Week 8: Senses of Place

Basic Digital Photography with Matthew Swarts

James Casebere.

Emmet Gowin.

Stephen Shore.

Robert Frank.

Gregory Crewdson.

Walker Evans.

Abelardo Morell.

Edward Byrtynsky.

Bernd and Hilla Becher.

Andreas Gursky.

Hiroshi Sugimoto.

Thomas Struth.

Joel Sternfield.

Frank Gohlke.

William Eggleston.

Robert Adams.

Lois Connor.

Richard Misrach.

For Next Week

Download and review the slides from this weeks’ lecture: arts1850 senses of place slides

Explore the contemporary online exhibition “Looking at the Land” by Andy Adams of Flakphoto.com

Read about Robert Adams’ recent retrospective exhibition.

Read about Andreas Gursky.

Expose at least 60 images that evoke a sense of place or describe a landscape, real or imagined. If you chose to deal with the real world, you must leave the perimeter of campus. 

Edit, adjust, retouch, and upload 6-8 of your best (small jpeg) images to Dropbox. 

Things to consider:

  1. What does “place” or “landscape” mean to you? Think about the variety of work we looked at in class and consider your imaginary framework for beginning this problem.  Does it feel comfortable or confining? Like James Casebere can you conceive of a new (and possibly quite liberating) approach to the idea of place?
  2. Consider how Walker Evans and Robert Adams used the places they photographed to make work that was actually in large measure a portrait of the people who created or inhabited these spaces.  Can you find places or objects that tell similar stories?
  3. Landscape photographs are traditionally still and meditative images.  If this bothers you or seems boring, come up with an alternative!  How would you photograph, for example, the motion of a place?
  4. Remember as always that your pictures are largely driven by light. Get in the habit of being a student of the light in front of you.  How can you move your camera or your body to see things differently?  Have you considered several different views of your subject, perhaps at different times of the day, on different days, at night, etc?
  5. Emmet Gowin has written that every photograph is in some sense a self-portrait. How do you see and make use of this fact about photography in relation to images that depict a landscape?
  6. Think about how Richard Misrach and Andreas Gursky were able to include people in their landscape photographs.  They did so in ways that often implied a certain symbiosis between the figure and the place.  How would you make photographs of this kind of relationship?  How much of the equation would be “formal”?
  7. Consider making a panoramic photograph by combining several prints from different negatives in a way that extends your visual possibilities.  Follow contours,  horizon lines,  branches of trees,  expanses of grass, etc and connect portions of the landscape from print to print.  Do you have to follow the arrangement that occurs naturally in space,  or can you take liberties to re-order the world in interesting ways?

Using the Brush Interface to Burn, Dodge, and Saturate

The ways in which we have already discussed using selections and adjustment layers are often the best way to apply localized adjustments to your images, primarily because they do not effect any destruction on underlying pixel layers. You should therefore always use careful selections and adjustment layers first.  Sometimes, however, an image can use a final push that is better applied with a brush tool. Luckily for us, there are three tools nestled in the lower half of the toolbar for precisely this purpose. They are the Dodge Tool, the Burn Tool, and the Sponge Tool.

Each of these tools uses the familiar brush interface to apply an effect to a pixel layer, but it does so destructively; meaning, it semi-permanently will affect the underlying pixels, unless you undo the step or move backwards in the history palette. The Dodge Tool will lighten your image while the Burn Tool will darken it.  The Sponge Tool can be set to add saturation to your image or to desaturate an area. For example, suppose I’ve brought this image as far as I can with selections and I want to delicately lighten the highlights along the outstretched arm in my image.

My first step is to make sure I’m working with the right pixel information, so I select the appropriate layer to apply the tool.  Then, with the Dodge Tool selected, I can modify the brush size to just overlap the visible highlights. I do this in the horizontal toolbar that appears at the top of the screen:

The toolbar has a pulldown menu for selecting the highlights, midtones, and shadows. Make sure whatever area you are targeting in your image is properly selected. In my example, I have lowered the Exposure (the strength of the lightening effect) down to 10%, to minimize the tool’s effectiveness and to apply a subtle shift in the highlights that I stroke with the mouse. I’ve also selected the ‘Protect Tones‘ checkbox, which will prevent real clipping in the highlights and preserve the tonality of the image as best as possible. (Note: with the Sponge tool this checkbox changes to ‘vibrance‘ to protect the relationship of saturated tonalities in your image.) Then, with a few strokes of the mouse, I can go into my image and lighten the highlights along the left section of the arm:

If I go too far and expose too much of the highlights with the Dodge Tool, I can either select the Burn Tool and take those same highlight values down a bit, move backward and undo the state in the history palette, or apply a Fade. To apply a fade, select Edit>Fade:

A simple slider will appear that will allow you to preview how decreasing the effect of that tool will affect your image. When you are certain your burning, dodging, or saturating is not so obvious, click ‘OK’ to apply the Fade:

The important thing to remember about such edits is that they are not like adjustment layers. They are not simply ‘math’ applied to your pixel layers. They actually change your pixels and if you are not careful about how you use them, they will change them permanently and very destructively. They are also not re-editable like adjustment layers that are applied to selections, so please use with caution!

Transforming Selections

Sometimes it is useful to be able to change the actual physical shape and size of selected areas of your image. To illustrate what options are available, I’ve selected an image with subject matter framed against a uniform background, which will make things a bit easier for you to conceptualize:

Let’s say I’m interested in changing the proportions or size of this group of flowers. My first step is to make this background layer more editable. To do so, I simply click on the layer and either allow Photoshop to rename it (as Layer 0 here) or type in a new name (other than background!):

Next, I want to isolate the flowers from the black background, so I’ll apply a simple color range selection (selecting the black background) and adjust the fuzziness until the shapes of the flowers are properly selected:

By inverting the color range selection for all areas of black, I will arrive at a selection that includes the flowers only:

In order to manipulate the flower shapes, I’ll need to put this pixelated information on a separate layer. Doing so is very easy.  In the Edit menu (in the horizontal toolbar at the top of your screen), I will choose Edit>Copy to copy the contents of the selection to the computer’s buffer.

Then, I will create a new layer by clicking on the new layer icon at the bottom of the layers palette. Once I select this new layer, I can then choose Edit>Paste, much like copying words in a word processing program, to paste the pixelated information into the new blank layer:

In the example above I have turned off the former background layer by clicking on the eyeball icon next to the layer. This will allow me to see the flowers against the transparent checkerboard pattern. If I want to work with them against a black background, I can insert a new blank layer:

To fill this new layer with black, I will select the Paint Bucket Tool in the vertical toolbar on the left hand side of the Photoshop interface, choose black from the color picker, and then click within that layer to fill it with black. If you’re looking for it, the Paint Bucket Tool (something new to us) looks like this:

Now, my image looks very similar to when I started, only the pixelated information containing the flowers is on a separate layer from the black, painted in background:

To perform a Free Transform of the flower layer, I simply select the layer and press (Command) and then (T).  (Note: you can also go to the Edit menu and select Edit>Free Transform). A set of moveable handles will appear at the periphery of my layer:

Holding down the shift key while I manipulate one of the handles will scale my pixelated flower information proportionately (without distortion of perspective). I can, for example, make the flowers smaller by simply pulling on one of the handles at the top with the mouse:

Holding down the command key will allow a truly free transformation of the layer. When I click on one of the handles with the command key held down, I can skew the image very differently, making it seem to recede and distort in space:

At any time I can rotate the entire layer by hovering my mouse over one of the corner handles until the cursor changes to the rotate symbol. Hitting return will apply the transformation to the layer. It may take a few practice trials before you get the hang of the transformation controls, but be patient, as there are a great deal of powerful options in this command.

Adding Warp

When the transform command is active, there is an additional option to warp your selection with a more three dimensional interface. To activate the warp command, simply click on the warp icon in the horizontal toolbar when the transform command is active. The warp icon looks like this, and is located on the upper right hand section of the horizontal toolbar:

Clicking on the warp button will bring up an interface that divides your image into sectors with moveable, rotatable, and scalable handles, like this:

By manipulating these handles with the mouse, you may stretch your selection, bend it, reshape it, bow it outward, make it concave, ripple it, etc. You may have to zoom out (command –) or zoon in (command +) to better assess how your selection is responding. Play around with the interface and experiment with these controls, noting that there are also presets available that accompany this command, selectable by a pulldown menu:

As with any transform command, hitting return will finalize the transformation and commit it to the active layer. Be sure to toggle your history if you want to move back and forth through a series of transformations!

Using Puppet Warp

When a selection is active, there is yet another, powerful transformation command available from the edit menu: puppet warp.

When you select puppet warp from the edit menu, your selection will be presented in a new interface that uses pins and mesh to describe three dimensional warping possibilities. In my case, my group of daisies appeared as follows:

The specifics of your puppet warp are controllable via the horizontal toolbar that appears when the option is selected from the edit menu. Take a quick look at how a few of these selectable options can change the editable qualities of the mesh and pin arrangement:

Under the mode pulldown, there are three options for controlling how rigid or distortable the mesh is:

The density pulldown allows for three variations on the number of points laid down in the mesh:

Lastly, the expansion controls the relative rigidity or flexibility of the mesh. By default it is set to 2 pixels, but this setting greatly controls how flexible or malleable your warp operation will be, so experiment with different settings until you intuitively understand how increasing the expansion likewise increases the rigidity of your warp possibilities.

Clicking anywhere in your image where mesh is present will activate the pin that is underneath the mouse at that time. In order to manipulate the mesh you need to activate at least three pins. This is somewhat confusing at first, but with a little practice you can anticipate how the puppet warping will occur and bend and contort your selection at will:

When I applied a few manipulations of several pins by hitting the return key after manipulating the pins with the mouse, my image looked like the following.

Note in the example above only the warped layer and the background were visible. In order to blend this new, warped layer in with the background information in my original image, I needed to use the move tool, which is in the vertical toolbar in the main Photoshop interface and looks like this:

With a little artful shifting around with the move tool, and after turning off the background layer, I was able to blend my warped layer contents into the original image fairly seamlessly:

Basic Layer Management

By now you have probably noticed that there’s a great deal going on in your layers palette (located on the lower right hand section of the Photoshop interface). While it’s great to separate your work as much as possible onto distinct layers, each new layer adds to your final file size, so it’s also important to keep track of what layers are actually contributing to your output. Remember that at any time, a layer can be toggled on or off by simply clicking on the eyeball icon next to the layer name:

Most operations involving layers can be accomplished by clicking on or near the layers palette itself. Let’s take a look:

To start a new layer, simply click on the icon that looks like a blank sheet of paper:

Likewise, to create a copy of an existing layer, simply drag it to the same new layer icon.

To delete a layer, simply drag it to the icon that looks like the trash:

You can link the contents of one layer to another, by highlighting the layer names in the layers palette and clicking the link icon at the bottom left hand corner:

This means that if you move or alter the contents of one layer, you will move and/or alter the contents of any linked layers as well. Layers that are linked will appear with the linked symbol in the layers palette:

The opacity, or relative transparency, of a layer can be altered via the slider in the upper right hand section of the layers palette:

Layers can be blended according to any one of 27 different blend mode algorithms:

Blending options are some of Photoshop’s most powerful transformative operations. For more specifics on how blend modes work, click here for a short video tutorial by Katrin Eismann.

Clicking on the Layer options icon (located at the upper right hand corner of the layers palette) will allow you to access to several other operations, including Merge and Flatten. When you merge a layer with another, you combine their two separate layer contents into a single layer. It’s a great idea to consider Merging Down any redundant pixel layers as often as possible, to save space. Flattening is, like it sounds, an operation that puts all of your layered information on a single layer. Save Flattening as a last resort, really only when file size is your most important consideration, and remember that your History palette is your key to moving backwards and forwards in time should you get lost in your layer operations:

Many of these same options are also available from the Layer menu at the top of your screen:

Artist Spotlight: Andreas Gursky