Monday, March 26, 2018


Ever since I picked up my first professional grade camera, a Canon A-1, I've been interested in pushing the envelope. I first picked up ideas from the masters of the 1980s, but soon started experimenting with new techniques and approaches. My art schooling and the medium of photography quickly became one to form what I now called photo art.

I prefer to to create my abstracts and special effects in camera because it takes photographic and artistic skills, not computer software know-how, to create them.

Let's first begin with some operational definitions so we can all be on the same page. First, my definition of 'Abstracts:' Extracting from any subject only a representation of its form, shapes, or colors, without identifying the subject. By 'Special Effects' I mean any technique other than a "straight" shot,  where I am just trying to get the best possible representation of what I see.

I use several techniques for both my abstracts and special effects. I will share the highlights of those techniques as I share several examples below. I'll start with abstracts.

Leading up to Mardi Gras, home owners of a quaint historic house in Eureka Springs, Arkansas decorate the tree in their front yard with tons of 'Nawlins beads. I had fun photographing the tree--see below.

Once i got my "straight shot," I came up with creative ideas of what I could do with the beads, other than documenting them. This is one of those renditions. Quite simply, I just closed in on a smaller grouping and moved my camera downward, vertically, to create this colorful abstract.

Sometimes the abstract is already there; I just have to be visually open to pull the uncommon from the common. Such was the case when I saw several puddles, yes simple puddles, while hiking at 10,000 feet in the Indian Peaks Wilderness area in Colorado. Most folks think it's a part of an oil spill in a parking lot.


I always ask myself, "What does this moment give me?" You've been there. You go out with your camera with something in mind. You have an idea as to what you hope to see or find, but when you get there, it isn't there. The tendency is to accept your fate and maybe go out another time. Next time that happens, and before you put away your gear, ask, "What does this moment give me?"

One day I drove out to far eastern Colorado, in the prairies that look like Kansas, looking for farms, ranches, and anything old. I found something old-- an old abandoned barn. As I walked around the barn, nothing hit me at first, but I kept scanning the walls, roofs, floors, etc. 

At first, I saw this....

Then I saw this, from the same scene....getting closer to my final image, an abstract.

As I talk about in my new book, Right Brain Photography, I started seeing color, form,
texture, and shapes, which helped me see this.

I'll let you look at this next one for a few seconds first.

It's a semi frozen lake. Again, I see shapes, color, form--I don't see the lake.
In my book I talk about the usefulness of eastern philosophy in photography. This is one example.

One of the many aspects of photography I love is the fact that whatever I photograph, the viewer sees it out of context--she wasn't there with me. Therefore, unless it's obvious, it can be difficult for her to to see an image and make a connection to something with which she's familiar.

What connection, or connections, can you make to this?

These are clouds at sunset over the Flatirons near Boulder, Colorado.

Beads, a puddle, old weathered material in an abandoned barn, a lake, and clouds. So, go out and take a common subject out of context and see what you can create with it!! 

Now I'll turn my attention to 'Special Effects.' Please re-read my definition above. 

I have several techniques I apply to create special effects. I will share my most commonly used to date, beginning with my double exposures. I have three double exposure techniques I use, but today I'll only share my favorite. When I see a subject that is conducive to a double exposure, I will first take it slightly out of focus. Then, I change my focusing point, change to a smaller f/stop (aperture), and underexpose the second shot usually by a -2/3 to keep the final image from coming out overexposed. That is what I did with these tulips. I like the halo effect I get when I use this technique. 

This next one is my most difficult technique. A lot of my students are challenged when they attempt it. It requires careful hand-eye coordination. I call it my "Swirl" technique because you actually swirl the camera, while keeping from arching the camera movement.

I place the palm of my hand right below my camera (no tripod) and my right hand index finger on the shutter release button. I make sure I use a slow shutter speed, and that varies, depending on one's reactions--mine are pretty quick, so I normally use a shutter speed between 1/10-1/15 of a second. Then, when I'm focused on the main subject, I quickly and simultaneously swirl my camera counter clockwise and press the release button. It takes practice. If your reactions are too slow, use a slower shutter speed, to make sure you get that swirl effect. Don't arch your camera. Swirl your wrist, not your hand. If you do it right, it looks something like this. Usually, there's no, or very little, swirl effect on the subject in the center of your swirl, and then it becomes more pronounced toward the outer edges.

Sometimes I combine a double exposure with my swirl technique, like I did with this butterfly. The double exposure feature must first be set for two exposures.  

I saw some interesting mauve-colored plants. I decide to swirl them. Then, I hunted for the right butterfly to superimpose over it. I found one that had complementary colors. I looked at my screen to look at my first shot--I was looking for the best place to place the butterfly. Then, I refocused on the butterfly to make sure it was going to come out sharp, then underexposed the butterfly shot by -2/3. Click.

Historic Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas has a somber history of ghostly apparitions. So, I decided to create my own ghosts. I asked a friend to be my "ghost." I asked her to dress in white--hat, dress, shoes. Roz did a great job. For this shot, I asked her to start walking extremely slow when I gave her the signal. We had to do it three times-- my definition of slow and her definition of slow did not quite match up. But, we finally got it right, with a 6-second exposure! It's that easy. Spooky, huh?

 I will conclude with this technique. You can read about my other techniques in my new book, Right Brain Photography. I will show you the image before I explain one of my techniques I use to create my Impressionistic images.

This technique is so easy it's ridiculous. Just wait until a good rain and start shooting through your windshield, while you're nice and dry inside your car. I knew I wanted to check out downtown Eureka Springs, Arkansas during a pouring rain. When I came upon this scene, I knew that was what I was looking for. I found a perfect parking spot, stopped and shut off the engine. I then went through my standard steps: compose, choose my depth of field (focus on the buildings), and take some exposure test shots. It's important not to use a small f/stop, like f/16 or more, because you will get the water droplets in focus! So, I focused on the buildings and used an f/8. Any scene shot this way will give you the look of an Impressionistic painting. 

So, go out there and stop thinking so linear. Give your left brain a rest; loosen up; get out of your comfort zone and just have fun with it. 

If you want to sign up for my monthly newsletters, e-mail me. Maybe someday we can schedule a private 1-on-1 field lesson. There's nothing better than putting know-how to field practice--that's how we learn to connect the dots.