Conceptual Photography, Water

Recently I began working on a collaborative project to roll out a new all submissions based print/online publication. The idea came as a working solution for a small creative community in Denver out of the Bloom Church to encourage creative participation while looking for healthy appreciation for the arts in a Christian church setting. What came from this exercise is something we are calling Verbal\Visual.


The idea is that each quarter — marked by the seasons changing — will have a corresponding theme for submitters to creatively think through their process and push the often numbing experience of “idea block.” Another pushing aspect of Verbal\Visual is the inclusion. We are actively asking and prodding creative writers to submit pieces. How do you encompass the broadness of mediums that we acknowledge as art? You just curate. Much like an art museum might work through the process, I wanted that experience.


The first theme for Verbal\Visual is water. I love this as an introductory issue. Water has embodied so many powerful emotions and experiences for people. Quickly, what comes to mind are memories of baptism, watching scenes of devastation on the news, reading about the crippling effects of drought on populations, water births, trips to the family lake house, summer camp. Each of these experiences are different, but water is a part of these stories. Water has huge applications in all aspects of lives from sustaining life to manufacturing lifeless metal components to moving machines.


I have started to unpack some of the visual power of water in my own photographic process. Below, you will find some of the images that I have made in response to this call for work pertaining to water.


For the first images in this series I wanted to work through the feeling of water as the metaphor. What does it look like to feel like you are drowning in your own stress or emotions?


Detroit Rock City

"The city that was and is to be" is, perhaps, a better monicker. There are things happening in Detroit. There are people looking with energy and keen eyes for opportunity and space to be creative and alive in the city that all but died. 

Here are a few images from the short study and quick stylistic influence that Detroit wrought on the camera.

Details of the once abandoned Detroit Train Station.


Warm morning light spills into the library of an old  Detroit mansion.

Descending the servants stair case early in the morning.


A flooded street reflect a series of power lines.


Street art being framed under an unused viaduct in Detroit's Cork Town neighborhood.


An old green traditional church building with large steeple.


Candid portrait of female in a diner brought back by the renewal of Detroit.


Candid portrait of male adorned with a bright hunter orange Filson baseball cap.

Male stands in modeling his Redwing Iron Ranger boots. 

Color: A Tutorial... kind of.

Let's talk color.

As I have taken more steps into the realm of what it means to be a commercial photographer I have constantly been faced with this issue of ambient light. Ambient light is all that light that's around your subject in the real world that just kind of is there. Often this ambient light comes in at different temperatures, which I am just going to call it as colors. These different colored ambient lights screw with the final color of the photograph you take. This may seem obvious, but I have spent many hours color correcting or "color grading" photographs that I receive for graphic pieces. Whether it is out of lack of care or just not knowing any better, I am regularly presented with photographs that have yellow or amber whites, red blacks, or green mid-tones.

It's important to remember that commercial photography is not shooting for Instagram and Facebook likes. Typically commercial photographs are meant to be the most simple form of communicating a product. A good product photo will need no more than a sentence to tell you all you need to know to want it. Product photographs are meant to be true representations. If you are planning on shooting product you must understand that showing the viewer as best you can the color and quality of said product is everything to most art directors and marketing directors. If you cannot give a pristine representation of that new, let's say, bottle of perfume you have failed that commercial assignment. This goes for food as well. Food stylist are so into detail it's maddening. For you as the photographer to mess with that precision is just bad work. 

Pro tip: If you can, get your color correct before the shutter releases and before the editing process.

In the modern day of digital cameras we are dealing with three colors. Red. Green. Blue. These are the colors of the pixels on your screen. These three colors in combination create all the colors you expect to see on a screen. Even before seeing your image on a screen the sensors in your cameras are locked on to separating red, blue, and green into the proper ratios. I think understanding this idea of ratios is important for understanding color reproduction, and really that's what I want to talk about. Color reproduction. 

All the light sources are contributing their own colors to mess up my camera's auto white balance... 

All the light sources are contributing their own colors to mess up my camera's auto white balance... 

White balance.

If you've spent any time with a RAW photo editor such as Lightroom or using a digital camera you have seen something called white balance. Think of this setting as the base line, the constant, for the all of the color that will come out of the camera after actuating it's shutter and processing that ratio of red, blue, and green pixels. If the camera is detecting or is preset to determine "white" as more yellow, green, magenta, or blue it will sway the ratios in that direction. In real world scenarios we can think of this as the effect our own optical processes have (cones and rods and optic nerves and brain stuff) as we walk from outside on a sunny day into one of those gyms that has that strange orange light. If you spend enough time in the orange light gym your brain will compensate and begin shifting all the colors so that the colors you know to be are being perceived as that color. White balance, be it in film or digital, is this concept for photographs; still or moving. Typically digital cameras will have presets that show themselves as icons to simplify this adjustment up front. These look like a "sun," "clouds," "fluorescent tube," or "incandescent light bulb." Each is supposed to reflect the ambient lighting conditions. You would select from these presets depending on the situation you are shooting in. This might be in day light outdoors (the "sun" icon), in an office with that droning fluorescent hum (the "fluorescent tube" icon), or in a space with hipster Edison bulbs (the "incandescent light bulb" icon). By selecting from these options you are telling the camera what temperature, what color, the light is so that "white" is seen as white instead of, say, orange. Digital cameras typically make this process either more involved or less involved with automatic white balance detection and manual temperature adjustment. The manual temperature adjustment is typically denoted by a "K" for Kelvin. Kelvin is a unit for temperature. Typically you will have forgotten what Kelvin is by the time you have finished high school, so I am reminding you. This manual adjustment of white balance is useful when you are in a situation that the camera is being confused because the ambient light in your scenario is actually a combination of "sun," "fluorescent," and "Edison bulb." Basically though, auto will do just fine. Simply having a better working knowledge of light temperature and how it affects the reproduction of color in your end photograph is going to be a game changer in your shooting. Be you a hobby shooter or pursuing a career as a photographer.  

Now, for the more advanced shooter that is insisting on shooting and editing RAW files, I implore you, learn how to first read light temperature before hitting that shutter button. It will spare you much annoyance in the editing process. If you can't control the color of ambient lights in your scenario, you are in luck. RAW file editing allows you to adjust your white balance in post. Some of you are rolling your eyes because this is feeling like some amateur hour stuff right here. Believe me, I actually feel similarly a lot of times when I am being sent photographs from people that obviously don't understand this stuff. That's why I typed up all these words. There are still people out there that don't get it.

Photographers, let's be real for a moment. Your camera's auto white balance setting is probably real good, but it's only as good as the information that it's receiving. If you do the work up front to correct the color of your light as best you can, your camera will help you along the rest of the way. 

This is an image I received recently for use as a promotional piece. I did not shoot this image.

This is an image I received recently for use as a promotional piece. I did not shoot this image.

Color Balance

There are a number of uses for Photoshop. One of the ways I use it most is for color correction or color grading. There is one particular adjustment layer in Photoshop that I immediately go to when I have to deal with color correction. Color Balance. This adjustment layer shifts the color reproduction separately in the highlights, mid-tones, and shadows. In the image above I decided it would be easier for me to correct this white balance issue in Photoshop rather than in Lightroom. In reality this image could have been shot under more controlled settings so as to have accurate color from the start. It's tricky however when you are shooting on location with your ambient light coming at you in 5 different colors. Now the image above with my adjustments aren't perfect. It's a little too blue in places, but with JPEG compression and moving to the web color profiles are all over the place and I wanted to get the edit done with. I happen to think colors are at least more correct. I know this because I know that the plate that sandwich is on is a pretty bright white. I also painted that wall behind the cup. It's not a greenish gray. It's closer to a blueish black. 

Back to Color Balance. The way this tool works is by isolating the blend of the three major color channels in either the highlights, mid-tones, or shadows. In each selection there are three sliders that all start in the middle at 0. The three sliders are Magenta/Cyan, Green/Red, and Yellow/Blue. The sliders depending on the mix of the three will aid you in adjusting your color corrections. I like the Color Balance tool because of the ability to really fine tune but also create some neat colored photos.

This process is often referred to as Color Grading. Folks in the film industry specifically use this terminology. In films it's less about color correction than it is about creating an aesthetic or mood through the application of color.

This photo's color was purposely adjusted to bring out pinks and blues. Achieved through the Color Balance adjustment in Photoshop.

This photo's color was purposely adjusted to bring out pinks and blues. Achieved through the Color Balance adjustment in Photoshop.

In conclusion... 

I guess all that to say. I just want to stress the importance of understanding color reproduction in commercial photography. in particular food and product images. Please take the time to account for the color of ambient light. Please take the time to assess the ways you might prevent off color ambient light from entering your photograph. This could also be my argument for controlled light sources. Strobes and similar studio lighting... 


The final product. 


In the Mountains/Blog kick off

This is going to be the new thing here I guess. I don't know if people will take moment to look at this stuff, but perhaps it's more my own need to be processing and creating work at the moment. I was inspired recently by fellow creative and new transplant to Denver, Anthony Barlich, as well as fellow Fuji Film enthusiast, Zach Arias to just start making images.

The thing is, I'm feeling so inspired recently, and yet I'm so creatively constipated right now. I want to put ideas down on paper and from paper to physical medium be it in the kitchen or in my living room printing photographs. I haven't really been feeling up to making illustration or 2-d design pieces recently. I have a feeling it's because I see a lot of neat looking 2-d stuff from illustrators and "famous" graphic designers on Instagram, and it's weighing on me how similar everyone's work is becoming. I get that people are more aware of trends these days, but seriously trends are moving in and out of people's view so quickly these days it's gotta be eating away at the wallets of small business owners. Also I'm tired of everything being trendy. It's not inspiring me anymore. I want to go back to the days of flipping through old books from Bauhaus designers or photographs from Annie Leibovitz and feel like I'm just soaking up all this stuff for the first time. 

All that to say, I'm going to try keeping a semi-regular blog that I can put up some personal work either for my own accountability to make or for critique. I think I also miss the days of critique. Likes on Instagram is truly bullshit for critical feedback if you ask me. Seriously, it's nonsense to think that people are going to stop making knock-off work if all they ever receive is "likes." People who make it their life to create need that realness too.

So I titled this blog post in regards to the fact that I now live in Denver, and this means I'll be going up to the mountains on a frequent basis. I have dreamed of living in the mountains for years and this is pretty damn close. Thirty minutes in the car to see this kind of natural beauty. I will not ever get enough of this.  Landscapes like these are bound to be a common occurrence on this blog. How can they not? These places are gorgeous and evoke a peace that I just don't get else where. And to think, there's thousands of square-miles that I can still explore for a first time or never even make it to. Mind is blown.

I'm experimenting for the first time with these night-scapes. Multi image mergers to create a grander depth of field that really makes me feel like I'm being enveloped in the galaxy. I love space. I love space so freaking much. Growing up in Chicago it meant hours of driving before I ever got to see this kind of scene. Isn't it mesmerizing?