Photo Gauntlet

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Gauntlet: Avoid Tunnel Vision

By Gary Fong
Photographer:  Dave Bartruff,
Click Photos to Enlarge
Figure 1Figure 2
Picture editors notice the little things when editing a shoot.  It may be the nuance of the coverage, the style of the photographer, or the technical defects.
Dave Bartruff, has been around the world chasing the sun for over 40 years.  One of his more recent projects was in Egypt, the land of blazing sun, hot sand, and Pyramids that have been around just a few years longer than Bartuff himself.
Now for the Nit Picking
While editing 20gb of pictures, a handful where showing vignettes on all four corners. Darkened corners tend to move the eye back to the main subject, but the Bartruff dark corners were a bit too prominent, more like intrusive.
At first, I thought it could a tree branch that caught the corner of a frame…or a camera strap that missed the neck. But two, three or four corners is unusual.  I searched my mind for what could create these defects and why they were showing up all too consistently. Throughout many of Bartruff’s images were deep blue sky, sun and sand images, and dark corners.
I asked Dave if he was using a Polarizer. “Oh yes”, he said. At IOS 200, 1/1000, f/22, the desert seemed blinding. He tried toning down the brightness of the desert with a Polarizer. The Polarizer had the added benefit of making the sky go deep blue.
But what was causing the vignettes?  When Dave added the Polarizer, he placed it over his Skylight 1A filter, already on the lens.  The combination of stacking two filters created a tunnel effect for the angle of view, thus shows the vignette defects.
The solution is not stacking filters on top of each other.  Use only the Polarizer or the Skylight 1A over the lens, not both. However, sometimes with super wide-angle lenses, a Polarizer may still show up at the corners.  A thin Polarizer may be the answer.  Some filters are taller than others.
If a Photoshop solutions is available, use the “clone tool” to dab out the offending dark defect around the corners.  Sample the same color tones around the area, then dab with a soft brush tool. But even that becomes problematic if the surrounding area is something other than simple sky colors, i.e. tree branches.  
Yes, there are other Photoshop techniques that could be applied for the solution. But let’s backup to the first question…if one could avoid shooting a defect, try avoiding it in the first place.

Gauntlet: Balancing a Strong Strobe with Ambient

By Gary Fong
Photographer: Dawn Pfaff
Click Photos to Enlarge 
Figure 1 
Strong directional light can cause the subject to stand out from the background.  It can set a mood or bring contour to a two-dimensional image.
Dawn Pfaff, is a young photographer exploring photography with the PhotoGenX students in Brazil. She’s having the time of her life, using photography as a cross-cultural experience.
Now for the Nit Picking
Strong light is only one technique to enhance the subject.  Equally important is the context of the subject to background.  A strong side light not only adds contour to what viewers would see as two-dimensional, but it offsets the subject from the background.
Figure 2A few additional ways of offsetting the subject from the background would be to use a long lens, at minimum aperture to produce a shallow depth of field.  It would blur the background, against a relatively sharp focused subject.
A second technique would be to adjust the overall exposure to allow the sky to be richer.  Many photographers make an ambient exposure for a blue sky, then adjust the strobe output to match the aperture setting of the ambient.
An example:
Ambient exposure: ISO 200; shutter speed 1/250; aperture f/16
Strobe output should accommodate: ISO 200; shutter speed (doesn’t matter); f/16
If the ambient light fades, one could adjust the shutter speed down, but leave the aperture at f/16.  Since the shutter speed of the strobe doesn’t matter (up to a point), one could use slow shutter speeds as a creative tool. But that’s another story.
The initial thought is to bring color back into the sky to offset the subject d. One does that by balancing the ambient with the strobe output.  The strong sidelight will add a dimension of color to the dimension of contour. Think about that for a bit…and give it a try.


Gauntlet: Ghost Town Alcatraz

By Gary Fong

Photographer: Tanya Shafer

Figure 1
Ghost towns, or in this case, ghost prisons images of Alcatraz, lend themselves to a lot of mystical visual metaphors. Capturing the architecture of former centers of activities is one way to approach coverage, but recording the “mystic” requires more than a “mystic filter”.
Figure 2Figure 3
Now for the Nit Picking
Architectural photos strive to present the best qualities of design, functionality, and aesthetic appeal. It uses dramatic lighting to accentuate the depth and space.
Frank Lloyd Wright designed his buildings to be appreciated from eye level, therefore, the best photos that articulated his design creations were best photographed from eye level. 
Figure 4 
The challenge is keeping the walls straight in the photo.  Photographers who use wide lenses tend to tilt the film plane off the regimented axis of the building, therefore, the walls appear to be caving in or falling back.  Walls that appear to be perfectly straight are shot closer to the 90-degree axis of the structure, creating a very formal, very straight angle of view for the architecture. 
The Alcatraz building images miss the point of formal wall straightness…but leans more on the ghostly side of caving in.  The lights and shadows are harsh…perhaps a reminder of the harsh living conditions on the prison island.
Figure 5
As an architecture record of the prison buildings in the past tents, the coverage misses the mark.  As a mystical compilation of what was before…it feels incomplete.
It’s missing the contextual relationships to other buildings, to the overall scene-setting image, to how the details fit into the story. Alcatraz is more than a water tower, chains on bars, and bare light bulbs hanging in space. One needs to show the mystical relationship of the custodial elements to provide a better feeling of a ghostly prison. 
What I’d like to see is an architectural look at the prison space combined with the mystic of emptiness.  Give me that image…and I’ll never break the law ever again.