Category Archives: Spring

Printing Subtle Images — Harder Than it Might Seem

Four Morning Glories in Autumn

I’ve been printing a lot just lately. As I mentioned last week, I had a request from my senator’s office to send some prints to hang in their Washington DC office. So I’ve been printing for Bernie Sanders. He wants Vermont images. I’ve printed some of my most popular images, things I’ve printed a lot before. It’s gone well. But then I’ve been trying to push out some new work, as I always feel inclined to do in these circumstances. This printing has been harder than hard. I think sometimes people think a photographer just presses the shutter on the camera, click, and then to print you push a button, click again. Done. So easy. Who would pay for that?

I won’t talk about the camera and lens work, but I find that in some ways printing never gets easier, with some images. Indeed, as my aspirations grow, it just gets harder. I think in some ways the hardest of all are the moody, atmospheric images I’m working on a lot these days, which in some cases only have a relatively small area of sharp subject, and the rest are tones and subtle colors. I think that a more traditional landscape — everything sharp — is a whole lot easier. The detail and the “reality” of the subject distract a lot from other aspects of what is going on with tones and colors. Of course such a print still benefits from the work to get the tones all working. It is just more critical when the photo is more of a tone poem than a detail-subject.

I had been printing in the darkroom since the late 70s, and I got to be quite the craftsman after I took a couple of weeks of workshop given by John Sexton in 1982. He was working as Ansel Adams’ darkroom assistant at that time, and he taught us the craft as Ansel Adams was practicing it. Besides a lot of burning and dodging, paper choice and a lot of tweaking of chemistry were involved, and it took a long time to nail a final print in those days. I printed in the darkroom until about ’98, when I moved away from a darkroom and never had one of my own again.

At first, digital printing was even harder for me than darkroom printing. At first everything was out of control, and I couldn’t get a handle on it. I longed for the darkroom. Eventually I learned the characteristics of a handful of papers, how the ink works, most importantly calibration of monitor and printer profile. Still not easy. Sometimes pretty predictable. Sometimes surprisingly not so. I’ve spent quite a bit of time and expensive materials, but now I have a really nice print of this morning glory in autumn light on Canson Etching Edition paper.

I’ve been working on printing of the image above since mid-December, and I’ve just got prints I’m happy with today, finally. I’ll send one to Bernie.

A print, by being reflective, is a different kind of thing than glowing pixels on a monitor. The image above features some light coming through, the gold burst from the autumn foliage behind the top morning glory. I’ve got to get the paper to convey that sense. The colors are bright and vivid, but it’s tricky to keep it from looking like a cartoon. In some of my attempts it has been hard to keep it from being murky. This is a tricky one.

My first take on working on an image where color and tonal fidelity will usually be to try Canson Baryta paper. This was a complete failure for some reason. It was just too contrasty, and I couldn’t get the feeling to come across, even when reducing contrast in the file I fed the printer. Printing on more textured mat papers, like Canson Edition Etching opened the whole thing up better, less deep and made the light glow, but then there were other problems — color fidelity not as good, and also not a good “anchor” from the deeper tones. I find on some of my textured papers, even with a calibrated workflows, some colors get a little wilder and harder to control.

I had to make a file just for printing, and then tweak the file to get the print to work, a different file from what I display on the screen to look good. The goal I insist on is that the print and the image you see on screen will have the same impression.

Because I’m a masochist, I’m working on another one that is just as hard. I’m still not quite happy with the print of this one, but I’m working on it this afternoon. My target is to get it to work on Canson Rag Photographique, a smooth paper that is still distinctly papery, and which still conveys the open quality I’m looking for. Closing in on it I think.

New Beech Leaves, 2017

Vermont Farmer’s Market: Flower Decisions

Vermont Farmer's Market, Clematis,Peony,Columbine

As a bit of a counterpoint to last week’s image, which is bright and luminous, this is a similar subject but darker and denser: completely different feel. This was made with the same lens at the same aperture, an ancient Zeiss Contax G 90 Sonnar, wide open.

These days I would have tended to bring a different lens in my bag. In my current style for something like a farmer’s market, I would choose one of my less aggressively sharp and contrasty lenses. However, encouraged by the alternate character revealed in that fuschia greenhouse photo, I brought this as my only long lens and used it wide open.

A farmer’s market is funny, like life: there is a lot going on and it’s hard to sort it out. I always feel like it might be a ripe situation for photography, and it often is, but it really requires some careful looking. One slice of it might be a good photo, but then there is a lot of chaos and potential for everything to change quite quickly. Of course, like life, that change works in our favor. Without it, we would be stuck.

Famous Purple Raincoat; Fuchsias in Spring Greenhouse

Pink Fuchsias, Purple Raincoat, Greenhouse

As much as I try to know my gear and what it will do, this image was a delightful surprise.

I think of my lenses — almost all prime (not zoom) and manual focus, often vintage — in two broad categories: Zeissy or Anti-Zeiss. As I may have mentioned before the Zeissy lenses are aggressively sharp and contrasty, often generally at the expense of smooth rendering. I’ve been surprised before, as in the success of this image of lights in a botanic garden at night. But generally the Zeissy lenses are not what I think of when I want something smooth and dreamy.

I was out on errands, and my bag had only these sharp and aggressively contrasty lenses in it. On this rainy dreamy day, I found myself in the soft light of a greenhouse and wanted a rather dreamier rendering. I tried a lens I’ve had for about four months, and I thought I knew it. It’s an old Zeiss Contax G film-era lens, which, in my experience, is one of the sharpest and most aggressively contrasty lenses I own. I decided to try it at wide aperture and hope for the best. The viewfinder looked good.

When I looked at the file, I was surprised at the smooth dreamy rendering. In fact, I liked the image so much I decided to go back to this and other greenhouses with some of my “bokeh” smooth lenses to get an even better image. I may have managed that; maybe not. I think for what I wanted of this image, this old lens pulled through surprisingly well!

Exactly one year ago: newly plowed corn field, dappled light and low clouds

Newly Plowed Cornfield Vermont Black and White

I had been thinking about this image for a couple of weeks. I actually wake up sometimes with them in my mind. Sometimes I can’t sleep in the night because I get such strong flashes in my mind, like I’m making the exposures. Sometimes I have dreams that are like slideshows, streams of my photos. Anyway, I thought about this photo very vividly and then realized it was made just this week, last year.

There are so many things about it I like, but better to let you come to your own relationship with it.

This is an example of my work being informed by my past — my work in silver images with large format film. But I have to say that this panorama with a modern Zeiss lens, stitched from high resolution images from a very good modern sensor, is better than anything I could have made before. I will print it pretty big, and it will shine that way, but there is enough resolution that I could print it really big. If you like it and have a large wall, let me know.

This print is available for sale here.

New Corn and Fresh Pneumonia

Spring Cornfield and Echo Curve Cloud, Vermont 2016

The morning of June 4 was a beautiful one, fresh late spring growth, the corn in the field still showing nice clear geometry, and cirrus clouds echoing the curves and curls in the sky. My wife kicked me out of the house to go down the hill to photograph, with the idea there might be some low mist on these fields along the Connecticut River. There was not, but the clouds were great and I enjoyed making some I think well-seen and well-made exposures, with this, with clouds echoing the curve of the corn rows, maybe the best of them.

The rest of the day was busy, as a weekend day can be in early June in the country. A lot of gardening.

As the evening fell and the air cooled, I caught a chill and shivered. Fever all night, and the next night, and then diagnosed with pneumonia. Knocked me flat and got me behind schedule. But nevertheless I have made a lot of good exposures since then. I’m getting toward full tilt again.

This photo is for sale as a print in a few sizes on the site.

Light Through Leaves (x3)

Apple Orchard and Maple

I was walking past this little orchard one day, my wife walking fast and getting ahead of me on account of my photography. “Wait! Just one more!” This panorama. Worth exposing…

Oak Tree and Vermont Hills

Another recent one, above. I went out that morning because there was a heavy frost/light snow with fall leaves still up. I was looking for a certain kind of image, with the potential everywhere I looked — but I don’t think I managed to realize it in a good composition. This was near a little stream, not particularly the drama I was looking for in the open spaces. The field in the background is indeed covered with frost, and these leaves were indeed red with light shining through. Somehow this black and white version is the best photo though. Also the images I exposed just after this were also good, along the stream. You just never know. You look for one thing, but you find another.

Stone Wall, Light through trees, Maine

And this one above, also of light coming through trees, I’ve been meaning to put up on the site for a few months now, since exposing it last spring. I was driving past this wall and just glimpsed the wall and the light coming through the trees, late light, and I turned around and circled back to it.

Dandelions and Stone Wall, Hartland VT 2015

dandelions and stone wall

I may have mentioned in the past that the original intent of this blog was to post brand new work. As I’ve also often mentioned, I think: I’m often too chicken, or too smart, to do that. It seems like a really good idea to let an image settle with time, to become a thing itself and detach itself from the remembered experience of being in the situation.

On the other hand, it is good to be excited about new work, and I’m doing a bunch of new work that I find exciting these days, of course most of it not posted yet.

I’ve often attempted to get the silhouette of a stone wall with the woods or meadow as a sort of figure/ground subject switch. I think this is a successful attempt at this, with dandelions to continue from last week.

This photograph can be viewed in higher resolution and purchased here.

Dandilions on Hill, Hartland VT 2014

In some places, people apply broadleaf herbicides, and the result is a uniform lawn, perfect in its way. But, environmental considerations aside, I think it’s a poorer world for that. The conformed, uniform lawn may be pretty in its way, but as I say, it’s less rich.

Sometimes as a gardener, I don’t always appreciate the weeds. But each and every weed is in its way a beautiful plant, or at least worthy of some respect. It’s an energetic presence clinging to life quite tenaciously. And if we catch it before it goes to seed, it can go on the compost — future riches for the soil.

Sometimes as a man who works with his mind, who works on his mind, I don’t always appreciate the mind-weeds. Or all the thoughts, about to go to seed in the wind like dandelions. They land in every corner and create more mind-weeds. But, catch them early, right onto the compost pile, and it’s a richer mind, full of more energy and possibility. Each mind-weed is a stout specimen in its own right, with its own beauty and strength and a part of the whole landscape. We can accept the whole, and it’s a beautiful thing.

No, we don’t just mow them down or poison them. We respect them and work with them. They flower and go to seed; the seeds blow away, and there are so many places they can land.

This photo can be viewed larger here.

Spring Cornfield, Hay Field, Clouds Hartland Vermont

This is a spot where I’ve made a lot of exposures, in infrared as well as with visible light, especially this last spring. It’s a long walk, or a short trip on the electric bicycle. Though I’ve always been drawn to the spot, it’s hard to say what it is this spring that pulled me there so much. This is about a quarter mile and a few weeks separated from this image of Mt Ascutney. This one is looking north-ish, while the other one is across the road, a south view. It’s a good spot.

There were some times when the clouds were more dramatic, some panoramas that worked out well and included those clouds. I don’t know. For now, this is the one. Something about the light and the quality of the space. Yes.

This looks much better bigger on the web page.

Gone-by Dandelion, Pink Azalea, 2014

gone by dandilion macro, pink azelea

It’s been hard to put up a photo of the week lately, because I’ve been making so many exposures. It’s a funny paradox, but it comes down to the most precious resource: time.

I spend a lot of time working on photography, and even with that wealth of time spent, I have to allocate resources, of course. Camera time, looking through, sorting, evaluating, and then going down various rabbit holes. The time to push a photo through, and the clarity to pick just one — that’s a challenge in a rich time like this.

I always rave about this Olympus 60mm macro lens; sorry to do it more, but it is just really quite extraordinary. I’ve been actually throwing away some unpublished images made with some good old Nikon lenses, because so much of the work I’m doing now is just plain better. I’ve been making so many images that are so good, it’s hard to choose between them.

So many things make a photo worthy, and I hope that there are more than one of them working here. But the thing is, have you ever really seen the dome of the dandelion where the seeds have gone? A lifetime of looking closely at dandelions, and I’ve never seen that they really look this way as the seeds go.