Ballycullane – Daybreak, Time Lapse Painting

Ballycullane - Daybreak

I’ve been studying lighting and video/photography since the last post. At that time I was sure I had found the reason for the lack of red in the recorded video and photographs of paintings. Firstly, I was taking a ‘white balance’ reading from the blank canvas, assuming it was white. But there’s white, and there’s white. Taking a white balance reading is done to measure the colour of the light and allow the camera to deduct this from the image, giving a photo without a colour cast. Its essential that a pure white surface be used and this was the problem. A blank canvas is not pure white. Mine was slightly cream in colour. This meant the red and yellow (cream) were factored out by the processor in the camera. But this was only part of the problem. Continue reading

Backup? What’s that

The Wreck of the Plassey

My computer is important to me. Photos, videos, all sorts of things are accumulating in the computer at a steady pace. The hard drive (500GB) of my new laptop (5 months old) filled up and I was reminded of this, by the system. So I bought a new backup drive, the old one was not big enough for the new computer. As I was preparing to backup (Time Machine on my Mac) I noticed a little warning in the disk utility that the ‘S.M.A.R.T. status’ reported the disk was failing. 5 months old and failing? Couldn’t be.

To make a long story short, I did the backup yesterday and the computer collapsed today. The hard drive has a terminal failure, that means completely dead and the data practically unrecoverable. I think that is what you call ‘dodging the bullet’. A computer ‘nerd’ friend said ‘its not will your hard drive fail, its when’. Ahh!

I am now using my ‘old laptop’ again (commandeered from my son) and missing all the cool stuff the new one could do. I’ve no access to my picture collection so I included one of his, ‘The Wreck of the Plassey on Inis Oirr‘. Appropriate? Yes.

The moral of the story is this – backup your computer. Luckily, Apple Macs have a very user friendly way of doing it (mentioned above) and I got it done without much hassle. I would have lost everything I accumulated over the last 5 months. I know people who have a computer for years and have never backed it up.

There is going to be a catastrophic loss of personal data over the coming years, especially photos. There are plans, ‘in the pipeline’, to offer computer users an ‘online’ backup service, if you happen to be ‘online’. There are expensive and limited systems available at the moment (Flickr for photos, for example).

Be warned!

Correcting verticals

Duckett's Grove - verticals corrected

When photographing buildings it is sometimes necessary to use a wide angle lens or the wide angle end of a zoom lens. This allows you to include much more of the scene than is possible with a standard focal length. The problem with this is that the verticals are distorted making the building look as if it is falling inwards.

I corrected the verticals in Photoshop using the distort feature in the edit/transform/distort menu. This is a correction which is best done ‘by eye’. Stretching horizontally of the upper parts of the photo alone appears to lower the height of the building so stretching upwards as well will give a more natural look. Leaving a little ‘leaning’ in the building also looks more natural because we expect this in a photo. Before the arrival of Photoshop a  special camera with a lens on a bellows was used to correct verticals. This was done by tilting the lens but not the camera body so the correction was ‘in camera’.

Photo before correction

The building is what is left of Duckett’ Grove. After extensive and sensitive restoration, by Carlow County Council, the revived walled gardens and wooded pleasure grounds are now open to the public.

In his book A Guide to Irish Country Houses Mark Bence-Jones describes Duckett’s Grove as a “square house of two and three storeys, transformed into a spectacular castellated Gothic fantasy by Thomas A. Cobden, of Carlow, for J.D. Duckett 1830. Numerous towers and turrets, round, square and octagonal. The walls enlivened with oriels and many canopied niches sheltering statues; more statues and busts in niches along the battlemented wall joining the house to a massive feudal yard gateway. The house was burnt in 1933 and is now a ruin”.

http://www.carlowtourism.com/userfiles/file/Duckett’s%20Grove%20brochure%20final.pdf

Photography, a great resource for the painter

Foxglove, 'isolated' from the background

As the title of the post suggests, photography is a great resource for the painter. A photograph can be a work of art itself with the limitations of photographic optics often contributing to the artistic effect. One ‘limitation’ of the lens is ‘depth of field’. This onetime ‘limitation’ is very popular nowadays. The photo on the left illustrates ‘depth of field’. The flower is in focus and the background is out of focus. Whatever precise point the lens is focused on, a short distance in front of and behind is also ‘in focus’. This distance is controlled by the aperture setting in the lens (the F numbers, eg 4, 5.6, 8 etc.) and is the ‘depth of field’. A very high F number would have made the background sharp and, in this case, ruined the photograph. It is very much a photographically induced image.

And so to the point of this post. Using a photograph as a reference for a painting is very useful. But including this ‘photographic effect’ in a painting, is painting what a camera sees and not what a person sees. It is not one and the same thing. When I see this effect in a painting it seems to me that the artist copied the photograph and was not using the photograph as an ‘aid’ to producing the painting.

In a still life painting, for example, when the eye focusses on an object in the painting, the brain blurs the other parts of the painting and as one moves from item to item in the painting this is continually happening. Of course you have to ‘isolate’ objects but you do so by more subtle means than ‘photographically’ blurring other areas.

I think this is why a realist still life painting looks more ‘real’ than the photograph of the same objects. I have never heard the comment “I could almost touch these objects” in reference to a photograph but its a common comment when viewing a painting.

Cinerama

Do you remember the experiment, about 40 years ago, in cinematic projection which was called Cinerama. The recent efforts to introduce 3D in cinemas reminded me of this. Cinerama involved projecting the movie on a wide curved screen. 3 projectors were used, side by side, to produce the effect. Depending on where you were sitting in the cinema your entire vision was filled with the screen image. This, of course, was the problem – where you were sitting. Very few of those in the cinema got the full effect. If you were to the side of centre the screen was distorted. Why somebody didn’t think of this before the millions were spent converting cinemas and producing films for same, is a mystery. Of course the whole project was abandoned after a few years. I wonder will the same happen with 3D.

We were in Glenbeigh, a few years ago, looking north across the bay towards the Dingle Peninsula. The vastness of the scene reminded me of a Cinerama scene. Of course I took loads of photos but none captured the scene the way I would have liked. It needed a Cinerama treatment. The above photo was the result of my ‘experiment’ (Click on the photo to enlarge it).

The original photo

This was the original photo with a Photoshop ‘Watercolour’ filter applied. By sampling the image I painted in the extra width rather than stretching the scene. When printed at about 4 feet wide it looks good as the ‘curved’ effect gives the feeling of been in the scene.

(Printed on an Epson Stylus Pro 9600 on matt paper)

The Lighthouse and the Sea

2 mediocre photos were used to produce this digital painting. The application used was Photoshop. I was thinking about the lighthouse keepers and the loneliness of their lives usually in isolated places and separated from their families and friends. The ferocity of the sea and the power of nature is very much in the news lately as these forces destroy the works of men.

The text which runs around the edge of the painting is as follows:

The howling gale
has forced the sea birds
down upon the tower
lonely and windswept
cylindrical with power
full of watchful nights
and card playing.

Nature is shown as contorted and angry, twisted into monstrous shapes while the Lighthouse is rigid, hard and resilient.

The photos used.

Mortality, a life threatening condition.

MORTALITY

MORTALITY

The sweltering heat at hand
and along a stretch of beach
made hard the shadows
and the imperfections on her skin,
footprints on sand,
far from its reach
and its bathwater flows
erasing all but Adam’s sin
lapping at the edge of land.

The above picture is a combination of photography and digital painting. The text is part of the picture and I have included it in the event you cannot read it in the picture.
Its a comment on modern society. Especially the obsession with physical appearance which we see everywhere today. Films, TV, advertising, its everywhere. The human form is presented, flawless as a classical statue. The feeling of being physically inadequate must haunt the susceptible. Especially the young.
Even though we know that photographs can be ‘Photoshopped’ we subconsciously accept the image as real. I think this media was appropriate for this ‘painting’.

The elements in the picture are:
the beach – where the D-Day scene from the movie Saving Private Ryan was shot (Curracloe, Co. Wexford, Ireland)
the statue – Venus de Milo, even she suffered from the ravages of time
the beach litter – Leonardo’s da Vinci’s The Vitruvian Man. Vitruvius (born c. 80–70 BC, died after c. 15 BC) described the human figure as being the principal source of proportion among the Classical orders of architecture (Wikipedia).

The computer application used was Photoshop, appropriately.

After the snow – Snowdrops

P1020244

Snowdrops

In Ireland we get very little snow. In my life I could count on one hand the number of really big ‘snow events’ (snow remaining for more than 3 days). Our winter temperatures hover between -5 and +5 Celsius.

Last year it started to snow at the end of November and remained until the end of the year. On Christmas Day, as we drove home from midday Mass through the snow, the temperature was -11 Celsius. Many of the exotic plants we had accumulated over the years were killed by the low temperatures.

The appearance of the Snowdrops in January was a welcome sight. Those hardy little plants need no maintenance just the right place to live. Our little colony live on a North facing bank under old Ash trees. They like the dry shaded bank for their long summer sleep.

Two interesting things about the attached photo, the low angle of the shot and the narrow depth of field (blurred background). I recently got a new camera, Panasonic GH1, which has a screen which can be swiveled out to be viewed at any angle. I was able to take this photo with the camera on the ground and I looking down at the screen from above. I would have to lie down to look at the screen on my previous DSLR to get this shot. Swivel back screens are not ‘only a gimmic’ as I was told by a friend, a serious photographer. The GH1 also has a great video recording ability. The swivel screen is very useful for recording painting demos with the camera mounted on a tripod. You can monitor the video even when the camera has its back away from you.

The ‘blurring’ of the background isolates the foreground and creates an emphasis. This is achieved by having a lower aperture number than an automatic exposure would decide. Again the screen is great as you get a ‘live view’ as you make the changes to the exposure settings. Whether you are in semi or full program mode the camera will compensate by increasing the shutter speed to maintain correct exposure.

P.S. If you want to propagate your Snowdrops now is the time to do it. Unlike other spring bulbs you dig them up when the flowers have died back and the green leaves are still showing. Replant them in bunches.

The under / over exposure problems in photos

The eye is a marvelous piece of equipment. Working away making adjustments to the image in front of us without us even been aware of it. When we look at a sunset, with the naked eye, we see all parts of the scene in most cases. The iris closes when we look at the setting sun and clouds allowing us to appreciate the fantastic colours. The iris then opens when we lower our gaze and we see the details of the landscape.

Yet the limitations of photography over the last 100 years has established the representation of sunsets in photographs and even paintings as silhouettes against a brilliantly lit sky. We accept it without question.

Digital photography can change all this. We can now represent a sunset in a picture as we would see it in real life. It means a bit of work afterwards in the computer but its well within the scope of the amateur photographer.

Sunset, Inis Oir (the smallest of the Aran Islands off the coast of County Galway).
When photographing a scene which has a very bright part and a very dark part the camera’s automatic exposure control will compromise. For example, the sky will be slightly overexposed and the ground underexposed. If the photo is opened in Photoshop the ‘Highlight/Shadow’ control can correct this and it does a great job. But it can have the ‘digitally altered’ look which is OK most of the time and I suppose is a good ‘quick fix’.

This photo had a great sky which was ‘burnt out’ when I adjusted the camera’s exposure to show the details in the foreground. When I reduced the exposure to correctly expose the sky the ground was a black featureless mass.

The solution was to take 2 photos at almost the same time. One to correctly expose the sky and the other to correctly expose the ground. Take the 2 correctly exposed bits and fit them together. Simple, if  you have Photoshop or similar. Happily, there are loads of inexpensive applications available nowadays, because of the popularity of digital photography, that are capable of doing this.

If you give it a try, remember, as you will be a little out repositioning the scene after you adjust for the second shot take more of the scene than you want at the start (wider lens setting) with the intension of cropping back when finished.

Sandwich the 2 photos in Photoshop with the white sky photo on top. You can easily select this white sky bit with the magic wand tool. Delete the sky. The sky in the under photo will now be seen. Slide the upper photo around till the horizons match up. A little bit of fiddling around the edges might be needed.

P.S. Some of the more sophisticated cameras have a feature called ‘bracketing’. This allows you to specify a range of photos each side of the ‘correct exposure’. With this setting enabled, as you press the shutter the camera takes the photo at the ‘correct exposure’, then will continue to take photos at progressively darker and lighter exposures. Depending on your settings and camera you could have 3, 5 or 7 photos going from light to dark. In many cases this range is sufficient to allow you to have the best of 2 of these photos. The advantage of this is it all happens in 1 or 2 seconds without you having to made adjustments between the shots.