Focal points Photography

Development in Style

Things have been busy lately in all good ways. This experiment of going part time at Apple while attempting to build my photo business has been exactly what I needed for my sanity, business future and sleep schedule. Where things are going is still a bit unsure but sure enough there has been no lack of interest, my schedule is almost as busy as it was before, except now I’m getting to actually work on projects instead of just watching them pile up.

Taking more jobs I’m starting to experience a transition in my work, I’m starting to grow creatively. I’ll elaborate in just a few.

First off I am still working with ChicagoNow and my photo blog Focal Points, although admittedly I don’t publish as much as I’d like to. I’ve got some exciting ideas to freshen things up over there (and here) and I hope I’ll get the chance to share them with you. It’s just a matter of time before I figure out the right way to do things.

My latest entry about my visit to Blue Island I think is my favorite so far. Blue Island was full of grit and decay and realism. The stuff I’m attracted to and really the purpose behind that blog, it has sort of a purest’s angle. Here is a sample shot.


Speaking of ChicagoNow on Tuesday they had their monthly tweetup and I was the official photographer you can find those shots on the ChicagoNow Staff Blog. Here is a shot from that.


Pretty different right? Obviously both in subject matter and approach. Walking around a party with a flash is still a new experience for me. I spent pretty much 2005-2008 refusing to use anything but natural light / room lighting because I think it requires you to hone your craft. For a long time I was averse to shooting with flash because of the effects it causes when used improperly. I also feel like people who heavily use flash photography tend to be annoying. I usually prefer to catch people in the moment than to get people posing.

However I’m at a point now where I feel like I’ve done enough work pushing the Apertures and ISO of my camera and lenses that it may be time to learn something else. Also, the nature of shooting weddings and events are requiring me to move to using flash. So far so good, already my opinions on the subject are starting to change. We’ll see where this leads.

Now that I’ve done all that talking about working with flash I’m going to show you a picture shot without it. Here are my friends Austin and Allysa at my friends Evan and Shama’s wedding.

© 2010 John Morrison - subism

I still prefer this look to any other, there is a softness to natural light that just feels more human to me. I’m often told that I’m more a photojournalist than an editorial shooter and I’m not sure how I feel about that. My preference is to make something feel real, that captures a moment… that by nature sounds like photojournalism but I’m perfectly fine with that moment being faked or set up as well. I want my photography to be believable.

If there is one thing that I’d say that grounds most of my work it’s that.  Realistic beauty. Even when if it’s faked I want the viewer to feel it in a real way. Some would say this holds me back, I think it makes me better. Every tool, every trick can be used and overused. This is sorta why I shy away from HDR photography. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s very often beautiful (my friend Megan does particularly good work) but more often than not it’s overused until an image has no depth, no black and no white at all, things become just overblown over-saturated messes of photos. It’s walking that line that makes you skilled, using something in moderation and creating something beautiful is the right way to go.

When I do use it I try not to over-use it.

© 2010 John Morrison - subism

Some might tell you that photo isn’t “true HDR” because I actually have black and white points. I would tell them to go frak themselves. HDR is a tool like any other.

That’s sorta the same way I feel about flash. Now, this is not a knock against studio photography. As photographers many of us are obsessed with light and the fact we can control it for our artistic expression is the equivalent of cavemen learning to harness fire. It’s not something I’m taking for granted, however in this day and age there is an obscene amount of editorial / studio photos that look the same in boring ways. I don’t want to be like that.

Every model on every magazine cover is made up like crazy, lit to death and then photoshopped back to life. I don’t want to do that. I’d like to walk that line and find that balance to create something that is exciting while being somewhat real. I think that’s how I’ll stand out… my editorial work will be informed by journalistic / natural style.

A major influence on my work has been Clay Enos. Clay shoots entirely with natural light and works in Lightroom to do everything else and it’s those restrictions that make him better at what he does. By confining himself creatively he inherently becomes more creative.

The thing is I don’t want to be Clay either. I love his work but there are things I don’t like about it either. I want my own style. It’s just a matter of finding exactly what that is. I think the last few years have taught me well. Now it’s time to learn some new toys and continue to find a balance.


General Photography Technology

Waveland and Kenmore in HDR

HDR or High Dynamic Range is a photography post production technique that seems to be very trendy these days. It’s known for yielding striking images full of color and detail not attainable through a single shot. I’ve been fascinated by the idea since I first heard about it a few years ago.

Basically, for those of you who are not photographers the idea is pretty simple. A digital image can only contain a certain amount of light / color information so tones above and below the acceptable range get clipped out, either appearing as pure black or pure white. What HDR seeks to do is to bring back that information by working with multiple exposures.

In short: you take three shots, one too dark, one too light and one even. Each one of those images will have information the others won’t. For example, one image might highlight the color in the sky and another might bring out the details in the shadows. By combining these three shots we can create one composite image with more color and detail than any of the originals.

For my first attempt I worked with a combination of tools from shot to upload. The first of which is my Canon Digital Rebel XTi and my trusty Canon 28mm f2.8 lens. I’m a big fan of this lens for it’s wide angle and relatively high aperture (the f2.8). The allows my camera to take in a lot of light very quickly with a lot of sharpness and crisp color. This is absolutely one of my favorite lenses.  Every Canon shooter should have something similar.

From there I loaded my images into Apple’s Aperture 2.1 software where I picked my three shots and did some conservative adjustments to bring out more detail in the images. From there I went into Adobe Photoshop CS3.

Now anyone who knows my photography most likely knows that I do everything I can to avoid working in Photoshop. These days I try to accomplish everything I possibly can inside Aperture. However I have not been impressed by what I’ve seen from the Hydra HDR plugin that is available for Aperture, so I decided to give Photoshop’s built in one a chance.

Much to my delight the feature worked as advertised. By loading in the three images it was able to create one 32-bit image with a startling range of color. Unfortunately not many programs can handle a 32-bit file so I had to convert it back down to the 16-bit range of the previous files. However, the ultimate goal was still accomplished. My one 16-bit file now contained a lot more color and detail than any of the three. Still the image started to look a little flat so, from there I did some basic curves adjustments to restore some contrast and moved the image back to Aperture.

Inside Aperture I did a little more tweaking of saturation and sharpness to make the image punch some more and there we have it, my first real HDR image is a success. (At least I think so.)

The biggest challenge in this process to me was shooting the photographs themselves. I had to make sure that, without a tripod, I kept my shots steady and without interruption from cars or passers by.

As a whole I’m pleased by the process and the results. I will definitely play with HDR imaging a lot more in the future.