to a blended work up using, say, the Orton effect. With infrared work, there are no ground rules and I work in different styles from monochrome to blue/black, to false colour – whatever seems correct at the time. If you look at the work presented in the Infrared-Club (Extra-Visible Imaging), http://infrared-club.deviantart.com/, a group that I run on DeviantArt, the variety of styles for infrared work is seen to be almost limitless.

Colour, Monochrome and Infrared – Paths to Extra-Visible Imaging

The debate about colour images versus monochrome (black & white photography) is endless. To my mind, colour is useful in all sorts of ways and so is black & white. When you work in infrared, another aspect of imaging comes to the fore. As humans, our visual system has evolved to see the range of light frequencies from about 400 nm to 700 nm. These frequencies stimulate the rods and cones in the retina of our eyes, and signals are transmitted to the brain which processes the information to give our “seeing” view of the world. Our eyes cannot perceive infrared radiation, thus we cannot conceive any colours in infrared, although we might imagine a form of light and dark – tonality – corresponding to what is seen in visible light. Digital sensors can respond to infrared light, and when we take pictures either through a filter or with a converted camera, the tonality of the infrared world is quite different to that of the visual world. Foliage, for example, is often very light, approaching white in many cases, while clear blue skies (in the visual) are black. Water can be transparent or it can appear black. Clothing, black in the visual, is often blue or white in the infrared, while hair colour, especially of those whose hair has been dyed, also becomes blue or very light. Colours from the visible are rendered in strange, unpredictable ways. White balance in infrared photography can be the stuff of nightmares. All this is the basis of creative infrared photography.

However, what I’m getting to here is that our eyes are limited in what they perceive, while digital sensors can let us in on extra information about our world – hence infrared photography is an example of extra-visible imaging. But it is not the only example. By extension, ultraviolet photography also provides extra information and such is the means whereby many insects “see”. Tone-mapping of HDR images is a further example as it allows us to see in the dark (shadows) and in the bright light at the same time. Our eyes have to accommodate to do this in the visible world. Further, eyesight is severely limited when it comes to recording movement – we see for the moment, but the eye/brain refreshes its image every 1/20th second or so and we cannot record or retain images over longer periods of time. Consequently, long exposure photography gives us extra information about our world. I’ve discussed these points at more length in this post on Infrared-Club (Extra-Visible Imaging) http://infrared-club.deviantart.com/favourites/47844381#/d4izhs9 .

Fractals

I’m old enough to remember, vaguely, the excitement in the mathematical and scientific worlds caused by Mandelbrot’s theories and the discovery of the Mandlebrot Set. The Age of the Fractal was born. However, it wasn’t until I was about to retire that I thought I should check all these ideas out, and I discovered software, Ultra Fractal, that could be downloaded and used. At the same time, I discovered the 3D world provided by Bryce. I played with these for sometime, and remember thinking that Ultra Fractal had the best gradient editor I had come across. However, other matters pushed this interest to one side.

When I joined DeviantArt, some 10 years later, I noticed the immense interest in Fractal Art with such a variety of software being used to generate astonishing images. Amongst others, your work and that of SiradLah (Pamela Ashurst) http://siradlah.deviantart.com/ stood out for me, and Pamela has been kind enough to prompt me into doing some work of my own, mainly with the Bryce software. I thought that I might spend my time about half and half on fractals and on photography, but photography has become the dominant area of work.

Because of my interest in art in general, I put together some notes at the time on how I saw the characteristics and evaluation of fractal art. These were posted on my gallery as Journals (http://okavanga.deviantart.com/journal/Some-Notes-on-Fractal-Art-Part-1-221754685 and two others). Visual splendour was a dominant characteristic of such art, but I could see links to other forms such as Op Art, Abstract Art, Decorative Art and so on. I suggested that evaluation of such would proceed

along technical and craftsmanship lines, but that the criteria used in other forms of visual art would play a major role – context, form,

 

balance and so on. As fractal art is displayed primarily on screen, via computer generation, rather than through traditional art media, there may be some continuing reluctance from the main stream art world to appreciate fully the power of this art form.

 

 

Many thanks, Stan, for allowing me this opportunity to express some of my ideas.