Sunday, December 18, 2011

Assignment 3: Winter

The past few weeks have been very unproductive, no blogging and only a limited amount of photography.  My workload went through the roof and a combination of preparation for Christmas and my 48th birthday, kept the weekends very busy.  Another distraction was the preparation and publication of two photo books, more about this is later posts.  However, I have still been getting up early and hitting the park at dawn to work on photos for Assignment 3.  Since the beginning of October, I have made 21 separate visits to take photographs.  This is by far the most effort I have applied to any photographic project for the OCA, only diving trips have involved more photography and even then only over two weeks, not 3 months.

A major change has happened since the last time I commented on this set of photographs, the onset of winter.  With winter has come a change to the landscape, leaves have gone, bare trees now permit a view of what lies outside the park.  The park now seems much more a part of the city, rather than the green oasis of summer.  The other major change is in the light, the mists of Autumn have gone, the soft golden light has been replaced by a hard cold  blue.  So far the weather has been un-seasonally warm, little or no snow and even a lack of ground frost.  On the occasional days when the clouds part and the rain stops I have headed down to the park, but as yet the results have not been very good.  A key problem comes from the tonality of the landscape now, compared to that of a few months ago.  The brief for Assignment 3 calls for variety, however, I desire narrative consistency in my photographs and so far I am looking at strong colour clashes - maybe I can resolve this, I think it is a perception issue for me rather than an issue with the photographs.  I am also thinking about a slight shift of emphasis in the title, from "Transient Light" to "Dawn Light".  Subtle, but reflecting the fact that all of the photographs have been taken in the dawn.

In this post I am summarizing shots from my past 4 shoots, in fact 6 visits, but 2 of them were totally unproductive due to poor light.  I decided to check out a slightly different part of the park, about 500m north of the area that I have shot so far.  This location contains the Kleinhesseloher See, which apart from hosting one of the best beer gardens in the city is a popular boating lake and a favorite haunt for water birds.  My thoughts on visiting this location was to add some variety to the set, using the water to add reflections and using the birds to add a different type of movement to the photographs.

The above two photographs have great light and colour, but also illustrate the contrast to the misty golden images of autumn, but perhaps that is a part of the point, to show variety and versatility.

The sky was quite amazing and whilst the above is unlikely to make my collection, it is a dramatic almost painterly image.  The next uses the same sky, but with a reflection into the water, counterpointing the sky.

I have also given some thought to whether it would make sense to frame the photos with overhanging branches.  Not sure, might be a little too twee...

Well that was sunrise over the lake.  I struggle with the huge visual contrast between these shots and the ones I took during Autumn, again this might fit the brief, but can it generate a sequence of photographs that possess harmony and balance as a set.

Returning to my usual haunt and with very different light, I shot the following sequence as the sun slowly started to illuminate the park.  Across the set of images is a 5 stop difference in light levels, the first image has 32x less light than the last, or 3% of the illumination.  As the sky was totally clear the light was very even, leaving the first image looking the brightest.  I have varied the framing, including more or less of the stream, as well as adjusting the focal length, but have kept to the same horizontal Gurskiesk view.

The final shot was made with a 2 stop ND Grad filter, completely changed the colour balance of the sky.  I very occasionally use these things, but have never been happy with the result, expect in the tropics, where it is that or white sky.  I am also not a great fan of Pol filters, again for the same reasons.  Both filters improve contrast and add colour, but the effect is usually very obvious and too strong.  I find the combination of the dynamic range of my 5D2 and the processing latitude in Lightroom can manager most situations.  Those that can't were marginal anyway.  I am quite happy with these shots, although I think there is still development needed in this concept.

This sequence of photographs has resulted in the evolution of a new set of practices, checking the weather the night before, hoping for cold, but clear weather.  Then getting up early and checking the sky, looking for stars or the moon to indicate what the cloud cover looks like.  A couple of times I got this wrong and headed out in darkness only to arrive at the park as dawn begins under a completely overcast sky.  Still, it's a good walk and a great way to start the day.  The other issue has been timing.  The light is good for around 90 minutes each morning.  About 30 minutes before dawn there is enough light to start shooting, but it is very blue and hand holding the camera is a challenge.  I take my monopod which helps, but I still need a 1/10s or better exposure.  I have fallen out of love with my tripod as it is cumbersome and inhibits my style.  I guess once we have snow I will need to use it to generate some early shots with the white lighting that the snow brings.  About 15 minutes before sunrise, the sky hits peak colour and I can work with the sunrise, not my thing really.  Once the sun crosses the horizon the light begins to change, colour drains from the sky and begins to fill the park.  It takes another 30 minutes for the sun to actually rise above the buildings and trees.  My most productive time is from around 15 minutes before and after the sun clips the tops of the trees.  I have some software that I consult for the timing of dawn, which I then cross reference with the dew point and then finally the forecast weather.

Taking all of this into account, Monday looked good with broken cloud and sub-zero temperature, but no chance of mist as the air was very dry.  I decided to leave the house before sunrise and as I headed across the river towards the park, was forced to stop and pull out my camera.  I wondered whether the people stuck in the usual morning rush, were able to fully appreciate the glory of that morning.

Arriving at the park, I decided yet again to work the Eisbach into a few shots, starting with yet another Gursky inspired composition, this time capturing the last of the dawn sky, just before the sun clipped the tree line.

The above is a variation on framing, not something I plan to use, but interesting.  My plan is to stick to the 2x1 framing for this set.  A key effect I am looking for at present is the reflection of the sunrise in the water and in the grass.  The latter only happens if the ground is frozen, snow or frost will work.  So far the weather has been too warm, although as I write this it is snowing outside, so hope yet

The last shot in this sequence, closed the shooting as cloud rolled over the landscape, however, this is the best image in the set, the pastel tonality of the ground combined with the sky has a subtle and soothing effect.

My last few photographs in this lengthy post were taken during a much earlier arrival at the park, this time around 30 minutes before dawn.  Earlier I mentioned the 5 stop range in the sequence that I took.  These shots are 6 stops darker, so now I have an 11 stop range in these photos, this is 0.05% of the light available for the brighter shots taken just after dawn.  I had to sue a monopod, but it does still amaze me that a camera can take such shots.  The world is very blue and very different from previous images.

The last couple of shots work the same scene as earlier, but trying to capture the light in the house windows as dawn rises.  I think I am too early and without a tripod the quality is limited, ISO3200 is pretty noisy at the detailed level.

I still have a month or so before I need to submit this set, and I am thinking that I will need to ask for more time.  My greatest problem still remains the weather, I am waiting for snow or frost.  I think this will create images that are very much more harmonious with the Autumn shots, although I guess I could do themes pairs, using a colour key - Gold, Red, Blue, and White.

Christmas is around the corner and family commitments, plus the inevitable thick head will limit the number of days I can pursue the morning light.

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