There’s a reason that photography is called a visual art—no one takes a photograph blindfolded. We look, frame, consider lighting and shadows, and then select aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. How much of the subject should we capture? Are there distractions? I’ve stood on a ladder picking dead leaves from a plant to make it more photo worthy, but it’s not like we should cut down the entire tree to alter the scene. However, there are other ways to visually alter the subject without actually touching it—and that would come in handy if you’re shooting a grizzly bear!
One common technique to visually alter an image is to shoot photographs of reflections in windows or water, either as abstract forms or distorted visions of reality. For my work, I wanted to extend that technique to intentional—rather than opportunistic—distortions. So in this section, we’ll start looking at an indirect view of the world, filter reality, so you can make it your own.
In this chapter we’ll look at the techniques and tools that will help prepare us to view our filter reality.
These images remind me a bit of ones taken by a camera obscura, but instead of projecting an image to another surface, I rely on reflections or distortions in another material. Images like these, especially using a serendipitous reflection or filter, truly capture a moment in time. And the more I can do that in the camera, the less time I will then have to spend in front of my computer.
A great example of a surprise opportunity to alter my images came on a drive home one day. The fog was so bad that I had to stop driving—everything was socked in completely, and I could barely make out the trees no more than ten feet away. I pulled out my camera and shot a few photographs. When I got home, the images looked purely white in Photoshop, but after some manipulation I was able to pull out ephemeral images from the backgrounds (see some of those images in The Last Layer). This is an opportunity I now seek out. Shooting through a window shade and haze into a courtyard, a white-out snowstorm, or morning mist heavy on a lake all provide opportunities for unique images.
But trying to rely on those moments isn’t really enough—in bright sunny Colorado, there’s not all that much fog and haze. So I began making handheld filters that I could take photographs through—pre-stretched silk or screen (Figure 4.1) simulates fog and mist—and gives the image a grain as if it were a pastel or colored pencil drawing (Figure 4.2). You might be able to use a digital filter to produce something similar, but only with far more work.
FIGURE 4.1 I used leftover silk from when I made silkscreen prints to filter this image.
FIGURE 4.2 I adjusted the levels in Photoshop to bring out this image.