Capturing Emotions, The Human Condition.

Introduction

This was a talk presented to the Manitoba Camera Club, February 3, 2015 and The Winnipeg South Photo Club, March 18, 2015.

The Art of Emotion

Tonight we are about to embark on a journey to try and gain a deeper understanding of photography. We are going to delve into the mysteries of capturing emotions and feelings in two dimensional digital images. Can a photograph depict and evoke feelings that are deeper than say a raw journalistic capture of a shooting, accident or riot. We know how those make us feel. My hope is we’ll have some understand of these subtle dynamics by evenings end and how you can apply it to your images.

One of the gallery experiences I enjoyed over the past 5 years allowed me to interact with photographers both local and from around the world. These conversations allowed for the sharing of ideas and concepts, combined with my continued work and studies in processing images, I began to formulate a theory on the understanding of how emotions can be comprehended and applied. Within this presentation I will try to explain some of these intricacies which I have applied to my work.

So sit back and enjoy this journey to your inner emotions.

Creative Photography.

The Human Condition

This is the first in a series of articles that will be posted on my bog Joe Kerr Photography under the subject titled “Creative Photography”.

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I would like you to close your eyes and listen to these sound bits and see if you can visualize the scenes you are about to hear. So relax and open your minds eye.

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Here are a couple of questions to help open your minds eye:

Did your visions easily flow from one sound bit to the other ?

Do you have a favorite ?

Were your thoughts in B&W or Colour ?

How did each sound bit make you feel ?

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Great images all begin at the capture, so here are some critical issues and influences when going out to capture amazing images:  Remember this is about the human condition and gaining an understanding of capturing emotion in images.

Lets start from the very beginning.

How did your day start out ?
Are you looking forward to your shoot ?
Do you have a plan on what your shooting ?
Is weather or sunlight a factor in you deciding to shoot today ?

Is today an optimum day to capture that subject ?

These and many more questions all influence how well your shoot will go but ultimately how you will feel about it. It is my opinion that how you feel is the most important key to capturing great emotional images.

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Putting yourself in a mindful space that is relative to what you are shooting is inherently difficult. This is one of the most important and influential characteristics of great photography and that is to actually feel your potential images before you even hit the shutter.

Here is a situation that may help you understand this. Do you remember the most amazing sunrise opportunity you’ve ever had and how you felt when it presented itself. Can you also remember another morning that was equally beautiful but for some reason it just didn’t pan out. You see the differences in your images but do you remember how each of those days started out and how you felt.

This is not a contemporary thought process lets take a step back in history for a minute and learn from two masters.

 

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Ansel Adams immersed himself in his environments and became so in-tuned he even named trees and rocks in around his cabin near Yosemite. He followed and created trails that became his home under the sky, yet, he understood that nature only allowed him a moment of opportunity, they weren’t his, but his photographs were, and he could share them. He became much more philosophical about what he was feeling while capturing images and constantly wrote in his journals his thoughts. He clearly understood how his images could and would effect his viewers and how his emotions would influence each capture. Because the print was what everyone would see, Ansel spent enormous amounts of time perfecting his prints in the darkroom so that they were perfect portrayals of what was in his minds eye not just a capture of a scene. He wrote about having a vision of his print before capturing them, and though these images were very personal to him, as a viewer you can see and feel that.

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In a completely different photographic genre there’s Yousuf Karsh. He was another artists that lived through his photography. As a portrait photographer he didn’t have the lighting sophistication that we enjoy today. Still, he enjoyed shooting on location, the most challenging portraits of the time. His innate sense and feel of natural light combined with his in camera skills he created images that are astonishing even today. With those simple techniques he created outstanding portraits that brought his subjects to life. Yet, I think most importantly, he took time to study and understand his subject first. He then visualized and executed sitting techniques that both relaxed them and yet brought out their personalities knowing something of who they were. Upon studying his work you can actually feel their personalities come out of the prints. His compassion to execute what was in his minds eye made him a world renowned photographer during that era and even today?

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I referenced these two artists because most of you know of them, and, they are masters whom we can relate to through their images but also as human beings. Although uniquely different they shared an inner bond of an innate sense of a divine intervention that helped to create their art. I certainly don’t profess to be in the same league of either of these famous photographers, yet, I do understand what they were trying to convey in their memoirs. Theirs and other similar concepts have been my inspiration for years and I will try to convey to you tonight what that means. No this is not a religious intervention but it is a deeper understanding of what made them tick and create amazing images.

The Capture:

On that note let me express to you what I’ve learned and have adopted as my usual or unusual process in capturing.

How I shoot varies greatly. example: If I’m with a group or with another person I rarely do what I truly like to because the dynamics will not allow. If the moment feels right though, I may disappear from the group to find my own space knowing that time will allow me to explore what is being presented to me.

Here is what I like to do as a solo shooter and I think the difference will be self explanatory. During solo shoots I take a lot of time, I’m not a run and gun type of photographer. Again, I’m going to talk about the human process behind the camera.

Nature or Scenic Shooting:

I chose this genre of photography because its one that most of you can relate to. Here is a list of things I do in preparation to taking that first shot.

  • Clearly pack all that is need for that day, the night before. One bag and a tripod.
  • Pack snacks for me and the creatures.
  • Look up some creative websites that inspire you.
  • Leave early with plenty of time to spare so your not feeling rushed.
  • Listen to music or other inspiration audio bits en-route.
  • Once I arrive I will find a trail off the beaten track, people are everywhere these days and personally I don’t want a shot that everyone else has.
  • Arrive and chill. Stop, look and listen. This is how I begin the process of interacting.
  • Until I’m feeling what I’m about to interact with I will not begin, take deep breaths and relax and survey my surroundings.
  • I like to feel a sense of perspective of who I am in this environment and how I could be perceived by those who live in this environment.
  • Feel the time of day, maybe its the warmth of the sun as it begins to lighten the morning skies, get a feeling of the trees wakening as the winds begin to blow, listen as the birds begin to sing and as life begins to stir in the forest.
  • Listening I can hear and feel life all around me and by being still, for sometime now, the forest will begin to reveal itself.
  • Over time you will learn the rhythm of nature and understand how it will react to the foreign sounds you create, remember you are the intruder.
  • Remaining quiet and still is exhilarating to me, I can be here for hours and not think anything of it.
  • Always be aware of the light, watch its glow illuminate the trees and the meadows, be aware of where it is and isn’t, light is the key to all great shots.
  • When nature presents itself go slowly, take time to try to understand the creatures in their habitat, see how they react to sounds around it, watch and learn every move, ears, eyes, neck and over-all body language.
  • Watch every detail, the direction it appears to be going, is there better light coming up, can you time the optimum reaction to the camera, take it in and feel it, until it becomes a part of you.
  • I can get so involved that I can feel their heart beating and I’ll watch their breathing, a relaxed sigh, a sudden and alert gasp and hold.
  • Patients and more patients think before you hit the shutter, timing is everything. No paparazzi shooting here.
  • Given the optimum opportunity I’ll take my shot, stop, silence, then shoot again if possible.
  • Depending on the creature the timing is different. Deer, first shot, is a waist, its the second and third that count.
  • Watch in wonder and learn. Can you learn, feel and understand how they are feeling? I think I can. When the creature is relaxed and calm, is that the shot you want, or, maybe its when they are alert with attentive ears perked. What ever the looking your waiting for, watch and learn and anticipate.
  • Now when I say “Don’t shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like.” can you begin to understand ?

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Post Production:

With everyone’s lives full of hustle and bustle I’m sure some of you are thinking this is mambo jumbo by now. As I was preparing my talk I was thinking the same thing maybe I should just do a standard show and tell. Well that’s not me, so lets move on to the next step.

Now let me show you how this continues to relate and what it looks like in the end. I apologize that I don’t have a 14 step action set to sell you that will create amazing results for your images, its not that simple and nor should it be, this is creative art.

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Lets start with your studio. Have you created a special place to create your art. Is your studio a place you enjoy going to and does it provide inspiration for you, or have you even thought about creating a special environment. Does music play a roll in your life and studio ? All this plays a part in how you feel about your photography. I’ve had the privilege of visiting numerous studio’s and the cream of the crop do have a special place to create their work so its fact, not fiction.

 

Let me walk you through a couple of my photographic opportunities and how I perceived and processed them. My processing actually begins when I’m capturing the image in the field. My mind is already thinking about how these will likely be processed, I’m also not close minded but this is my starting point.

Each photographic concept has a different starting point in the camera settings. Each subject has its own unique feel and needs to be processed that way. There are no single one action fool proof buttons here, this is art and needs that individualistic attention to detail. Here on the blog I’ve attached links to each set of images and the details in capture and processing follow the link to learn more. Each set was a study on its own.

Deer & Heron in Minnesota

Click here for more details

auto remote camera

auto remote camera
Matlock Piers

Click here for more details (coming soon)

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Parc La Salle School

Mountain Sheep

Click here for more details

Two Sheep

Three sheep vertical
Leo Mole Statues

Click here for more details

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Ian Tamblyn Concert Wpg., Feb 24 2012

As you work through your processing procedures and begin experiencing the joy of creating a wonderful image, you will find a persona emerge, were the hardware and software actually mean less, it becomes more important to know how the image feels. You will begin to find a style that reflects an inner you, one that is comfortable, intuitive but is understood. You must trust it when it happens, let it flow through you and learn to get out of the way, don’t clutter it with techno mumbo jumbo let it shine clearly.

Inspirations:

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So where do your inspirations come from. I think its very important to find outside stimulants that help to fertilize your imagination and keep your creative neurons flashing.

Here are some places I go to find what I need to keep me creative:
Cirque du Soleil – the artistic sets but more so the costumes that amaze me
Theatre Productions – take a blank stage and transport me to another place and time is crazy how its created with forms and lighting.
Movies Productions – special effects and CG environments astound me
Attend art shows – art today is an unlimited canvas, explore everything you can
Inspirational websites – In the digital realms of the web the world is your oyster
Quotes – I look for quotes that inspire me.
Google an image topic – This is simply magic at your finger tips at any moment
Join and share in different communities. – The more the merrier, share and you will be rewarded 10 fold

There is no wright or wrong places to find inspiration, its what makes most sense to you and what inspires you to create your art.

 

Keys to Remember

Your eyes need to learn to listen before they look.
Patients pays off.
Don’t shoot what it looks like, shoot how it feels.
Be mindful of the event and while shooting be aware of how you might work it in post production.
Create a studio space that is both inviting and inspirational to you.

Be yourself !

What I’ve just expressed to you is my own personal formula on what I’ve learned over the years. To some it will appear goofy, some may like a part of it and others may find this inspirational. For those that found it amazing there are some doctors just outside the room in white jackets that want to talk to you, please have your medical cards ready.

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Thank you for your time.

Joe Kerr

 

Links to Reference Materials

Alan Ross Photography   Here is a link to a blog by Alan Ross who was one of Ansel Adams lab assistant. He reveals some amazing insights into Ansel Adam’s daily routines and how he perceived his art. Its a very interesting read.

Can you Capture Mood Photographing a Sculpture?

Photographers often have images of sculptures of famous and historic people, monuments and even commissioned art works. Most of what I’ve seen are well lit, typically an afternoon sun during a visit to a park. The subject is positioned in a balanced position among flowers or trees sometimes with friends and relative near by.

The Bean, in down town Chicago's Millennium Park.

The Bean, in down town Chicago’s Millennium Park.

Have you ever shot sculpture thinking of it as a model ? Why not ? Look at it this way, each subject will hold its pose for you indefinitely and never complain. They are usually in ideal settings giving beautiful backdrops, even better having a natural light environment where you control the time, light and weather, you can return to your studio check your images and re-shoot with your improvements even a year later. Lastly some of these famous people would charge you a small fortune in modeling fees, of course some are no longer with us and some are just iconic symbols.

Chicago Millennium Park, The Bean Sculpture.

Selecting the right spot with a well contrasted background and in this case a strategic refection.

Here is a suggestion on how to get started. Find a subject that your interested in and it doesn’t have to be a human figure. Go to it and look at it from every different angle you can imagine and take shots from all these locations. Return to your studio and look at each one, find your favorite and ask these questions:

  • What is in the back ground?
  • Should I move closer or further away?
  • Would a slight elevation change make the composition better?
  • What time of day gives you the best light for the subject?
  • What weather condition would best suit a mood for this subject?
  • Would a secondary light source enhance the subject?

Lets detail this out a bit further:

  • The Background – Examine your image looking closely at whats behind and around the subject. Less is more in most cases so find a contiguous fill that has good neutral contrast. Remember that depth of field can change the look of this field as well as texture, light and shadows. Will the change of season offer a different more appealing contrast. Time has no limitation to this subject.
Chicago Millennimum Park, The Bean Sculpture.

Standing further back revealed this gull trying to hatch this egg, placing him with a contrasting background of a darker building with its geometric window pattern.

  • Foot Zooming – If your happy with the angle of your composition how does that change if you stand closer and even further away. Image compression is seldom considered so try it out and see how it changes this type of imagery.
Leo Mole sculpture garden Winnipeg, Manitoba.

This frog at the foot of the statue was a great opportunity. The pond refection was the motivator, shot from a mono-pod at arms length and a remote trigger release allowed for an uninterrupted refection of blue sky with no people.

  • Elevation Changes – You have the perfect spot that best suites your composition and background but what happens if you just do an elevation change. Most people will shoot from eye level, the human tripod height. Get low and see what you have, maybe bring a small step ladder and see what change that brings to the composition. Most viewers will comment on images that have this slight variation.
Cancun, Mexico, Iles Desmure

Looking up to the angle in the clouds was a must do. The light from behind gives the viewer a sense of the angle not knowing we’re present as she looks down and prays to the crosses below.

  • Time of Day – We’re all aware of the golden hour but is it the best light for your subject. Does it cast the best shadow lines to enhance the character, is morning or sunset best. It maybe that a time later in the morning or earlier in the evening is best remember the sun moves in an arch across the sky what is the optimum time. Also don’t forget that the seasonal changes will cast shadows differently as well.
Leo Mole Sculpture garden in Winnipeg.

High noon gave this sculpture a nice highlight across her entire body. It also allowed the camera settings to be closed down so as to not blow out any highlights and create this high contrast dark background.

  • The Weather – All types of weather will add another variation to the lighting of your subject. Could an over cast day suite your subject even better or a rain or actual down pour have a positive effect, never know till you try. Fog has an amazing effect and a capture during a snow storm can be effective as well.
Leo Mole Sculpture Garden, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Taken after an afternoon rain, broken clouds allowed just enough light to cast off the wet concrete patio illuminating her face under a dappled lit background.

  • Additional Light – Adding a secondary light source can add a real sense of drama to a sculpture. A controlled highlight of soft colour during a rain is very special. A night shoot with a start lit sky and specially crafted light painting can be spectacular, this is very popular in advertizing today.
Leo Mole Sculpture Garden, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Why does the rain make everything greener, because its wet. Great time to shoot in a garden. The Honeysuckle vine cascaded down to her face gives this a real garden of Eden mood. Broken skies allow many different lighting opportunities.

So why can’t sculpture portray a mood, well of course it can and creating it is a lot of fun and in some cases takes a lot of skill and practice. Try it out.

Leo Mole Gardens, Winnipeg, MB

Orion looking toward the skies which just so happened to be broken clouds allowing a variety of lighting opportunities. The light at this moment was defused as clouds moved by.

Leo Mole Sculpture Garden

Post production can help to create many different moods.

Its All About The Light

Its All About The Light…

I’m recovering from heart surgery so I was doing some file surfing tonight passing time and came across this old image taken in Minnesota some five years ago. I’ve always enjoyed this sequence of this Great Blue Heron fishing this small stream. Tonight the creative light went on when I saw this specific image file so I grasped the moment and came up with this predawn interpretation.

I love early morning light and the mood that it creates, still waters with dark shadows with highlighted reflections. I can still hear the sounds of woodland creatures start to awaken, a deer is just upstream grazing in the tall grasses, song birds calling in the distance. The heron moves ever so slowly not making a ripple, stalking its prey beneath the mirrored waters surface. I sat ever so quiet on this walking bridge and watched him for some time, it was so peaceful and tranquil. Now that’s an incredible way to start a day.

This image was processed in Lightroom 5.6 with just a slight contrast adjustment, a vignette added by using the radial tool, contrast in the grasses using an inverted radial tool, and details added to the Heron by brush. A slight global sharpening was added at the end. The dark glow and frame was added in Perfect Effects 8.   

A comprehensive detailed overview of the precessing techniques used to produce this image is available at my new blog “The Academy Of Fine Art Photography

Heron Fishing

Heron Fishing

 

I told you there were deer in the deep grass.

Serendipitously I caught both the deer and heron in the same shot.

Serendipitously I caught both the deer and heron in the same shot.

A photographers Focus

I recently had the opportunity to have an off hours visit at The St. Boniface Museum. Museums are not the easiest places to take fine art photographs but some times you just get lucky. This was a lucky day.

Among its artifacts I was drawn to one which was is paper mashè sculpture of “God” created by the nuns in around 1870. I’ve never seen a sculpture of God before so at the end of the morning shoot I spent some time with him. Here is a difficult lesson for photographers to learn and that’s patients. You can force yourself to stop and spend time, but you have to void your mind of everything around you and get into your subject. So, humm a statue of God you say. Well here was my thought process as I studied the sculpture. Just sit down and look at it, without a camera, block out everything around you and study its details and you’ll begin to formulate a plan of different ideas on how to capture your subject. If you can walk all around the subject do it, view it from different locations in the room, look low or high but think about the subject and is there a story here.

In this case a couple of details jumped out at me. The colour palette was extraordinary, all pastels. The story of the bible was rolling through my head but the most unusual characteristic was in the eyes. They had given them a heavy coating of clear varnish that made them look like he had tears welling up. So my plan was to shoot three sides and to make sure the eyes were always the focal point by using a shallow depth of field in most cases. I liked the colours but with this unusual palette I was really curious to see what a B&W conversion would look like, I sensed it would be very angelic almost an infrared.

Here is the set. I started with a straight up shot. The monochrome conversion is a layered hybrid that I’ll explain in a minute. He was on an alter and the mistake I made here is the halo of stars should have been aligned above his head. This unfortunately is a big no no as it looks like goes through his head. Ouch! Look into his eyes though…. maybe that mistake introduces the eyes, a divine intervention, certainly not planned.

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The next couple of images were from the perspective of looking up to god. I tilted the camera to give them a different feel and they do feel different, in fact there is a definite line drawn by the viewer and most will like one or the other. I believe this is associated to the left and right brain perspectives. Look into those eyes…. a highlight sparkle is present that really adds life.

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The next shot was to deliberately offset him in the frame. You want to have your subject looking into the open space so I needed to have a slight angle to position him on the right side of the frame. I added an additional slight tilt to give it a more unusual look as if he’s looking down to the viewer. Better halo positioning and look at the sparkle in those eyes…

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Now I moved to the right side and here I tried something different. I think people can associate with the possibility of touching god so I made the focus his hand. This image is as if you were beside him as he’s talking to someone, your mind is focussed on his hand that is just in front of you. His face, out of focus and distant. A poignant moment indeed and a hand you can almost touch.

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Lastly was a look from the side where he presumably addresses his followers. Again give the subject space to look into to the image. Here is another bit of detail in the planning of the shoot. In the bible where did God tell Jesus to sit? He sat to his right side from this perspective. Again look into those eyes. His hand is cut off by the bottom frame but that becomes acceptable with the focus on the eyes and the hand is now soft, out of focus, with a shallow depth of field.

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When taking pictures of wildlife or people make sure the eyes are in focus and capture a highlight, they breath life into the subject. The eyes of this sculpture are very extraordinary indeed.

Lastly I tried a few different types of processing ideas but it all becomes a bit of experimenting with a goal in mind. I did want a vintage look and feel so the water stained backdrop was a must. I then added a scratched layer to add more depth as if these shots were taken many years ago. The colour is a hybrid blue grey that will change from monitor to monitor and it does appear to be slightly faded with age. I felt the final look was strong but divine at the same time. Make sure when you have a formula you save it as an action so you can duplicate it for the set.

This is truly an extraordinary sculpture.